The 50 Best Things to Do in San Francisco
Experience the absolute best things to do in San Francisco with this comprehensive guide to San Francisco’s best eats, drinks, culture, nightlife and more.
Imagine cruising down the steepest hill you’ve ever encountered with the breeze in your face and aquamarine bay views in front of you. You’re hanging off an open-air cable car with colorful houses and pedestrians zooming past. This scene is one of the many unique experiences that welcomes you with a visit to San Francisco.
For years, San Francisco has been a haven for all types of people from around the world. The city has gone through several personality changes over the decades – from the Summer of Love in the 1960s to the epicenter of the tech industry in the 21st century.
The great thing about visiting a melting pot city is that there are plenty of things for every type of traveler and local to enjoy.
Into hiking, good views, and exploring the redwoods? We have plenty of that. More of a museum person? We have several world-renowned museums sprinkled around the city. Maybe you’re more of a foodie? San Francisco is known as the top foodie city in the US (yes, we beat out New York City). No matter what type of experience you’re looking for in San Francisco, you’ll find it.
In fact, there’s so much to do in San Francisco- it’s sometimes overwhelming to figure out what to do in San Francisco because there are so many things to choose from to enjoy the City by the Bay. Because of this, we wanted to put together a one-stop resource for the best things to do in San Francisco – from the most popular, to the local and quirky.
These are our picks for the 50 best things to do in San Francisco, whether you’re a San Francisco first-timer, regular visitor, or a local looking to explore more of your city.
Top 20 Things To Do In San Francisco
Walk Amongst the Redwoods at Muir Woods
What is it: Old-growth redwood forest north of San Francisco.
Why go: Only 12 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge, Muir Woods is one of the best places near San Francisco to see the redwoods. Although it has become busier with visitors in recent years, it’s still a peaceful place to enjoy easy hiking trails and learn more about the California redwoods.
Local tip: Parking at Muir Woods can be expensive and a hassle (you need to make reservations ahead of time and they sell out quickly). To avoid wasting time getting to and from Muir Woods, think about taking a tour instead. Dylan’s offers one of the most popular tours to Muir Woods, called the Famous Tour. On it, you’ll enjoy a full day around San Francisco, lunch in Sausalito, and over an hour exploring Muir Woods.
Step Back in Time at Alcatraz Island
What is it: Famous island in the San Francisco Bay that has been a military fortification, military prison, and a federal prison throughout its long history. It’s now part of the National Park Service.
Why go: Step back in time to explore the layered history Alcatraz Island has to offer – most famously, its history as a federal prison from 1934 to 1963. While visiting, you’ll have the chance to explore the expansive grounds and enjoy beautiful views of the bay and the San Francisco skyline. One of the best features of visiting Alcatraz is the Cellhouse Audio Tour, which leads you through the island’s most significant events, escape attempts, and famous prisoners.
Local tip: The only way to visit Alcatraz is by doing a tour with Alcatraz Cruises. Because of this, there are a limited number of Alcatraz Tickets available per day and they sometimes sell out months in advance, especially during the summer. If you want to snag last-minute Alcatraz Tickets, look for a San Francisco tour that includes Alcatraz. Local San Francisco tour companies are given a certain number of tickets each season to include with their combination tours, so if they have availability on one of their combo tours, that means they have Alcatraz tickets. Our favorite Alcatraz and city tour combo is the Famous Tour with Muir Woods and Alcatraz. Not only do you get to do the Alcatraz day tour, but you also get to enjoy a morning checking out the best spots around San Francisco and the redwoods in Muir Woods.
There are other ways to see Alcatraz, each with their own add-on activity to make the most of your time in San Francisco — we’d recommend the The One Day in San Francisco Tour with Alcatraz.
Bike the Golden Gate Bridge
What is it: San Francisco’s most popular tourist attraction and one of the most famous bridges in the world. The Golden Gate Bridge was finished in 1937 and connects San Francisco to Marin and the greater North Bay.
Why go: There’s no better feeling than biking across the Golden Gate Bridge, with the wind in your face and incredible views looking out from the bridge as you ride across. At 1.7 miles long, the bridge is a bigger distance across than most people realize. It’s still walkable, but probably more ideal to ride a bike across to get the full experience. If you only have one day in San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge should be one of your first stops in the city.
Local tip: If you want to enjoy this quintessential San Francisco experience alongside a trip to Muir Woods, a good option is this Bike the Golden Gate Bridge tour. This self-guided tour lets you ride across the Golden Gate Bridge at your own pace and shuttles you to Muir Woods from Sausalito after you’re done.
Explore the Expansive Golden Gate Park
What is it: San Francisco’s largest urban park, covering 1,017 acres (177 more acres than Central Park in New York City) on the northwest side of San Francisco.
Why go: The best green oasis to explore when you need a break from the city. Spend an afternoon discovering the many gardens, paths, and lakes the park has to offer. It even has a bison paddock! Besides its natural attributes, Golden Gate Park houses numerous popular San Francisco attractions, such as the de Young Museum, California Academy of Sciences, Japanese Tea Garden, and the Conservatory of Flowers.
Local tip: Because it’s so huge, one of the best ways to experience the many things to do in Golden Gate Park is by bike. You can rent bikes and explore it on your own. Otherwise, hop on a bike tour with a local guide who will show you the best spots around the park and beyond – a good option for this is the City Loop San Francisco E-Bike Tour.
Drive Down Lombard Street
What is it: San Francisco’s most famous curvy street, offering stunning views looking out over North Beach and Telegraph Hill from the top.
Why go: A quirky San Francisco attraction that is as fun to drive down as it is to watch other people try and navigate its turns. This is one of those experiences you have to have at least once in the city because it’s so classically San Francisco.
Local tip: Once you drive down this famous street in San Francisco, park and walk back over to its base to look up. You’ll get a unique view of the eight hairpin turns that make Lombard Street so famous.
Take in One of the Best Views of the City at Twin Peaks
What is it: Popular San Francisco lookout nestled in a 64-acre park that offers stunning views over the city from 922 feet up.
Why go: As one of the best views of San Francisco from high up, it’s hard to beat Twin Peaks. This lookout, located in a residential area of the city, gives you a bird’s eye view of the skyline, numerous San Francisco neighborhoods, and the glistening bay beyond them. It’s a beautiful spot to visit at any time of the day.
Local tip: If you’re sticking to the main hotspots, getting to Twin Peaks can be a trek since it’s not that close to the main neighborhoods or attractions in the city. Instead, if you’re already planning on doing a tour around the city, make sure it includes Twin Peaks so you can see it as part of a more elaborate day around San Francisco. A good option is Dylan’s Famous San Francisco City Tour, which takes you to Twin Peaks as well as six other photo spots and 13 attractions in total around the city.
Enjoy the View from Coit Tower
What is it: 210-foot tower built in the 1930s to help make the city more attractive, offering panoramic views over San Francisco and the bay.
Why go: If you’re looking for another scenic lookout or you don’t have an interest in going all the way to Twin Peaks, Coit Tower is a convenient option located in the central Telegraph Hill neighborhood.
Local tip: Don’t miss the colorful murals inside the tower that were painted in 1934, depicting life in California during the Great Depression. The murals were done as part of the Public Works of Art Project (the prelude to the more well-known Works Progress Administration).
Explore the Italian Culture in North Beach
What is it: San Francisco’s Little Italy. Besides being the city’s Italian neighborhood, this was a favorite neighborhood for beat poets in the 1960s. Today, it’s a popular nightlife and foodie destination for locals and tourists alike.
Why go: Trattorias and family-run Italian delis mixed in with bars and jazz clubs, North Beach is an interesting mix of old and new. This is the neighborhood where you’ll find some of the best Italian sandwiches from Molinari’s, cioppino from Sotto Mare, and pizza from Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. It’s also where you can explore Beat poet history at City Lights Bookstore, lay out on the grass at Washington Square, and devour a delicious brunch at Mama’s. There’s a little something for everyone in this diverse neighborhood, so give yourself at least an afternoon to take it all in.
Local tip: There’s a lot to see in North Beach and it’s also one of the sunniest neighborhoods in the city (San Francisco is home to a lot of microclimates). Because of this, one of the best ways to explore North Beach is by bike. For San Francisco bike rentals, head over to Dylan’s, which is located right in the heart of North Beach on Columbus Avenue.
Have Lunch with a View in Sausalito
What is it: Seaside city in Marin County featuring stunning views and waterfront restaurants.
Why go: Although it’s only a quick journey over the Golden Gate Bridge (or ferry ride), Sausalito is often missed by tourists. In Sausalito, you’ll not only find impressive views of the city from the other side of the bay, but nice waterfront restaurants, ice cream shops, and a scenic Embarcadero to walk along. Plus, Sausalito’s famous houseboats! Spending an afternoon in Sausalito is easily one of the best things to do near San Francisco.
Local tip: Sausalito isn’t the easiest to get to from the city unless you have a car. Instead, hop on Dylan’s Famous Tour to Muir Woods and include it in a full day exploring the best San Francisco highlights. The tour stops in Sausalito so you can enjoy lunch at one of the many panoramic restaurants along the water. (Available on the 8:00 am tour only.)
Spend the Day at Various Museums
What is it: There are over 40 museums in San Francisco, many of which are world-renowned and offer unique exhibits on art, history, and culture.
Why go: One of San Francisco’s greatest attributes is its art and culture scene, and there’s no better way to get cultured than to have a museum day around the city. San Francisco is home to various types of museums, and most are well known around the world for their cutting-edge exhibits and flair. A few must-visit museums include the SFMOMA, de Young Museum, the California Academy of Sciences, Exploratorium, and the Legion of Honor.
Local tip: The museums in San Francisco are spread out all over the city, but there’s an especially high concentration near the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts if you want to stay in one area. Near Yerba Buena, you’ll find the SFMOMA, Children’s Creativity Museum, Contemporary Jewish Museum, Museum of the African Diaspora, among others.
Shop at Union Square
What is it: The city’s main hub and central spot for shopping. It’s also where you’ll find some of the best San Francisco hotels and the theater district nearby.
Why go: The beating heart of San Francisco and a neighborhood that’s always bustling. Union Square has some of the best shopping in the city – from Forever 21 and Macy’s to designer brands like Saks Fifth Avenue, Louis Vuitton, and Jimmy Choo. It’s an ideal place to people watch and even ice skate during the holidays (which can also be one of the best times to visit San Francisco).
Local tip: If you’re looking for a luxury stay in San Francisco, book a room at The Westin St Francis. They not only provide generous service and hospitality but their glass elevator offers up stunning views of Union Square from above.
Get Lost in Chinatown
What is it: The oldest Chinatown in the US and the largest Chinatown outside of Asia.
Why go: Bustling markets, hidden eateries, souvenir shops, Chinese lanterns, and the original Fortune Cookie Factory (yes, fortune cookies originated in San Francisco!) await you at one of the most unique neighborhoods in the city. Come to Chinatown for the shopping, the Chinese bakeries and the dim sum, or simply to walk around and take it all in.
Local tip: Don’t miss the mouthwatering egg tarts from Golden Gate Bakery, no matter how long the line gets.
Ride a Cable Car
What is it: The only manually-operated cable car system in the world that’s still in operation. The cable car has been a mode of transportation in San Francisco since the 1870s.
Why go: It doesn’t get much more quintessential than riding a cable car up or down a steep hill in San Francisco. This is one of those experiences that you have to have at least once in the city. Hop on and take in the views while enjoying the open-air ride through the city – this is one of the top things to do in San Francisco.
Local tip: There are three cable car lines you can take, but the most scenic is the Powell-Hyde line. Start at the turnaround at Powell St. and Market St and ride on the right side for the best views all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf.
See a Broadway Show at the Orpheum Theater
What is it: One of San Francisco’s most glamourous theater venues that dates back to the 1920s, showcasing the latest and most popular Broadway shows.
Why go: This ornate theater is almost as impressive as the shows put on inside of it. Admire the interior architecture and grandiose nature of the place while enjoying Hamilton or one of its other popular shows.
Local tip: If you’re looking for discounted tickets, the Orpheum sometimes offers Rush Tickets on the day of. Check ahead of time on the Broadway SF website or call Audience Services at 888-746-1799 to see if there are any rush tickets available for the show you’re interested in. Plan to show up at least a few hours before showtime.
Eat Clam Chowder from a Sourdough Bread Bowl at Boudin Bakery
What is it: Where you’ll find the original San Francisco Sourdough and the most famous bread bowls in the city.
Why go: Founded in 1849, if you’re a fan of sourdough bread you can’t pass up trying the clam chowder from a sourdough bread bowl at Boudin. Head to their location at Pier 39, where fresh fish is in abundance. There’s nothing better than a sourdough bowl of steaming how chowder on a blustery day in San Francisco. If you’re not a fan of fish, go with any of their other non-seafood dishes that come with sourdough. You won’t be disappointed.
Local tip: If you visit Boudin at the Wharf, you’ll be able to see the bakers making fresh sourdough by hand and even chat with them via a two-way intercom.
Discover the Colorful Mission Murals
What is it: Colorful outdoor art gallery in the Mission District, covering hundreds of walls and alleyways throughout the neighborhood.
Why go: Where you’ll find the best street art in San Francisco. The Mission District Murals feature political and cultural themes, which provide a glimpse into the cultural history of a historically Hispanic neighborhood in the city. This is one of those unique things to do in San Francisco that gives you a better idea of the local culture.
Local tip: Head to Balmy Alley and Clarion Alley for the most famous murals and the greatest concentration of outdoor artwork. For more colorful Mission District art, stop by the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts.
Cruise Around the Bay
What is it: A good way to take in the scenic views of the San Francisco Bay from the water.
Why go: Taking a cruise around the San Francisco Bay is one of the best ways to appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds San Francisco. Plus, how cool would it be to see the Golden Gate Bridge from the water? There are various options to choose from, including the more adventurous tours with companies like Bay Voyager and the more leisurely dinner cruises with Hornblower. Take your pick and sail away. This is also a great San Francisco date idea.
Local tip: Hop on a sunset bay cruise for the best of both worlds – seeing the city skyline during Golden Hour as well as the city and Bay Bridge lit up after sunset.
Take a Selfie with The Painted Ladies
What is it: Colorful Victorian houses near Alamo Square that became popular from Full House. The Victorians, also known as “Postcard Row” and the “Seven Sisters,” date back to the 1890s and have been featured in over 70 movies, TV shows, and ads.
Why go: One of the most iconic places to visit in San Francisco that showcases the city’s unique Victorian architecture. You’ll also get to enjoy scenic views of downtown San Francisco from Alamo Square’s grassy hills.
Local tip: Pack breakfast or lunch to eat at Alamo Square with a view of The Painted Ladies and downtown San Francisco in the background. There are always going to be tourists here, but there will be fewer crowds the earlier you go.
Find Your Inner Hippie in Haight Ashbury
What is it: The hippie and counterculture neighborhood of San Francisco, famous for being the epicenter of the Summer of Love in 1967. It was also a favorite hangout for music greats such as Jerry Garcia and Jimi Hendrix back in its heyday.
Why go: Your chance to explore another side of San Francisco. Haight-Ashbury features a completely different vibe and a slower pace of life. Spend an afternoon shopping at the quirky boutiques along Haight Street, take a selfie with the legs at the Piedmont Boutique, flip through records at Amoeba Music, walk around and admire the colorful Victorians, and have a picnic at the Panhandle or in Golden Gate Park.
Local tip: If possible, avoid the weekends when the streets and shops are filled with tourists. Instead, enjoy the Haight mid-week when the atmosphere is more relaxed and you can get a better feel for the charm of the neighborhood.
Enjoy the Breezy Views from Fort Point National Historic Site
What is it: One of the most popular spots to view the Golden Gate Bridge and a historic and important fortification during the US Civil War.
Why go: Although touristy, it’s hard to beat the unobstructed views of the Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Point (unless there’s fog, of course). Once you’re done enjoying the breezy views, take some time to learn more about Fort Point’s military history via a guided tour with a local ranger at the front entrance of the fort.
Local tip: Before reaching Fort Point, stop by Torpedo Wharf for even more great views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Best Free Things To Do In San Francisco
Hike Around the Marin Headlands
What is it: Part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Marin Headlands are located just across the Golden Gate Bridge and a popular place to hike near the city.
Why go: Several easy hiking options provide stunning bay views and take you to hidden beaches and local hideaways. The Marin Headlands are a convenient spot to get some fresh air and take a break from the city.
Local tip: For one of the most famous views of the Golden Gate Bridge, head to Battery Spencer. Make sure to bring layers since it’s usually windy.
Watch the Sunset from the Sutro Baths
What is it: The ruins of a public bathhouse from 1896, which once had seven saltwater pools. Now it’s a popular spot for engagement shoots and watching the sunset with San Francisco locals.
Why go: One of the best spots to watch the sunset near the water and enjoy a glimpse into San Francisco history while you’re at it.
Local tip: Start at Lands End Labyrinth and walk along the Coastal Trail for beautiful views of the bay until you reach Sutro Baths. After sunset, grab dinner at Cliff House for a delicious bite to eat near the water.
People (and Dog) Watch at Crissy Field
What is it: Large green space with views of the Golden Gate Bridge and a popular hangout spot for Marina locals and their pups.
Why go: One of the best picnic spots in San Francisco on a sunny day, as well as a good place to stretch your legs and run or bike in the sunshine. This is a popular place to view the Golden Gate Bridge surrounded by happy dogs and locals.
Local tip: Once you’re done taking in the views from Crissy Field, head over to Crissy Marsh for birdwatching or walk along the Bay Trail all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge.
Visit the Oldest Building in San Francisco
Note: Mission Dolores is technically free but a $7 donation is recommended.
What is it: The Old Mission Dolores Church, more formally known as “Mision San Francisco de Asis,” is one of the original California Missions, founded in 1776.
Why go: It’s the oldest building in San Francisco and a good place to learn more about the California Missions and San Francisco history.
Local tip: After walking through the mission, spend some time in the gardens and cemetery adjacent to the entrance. The cemetery is where several notable and original San Franciscans are buried.
Have a Foggy Beach Day at Baker Beach
What is it: Mile-long beach with rocky, windswept views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Why go: Although San Francisco isn’t known for its beaches, there are a few around the city that are worth visiting. With its unbeatable views of the Golden Gate Bridge, long stretches of sand, and convenient location in the city, Baker Beach is one of them.
Local tip: Baker Beach is a clothing-optional beach so don’t be surprised if you come across nude beachgoers, regardless of how cold it is. Because of large waves, rip currents, and undertows, swimming isn’t recommended.
Enjoy the View from Grandview Park
What is it: Non-touristy park in a local neighborhood that offers expansive views over the city and beyond.
Why go: There are a lot of parks around San Francisco that offer stunning views, but one of the more local parks devoid of tourists is Grandview Park. On a clear day, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance, as well as 360-degree views of the city. This is one of the best parks in San Francisco for a more local experience.
Local tip: After enjoying the views, walk down the steps at the western end of the park to find the colorful 16th Avenue Tiled Steps on the way to Moraga Avenue.
Stroll Along Lover’s Lane
What is it: The oldest trail in the Presidio established in the 1700s as a footpath for Spanish Soldiers and missionaries on their way to Mission Dolores. It’s called “Lover’s Lane” because the path is said to have been used by US soldiers to access the trolley line and visit their loved ones in other parts of the city in the late 19th century.
Why go: An easy and historic walking path through one of San Francisco’s most picturesque neighborhoods and one of the best ways to take in the highlights of the Presidio.
Local tip: At the end of the walk, check out the exhibits at the Presidio Officers’ Club to learn more about the Presidio’s military history.
Hike the Batteries to Bluffs Trail
What is it: 0.7-mile trail on the western side of the Presidio that features scenic views of the ocean, Golden Gate Bridge, and the Marin Headlands in the distance.
Why go: One of the most beautiful trails in the city that gives you a good dose of history, as well as numerous Golden Gate Bridge views along the way. This trail offers some of the best shots of the Golden Gate Bridge and plenty of photo opportunities.
Local tip: This trail gets windy, make sure to bring extra layers. Give yourself extra time to take in the best parts of this trail and the good views you’ll come across. It’s also worth it to take a detour down to Marshall’s Beach to enjoy even more stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Best Local Things To Do In San Francisco
Have a Picnic at Mission Dolores Park
What is it: Popular 16-acre park in the Mission District, featuring green spaces, palm trees, tennis courts, a soccer field, a basketball court, and dog play areas.
Why go: There’s no better place to go in San Francisco on a sunny day. Locals flock to the grassy hills of Dolores Park to take in the city views, hang out with friends, and enjoy a picnic.
Local tip: Grab picnic fixings at Guerrero Market a block down from the park, or get a to-go order from Dolores Park Cafe or Tartine Bakery nearby. And don’t forget to stop at the local favorite Bi-Rite Creamery if you’re looking for something sweet.
Brewery Hop Around the Dogpatch
What is it: An industrial neighborhood that dates back to the 1800s. The Dogpatch area used to be a bit rougher around the edges but has been transformed in recent years into a haven for craft beer enthusiasts.
Why go: One of the best neighborhoods for brewery hopping and craft beer tasting in San Francisco. It’s easy to walk to each brewery or craft taproom around the Dogpatch and make an afternoon of it. If you’re a craft beer enthusiast, this is one of the best things to do around San Francisco.
Local tip: A few breweries that shouldn’t be missed in the Dogpatch include Magnolia Brewing, Triple Voodoo Brewing, and Harmonic Brewing.
See a Ball Game at Oracle Park
What is it: Home of the San Francisco Giants, featuring bay views and located in the South Beach neighborhood.
Why go: An inexpensive way to experience an all-American sport with a sea of loyal fans decked out in orange and black.
Local tip: Don’t miss trying the world-famous garlic fries or getting a scoop of ice cream in a mini plastic Giant’s baseball cap.
Catch a Basketball Game at the Chase Center
What is it: Home of the Golden State Warriors and new decked out stadium that opened in 2019.
Why go: The brand new Chase Center went all out to make sure they had the best stadium in the NBA. From the larger-than-life 9,699 square-foot projection screen to one-of-a-kind half-time shows, you are sure to be entertained even if you’re not a fan of basketball. And if you are a fan, this is your chance to see Steph, Draymond, and Klay live and in person.
Local tip: Take public transit if you can because parking is expensive and hard to find around the stadium. Also, make sure to not bring any bags with you (including small backpacks). Otherwise, you’ll have to check them for $10.
Discover a Hidden Speakeasy at Bourbon & Branch
What is it: San Francisco’s most popular speakeasy bar, located in a nondescript building in the tenderloin that requires a password to enter.
Why go: Classy speakeasy bar that oozes 1920s charm and sophistication. Come for the cocktails, stay for the ambiance. At Bourbon & Branch, it’s easy to imagine what the bar scene might’ve been like in San Francisco during prohibition. A trip to San Francisco isn’t complete without visiting at least one speakeasy and Bourbon & Branch is a good one to start with.
Local tip: There are five hidden bars within Bourbon & Branch, including one in the basement. The easiest one to access is The Library, which is open Wednesday through Saturday. You can enter with the password “books” via O’Farrell St.
Find the Hidden Stairways Around the City
What is it: Various “secret” stairways around the city that feature colorful artwork, good views, or a combination of both.
Why go: With the number of hills around the city, it’s no surprise that there are a ton of funky stairways to explore in most neighborhoods around San Francisco. Although these hidden staircases have started to become more popular with tourists due to Instagram, it’s still a favorite local pastime to hunt for them around the city. They give you a taste of just how maze-like and artistic the city can be.
Local tip: The most popular secret staircase is the Hidden Garden Steps. If you want to get a picture without anyone else in it, make sure to visit as early as possible. Other hidden staircases not to miss include 16th Avenue Tiled Steps, Lincoln Park Steps, and the Lyon Street Steps (for the view).
Grab Brunch at Zazie’s
What is it: French bistro and brunch place in Cole Valley popular with locals and featuring an outdoor patio.
Why go: A good introduction to the San Francisco brunch scene. Although most people say Brenda’s French Soul Food or Tartine Bakery are the places to go for brunch in San Francisco, Zazie’s is a local favorite that features a small, intimate space, welcoming atmosphere, and home cooking that’s hard to beat.
Local tip: Their eggs Benedicts are always a good choice, as well as their cinnamon roll pancakes (which they sometimes have as a special). To avoid waiting in line, go for a weekday brunch. Or, if you come on a weekend, grab a drink and play a game of ping pong next door at Finnegans Wake while waiting for your table.
Try an Irish Coffee at Buena Vista Cafe
What is it: The best place to drink Irish coffee in San Francisco.
Why go: When you order an Irish coffee from Buena Vista Cafe, you’ll quickly see how their version of the drink is more an art than anything. And the show of the bartender putting together a dozen Irish coffees in a row is one of the best parts of ordering the drink.
Local tip: If you’re just after one of their famous Irish coffees, go during the week and at non-peak eating hours to avoid the crowds.
Catch a Movie at the Castro Theater
What is it: Historic theater established in the Castro neighborhood in 1922.
Why go: A San Francisco landmark theater that offers a lot of charm and character for any moviegoer. One of the Castro Theater’s most unique features is its Mighty Wurlitzer Organ, which is played every night before the first evening show and before the late show on Friday and Saturday night.
Local tip: To experience the Castro Theater at its most fun, don’t miss going to one of their sing-along showings, where audience participation is encouraged. This is easily one of the most fun things to do in San Francisco with locals.
Get Your Caffeine Kick at Blue Bottle Coffee
What is it: A favorite Bay Area coffee shop chain that originated in Oakland.
Why go: Craft coffee culture is very much a thing in San Francisco. There are a lot of good coffee shops to try around the city, but a unanimous favorite is Blue Bottle Coffee. You’ll find this Bay Area Chain all over the city and they’re seen as one of the major players in the third wave coffee scene.
Local tip: Grab an espresso to enjoy their single-origin beans at their finest or sip on one of their smooth almond milk lattes on a nice day. Either way you go, Blue Bottle Coffee is one of the best ways to get your caffeine kick for the day.
Eat a Mission-Style Burrito
What is it: A style of burrito that became popular in the Mission District during the 1960s.
Why go: The best way to explore the famous Mexican food of the Mission District is to try a Mission-style burrito. These burritos, also known as “San Francisco burritos,” are larger than regular burritos and include rice.
Local tip: Two taquerias claim to be the originator of the Mission burrito – El Faro and La Cumbre. If you have time, try a Mission Burrito from each to decide which one you like the best (probably not on the same day though, unless you’re sharing with a friend).
Hike on Angel Island
What is it: A historic island and state park north of Alcatraz. It’s located in the middle of the San Francisco Bay and used to house an immigration station and military base.
Why go: Angel Island not only provides unparalleled views of San Francisco and the East Bay but is an off-the-radar destination for hiking and exploring historic buildings. It’s also the largest natural island in the San Francisco Bay.
Local tip: If you plan ahead you might be able to snag one of the coveted camping spots on the island for an overnight trip. These sell out months in advance, so book ahead.
Taste Test the Food at the Ferry Building
What is it: Historic waterfront marketplace filled with a variety of food vendors.
Why go: This is the place to go if you’re looking to sample some of the best food in San Francisco all in one place. The Ferry Building Marketplace has become the heart of the San Francisco foodie scene and a vibrant gathering place for the local community. The market is housed in the historic Ferry Building, which first opened in 1898.
Local tip: For sit-down restaurants, don’t miss Hog Island Oyster Company, Gott’s Roadside, or The Slanted Door. If you visit on Thursday or Saturday before 2 pm, spend some time at the adjacent farmer’s market for more farm-to-foodie finds.
Enjoy the Exploratorium at Night
What is it: After Dark Thursday Nights at the Exploratorium give you access to San Francisco’s most popular science museum after hours for a 21+ crowd.
Why go: The chance for you to act like a kid around science without any kids around. The Exploratorium is fun to visit at any time, but their After Dark Thursday Nights are geared for adults only. The Exploratorium is usually filled with screaming kids and school field trips. However, if you snag a ticket for the night experience, you’ll find a full bar, DJ, and access to the museum’s 650 interactive science exhibits without kids. This is our pick for one of the best things to do in San Francisco at night.
Local tip: After walking through the museum, step out to the Bay Observatory Deck for panoramic views of the bay and the Bay Bridge Lights.
Peruse the Food Trucks at Off the Grid
What is it: Weekly food truck event that happens at different locations around the city.
Why go: Another opportunity to indulge in your inner foodie and check out more of the San Francisco food scene in one spot. This is also a popular family-friendly event and a good way to enjoy a selection of local food with the San Francisco community in a block party atmosphere. If you’re looking for cool things to do in San Francisco, these weekly events are a good place to start.
Local tip: Bring a picnic blanket and invite a few friends – this event is meant for bringing people together around food.
Spend a Day in the East Bay
What is it: The east side of the Bay Area, featuring the cities of Oakland and Berkeley as well as a ton of outdoor activities.
Why go: There are clearly a lot of things to see in San Francisco, but if you’re looking to experience the other side of the Bay – think about doing a day trip to the East Bay. There’s a reason San Francisco is called “The City” and Oakland is called “The Town.” The East Bay is known as the laidback sister to the Bay Area – more focused on outdoor pursuits, as well as trendy cafes and brunch spots, than big tech – although there’s plenty of that too. Spend a day around Lake Merritt or Rockridge in Oakland, explore Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, or spend a day hiking at one of the many East Bay regional parks.
Local tip: The easiest way to get to the East Bay from the city is by BART. Various BART stations around the city will take you to all the major spots around the East Bay for around $8.
Best Things To Do In San Francisco With Kids
Visit the Walt Disney Family Museum
What is it: Family-friendly museum about the life and legacy of Walt Disney.
Why go: Located in the Presidio, the museum is an interesting look at the life’s work of Walt Disney, his personal life, and how he shaped the history of animation. This museum isn’t the best for young kids since it’s information-heavy, but if you have older kids who are fans of Disney this is the perfect place to spend an afternoon.
Local tip: Don’t miss Disney’s 13-foot model and original vision of Disneyland, called “The Happiest Place on Earth.”
See the Animals at the San Francisco Zoo
What is it: 100-acre zoo that houses over 2,000 animals and over 250 species.
Why go: The chance to visit the best zoo in the Bay Area and get up close to a wide range of animals, most of which are rescued and endangered. One of the more unique features of the zoo is the rare and nearly extinct Mexican gray wolves exhibit, as well as the boundary-free aviary. This is one of the best things to do in the Bay Area with kids.
Local tip: One of the best aspects of this zoo is the number of special events throughout the day. Don’t miss the zookeepers feeding the grizzly bears at 10:30 am or the giraffes at 3:45 pm.
Walk Around Fisherman’s Wharf
What is it: Popular San Francisco tourist attraction full of unique shops, souvenirs, and restaurants that serve up fresh seafood.
Why go: One of the most popular San Francisco tourist attractions and an especially good place to take the kids. Fisherman’s Wharf is not only convenient to get to, but a good place to try fresh crab or clam chowder, stock up on souvenirs, and take in views of the sparkling bay and Alcatraz. This is a must-do in San Francisco if you’re traveling with kids (and even if you’re not).
Local tip: Dress warmly, it’s almost always cold and breezy around Fisherman’s Wharf. After walking around the wharf and its quirky shops, stop by nearby Ghirardelli Square for a mug of delicious, steaming hot chocolate.
Watch the Sea Lions at Pier 39
What is it: Popular spot to watch sunbathing sea lions near Fisherman’s Wharf.
Why go: Where you’ll find the highest concentration of sea lions in San Francisco. Pier 39 is right around the corner from Fisherman’s Wharf and a good place to see California sea lions in their natural habitat.
Local tip: Be prepared for a lot of sounds and smells – the sea lions are some of the noisiest residents along the embarcadero.
Play Old-School Arcade Games at Musee Mecanique
What is it: Interactive museum in Fisherman’s Wharf that features penny arcade games from the 1800s.
Why go: With over 300 old-school mechanical machines, the Musee Mecanique is one of the most unique museums in San Francisco. It’s also one of the best things to do with kids in San Francisco. From antique instruments to slot machines, old-fashioned photo booths, and even some machines made by Alcatraz prisoners, there’s a lot of interactive and historical attractions to keep you entertained throughout the museum.
Local tip: Admission is free but you have to pay to operate the individual machines and games. With that said, it’s a penny arcade so prices are a lot cheaper than what you’ll find at other arcades around the city.
Enjoy a Scoop of Ice Cream at Bi-Rite Creamery
What is it: A San Francisco ice cream staple that can be found throughout the city.
Why go: In a city where it seems like a new craft ice cream parlor pops up every month, Bi-Rite Creamery continues to take the title for the best ice cream in San Francisco. Bi-Rite is one of the originals, making all of their ice cream by hand in small batches. They also have a good range of vegan scoops for non-dairy diets.
Local tip: Don’t be surprised if there’s a line out the door at any Bi-Rite location you visit, but don’t worry, it’s well worth the wait. Don’t miss a scoop of their salted caramel or their soft serve stuffed donuts.