As locals, we love playing tourist for the day in San Francisco. We often get asked for recommendations on what to do and see (options are endless), so we put together a suggested list of 10 Fun Things To Do in San Francisco on your next visit.
Top 10 Fun Things To Do in San Francisco
1. Golden Gate Bridge
Walk or bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, the world’s most famous bridge. Admire spectacular views of San Francisco’s skyline, Alcatraz, Angel Island and the sailboat-filled bay. Scenic Vista Point areas are located at each end of the Golden Gate Bridge – great vantage points for taking pictures and shooting videos.
2. Marina Green and Crissy Field
One of our favorite walks in San Francisco is along the waterfront at Marina Green and Crissy Field. On weekends and sunny days, the area is filled with people walking, jogging, cycling, playing with dogs and basking in the sun at the beach. Pack a picnic lunch or pick up a sandwich-to-go at the local Marina Green Safeway (located just across from Fort Mason) and relax on the grass or at one of the benches overlooking the bay. Walk or bike the scenic waterfront trail to the Golden Gate Bridge – bike rentals are available at Fort Mason.
3. Alcatraz Island – “The Rock”
Tour Alcatraz, the world’s most infamous prison. It was once home to Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly and The Birdman of Alcatraz. Combine a San Francisco City Tour and guided visit to Alcatraz for the ultimate introduction to San Francisco. Tour includes Ferry ride to Alcatraz Island, an audio-guided Walking Tour of the Cell Block, and a sightseeing tour of San Francisco’s famous landmarks and attractions. Alcatraz sells out weeks in advance, especially during peak tourist season, so be sure to book early before tour sells out.
4. Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39
Get a taste of San Francisco strolling along Fisherman’s Wharf, one of the city’s top attractions. Visiting the historic waterfront and watch street vendors cracking fresh Dungeness crab and preparing seafood delicacies. Packed with tourists and street performers year-round, it’s a fun place to shop for souvenirs, people-watch and enjoy the fresh catch of the day at restaurants overlooking the bay. Visit Boudin Museum & Bakery, famous for its Sourdough Bread filled with Clam Chowder (classic comfort food). See historic photos and trivia of Boudin and San Francisco dating back to the California Gold Rush and Barbary Coast days, through the post Dot.com era. From there, it’s a short walk to Ghirardelli Square and its famous Ice-Cream Shop – a must for ice-cream lovers.
Pier 39 and its horde of Sea Lions basking in the sun is considered San Francisco’s top tourist attraction. They’re so loud, you’ll probably hear them barking before you even see them! Even though their numbers have dwindled from over 1,000 at their peak, the sea lions still draw a huge crowd and keep visitors (especially kids) entertained. The two-level waterfront complex houses specialty shops, fun restaurants, art galleries, street performers, carousel rides, bay cruises, boat rides, and an aquarium – plenty to keep you and your family entertained for hours.
5. Cable Cars
Invented in 1873, today the Cable Car is one of San Francisco’s most popular attractions. It’s the only operating cable car system in the world. Cable Cars have no motors or power of their own – they are towed along tracks in the street by a moving cable. Experience riding up and down the city’s famous hills. Catch a car on route (if there’s room) or board at one of the Cable Car turnarounds (Beach Street opposite Ghirardelli Square or Powell/Market Street in Union Square). Expect to wait in line, especially during peak tourist season. Find out everything you always wanted to know about cable cars and see the oldest cable car in the world at the Cable Car Museum, Barn & Powerhouse. There’s even an annual Cable Car Bell-Ringing Competition in Union Square where gripmen compete for the title of World Champion Cable Car Bell-Ringer.
6. Palace of Fine Arts
Palace of Fine Arts was built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. It was restored to its original splendor in 1967. Today, it’s one of San Francisco’s most spectacular and romantic backdrops. Don’t be surprised if you see a wedding party taking pictures here. The swan-filled lagoon and grassy area is a perfect place to relax, picnic, read a book and people-watch.
7. San Francisco “Hop-On Hop-Off” Bus Tour and San Francisco Bay Cruise
What a fun way to see all the sights of San Francisco. Take a fun “Hop-On Hop-Off” Double Decker Bus or Trolley Tour. Hop-on-and-off at your leisure throughout the tour and then come back and spend more time exploring your favorite places. Visit 14 of the city’s top attractions. Tour runs for approximately two hours if you stay on the bus. 1 or 2-day passes are available.
And of course no visit to San Francisco would be complete without taking a Bay Cruise. Treat your honey to a romantic Champagne Brunch Cruise. What better way to cruise the picturesque waters of SF Bay – sipping on champagne and mimosas and enjoying a lavish brunch. Enjoy the outdoors on a narrated cruise as you sail by Alcatraz, Angel Island, Treasure Island, under the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge, and along the beautiful San Francisco waterfront. Wear layers as it can get quite chilly on the bay, even during summer months.
8. Golden Gate Park, Museums and Japanese Tea Garden
Did you know that Golden Gate Park is even larger than NY’s Central Park? The park is home to beautiful gardens (Japanese Tea Garden, Botanical Garden, Conservatory of Flowers), meadows, lakes (Stow Lake), biking and running trails, free band concerts at Music Concourse, world-class museums (de Young and the California Academy of Sciences) – even a small herd of buffalo!
California Academy of Sciences is a “must-see” when visiting San Francisco. It’s the only museum on the planet that houses one of the world’s largest Planetariums, an Aquarium and Coral Reef, a Natural History Museum, and a glass-domed Rainforest – all under the same roof.
The state-of-the-art MH de Young Museum is the fourth most visited museum in the nation. It’s conveniently located right across from the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. If you have time, try to combine your museum visits. Then head next door to San Francisco’s exquisite Japanese Tea Garden – the oldest public Japanese garden in the U.S. Wind down from your museum visit and enjoy a more tranquil setting admiring beautiful pagodas, lily ponds, drum bridge, zen garden, cherry trees, azaleas, Oriental magnolias, camellias, and Japanese maples. Here’s a bit of trivia history. Did you know that Makoto Hagiwara (manager of the Japanese Tea Garden) created the Fortune Cookie in 1909 and served them to guests of the Tea Garden. And the rest… as they say… is history!
9. Union Square and San Francisco Shopping
Union Square is San Francisco’s premier shopping destination. It’s filled with major department stores, trendy boutiques, specialty shops, fine jewelry stores, art galleries, restaurants and cafes. The nearby Westfield San Francisco Shopping Centre is one of our favorite places to shop. The largest urban shopping mall this side of the Mississippi, it houses the largest Bloomingdale’s store outside of Manhattan, the second largest Nordstrom in the U.S., specialty shops, the largest Day Spa in the city, fabulous restaurants and cafes, gourmet food market, upscale food court, and a multiplex cinema.
10. Chinatown, Lombard Street, Coit Tower and North Beach
Explore Chinatown – it’s one of North America’s oldest and largest. Stop by the famous Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory to see how fortune cookies are made – and get a taste too! Enjoy complimentary Tea Tastings (sample a variety of exotic teas) at one of Chinatown’s tea shops. This is a lot of fun, especially if you’re a tea lover.
Drive down Lombard Street, the world’s most famous and crookedest street. We like stopping at the bottom of Lombard Street to take pics looking back up at the zig-zagged road. The Cable Car (Powell-Hyde line) stops at the top of Lombard Street to let passengers take pictures – get great views of Coit Tower, Alcatraz and the bay.
North Beach (also known as Little Italy) is one of our favorite neighborhoods in San Francisco. The area is filled with cozy Italian restaurants, outdoor cafés and coffee houses, unique shops, bustling Broadway nightclubs and bars. It’s no wonder that North Beach is one of the city’s most popular hangouts – and a great place for people-watching!
Enjoy your visit to San Francisco
Please feel free to share any of your own experiences with our readers.