The 50 Best Things to Do and See in San Francisco

San Francisco is a great destination for travelers who want to immerse in a culturally-eclectic, urban experience with a unique character and history. The city is small, pedestrian-friendly, and aesthetically pleasing.

Streets soar up into the fog, and then descend towards incredible views of the San Francisco Bay. But there’s a whole lot more to the city than just looking beautiful. Here are 50 things to do and see in and around San Francisco:

  1. Escape from Alcatraz
  2. Walk across The Golden Gate Bridge
  3. Twist and turn down Lombard Street
  4.  Find inner peace in The Japanese Tea Garden
  5. Marvel at The Palace of Fine Arts and play at The Exploratorium
  6. Twirl some pasta in North Beach / Little Italy
  7. See the sea lions at Pier 39
  8. Catch fresh seafood at Fisherman’s Wharf
  9. Enjoy some chocolate at Ghirardelli Square
  10. Admire fine art in The Legion of Honor
  11. Ride a Cable Car
  12. Explore The Presidio
  13. Get fancy at Nob Hill
  14. Sail back in time at the Maritime National Historical Park
  15. Find the best Mexican food in The Mission District
  16. Take in the view from Coit Tower
  17. Dine at The Ferry Building Marketplace
  18. Shop at Union Square
  19. See the Painted Ladies across from Alamo Square
  20. Wander around Golden Gate Park
  21. Dig a tunnel to Chinatown
  22. Catch a home run at Oracle Park
  23. Watch the sunset on Ocean Beach
  24. Eat on the edge of your seat at the Cliff House
  25. Let Point Reyes National Seashore take your breath away
  26. Go avant-garde at the SFMOMA
  27. Travel the Orient at the Asian Art Museum
  28. Join the crowd at Stern Grove for live music
  29. Laugh at Beach Blanket Babylon
  30. Take a Bay Cruise
  31. Eat sushi and sing karaoke in Japantown
  32. Raise a glass at Anchor Steam Brewery
  33. Go wild at The San Francisco Zoo
  34. Explore our planet at The California Academy of Sciences
  35. Relive History in The San Francisco Dungeon
  36. Enjoy a concert at the Fillmore or a show at the Orpheum
  37. Sip on a drink beneath the stars
  38. Get groovy on Haight-Ashbury
  39. Walk the Bay Trail…or part of it
  40. Get a pair of blue jeans
  41. Hike through history on Angel Island
  42. Take a selfie in Silicon Valley
  43. Feel haunted at the Winchester Mystery House
  44. Explore ancient tombs at The Rosicrucian Museum
  45. Marvel at the giants of Muir Woods
  46. Soak in the sun at the Santa Cruz Beach and Boardwalk
  47. Take in the San Francisco skyline from Sausalito
  48. Go wine tasting in Napa Valley
  49. Immerse in Spanish history
  50.  Feel the Bohemian vibes of Berkeley

Before we go into detail about each item on the list, let’s take a look at some important overall information about your trip.

When to Visit San Francisco

Though Mark Twain once said “the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco,” summer is actually a great time to visit. During the summer you will be able to enjoy some of the activities that are available outside of the city (such as a day trip to Napa or south to Santa Cruz) since California’s Mediterranean climate means warm, dry months in the summertime. 

However, San Francisco remains pretty temperate most of the year. The waters of the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay, which surround the city on three sides, help keep the temperature reasonable all year round—though winter can be cold. There are over 50 hills in the city, and several microclimates…though what stands out in most people’s minds in the ever-present fog that often rolls over the city. 

The Fall months from September to November offer the best weather and the smallest crowds. Make sure that when you travel, whenever you travel, you do bring a light jacket or windbreaker, even if you are visiting in the summer.

How to Get to San Francisco

“If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear a flower in your hair…” A lot has changed since the 1960s, so if you don’t want to roll into San Francisco in a painted Volkswagen, your best bet is to fly. 

There are two main ways to fly into San Francisco: one is to fly right into SFO, and from there you can take public transit, a hotel shuttle, or rent a car to drive up north into the city, which is really not too far away. Alternatively, you can fly into Oakland (OAK), which is just across the bay—though it will mean taking a little more time to reach your hotel, if it’s in the city.

Where to Stay in San Francisco

If you want to save money on where you are staying, you could look at hotels in areas outside the more traveled parts of the city. You might find a decently priced hotel in Cow Hollow, The Marina, The Richmond District, or the Sunset District. As you move toward downtown, hotels will become more expensive—although if you’re able to pay the price, you will be much closer to the action and many of the attractions. 

You may also find some hotels in other parts of the Bay Area such as Oakland, Marin, and San Jose. Keep in mind that freeway traffic in the Bay Area can become congested during certain parts of the day, so if you’re trying to save money by staying farther out of the city, you may be frustrated by how long it takes to get to the places that you want to go, unless your primary activities will be ones outside the cities such as hiking or visiting other parts of the bay area.

Cool Facts about San Francisco

San Francisco is one of the most scenic cities in America, in part because of an inherent flaw in the way its streets were laid out. Not realizing that the city spans a very hilly area, designers arranged the streets in the usual grid form.

This grid form was actually implemented by the Spanish colonizers as part of the “Laws of the Indies.” While it has created an orderly urban fabric around much of the Southwest, in the uniquely three-dimensional geography of the Bay Area, it has created a network of streets that ascend and descend at seemingly precarious angles.

The end result is a city with incredible views of the Bay. As you drive along, you’ll soar up to a flat space with a vista that opens up before you…then plummet downward like you’re riding a roller coaster. And if you’re not driving, you can enjoy that ride from one of the city’s iconic cable cars.

While most travelers know about the Golden Gate Bridge, not everyone is familiar with the other sights and sounds of the “city by the bay.” The good thing about San Francisco is that since it’s smaller than other metropolitan attractions like New York, even the most touristy spaces have ample room for explorers to enjoy the sights and sounds.

Without further ado, here are 50 attractions you won’t want to miss:

#1: Escape from Alcatraz

The island of Alcatraz is one of the most iconic features of San Francisco. This craggy rock in the middle of the bay was once a federal prison that housed criminal celebrities like Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud “Birdman,” and George “Machine Gun” Kelly. No prisoner could escape from the island until 1962, when three prisoners carried out one of the most daring escape attempts in history—which of course included swimming across the bay (it’s pretty cold). Take a tour of the island and learn about its history as a military fort and federal prison, along with some of its intriguing flora and fauna. Ferries take off from several locations such as Pier 39.

#2: Walk across The Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge is probably San Francisco’s most iconic landmark, and a symbol of the city. Since it opened to traffic in 1937, it’s been described as one of the most photographed and beautiful bridges of the world; the American Society of Civil Engineers has called it a Wonder of the Modern Day World. While many people commute along it’s one-mile span every day, it’s also a pedestrian-friendly experience, with large sidewalks for walking, biking, or riding a segway. You’ll get unparalleled views of the city and the Pacific Ocean, along with the occasional excitement of a cruise ship or cargo ship passing underneath. Make sure your phone is charged to take pictures, and don’t forget a windbreaker, because it can get cold (even on a sunny day).

#3: Twist and turn down Lombard Street

Lombard Street is called the “crookedest street in the world,” and you’ll see why when you get there—or drive down it. Though it’s an east-west street that runs through the Marina and North Beach neighborhoods, once particular section is home to a series of hair-pin turns that wind between a block of homes. This section of the street is paved with brick, lined with planter boxes of colorful flowers, and offers incredible views of the water as you wind your way down toward Little Italy. Though it’s small, the block is busy, receiving 2 million visitors per year, and sometimes as many as 17,000 per day in the summer…so prepare for a traffic jam if you’re looking to drive down it (you can also walk).

#4: Find inner peace in The Japanese Tea Garden

This enduring feature of Golden Gate Park was part of the 1894 World’s Fair. The three-acre park is in fact the oldest public Japanese Garden in the United States. Visitors will feel like they’ve discovered inner peace as they wander the paths that meander through the calming landscape of rock formations, water features, and foliage that has been pruned and arranged in Japanese style. The Treasure Tower Pagoda and arching Moon Bridge are just two of the features influenced by Oriental thought and design. There is also a tea house where you can enjoy some tea and snacks in the spirit of a Japanese Tea Ceremony.

#5: Marvel at The Palace of Fine Arts and play at The Exploratorium

The Palace of Fine Arts is a magnificent, fictional ruin in Greco-Roman style that was a centerpiece of the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exhibition. The classical columns, arches, and awe-inspiring dome stand near a peaceful lake with swans. It’s a great place to take a stroll or snap some memorable photos. Inside the nearby pavilion is a hands-on science museum, the Exploratorium, which helps visitors of all ages learn about the world through science experiments. It’s a fun place for kids and adults alike, and a chance to get out of the heat during the summer…or the cold bay fog the rest of the year.

#6: Twirl some pasta in Little Italy

The area of North Beach, popularly known as Little Italy, is one of San Francisco’s most charming neighborhoods. Surrounded by the main drag of Columbus Avenue, Chinatown, and Fisherman’s Wharf, this entangled network of little streets is filled with restaurants like The Stinking Rose and Sotto Mare. Take the kids to Joe DiMaggio playground, or lounge in the picture-perfect grass enclosure of Washington Square, right across from the iconic white towers of Saints Peter and Paul Church. Many other attractions are in walking distance of North Beach, and some like Coit Tower are even in the neighborhood. Right across Columbus Avenue is the City Lights Booksellers and Publishers, an anchor in the city’s intellectual scene. 

#7: See the sea lions at Pier 39

Jutting out into the waters of the San Francisco Bay is this pier, packed with attractions, shops, and restaurants. It’s one of the most popular places to visit in the city, and you’ll see why as you walk along its wood planks. Travel through an underwater glass tunnel at the Aquarium of the Bay. Check out the sea lions sunbathing on the docks. Take a whale-watching tour, catch a ferry to Alcatraz, or browse the many shops that line the pier. The end of the pier has fantastic views of the bay, along with a merry-go-round and frequent shows by street performers and magicians. Other attractions include video game arcades, 3D movie-rides, and a mirror maze. There are also a number of art galleries and shops between Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf.

#8: Catch fresh seafood at Fisherman’s Wharf

Just down the street from Pier 39 is another waterfront attraction, this one a little less gentrified. Fisherman’s Wharf is your best bet for catching fresh crab, shrimp, and other offerings of the sea. If clam chowder in a bread bowl is more your style, dine at the Boudin Bakery Cafe. If you’re looking to head out into open water, charter a fishing boat. Guests looking for an indoor activity won’t be disappointed by the odd assembly of artifacts at Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum. For a photo-op with famous people throughout history, stop by Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. Lovers of antiques and memorabilia will find interesting coin-operated games on display at the Musée Mécanique.

#9: Enjoy some chocolate at Ghirardelli Square

This sweet spot is a must-see for chocolate lovers. Ghiradelli is one of the nation’s premier brands of chocolate, and this iconic brick building and clock tower (formerly the confectionery) is now their flagship store. As soon as you step into their flagship store, you’ll receive a free sample (and perhaps that’s reason enough to visit). The three-story complex of Ghiradelli Square has been around since 1893, and has since been converted into a venue for retail shops and restaurants. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the historic brick structure is crowned by a large sign that lights up at night, illuminating Ghirardelli’s name across the waters of the bay.

#10: Admire fine art in The Legion of Honor

Up in the hills of Land’s End Lookout, a world-class museum is hidden among the windswept forest of cypress trees. The Legion of Honor contains exhibits spanning 4,000 years of both ancient and European art in a stunning neoclassical building with commanding views of the bay. One of Rodin’s famous Thinkers graces the columned courtyard, perhaps wondering which one of the exhibits he should check out first. The European wing boasts contributions from the likes of artistic greats such as Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt, El Greco, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, and Claude Monet. The antiquities wing houses pieces from ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome.

#11: Ride a Cable Car

No trip to San Francisco would be complete without riding one of the iconic cable cars. The cars start running at 6:00 AM and continue to midnight. You can catch one of the cars either at the intersection of Powell and Market streets downtown, or Hyde and Beach by Fisherman’s Wharf. Riding the cable car from Union Square up to the crest of Nob Hill will provide you with an amazing view of the San Francisco Bay. Another line along California and Van Ness will carry you through the financial district. Ask the operator which line to take if you want views of Alcatraz, the winding brick road of Lombard Street, or to be dropped off near a particular attraction. Cable Cars are a great way to get around the city, so consider buying an all-day pass for less than $20. There is also a Cable Car Museum with free admission.

#12: Explore The Presidio

The Presidio is a former military base, and currently a 1,500 acre urban park with amazing views of the bay. There are forests, trails, and open grassy areas like Crissy Field. There are also lots of historical buildings to discover, such Fort Point, a Civil-War fortress built in 1861, located under the Golden Gate Bridge. There is also the stately adobe building of the Presidio Officers Club, built by the Spanish in 1776. You can also learn about the man behind the mouse at the Walt Disney Family Museum, which showcases the Disney influence on pop culture, including a scale model of Disneyland.

#13: Get fancy at Nob Hill

Nob Hill can be viewed as the apex of San Francisco’s hilly terrain, with numerous luxury hotels and mansions in the area. It was once the home of Railroad Barons, until their homes were destroyed by the 1906 earthquake. At the center of it all is Huntington Park, across the street from Grace Cathedral, a massive Gothic-revival structure with murals depicting the 1906 quake and fire. Hotels in the area include the Ritz-Carlton and the Mark Hopkins, with a restaurant and bar on its top floor offering amazing views of the city and bay. The Fairmont Hotel is a large, historical building with a magnificent, marble-columned lobby and ballroom that was scene to the founding of the United Nations (don’t miss the themed tropical Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar in the basement).

#14: Sail back in time at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

The San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park is located near Fisherman’s Wharf, in the small pocket of the bay known as Aquatic Park Cove. There are a number of historical ships preserved from different periods, 19th-century schooners, tugboats, paddlewheelers, and ferries. The Maritime Museum is housed in a unique art-deco building that looks like a boat, and a nearby visitor center by the Hyde Street Pier has exhibits on the history of the city. The Aquatic Cove Park is also a quiet place to rest, with pathways along the water that can carry you down to other nearby attractions such as Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, and Ghirardelli Square.

#15: Find the Best Mexican Food in The Mission District

When the Spanish colonized California, they built a string of missions along the coast. One of them was Mission Dolores, which is at the heart of one of San Francisco’s most eclectic neighborhoods: The Mission District. There are a number of restaurants where you can enjoy some authentic Mexican cuisine in your search for the best burrito. In addition to its Latin roots, the Mission District is also scene to great nightlife and hipster culture. Search for vintage clothing, browse the bookstores, sip a drink at one of the watering holes, and take in the fantastic murals that line the street. Dolores Park is also a great place to soak in the sunshine and enjoy fantastic views of the city.

#16: Take in the view from Coit Tower

This 210-foot tall art deco tower is a San Francisco landmark. It was commissioned by Lillie Hitchcock Coit, a patroness of the volunteer firefighters, who wanted to beautify the city with a memorial to the firefighters who had died in San Francisco’s major conflagrations. Though it is popularly believed to resemble a firehose, its appearance as such may be purely coincidental. Telegraph Hill, on which the tower stands, offers stunning views of the city and the bay and was already home to an observation deck before the tower. Today you can admire the murals in the base of the tower, and pay a small fee to climb to the observation deck.

#17: Dine at The Ferry Building Marketplace

The San Francisco Ferry Building boasts an iconic clock tower that serves as a focal point to those driving down Market Street through the financial district, or to those approaching the city by ferry. The architect, Page Brown, designed the clocktower to resemble the Giralda Bell Tower in Seville, Spain. Though it is still a functioning ferry terminal, the building has also been remodeled into an indoor marketplace with boutique eateries and shops, some of which offer waterfront dining. The plaza in front of the ferry building is also home to a colorful farmer’s market three days a week, and occasional celebrations throughout the year, such as New Year’s Eve.

#18: Shop at Union Square

Union Square is the heart of San Francisco’s downtown space. In the center of the palm-lined plaza is a towering pillar that commemorates victory in the Spanish-American War. Fronting the square is the massive St. Francis Hotel (today owned by Westin), one of the most prestigious locations in the city since 1913. A large Macy’s also fronts the square, and on its top floor, the Cheesecake Factory offers diners some incredible views of the city. You can also catch a cable car here, or make your way toward nearby attractions like Chinatown. The area around Union Square is also home to some exciting nightlife, such as bars, clubs, and 24-hour restaurants. Several retailers have large stores in the vicinity, such as Apple, Nike, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Tiffany & Co.

#19: See the Painted Ladies across from Alamo Square

If you’ve ever watched the TV show Full House, you’ll quickly recognize this San Francisco landmark, which appeared in the opening credits. This row of houses standing across from Alamo Square, also called “Postcard Row,” is juxtaposed nicely against the modern backdrop of downtown. The term “painted ladies” actually refers to Victorian homes that have been repainted in at least three colors to emphasize their structural details. Almost 50,000 Victorian homes were built in San Francisco between 1845 and 1915, many of them painted with bright colors. The tradition was revitalized in the 1960s, transforming the appearance of the city and revitalizing its unique character.

#20: Wander around Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park is one of the largest urban green spaces in America, with an incredible variety of attractions that could easily take up an entire day to see. The Japanese Tea Garden will allow you to sample the elegance of Asian landscaping traditions. In the center of Golden Gate Park, there is a beautiful oval green that is flanked by two world-class museums for both lovers of science and art, one of which is the de Young Museum, which features collections of American, African, and Oceanic arts and crafts. If you like color, don’t miss the Conservatory of Flower, a Victorian-era glass pavilion with over 2,000 species of flora.

#21: Dig a tunnel to Chinatown

San Francisco’s Chinatown is more than a nod to a once-thriving borough of Asian culture—it feels like a visit to a different country. The half-mile stretch of Grant Street, from the iconic Dragon Gate to Broadway, is packed with stores and restaurants boasting Chinese signage and authentic imports within. If you’re looking for silk garments, carved ivory, or Chinese food, this is the place to be. While every store is a colorful adventure, things get even more exciting when you move a block up or down from Grant Street, and immerse yourself in a neighborhood that is still very much a locus of Chinese culture and language. Particularly interesting is Portsmouth Square, where residents gather to play cards and Mahjong. Occasionally traditional Chinese instruments can be heard under the park’s pagoda. Best of all is Chinese New Year, which features lion dancing and fireworks.

#22: Catch a home run at Oracle Park

Home to the San Francisco Giants, Oracle Park is one of the most beautiful baseball stadiums in America, and designed by the same firm responsible for Camden Yards in Baltimore. Right by the water of China Basin, the park is famous for the “splash zone,” where boaters and kayakers gather to catch a potential home run that went deep over right field. The stadium offers a number of attractions for young players as well, such as a slide inside of a giant soda bottle, a t-ball field, and a fun-looking, enormous glove. Don’t forget to order some of the memorable and unique stadium fare, such as the garlic fries and an Anchor Steam beer.

#23: Watch the sunset on Ocean Beach

Ocean Beach is a long strip of sand and surf running along the Western boundary of the city, adjacent to Golden Gate Park and the Sunset and Richmond Districts. The cold water, with its strong currents and waves, does not make it such a great place to swim (in fact, it’s downright dangerous for casual swimmers) but it’s popular with surfers. Ocean Beach is also scene to a number of bonfire parties, especially in the fall and spring, when the ocean fog is less strong. On clear days, it can be a great place to view the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean. The Great Highway runs along the beach, and parking is usually easy to find—just make sure you bring a windbreaker.

#24: Eat on the edge of your seat at the Cliff House

The Cliff House is a restaurant perched on the bluffs that jut over the ocean. The Cliff House has been built and rebuilt in various styles five times since 1858, and at one point it overlooked a resort district that lined Ocean Beach. Today, all that remains of that Victorian vacay spot are the ruins of Sutro Baths, which was once an enormous saltwater pool complex. There are two restaurants in today’s incarnation of the Cliff House, one more casual and the other more upscale. The Terrace Room serves a Sunday Brunch.

#25: Let Point Reyes National Seashore take your breath away

Just across the Golden Gate Bridge are the Marin County Headlands, home to one of the most dramatic landscapes along the California Coast. Rocky cliffs plunge into the churning waters below, which can all be experienced with a harrowing drive that winds through the headlands. The Point Reyes Lighthouse is open to the public, but be advised that you’ll have to traverse 300 downward steps to get there. The Point Bonita Lighthouse is also dramatically positioned on a rocky outcropping above the pounding surf and requires traversing a suspension bridge to get there. If you don’t mind the drive, you can make your way to Stinson Beach, which is one of the most pristine beaches in California. Photographers should take note that one of the most dramatic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco Skyline beyond can be seen from the small bluff of Battery Spencer, just off the Golden Gate Bridge on Conzelman Road.

#26: Go avant-garde at the SFMOMA

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is the first museum on the West Coast exclusively devoted to 20th-century art. Offering a world-class collection of over 33,000 paintings, sculptures, photographs, and artworks in other mediums, the museum is also one of the largest in the United States, housed in an iconic red-brick building designed by Mario Botta. Across from the museum is Yerba Buena Park, which has an ice-skating rink, bowling alley, children’s museum, and a waterfall fountain dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. A nearby mall, The Metreon, overlooks the park and is home to restaurants, shops, and an IMAX theatre.

#27: Travel the Orient at the Asian Art Museum

The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco houses one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of Asian art in the world. There are over 18,000 works of art, some of which are thousands of years old. Artifacts from Southeast Asia, China, Central Asia, and Japan are on display, including a complete Tea House, which was shipped piece-by-piece from Japan and reassembled in the Museum. The museum is part of the Civic Center, and right across a plaza from San Francisco City Hall, which is actually taller than the U.S. Capitol Building from its base to the apex of its dome.

#28: Join the crowd at Stern Grove for live music

If you visit San Francisco during the summer, you’ll be able to catch some live music performances in the Sigmund Stern Recreation Grove. This wooded enclave is the scene of a massive free music festival that has been going on every summer since 1938, in the Eucalyptus-ringed amphitheater of the grove. Bring a blanket and enjoy live performances with the crowd, which sometimes surges up to 20,000 people. This is your chance to sample some of the San Francisco music culture that had its heyday with the likes of the Grateful Dead, without having to pay for any tickets.

#29: Laugh at Beach Blanket Babylon

Beach Blanket Babylon is a theatrical San Francisco staple of extravagant costumes and enormous, often satirical headpieces—including a grand finale with a massive hat that supports a replica of the skyline. The show began in 1974, and is the longest-running musical revue in the history of theater. However, Beach Blanket Babylon will close its doors for good after a final performance on New Year’s Eve in 2019, so if you want to catch a show, you’ll have to take your trip soon.

#30: Take a Bay Cruise

With all the views of the bay that you’re able to catch from the streets of the city, you still might not think twice about actually sailing around its waters. However, if you want some fantastic views of the city, the Golden Gate Bridge, and a closer look at the golden rolling hills of Northern California, you should take a cruise around the bay. Cruises with indoor and outdoor seating and narrated tours are offered by several companies such as the Blue & Gold Fleet, the Red & White Fleet, and Hornblower. Some of these companies also offer special events like dinner cruises.

#31: Eat Sushi and sing karaoke in Japantown

Though San Francisco is famous for its Chinatown, a separate urban enclave called Nihonmachi comprises six city blocks. The main attraction is the Japan Center, a shopping mall that offers places to grab sushi, ramen, and perhaps even sing a little karaoke. There are also specialty shops and grocery stores selling goods from Japan. The Peace Pagoda is a centerpiece of the neighborhood, and was presented to the city of San Francisco by its sister city, Osaka, Japan.

#32: Raise a glass at Anchor Steam Brewery

Take a tour of San Francisco’s premier, locally-brewed libation, Anchor Steam Beer. Reserve your tickets online for this 90-minute tour, which will give you a survey of the company’s history, brewing philosophy, and a guided walkthrough of the actual brewhouse. Of course, the tour concludes in the tasting room, where you will get to sample 12 different beers on tap in a tasting session. The tour runs Monday through Friday, when the plant is open. Though people of all ages can take the tour, only those 21 and over can enjoy the tasting (so bring your license).

#33: Go wild at The San Francisco Zoo

This incredible menagerie in Golden Gate Park is home to over 1,000 animals and 250 different animals species. The temperate climate of San Francisco makes it an amenable habitat for a diverse range of creatures. An African Savannah exhibit will allow to see zebras, storks, giraffes, ostriches, and gorillas. Watch lemurs, monkeys, and chimpanzees play and frolic in the primate house. The Cat Kingdom is home to tigers, lions, leopards, and also non-feline creatures such as rhinos, hippos, and an anaconda snake. There is also a South American section, a Bear County section, and a large children’s zoo, with barnyard animals to pet.

#34: Explore our planet at The California Academy of Sciences

The California Academy of Sciences is a great place to learn about the flora and fauna of our world…and beyond. Staple exhibits and features include a planetarium and a four-story rainforest with birds and butterflies. The African Hall is one of the last remnants of the original neoclassical museum building, and features taxidermied animals from the Savannah. The aquarium presents over 40,000 different animals and features a Philippine Coral Reef that can be viewed from a glass tunnel. The museum also offers exciting night programs and sleepovers. One of the most amazing things about the building is its architecture, which includes a swelling, curved roof covered in grass.

#35: Relive History in The San Francisco Dungeon

The San Francisco Dungeon is a recent indoor attraction that will give you an up-close and personal experience of the city’s history, from witnessing a clash between gold panners and Indians, to immersing in the wild saloon scene with Shanghai Kelly to wandering the streets of Chinatown during the Black Death epidemic of 1900. Actors play out the events in this immersive 60-minute adventure. Keep in mind that the theme of this attraction is all about presenting the colorful history of San Francisco’s dark past, so it may not be a great venue to take your kids to. Book tickets online to get the best prices.

#36: Enjoy a concert at the Fillmore or a show at the Orpheum

The Fillmore is a historic concert hall and still serves as a venue for live music. It  became the focal point for psychedelic rock, and The Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, and Pink Floyd all played there. Check out the calendar of events to see who is playing when. If live theater or musicals are more your cup of tea, check out what’s playing at the SHN Orpheum Theater, a beautiful theater with a vaulted ceiling meant to replicate a cathedral. You can also catch some opera at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House, and rock concerts at The Warfield.

#37: Sip on a drink beneath the stars

There are a number of bars and restaurants around the city that are located at the top of one San Francisco’s many skyscrapers. Because of San Francisco’s hilly geography, the city is especially great for enjoying the view from a bar at the top of a hotel. If you’re looking for drinks under the stars and over the twinkling lights of the city, try the View Lounge on the top floor of the Marriott downtown, The Starlight Room at the top of the Sir Frances Drake, or Cityscape Bar & Lounge at the top of the Hilton in Union Square. Top of the Mark at the top of the Mark Hopkins Hotel offers a 360-degree view of the city, along with a memorable Sunday Brunch.

#38: Get groovy on Haight-Ashbury

The Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood was the counterculture locus of 1960s. Everything you’ve heard, seen, or known about Hippies, Tie-Dye, and psychedelic rock came from this place. It’s most famous residents were The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, and Jefferson Airplane; if you want to learn about that groovy time, check out the Beat Museum. If you’re looking to shop for tie-dye shirts or browse the selection at the massive Amoeba Music, this is your neighborhood. For better or worse, developers have piggybacked on the hype of Haight-Ashbury and gentrified it—so if you’re not averse to browsing some higher-end stores (albeit some that pose as more Bohemian) you’ll find an amenable shopping experience. Don’t forget to grab a scoop of ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s right at the corner of Haight and Ashbury.

#39: Walk the Bay Trail…or part of it

When it’s finished, the Bay Trail will be a pedestrian and biking trail that literally rings the entire Bay Area, moving around the shoreline through San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, Berkeley, and and the North Bay. The 500-mile trail will grant you access to some natural sights like  San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Though you probably can’t do the entire trail in one day, you could do parts of the trail near you, such as the portion that runs through the Embarcadero. This palm tree-lined avenue runs along the bay, between the water and the city. You can pass through beautiful outdoor greens like Rincon Park and Brannan Street Wharf Park. Many attractions such as Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Embarcadero Plaza are also located along the Embarcadero.

#40: Get a pair of blue jeans 

Blue jeans were invented during the California Gold Rush. Levi Strauss and his business partner were the first to sell blue denim pants with copper rivets: the first blue jeans. Learn all about the history of this California invention at Levi’s Plaza, which is the corporate headquarters of Levi Strauss & Co. There are gardens and fountains around the complex, which are open to the public, and designed to carry the vibe of a “well-worn pair of jeans.” Inside the lobby is a small museum where you can learn about the history of blue jeans, including seeing some of the oldest pairs in existence. There are customized jeans available for purchase in the lobby, but you might find a wider selection a few blocks north at the Levi’s Store Market Street location.

#41: Hike through history on Angel Island

Angel Island was to San Francisco what Ellis Island was to New York: a place to process immigrants, in this case, mostly from China. Before that, it housed Fort McDowell, which processed troops returning from the Spanish-American War. Then it housed a quarantine center, set up screen Asian passengers before they set foot on the mainland because of an outbreak of the Bubonic Plague. Today you can tour the historic buildings, relax on the waterfront park, or take a hike up to the summit of the island for some encompassing views of the bay and the city. You can catch a ferry to the island from select locations in Marin County, namely Tiburon.

Things to Do Beyond the City

The next ten items on our list will take you outside of the city proper, but as close as you’ll be to these Bay Area attractions, it would be a shame to not see them. From the North Bay to the South Bay to the East Bay, there’s something that appeals to every traveler.

#42: Take a selfie in Silicon Valley

The tech locus of the world is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from San Francisco (and in fact, some companies like Twitter are located in the city). Apple, Facebook, and Google all have their campuses in Silicon Valley. Though these companies do not offer official tours of their respective campuses, if you know someone who works for Google or Facebook, they can walk you around—and if you don’t, you can always pose for a picture out front. If you want to do something more hands-on, visit The Tech Museum of Innovation right in downtown San Jose, or learn about the birthplace of computing at the Intel Museum. You can also take a tour of the Stanford Campus in nearby Palo Alto.

#43: Feel haunted at the Winchester Mystery House

The Winchester Mystery House is actually located South of San Francisco in nearby San Jose, but it’s well worth the 1.5 hour or so drive to check it out. This elaborate four-story Victorian home was built by Sarah Winchester, the widow of man who invented the gun that won the West. A dabbler in new-age spiritualism, she was told by a Boston-area psychic that she should ceaselessly build a home to appease the spirits of those killed by the Winchester Rifle. Due to her enormous wealth, she was able to build a sprawling complex, though she did so without the guidance of an architect, adding on to the building in a haphazard fashion. Some conjecture the odd features, such as dead-end stairs and trap doors,  are meant to confuse restless spirits.

#44: Explore ancient tombs at The Rosicrucian Museum

Another trip-worthy attraction in San Jose is the Rosicrucian Museum, which houses the largest collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts in the United States. It’s a great place to learn about daily life and culture in ancient Egypt, along with exploring a replica of a rock-hewn tomb, complete with hieroglyphics on the walls and a stone sarcophagus. The museum building itself is built in an Egyptian style, such as the memorable entrance of columns capped with lotus petals, like those of the ancient temple at Karnak. There is also a planetarium and some themed landscaping, all within the scenic area of the San Jose Rose Garden.

#45: Marvel at the giants of Muir Woods

Just across the Golden Gate bridge in Marin County is a magnificent wooded glen of enormous, stately redwood trees. These behemoth trees have grown in Muir Woods National Monument for hundreds of years. Logging destroyed most of California’s 2 million redwood trees, but select areas of redwood forests were inaccessible to the loggers, and spared of destruction. Because the forest is close to the Pacific Ocean, it’s often shrouded in a magical fog, which is sometimes dappled by sunlight. Paved paths will carry your between the enormous red trunks of these ancient giants. Please note that advance reservations are required for entering the forest.

#46: Soak in the sun at the Santa Cruz Beach and Boardwalk

Just around an hour south of San Francisco is the town of Santa Cruz, a beach resort between the California redwoods and crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean. A sandy stretch of beach calls visitors to come and play for most of the year, while the Santa Cruz Boardwalk of rides, restaurants, shops, and other attractions runs parallel to the water. Other nearby attractions include the geographical anomaly of the Mystery Spot, and a train ride at Roaring Camp Railroad, which travels through the woods and over wooden trestle bridges; you’ll have to catch your train from a historical replica of a wild west town, replete with actors.

#47: Take in the San Francisco skyline from Sausalito

Sausalito is a small town in Southern Marin County with incredible views of the bay and San Francisco; it’s a common stopping-point for bikers making their way across the Golden Gate Bridge. The main street, Bridgeway, is home to shops, restaurants, and art galleries. Enjoy a meal outside in the beautiful California weather, then stroll along the water of the Bay and take in the view from Yee Tock Chee Park, or admire the iconic elephant fountain of Vina Del Mar Park. The nearby Bay Area Discovery Museum at Fort Baker is a great place for kids to have some hands on fun.

#48: Go wine tasting in Napa Valley

Napa Valley is about 1.5 hours north of San Francisco, but you won’t want to miss it for two reasons: it’s the capital of the wine industry in the United States, and you’ll have the opportunity to take in the rolling, oak-studded hills of Northern California, which you can’t quite see in the city. The wineries are truly incredible and offer tours and tastings. The Castello di Amorosa is like a 13th-century Tuscan castle, and Domaine Carneros is like a miniature Palace of Versailles, complete with manicured gardens. Lake Berryessa offers a place for swimming and watersports, and there are dozens of other wineries that offer tours in the area.

#49: Immerse in Spanish history

The first Europeans to settle California were the Spanish, and they left behind a number of fascinating historical buildings to visit throughout the State, including a string of 21 missions stretching from San Diego to Sonoma. There are at least five of these missions in the immediate Bay Area (San Rafael, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Clara, and Sonoma). Several are just a few hours away, including a particularly fascinating one south of Gilroy called San Juan Bautista. Set in the picturesque Salinas Valley, this mission was actually the set for the climactic scene of Alfred Hitchock’s Vertigo. Today the mission is surrounded by a historically preserved town. The California Missions Museum in Sonoma has scale replica models of all the missions.

#50: Feel the Bohemian vibes of Berkeley

Just across the bay from San Francisco is the eclectic city of Berkeley. If the vibe of Haight-Ashbury’s less gentrified parts appeals to you, you should definitely check out the neighborhood around the University of California at Berkeley campus, especially Telegraph Avenue. This Bohemian enclave has not lost the spirit that began in the 1960s, and the shops, restaurants, and cafes are a great place to soak in the counterculture that California is famous for. Berkeley is also famous for its Indian and Asian communities, and this can be a great place to shop for clothes and enjoy the unique cuisines of India and Southeast Asia.

1 thought on “The 50 Best Things to Do and See in San Francisco”

  1. The route starts in Union Square and ends at the City Hall – if you actually stop at a few locations, get lunch and visit one of the museums, this will easily take the entire day, but it’s definitely worth it!

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