24 Things to Do in San Francisco

San Francisco is a world-renowned city that is home to tons of popular tourist attractions. I have been there many times, and each time I go, I find something new to explore. This list includes some of my favorite hikes, viewpoints, tourist attractions and parks all over the city of San Francisco, check it out and let me know what I left off in the comments.

Video

If you want to see all of these recommendations in a video, you can watch it below, or you can just head on to the list.

1. Golden Gate Bridge

First up, no list of San Francisco is complete without talking about the Golden Gate Bridge. It is one of the most iconic parts of San Francisco, and it is just as impressive to see in person. You can walk on it, photograph it from one of the many viewpoints, or take it in from my favorite spot Battery Spencer. Bonus points for going to Battery Spencer at sunrise as it is incredible to watch the light come up behind the bridge.

2. Alcatraz

Alcatraz is a huge tourist attraction in San Francisco and one of the most well-known jails in the world. This island housed many notorious criminals, but now it is a national park that is open to the public. You can take the boat ride over the island multiple times per day and then explore as slow or as fast as you want with the self-guided audio tour. Even though it is touristy, I still really enjoy visiting it.

3. Ferry Building

Next, to where the Alcatraz tours leave, the Ferry Building has lots of different shops and eateries inside the historic structure. Some of my favorite spots to check out at the marketplace are Hog Island Oysters, Cowgirl Creamery and Gotts Roadside but even if you simply wander the halls and grab Blue Bottle Coffee, you will have a good time.

4. Rincon Park

Rincon Park is home to Cupids Span, one of San Francisco’s most well-known art pieces. While there is not a lot to do at the park, I always enjoy going there for sunrise as you can get some fantastic views of the sun coming up behind the Bay Bridge. Plus, just taking some photos in front of the massive bow and arrow is worth the stop by itself.

5. Coit Tower

Coit Tower is over 200 feet tall, and it was built in 1933. The interior features murals painted on the many walls, and you can take an elevator to the top of the tower. When you get to the open air top floor, you can look through the many windows they have and get some great views of the city, the bridge, and even Alcatraz.

6. Cable Cars

If you are going to San Francisco then this is probably already on your list. The cable cars are iconic in San Francisco and a lot of fun to ride. You may have to wait a while in line, but its worth it and I recommend trying to get an outside spot where you can hold onto the side and watch the cars pass around you. Don’t forget to visit the Cable Car Museum as well, it is free and will tell you more about the iconic cars.

7. Chinatown / Fortune Cookie Factory

San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest outside of Asia and the oldest in North America. It was established in 1848 and it is a fun spot to walk around and explore. I recommend spending some time in the shops, visiting some of the restaurants and going to the Fortune Cookie Factory. The latter of which lets you write your own fortune and have it added into a warm cookie before it’s bent into the traditional shape.

8. Lombard Street

Claiming to be the crookedest street in the world, Lombard Street is a tourist attraction that features eight hairpin turns cars can drive down. While there is not much to do here, it is still fun to see and even more fun to drive down.

9. Fishermans Wharf / Musee Mécanique

Fishermans wharf is one of the most touristy areas in San Francisco, but it is still fun to visit. I recommend stopping by Boudin and getting some of their clam chowder in a bread bowl and going to Musee Mecanique. Musee Mecanique is a blast as you can change your dollars into quarters and play all sorts of old games and small mechanical shows.

10. San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park

San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park is our next stop, and it is one of those places that I was very impressed by. This park is run by the national park service, and it features a half dozen boats from the last few centuries that have been restored and are available for you to experience. You can go on each one, inside many of them and explore them to your hearts content. I love old boats like this, so I spent a good hour or two here just seeing what each had to offer.

11. Ghirardelli Square

San Francisco is home to Ghiradelli and it one of the most popular tourist spots near the water. It is cool to check out though, and the ice cream is decadent. Plus, even if you don’t buy something, just walking into the shop nets you a free chocolate. Also, be sure to check out the area in the back where they show you how the chocolate is made.

12. Palace of Fine Arts

Built for the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915, the Palace of Fine Arts is something you have to experience for yourself. It is beautiful to walk around with the central rotunda being the most awe-inspiring. I like to photograph this spot right as the light is fading as the reflection is fantastic for pictures.

13. Wave Organ

While not for everyone, the Wave Organ is a unique piece of San Francisco history that I always enjoy checking out. It is near Crissy Fields, and you have to walk out on the long peninsula to get there. Along the way, you will get great views of the Golden Gate Bridge, and then when you finally make it to the end, you will see the Wave Organ. At high tide you can hear the wave crashing into the underwater tubes and echoing the noise through the organ above.

14. Presidio

With over 200 years of history, the Presidio is one of those places you could spend weeks exploring. This old military base was transferred to the parks service in the 1990s and it features many historic structures, hiking trails and beautiful views. During the summer the park has picnics on the weekends which brings hundreds of people to the main square. One of the best things to do here it to visit the four pieces of artwork from Andy Goldsworthy: Spire, Earth Wall, Tree Fall and Wood Line. You can do a three-mile hike to see all of them but tree fall is only open on the weekends. Don’t forget to visit the Walt Disney Family Museum when you are there as well.

15. Painted Ladies

Another iconic view in San Francisco is that of the Painted Ladies. These pastel colored houses were featured in the opening of the old show Full House and since then they have become a must visit for many people in San Francisco. I don’t care about them as much as others but the park they are next too is beautiful to relax at.

16. Twin Peaks

No doubt you have seen the large attenas sitting up on the hill in the middle of San Fracisco. This area is known as Twin Peaks and it is a great spot to drive up to and to get a view of the city down below. There are a few small hikes to the hills from the parking area, and each provides slightly different views of the city. It is a fun, quick stop, especially if you have a rental car.

17. Golden Gate Park

Larger then New York’s Central Park, Golden Gate Park needs weeks to be fully experienced. While I haven’t gotten to spend as much time as I would like there, a few of my favorite spots are the Old Dutch Windmill, Bison Paddock (where actual bison roam) and the Japanese Gardens. There are many great museums in here as well like the de Young Museum of Art and our next recommendation the California Academy of Sciences.

18. California Academy of Sciences

California Academy of Sciences is a blast to explore for the whole family. One of the reasons I like it is for the rainforest dome they have inside of the museum. This ecosystem is built to maintain the plants and animals found in a rainforest. You can walk through it and experience butterflies and other things all around you, a really unique spot in the middle of San Francisco. Also, during the winter this is a fun area to visit as they have lots of Christmas attractions including snow falling in the museum.

19. Lands End

One of my favorite short hikes in all of California, Lands End trail goes along the coast with breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge. There are many lookouts along the path, but be sure to make the hike down to Lands End Labyrinth as that is one of the best views of the bridge. From there, go down to Mile Rock Beach and hang out on the sand. I like hiking here before sunset and then going over to Sutro Baths for the actual sunset.

20. Sutro Baths

This historic spot right on the water is a favorite of mine for sunset. The area is fun to explore as it features the remains of a privately run, salt water swimming pool complex. Not much is left from that complex other then the outline of the pool, but the views here are spectacular, and it is an amazing area to explore.

21. Marshall’s Beach

Marshall’s Beach is probably my favorite spot for sunset in San Francisco. The beach is located below the batteries and Golden Gate Bridge Overlook and it is about a half mile trail down to the water. Once you get there, you can walk along the rugged coastline and take photos of the Golden Gate Bridge in the background; it is surely one of the best views in San Francisco.

22. Fort Point

On the other side of the bridge from Marshall’s Beach, Fort Point is a historic military base that you can visit for free when it is open. It sits right at the bottom of the Golden Gate Bridge, and it provides incredible views, plus a sense of scale for how big this bridge truly is. I love visiting here for the photos and the history.

For the last two recommendations, we are leaving the city a little bit. It is best to do both of these only if you have a rental car.

23. Point Bonita Lighthouse

Located on the cliffs across from Lands End, Point Bonita Lighthouse is one of the most picturesque in California. It features a suspension bridge that takes you over the structure and it is only open one to two days a week. The views from the lighthouse of the coastline and the bridge behind you are amazing; it is something that all Bay Area visitors should see at least once.

24. Muir Woods

My last recommendation is Muir Woods. When visiting California, people often ask where to see redwoods. While it is best to see them at Redwood National Park or Sequoia, if you are staying near San Francisco then Muir Woods is about as good as it gets. This grove is about 45 minutes from downtown San Francisco and it features some amazing trees and it is a beautiful spot to walk around. Note that it can get pretty busy in the summer though and you want to get there early to get a parking spot.

So there you have it, my 24 recommendations for San Francisco. I know these were pretty touristy but if you want to see more off the beaten path or food recommendations or something else, let me know in the comments. Also, let me know if I left something off that you love to do in the city.

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About JoshMc

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