50+ Things to do in San Francisco
Heading to San Francisco and looking for things to do? I got you covered! Having lived in the SF Bay Area for over 10 years, I had visited San Francisco’s most famous spots, hidden gems and created a list of over 50 things to do. These are all my favorite activities to do in San Francisco and around the city. Whether you are visiting for a few days or a week, this list will come in handy to pick and choose based on your interests. Let’s dive right in!
NOTE: As is the case everywhere, some of the museums and parks listed below may be closed or operating at limited capacity in 2021. Be sure to check their websites for timings and open hours.
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50+ things to do in San Francisco
Golden Gate Bridge
The most famous and iconic landmark of San Francisco is undoubtedly the Golden Gate Bridge.
This internationally renowned suspension bridge should be the first stop in your San Francisco itinerary. To make the most of the visit, stop at both the vista points and walk or bike along the bridge.
Battery Spencer has one of the best views of Golden Gate Bridge. Many people just visit the bridge and turn back but I highly recommend stopping at Battery Spencer for spectacular views of the bridge. It is just a few miles from the north vista point.
Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park spans over 1000 acres and is a local’s favorite. With lots of greenery and open space, there are many things to do here. You could easily spend a few days exploring the park. It is often overlooked by tourists but I can’t recommend this enough!
California Academy of Sciences
This is one of my favorite museums in San Francisco. It is a natural history museum with a rainforest, an aquarium and a planetarium along with millions of wildlife species.
Japanese Tea Garden
Japanese Tea Garden is another must visit in Golden Gate Park and San Francisco. It is the oldest Japanese Garden in the US and is so beautiful and peaceful with a Koi pond, Japanese temple and a tea shop.
If you like to do a fun activity like relaxed boating, head to Stow Lake at the Golden Gate Park. It is a beautiful lake with greenery, a cafe and even waterfalls. It makes for a fun family stop.
Skystar Ferris Wheel and Music Concourse
The Skystar Ferris Wheel is a new addition to the park and is a fun experience to view the park from above. Directly across from the ferris wheel is the music concourse. If you are in luck, musical concerts and practice sessions happen throughout the week.
San Francisco Botanical Gardens
Golden Gate Park is filled with nature and greenery everywhere. One such place to visit is the botanical garden. With over 9000 species, it is a serene as well as an educational place to visit with family.
Conservatory of Flowers
The Conservatory of Flowers located inside the park is a glass greenhouse and houses over 2000 plant species. This is one of my favorite places to visit in the park. If you visit in the winter, be sure to check out nightbloom, a light and sound show that happens in the evenings.
De Young Museum
Even if you are not a fan of museums, De Young Museum’s modern architecture is worth a visit. Beautifully designed to withstand seismic activity, this building is unique and awe-inspiring. If you are an art lover, check out the museum’s modern American and international artwork.
Dutch Windmill and Tulip Garden
If you are visiting San Francisco in Spring, check out the Dutch Windmill and the surrounding tulip garden. There are two windmills and the north one has the tulip garden. It is a beautiful spot to snap some photos!
Pier 39 & Fisherman’s Wharf
If you would like to visit a real touristic spot bustling with people, you must visit Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf. Pier 39 is a popular shopping center with lots of restaurants, gift shops and other unique stores. It also has great views of the Bay and on most days, there is a colony of sea lions chilling by the Pier. Don’t forget to try the seafood and famous clam chowder at one of the restaurants.
SF’s Chinatown is one of the oldest in the US. It is a fun place to visit with bustling streets, lots of vendors, dim sum joints, tea shops and other unique stores. San Francisco city also organizes a parade every year during the Chinese New Year. If you are planning to visit the city around Chinese New Year, check out the parade.
If you love chocolate (who doesn’t?), you must visit Ghirardelli Square. Kids will love the ice cream and the chocolate shop.
South of Pier 39 is The Embarcadero waterfront with great views, restaurants and a park with beautiful sculptures. You also get awesome views of the Bay Bridge from the Embarcadero.
While the Golden Gate Bridge may be the most famous landmark in San Francisco, the Bay Bridge is pretty on its own. The newly-renovated bridge is lighted and beautiful to watch at night.
If you prefer shops and vendors without too many tourists, you will love the Ferry Building. I prefer this to Pier 39 and it also provides great views of the Bay Bridge.
Waterfront dining in the Embarcadero area is another fun thing to do if you enjoy dining by the water. There are several restaurants ranging from casual to fine dining with great waterfront views.
Cruise along San Francisco Bay
If you can handle the chilly waters of San Francisco and the wind, a boat tour or a cruise is a must do. Several companies offer boat tours around the Bay cruising under Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge and around Alcatraz.
This famous prison island just a mile from San Francisco is a legend on its own. It’s infamous inmates and their unsuccessful escape attempts make it even more legendary. I recommend taking a tour of the Island to see what life was like for the prisoners at Alcatraz.
Legion of Honor Museum
This is my favorite landmark and museum in San Francisco. The architecture is stunning and it has some of the best ancient and European artworks. They also have temporary exhibits every year featuring great artists like Monet, Degas. It is a popular photoshoot spot so don’t forget to grab your camera.
Lincoln Park and Lincoln Park Steps
Lincoln Park is right next to the Legion of Honor Museum and is a great park to take a walk in nature with beautiful views and surrounded by trees. Be sure to visit the Lincoln Park steps for colorful mosaic stairs.
Palace of Fine Arts
This is another local favorite and a peaceful place to spend your morning. It is a gorgeous venue and a favorite for photographers.
Lombard Street is famously known as the crookedest street in San Francisco. You have to drive through Lombard Street to actually get the thrill of it.
If you would like to do some shopping, head to Union Square. There are many boutiques and stores surrounding the Union Square Plaza including Macy’s and Westfield Mall. It is also an awesome place for people watching and is one of the best places to see Christmas lights in San Francisco.
Cable Car ride
Cable car rides are a popular thing to do in San Francisco. The yellow and red trolleys are everywhere and are fun to hop on and hop off.
Lover’s Lane, Presidio
The Presidio area is my absolute favorite neighborhood in San Francisco. It is full of tall trees and beautiful buildings. If you are a nature lover and love trees, Lover’s Lane in Presidio is a must visit and a hidden gem. It is popular with photographers and Instagrammers.
Inspiration Point Overlook
This is another great spot for breathtaking views of SF Bay and is another hidden gem in Presidio. It is an easy drive up and absolutely free to visit.
This was a privately owned saltwater swimming pool complex that burned down. Now, there are only ruins of the baths and is a unique place to watch the sunset and the ruins.
Land’s End Labyrinth
This is one of my favorite places to hike down with ocean views. The reward at the end of the hike is not just ocean views but also a beautiful labyrinth!
Crissy field is a former airfield now part of Golden Gate Recreational area. It is a beautiful grassy area that is about 4 miles long and has some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Fort Mason Center
This is a great place to visit if you are an art lover. The Fort Mason Center has many events year round including a farmers’ market every week, evening food trucks, special events and several art exhibits.
Coit Tower, atop Telegraph Hill has some of the best panoramic views of the city. While you could drive up to the top, I suggest taking the stairs from below for a workout and a chance to explore the neighborhood.
SF Museum of Modern Art
If you love modern art, check out SF’s Museum of Modern Art. As you can tell, it houses modern art and has some fun and colorful installations. Many of their installations look beautiful in photos.
Mission District is a hip neighborhood with eclectic cafes, lots of colorful murals and some of the best food in SF. Visit a few taquerias, chill at a cafe or just take a stroll to spot some cool murals.
Mission Dolores Park
Dolores Park is a fun place to have a picnic, spend time relaxing and enjoy city views. They used to have movie nights in the summer but unfortunately don’t do them anymore.
Twin peaks have some of the best views of San Francisco. Located in the center of San Francisco and about 1000ft high, these peaks offer breathtaking views of the city on a clear day!
Bernal Heights Park
This is another place to catch 360deg views of the city. An added bonus is the tree swing overlooking the city to get your Insta worthy shot!
The Painted Ladies
The Painted Ladies are Victorian and Edwardian style homes that are painted colorfully and are pretty to look at. There are several in San Francisco but the most famous ones are at the intersection of Steiner and Hayes St. You can get the best view of these homes from Alamo Square park.
Salesforce Tower Park
Even though the Salesforce Tower is a relatively new addition to San Francisco, it is now very popular, thanks to the park that sits atop the tower. It is a living roof and an urban marvel that spans 100 acres and is just breathtaking.
This is a massive cathedral with beautiful stained glass windows and exterior design. It is worth a visit if you like cathedrals and architecture.
Little Italy, nestled between Chinatown and the North Beach area is a fun place to grab a pizza or gelato after a long day. I love stopping here for a bite when I am exhausted from all the exploring!
San Francisco Zoo
If you are looking for kid friendly activities, San Francisco Zoo, a 100 acre zoo in Southern San Francisco is a good place to visit.
Mt Sutro Open Space Preserve
Can you believe that there is a lush green forest in the heart of SF? Yes, Mt Sutro Open Space Preserve is in the middle of the city and a great escape from the busy city life. It also has good city views!
The Wave Organ
The wave organ is a fun sculpture designed by a local architect. It conveys sounds of waves to listeners through a series of pipes designed specifically for this purpose. It is definitely one of the most unique things to San Francisco.
San Francisco Beaches
There are so many beautiful beaches in San Francisco that it is hard to pick one. Some of the beaches have best sunset views while others have great views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay. This is a list of my favorite beaches with best things to do at each one.
Best for kitesurfing, bonfires and watching sunset
Best views of Golden Gate Bridge
Secluded beach with beautiful views of Golden Gate Bridge and the sunset.
Another great beach with views of the Golden Gate Bridge
Crissy Field Beach
Part of the Crissy Field area, this beach is best for kitesurfing.
Kirby Cove Beach
Small beach on the other side of Golden Gate Bridge with unique views of the bridge and a swing.
Black Sands Beach Sausalito
This is a secluded beach and takes a bit of a hike to access. The hike up and down makes it more exclusive and not too crowded. It is also a great place to watch sunset!
Marin Headlands is a mecca for nature lovers, no matter what kind of activity you like whether it is hiking, biking or bird watching. It is also a good spot to get views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Sausalito is an affluent neighborhood just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. It is known for beautiful marina, waterfront restaurants and cute homes. It is a short but sweet escape from the city and is a good place to grab a bite!
If you want the best views of the Bay and the city from afar, Treasure Island is a must visit. There is also a winery and a few restaurants on the island.
Angel Island State Park
If you have a few more days to spare in San Francisco, check out Angel Island – an island in the SF Bay with breathtaking views of the city and Marin. A ferry takes you to the island and you can do many fun activities like biking, hiking and lots of opportunities for photos.
Muir Woods National Monument
Muir Woods is a famous day/half day trip from San Francisco. Located in Marin County north of San Francisco, Muir Woods has some of the oldest Redwood trees. If you have never seen these huge redwoods, this is a fun trip to take.
I hope you enjoy your trip to San Francisco. I know there are many more things to do in SF than the ones listed above. If you visited San Francisco before or are a local, let me know what your favorite thing to do in SF is.
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I am Aswani Kurra. I am an engineer, dreamer and part-time wanderlust, writer and wine lover. I always had an urge to write, create and travel. So I created this space to satisfy my creative itch and combine all my skills to help you plan your Charming Escape.