If you are looking for amazing things to do in San Francisco, you are in the right place!
San Francisco is brimming with great food, an artsy culture, and beautiful landscapes.
One visit, and you will see why it is on so many people’s couple’s bucket list!
San Francisco surrounds you with picturesque landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Alcatraz Island while immersing you in a unique melting pot of cultures.
The San Francisco Bay is a mecca for foodies, sports lovers, and techies all coming together to create a vibrant and exciting city.
Whether spending all your time in the famous Fisherman’s Wharf or exploring cool places like Haight-Ashbury and the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market, San Francisco has something for everyone!
One visit and you will understand why San Francisco is one of the best California weekend getaways!
Taking our cues from this 4-Day San Francisco Itinerary, we knew we still had so much to see while visiting San Francisco!
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Things to Do in San Francisco, California
1. Golden Gate Bridge
Oh, The Golden Gate Bridge, the iconic symbol of San Francisco and definitely something on everyone’s San Francisco bucket list.
Everyone dreams of getting the perfect shot of the Golden Gate Bridge, possibly the most photographed bridge in the United States, and definitely making everyone’s guide to San Francisco.
Be sure to research because there are so many places to get the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
The Golden Gate Bridge is an 80-year-old engineering marvel at its inception and still stands tall today, connecting San Francisco to the Marlin headlands.
While no trip to San Francisco would be complete without seeing The Golden Gate, don’t be shocked if she is covered in a fog most of the time.
During both of our trips to San Francisco (one in July and one in October), we were only lucky enough to have a clear view of the Golden Gate Bridge for a couple of days, but it was covered in fog the other days.
Funny fact: The fog surrounding the Golden Gate Bridge has a name.
The locals call the fog Karl. Karl even has a social media following!
While you must pay a fee to cross San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge in a vehicle, you can walk or bike across for free.
Biking the Golden Gate Bridge is a popular activity in San Francisco Bay.
If you’re interested in biking across the bridge, consider this Guided Bike Tour Across the Golden Gate that also takes you down to the charming town of Sausalito.
2. Fisherman’s Wharf & Pier 39
The Fisherman’s Wharf was originally a place for Italian immigrants to sell their treasures from the sea.
Today, San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf is brimming with souvenir shops, restaurants, and plenty of tourists, making it one of the best family-friendly activities in San Francisco.
Despite the crowds of people, you have to experience the Fisherman’s Wharf.
You will find the Boudin Bakery, Pier 39, Pier 45, Ghiradelli Chocolate, and more in this area! (More information on each of these is below.)
3. Boudin Bakery
Visit the stalls selling fresh clam chowder and seafood before entering San Francisco’s famous Boudin Bakery.
The Boudin Bakery, known for its incredible sourdough bread, is a true treat.
After standing outside the huge glass windows watching the masterful bakers create cute animals out of the bread, you can head upstairs and learn more about the bakery in their museum.
Once you have learned about the “mother dough,” you must taste some.
Lucky for you, there are two restaurants in the Boudin Bakery to choose from!
For years, the Boudin Bakery has been a staple in the San Francisco Bay community.
Be sure to add it to your list of things to do in San Francisco!
4. Pier 39
While at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, go to Pier 39.
Pier 39, seemingly always crowded, bustles with activity day and night.
Stop out front to enjoy some street performers before heading to the Pier’s main attraction, the sea lions.
The Pier 39 sea lions arrived here after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989.
Surrounded by abundant herring and a protected environment in the San Francisco Bay, the number of sea lions grew, and in the winter, approaches over 300!
While the smell can be much, it’s worth it to snap photos of these cute creatures that always seem ready to pose.
Don’t leave Pier 39 before visiting the other attractions, including the aquarium, a fun carousel, and numerous shops and restaurants.
3. Hyde Street Historic Ship Collection at Pier 45
At San Francisco’s Pier 45, you will find the Hyde Street Historic Ship Collection.
The Hyde Street Ship Collection houses submarines, World War II warships, and the three-mast Balclutha, constructed in 1886.
Please note that the ships rotate in and out for maintenance, so check their website for updates.
I have to be honest; Marty and I didn’t realize that the piers in San Francisco were public property, so you can stroll down any way you choose.
We would have never ventured down Pier 45 had it not been for the walking tour that we participated in.
4. Ghirardelli Square
Purchased by Domenico Ghirardelli for the home of his famous chocolate company, this plot of land has undergone some significant changes since its inception in 1893.
Had it not been for some innovative thinking by the Roth family, Ghirardelli Square as we know it today would not exist.
The Roth family purchased the original plot of land after it had been sold and would be made into apartment buildings.
The Roths hired a landscape architect to repurpose the historic building, thus creating the first adaptive reuse project in the United States.
Now a historic landmark, Ghirardelli Square is the protected home of Ghirardelli retail stores, several restaurants, bars, and a hotel.
While here, check out the Original Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop to view the chocolate manufacturing equipment.
Don’t be surprised if the smells overtake you and force you to buy an incredible ice cream sundae or a decadent salted caramel hot chocolate!
Pro Tip: Be sure to go into all the retail stores, as they give you a free sample every time you walk in. Who doesn’t love free chocolate?!
If you’re a true chocolate lover like me, sign up for the San Francisco Ultra Chocolate Tour.
This adults-only tour will take you on a 3-hour journey through chocolate heaven as you sample amazing chocolate paired with wine, beer, and artisanal cocktails.
I mean, cocktails and chocolate, pinch me!!
5. Union Square
Union Square, located in downtown San Francisco, is a shopper’s dream; therefore, it must be included in our guide to San Francisco.
You will find designer stores lining the sidewalks in this area.
I tried to convince Marty to buy me everything from Tiffany and Co., but he wasn’t having it on this trip. LOL!
The actual square, which faces Macy’s, is a great place to take a break from all this shopping.
The first time we visited San Francisco city, there was a huge art display set up in Union Square, and this time, it looked as if they were preparing to install their holiday ice skating rink!
You can find a complete list of Union Square events here.
6. Visit San Francisco’s Chinatown
Just up the street from Union Square, you will feel like you have been transported to another world when you enter San Francisco’s Chinatown.
Walking up to Chinatown’s famous Dragon’s Gate, stop for the infamous selfie before journeying into this San Francisco treasure.
San Francisco’s Chinatown is the second-largest Chinese community in the United States.
Be sure to visit during the day when all the shops are open, and the area is bustling with life.
Head to the fortune cookie factory on Ross to see the birthplace of these yummy, crunchy treats.
She contributed it to the tea?!
Also, check out one of the great tea rooms in this area.
Marty and I had a great time sampling and learning about tea from a beautiful Chinese lady who told us she was in her 70s but didn’t look a day over 30.
A visit to Chinatown can’t be missed while visiting San Francisco!
7. North Beach
Pick any restaurant in North Beach, San Francisco’s Little Italy, for an incredible Italian meal.
North Beach has checkered tablecloth ristorantes, cafes, delis, and lively nightclubs and bars.
Originally part of the Barbary Coast, North Beach is also brimming with history.
The main street, Grant Avenue, is the oldest in San Francisco, and the North Point docks once welcomed thousands of immigrants to America.
Take a break and watch all the dogs frolic in Washington Square Park before visiting the church where Marilyn Monroes ‘staged’ her wedding to Joe DiMaggio, Sts. Peter and Paul Church (they just took pics outside of the church after actually marrying at City Hall).
For the ultimate food experience, you have to take the Little Italy and North Beach Walking Tour.
Not only will you learn about the fascinating history of this neighborhood, but you will also get to taste so much amazing food!
8. Lombard Street
After eating through North Beach, visit the world-famous Lombard Street, that famous zig-zag road in San Francisco, to work off some of your consumed calories.
Lombard Street, “the most crooked street in the world,” definitely lives up to its name.
When we visited during the day, the street was lined with other tourists snapping photos and watching the cars navigate the hairpin turns.
We noticed a line of cars stretching as far as we could see, waiting to drive the crooked part of the street.
A lady on the BigBus Tour told us that it wasn’t uncommon for people to wait 2-3 hours for a chance to drive this section of Lombard!
I loved the beautiful houses that lined Lombard, all with their unique style and charm.
I wonder if the people can ever get out of their driveway?!
Of course, the real estate on this street is worth a pretty penny, as is most real estate in San Francisco.
If you live in San Francisco and are interested in selling, you can sell your home fast in San Francisco with HomeLight!
You could take the Advanced Lombard Street Segway Tour if you’re adventurous!
I have to be honest, we saw people doing this one, but I wasn’t brave enough.
Well, I didn’t have the segway skills anyway! LOL!
9. Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts was initially constructed for the Panama-Pacific exposition in 1915.
It was built to show the world that San Francisco had recovered from the 1906 earthquake that devastated the city.
Today, it’s primarily used for weddings and photoshoots.
Take time to stroll this beautiful area.
We couldn’t believe the size of the columns, and I loved the gorgeous swan lake.
It’s said that the palace’s design inspired Steven Spielberg to create the famous Star Wars character R2D2. I can see the resemblance!
10. Alamo Square and the Painted Ladies
The colorful row homes, known as the “Painted Ladies,” sit between 710 and 720 Steiner Street at the corner of Hayes Street and are one of the popular San Francisco landmarks.
These colorful houses, made famous by the popular tv show Full House, are a tourist draw and should definitely be on your list of things to do in San Francisco!
The homes are privately owned, so you can’t go inside but can see them from the park across the street.
11. Mission District
One of San Francisco’s hippest neighborhoods, the Mission District is hot real estate in San Francisco!
Lined with vibrant street art and delicious food, the Mission District deserves a visit.
Head to Dolores Park for a fantastic city view before embarking on your Flavors and Murals of the Mission District Tour.
Take in all the beautiful murals and learn about the history of this great area, including how this fire hydrant saved the neighborhood.
12. Golden Gate Park
You can spend an entire day exploring Golden Gate Park and still not see it all.
That’s because this park covers over 1,000 acres!
Golden Gate Park is a great area to enjoy a day outdoors in San Francisco and is home to some of the best San Francisco landmarks.
Golden Gate Park houses the de Young Fine Arts Museum, the Academy of Sciences, and the beautiful Victorian-era glass Conservatory of Flowers.
On Sundays, Golden Gate Park closes the main drive to cars, making it the perfect place to enjoy bicycling for the day!
My favorite part was the Japanese Tea Garden, built in 1893.
The tea garden is a fabulous place to enjoy peace and quiet during your visit to San Francisco.
When you get hungry, visit the food establishments found in Golden Gate Park, such as the Beach Chalet and Park Chalet.
You might notice that all the statues are hard to see in this park because its designer hated them.
When the city erected one of him for the park, he stole it and buried it in his backyard!
13. Alcatraz Island
Alcatraz Island is one of America’s most famous (and highest security) prisons.
The site initially housed a lighthouse station before transforming into a military prison in 1870.
Surrounded by the freezing cold waters of the San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz, or “The Rock” as it was commonly referred to, was reserved for America’s most hardened criminals.
After boarding a ferry to the island, get ready to tour one of the United States’ most famous prisons.
The Cellhouse Audio Tour is included in your admission price, but also check the daily schedule for special programs and guest speakers.
We found the island to be fascinating.
We enjoyed learning about the prison, and I loved hearing about the rest of the island’s history, including its stint as a military base and now a bird sanctuary.
Take my advice; you need to book your Alcatraz ticket well in advance.
They are known to sell out 3-4 months in advance, so don’t delay.
We did the BigBus and Alcatraz Combo Ticket for our visit and booked it 45 days before our trip.
Alcatraz is definitely worth your time and money.
Named for the streets that intersect this neighborhood, Haight and Ashbury, this fun and funky neighborhood is like stepping back in time!
In the 1960s, this area was flooded with young hipsters who decided mainstream America wasn’t what they wanted.
Today, their legacy is in this infamous street’s cool bookstores, record shops, and vintage clothes stores.
It’s as if you can still feel the energy of famous musicians like The Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin still roaming the streets.
I loved visiting the retro-clothing shops and seeing this area’s street art.
The independent thrift stores and coffee shops are like hidden gems beckoning you to enter.
Be on the lookout for “Those Famous Legs.”
I mean, they are one of the San Francisco Instagram-worthy spots!
15. Take a Cable Car
I can almost guarantee that you have seen a television show or commercial featuring the iconic San Francisco cable cars at least once in your lifetime.
These cars are the last of their kind in the United States.
They have become so iconic that they were awarded the title of National Historic Landmark!
So, to make your own Rice-A-Roni moment, go ahead and jump on one of the cable cars.
Just don’t wait in line in Ghiradelli Square for the cable car.
Get on the cable car faster at Mason or Bay Street.
You can board the cable cars from a few spots around town, including the famous Powell-Hyde Line at Powell and Market Streets.
This ride will even take you past the famous Lombard Street.
For the ultimate thrill ride, get on the California line where California intersects Market to experience one of the big hills of the city.
No matter your route, a cable car ride is iconic in San Francisco, so be sure to add it to your list of things to do in San Francisco.
16. Twin Peaks
For some incredible city views, take a hike at Twin Peaks.
These famous grassy peaks are the second-highest spots in town, second to Mount Davidson, so you know you are in for a treat.
The peaks are open from 5 a.m. until midnight, and the views are well worth the effort of getting to the top.
17. Ferry Building Marketplace
At first glance, you might think San Francisco’s Ferry Building is just a place to catch the ferry.
While it’s true that you can catch the ferry from here, this building is home to much more than just that.
The San Francisco Ferry Building is also home to some of the best cuisines that you will find in the San Francisco Bay!
The public food market inside the Ferry Building is a food lover’s dream.
Here, you can find everything from fresh produce to delicious Japanese delicacies.
Explore the various shops and vendors, sampling their incredible products.
If you find yourself in the area on a Saturday, then be sure to check out the Saturday farmer’s market for an extra special treat!
18. San Francisco Bay Cruise
A San Francisco Bay cruise lets you see the city from a unique viewpoint.
The San Francisco Bay is picturesque at sunset, so consider booking a sunset cruise if possible.
Enjoy a drink as you cruise past Alcatraz Island toward the Golden Gate Bridge and watch the sky turn golden.
Of course, bay cruises are offered throughout the day, so you can easily find the perfect cruise that suits your needs.
19. Cable Car Museum
Check out the Cable Car Museum for a fun and unique San Francisco museum.
The Cable Car Museum allows visitors to step back in time and explore the history of the iconic San Francisco cable cars.
The museum is in the historic Washington/Mason cable car barn and is free to visit.
You can see the engines and winding wheels that pull the cable cars in addition to the numerous historic cars and photographs on display.
20. Asian Art Museum
Another fabulous San Francisco museum is the Asian Art Museum.
The museum is home to over 18,000 works from many Asian countries.
The artwork includes paintings, sculptures, textiles, photographs, and more from countries like Turkey, China, India, and the Philippines.
The amazing art collection ranges from over 6,000 years ago to the modern day, making it an incredible experience in northern California.
You can get more information on the Asian Art Museum website.
21. Ocean Beach
Ocean Beach is San Francisco’s longest shoreline in the city’s northwest corner.
This 3 1/2 mile stretch of sand is the perfect place to spend the day if you want to escape city life’s hustle and bustle.
Ocean Beach is perfect for a long walk on the shore before making a bonfire in one of the many fire pits that line the beach.
If you visit during September or October, you will likely be rewarded with rays of sunshine as these are the sunniest months in this area.
No matter what time of year you visit, wear layers as temperatures vary greatly depending on the weather conditions.
Also, swimming is not recommended as there are strong currents off of Ocean Beach.
22. Museum of Modern Art
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art boasts one of the world’s largest collections of modern and contemporary art, so it should definitely be on your list of San Francisco things to do!
Home to over 33,000 art pieces, the SFMoMA is sure to have something you will love.
Spend the day taking in their permanent exhibit consisting of sculptures, paintings, and photography before checking out the special exhibits that the museum is famous for.
23. Oracle Park
If you want to watch the San Francisco Giants play a game of football, then you need to head to Oracle Park.
Oracle Park is a favorite among San Franciscans and tourists.
I don’t know if this is because of the Giants or because the park has over 700 Wi-Fi access points!
Either way, it is worth visiting while you are in this area of northern California.
24. California Academy of Sciences
The California Academy of Sciences is a fun and unique facility that is comprised of a natural history museum, an aquarium, a planetarium, and a rainforest!
Located inside Golden Gate Park, the California Academy of Sciences is a treat for kids (and kids at heart).
The Steinhart Aquarium has over 40,000 animals, including an albino alligator and a penguin colony!
The Planetarium showcases daily shows on its 75-foot-diameter screen as a great place to learn about the stars and planets surrounding our Earth.
In contrast, the Natural History Museum showcases dinosaur bones, fossils, and more!
During your visit, don’t miss the Osher Rainforest.
You will find yourself surrounded by an incredible tropical rainforest home to over 1,600 animals!
25. Walt Disney Family Museum
If you are a Disney fan, you must visit the Walt Disney Family Museum during your time in San Francisco.
The museum highlights Walt Disney’s life from childhood through Disneyland’s creation, focusing on his achievements all along the way.
In addition to this history, the Walt Disney Family Museum showcases rotating exhibits focusing on the artists and animations that helped make Disney popular.
During your visit, be sure to take note of the incredible views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge from the property as well.
26. Baker Beach
San Francisco’s Baker Beach is considered one of California’s best beaches, thanks to its sweeping view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
This mile-long beach offers a great opportunity for visitors to picnic on the beach while enjoying some incredible views.
Like most other beaches in this area, it is not recommended to swim at Baker Beach because of the strong currents and dangerous undertow.
While I recommend bringing layers, it is essential to note that some people don’t need any layers, making the northern part of Baker Beach clothing optional!
27. Mission Dolores Park
Located in the famed Mission District, Mission Dolores Park is a fabulous 16-acre park that boasts incredible views of the San Francisco skyline.
In addition to the abundant green space found at Mission Dolores Park, the park is also home to two off-leash dog areas, a playground, and several sports courts, making it the perfect place to spend a sunny afternoon in the city.
28. San Francisco Botanical Garden
The San Francisco Botanical Garden is famous for its vast varieties of flora and fauna found throughout the world.
The garden spans over 55 acres in Golden Gate Park and is the perfect place to spend time in nature while exploring San Francisco.
One of my favorite areas was the Garden of Fragrance. Here, visitors are encouraged to sniff the various sweet-smelling plants like lemon verbena and lavender.
Suggested San Francisco Tours
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Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight:
We love using CheapOAir, Kayak, and Kiwi to search for the best flight prices. We love using these search engines because they search the web for airlines worldwide to ensure you get the best deal! In addition to flights, you can also find great hotel prices on Kayak and Kiwi.
Book Your Vacation Package:
If you want to book an entire vacation package, we suggest using Expedia. We love how easy Expedia is to use, and we always find good deals on entire vacation packages on their site.
Another great site for vacation packages is BookVIP. BookVIP offers super cheap vacation packages to incredible destinations. You are sure to save money using their site!
For full guided vacations, including hotels, some meals, transportation, and guides, then we book with Trafalgar. Trafalgar is a trusted tour company that will meet all your needs while ensuring a great experience.
Trip.com allows you to book flights, hotels, train tickets, rental cars, airport transfers, tours, and more all on one site. Owned by the parent company that also owns Skyscanner, this is a trusted resource for travel booking and a great “one-stop shop.”
Book Your Accommodations:
We always begin our search by checking out honest reviews on TripAdvisor hotels. This allows us to narrow our search for specific properties once we are ready to book. Of course, you can also book directly on the TripAdvisor site!
There are several accommodation sites that we like to use. One of our favorites is Booking.com because it offers a wide variety of hotels and guesthouses at a good price.
Another “go-to” hotel booking site for us is Hotels.com. We love their loyalty program that allows you to earn free nights, and their “secret prices” for members are fabulous deals!
If you want a luxurious all-inclusive vacation, consider checking out the Sandals/Beaches properties. Sandals properties are for couples only and Beaches are for families. We have visited Sandals in the past and absolutely love the attention to detail and the service they provide.
Tour Companies We Trust:
We love taking guided tours when visiting new places. Our go-to tour companies are Viator.com and Get Your Guide. Both of these companies have been in business for years and provide excellent customer service. You can trust booking tours from their sites for sure!
CityPass is a great way to save money when visiting large cities. CityPass allows you to get free admission to major attractions once you buy their pass. The savings add up quickly with this pass, often saving 50% with combined admissions.
Another great pass to save money in larger cities is the Sightseeing Pass. This pass allows you to save valuable time and money by combining admissions to major attractions. They also have a handy app that keeps everything you need at your fingertips.
Looking to Save Time and Money?
Check out our resource page for all of our favorite vendors. These companies help us to save time and money on our travels!
About The Author
Michelle Snell is a travel writer, history buff, wine lover, and enthusiast of different cultures. Michelle enjoys bringing places to life through her informative writing style on her blogs, That Texas Couple and Totally Texas Travel. Her practical tips and suggestions help make travel dreams a reality while immersing her readers in the history, culture, and food of a region. She is happiest sipping wine in Italy or chilling on a beach with her husband, Marty.