Known for its cool summers, foggy views, quirky architecture and famous landmarks, there are many things to do in San Francisco that will keep any visitor busy for weeks on end. However, most will spend just a few days in San Francisco and have to keep out sightseeing to just the best attractions in the city, which is why we share the best things to do in San Francisco.
The Golden Gate Bridge
Of course, you can’t visit San Francisco without a trip to the Golden Gate Bridge. This is an iconic landmark in the USA and a reason for many to visit the city. Opening in 1937, the steel wonder of the world connects San Francisco Bay and Marin County. There are many viewpoints of the Golden Gate Bridge to choose from but also try to walk and/or drive across the bridge itself to appreciate the size.
The bridge is open 24 hours a day to drive across but the pedestrian walkway is only open during daylight hours.
The infamous prison is another must-see on your trip to San Francisco. Rich of history and offering an excellent audio tour, this is a moving and harrowing experience in San Francisco. When visiting Alcatraz, aim to book your tickets at least 7 weeks in advance and get the first tour of the day; we visited during the summer months and by visiting first thing, we were able to see the haunting prison with a lot less people inside.
For some tasty local food and a calm, relaxing afternoon, head to the waterfront. Fisherman’s Wharf offers some of the best dining opportunities in the city, just make sure to book a table ahead of time during the busy months. It is also home to the unique Pier 39; a fun pier offering souvenir shops, rides, quirky stores, and the adorable sea lions.
There are many Chinatowns across the world but San Francisco has four to choose from, with Grant Avenue being home to the biggest Chinatown outside of Asia. Head here for authentic Chinese cuisine or time your visit for the Autumn Moon Festival or Chinese New Year to taste the jade garlic, when the neighbourhoods come to life.
Golden Gate Park
With over 13 million visitors to this park every year, it isn’t exactly the best place to escape the crowds. However, there is plenty of space in the 1000 acre area to unwind and enjoy the lakes, picnic spots, gardens and monuments. Inside the park, you will also find the California Academy of Sciences and the de Young Museum which are both worth visiting if you have the time.
San Francisco’s Cable Car
As the last manually operated cable car system in the world, you must try the cable cars in San Francisco at least once. Although there were once 23 cable car lines in the city, there are now just three left used mostly by tourists.
San Francisco’s famous Zig Zag road is an iconic street in the heart of the city. City planners and residents of San Francisco struggled with the steep hills of the city, so in the 20’s, home-owners on the street decided to create a plan to include sharp turns in order to make the road more manageable. Now the street is one of the most famous, unique roads in the world and sees around one million cars driving down it every year. Catch the Powell-Hyde Cable Car to the top of Lombard Street and enjoy a leisurely walk down the sides of the street.
The Ferry Building
For foodie travellers, head to the Ferry Building; a marketplace of local restaurants and vendors. You can try some delicious food from some of the best chefs in the city all day long, with the market opening from 10am to 7pm week days, 8am – 6pm on Saturday and 11am to 5pm on Sundays. This is one of our favourite unique places to visit in San Francisco and we highly recommend it to all travellers.
The museum of science, technology and arts in San Francisco is a unique, interactive museum that forces you to see the world through a different perspective. Located at Pier 15, this is a great day out for families but it does come with a price; adult tickets cost $29.95, teens are $24.95 and children aged 4-12 cost $19.95.
Standing at the top of Telegraph Hill, Coit Tower offers some incredible views of the city. My friend says it look like the Uhrturm in Graz. Head up to the viewing deck for a 360 degree view for just $8 per person and aim to visit first thing if you want to avoid the crowds.
The Painted Ladies
A quirky and free thing to do in San Francisco has to be the Painted Ladies. This is a row of Victorian and Edwardian houses on Alamo Square that are iconic to San Francisco. These are actually symbolic to the California GOLD.
This popular neighbourhood is a great place to stay if you are looking for a central location in San Francisco. In this area, you will find plenty of retail outlets, 4 and 5 star hotels, cafes, art galleries and bars. This is also the area that many tours and sightseeing buses depart from, making it an ideal place to base yourself if you are looking to take some tours of the city and enjoy partying with the locals.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
As a stand-out museum in the world of art, this was the first museum on the West Coast to display only modern (20th century) art. The museum holds over 33,000 words of art including sculptures, paintings, photography, architecture, design and media arts. Tickets cost $25 for general admission but children under 18 can enter for free.
California Palace of the Legion of Honor
Known as the city’s most exquisite museum, the Legion of Honor was gifted by socialite and patron of the arts Alma de Bretteville Spreckels. Here you will find a unique and gorgeous collection of European decorative arts, paintings and sculptures. Plus, just outside the museum is the Lincoln Highway. Follow this path to see some stunning ocean views alongside the Golden Gate Bridge.
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
The 600 square mile park in Marin County, located across the Golden Gate Bridge from downtown San Francisco is a huge natural area to explore. It is a designated Biosphere Reserve with many attractions and beautiful places to explore. Choose one of the walking trials, enjoy the beaches (some of which have fantastic views of Golden Gate Bridge) and enjoy a picnic in one of the many picnic areas around the park. You can even spend a night here at the campgrounds.
Bonus Tip: Watch the San Francisco Giants
If you are visiting San Francisco during the season, head to Oracle Park for a baseball game. Choose tickets along the 1st or 3rd base to get some cool views of the ocean from your seat but remember to book tickets in advance; the San Francisco Giants are a popular team.
If you are visiting outside of the season, you can always opt to take a 90-minute ballpark tour that takes you behind-the-scenes. You can learn about some of the club’s historic moments and visiting areas that are normally off-limits.
San Francisco is a must visit destination and should be on every travellers USA bucket list. To avoid the crowds and higher prices, we recommend you visit during September to November when it is surprisingly warm, and plan at least 3 days for your trip.
About Katie from Creative Travel Guide
As a teacher, Katie first taught in China and now teaches in Bangkok, Thailand. With her husband, she created their blog Creative Travel Guide in 2015 and share creative travel tips, unique things to do and expat tips. Since moving to Bangkok, they share all things Thailand on That Bangkok Life. Follow Katie on social at Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube.
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