Best Things To Do in San Francisco
San Francisco may only stretch across 7 miles, but it's packed with an assortment of activities that's sure to please outdoorsy types, foodies and curious wanderers of all ages. The Golden Gate Bridge is a must-see, while a visit to Alcatraz Island to tour the infamous and now closed federal prison should also be high on your list. Instead of spending all your time around the touristy Fisherman's Wharf, you can discover a more authentic side of San Francisco by grabbing a bite at the Ferry Building Marketplace or with a visit to the vibrant Castro. And whether it's climbing to the top of Twin Peaks or sauntering through Golden Gate Park, active types and nature lovers will find plenty to love about San Francisco.
Updated June 1, 2018
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The Golden Gate Bridge's vaulting, orange arches amidst the rocky seascape of the San Francisco Bay have made it one of the West Coast's most enduring symbols and the city's most popular tourist attraction. The bridge's name, "Golden Gate," actually refers to the body of water it spans (the Golden Gate Strait that connects the Pacific Ocean with the San Francisco Bay), and was built to make travel between San Francisco and Marin County an easier feat.
- #2View all Photos#2 in San FranciscoMuseums, Zoos and AquariumsTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDMuseums, Zoos and AquariumsTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND...Read More »
Attention all traveling families: recent visitors said this is the perfect place to bring kids in San Francisco. The California Academy of Sciences brims with plenty of things to see, including an aquarium, a planetarium, a natural history museum and even a rainforest.
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If California had a Central Park equivalent, Golden Gate Park would undoubtedly be it. Though Golden Gate Park sees a small fraction of the visitor's it's New York counterpart does (Central Park gets upwards of 25 million, while Golden Gate gets more than 13 million yearly), it's about 174 acres bigger (Central Park is 843 acres). The park offers so much to see and do, it could take an entire day to experience all that it has to offer. Trails, picturesque picnic spaces, playgrounds, sports courts, gardens, museums and more can be found within its evergreen borders. With so many options available, it's best to map out ahead of time what you want to do, though some attractions warrant a visit, regardless of traveler taste.
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Chances are you've seen a television show, movie, postcard or some type of San Francisco memorabilia emblazoned with the city's iconic cable car or trolley. So of course, to fully experience San Francisco's charm, you should hop on board. San Francisco's cable car system is the last of its kind in the United States, given the title of a National Historic Landmark in 1964. The cable car was conceived after Andrew Smith Hallidie, an immigrant from England, witnessed an accident involving a horse-drawn buggy trying to climb a steep San Francisco hill and failing. His father had a patent for wire rope in England and he used that to design a transportation system that relied on just that. Thus, cable cars were born in the late 1800s.
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If you want the best views of San Francisco, take a hike to Twin Peaks. These famous grassy pounds rise 922 feet from the ground, making them the second highest point in the city (after Mount Davidson). From the top, travelers can view multiple San Francisco landmarks, including the Bay Bridge and the downtown skyscrapers. Whether you decide to go during the day or night (some say you should do both), numerous visitors agree that the views are stunning and worth the trek. But make sure to bring a jacket: many recent visitors said it can get windier (and subsequently chillier) up top than at sea level.
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If you want to explore San Francisco's rich gay and lesbian culture, the Castro neighborhood is its beating heart. Not only is the Castro the center of the city's LGBTQ community, but it's considered by many to be the gay capital of the world. And once you learn the Castro's history, it's easy to see why. In the 1970s, the Castro was home to Harvey Milk, California's first openly gay public official and one of the first in the USA. His steadfast efforts in the gay rights movement not only earned him the title the "Mayor of Castro Street," but his political efforts helped put San Francisco at the forefront of the gay rights movement. His former camera shop, Castro Camera, that also served as his campaign headquarters, still stands on Castro Street and now serves as a Human Rights Campaign retail shop.
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While San Francisco isn't known for being a beach town, the city's Baker Beach is often considered one of the best in California. Located in the northwestern area of San Francisco in the Presidio, Baker Beach is primarily known for its sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the neighboring Marin Headlands. The mile-long beach offers travelers plenty of room to spread their legs and features picnic areas and access to nearby Presidio trails. Travelers flock here to snap photos of the bridge, however, if you're looking to catch some rays or get your feet wet, you should go elsewhere: Swimming at Baker Beach is dangerous thanks to large waves, undertow and rip currents, and the city's fickle weather means it's not always warm enough for sunbathing.
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Attention all foodies: this delectable attraction needs to be at the top of your San Francisco to-do list. The Ferry Building Marketplace is a public food market that features a variety of food stalls that act as small restaurants, snack stops and grocery stores. Here you can find everything from staples, such as seafood, burgers, Mexican food and plenty of coffee, to a Japanese delicatessen, empanada stand, nut shop and a cheese and dairy bar.
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Situated a couple blocks north of Market Street and southwest of the city's Financial District, Union Square sits at the heart of downtown San Francisco's hustle and bustle. This area is loved by travelers and locals alike for its awesome location and incredible energy. Union Square Park is flanked by tall buildings (some of which are adorned with Time Square-size ads) and busy streets, offering people the unique opportunity to sit in the middle of a busy city and enjoy the atmosphere without the risk of getting run over. The square also acts as a park, outfitted with small grassy spaces and palm trees. There are also multiple seating areas and works of art dotted across the square. The most recognized are the tall Dewey monument, situated in the center of the square, and the regularly photographed Hearts of San Francisco sculpture found at the base of the square
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While New York City's Chinatown tends to take center stage in the USA, San Francisco's Chinatown is just as much of a star. San Francisco's Chinatown hosts one of the largest Asian communities outside of Asia, and is considered one the oldest in North America. Chinese immigrants first started coming to California in search of fortune during the Gold Rush. After being driven out of the gold mines (due to discrimination and restrictive legislation against Chinese immigrants), the Chinese moved to build businesses of their own in the area that is now Chinatown – one of the city's most visited neighborhoods.
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What better exemplifies California's dramatic landscape than sky-high redwood trees? That's what you'll find at Muir Woods, the beautiful and expansive national monument just 16 miles north of San Francisco. This attraction is a must-see for anyone looking to get up close and personal with some of California's most famous topography, not to mention a nice break from the bustle of the big city. The largest redwood tree in Muir Woods measures about 258 feet tall. To give you a better visual, imagine 45 six-foot-tall individuals stacked on top of each other. And if that wasn't enough to impress, the average age of redwoods in Muir Woods is 600 to 800 years, and that's not even some of the oldest in the park at the moment.
There are 6 miles of trails visitors are able to explore at Muir Woods. The hikes at the national monument are generally short (between 30 minutes and an hour-and-a-half). Those looking for a trek should venture to the nearby Mount Tamalpais State Park. In addition to giant redwood groves, travelers also have the option of exploring on-site beaches, including Rodeo Beach, Muir Beach or the larger Stinson Beach, which is closer to Mount Tamalpais State Park.
Travelers consistently report being in awe of Muir Woods National Monument, often calling it beautiful and serene. And for such a popular attraction, visitors were impressed with how well-kept the grounds and trails are. Though some attribute the excellent maintenance partly due to the lack of crowds. The reason for this, according to some, is the lack of adequate parking. Past visitors have said that lots fill up fast and some had to park on the roads to get in. To avoid this, arrive early or schedule alternative transportation.
If you don't have a car, you can take the bus to Muir Woods. The Route 66 Muir Woods Shuttle bus can take you there, however, it doesn't leave from San Francisco. The closest shuttle stop from San Francisco is from Sausalito, which can be reached from San Francisco via ferry from either Fisherman's Wharf or the Ferry Building. Admission to Muir Woods costs $10 for adults and is free for those younger than 16. Muir Woods welcomes visitors every day at 8 a.m. Closing times vary by season. For more information, consult the National Park Service website.
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While riding a cable car and getting a snap of the Golden Gate is a must when visiting San Francisco, both visitors and travel experts tend to argue the same for Alcatraz. This is because Alcatraz is rich with history. Sitting on a small, rocky island in the middle of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz is most known as being a former federal prison that housed some of society's biggest offenders, the most famous of which was Prohibition-era mob boss Al Capone. Before that, it was a military prison that housed prisoners from the Spanish-American War and Civil War, as well as the site of the West Coast's first operating lighthouse. The prison closed down both times due to high operating costs and was handed over to the National Park Service in 1972 after the island experienced a short occupation from Native American activists. Today, the attraction sees about one million visitors per year.
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This museum, or as it refers to itself, "a learning laboratory," features 600 hands-on exhibits that cover a plethora of subject matter, such as engineering, psychology, geography and biology. The museum spreads its knowledge over six main galleries, each with its own standout interactive offerings. Highlights include the tactile dome, where you'll have to rely only on your sense of touch to navigate through the pitch-black sphere, the colored shadow area, where flashes of colorful lights project your shadowed figure onto a wall, and the 10,000-toothpick sculpture of San Francisco that also acts as a marble run for ping pong balls.
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The San Francisco Giants have been calling this stadium home since 2000, playing host to multiple World Series games. Oracle Park is regarded as one of the most scenic baseball parks in the United States for its picturesque placement along the San Francisco Bay. The majority of attendees are afforded prime views of the glittering water from their seats all the while being able to enjoy one of America's greatest pastimes.
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The Mission District has attracted San Francisco's young bohemian crowd in the past decade, but it's still retained its authentic, local Mexican ambiance. This is the place that introduced the burrito to the wider world, so be sure to check out a local hole in the wall for some great eats. The Mission is also a great neighborhood for getting away from the heavily visited tourist attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman's Wharf. Recent travelers said the funky neighborhood has a cool vibe and is filled with interesting murals. For an excellent view of the city, walk to the nearby Bernal Heights hill and relax for a bit. Also try the nearby Dolores Park, the most popular spot for sunbathers on a fogless day.
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Fisherman's Wharf is so tourist-laden that some travelers might prefer the quieter, more authentic attractions nearby (like the Castro or Golden Gate Park). But if you're looking to explore all of San Francisco – from its alternative underbelly to its mainstream attractions – Fisherman's Wharf really is a must-see. This waterfront neighborhood features a laundry list of things to do, as well as a few popular San Francisco sites. One of these is Pier 39. The Pier features plenty of shopping and restaurant options for tourists and is also famous for offering sweeping views of the bay, as well as the can't-miss attractions that call it home, including Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. Though while you're there, don't miss an opportunity to snap a photo of the sea lions who have a habit of sunbathing on buoys near the docks.
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If you want to experience the Bay Area's pristine natural spaces but may not have enough time to explore neighboring Marin County, the Presidio is the perfect alternative. This park is famous for its placement at the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge, affording incredible views throughout. In addition to stunning vantage points, the Presidio features 12 scenic hiking trails that vary from easy to challenging, taking hikers through beautiful Bay Area scenery (think: coastal forest and the Marin Headlands).
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If you're a foodie exploring San Francisco, you should consider adding a craft brewery tour to your itinerary. That's because San Francisco is considered one of the craft brewery capitals of the USA. Not only will you find local and regional brews at bars and restaurants here, but there's also plenty of craft breweries worth visiting as well. You can visit the breweries on your own, but considering San Francisco's vast culinary scene, it's best to go with an expert to make sure you're sipping the best of the best.
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