Visiting San Francisco is one of the best things to do in California. What to do in San Francisco? Here are 33 fun tips for your San Francisco Bucket List.
About San Francisco
San Francisco is one of the largest cities in the United States, centrally located in the state of California. Because of its many attractions, San Francisco attracts a large number of tourists. And yes, you should check out the city as well.
San Francisco Bucket List
What to do in San Francisco? There are an awful lot of cool things to do in San Francisco and the city has some wonderful sights. These are the best places to visit and fun things to do in San Francisco.
Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge, a big red suspension bridge over San Francisco Bay, is one of the city’s most important icons.
At the beginning of the bridge is a welcome center where you can learn more about the bridge and visit several beautiful viewpoints.
In addition, you can of course ride across the bridge in your car (note that you have to pay a toll for this), but it is even more fun to go for a bike ride across the Golden Gate Bridge.
Presidio of San Francisco
The Presidio is a large park at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. It is a lush green area with many hiking trails and viewpoints. There are also several golf courses. The Walt Disney Family Museum is really fun to visit. Here you can learn more about the life of Walt Disney.
Golden Gate Park
Even though it has almost the same name, Golden Gate Park is not right next to the Golden Gate Bridge, but a bit further south. It is a large urban park in the west of the city, between Ocean Beach and the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. It has the same shape as Central Park in New York and the two are often compared to each other.
The Golden Gate Pars is one of the most visited parks in the United States and you can explore it by walking one of the many trails. The park’s features include a Japanese Garden, a golf course, the impressive California Academy of Sciences museum, a botanical garden, and a large polo field. This is a place where you can have a great day.
Fisherman’s Wharf is one of the most famous neighborhoods in San Francisco, and it’s Pier 39 is the most well-known place. Yes, this place is always crowded, but it really is one of those places you must have seen in San Francisco. On this pier, you will find numerous restaurants, fun (tourist) shops, an arcade, an aquarium, and a carousel.
Sea lions at Pier 39
Pier 39 has one more attraction that I would like to name separately on this San Francisco list: the sea lions! There’s a large number of sea lions relaxing on the pontons on the east side of the pier. An amazing sight!
Aquarium of the Bay
Are you visiting San Francisco with kids? Even then there is plenty to see to do! One of the most fun places in San Francisco to visit with kids is the Aquarium of the Bay, which is also located on Pier 39.
It focuses mainly on local animals and there’s a lot to see and learn about sea life. The aquarium has as many as 50 different species of sharks!
Just east of Pier 39 you will find the Ferry Building. This is a large hall from 1898. You can hop on a ferry here (although thanks to the Golden Gate Bridge, there are a lot fewer of them than there used to be), but most people go here for shopping. It is home to a large market hall where you can buy fruits and vegetables, among other things.
Looking for the best things to do in Downtown San Francisco and do you like to go shopping? Then Union Square is the place to be! You’ll find the famous big stores like Macy’s here, as well as a Cheesecake Factory with a rooftop terrace.
Union Square is very central in the city, making it a good starting or ending point of your day in San Francisco.
Would you like to attend a baseball game? Then Oracle Park (also known as AT&T Park Stadium), home of the San Francisco Giants, is a really cool place to visit. Not only is it fun to attend the game, but you also have a very beautiful view of the bay behind the stadium.
Visit one of the many museums
San Francisco values culture highly; you can tell by the large number of museums in the city! These are some of the best museums in San Francisco:
- San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) – The name says it all, this is the Museum of Modern Art.
- M.H. de Young Memorial Museum – This museum in Golden Gate Park is best known for many unusual clothing and costume exhibits.
- Asian Art Museum – Museum featuring Asian art. The Chinese collection is considered the finest Chinese collection outside of China.
Twin Peaks are two 281-meter hills (the second highest point in San Francisco) and if you like beautiful views, this is definitely the place to go. On the hills, you will find several viewpoints and the city of San Francisco is at your feet. The views are absolutely gorgeous!
Coit Tower is a viewpoint on another hill in San Francisco called Telegraph Hill. Because of its location, this 64-meter-high tower is quite striking; you can see it from many places in the city.
Going to the top of the Coit Tower is one of those unique things to do in San Francisco. Tickets can be purchased in the gift shop under the tower.
Alamo Square with the Painted Ladies
Do you remember the television series Full House? It is set in San Francisco and the intro shows some beautiful Victorian houses on a hill. These are the famous “Painted Ladies.” You can see them from Alamo Square park and you have a very cool view of the city from here!
Explore the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood
In the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, you still have the hippie feel that San Francisco used to be known for. It’s a lovely neighborhood to explore and for sure one of the most beautiful places in San Francisco. It has lots of colorful street art and little vintage shops. Highly recommended to go here if you want to avoid the tourist crowds for a bit.
Mission Dolores Basilica
Do you enjoy visiting churches during a city break? Then you’ll definitely want to take a look at the Mission Dolores Basilica. This 1918 church bears some resemblance to churches in Spain.
Right next to the Dolores Basilica is another smaller church called Misión San Francisco de Asís. This is the oldest building in San Francisco and it was built in the late 18th century by Spanish settlers.
Did you know that San Francisco has the oldest Chinatown in the United States? This is another incredibly fun place to visit. There are many Chinese stores to go shopping in and also many Chinese restaurants where you can eat some delicious Chinese food. Make sure to take a look at the “Dragon Gate,” the entrance on Grant Avenue, it is beautiful!
Located just outside Chinatown, the Transamerica Pyramid was the tallest skyscraper in San Francisco until 2017. It is a striking building with a bit of a pyramid shape (you don’t expect it!) and it is 260 meters high.
You cannot visit the building (it is an office building), but you can see it in many different places around town.
The Castro District is one of the most important places in the world for the LGBTQ community. The Castro gained great fame in 1967, after the Summer of Love. The Twin Peaks Tavern is (presumably) the very first gay bar in the US, and this is a historic place to go for a drink. The neighborhood has a cozy atmosphere, with lots of colorful street art and fun cafes.
Special works of art in Grace Cathedral
Grace Cathedral is located in the Nob Hill neighborhood. From the outside, it doesn’t look very special, but it’s still fun to take a look here. In fact, there are quite a few beautiful works of art on display in this church!
For example, here you can see beautiful mosaics by Henryk de Rosen, there are fantastic stained glass windows and there is an AIDS chapel with a special artwork by Keith Haring.
Take a ride on the cable car
The cable car is one of the most well-known icons of San Francisco. There are not that many of them, but they cross the entire city center. It’s a must to go for a ride on a cable car through the steep streets of the city.
If you get on the cable car, make sure you have a spot on the outside. This way you can hop out easily and you’ll have a cool view of the city.
San Francisco beaches
Would you like to relax during your San Francisco city break? There are many beautiful beaches in San Francisco, especially on the west side of the city.
- Golden Gate Beach: sandy beach between downtown and the Golden Gate Bridge.
- Baker Beach: somewhat smaller sandy beach among the cliffs in the northwest part of the city. From here you have a fantastic view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
- Ocean Beach: a wonderful long sandy beach for long beach walks.
In 1896, the Sutro Baths (named for Mayor Adolph Sutro) opened. At the time, this was the largest indoor swimming pool in the world. From all over the city, people came here to go swimming.
However, it was so expensive to maintain that it was impossible to make a profit. They were partially converted into skating rinks but the building eventually fell into disrepair. Now it is just a ruin by the sea. An interesting piece of history!
Lombard Street: the most winding street in the world
The winding Lombard Street is one of the most famous streets in the world. The hill around which this street lies is so steep that while building the road, they could do nothing but make lots of turns.
You can drive through the street by car, but it’s very popular, so you might have to wait for a while. It’s actually more fun to just walk through the street, so you can also enjoy the cool views of San Francisco.
Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts is an event venue; you can attend theater and dance performances here, among other things. Even without a ticket to one of the performances, you should definitely check out this building, as it is incredibly photogenic! The building has many large columns, statues, and unusual reliefs. In addition, it is adjacent to a pond, which makes it look even more beautiful.
San Francisco Zoo
The San Francisco Zoo is a large zoo in the southwest part of the city, near Ocean Beach. The zoo is home to more than 250 different animal species, divided into several areas. These include an African region with a savanna and gorilla sanctuary and a cat kingdom that includes leopards, tigers, rhinos, and lions.
Visit prison island Alcatraz
The prison island of Alcatraz is one of the most famous San Francisco attractions and an absolute must-see! You can get there by boat. Book these well before your trip to San Francisco, as they often sell out well in advance. It’s best to buy tickets through the official website.
Tip! Are tickets sold out through the official website? Then it is often still possible to visit the island with a guided tour. You can book this via Get Your Guide.
Don’t forget to put on a warm sweater or jacket, as it is a chilly crossing. From the boat, you have a great view of the San Francisco skyline, and when the skies are clear, you can even see the Golden Gate Bridge. At Alcatraz, you get an audio tour and then you get a good idea of how it was to live in this world-famous prison.
Extra tip: choose the English-language audio tour, as it is narrated by the prisoners themselves.
Did you know that there is another island in San Francisco Bay besides Alcatraz? It is called Angel Island and to get here you take one of the many ferries. It has been used for various purposes in the past, including a ranch, a fort, and an immigration station.
Visiting Angel Island is one of the best San Francisco outdoor activities since the entire island is part of Angel Island State Park. Therefore, it’s a beautiful place for hiking and cycling.
If you go out of town via the Golden Gate Bridge, you’ll end up in Sausalito. This quaint town is incredibly fun to visit. It used to be a fishing village and has now become an artist’s haven.
It’s a great place to walk or cycle around and it has several fun cafes and restaurants. Sausalito is easily accessible by ferry from San Francisco, so you don’t necessarily need a car to get there.
Muir Woods National Monument
For the last San Francisco attraction on this list, we actually have to leave the city. Just north of Sausalito, you will find an amazingly beautiful nature reserve: Muir Woods National Monument. It is a large forest full of huge redwood trees. You also see these trees a lot in Redwood National Park all the way in northern California.
The huge trees are very impressive to see and it really is a beautiful area to go hiking and camping.
Muir Woods National Monument is just a half-hour drive from downtown San Francisco. Don’t have a car? You can also book several tours from San Francisco to this beautiful nature reserve.
San Francisco climate
San Francisco has a Mediterranean climate and it rarely gets extremely cold or extremely hot. In summer you can expect maximum temperatures of around 19 degrees Celcius and in winter around 13 degrees Celcius.
Because it can get quite warm in other neighboring states in West USA, it “clashes” with the Pacific Ocean on which San Francisco lies. This is why it is often very foggy in San Francisco.
The best travel time for San Francisco is from April through October when there is the least rain and temperatures are pleasant.
Where to stay in San Francisco?
As you can see, there really is a lot to see and do in San Francisco. Therefore, it is recommended to stay in the city for at least two nights.
Be careful before booking a hotel in San Francisco, as not every neighborhood is safe to walk around at night. These neighborhoods are best avoided during a San Francisco city break:
- The Mission
- The Tenderloin
And these neighborhoods of San Francisco are great places to book a hotel:
- Union Square
- SoMo (South of Market)
- Hayes Valley
These are some great hotels in San Francisco:
- The Grove Inn (3⭐) – Near Alamo Square (Hayes Valley), small and cozy.
- citizenM San Francisco Union Square (4⭐) – Colorful in a modern building. Very centrally located in Union Square.
- LUMA Hotel San Francisco (4⭐) – Luxury hotel with fantastic views of the city.
Check Booking.com for more options, prices, and availability.
Book a trip to California
Would you like to visit San Francisco and California? Then there are some helpful websites for booking your trip.
- Check WayAway for finding the cheapest plane tickets.
- To find the best deals for a rental car make sure to check Rental Cars and Discover Cars.
- Don’t forget your travel insurance! At Insubuy, you’ll definitely find the best travel insurance that fits your needs.
Read more about California
Are you going to California and want to explore San Francisco and other amazing places? Then there are some good travel guides:
I myself have been to California several times and therefore on this website you can find a lot of information about California and travel in the United States. You might like to read one of these articles:
- West Coast USA road trip: a spectacular itinerary
- Your first trip to Yosemite National Park: the ultimate guide
- 10 fun Route 66 attractions in California and Arizona
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