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25 Things to do in San Francisco, California

By Two Monkeys Travel - Contributor November 3rd, 2019 Posted in Destination, North America Travel Blog, Travel Blog, Travel Guides No comments

San Francisco is a booming city located in California on the west coast of the United States. It is the cultural, commercial and financial center of Northern California and the city is named after Saint Francis of Assisi. Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay, this city is indeed a famous tourist destination, known for its cool summers, steep hills, fantastic architecture, and world-famous landmarks, providing a huge host of things to in San Francisco. 

Things to do in San Francisco
Photo by Tehani Schroeder CC BY 2.0

With so much on offer, you could easily be confused about what to do in San Francisco. So we’ll help with this complete list of the 25 best things to do in San Francisco:


1. Cross the Golden Gate Bridge

Things to do in San Francisco
Photo by Nicolas Raymond CC BY 2.0

On arrival in this legendary city, most visitors don’t need to ask what to do in San Francisco first! This iconic San Francisco suspension bridge opened in 1937, connecting San Fran and what is now Marin County. It is coined one of the most beautiful and photographed bridges in the world and has been declared as one of the Wonders of the Modern World. A visit to the historic Golden Gate Bridge is no doubt one of the best things to do in San Francisco. 

Near the bridge, you can relax, walk or ride a bicycle and enjoy the picturesque view.

Suggested Tour: San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito Guided Bike Tour

2. Check out Fisherman’s Wharf

Things to do in San Francisco1
Photo by Doug Kerr CC BY-SA 2.0

The Fisherman’s Wharf is one of the busiest neighborhoods in San Fran city due to numerous attractions. It is occupied with delicious restaurants, beautiful hotels, and historical sights. This place also is an excellent spot for events including the topnotch fireworks display. San Francisco had become one of the greatest culinary destinations in the world, hence, one of the best things to do in San Francisco is to stroll down the wharf trying all the food on offer! 

Suggested Tour: Fisherman’s Wharf Walking Tour and Alcatraz Upgrade Option

3. Visit and learn the history of Alcatraz Island

Things to do in San Francisco
Photo by Jesse RichmondFollow CC BY 2.0

Named after the Spanish word “Alcatraz” meaning pelican, this island is located in San Francisco Bay. It was once a fort, a military prison, and a maximum-security federal penitentiary. In 1969, the Indians of All Tribes occupied Alcatraz for 19 months in the name of freedom and Native American civil rights. It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1986. Currently, there are daily tours to Alcatraz Island which are ranked as one of the best things to do in San Francisco.

Suggested Tour: Alcatraz Island Tour

4. Ride a cable car

Things to do in San Francisco
Photo by Willis Lam CC BY-SA 2.0

Wondering what to do in San Francisco to find the best views of the city? Ride the iconic cable cars of San Fran, which have been kept in operation for more than 50 years. The Powell-Hyde Line has one of the best views of the city as you can see San Fran Bay and Alcatraz from above. 

Suggested Tour: San Francisco Cable Car City Trolley Tour From Fishermans Wharf

5. Feel the vibe at China Town

Things to do in San Francisco
Photo by Francesca Cappa CC BY 2.0

A visit to one of 4 China towns in the city is one of the more international things to do in San Francisco. Check out Chinese architecture and eat Chinese food in the oldest and largest China town in the city – Grant Avenue. With many Chinese residents and businesses, you’ll feel you’ve stepped into China, only in San Fran city! Check out the Dragon Gate or Tin How Taoist Temple for some Buddhist culture. You can also witness people doing T’ai Chi on Portsmouth Square. Finally, since you’re in China Town San Francisco, don’t forget to buy a fortune cookie!


6. Stroll around Golden Gate Park

Things to do in San Francisco
Photo by Ken Walton CC BY 2.0

With 1017 acres of land located in the middle of San Francisco city, this is a place to get away from the urban buzz of the city and relax with nature. Stroll around the Japanese Tea Garden or witness flowers in the Conservatory. Hang out near the lakes too, of which there are many to choose from! There’s a museum, bison, the Academy of Sciences and a carousel to keep you entertained. If you’re looking for things to do in San Francisco that give you a rest from the fast pace of city life, Golden Gate Park is for you! 

Suggested Tour: San Francisco Chinatown Walking Tour with Optional Lunch

7. Hang out at Pier 39

Things to do in San Francisco
Photo by Anna Irene CC BY-SA 2.0

What is one of the most fun things to do in San Francisco? Located in the Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39 is the premier entertainment destination located in the heart of the San Fran Waterfront. You can see a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island. Filled with restaurants and fun attractions, you can also see Sea Lions relaxing on the docks, which is truly is a unique San Francisco experience.

Suggested Tour: PIER 39 Attraction Pass

8. Explore the world at Exploratorium

Things to do in San Francisco
Photo by davitydave CC BY 2.0

Trying to figure out what to do in San Francisco to stretch the brain cells and entertain the kids? The Exploratorium museum in San Francisco allows visitors to explore the world through science, art, and human perception. It is a hands-on museum so you can do whatever you want at your own pace. Furthermore, if you like to ask a lot of questions there are “explainers” to help you out. Expect the unexpected with one of the most educational things to do in San Francisco. 

Suggested Tour: Exploratorium General Admission

9. Hike at Lands End

Things to do in San Francisco
Photo by Roman Sergeev Public Domain Mark 1.0

As one of the more energetic things to do in San Francisco, from the Cliff House to the Sea Cliff, this coastal trail is 1.5 miles long. You can check out the gorgeous scenery; the bay, the cliffs, and the bridge. You can also have a picnic, try the labyrinth, or see the whales migrating at the right time of year. 

Suggested Tour: Lands End: San Francisco’s Wild Coast Walking Tour with Local Guide

10. Palace of Fine Arts

Things to do in San Francisco
Photo by Dale Cruse CC BY 2.0

What to do in San Francisco when you need a dose of culture? The Palace of Fine Arts is a monumental structure originally constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition to exhibit works of art presented there. Not only is it well-known for art shows or weddings, but you can also see it in films like The Room and Twisted.

Suggested Tour: Explore Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco with Professional Photographer

11. Pay a visit to the Mission

Things to do in San Francisco
Photo by emile lombard CC BY-ND 2.0

Venture once again into one of the more multicultural things to do in San Francisco! The Mission District is a neighborhood that belonged to the sixth Alta California mission, Mission San Francisco de Asis. The mission is also San Fran’s oldest building. This area is full of Latinos; so expect delicious Mexican food and fun festivals like the Carnaval and Day of the Dead.

Suggested Tour: Secret Food Tour of San Francisco’s Mission District

12. Walk in the Muir Woods

Things to do in San Francisco
Photo by Prayitno CC BY 2.0

If you’re still searching for more natural things to do in San Francisco, then enter this National Monument and walk among old-growth coastal redwoods. You can have guided walks and tours and you can join a special event or a park ranger program too. 

Suggested Tour: Sausalito & Muir Woods Tour

13. Eat at Ghirardelli Square

Things to do in San Francisco
Photo by Jennifer Boyer CC BY-ND 2.0

Bring lots of cash and buy the original Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate, because Ghirardelli Square is one of the most culinary things to do in San Francisco. The Pioneer Woolen Mills and D. Ghirardelli Company in the area is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Expect this public square to be filled with people as there are shops and restaurants around.

14. See the Painted Ladies

Things to do in San Francisco
Photo by Scott Gustin CC BY 2.0

The painted ladies of San Francisco are Victorian, and Edwardian houses and buildings which were repainted, starting in the 1960s, in three or more colors that embellish or enhance their architectural details. The most popular ones are at 710–720 Steiner Street near Alamo Square is known as the “postcard row.”

Suggested Tour: Painted Ladies San Francisco City Tour

15. Pass through Lombard Street

Things to do in San Francisco
Photo by Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar CC BY 2.0

Looking for what to do in San Francisco for a bit of fun? Lombard Street is famous for being the “crookedest” street in the world and has been featured in many films. Pass by Victorian houses and don’t forget to cheer when you finally arrive at the bottom.

Suggested Tour: Advanced Lombard Street and Hills of SF Segway Tour

16. Check the view of the city at Twin Peaks

Things to do in San Francisco
Photo by Marc Liyanage CC BY-SA 2.0

Hike the 925 feet prominent hills known as “Eureka” and “Noe” and check the view of San Francisco.

17. Dine at Michelin Starred Restaurants

Things to do in San Francisco

If you are looking for the best culinary experiences in San Fran city and have a good budget set aside for food, there are about 7 3-star Michelin Restaurants in San Francisco, which means they have “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.” There are also 2 and 1-star restaurants Michelin Restaurants in San Francisco. So definitely wine and dine in one as experts say they are remarkable!

18. Shop in Union Square

Things to do in San Francisco
Photo by Tony Fischer CC BY 2.0

Union Square in San Fran is a public plaza including the central shopping, hotel, and theater district that surrounds it for several blocks. It got its name because this place was used for rallies to support the Union Army earning its designation as a historical landmark. You can shop at department stores, upscale boutiques, or gift shops. Stay in a hotel nearby or watch a Broadway show at the theatre.

19. Bike at Presidio

Things to do in San Francisco
Photo by Nate Grigg CC BY 2.0

The Presidio was a military fort before it became a park. This has many wooded areas, hills, and scenic vistas overlooking San Fran Bay, Golden Gate Bridge, and the Pacific Ocean. Don’t forget to check out the Crissy Field and Tunnel Tops too.

20. Watch a baseball game at Oracle Park

Things to do in San Francisco
Photo by Sarah J CC BY-ND 2.0

What to do in San Francisco city when you just want to feel like a local for the day? See the San Fran city Giants, the city’s Major League Baseball franchise or even play a game. Fan or not, feel the hype and the support of the locals by joining them in cheering for their team.

21. Play at Musée Mécanique

Things to do in San Francisco
Photo by Kārlis Dambrāns CC BY 2.0

This has to be one of the most eccentric and truly unique things to do in San Francisco! Visit Musée Mécanique, one of the world’s most extensive (over 200) privately owned collection of coin-operated mechanical musical instruments and antique arcade machines in their original working condition, which you can play. The admission is free though the games cost from 1¢ to $1, so let the kid in you out.

22. Saunter along Baker Beach

Things to do in San Francisco
Photo by May Wong CC BY 2.0

Baker Beach his a public beach with a striking view of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s not safe for swimming however, you can still find many people sunbathing, strolling or taking pictures along the sands. 

23. Appreciate Art in the Museums of San Francisco

Things to do in San Francisco
Photo by HarshLight CC BY 2.0

Don’t forget to visit the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park or the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park with about 150,000 collections of Fine Art objects. If you’re not into them, there’s Walt Disney Museum in Presidio too. Furthermore, there are dozens of museums and galleries in San Fran city, so take your pick!  

24. Climb the Coit Tower

Things to do in San Francisco
Photo by jvoves CC BY 2.0

Check the Panoramic view of the city and bay over this 210-foot tower with one of the most exhilarating things to do in San Fran city. The murals inside the tower wherein the American Social Realism style, painted by 25 different on-site artists and their numerous assistants, plus two additional paintings installed after creation off-site.

25. See San Francisco City Hall

Things to do in San Francisco
Photo by Sergio Ruiz CC BY 2.0

Tour inside the city’s seat of government that has a replica of one crowning of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Its open spaces and stairs are a strikingly beautiful feature which is famous for weddings. Also, this site was also featured in a James Bond Film; A View to Kill.

26. Find accommodation in San Francisco, California

Frequently Asked Questions about San Francisco

Where to stay in San Francisco?


What are the languages spoken in San Francisco?

English is the most common Language in San Fran. However, there is a percentage of Chinese, Spanish, and Tagalog speaking communities.

What currency do they use in San Fran?

US Dollars are used throughout the city.

Is it safe to travel to San Francisco?

San Fran city is safe for tourists. If you want to be sure stick to secure areas like Fisherman’s Wharf and China Town, which have low crime rates and lots to offer. Don’t go after dark to Mission District or Golden Gate Park. In case you experience danger, call 911. 

Should I get travel insurance before visiting San Francisco?

I always recommend buying travel insurance since we don’t know what will happen to us. Check out Safety Wing, my insurance provider.

Is it expensive in San Francisco for tourists?

San Fran is one of the most expensive US cities. With a lot of tourist attractions and costly restaurants; be careful not to break the bank. Try doing free things too.

How to get to San Francisco?

There is San Fran International Airport south of downtown SF. It has flights to points throughout North America and is a primary gateway to Europe and Asia.

Things to do in San Francisco
Photo by Torbjorn Toby Jorgensen CC BY-SA 2.0

I hope you now know the 25 Best Things to do in San Francisco! You can check out more things to do on my blog. Enjoy your travels!

Extra Tip: Check out Plumguide for the best holiday homes and vacation rentals in San Francisco.

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Written by Two Monkeys Travel - Contributor

Two Monkeys Travel Group – Community Travel Blog is a travel blog and website. We quickly grew into a valuable source of inspiring travel stories, advice, itineraries and travel guides, with the aim of demonstrating how to live a sustainable life of travel, whilst living your own definition of success. If you'd like to contribute and write a guest post, contact us at [email protected]