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42 Best Places to Visit in San Francisco & Things to Do

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With its iconic Golden Gate Bridge, charming neighborhoods, and steep hills, San Francisco is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States. Whether you love the concept of slow travel or want to see all that San Francisco offers on a long weekend, the city by the bay never disappoints.

Among the most beautiful cities in the United States, San Francisco has many visitors yearly. Of course, everyone tends to see the usual attractions in the city: the zoo, the iconic Painted Ladies, and, of course, the world’s curviest street, Lombard Street. There are also many stunning green spaces for locals and tourists to appreciate, like Golden Gate Park, which is actually even larger than New York’s Central Park.

The foodie scene in San Francisco is nothing to balk at, either. Whatever you fancy, San Francisco has something to offer everyone. Continue reading below for all our top picks of what to do in San Francisco and the best places to visit.

TL;DR

  • Most significant landmark – The Golden Gate Bridge
  • Best park – The Presidio
  • Free activity – Golden Gate Park
  • Activity for kids – Aquarium of the Bay
  • Activity for adults – Alcatraz Island
  • Place to eat – The Mission District
  • Nightlife – Union Square
  • Place to stay – San Francisco Marriott Fisherman’s Wharf

Map of San Francisco Attractions

Map of San Francisco Attractions
Nick Furnari / ViaTravelers

Things to Do & Places to Visit in San Francisco

1. The Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most iconic landmarks in the United States and arguably worldwide. This iconic bridge offers incredible views of the city and San Francisco Bay. While it’s known that motorists can drive across, the bridge’s pedestrian walkway is also open year-round and is free.

Running, walking, or biking across the bridge are popular activities, especially on clear-sky days. And once you see it, you know you’re entering (or exiting) San Francisco. “Whatever happened to predictability…

The bridge officially opened in May 1937 and was the longest in the world. The best place to admire the bridge is from the Presidio. For the best views, be sure to trek up to the Battery East vista point. Don’t forget to pack your camera and tripod! Even on a foggy day, the view from here is just fantastic.

For a unique perspective of the bridge and San Francisco Bay, I recommend this San Francisco premium brunch cruise. Enjoy a hearty spread (and bottomless mimosas!) as you cruise around the bay, gliding past some of San Francisco’s most iconic landmarks, including the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, the Marin Headlands, and Alcatraz Island. Gluten-free and vegetarian options are available.

2. Golden Gate Park

The ferris wheel in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Despite its name, Golden Gate Park is actually not that close to the Golden Gate Bridge. It is, however, one of the largest and most popular parks in San Francisco. With over 1,000 acres of land, this beautiful park has plenty to explore.

One of the most scenic parts of Golden Gate Park is the Queen Wilhemina Tulip Gardens, located on the west end of the park near Ocean Beach. These gardens transport you to Holland with colorful tulip fields and Dutch windmills. After strolling through the gardens, stop by Beach Chalet Brewery and Restaurant for a refreshing beer and ocean views.

Be sure to check out the California Academy of Sciences while you’re there, which is one of the top science museums in the world.

3. Historic Ghirardelli Square

Building of the old Ghirardelli chocolate factory in San Francisco, today the Ghirardelli Square
Gilberto Mesquita / Adobe Stock

Address: 900 North Point St, San Francisco, CA 94109

One of my favorite places to stroll around is Historic Ghirardelli Square, between Russian Hill and Fisherman’s Wharf. The square was originally the site of Pioneer Woolen Mills before it was turned into Domenico “Domingo” Ghirardelli’s chocolate shop in the late 1890s.

In 1964, Ghirardelli Square was transformed into a multi-use complex filled with small shops and restaurants and is now part of the National Historic Register. Along with Ghirardelli Chocolate (a must for ice cream!), you can find many great restaurants and cafes, including Barrio, San Francisco Brewing Co., and Square Pie Guys.

If you’re a chocolate fiend like me, stop by the Ghirardelli Chocolate Experience, which sells various chocolates and personalized gifts. Enjoy your treats and a cup of coffee with panoramic views of the bay in the Alcatraz room.

Loving the views? Stay at The Fairmont Heritage Place Ghirardelli Square. This hotel features spacious apartments and world-class service.

4. Lombard Street

Famous Lombard Street in San Francisco, California
Maks_Ershov / Adboe Stock

There’s no denying that Lombard Street is one of San Francisco’s top attractions. With its eight harrowing hairpin turns, it is often called the “world’s most crooked street.” It’s not just its hairpin turns that attract visitors, though. It’s also exceptionally manicured and beautiful, acting as a work of art in and of itself.

Lombard Street is located on U.S. Route 101, going through the middle of the Russian Hill neighborhood. You can admire it by driving those hairpin turns or walking the stairs alongside the road. We rode down the street while driving with a local. Here are some of the photos from our gallery.

Feeling brave? Try navigating Lombard Street on a segway! This segway tour will take you down Lombard Street and through the Russian Hill, Fisherman’s Wharf, and North Beach neighborhoods.

5. Boudin Bakery

Logo of Famous Boudin Bakery in San Francisco California
JJAVA / Adobe Stock

Address: 160 Jefferson St, San Francisco, CA 94133

As a sourdough lover, I must stop at a Boudin Bakery in San Francisco, even if it’s just buying a loaf while transiting through SFO. Boudin has perfected the art of sourdough bread making and definitely lives up to the hype it receives.

Boudin Bakery started in 1849 and still makes its bread from the sourdough starter it began with. It has since expanded to several locations throughout the Bay Area, mainly in Fisherman’s Wharf near the Musée Mécanique. Here, visitors can watch real breadmakers at work while enjoying various bread and delicious sit-down meals.

If you don’t have time to visit Boudin Bakery during your San Francisco vacation, I recommend stopping by their location at SFO. The bread is baked daily and is an excellent (short-term) souvenir of your time in San Francisco that will make you want to plan your next trip back to the city ASAP.

6. Chinatown

Street in San Francisco's Chinatown
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest and oldest in the United States. As a visitor to San Francisco, you must visit this fascinating part of the city to explore Asian culture and heritage. With its bustling streets teeming with vendors and locals going about their daily lives, Chinatown offers an immersive experience.

Be sure to take plenty of photographs as you wander through this constantly evolving neighborhood – sample some authentic Chinese food from street-side stalls, snap some shots of jade jewelry and ornate masks, and marvel at the colorful architecture that characterizes this historically significant cultural hub. Don’t miss Grant Avenue, the oldest street in Chinatown. It runs north to south through the heart of the neighborhood.

Some top restaurants to sample traditional cuisine in Chinatown include Hong Kong Clay Pot Restaurant, China Live, Hing Lung Company, and House of Nanking. Don’t know where to begin? Consider going on a guided walking tour of Chinatown and North Beach.

See Related: Where To Stay In San Francisco

7. PIER 39

Pier 39, San Francisco: Vibrant waterfront scene with tourists, locals, colorful signage, and diverse dining options.
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Location: The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94133

PIER 39 is a popular tourist destination due to its proximity to the Golden Gate Bridge and many shops and restaurants. Over on PIER 39, make sure you stop to see the world-famous sea lions that have called this area home for years. You can even see them right now with their dedicated webcam!

After the earthquake hit the city in 1989, famously interrupting the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics, a few sea lion “holdouts,” as they’re called, decided they didn’t want to leave the pier. So the following year, dozens of sea lions began to migrate to the PIER 39 area, and they’ve called it home ever since.

Throughout PIER 39, you can enjoy family-friendly fun, including shopping, restaurants, arcades, and the Aquarium of the Bay. PIER 39 is part of the larger Fisherman’s Wharf area, a great place to stay if you’re visiting San Francisco with your family. The San Francisco Marriott Fisherman’s Wharf is a superb, family-friendly hotel near top attractions, including PIER 39 and Ghiradelli Square.

8. Alcatraz Island

View of Alcatraz Island from the Ferry, San Francisco
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Alcatraz Island is a small island located in San Francisco Bay. The island is best known for Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, which operated from 1934 to 1963.

Alcatraz Island is a popular tourist destination because of its history and bay views.  Alcatraz was a maximum security prison, housing famous prisoners, including Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly (the gangster, not the rapper).

Arguably, the most famous prisoner to be housed at Alcatraz was murderer Robert Stroud, nicknamed the “Birdman of Alcatraz” because of his interest in birds that he developed while in prison. Over the years, there were 14 attempted escapes made by 36 prisoners, all caught, shot, drowned, and presumed dead. Check out the gallery of photos from our visit to Alcatraz.

You can reach Alcatraz Island by taking a ferry from Pier 33. A diverse range of tours is available, including night tours and behind-the-scenes tours that give visitors an up-close look at some former prison cells and other areas inaccessible to general visitors. 

See Related: Where To Stay In Napa Valley

9. Ride the Cable Cars

The Cable Cars in San Francisco

San Francisco is well-known for its iconic cable cars, which have been a tourist attraction for generations. Riding one of these historic cars is an absolute must. With its winding streets and breathtaking views of the city skyline, downtown San Francisco can’t be experienced in any other way.

Three main cable car lines run through San Francisco. The most scenic cable car line is the Powell-Hyde line, which runs through Russian Hill and into Fisherman’s Wharf. Along the route, you’ll pass San Francisco icons like the zig-zagging Lombard Street and the colorful row houses of Russian Hill. You can buy a single ride or an all-day pass.

After your ride, head to the Cable Car Museum at 1201 Mason Street. At the heart of the Cable Car Museum is a collection of this fascinating mode of transportation.

Boasting detailed explanations about their history and mechanics and historical photos and videos showcasing their development over time, this museum provides an engaging and informative glimpse into San Francisco’s unique urban culture. Plus, admission is free, making it easy to add to your itinerary, no matter your budget.

10. Haight-Ashbury

Haight-Ashbury District in San Francisco
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

The Haight-Ashbury neighborhood is known for its bohemian vibe, trendy cafes, and vintage shops. This quirky neighborhood is famous for being the gathering place of hippies and free spirits during the Summer of Love in 1967.

If you’re searching for the best free things to do in San Francisco, a stroll through Haight-Ashbury should be on your list. The San Francisco Library frequently hosts free walking tours of the neighborhood.

Stroll through Golden Gate Park, browse the unique vintage shops on Haight Street, or people-watch at one of the many cafes. Some of the most popular ones are Ritual Coffee Roasters, Coffee To The People, and 1428 Haight Patio Cafe & Crepery. Haight-Ashbury is host to several historical sights, including the spirited murals on Haight Street and Cole Street.

See Related: Walking Tours in San Francisco [Free & Guided]

11. Mission District

Building in the Mission District

The Mission District is one of San Francisco’s most lively and culturally rich neighborhoods. Located just south of the city center, Mission District has many Latinx-owned businesses and murals, making it a popular destination.

If you’re looking to take in some local art or enjoy delicious food from one of the many cafes and restaurants, there are plenty of fun things to do in the Mission District. For a great place to stop for breakfast, check out Tartine Bakery on Guerrero Street, which serves up freshly baked pastries and hot coffee daily.

For dinner, head to the Michelin-starred American restaurant Lazy Bear. And don’t pass up a delicious Mission-style burrito from the OG La Cumbre Taqueria.

Work off all that delicious food at Mission Cliffs, an indoor rock climbing gym. Or admire the colorful street murals along Balmy Street. If shopping piques your interest, take a stroll down Valencia Street.

See Related: Top Places to Visit in the United States

12. Sutro Baths

Sutro Baths in the Bay Area, San Francisco
Zack Frank / Adobe Stock

Address: 1004 Point Lobos Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121

The Sutro Baths were among the most exciting and progressive architectural works of the late 19th century in San Francisco. Created by self-made millionaire Adolph Sutro, he wanted to provide an extensive and affordable recreational swimming area for the people of San Francisco. The baths included slides, springboards, diving boards, a natural history museum, and art exhibits.

The baths were filled naturally from the Pacific Ocean and could accommodate up to 10,000 guests. Visitors could also enjoy restaurants, live music, and talent shows. Unfortunately, after Adolph’s death, the baths no longer thrived and were eventually destroyed by a fire in 1966.

Today, the ruins of Sutro Baths offer a unique glimpse into San Francisco’s history and culture. This fascinating California Historical Landmark is open to the public for sightseeing as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

13. Twin Peaks

Scenic views from Twin Peaks

Address: 501 Twin Peaks Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94114

Twin Peaks is one of the best places to get a panoramic view of San Francisco and its surroundings. The two peaks, Twin Peaks West and Twin Peaks East sit at an elevation of 922 feet and offer stunning views of the San Francisco skyline. On a clear day, you can see San Francisco Bay and even across it to Marin County.

The park is home to the Mission Blue Butterfly, an endangered species. In 2009, 22 pregnant Mission Blue Butterflies were released in the city, and Twin Peaks is the only place where they can still be found. The butterflies are a light blue color and about the size of a quarter.

Twin Peaks is a popular spot, so be sure to arrive early to avoid crowds. And if you’re feeling energetic, you can always hike up one of the peaks for an even better view. The Creek to Peaks Trail is a 1.2-mile hike that extends from Twin Peaks to Glen Canyon Park.

See Related: Day Trips from San Francisco

14. Walt Disney Family Museum

Walt Disney Family Museum
Joyofmuseums / Wikicommons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Address: 104 Montgomery St, San Francisco, CA 94129

The Walt Disney Family Museum is a must-visit for families and one of the best San Francisco attractions. Located in the Presidio, this museum celebrates the life and work of Walt Disney, arguably the most iconic animator and filmmaker of all time.

The museum has ten main galleries, each showcasing and celebrating different points in Walt Disney’s career. There are also exhibits showcasing the work of Walt Disney’s family members, like his grandson and painter Chris Miller.

The museum is packed with interactive exhibits that are perfect for kids. They can explore Walt Disney’s early career, learn about the creation of some of their favorite Disney films, and even tinker with various animation techniques themselves.

15. San Francisco Zoo

Lion in San Francisco Zoo

Address: 1 Zoo Rd, San Francisco, CA 94132

Located in San Francisco’s southwestern corner, the San Francisco Zoo is a sprawling 100-acre zoo that houses an impressive range of animals around the globe.

Boasting more than 250 species across its vast grounds, the San Francisco Zoo prides itself on its dedication to conservation, research, and education initiatives. The zoo is home to many endangered and rescued animals that visitors can admire through their multi-species exhibits and close-up viewings.

With engaging educational displays and exhibits, informative guided tours and talks by experienced zookeepers, and close-up opportunities with some of its most beloved residents, there is enough to fill up an entire day at the San Francisco Zoo. The zoo’s primary entrance, which faces the Pacific Ocean to the west, is on the ocean side.

16. The Legion of Honor Museum

The Legion of Honor

Address: 100 34th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121

The Legion of Honor Museum is one of the best fine art museums in San Francisco. It is a must-visit destination for art lovers and travelers alike. Located in a beautiful Neo-Classical Beaux-Arts building in Lincoln Park, this museum and the de Young Museum comprise San Francisco’s largest public arts institution.

The Legion of Honor Museum was initially conceived as a gift to the people of San Francisco from philanthropist Alma Brettville Spreckels, who was a huge fan of Europe and its many artistic treasures. The museum houses an outstanding collection of rare European decorative art and sculptures, covering everything from medieval masterpieces to modern masterpieces crafted in the early 20th century.

The Legion of Honor and the de Young Museum have over 152,000 pieces in their collection. Throughout the year, the museum hosts an array of events. The Legion of Honor offers all Bay Area residents free admission every Saturday.

17. Fisherman’s Wharf

The Old Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf is another famous San Francisco tourist spot with excellent food and shopping opportunities. It is located on the city’s northern waterfront and has been a hub for commercial fishermen since the mid-19th century. The main attraction in this part of San Francisco is PIER 39.

Fisherman’s Wharf was originally known as Long Wharf and was a central hub for small fishing boats that brought fresh seafood and produce to the city. Today, it is among the most visited tourist attractions in San Francisco, with many restaurants, shops, and attractions lining its bustling streets.

Fishermans Grotto restaurant in Fishermans Wharf, San Francisco
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

It would be criminal to visit Fisherman’s Wharf and not indulge in some delicious seafood. My favorite place to go is Pier Market Seafood Restaurant at PIER 39.

My go-to is their New England clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, but other great things to try here include the blackened Pacific rock cod and the Pier Market Mixed Grill plate. After your meal, you can stroll down the different piers, rent a bike, or cruise around the bay.

18. The Palace of Fine Arts

Architecture of The Palace of Fine Arts

Address: 3601 Lyon St, San Francisco, CA 94123

The Palace of Fine Arts is a beautiful building constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. It is now a popular place for locals and tourists to enjoy the outdoors with its beautiful gardens and fountains. It is located in the Marina District of San Francisco.

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed the building, which is an excellent example of his work. The palace is located just on the edge of the Presidio, making it a wonderful place for visitors to relax and enjoy the outdoors. Bring your camera and be ready for some Instagram-worthy shots here.

The Palace of Fine Arts hosts community events and yearly performances, like the California Vegetarian Food Festival & Symposium. Visiting is free when there aren’t events, and it usually takes about 30 minutes.

19. Alamo Square Park & The Painted Ladies

Painted Ladies Victorian houses in San Francisco under cloudy sky
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94117

Alamo Square Park is one of San Francisco’s most iconic and popular destinations. The park offers stunning views of the city’s skyline and the famous Painted Ladies, a row of Victorian houses on Steiner Street.

The Painted Ladies are a popular tourist attraction in the city, and their appearance at the beginning of the television series “Full House” made them even more famous. Hundreds of visitors come to Alamo Square every day to admire its beauty.

The best time to photograph the Painted Ladies is mid-afternoon, between 1 and 2 p.m. If you go too early, the Painted Ladies will be shadowed because of the direction they face.

The best way to enjoy them is by having a picnic in Alamo Square. San Francisco is a foodie’s paradise, so you’ll have no shortage of options for to-go meals.

Some of my favorite spots nearby include Alamo Square Cafe and The Mill. If you’d like a guided tour, this Painted Ladies San Francisco City Tour will take you around the city in a retro VW Bus, including stops at Alamo Square Park and the Golden Gate Bridge.

20. The Presidio

Crissy Field in the Presidio in San Francisco with skyline view in the background

Address: 1199 E Beach, San Francisco, CA 94129

The Presidio is a sprawling national park, a National Historic Landmark, and one of the best places to visit in San Francisco. With expansive views of the Golden Gate Bridge, miles of hiking trails, and numerous cultural attractions, this former military base contains a wealth of activities.

The stunning scenery alone is enough to draw visitors from all over the world. But the Presidio also boasts a rich cultural legacy that includes old forts and homes, outdoor artwork and sculptures, and beautifully preserved landscapes. Crissy Field is one of the best places to admire the Golden Gate Bridge from the Presidio, especially on a warmer day when you can fully enjoy the beach.

This unique blend of natural beauty and urban culture makes the Presidio among the most beloved parks in the country, and its many accolades attest to its widespread popularity. Nearby in the Marina District and Cow Hollow, you can find many affordable hotels, like the hip and trendy Infinity Hotel SF.

21. Coit Tower

Coit Tower San Francisco surrounded by greenery under blue sky
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: 1 Telegraph Hill Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94133

Coit Tower is a 1930s Art Deco tower on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco. The 210-foot tower offers spectacular 360-degree views of the city and bay. It is best known for its beautiful murals painted on the interior walls, created by some of the leading artists of the time, including Diego Rivera.

The tower has been a symbolic part of the San Francisco skyline since its completion in 1933. For the most incredible views, head up to Coit Tower’s observation deck, which can be accessed for a small fee. Docent-led tours are also available.

The murals on the exterior of Coit Tower are free to visit via a short hike from nearby Telegraph Hill. The walk to the tower is relatively easy and takes about 15-20 minutes. Once you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of San Francisco and the Bay Area.

See Related: Things to Do in The Bay Area

22. Japanese Tea Garden

Trail in Japanese Tea Garden

Address: 75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr, San Francisco, CA 94118

The Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park offers visitors a peaceful and relaxing environment. The garden was originally built as part of the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition and was later reopened as a public park in 1958. It features a collection of ponds, streams, and waterfalls, as well as countless plant species from all over the world.

Visitors to the Japanese Tea Garden can enjoy a traditional Japanese tea ceremony or relax and take in the peaceful atmosphere. The garden also hosts many cultural events throughout the year, including art shows and martial arts demonstrations.

See Related: Botanical Gardens in California to Visit

23. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art architecure

Address: 151 3rd St, San Francisco, CA 94103

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is the perfect place to visit if you enjoy modern and contemporary art. This highly praised museum features over 30,000 pieces spanning various mediums, including paintings, photographs, sculptures, and more.

Among the many famous artists whose work you can expect to find here are Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Diego Rivera. In addition, there are also works by prominent modern artists like Alexander Calder, Clyfford Still, and John Baldessari.

Best of all, this fantastic museum can be found in San Francisco’s bustling SOMA district, making it easily accessible to anyone traveling through the city.

24. San Francisco City Hall

San Francisco City Hall

Address: 1 Dr Carlton B Goodlett Pl, San Francisco, CA 94102

San Francisco City Hall is the seat of government for the City and County of San Francisco. The building houses the mayor’s office, the Board of Supervisors chambers, and city government offices.

The Beaux-Arts style building was completed in 1915 and is a popular tourist destination, with its magnificent dome and stairs often used as a backdrop for weddings and other events. This is among the most well-known San Francisco attractions and a fun visit if you love history and architecture.

San Francisco City Hall offers docent-led tours each Friday at 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. The tour takes approximately one hour, and your spot can be reserved at the docent desk in the Goodlett Lobby.

25. The Ferry Building Marketplace

The Ferry Building at night in San Francisco, California

Address: 1 Ferry Building, San Francisco, CA 94105

The Ferry Building Marketplace is a historic terminal built in 1898 to serve as the main port of entry for ferry traffic coming into San Francisco. Today, the Ferry Building Marketplace is a popular tourist destination, with shops, restaurants, and a farmers market. The building also houses several offices, including the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.

Inside of the Ferry Building in San Francisco
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

The Ferry Building Marketplace is a great place to sample some of the best food in San Francisco or to purchase souvenirs from local small businesses. The farmers market is held thrice weekly along with the permanent vendors. It’s one of the best farmer’s markets in the Bay Area and sees over 40,000 visitors weekly.

The Ferry Building is located on The Embarcadero and is easily accessible by public transportation or by foot. You can find everything here, from books to tacos, donuts, wine, and ceramics.

26. Aquarium of the Bay

Front of Aquarium of the Bay building
Gilberto Mesquita / Adobe Stock

Address: PIER 39 The Embarcadero & Beach St, San Francisco, CA 94133

The Aquarium of the Bay is a public aquarium located at The Embarcadero and Beach Street, at the edge of PIER 39. The aquarium is focused on local aquatic animals from the San Francisco Bay and neighboring rivers and watersheds as far as the Sierra Mountains. Since 2005, the aquarium has focused its mission locally and globally enabling ocean conservation and climate action.

In addition to housing thousands of aquatic species from all corners of Northern California in its beautiful state-of-the-art displays, Aquarium of the Bay also works with local citizens to teach them about ocean issues, empowering them to become a part of the solution by taking concrete steps to reduce their carbon footprint or participate in conservation efforts.

This world-class aquarium contains over 750,000 gallons of saltwater that 24,000 animals from 200+ species call home. It’s also the only Smithsonian-affiliated aquarium in all of California. So when you visit the Aquarium of the Bay, you’re getting an educational and immersive experience that can’t be found anywhere else on the West Coast.

See Related: Best Family Hotels in San Francisco

27. California Academy of Sciences

Front and entrance of the California Academy of Sciences
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: 55 Music Concourse Dr, San Francisco, CA 94118

For an informative, sustainable, and fun day out, the California Academy of Sciences is a natural heritage museum, planetarium, aquarium, and research center all in one. The building itself is a work of art, too.

Designed by world-renowned architect Renzo Piano, the California Academy of Sciences is a model of sustainability, with features such as solar panel power, glass structures to maximize natural light output, and green insulation. Plus, the living roof is a stunning six acres of hills and native plants, providing a natural habitat for local wildlife.

Kids visiting the California Academy of Sciences will love the Kimball Natural History Museum. The museum contains hands-on exhibits of fascinating specimens, including dinosaurs and other extinct creatures. 

See Related: NorCal vs SoCal: What’s the Difference?

28. Yerba Buena Gardens

Yerba Buena Gardens

Address: 750 Howard St, San Francisco, CA 94103

Yerba Buena Gardens is the name for two blocks of public parks located between 3rd and 4th Streets and Mission and Folsom Streets in Downtown San Francisco. The first block bordered by Mission and Howard Streets was opened on October 11, 1993. The second block, between Howard and Folsom streets, was opened in 1998, with a dedication to Martin Luther King Jr. by Mayor Willie Brown.

A pedestrian bridge over Howard Street connects the two blocks, sitting on top of part of the Moscone Convention Center. Yerba Buena Gardens features several gardens, an art museum, a children’s museum, an ice skating rink, a bowling alley, and a carousel.

The name “Yerba Buena” comes from the Spanish for “good herb” and was the area’s original name before it became part of downtown San Francisco. Yerba Buena Gardens is a great place to spend a day exploring all it offers.

29. Oracle Park

Game at Oracle Park

Address: 24 Willie Mays Plaza, San Francisco, CA 94107

Oracle Park is home to the city’s Major League Baseball team, the San Francisco Giants. Purchase tickets behind first base for a stunning panoramic view from the ballpark.

During the game, you can enjoy some of San Francisco’s finest culinary offerings, like Mission Street Tacos, Ghirardelli sundaes, and The Lumpia Company. Ballpark classics like garlic fries, hot dogs, and local brews are also available.

When a game or concert isn’t happening, schedule a 90-minute ballpark tour for a behind-the-scenes look at areas inaccessible to the general public. You’ll be able to access the dugout, field, press box, luxury suite, and many more cool sites. Tours happen daily but may be rescheduled if the team needs time on the field.

30. The Wave Organ

Wave Organ on San Francisco Bay Activated By Ocean Tides
Pius Lee / Adobe Stock

Address: 83 Marina Green Dr, San Francisco, CA 94123

The Wave Organ is a pretty rad sculpture located in the Marina District. The sweet views aren’t the only thing to enjoy when visiting the Golden Gate City; the Wave Organ is an interesting and interactive public sculpture you won’t want to miss.

The organ was constructed on the shore of San Francisco Bay in May 1986 by the Exploratorium, a museum founded in 1969 dedicated to developments in the arts, sciences, and technology.

Peter Richards, the artist-in-residence at the Exploratorium, conceived and designed it. Working with stonemason George Gonzales, Richards created this one-of-a-kind sculpture that uses the movement of waves to produce sound. The organ is made up of 25 PVC and stone organ pipes.

The PVC pipes are routed through a series of chambers that amplify the noise of the waves crashing into them. The best time to enjoy the sounds of the Wave Organ is at high tide.

31. Asian Art Museum

Asian Art Museum
Joyofmuseums / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Address: 200 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94102

The Asian Art Museum is home to one of the largest collections of Asian art in the world, with more than 18,000 pieces in the museum’s collection.

The museum also constantly rotates exhibits, so there’s always something new. Recent exhibitions include “2,000 Years of Dance in Art,” Yoshida Hokada’s Modern Prints, and “The Art of Chinese Lacquer.” The museum also hosts pop-up events, including talks and performances.

The Asian Art Museum is located in the Civic Center area of San Francisco, close to City Hall and other important government buildings. Public transportation is the best way to get there, as it’s within walking distance of several bus and streetcar stops. The closest BART station is Civic Center/UN Plaza.

32. San Francisco Botanical Garden

San Francisco Botanical Garden

Address: 1199 9th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94122

Located in San Francisco’s beautiful Golden Gate Park, the San Francisco Botanical Garden is a must-visit destination for any traveler who appreciates nature and botany. The botanical garden boasts acres of gorgeous gardens showcasing nearly 9,000 different kinds of plants from all over the world. It offers a unique opportunity to see some truly remarkable and diverse plant life.

Look no further than the San Francisco Botanical Garden for something fun and educational to do during your visit to San Francisco. From the beautiful displays of magnolia trees and Central American cloud forest plants to the spectacular array of rare palms, there’s much to explore in this urban oasis.

Tickets to the San Francisco Botanical Garden can be purchased separately or with tickets to the Conservatory of Flowers and the Japanese Tea Garden, all found in Golden Gate Park. The garden also hosts fun events, like Yoga in the Garden and Easy Garden Sketching.

33. de Young Museum

de Young Museum and lush foliage in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr, San Francisco, CA 94118

The de Young Museum is a fine arts museum in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. The museum houses a diverse collection of art from various periods and geographical locations. While the museum features prominent exhibitions of North American art and interiors, it also houses exhibits from Egypt, Greece, Rome, and elsewhere.

The de Young Museum also features British and folk arts from African American and Pacific Island cultures. The main level features art from the Americas and modern and contemporary art, while the top level features art from around the globe. You’ll find the special exhibitions at the lower level, which may require a separate ticket to view.

Visitors can also purchase tickets to special exhibitions, typically rotated every quarter. The de Young Museum is a must-see for anyone interested in art and culture while visiting San Francisco.

See Related: Top Museums in San Diego

34. Hike and Picnic in Angel Island State Park

Hike and picnic in Angel Island State Park

Location: Tiburon, CA 94920

Angel Island State Park is the perfect destination if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to get out of the city and enjoy the fresh air. Located just a 25-minute ferry ride from San Francisco, Angel Island is the largest natural island in the bay. The island offers stunning views of the surrounding area and is a popular spot for hiking and cycling.

The park has well-paved trails, and visitors can climb Mount Caroline Livermore for an incredible panoramic view. One of the coolest things to see here is the Angel Island Immigration Station, which functioned as the Ellis Island of the West Coast from 1910 to 1940. It was set to be demolished in the 1970s until Chinese poetry was found engraved into the walls of the detention barracks.

In addition to its picturesque scenery, Angel Island boasts many beaches and picnic areas, making it the perfect place to spend a day in nature. 

See Related: Things to Do in San Jose

35. Day Trip to Napa Valley

Panoramic Napa Valley vineyards with rolling hills and blue skies
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley are two of California’s most recognized and largest wine-growing districts. Many travelers visit the region on day trips from San Francisco to enjoy the landscape and visit several attractions. If you don’t want to deal with renting a car, joining a small guided group tour of Napa and Sonoma is the best way to go.

Napa is located at the southern end of this valley, about 60 miles north of San Francisco. Established wineries, vineyards, charming small towns, and hot air ballooning make Napa Valley a favorite day trip from San Francisco. Heading north from Napa, visitors will find the town of Yountville, home to Michelin-starred restaurants, luxury hotels, and world-renowned wineries.

Calistoga is known for its therapeutic hot springs and mud baths at the valley’s northern end. Travelers can also enjoy exploring the many hiking trails or take a scenic drive along Highway 29 or Silverado Trail for sweeping views of vineyards, mountains, and valleys.

See Related: Things to Do in Napa Valley

36. Sip High Tea in a Historic Hotel

Palace Hotel San Francisco luxury lobby with ornate details and guests
Palace Hotel Lobby (Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers)

Address: 600 Stockton St, San Francisco, CA 94108

If an elegant, old-world experience while visiting San Francisco sounds interesting, visiting one of the city’s famous historical hotels can’t be beaten. Whether you choose the Fairmont at Nob Hill, The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco, or the Palace Hotel, you’ll enjoy a classic High Tea experience in a stunningly beautiful setting.

These opulent San Francisco hotels were built during the Victorian era and continue to offer a glimpse into that glorious period. Their refined decor and sumptuous surroundings provide a wonderful backdrop for your afternoon tea ritual as you sip on dainty treats and admire the elegance of days gone by.

Why not book a table at one of these historic hotels and immerse yourself in another age? My favorite high tea experience is at The Palace Hotel – the glass dome ceiling is just stunning, and they even have a special children’s menu during tea time.

37. Union Square

Union Square best places to visit in San Francisco

Union Square is the place for serious shoppers. Major department stores and the most exclusive designer boutiques line the streets. The Westfield San Francisco Shopping Centre houses the largest Bloomingdale’s outside New York and the second-largest Nordstrom in the U.S.

Union Square is a shopper’s paradise, with something to suit every taste and budget. The actual Union Square, the neighborhood namesake, is a fantastic place to rest and relax between your credit card swipes.

This San Francisco neighborhood is also home to some of the city’s best hotels, including the Grand Hyatt San Francisco and The Westin St. Francis. Restaurants in Union Square don’t disappoint, either.

You can have everything from The Rotunda in Neiman Marcus to amazing Ula Restaurant & Tapas Bar tapas. Several amazing bars like Tunnel Top Lounge & Bar and Sam’s Cable Car Lounge make this neighborhood one of San Francisco’s hotspots for nightlife.

See Related: Top Travel Subscription Boxes

38. War Memorial Opera House

Sunny view of the War Memorial Opera House
Kit Leong / Shutterstock.com

Address: 301 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA 94102

This San Francisco opera house is one of Northern California’s most stunning architectural gems and possibly the entire West Coast. The War Memorial Opera House has been at the heart of San Francisco since 1932 and was built as a memorial for those who lost their lives in World War I.

The historical building hosted the drafting of the charter of the United Nations as well as the Treaty of San Francisco, a peace treaty with Japan.

Throughout history, the War Memorial Opera House has hosted thousands of musical performances, operas, and cultural performances. The theater hosts more than 60 performances yearly, so there’s always something new to see. It’s also the home to the official San Francisco Ballet.

One of my favorite things the War Memorial Opera House does is its Pre-Opera Talks, which occur about one hour before every show. The talk is meant for opera newbies to learn more about the opera, the music, and the composers from music experts. It’s a great addition to watching a live performance.

39. Muir Woods National Monument

Trail through redwoods in Muir Woods National Monument near San Francisco, California, USA
Mariusz Blach / Adobe Stock

Address: 1 Muir Woods Rd, Mill Valley, CA 94941

Just north of San Francisco is Muir Woods National Monument, a primeval forest known for its towering redwood trees. The majestic forest has been federally protected since 1908 and is under the management of the National Park Service. It’s the perfect place to appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds the city and breathe in some delicious fresh air.

Muir Woods National Monument features over six miles of trails, including several short-loop trails that are mostly flat and accessible for almost any fitness level.

If you want something more challenging, several trails connect Muir Woods to Mount Tamalpais State Park. These trails are unpaved and include a lot of elevation gain, so be prepared for a full day of hiking with beautiful views.

An entrance fee is collected from everyone over 15, and parking reservations must be made in advance. It’s also worth noting that there’s little to no cell service, which, in my opinion, is all the more reason to go out and enjoy being in nature.

See Related: Best National Parks in California

40. Mission Dolores Park

Panoramic view of local people enjoying the sunny summer weather at Mission Dolores Park on a beautiful day with clear blue sky with the skyline of San Francisco
Shambhala / Adobe Stock

Address: Dolores St & 19th St, San Francisco, CA 94114

San Francisco is known for its outstanding balance of being a full-fledged city while keeping many green spaces available for its residents and tourists. One of the most popular parks in San Francisco is Mission Dolores Park, located on the edge of the Mission District close to the Castro neighborhood.

This beloved park is a favorite for picnics and people-watching. It boasts some of the most spectacular views of the San Francisco skyline, which you can enjoy for free!

Mission Dolores Park features 16 acres of rolling hills, tennis courts, playgrounds, and a soccer field. In addition to all the room to play, it hosts several performances and cultural events throughout the year.

41. North Beach

Famous Little Italy in North Beach, San Francisco,
ronniechua / Adobe stock

The North Beach district of San Francisco is a lively neighborhood that has held on firmly to its Italian heritage for generations. It’s located in the northeast corner of San Francisco, right between Russian Hill, Telegraph Hill, and Chinatown. The neighborhood gives off major retro vibes with its classic Italian trattorias and bars.

Original Joe’s is one of the best and oldest Italian restaurants in San Francisco, serving up classic Italian fare since 1937. Their indulgent offerings include arancini balls, fritto misto, chicken Milanese, and paccheri short rib ragu. Try one of their signature cocktails, like the House of Joe Spagliato or Joe’s Rita.

Beyond the delicious Italian food that you’ll find in North Beach, you’ll also find great relics of the Beat Generation, a literary subculture movement of the 1950s. One stop you must make is City Lights Booksellers & Publishers, which instantly became a gathering place for Beat authors when it opened in 1953. If you want to learn more about this movement, stop by the Beat Museum at 540 Broadway.

42. Mile Rock Beach

The Lands End Labyrinth at Dawn
Chris / Adobe Stock

Address: Lands End Trail, San Francisco, CA 94121

Hiking down to Mile Rock Beach is one of the best things to do in San Francisco if you want to escape city life but don’t want to travel too far. This hidden cove is in the Lands End Park area, just above Lincoln Park. Getting down to Mile Rock Beach is pretty straightforward, but it does involve going down about 243 steps.

The beach can be found along Lands End Trail, so prepare for a day of outdoor adventure. Once you’re at the beach, it’s an amazing place to relax or explore. It’s known for impressive rock labyrinths and other rock formations left behind by other visitors.

A visit to Mile Rock Beach can also be combined with the Sutro Baths. I recommend starting at the Lands End Lookout Visitor Center, where they have free maps of the area and a cafe where you can stock up on snacks and drinks before your adventure.

FAQ

What is the best time of year to visit San Francisco?

The best time of year to visit San Francisco is typically in the spring or fall when the weather is mild. However, there are no bad times to visit this beautiful city – it is wonderful year-round.

Are there any free things to do in San Francisco?

There are several free things to do in San Francisco, including visiting the Presidio, which is open 24 hours per day, walking across the Golden Gate Bridge, checking out PIER 39, the San Francisco Cable Car Museum, wandering around Chinatown, taking a walk (or drive) down Lombard Street, and more.

What are the must-see attractions in San Francisco?

The Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Lombard Street, and Fisherman’s Wharf are some of the most popular tourist attractions in San Francisco.

If you’re looking for a day trip idea, some of the most popular day trips from San Francisco include Yosemite National Park, Half Moon Bay, Angel Island, Los Gatos, Carmel, and Berkeley.

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  1. Deborah Hodgson says:

    Tour operators and travel writers always forget San Francisco’s Victorians, yet they are one of the most famous sights of San Francisco that are a favorite for locals. They deserve to get World Heritage listing. I wrote a book about the coded Victorians of Haight Ashbury with a real Holy Grail in America twist.

    Deborah Hodgson
    Investigative Writer and Art Historian

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