Nestled along the picturesque California coastline, San Francisco is a popular Northern California city and a bucket list destination in California. With its iconic landmarks, rolling hills, and vibrant neighborhoods, the city offers a unique blend of history and modernity that captivates visitors from around the world.
Our friend, Anu Agarwal from Destination Checkoff, is a San Francisco local and shares some of her favorite things to do in San Francisco.
1. Golden Gate Bridge
No trip to San Francisco is complete without a visit to the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge. Its orange-red hue against the backdrop of the bay and rolling hills is a sight to behold. This engineering marvel unites the city with the Marin Headlands, offering panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay.
You can walk, bike, or drive across the bridge, offering breathtaking views of the city and the surrounding natural beauty. There are several vista points near the bridge, like Battery Spencer, to see the stunning bridge views from far.
2. Alcatraz Island
Alcatraz Island is perhaps the most famous attraction in San Francisco. You can take one of the San Francisco boat tours to visit Alcatraz Island. A trip to the historic Alcatraz Island is a journey back in time. The former maximum-security prison, often referred to as “The Rock,” housed some of America’s most notorious criminals.
Guided tours provide insights into the prison’s history, infamous inmates, and daring escape attempts. While visiting Alcatraz Island, you will also experience epic views of the San Francisco skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge.
3. Fisherman’s Wharf
Fisherman’s Wharf is a lively waterfront district known for its seafood restaurants, souvenir shops, and street performers. Most people think it is touristy, but it is also bustling and lively. Don’t miss the chance to savor clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls and watch sea lions lounging on Pier 39.
Sample the finest seafood that San Francisco has to offer at renowned restaurants like Fog Harbor Fish House. The Aquarium by the Bay and the two-storied carousel at Pier 39 are always a hit with families.
4. Cable Car
San Francisco’s historic cable cars are both a mode of transportation and a tourist attraction. Hop on a historic cable car for a thrilling ride up and down the city’s steep hills while enjoying panoramic views.
The most iconic route is the Powell-Hyde line, which starts at Union Square and ends at the picturesque Aquatic Park. For the best views and experience, sit on the outside seats of the cable car, but be careful as there are no seat belts!
5. Lombard Street
Known as the “most crooked street in the world,” Lombard Street features a series of hairpin turns amidst beautifully landscaped gardens. It’s a must-see spot offering a unique driving experience and fantastic photo opportunities.
The most famous and photographed section of Lombard Street, known for its steep winding turns, is the block between Hyde Street and Leavenworth Street.
6. Ghirardelli Square
Indulge your sweet tooth at Ghirardelli Square, where you can savor decadent chocolate treats from the renowned Ghirardelli Chocolate Company. The square also features shops, restaurants, and a charming historic ambiance.
While here, walk to the nearby Aquatic Park waterfront for breathtaking views of the bay and Ghirardelli Square.
7. Ferry Building Marketplace
Located along the Embarcadero waterfront, Ferry Building Marketplace is a historic building that has transformed into a vibrant marketplace. Indulge your taste buds at the Ferry Building, a foodie paradise showcasing a variety of gourmet shops, restaurants, and artisanal products.
Don’t miss the chance to savor locally sourced delights. From freshly harvested produce to artisan cheeses, gourmet chocolates, and freshly baked bread, the market’s stalls celebrate local agriculture and international flavors.
8. Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park is a sprawling urban oasis in the heart of San Francisco with lush landscapes, diverse attractions, and a serene escape from the city’s hustle and bustle.
Stroll along paths, enjoy meadows, and visit serene lakes. Explore the de Young Museum for art, the Japanese Tea Garden for tranquility, and the California Academy of Sciences for science wonders. Don’t miss the Conservatory of Flowers. It’s a place to unwind, immerse in culture, and find solace in nature.
9. Muir Woods
Just a short drive from the city, Muir Woods National Monument is a sanctuary of towering coastal redwoods. Take a peaceful hike among these ancient giants and reconnect with nature in this serene oasis.
Muir Woods has a variety of trails that cater to different levels of hikers. The Main Trail is a gentle, paved pathway that meanders through the heart of the forest. This flat trail with various bridges is perfect for those seeking a leisurely stroll or for families with young children.
San Francisco boasts one of the oldest and most vibrant Chinatowns in North America. Explore the bustling streets filled with shops, restaurants, and temples that offer a taste of Chinese culture and cuisine.
Grant Avenue is the main street, bustling with shops and restaurants. Admire the ornate Dragon Gate, shop for unique trinkets, and savor authentic cuisine.
For curious minds, the Exploratorium is a haven of interactive science exhibits. This hands-on museum is very popular with families and encourages visitors of all ages to engage in learning through experimentation and exploration.
The Exploratorium is huge, and families can easily spend an entire day here. From tinkering with light and sound to exploring the mysteries of physics and biology, the Exploratorium offers a playground of knowledge for all ages.
12. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)
Visiting the SFMOMA is immersing yourself in a world of contemporary art and creativity. The museum showcases a diverse collection of modern artworks, including pieces by renowned artists like Frida Kahlo, Jackson Pollock, and Andy Warhol.
Wander through galleries filled with thought-provoking sculptures, paintings, and installations that challenge conventions and expand perspectives. Whether you’re an art enthusiast or a casual visitor, SFMOMA offers a captivating journey through the ever-evolving landscape of modern artistic expression.
13. North Beach and Coit Tower
Exploring North Beach in San Francisco is a sensory journey through Italian culture, history, and charming streets. The neighborhood buzzes with cafes, trattorias, and bookstores, creating an inviting ambiance reminiscent of a European village.
At the heart of North Beach stands Coit Tower, an iconic landmark that offers panoramic city views. Ascend to the top for breathtaking vistas of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and the city’s sprawling skyline. Inside, you’ll find vibrant murals depicting scenes from California’s history, making it a cultural and visual delight.
14. Ocean Beach and Land’s End
Ocean Beach is at the west end of Golden Gate Park and is a picturesque beach for strolling along the shore and enjoying stunning sunsets. The water is always cold here, and the surf is strong, so it is not suitable for swimming.
Lands End, located nearby, is a coastal trail that winds through rugged cliffs and offers stunning views of the ocean. As you follow the path, you’ll encounter hidden coves, the historic Sutro Baths, and the majestic Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. The Mile Rock beach is great for tide pooling and for checking out the stone labyrinth.
Sausalito is a charming bayfront town just across the Golden Gate Bridge. You can bike across the Golden Gate Bridge or take a ferry to Sausalito. This waterfront town is a great escape from the city to unwind along its scenic shoreline, explore quaint streets, and enjoy stunning bay views.
Stroll along the waterfront promenade, where boutique shops, art galleries, and inviting cafes line the way. The Mediterranean-style architecture adds to the picturesque setting, and you’ll encounter houseboat communities that add a unique touch to the scene. Waterfront restaurants offer fresh seafood and delightful cuisine against the backdrop of the bay.
Sausalito’s artistic spirit is evident in its galleries and creative shops, making it a great place to find unique souvenirs or local artwork. The town also offers a taste of maritime history at the Bay Area Discovery Museum and opportunities for biking through its scenic paths.
Conclusion: Top things to do in San Francisco
San Francisco’s famous attractions and vibrant neighborhoods ensure that every traveler will find something to love in this captivating city. From iconic landmarks to hidden gems, each experience is unique to San Francisco. Whether you’re exploring its history, enjoying its cuisine, or soaking in its natural beauty, the City by the Bay promises unforgettable memories that will linger long after your visit.
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