With its vibrant neighborhoods and spectacular bay views, San Francisco has a lot to offer to first time and return visitors. Becoming one of our favorite cities in California, we have returned several times to try new things each time. Whether you prefer the touristy areas or prefer to get away from the crowds, here is a list of the best things to do in San Francisco.
Avoid the crowds at Marshall’s Beach
This is our favorite place to visit in San Francisco! Marshall’s Beach is a little well-kept secret that even some locals are not familiar with. This is a photographer’s paradise at sunset and a favorite spot for nudist. For us, it was a secluded romantic spot. The views are phenomenal as you walk the trail and stairs down to the beach, and even better as you walk closer to the beach. Best to go during low tide, or else you might get stuck trying to swim your way back.
Learn about Life in Prison at Alcatraz
One of the most interesting tours I’ve taken is the one at Alcatraz. To start, the view of the city from the island is fascinating. Second, you learn about inmates who tried to escape this prison without success. You get to see their jail cells in the wards, including El Capone’s. Enjoy the scenic boat ride there before learning about the criminals that were held on The Rock when doing the audio tour. Make sure to watch “Escape From Alcatraz” with Clint Eastwood before doing this tour. This is a San Francisco must!
Get a 360 degree view of the city at Twin Peaks
Incredible views of the city are best enjoyed here. Fog usually disappears in the afternoon, allowing you to see the layout of the city. Don’t forget your camera!
Be amazed by San Francisco’s beauty at the Coit Tower
Possibly the best place to view the city. Located atop Telegraph Hill, you will find this tower has some great murals as you prepare to go up the elevator. Once at the top, be ready to see the Bay Bridge, Golden Gate Bridge, Lombard Street, the city, and the bay area. A whole 360 degree view.
Buy souvenirs at Chinatown
A city of its own, Chinatown is filled with restaurants, markets, museums, temples, and well priced souvenir stores. You can wander the streets under red lanterns and pass through the Dragon Gate on Grant Avenue.
Watch the seals at Pier 39
Pier 39 is a waterfront marketplace that includes restaurants, souvenir stores, and entertainment. However, the pier is best well-known for watching cute seals that play and sleep on the floats that were placed there for them.
Be a tourist at Fishermans Wharf
Tourist paradise. Here you will find food, souvenirs, and street entertainment. My favorite stop was Boudin, the sourdough bakery.
Be amazed by Lombard Street
Known as the “crookedest street in the world” but not really, Lombard Street will have you taking sharp turns as you drive it down. From the top you get an awesome view of the city. From the bottom, you get a picturesque view of the street.
Walk or bike the Golden Gate Bridge
Possibly the most famous bridge known, the Golden Gate Bridge leaves quite an impression from whichever angle you view it. But if you want to get up close and personal, the bridge has a pedestrian walkway and a bike lane for you to enjoy.
Take some great photographs at Battery Spencer
This is possibly the most popular place to photograph the Golden Gate Bridge and there’s great reason why. From Batter Spencer you will get incredible views of the bridge. Sometimes you may find it to be a beautiful foggy day, others times you may see the most amazing sunrise. This viewpoint is definitely a jaw dropping one.
Indulge in delicious salted caramel ice-cream at Ghirardelli Square
Salted Caramel Ice-Cream, Sea Salt Caramel Hot Cocoa, Ghirardelli Chocolate Brownie. We’ll take them all! Besides chocolate, you can also enjoy wine tasting, annual events, and boutique shopping.
Go shopping at Union Square
We mostly did window shopping here, but Union Square is the perfect place for serious shoppers! You will find most major department stores and many exclusive designer stores. For a great rooftop view, head to Cheesecake Factory atop Macy’s. This is also a great area to stay at during your trip. We recommend the Handlery Union Square Hotel because of its location and great service.
Bring back childhood memories at the Painted Ladies
These beautiful Victorian homes make a great photo-op. Located in front of Alamo Square, you can view the city resting behind the houses. What’s most important about the Painted Ladies is that they will bring back memories to those who grew up watching Full House in the 90’s.
Take a nature walk at Golden Gate Park
Similar to Central Park in New York City, Golden Gate Park is the perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city. The park has museums to explore, various gardens to stroll through, and many trails to get your fitness of the day. Definitely worth the visit when visiting the city.
Have a tranquil morning at the Japanese Garden
If you want to enjoy a peaceful morning, the Japanese Tea Garden is the perfect place. With its winding paths, colorful atmosphere, and beautiful ponds and bridges, you will surely enjoy this nature walk. Free admission if you enter before 10am on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday. The garden is located on the premises of the Golden Gate Park.
Get familiar with plants at the Botanical Gardens
Enjoy nature while in the city if you head to the San Francisco Botanical Garden. You can see redwoods, magnolias, or perennials during your stroll. The garden is also located inside the Golden Gate Park.
Ride a Cable Car
For $7 you can ride San Francisco’s famous cable cars. These are best enjoyed when you want to give your legs a break by riding up a hill. You will sure catch a nice view of the city and streets as you ride the cable car.
Visit the Redwoods
A stroll through some of the tallest and oldest trees will feel magical. To see how little we are in comparison to these trees is a great experience. You can see the redwoods at Muir Woods or at UC Berkeley University.
Go on a Cruise
Sail by the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island and enjoy the San Francisco skyline from the water. A cruise will also give you great views of the Bay Bridge and the Ferry building.
Visit the Cable Car Museum
If you have a little extra time in the city, make sure to make a quick stop at the Cable Car Museum to learn about how cable cars work. The museum will teach you about the builders, technology, the rapid expansion, how the great earthquake affected the construction, and the efforts to save and rebuild the cable cars.
What are your favorite things to do in San Francisco? What would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments! Also, don’t miss our posts by signing up below and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!