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20 Best Things To Do in San Francisco

Things to do in San Francisco
Written by Edith & Juan

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.

Things to do in San Francisco

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!

things to do in san francisco

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!

Things to do in San Francisco

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.

Things to do San Francisco

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.

Things to do in San Francisco

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.

 Things to do in San Francisco

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.

Things to do in San Francisco

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.

Things to do in San Francisco

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.

Things to do in San Francisco

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.

Things to do in San Francisco

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.

Things to do in San Francisco

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.

Things to do in San Francisco

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.

Things to do in San Francisco

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.

Things to do in San Francisco

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.

Things to do in San Francisco

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.

Things to do in San Francisco

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.

things to do in san francisco

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.

things to do in San Francisco

 

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!

 

About the author

Edith & Juan

From Arizona but temporarily based near California, Edith and her husband Juan created Life Beyond 520 to share inspiration from their local travels and adventures in California and beyond. Edith is the blogger behind these posts, but together they hope to inspire couples and others to get out there and explore new places, including their own city.

24 Comments

  • San Fran is such a unique place! I am glad you were able to highlight so many great things to do while there! I have to say Chinatown is amazing and I love their food! Great read!

  • There are really a lot to see in San Francisco and glad that I have seen them all.
    Many would skip Alcatraz but actually, I like it a lot and one the boat ride back visitors always can have a good look at the San Francisco skyline, and I spot Seal / Sea lions / and all sorts of wildlife!
    @ knycx.journeying

  • Never knew there are so many cool things to do in San Francisco! I would definitely start from the bridge! The Alcatraz tour is something I would definitely want to visit, as strange as it is. I remember visiting a Russian prison in Riga and it was quite shocking though really interesting.

    • First times in SF we weren’t interested, but now that I went I realized it’s definitely worth the visit. I especially loved the views of the city from the island. Hope you get to visit one day!

  • This city is absolutely lovely! One of my favorites in the States! I remember being completely against visiting Alcatraz, cause I thought It would be so touristic and boring! And it ended up being extremely interesting with all the escape stories… SF China Town is the most beautiful one I´ve ever seen, and the Golden Gate park was the best! #WeekendWanderlust

  • I really want to go to San Francisco. I’ll admit the main reason I want to go is to see the Painted Ladies but you’ve given me so much more to explore when we get there. I think a trip to San Francisco is in order 😉 #weekendwanderlust

    • No worries! I’ll be honest that the Painted Ladies was one of my main reasons too. Aside from the houses, the view of the city from there is beautiful. Hope you get to visit soon. You will definitely enjoy it! -E

  • What a year, Edith! You have experienced so many beautiful places! I was really glad to see that you’ve enjoyed Seattle as I am going there in two months and I am looking forward to it! Have a great 2017!

  • So many ideas in here! I have not even done half of these! I have to visit San Francisco this year. I have been once (and it was winter). We covered some parts of the city but didn’t have time for others. #WeekendWanderlust

  • Hi guys! First off, it’s great to “meet” a fellow Tucsonan! (The Rob half of Rob+Ann grew up in the Old Pueblo and went to UA.) Great list of fun activities for San Francisco! Over the years, we’ve done most of these, but have not been to the Cable Car Museum. Obviously, we need to go back and fix that. 🙂 Thanks for sharing! #WeekendWanderlust

    • It makes me so happy to have a Tucsonan stop by, especially one who is a wife to a wildcat. San Francisco is the best! That’s awesome you’ve done most of these on the list. It never hurts to go back again to see more since the city has so much to offer! Hope you go back soon. 🙂

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