No matter what you’re looking for, San Francisco truly has it all. With must-see landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, bone-chilling tours of Alcatraz Island for a reasonable price, world-class mountain biking trails all over, and amazing dining/nightlife options, it would be difficult to cram everything into one trip (if you’re planning a Pacific Coast Highway road trip, be sure to check out our San Diego article too).
With so much to do in the Golden City, we’ve put together a few lists of the best things to do in San Francisco.
Best Outdoor Activities in San Francisco
1) Check out the Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is an iconic structure that has come to symbolize the city of San Francisco. Spanning nearly two miles across the Golden Gate strait, the bridge offers stunning views of the Bay Area.
On a clear day, one can see all the way to Alcatraz Island and the Marin Headlands. The Golden Gate Bridge is also one of the most popular tourist destinations in San Francisco, with more than 10 million visitors each year. As far as options go for getting to see the bridge, you’ll have a few available. Our two favorite options being biking across the bridge (more on this later), or a tour-guide ferry ride around the Bay Area that’ll give you a brief history lesson of the iconic bridge.
No matter how you experience it, you will be sure to understand why the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most famous and beloved landmarks in America.
2) Take a Tour of Alcatraz Island
There’s something special about Alcatraz Island. Perhaps it’s the scenery, with its rocky cliffs and sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay. Or maybe it’s the history, as this was once one of the most notorious prisons in America.
Whatever the reason, Alcatraz Island is now one of the most popular tourist destinations in California. And there’s no better way to experience it than on one of the many Alcatraz Island tours.
Tours of the Island typically cost about $50 for an adult and they offer a unique way to explore the island, both above and below ground. You’ll get to see the historic cell block and learn about its infamous inmates. You’ll also get to enjoy the beautiful scenery, including the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.
Whether you’re a history buff or just looking for a unique experience, an Alcatraz Island tour is sure to impress.
3) Rent a bike and checkout some of these trails!
San Francisco is very bike friendly and has amazing coastal bike paths that seem to lead from one attraction to another. There are many bike rental companies throughout the city that have the skills to get you and your travel buddies kitted and ready for a day in the saddle. Biking the city is the best way to see all that the “city by the bay” has to offer.
You’ll certainly break a sweat, but for something that isn’t too technically challenging you can always bike across the Golden Gate Bridge or through Golden Gate Park.
If you’re looking for something more advanced and looking for more of a thrill, you’ll have to drive a bit but Marin Mountain has plenty of fantastic options. Known as the birth place of mountain biking, the Marin Headlands are a must-see for avid riders.
4) Catch a San Francisco Giants Game!
There’s nothing quite like watching a game at Oracle Park. Whether you’re rooting for the home team or just enjoying the views, it’s an experience that only San Francisco can offer. From the moment you step into the stadium, you’re surrounded by the sights and sounds of baseball.
The smell of hotdogs and popcorn fills the air, and the crack of the bat echoes through the stadium. As you take your seat, you’re greeted with a stunning view of San Francisco Bay. And as the game unfolds before you, you can’t help but be captivated by America’s favorite pastime. Whether you’re a diehard fan or just a casual observer, watching a game at Oracle Park is an amazing way to spend an afternoon in San Francisco.
5) Visit the Iconic Fisherman’s Warf
If you’re looking for an experience that’s truly “San Francisco”, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Fisherman’s Warf. This popular tourist destination is located in the heart of San Francisco, and its home to a variety of shops, restaurants, and attractions.
One of the best parts about Fisherman’s Warf is the food. There are a variety of seafood restaurants to choose from, so you’re sure to find something to your liking. For foodies, you’re doing it wrong if you don’t try either a clam chowder bread bowl or a dungeness crab meal at one point.
There are plenty of options, but be sure to check a few out here.
6) Visit the Japanese Tea Gardens
San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Gardens are a must-see for any visitor to the city. The gardens are located in Golden Gate Park, and they feature a variety of flowers, trees, and ponds.
Visitors can enjoy a traditional tea ceremony, or simply explore the gardens at their own pace. The gardens are also a popular spot for photography, and they provide a unique and relaxing experience. Whether you’re interested in history, culture, or simply want to enjoy a beautiful setting, the Japanese Tea Gardens are sure to please.
Best Museums and indoor activities in San Francisco
1) Take a tour of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory
The Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory tour is an experience that everyone should have at least once in their lives. The factory itself is a feast for the eyes, with its shiny copper kettles and row after row of chocolate-filled machines and Vats.
But the real treat comes when you get to sample some of the delicious treats that Ghirardelli is famous for. From the moment you step inside, the intoxicating smell of chocolate will make your mouth water. For all the chocolate lovers, don’t worry about missing out, the samples they give out are generous enough to satisfy even the largest sweet tooth.
So if you ever find yourself in San Francisco, be sure to take a tour of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory. You won’t regret it!
2) Head to The Exploratorium for a Unique Experience
Located in the heart of San Francisco, the Exploratorium is one of the most unique museums in the world. Dedicated to the experience of learning, it features a wide range of interactive exhibits that encourage visitors to explore, experiment, and discover.
From hands-on demonstrations of scientific principles to art installations that stimulate the senses, the Exploratorium has something for everyone. And with a commitment to making science and art accessible to all, it provides an inclusive and welcoming experience for all. Whether you’re a lifelong learner or just looking for a fun day out, the Exploratorium is sure to inspire and educate.
3) Check out the Museum of Modern Art
The Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco is a must-see for any art lover. The museum houses an impressive collection of artworks, ranging from traditional paintings to contemporary installations.
In addition to the artwork on display, the museum also offers a variety of educational programs and events. Whether you’re interested in learning about a specific artist or simply exploring the world of modern art, the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco is a great place to start.
Unique Events in San Francisco
1) Experience the Chinese New Year in San Francisco’s Chinatown
Each year, San Francisco’s Chinatown comes alive with the celebration of the Chinese New Year. The event is unique, not only because it is one of the largest celebrations of its kind outside of Asia, but also because it is held in one of the most diverse and vibrant cities in the world.
The festivities begin with a parade that winds its way through the streets of Chinatown, featuring elaborate floats, lion dancers, and acrobats. This is followed by a two-week festival that includes food, music, and cultural performances. For those who want to experience the Chinese New Year in all its splendor, San Francisco is the place to be.
2) Go To Fleet Week San Francisco
Each year, the City of San Francisco plays host to Fleet Week, a unique event that celebrates the maritime history and heritage of the Bay Area. During Fleet Week, dozens of ships from the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, and Royal Canadian Navy dock in San Francisco Bay, and the city comes alive with activities and events honoring the men and women who serve our country.
From ship tours and air shows to concerts and parades, there is something for everyone to enjoy during Fleet Week. In addition to paying tribute to the brave men and women of our armed forces, Fleet Week is also an opportunity to learn about different cultures and traditions. It is truly a unique event that should not be missed.
Recap of Best Things to do in San Francisco
- Golden Gate Bridge
- Alcatraz Island
- Rent Bikes!
- Fisherman’s Warf
- Japanese Tea Gardens
- The Exploratorium
- Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory Tour
- Museum of Modern Art
- Chinese New Year in Chinatown
- Fleet Week
Where to Next?
Exploring more of California? Check out San Diego on the southern coast!
Looking for another great mountain biking destination? Travel to Denver next!
Headed back to east coast afterward? Go explore Philadelphia!