Travel Tips

The 62 Best Things to Do in San Francisco: Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Other Highlights

Are you heading to San Francisco for the first time and have no idea what to see or do there? Or have you already seen all of the most popular attractions and want tips on what else there is to do? We’ve got a bucket list of 62 awesome things to do in the City by the Bay that will help you discover new ideas! 

bike the golden gate bridge

1. Bike the Golden Gate Bridge

You could walk over this icon of the San Francisco skyline, or you could rent a bike or take a guided bike tour and sail past the crowds! Get a little exercise while checking out this essential attraction on your SF bucket list.

Escape from Alcatraz

2. Escape from Alcatraz

Take the boat out to the notorious Alcatraz Island, and take the award-winning guided tour of the former penitentiary to learn about the history of the prison and the other uses the island was put to before it became one of the most popular tourist attractions in San Francisco.

Cruise the Bay

3. Cruise the Bay

Enjoy the sights of San Francisco from the water when you take a cruise around the Bay.

Explore the range of cruises and sailing trips available.

Try to Eat Everything in Chinatown, Japantown, and Little Italy

4. Try to Eat Everything in Chinatown, Japantown, and Little Italy

San Francisco has been a melting pot of cultures since its founding, which also means it’s one of the best places for a food tour! Discover authentic Chinese, Japanese, and Italian cuisine when you take a walking tour with an expert who knows where to find the most delicious dishes.

Napa Valley Wine Tour

5. Napa Valley Wine Tour

Just north of San Francisco, you’ll find the Napa Valley wine region which produces wines that compete with the best French vineyards. A day trip around the wineries is a must-do for any aspiring gourmet!

Walt Disney Family Museum
Model of Disneyland | Photo: HarshLight CC BY 2.0

6. Walt Disney Family Museum

Fun for kids and a trip down memory lane for adults, a visit to the Walt Disney Family Museum lets guests follow the story of Walt Disney and his magical creations, from Mickey Mouse to the Disney princesses. 

Sea Lions at Pier 39

7. See the Sea Lions at Pier 39

The sea lions at Pier 39 took over K Dock in the 1990s, and have been beloved (or not-so-beloved) residents ever since! Though they disappear for the breeding season around July, you’ll be able to see them chilling out and making noise for most of the year.

Whale Watching!

8. Go Whale Watching!

San Francisco is well placed to see some of nature’s most magnificent creatures in their home – the Pacific Ocean. Almost all year round, you have the chance to see gray whales, humpback whales, blue whales, killer whales, and dolphins migrating. Take a whale-watching trip to see if you can spot nature’s gentle giants.

Mighty Redwoods in Muir Woods
Flickr: Prayitno CC BY 2.0

9. Visit the Mighty Redwoods in Muir Woods

The Muir Woods National Monument is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and it’s a popular day-trip destination for visitors to the city! The monument protects 240 acres of endangered coast redwood trees, which are some of the oldest, tallest, and most awe-inspiring trees on the planet.

See all the options for trips to the Muir Woods National Park.

10. Find the Mission District Peephole Cinema

One of the weirder sites on this list, those exploring the Mission District should watch out for this art installation at 280 Orange Alley where visitors can watch experimental silent movies through a peephole on the side of a Victorian cottage.

Enjoy the Palace of Fine Arts

11. Enjoy the Palace of Fine Arts

If you’re looking for a stunning place to take pictures then you should definitely stop by the Palace of Fine Arts – one of the last surviving structures from the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition built on the edge of a serene lagoon. It’s sometimes home to art exhibitions and it’s also a popular spot for weddings.

San Francisco Zoo

12. Go Ape at the San Francisco Zoo

Spend a day with the animals at one of the US’s most famous zoos! Chat to the keepers to learn all about the mammals, reptiles, and birds they look after, and watch out for feeding time to see them get snappy!

Fisherman’s Wharf on a Segway Tour
Flickr: Jon – CC BY-SA 2.0

13. Zoom along Fisherman’s Wharf on a Segway Tour

You’ll probably spend plenty of time exploring Fisherman’s Wharf, but there’s no better way to quickly get your bearings than by taking a Segway tour! Zip around the sites with an expert guide who’ll explain the history of the area and everything that there is to see and do. See all the Segway tours around the city.

Explore the Exploratorium
Flickr: Jennifer Morrow CC BY 2.0

14. Explore the Exploratorium – After Dark!

The Exploratorium is a brilliant museum that lets guests of all ages learn by doing, experimenting, and playing! Kids will love it during the day, but the coolest way to experience the Exploratorium is by attending one of their adults-only night events, where grown-ups can enjoy drinks, music, and a different scientific theme every Thursday!

Helicopter Flight over the Bay!

15. Take a Helicopter Flight over the Bay!

Visitors can get the kind of views you usually only see in the movies when they book a helicopter ride over San Francisco and the Bay Area! Get an adrenaline rush and a birds-eye view of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and much more when you take a tour with an expert pilot guide.

See all airplane, seaplane, and helicopter tours of the Bay Area.

Aquarium of the Bay
Flickr: Ray_LAC – CC BY 2.0

16. Dive into the Aquarium of the Bay

The Aquarium of the Bay is one of San Francisco’s most popular attractions, and families will find it one of the best trips they take when visiting the city. With interactive areas letting you touch some of the creatures of the bay, and the cutest otters, there’s plenty to see!

Giants at Oracle Park

17. See the Giants at Oracle Park

The home of the San Francisco Giants has recently been given a new name (goodbye AT&T Park, hello Oracle Park!) but it’s still the same awesome venue where you can watch some great baseball. Get that All-American feeling when you watch a game, and maybe you’ll even see a home run hit all the way into the ocean!

You can also take tours of the stadium during the day!

San Francisco on a Nighttime Tour

18. See the Dark Side of San Francisco on a Nighttime Tour

San Francisco’s history hasn’t always been full of peace and love, and visitors can learn all about the darker elements on a nighttime walking tour of the city. From gangsters and mob murders to serial killers and total mysteries, an expert guide will make the stories of the streets come to life.

Stars at Madame Tussauds
Harvey Milk | Flickr: Trisha Fawver CC BY-ND 2.0

19. Meet the Stars at Madame Tussauds

Madame Tussauds is an institution, whichever city you visit. In San Francisco’s waxwork museum, you’ll be able to see all your favorite actors, musicians, and politicians, but you’ll also be treated to a special exhibit on the ‘Spirit of San Francisco’, featuring the most famous faces from the city’s past from Harvey Milk to Janis Joplin.

Slither down the Seward Street Slides
Flickr: Braden Kowitz CC BY-SA 2.0

20. Slither down the Seward Street Slides

A little-known secret treasure can be found at the Seward Mini Park in Noe Valley, two steep concrete slides! Built by the community after their protests against a new housing development were successful, all you need to ride the slides is a piece of cardboard to sit on.

21. Ride the San Francisco Flyer

If the helicopter ride (see number 15) is a little bit out of your price range, then why not take a virtual flight over SF by riding the San Francisco Flyer! You’ll find the 4D attraction on Pier 39, along with the 7D experience and the LaZer Challenge.

Shop till you Drop in Union Square
Flickr: Ken Lund CC BY-SA 2.0

22. Shop till you Drop in Union Square

Explore Union Square, the best-known district in San Francisco for shopping. With department stores, chains, and unique boutiques, it’s the ideal place to hunt down a souvenir (or two, or three) of your trip!

 Presidio on a Hike

23. Explore Presidio on a Hike

The Presidio is a former military fort and part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which offers visitors miles of stunning hiking trails, lots of interesting landmarks to see, and the chance to enjoy views of the San Francisco Bay from a different angle.

Classic Movie at the Castro Theater
Flickr: Benson Kua CC BY-SA 2.0

24. Catch a Classic Movie at the Castro Theater

The Castro Theater is a San Francisco icon, becoming San Francisco Historic Landmark #100 in 1976. It’s the home of film festivals from dozens of different communities, and even regularly features singalong classic movies for families. Fans of podcasts should also check to see if any of their favorites are in town using the theater as a venue for a live recording.

Climb the Coit Tower

25. Climb the Coit Tower

The Coit Tower in Pioneer Park offers great views of San Francisco, plus it’s home to several famous murals painted during the Great Depression as part of the New Deal’s relief program for artists.

LGBTQ Walking Tour of the Castro

26. Take an LGBTQ Walking Tour of the Castro

The Castro District was one of the first gay neighborhoods in the USA and was also the home of activist and politician Harvey Milk. Its bars and bathhouses were hubs of the gay community, and there’s plenty to learn on a walking tour about the lives of LGBT community members during the district’s most vibrant years.

Discover the De Young Museum
Flickr: mmonk CC BY 2.0

27. Discover the De Young Museum

The M.H. de Young Memorial Museum is a fine arts museum tucked away inside the Golden Gate Park. If you’re interested in American art from the 17th century onwards, including textiles and costumes, then this is definitely one for your bucket list!

Ride Around the City using Cable Cars

28. Ride Around the City using Cable Cars

San Francisco is home to the world’s last manually operated cable car system, with three routes still operating today. You can take cable cars between Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf or along California Street.

Get Intellectual at the SFMOMA
Flickr: Michael Fraley CC BY 2.0

29. Get Intellectual at the SFMOMA

If you fancy feeling cleverer than the average tourist, why not get yourself a dose of culture at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (or SFMOMA). With over 33,000 pieces on display, you can easily spend a whole day stroking your mustache and pondering the meaning of art.

Experience Wonder at the Musée Mécanique
Flickr: thorson_family_minnesota CC BY-SA 2.0

30. Experience Wonder at the Musée Mécanique

The Musée Mechanique is a meta-sideshow attraction: a museum in Pier 39 that collects and takes care of penny arcade games and other mechanical wonders that used to dazzle visitors to Pier 39. Bring a pocketful of change to try some of the machines for yourself!

Sail to Angel Island
Flickr: Franco Folini CC BY-SA 2.0

31. Sail to Angel Island

Alcatraz isn’t the only island in the bay – for years Angel Island was the site of an immigration station that processed immigrants from the east, usually Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian immigrants. Take a trip out to the island with a guide to learn more.

Get Lost in Magowan’s Mirror Maze
Flickr: Jon collier CC BY-SA 2.0

32. Get Lost in Magowan’s Mirror Maze

Fancy taking a legal psychedelic trip that’s fun for all the family? Why not try Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze at Pier 39! With bright colors, dance music, and all the hilarity of watching your friends and family run into mirrored walls, it’s a great way to entertain the kids for an hour in an independent and offbeat San Francisco attraction.

Cycle around Golden Gate Park
Flickr: Dustin Jensen CC BY-SA 2.0

33. Cycle around Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park is a must-visit site in San Francisco, and it’s bigger and better than New York’s Central Park! With dozens of statues, buildings, and memorials to see, you can make sure to get around the whole thing by renting a bike and the services of a guide.

the beautiful altarpiece by Keith Haring
Keith Haring’s “The Life of Christ” at Grace Cathedral | Flickr: meligrosa CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

34. Pay your respects at Grace Cathedral’s AIDs Interfaith Memorial Chapel

Grace Cathedral sits on Nob Hill and is the most elaborate church in SF, and contains a host of important artworks. It’s also the site of the AIDs Interfaith Memorial Chapel, where visitors can sit in quiet contemplation and admire the beautiful altarpiece by Keith Haring.

Look at Lombard Street

35. Look at Lombard Street

If you’ve seen a movie featuring San Francisco, chances are you’ll recognize Lombard Street when you see it! The rood up the steep hill has 8 hairpin bends and is known as ‘the crookedest street in the world’, and is an ideal spot for pictures.

Get Scientific at the California Academy of Sciences
Flickr: Dennis Jarvis – CC BY-SA 2.0

36. Get Scientific at the California Academy of Sciences

Spend a day unleashing your inner scientist at the oldest museum in California! The California Academy of Sciences has natural history exhibits dedicated to geology, zoology, space exploration, and an aquarium, and it has a cool and interactive vibe which means that even the grouchiest teen will enjoy exploring.

37. Listen to The Wave Organ

If you’re looking for a place to lie down on a stone bench and feel peaceful, head for the Wave Organ near the Golden Gate Yacht Club. It’s a sculpture dedicated to Frank Oppenheimer, the founding director of the Exploratorium, and it uses the ocean’s movement to make surreal music.

Try Urban Hiking at the Twin Peaks
Flickr: Marc Dalmulder CC BY 2.0

38. Try Urban Hiking at the Twin Peaks

The Twin Peaks of Eureka and Noe offer incredible views of San Francisco – though you’ll have to climb them to earn the right to see them! Just kidding – you have a choice between hiking tours and tours that drive up to the scenic viewpoints, so you can decide based on how much of a workout you want!

 Explore the Ferry Building

39. Explore the Ferry Building

One of the most important sites in San Francisco, the Ferry Building used to be the way new arrivals by train and ferry boat would enter the city. Since the rise of cars made trains and ferries less popular, the building was turned into a market and today you can eat your way around the building on a combined food and history tour!

Craft Beer Tour

40. Go Hipster on a Craft Beer Tour

Like any good city full of hipsters, San Francisco boasts a decent selection of craft beer breweries. Take a tour to discover all the best new brews available and refresh yourself after a long day of sightseeing!

Get Alternative at the Beat Museum
Flickr: Shubert Ciencia CC BY 2.0

41. Get Alternative at the Beat Museum

Discover the work of the countercultural artists who inspired the hippy movement, the Beats, and explore the museum that tries to keep their values (‘Compassion, Tolerance, and of Living One’s Own Individual Truth’) alive!

Save your Data at the Internet Archive
Flickr: Beatrice Murch CC BY 2.0

42. Save your Data at the Internet Archive

The Internet Archive is pursuing one of the most ambitious missions on Earth: to create universal access to all of humanity’s knowledge by digitizing everything they can get their hands on. The headquarters of the archive are in a former Christian Science Church in SF, and they offer free tours every Friday at 1 pm for the curious.

See the Painted Ladies in Alamo Square

43. See the Painted Ladies in Alamo Square

Alamo Square is a uniquely picturesque corner of San Francisco, home to the Painted Ladies (made famous on Full House) – a row of Victorian and Edwardian houses painted in bright colors. Take a guided tour of the neighborhood to learn all about the famous names who lived in and around the area!

Hop-On Hop-Off to See the Sights by Bus
Flickr: m01229 CC BY-NC 2.0

44. Hop-On Hop-Off to See the Sights by Bus

Want to take a flying tour around the whole city? Or can’t be bothered to figure out public transport? It sounds like a hop-on hop-off bus tour is just the thing you need! With routes that cover all of the city’s major attractions, and with some providers offering combo tickets including entry to Alcatraz or the California Academy of Sciences, you’ll get convenience and great value for money with a trip on one of the city’s doubledecker tourist buses.

Find the Tiled Steps on 16th Avenue

45. Find the Tiled Steps on 16th Avenue

If you’re looking for a unique spot to get an Instagram-worthy photo of San Francisco, you could do worse than the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps! The result of a community project, the brightly colored steps are the ideal offbeat location for your SF photoshoot.

Find Peace in the Japanese Tea Garden
Flickr: Renee Grayson CC BY 2.0

46. Find Peace in the Japanese Tea Garden

Part of the Golden Gate Park (see number 33), the Japanese Tea Garden is a beautiful place to find some peace on your trip, surrounded by beautiful greenery laid out according to tenets of the Buddhist and Shinto religions. Enjoy a stroll around the garden or stop at the Tea House for some refreshments.

Take a Day Trip to Monterey Bay

47. Take a Day Trip to Monterey Bay

Monterey Bay is south of San Francisco and is home to beautiful landscapes and a diverse range of animals. Take a day trip to get away from the city and discover the picturesque towns in Monterey County.

Be Amazed at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory
Flickr: Karen Neoh CC BY 2.0

48. Be Amazed at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory

Want to see how fortune cookies get made? You can in Chinatown, San Francisco! The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory has been open since 1962 and its employees still make over 10,000 fortune cookies a day, by hand! They run tours which include samples of different flavors and the chance to write your own fortune.

Go on a Street Art Walking Tour

49. Go on a Street Art Walking Tour

Head to the Mission District to discover murals and creative graffiti! Let an expert guide show you around and give you some tips about the best places to look out for fresh street art.

50. Rollerskate at the Church of 8 Wheels

Want to try something active but don’t fancy a hike? Why not head to the Church of 8 Wheels for some roller action! The home of the San Francisco Holy Rollers, the venue hosts skate lessons and roller discos, the former church turned roller rink is an awesome place to discover how the ordinary and extraordinary citizens of SF unwind.

51. Enjoy Fine Art at the Legion of Honor Museum

The Legion of Art Museum is home to a collection of art from some of Europe’s best known artists. You’ll come to see paintings and sculptures by El Greco, Rubens, Rodin, Degas, and Monet, but you’ll end up staying for the beautiful builidng in Lincoln Park and its stunning fountain.

 Drive to Yosemite National Park

52. Drive to Yosemite National Park

Escape the city on a day trip to Yosemite National Park to get a taste of the wilderness of the American West. With cliffs, clear water streams, glaciers, and stunning groves of giant sequoias, a trip to Yosemite is well worth the drive from San Francisco.

53. Check out Cool Independent Bookstores

The bookstores of San Francisco have kept generations of artists and poets fed with culture (and employed, too!), so literature lovers should pay a visit to discover their favorite haunts. Bird & Beckett offers books and jazz, while the City Lights Bookstore is also home to the publishing house that supported the Beat authors and first published Howl by Alan Ginsberg.

54. Discover Art from throughout Asia

The Asian Art Museum celebrates the art and material culture of Asia, attempting to present the diverse styles and traditions of art from throughout the continent, from Japan, China, and Korea to India, Iran, the Himalayas, and Southeast Asia.

Climb Aboard the USS Pampanito
Flickr: Albert Roland CC BY-SA 2.0

55. Climb Aboard the USS Pampanito

The USS Pampanito served in World War II before being used as a training ship. Today, she’s a museum ship kept in a dry dock and visitors can explore her decks and learn all about life on board a navy vessel. Check out tickets and tours of the ship.

56. Eat fresh oysters at Swan Oyster Depot

The Swan Oyster Depot on Polk Street is one of the most famous eateries in San Francisco, and is an institution that’s been open since 1903! Frequented by celebrities and famous chefs including the late, great Anthony Bourdain, the seafood is fresh, delicious, and not too expensive for such a renowned restaurant.

57. Find the Golden Fire Hydrant at Dolores Park

If you’re taking a walking tour of the Mission District, you’re likely to stumble across the shining gold fire hydrant near Dolores Park. It’s the little fire hydrant that could, which saved the neighborhood from the fire started by the 1906 earthquake after all the other hydrants in the area went dry.

Get an Adrenaline Rush at California’s Great America
Flickr: Jeremy Thompson CC BY 2.0

58. Get an Adrenaline Rush at California’s Great America

If you’re looking for a day of hair-raising activity and laughter, with rides and shows suitable for visitors of all ages, then look no further than California’s Great America! The amusement park can be reached by public transport from the city and is a great idea for a family day out.

Scream at the San Francisco Dungeon
Flickr: Trisha Fawver CC BY-ND 2.0

59. Scream at the San Francisco Dungeon

Fancy being scared while being entertained? The San Francisco Dungeon is a great way to learn about the city’s darker history, from the Gold Rush to Alcatraz, with talented actors putting on a show during the tour, and there’s a drop ride at the end! Recommended for visitors aged 10 and over, you’ll have a horrifyingly good time!

60. See a Drag Show at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge

One of the last gay dive bars in the Tenderloin District, Aunt Charlie’s offers visitors the chance to experience authentic drag shows as they were in the days before Ru Paul. This tiny location is a San Francisco institution.

Picnic on Baker Beach

61. Picnic on Baker Beach

San Francisco has a few awesome beaches, but Baker Beach is one of the locals’ favorites. It was the original site of the Burning Man art festival, bus today it’s a place where people can stroll, picnic, and enjoy a paddle in the shallows on a hot day. For those who prefer to sunbathe, the northern section of the beach is a nudist beach, and you’ll also get one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge. 

62. Admire Sausalito on a Trip across the Bay

Sausalito is the city on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, and its hillside houses and houseboats are popular with tourists. Take a day trip and stroll along the Sausalito boardwalk, take a historic walking tour, and look out for dolphins swimming at Rodeo Beach!

Admire Sausalito on a Trip across the Bay and see Houseboats
Taj Mahal Houseboat | Flickr: gérard CC BY-SA 2.0

Have you just added something to your San Francisco plans, or did we miss something? Comment below and let us know what’s on your San Francisco bucket list!

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About author

Anneliese is a former Londoner, keen traveler, and total word nerd. As a Content Management Specialist she knows the TicketLens inventory inside out and curates, matches, and writes about the most interesting attractions worldwide.
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