Things to Do in San Francisco
Overview: With trademark hills and the Pacific Ocean a frequent backdrop across its seven square miles, San Francisco serves as a cultural melting pot where hippies and tech workers mingle over tacos, artisanal cocktails, and cold-brew coffee. With weather patterns as diverse as its neighborhoods, the City by the Bay offers international flavor: dim sum in Chinatown, cannoli in North Beach, izakaya bites in Japantown, and a bustling food hall scene in the Ferry Building, to name a few. History and culture thrive in the Castro and Mission District; Union Square—San Francisco’s premier shopping destination—showcases both world-renowned boutiques and indie designers; and open-air adventure is never hard to find in Golden Gate Park or along the fog-laced stretches of Ocean Beach. Visitors come for iconic experiences such as cable-car rides, photos of the Golden Gate Bridge, and tours of Alcatraz Island—and stick around for wine tasting trips to Napa and Sonoma wine country, visits to the giant redwoods in Muir Woods, and adventures in Berkeley, Oakland, Sebastopol, and the greater Bay Area. Keep in mind that the weather can be more temperamental than other California cities like Los Angeles, so pack a jacket for when the fog rolls in off the hills, or plan a trip to coincide with San Francisco’s Indian Summer, starting in early fall.
- Language: English
- Currency: $
- Time Zone: UTC (-08:00)
- Country Code: +1
- Best Time to Visit: Summer, Fall
When to Visit: Summer usually includes the biggest concentration of festivals, including Pride and the Outside Lands music festival, but typically cooler temperatures, whereas fall offers warmer sunny weather. Whenever you choose to visit, come prepared with layers, as the fog usually burns off by mid-morning and returns in the early evening, bringing with it up to 20-degree swings in temperature.
Getting Around: Although it’s a fairly walkable city, San Francisco is also easily traversed by MUNI’s system of buses and light-rail trains, including the iconic cable cars. BART rapid rail connects the city with the greater Bay Area to the east, and CalTrain’s commuter rail service runs along the San Francisco Peninsula. Uber and Lyft ride-sharing apps are also popular.
Tipping: For most service-industry businesses (restaurants, bars, cabs), tips are expected, and 10-20% is standard, with 15% generally sufficient. A good rule of thumb is to multiply the sales tax by two, which equals around a 17% tip.
You Might Not know…: Most of the BART light-rail trains connecting San Francisco to the surrounding Bay Area stop running shortly after midnight. If you miss the train, you can opt for Uber or Lyft to get home. If you cross a bridge, expect an additional charge for the toll.
Celebrating the life and legacy of one of the most legendary of American lives, the Walt Disney Family Museum is an exploration of not only Walt Disney himself, but the forces behind the creation of one of the greatest treasures of childhood: the Disney machine. With stunning interactive displays, videos, and animations of your favorite Disney characters, the Walt Disney Museum has achieved artwork itself by combining elements of history, entertainment, and intrigue into a package that’s as much visual stimulation as it is mental. Entertaining for one and all, be sure to catch the special exhibits which feature the stories behind your favorite Disney creations like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Creation of a Classic.
Beautifully landscaped and cared for, Huntington Park is one of San Francisco’s most beloved neighborhood parks. It was formerly the site of a mansion destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire. After the land was donated to the city by the widow of rail tycoon Collis P. Huntington, the park has become a favorite area of the Nob Hill area.
With beautiful landscaping surrounding the historic Flood Fountain, there is also a playground area for children. The park sits in front of the landmark Grace Cathedral, and with its wide lawn and many benches is great for picnicking and relaxing outdoors. The Roman “Fountain of Tortoises” at the park’s center is its most famous structure, often beautifully lit at night. The bronze sculpture is a copy of a 400 year old original in Rome.
Visitors looking to add a touch of originality to their off-the-beaten-path trip should visit the quirky Beat Museum, which is entirely dedicated to spreading the spirit of the Beat Generation. Often referred to as “The Beats,” this collection of writers, artists and thinkers congregated in 1950s San Francisco to express disappointment in mainstream culture after the atrocities of World War II. The goal was to promote tolerance, compassion and the courage to live individual truth.
This two-story museum boasts an exceptional collection of Beat-era artefacts and memorabilia—some of the key items include the ’49 Hudson (which was used in the 2012 movie adaptation of On the Road by Jack Kerouac), the Beat Cine Room and its historical footage and the Beat Shrine with its original poems and artwork. The Beat Museum also features a bookstore area, which is filled with classic and modern books by and or about the Beats.
Epic views of the Pacific Ocean and Golden Gate Bridge, as well as sunny palm tree lined streets and a perfect mix of modern and old-school architecture are just part of what makes the famous San Francisco neighbourhood of Seacliff a destination for travellers as much as transplants.
Visitors will find massive mansions built with old money tucked into rocky hillsides, with wide-open windows that look out over some of the most iconic views in town. Pristine public parks and golf courses, paired with well-known hiking paths like the Lands End Coastal Trail, offer plenty of outdoor opportunities for travellers looking to enjoy this seaside wonderland without having to relocate.
One of San Francisco’s grandest concert venues, the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall was built specifically for the San Francisco Symphony. Upon completion the symphony was able to expand to a year-round, full-time schedule of concerts. It formerly shared space with the San Francisco Opera and the San Francisco Ballet.
The symphony hall, designed by a team of architects and acoustic consultants, is artful and beautiful inside and out. Sound bounces off of glass walls built to create a building within a building, and the result is that audience members are surrounded by reverberant sound. To accommodate an expanded repertory, a massive pipe organ was added to the structure in 1984. The San Francisco Symphony plays a wide range of classical music alongside hosting contemporary events. Windows and balconies on the second floor offer beautiful views of the skyline and the City Hall. The symphony hall is a beacon of elegance and culture in San Francisco.
Stylish yet welcoming, fashionable without being trendy, fun without the funk, Fillmore Street in San Francisco has helped define a neighborhood that is often referred to as the silent heart of San Francisco. Rich in its own history, Fillmore was once home to poet Maya Angelo and comedian Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, as well as being a hub for Jazz music in the early 40s, 50s and 60s. The still standing Fillmore Auditorium is a hot spot for big music acts traveling through the area.
Known locally as The Fillmore, The Fill, The Moe, or Fillmoe, a great time can be had here window shopping at some of the unique art galleries and antique shops, and people watching by one of the many sidewalk cafes will make you realize why they often refer to San Francisco as ‘The Most European of American Cities.” Don’t miss the vintage clothing shops and consider taking a show at the Clay Theatre (2261 Fillmore), famous for its indie films and art shows.
It’s open spaces like the Yerba Buena Gardens that make San Francisco the loved city that it is. Only a block away from the Contemporary Jewish Museum and the Museum of the African Diaspora, the Yerba Buena Gardens offers visitors a bit of a rest in the middle of the bustling city center. A public place with rolling gardens , public art, cutting edge theater, dance, contemporary arts, a bowling alley, ice-skating rink, food court and movie theater, the Yerba Buena Garden truly has something for everybody – even if that somebody just wants a place to sit down and be at peace.
The two block pedestrian lane in San Francisco’s Russian Hill neighborhood is a charming and unique residential spot with extraordinary views of Alcatraz Island and the San Francisco Bay. Tucked away from the busyness of the main streets, Macondray Lane is known for its Edwardian style cottages with wooden exteriors, covered in flowers and greenery.
Its cobblestone walkways and overflowing gardens create a unique oasis in the middle of the city. Between ferns and flowers, look closely and you may even see the small pond. At one end of the lane lies a series of steps that offer up some of the best bay views. Fans of the Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City books may recognize the area (known as Barbary Lane in the books) — various scenes were set here and still come to life for many who visit.
More Things to Do in San Francisco
San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum is home to more than 6,000 original pieces of cartoon and animation art, one of the largest collections of its kind. Through the display and study of this accessible art form, the museum seeks to preserve the unique social, cultural and historical statements cartoons make. What has resulted is a collection that has something for everyone — editorials, comic books, graphic novels, Anime, and even the Sunday funnies.
Cartoons encompass everything from humor to politics, from light to heavy-hearted in nature and from the profoundly simple to exquisitely complex. The museum celebrates everything from Spiderman to the Economist. Founded in 1984 and supported by a grant from Charles Schultz, it is the only museum on the West Coast of the United States devoted solely to cartoon art. There is also a research library and bookstore, with traveling exhibitions and education events for both children and adults.
With a variety of cultural programs and exhibitions, the Contemporary Jewish Museum seeks to relevantly share and express the Jewish experience with a modern audience. With various displays of history and art and also recent contributions to architecture, design, even furniture and textiles, there is plenty to see reflecting modern Jewish culture. Exhibits here change frequently as the curators collaborate with national and international partners. With over 10,000 square feet of exhibition space, educational programs, film screenings, and lectures also take place often in the space. Outside of the many exhibits, many visit to view the unique modern architecture that houses the museum. Architect Daniel Libeskind designed the 63,000-square-foot museum in the 1907 Jessie Street Power Substation. A stainless steel cube, set against the remaining brick of the substation, illustrates the contrast between old and new. There is also a Wise Sons Deli located inside the museum building.
Nurturing children’s creative passions for a chance at a successful and innovative 21st Century, the Children’s Creativity Museum (formerly ZEUM) offers an interactive arts and technology museum for kids. Building on the idea that collaboration and creativity are the earmarks of fun and learning, the Children’s Creativity Museum offers a wide range of engaging activities for youths. Whether it’s sculpting out of clay, developing characters in an animation studio, taking the “mystery box challenge,” or simply blowing off steam on a carousel and the playgrounds, the Children’s Creativity Museum is always a hit for the young and old. It's also conveniently located in the Yerba Buena Gardens complex, a hub of activity and culture in heart of Downtown.
San Francisco is famous for its distinctive Victorian homes, and the Haas-Lilienthal is the city’s only intact Victorian house open to touring visitors. It is complete with Queen Anne-style period architecture, authentic furniture, and original artifacts. Designed by architect Peter R. Schmidt in 1886, a walk through the home gives a real sense of upper-middle class Victorian era life. Since then it has survived major city fires and earthquakes to maintain its historic charm and style.
The three-storied exterior of the house is characterized by its circular tower and elaborately decorated wooden gables. The interior is luxurious, all 11,500 square feet of it, including a ballroom, parlor, and dining room most modern San Franciscans can only dream about. It was named a ‘national treasure’ by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Docent-led tours describe the history of the building as well as the family who once inhabited it.
Thespians in search of inspiring theatre and moving performances don’t have to travel to New York City. That’s because places like the San Francisco Playhouse are bringing high-quality work to Bay Area streets. This cozy theater offers visitors an intimate space to witness compelling (and sometimes quirky) productions like “Ideation” and “Tree”. And perhaps best of all, this local spot is free of pretension.
San Francisco Playhouse has a true community feel. Quality acoustics, comfortable seating and discounted tickets help to make theatre accessible to the masses—despite this space’s small size.
Tucked away from the main areas of the city, San Francisco’s Seward Street Slides are a bit of hidden gem. Built in the 1960s by a local teenager for neighborhood children, the two parallel slides are formed in concrete running down one of San Francisco’s famous hills. The community garden and mini-park was up for redevelopment when locals protested the change. A fourteen year old girl designed the slides in a competition, and the space was officially converted into a park in 1973.
Some bring their own cardboard for the ride, but others find discarded pieces next to the slides that make the journey down a bit smoother. From the top of the slides, be sure to pause and enjoy the views of the city and the bay. A sign reads “no adults unless accompanied by children” to mark the park’s original intent.
The state of California has a fascinating history, much of which occurred right in San Francisco where this organization and its museum is based. Stroll through the archives, which include a library, an art collection and a shop. Visitors can view the collection of more than historic maps, books, pamphlets, manuscripts and other visuals, including 500,000 photographs, or see works of art, including paintings, costumes, drawings, and other artifacts on display.
With historical exhibits for the city of San Francisco as well as the rest of the Golden State, it only makes sense that the building itself is a piece of history. Founded in 1871, the society is headquartered at the former home of the San Francisco Builders Exchange and E.M. Hundley hardware store. The historical group is a nonprofit organization that now has other locations throughout the state, but the greatest collection of artifacts is held here.
Coastal redwoods are the tallest living things on earth, and walking among these giants is truly an awesome experience - one only to be had in Northern California and a small part of southern Oregon. Best of all, the old-growth redwoods at Muir Woods are only 12 miles (19 kilometers) north of the Golden Gate Bridge, the closest redwood stand to San Francisco. Even at busy times, a short hike gets you beyond the crowds, onto trails with mammoth trees and stunning vistas.
For an easy hike, try the 1 mi (1.5 km) Main Trail Loop, which run alongside Redwood Creek to 1,000-year-old trees at Cathedral Grove. It then swings back via Bohemian Grove, where the park’s tallest tree stands at 254 feet (77 meters). The more adventurous should take the 2 mi (3.2 km) hike up to the top of Cardiac Hill, which treks through a steep grade of lush fir-fringed forest to an exposed ridge where you can see Mt. Tamalpais, the Pacific Ocean, and San Francisco.
Perched on sea cliffs overlooking the San Francisco Bay, the Marin Headlands are made up of hills, coves and coastline filled with natural beauty and wildlife. The area is a part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area, one of the largest urban national park in the world, and is home to more than 1,200 unique species of plants and animals. Multiple hiking trails and campgrounds allow visitors to experience the hilly scenery and coastal habitat, while the Point Bonita Lighthouse and Rodeo Beach are popular places to stop and enjoy the scenery.
The Marin Headlands also contains some of California’s richest history, from the Miwok Native Americans to the Spanish conquistadores to Cold War-era NIKE missile sites. Historic military settlements here, including Fort Barry and Fort Cronkite, remain open to visitors. The headlands are just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco on the edge of the Marin peninsula.
Known for its hilly streets, cable cars, liberal outlook and the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco is located in northern California on a peninsula between the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Founded by Spanish settlers in 1776, the city’s population exploded during the California Gold Rush of 1849. An earthquake destroyed about 90% of the city in 1906, but San Francisco rebuilt and today is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States.
Start your visit by taking a ride on one of San Francisco’s famous cable cars, which run up and down the steep streets between Fisherman’s Wharf and Market Street. Those with a strong interest in the history of the cable car may want to stop at the Cable Car Museum at the top of Nob Hill. Otherwise, while the morning fog is still lingering, head to the South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood to check out some of San Francisco’s finest museums.
Things to do near San Francisco
- Things to do in California
- Things to do in Sausalito
- Things to do in Oakland
- Things to do in Napa & Sonoma
- Things to do in San Jose
- Things to do in Santa Rosa
- Things to do in Sacramento
- Things to do in Lake Tahoe
- Things to do in Paso Robles
- Things to do in Santa Barbara
- Things to do in Los Angeles
- Things to do in Long Beach
- Things to do in Anaheim & Buena Park
- Things to do in Nevada
- Things to do in Oregon