Originally, San Francisco was relatively small and insignificant, but with the gold rush in the 19th century, countless people across America flocked to attain this new-found wealth. The city has faced many highs and lows throughout history, but now it’s a tourist hub with great food, art and music. With its crooked cobble-stoned streets, breath-taking views of the ocean and diverse cultures, the city is a dream destination.
Whether you’re a fan of the famous sitcom Full House, or you’ve always wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset, San Francisco has something for everyone. With plenty of incredible restaurants and some of the most incredible street art in the world, the city is an explosion of color and excitement. Every part of San Francisco has a story to tell so let’s dive into this narrative.
Now, let’s dive into the best things to do in San Francisco.
Exploring San Francisco by the Coast
This coastline city has a lot going on by the edge of the waters so slap on some sunscreen, get your flip flops on and start exploring.
Visit the Golden Gate Bridge
Let’s start off with the most well-known attraction in the city. An architectural feat at its time, the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The brilliant orange-red bridge is a masterpiece and a sight to behold, especially at sunset. If you want the perfect view, head on to Baker Beach.
Apart from offering a spectacular view of the bridge, Baker Beach is a great place for fishing or even a picnic. You can’t swim in the water because of rough tides, but this clothing-optional beach is known for its great weather and amazing views. It’s great for people who like to stay out of the sun and is usually characterized by cloudy weather for the most part of the summer.
You can even take your dog with you for a walk to this pet-friendly beach.
Enjoy a Stroll by the Beach
Apart from Baker Beach, San Francisco has other beaches like Ocean Beach or China Beach, which is less crowded and also provides a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Rodeo Beach is also worth the visit as the beach is covered in pebbles instead of sand.
Explore Fisherman’s Wharf
From fine dining to street food, Fisherman’s Wharf offers the ultimate combination of delicious food and the fresh sea breeze. Here’s everything you can do at Fisherman’s Wharf:
Check Out Pier 39
If you want a fun day out, especially if you’re with your children, Pier 39 is the place for you. Good food, entertainment and fresh air, what more could you want!
- Enjoy a ride on San Francisco’s double-decker carousel or immerse yourself in some of the most mesmerizing street performances you’ve ever seen.
- Let your mind run wild at Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze. The entry ticket is only USD 5 and you can run around for as long as you want!
- Dance to your own rhythm on the musical stairs which resemble the keys of a piano.
- Commemorate your visit with an animated drawing of yourself.
- Visit the Aquarium of the Bay to discover nearly 20,000 different types of marine life.
- Defy gravity and soar up into the air with the Frequent Flyer’s bungee trampoline.
- Get to know San Francisco in just 20 minutes with the Flyer- a virtual reality ride that will allow you to soar over the city and see the Golden Gate Bridge from above.
- You’ve heard of 3D and even 4D movies, but nothing beats Pier 39’s 7D experience. Stimulate your senses with this virtual reality, laser tag, motion coaster. Release any pent up frustrations by blasting virtual zombies and such with your laser.
Visit Hyde Street Pier
If you find museums boring, give this one a shot. Located through a series of ships, this floating museum is an experience unlike any other.
Visit Madame Tussuads Wax Museum
You’ve probably heard of people waiting in a line of statues or trying to strike up a conversation with a wax figure. You can experience this yourself at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum where you can find wax statues of your favorite historical figures, celebrities and sports players. Enjoy a cup of tea with George Clooney or sit with Rosa Parks. Don’t forget to get a picture with the president in the oval office. If you’re really in the mood, you can even get a wax version of your hand.
Cruise through the Sparkling Waters
Take the Bay Cruise and see San Francisco’s incredible skyline. Sail under the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Whether you choose a public cruise or a private boat, you can explore the waters throughout the day and night.
It’s time for some Retail Therapy!
No vacation is complete without shopping. Whether you’re looking for clothes, souvenirs or chocolate, they’ve got it all at Pier 39.
Head on to Alcatraz Island
Alcatraz Island was once a famous prison; now it’s a famous tourist attraction where people visit from around the globe to explore the prison. This island has been a hotspot for many film scenes featuring in movies like X men, Escape From Alcatraz and even the Alchemyst. You can take a cruise to visit this island and explore the mysteries of ancient prisons.
Visit Angel Island
You can reach this island by boat or cruise, and once you’re there, you can tour the place using the tram system. Not only is there great food and entertainment, but the views from the island are heavenly.
Head on to the Lands End
If you want an undisturbed view of the San Francisco sunset, visit Lands End. The park offers rocky trails, monuments, a brilliant view of the Golden Gate Bridge and even golf courses!
You can explore the remnants of the Suntro Baths, a swimming area which was shut down and 1964 and burned in a fire in the late 1990s. Once you’re done, you can head on over to the Cliff House for some food. The Cliff House too, was burned by a fire (twice) and rebuilt.
Visit the Legion of Honor Museum
While you’re at Lands End, you can also visit the Legion of Honor Museum where you can explore Ancient European art and culture.
Kayak through Tomales Bay
At night, the water glitter and light up because of bio-luminescent fish and plankton. This is as close as you can get to an outer-space experience. It’s around 30 miles away from San Francisco but it’s an experience you don’t want to miss out on.
Explore the Inner City
Apart from having a very happening coastline, San Francisco has plenty to offer within the city itself.
Visit the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory
You know that scene in Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, where all the children are in the chocolate garden by the chocolate waterfall, and Augustus Gloop is gobbling down chocolate like there’s no tomorrow? You’ve probably wished countless times that that was you, swimming in a river of delicious, molten chocolate. Well, you can’t do that at Ghirardelli Square, but you can certainly indulge in some incredible chocolate. From divine ice cream parlors to chocolate tours, Ghirardelli Square is a chocolate lover’s delight. You can longer get a tour of the factory itself, but there’s still a lot to see and a lot of chocolate to eat.
Not only do you get to eat chocolate, but you get to learn about its history and even tour the Dandelion chocolate factory! Find out the latest global chocolate trends at Ghirardelli Square!
A word of caution, you’ll probably have to wait in long lines for quite a few hours to get your delicious treats, but once you eat some of that divine chocolate, it’ll be worth the wait!
Check out the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
If you love modern art with its sleek lines and minimalist approach, this museum is perfect for you. With over 29,000 pieces on display, the museum features photography, sculptures and even architectural pieces.
Revisit Your Childhood at the Walt Disney Family Museum
Disney lovers rejoice, because like we said, San Francisco has something for everyone. Find out how the genius himself worked and created his masterpieces, have a complete view of Disneyland by observing the giant 12 foot model in the museum. Don’t forget to visit the theatre where you can take a trip down memory lane and watch some of your favorite Disney classics on the big screen.
Enjoy Some Fresh Air at the Yerba Buena Gardens
This cultural hub is a great place to spend the day with your family. Whether you’re going ice-skating or bowling or visiting one of the museums nearby, the Yerba Buena Gardens provide the ultimate San Francisco experience. They even have a memorial of Martin Luther King which is definitely worth the visit.
Take a Trip to the Japanese Tea Garden
If you’re a big believer in feng shui, this place is perfect for you. It features a Zen garden, a Koi pond, small stone bridges and Japanese plants. You can even find some gorgeous cherry blossom trees in full bloom during early summer.
If you’re in the mood for something to eat or drink, you can get a taste of Japanese cuisine here. From a vast selection of Japanese teas to sweet fortune cookies, you can get a flavor of Japanese culture.
Don’t Forget to Ride San Francisco’s Cable Car System!
If there’s anything you’ve always associated with San Francisco, it’s their iconic cable car system. Any movie that was ever shot in the city is likely to have a scene with a cable car going uphill with someone ringing a bell inside. It’s a manually driven system, and even though it was once a popular means of transport, it is now seen as more of a tourist attraction. While at one point, there were around 23 lines running through the entire city, there are now only 3.
Take a Stroll through Golden Gate Park
You probably already knew by now that the Golden Gate City is likely to have at least one park known as the Golden Gate Park. Whether it’s a casual picnic or a wedding ceremony, you can do everything here. These Instagram-worthy gardens are straight out of a children’s book. With places like Raccoon Hollow, Bunny Meadow and Spreckels Lake, you’ll feel like you’ve jumped straight into the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.
This isn’t your average neighborhood park. Golden Gate Park has its own waterfall, museum and native wild animals. If you want to tour the whole thing, you can take a bike ride or use a skateboard if you’re up for the adventure. There’s even a conservatory with over 50,000 species of plants! And of course, no attraction in San Francisco is complete without a carousel.
The park is always busy with some activity or the other. Whether it’s outdoor yoga, painting lessons or a school field trip, the park is always full of life.
Soak up the Street Art
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can head out on your own and backpack through the city in search of some of the world’s most iconic street art murals. Otherwise, you can opt for some guided street art tours which will not only show you some incredible street art they’ll also provide an explanation for the pieces. From political displays to portraying the power of feminism, everything is expressed in big, bold colors.
It’s so much better than visiting a museum because you even have the opportunity to see some of this artwork being created live! If you’re lucky, you might run into the artists themselves as they graffiti the streets with their thoughts and emotions.
Some famous places with great street art include:
- Haight Street: Apart from some incredible street art, you can also find some hipster shops and places to eat.
- 24th Street: Consider this street to be a piece of Spain in America. Most of the street art here is the work of Hispanic artists.
- Balmy Alley: Here, you can find some of the oldest street art in the city, dating all the way back to the 1970s.
- Clarion Alley: A popular tourist destination, this alley features incredible murals and street art with strong social messages.
It’s the Return of the Jedi at Yoda’s Fountain
For many, the Star Wars movies are inarguably the best movie series of all time. If you’re one of those people, you’ll be excited to hear that San Francisco has commemorated this global phenomenon with a massive fountain of Yoda.
Experience an Adrenaline Rush at Six Flags
Thrill seekers and theme park junkies from all over the world are welcome to Six Flags. The park attracts millions of tourists annually from all across the globe to experience the fun. It’s been featured in the Looney Tunes and Scooby Doo and will awaken everyone’s inner child!
Check out the Palace of Fine Arts
Since 1915, this building has undergone many changes: from being a place to play tennis, to a military storage space, it now displays works of art. There are geese, swans and even raccoons in the surrounding areas which contribute to the serenity.
Go to the Top of the Twin Peaks
These peaks stand at an impressive height of 992 feet and offer stunning views of San Francisco’s Bay Area. The journey to the top is also quite interesting with plenty of animals and interesting plants to see along the way.
Head on up to Coit Tower
From the top of Coit Tower, you can get a look at the entire city, including the Bay. The tower is built in honor of a wealthy woman named Lillie Coit who left a large amount of her wealth to the city of San Francisco when she died. The tower is open for tourists throughout the year.
Visit China Town
The Golden Rush saw the inflow of many immigrants, including many from the Chinese community. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to access the gold because of government policies preventing migrants from accessing the wealth. Instead, they settled in China Town.
You don’t need a guided tour or a plan to visit China Town. Just head on over there and roam the streets. There’s plenty to see here:
- China Town Gate where you can even pick up some souvenirs to commemorate your visit.
- The Tin How Temple in Waverly Place. This also happens to be the oldest Chinese Temple in America.
- The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory where you can even get the chance to see how these world-famous cookies are made.
- Great China Herb Co. and Ming Lee Trading Inc., here you can stock up on Chinese herbs, spices and candies, and even get doctor recommendations for small ailments!
Explore Union Square
Immerse yourself in the hustle and bustle of Union Square, second only to the Times Square in New York. The square is best visited on foot. It is surrounding by tall buildings, some of them featuring digital ads. The famous Hearts of San Francisco can also be found here.
You can find restaurants and hotels here too, but Union Square is actually quite famous for its shopping. You can find every brand, from the basic to the luxury ones here, including a massive Forever 21 outlet.
No trip to San Francisco is complete without walking up and down their crooked, zigzagging alleys. One such street is the Lombard Street, which is surrounded by Victorian houses and beautiful flora and fauna. It’s up to you whether you want to explore the street on foot or by car. There are even some Tram tours that stop by Lombard Street.
Hike on the Presidio Trails
Explore the Bay Area and gaze at the Golden Gate Bridge as you walk on one of Presidio’s 12 hiking trails.
The most popular one is the Batteries to Bluffs Trail. You not only have a view of the coast and the Bridge, but also the Marin Headlands. Even if you’re not in the mood for a hike, you can go to Presidio for a family picnic and just to get away from the busy city.
Watch a Baseball Game at Oracle Park
If you’re visiting any time between April and October, you can watch the San Francisco Giants in action. It’s a true San Francisco experience where the team’s fans create an incredible, energetic atmosphere. Enjoy delicacies like the Sheboygan Bratwursts and the Gilroy Garlic Fries.
If you can’t get tickets, don’t be too disappointed. The Portwalk is a walking track along the edge of the water, which allows you to have a full view of the park and you can see at least 3 innings for free!
Apart from the game itself, the stadium is worth a visit even if you’re visiting during off-season. There are tours throughout the year where you can check out the press box as well as World Series trophies. The stadium itself also has a view of the sparkling waters. The weather is also really pleasant because of the sea breeze.
All that activity is likely to make you really hungry and lucky for you San Francisco has some amazing food to offer. From street food to fine dining, you can find anything and everything here.
Here are the best places to enjoy some delicious Pan-Asian cuisine in San Francisco.
Hang Ah Dim Sum Tea House
If you’re in China Town, this nearly 100-year-old restaurant should definitely be on your bucket list. Enjoy some authentic Chinese dumplings and meat buns at great prices!
If you want a greater variety of Chinese Dim Sum, Yank Sing is the place to go. This family- owned restaurant offers duck, crab, sui mai and anything else you can imagine. You might be tempted to try everything, but be warned, it’s not as pocket-friendly as Hang Ah.
This place is perfect for seafood lovers. Their best seller is the roasted crab with garlic noodles, which attracts people from all over the country.
Dinosaurs Vietnamese Sandwiches
From delicious sandwiches to Asian drinks, this little sandwich shop is big in flavor.
Did Someone Say Dessert?
No meal is complete with dessert and San Francisco has some of the most exciting sweet treats ever.
Mitchell’s Ice Cream
This iconic ice cream shop is a family-owned business that uses everything (literally everything) in their desserts. You’ll find the basic flavors like coconut but then there are others like purple yam and even grasshopper milkshakes! They keep mixing up the flavors based on seasons too.
Mr. Holmes Bakehouse
The late 2010s have seen a revolution in the way people see food. From famous hybrids like Dominique Ansel’s cronut to the ramen burger, people have been combining different dishes to come up with brilliant Franken-foods. Mr. Holmes Bakery offers the cruffin, a cross between a croissant and muffin. It’s basically a croissant baked in the shape of a muffin and filled with a sweet filling. Tourists and locals from all over wait for hours to get their hands on one of these, and it’s definitely worth the wait!
While they don’t offer too many dishes, they do have some excellent Dutch Pancakes.
Taste Some Culinary Masterpieces
San Francisco offers pretty much every cuisine and dish you can imagine.
And from one hybrid to another, Straw offers the Ring Master Donut Burger, which allows you to enjoy the fluffy doughnut bun with a delicious burger filling. Their entire menu is full of interesting, fun dishes like funnel cakes and a waffle and fried chicken Monte Cristo.
The Tonga Room
This tiki-themed restaurant features a bar called the Hurricane Room. The experience is unlike any other with faux tropical storms and band playing in the middle of a massive swimming pool.
Everyone enjoys dinner and a show and that is exactly what the Foreign Cinema offers. Enjoy fresh, delicious local cuisine while watching some great classics, including your favorite Disney movies. The best part? It’s budget-friendly!
Food always tastes better with a little entertainment. Asia SF is full of surprises where your waiter will suddenly be out of their uniform and in a sparkly suit for their dance performance!
The Lazy Bear
You have to win the lottery and pay for your meal in advance at the Lazy Bear. Talk about earning your meal! It’s just one big party with all the guests partaking in a 14-course (or more) degustation.
The Cliff House
This restaurant by the beach is a great place for you to grab some quick meals like fish and chips and just enjoy the great view and the sound of the rushing water.
Hog Island Oyster Co.
San Francisco has the advantage of having some delicious, fresh seafood. Get ready to try different types of oysters at Hog Island Oyster Co.
Ferry Building Market Place
This food market has food stalls for every kind of food. From fast food to coffee to cheese tastings, everything you can dream of is here. Apart from the local cuisine, you can also enjoy Japanese and Mexican food here.
If you’re a serious food lover and love eating at gourmet restaurants, Atelier Crenn is the place to go. The owner and head chef, Dominique Crenn is a world-renowned chef and she holds three Michelin Stars!
The 12-course meal focuses on sea food, and the entire menu is presented in the form of a poem as to represent the chef’s artistic influences.
Tony’s Pizza Napoletana
No matter where you are in the world, pizza is a must. This pizzeria is in the top 5 Pizza places in America! They have a wide selection of flavors from the classic cheese pizza to Honey Pie pizza.
This restaurant is already living in the future where robots prepare your meals. Their burger making process is similar to an automobile assembly plant but much tastier! The machines slice your vegetables after you place your order! Everything is prepared fresh and the burger is probably one of the juiciest, tastiest ones you’ve ever had.
Famous chefs from around the city have developed their own special burgers over here. The restaurant has a great, homely vibe and it’s too heavy on the pocket so don’t miss out!
From scenic beauty to museums to street art to amusement parks to some of the tastiest food you’ll ever eat, San Francisco is an explosion of color and excitement. Whether you’re backpacking alone, travelling with college friends or going on a family vacation, San Francisco is an ideal holiday destination for everyone.