Top 10 Things to do in San Francisco
San Francisco is one of the greatest cities in the world to visit. We have hundreds of great activities (and walking tours!) and you can spend months visiting this city without repeating anything. With only a few days in the city, your biggest problem will be choosing which of these great activities to visit! That’s why we created our list of the Top 10 things to do in San Francisco.
Whether you’ve been to the city before or if this is your first time, if you get through our entire top 10 list, we can guarantee that you will have had a real San Francisco experience!
Note: You can get great discounts on many of these activities by purchasing a San Francisco Citypass or a Go San Francisco Card.To help decide which pass will save you more money, check out our tourist pass comparison page.
How can #1 be anything but this? The most famous sight in all of San Francisco (and one of the most famous in the world!), the Golden Gate Bridge has stood as a shining beacon signalling arrival into San Francisco. Whether you see this up close while walking across the bridge or from farther away at Fort Point or Aquatic Park, the Golden Gate is a sight to behold. So don’t miss this, the greatest place to visit in San Francisco!
Note: We have a lot more great information in our Complete Guide to the Golden Gate Bridge.
Often called the “crookedest street in the world,” Lombard attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. In fact, whenever you visit this small portion of the street, you are bound to be joined by many other people snapping photos and selfies. If you get a chance to drive down this amazing street, you should definitely experience the thrill! But even walking down gives you the opportunity to have a great view of the city and see one of the world’s most famous locations.
3. Pier 39
We could have an entire post about the top 10 things to do just at Pier 39! From sea life to shops to restaurants to activities, you can easily spend an entire day on the pier. But if you wand our favorites, we would suggest going to the Aquarium of the Bay to see some great sea life behind glass. Then go towards the back of Pier 39 to get a great up close view of our favorite sea creatures, the San Francisco sea lions! There are often hundreds of them sunning themselves on the docks, and you can watch them playing around all day. After that, you can hop on a boat to take a cruise around San Francisco Bay and under Golden Gate Bridge, get some famous clam chowder in a bread bowl, and go into a fantastic hall of mirrors! Whatever you want to do, Pier 39 has it for you.
One of the most iconic sights in all of San Francisco is Alcatraz Island. Site of an old Civil War fort (the yankees were worried about the confederates slipping a ship through the Golden Gate!) and later the most notorious prison in the United States, Alcatraz is a fantastic experience for visitors to San Francisco. To get there, you take a boat from Pier 33 over to Alcatraz, which is now overseen by the National Park Service. Walking into the prison, you receive a very well-made audio tour that takes you through the prison. The tour is narrated by former guards and inmates, and gives you a really in-person view of Alcatraz. Then, whenever you finish your tour, you get on the boat and head back to the mainland. All in all, a can’t-miss experience!
Note: Remember to purchase tickets early for Alcatraz! We have lots more information about the island in our guide to visiting Alcatraz.
5. Cable Cars, and the Cable Car Museum
Some of the most famous pictures taken of San Francisco are from the top of Russian Hill, with the famous San Francisco Cable Car in the foreground and San Francisco Bay behind it. The only thing that would make the picture better is if you were right on the front of the cable car! The oldest form of public transportation in San Francisco, these historic cable cars have become a fun experience for people visiting San Francisco. You can pick up a cable car from Ghirardelli Square or Fisherman’s Wharf, ride it up the (very steep!) Russian Hill, then back down through Union Square and all the way to Market Street. There are plenty of places to visit along the cable car line, including the great Cable Car Museum! With free admission, this is a great place to learn more about the history of the cable car, and how the invention changed the city.
Note: We have lots more information about how to ride a cable car, and where to pick them up, in our complete guide to San Francisco Cable Cars.
The second largest open area in San Francisco, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Golden Gate Park! Have you ever seen a pack of wild buffalo in the middle of a city? Or a pair of Dutch windmills? You can check out these amazing sites and many, many more while exploring Golden Gate Park! We would highly recommend staying an entire day roaming the many things to do around the park. You can go to the Conservatory of Flowers, the Japanese Tea Garden, or the Botanical Garden, for example! Either way, this is a fun place to walk, hike, ride a bike, or drive.
This museum is consistently rated as one of the best science museums in America! This is unlike most other museums because almost every exhibit is very hands-on. You can interact with the displays, push buttons, turn dials, and learn how science works through exploration and discovery. Located right on the waterfront, the Exploratorium is also in an amazing location. So you can walk all along the San Francisco Bay before and after going to the museum. Especially if you are traveling to San Francisco with kids, make sure to stop here!
One of the best art museums in San Francisco, we can easily recommend a visit to the de Young. With a rotating set of exhibits, including a fascinating one available now about the history of Oscar de la Renta fashion (available until May 30). But in addition to the great artwork and exciting exhibits, the museum also has an observation tower. The tower has one of the greatest views in all of San Francisco! If you’re in Golden Gate Park, you should definitely make a stop at the de Young!
Note: We have lots more information about this great museum on our page Visiting the de Young Museum.
Remember when we mentioned that the Exploratorium is called one of the best science museums in America? Well, guess what? San Francisco is lucky enough to have TWO of the best science museums in the country! The Academy of Sciences is a more traditional museum than the Exploratorium is. That is, if you consider 40,000 live animals, an aquarium, a planetarium, a living rainforest, all under a live green roof “traditional!” You’ll have an entire day of fun at the Academy os Sciences, and we promise you’ll want to go back when you leave!
10. The Presidio
Much like Golden Gate Park, the Presidio is a very large park that contains dozens of activities for adults and children alike. You can visit the Yoda statue at Lucasfilm Studios, some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the best golfing in San Francisco, and plenty of other activities! If you think you’ve run out of things to do in the Presidio, just walk another five minutes in any direction and you’ll find something new.