San Francisco or SF is often referred to as the “Fog City” due to the presence of fog that rolls in from the Pacific Ocean.
San Francisco’s iconic cable car system is not only a beloved mode of transportation but also a historic landmark that is the last manually operated cable car system in the world and has been in operation since the late 19th century.
Who did not hear about Silicon Valley? San Francisco developed as a hub for technological innovation, known as part of Silicon Valley. Many prominent tech companies, startups, and venture capital firms call the city and its surrounding areas home.
No visit to San Francisco is complete without experiencing the charm of its iconic cable cars. Hop aboard these historic vehicles and journey through the city’s hilly streets, passing by Victorian houses adorned with colorful facades.
There are a multitude of incredible things to do in San Francisco, so let’s explore together the 30 best things to do in SF.
Things to Do in San Francisco
1. Visit the iconic Golden Gate Bridge
If you’re planning a trip to San Francisco, one activity you absolutely can’t miss is visiting the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.
Gate Bridge is a true engineering marvel, and seeing it up close is an experience like no other. The views from the bridge are breathtaking, with the city skyline on one side and the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean on the other.
Oh, and here’s a pro tip: visit during sunset if you can. The bridge gets bathed in warm golden light, creating a magical atmosphere. It’s an experience you won’t want to miss, my friend.
2. Take a ferry to Alcatraz Island and explore the infamous former prison
Picture this: you hop on a ferry, sailing across the sparkling waters of the bay, with the magnificent San Francisco skyline as your backdrop. As you approach Alcatraz Island, you’ll be captivated by its rugged beauty and the sense of mystery that surrounds it.
And the views from Alcatraz? Absolutely breathtaking! You’ll have panoramic vistas of the city skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. It’s a truly unique perspective that will leave you in awe.
Now, here’s a tip: book your tickets in advance. Alcatraz Island is a popular attraction, and tickets tend to sell out quickly. So, make sure to secure your spot to ensure you don’t miss out on this incredible experience.
3. Explore Fisherman’s Wharf
When you’re in San Francisco, one place you absolutely have to explore is Fisherman’s Wharf.
The highlight of Fisherman’s Wharf is Pier 39. This lively pier is famous for its resident sea lions, and let me tell you, they’re an absolute riot! Watching these playful creatures basking in the sun and playfully barking at each other is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
4. Ride the historic cable cars
The cable car system in San Francisco dates back to the late 19th century and is the last manually operated system of its kind in the world. These charming vehicles are not just a mode of transportation; they’re a symbol of the city’s unique character and ingenuity.
The story behind the cable cars is fascinating. Back in the 1870s, San Francisco faced a challenge with the steep hills and the difficulty traditional horse-drawn streetcars had in navigating them.
That’s when the ingenious cable car system was developed. A network of underground cables, powered by a central powerhouse, pulls the cable cars along the tracks, allowing them to conquer the city’s hilly terrain.
5. Spend a day at Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park is a sprawling urban oasis that offers something for everyone. It’s one of the largest and most iconic city parks in the world, spanning over 1,000 acres.
Music lovers will also find joy at Golden Gate Park. The iconic outdoor venue, the “Spreckels Temple of Music,” hosts the Golden Gate Park Band, a beloved institution that has been performing free concerts for over a century. Grab a picnic blanket, sit back, and enjoy the melodies under the open sky.
6. Visit the vibrant Chinatown neighborhood
This bustling and lively enclave is one of the oldest and largest Chinatowns in North America.
As you walk, you’ll be enveloped in the aroma of fragrant spices, exotic herbs, and delectable street food that tempts your taste buds.
Be sure to visit the iconic Dragon Gate, the grand entrance to Chinatown on Grant Avenue. This beautiful landmark welcomes you into a world steeped in Chinese culture and traditions.
Once inside, immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere as you peruse the shops brimming with unique trinkets, authentic Chinese artwork, and traditional crafts.
7. Shop, dine, and people-watch at Union Square
This iconic destination is known for its upscale shopping, exquisite dining options, and vibrant atmosphere.
This bustling urban hub is a paradise for shopaholics, food enthusiasts, and those who love to soak up the vibrant city energy. Get ready for an unforgettable experience of shopping, dining, and people-watching in one of the city’s most iconic locations.
When hunger strikes, Union Square has you covered with its diverse culinary scene. From trendy cafes and casual eateries to elegant restaurants, there’s a wide range of options to satisfy every craving.
8. Experience hands-on science experiments at the Exploratorium
The Exploratorium features a vast collection of interactive exhibits that encourage hands-on exploration. Engage with exhibits that explore topics such as light, sound, motion, perception, and electricity, allowing you to see scientific principles in action.
The Exploratorium is not just a museum—it’s an invitation to explore, question, and discover the wonders of the world around us.
9. Discover contemporary and modern art at SFMOMA
SFMOMA houses an impressive collection of contemporary and modern art spanning a wide range of mediums, including paintings, sculptures, photographs, and installations.
You’ll encounter works by renowned artists such as Frida Kahlo, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, and many more. Explore iconic pieces that have shaped the art world and gain insight into the evolution of artistic expression.
As a vibrant hub for contemporary and modern art, SFMOMA provides a space for reflection, inspiration, and dialogue.
10. Explore the historic Presidio
The Presidio is nestled within a lush landscape of forests, coastal bluffs, and picturesque vistas. Embark on one of the many scenic trails that wind through the park, such as the Batteries to Bluffs Trail or the Ecology Trail.
The Presidio is home to several cultural institutions that offer unique experiences. Visit the Walt Disney Family Museum, where you can explore the life and legacy of Walt Disney through exhibits and interactive displays.
The Presidio also houses the Contemporary Jewish Museum, presenting a range of engaging exhibitions and programs that celebrate Jewish art, culture, and history.
11. Admire the iconic Painted Ladies
Prepare to be amazed by the breathtaking beauty of these iconic Victorian houses. Nestled against the backdrop of the city skyline, these colorful and meticulously detailed homes are a true architectural gem.
The Painted Ladies refer to a row of Victorian and Edwardian houses on Steiner Street, near Alamo Square Park. As you approach this picturesque location, you’ll be greeted by a row of elegantly designed houses, each adorned with vibrant colors, intricate woodwork, and ornate detailing that make them truly unique.
12. Experience the vibrant counterculture history of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood
This iconic neighborhood holds a special place in history as the epicenter of the 1960s hippie movement.
Visit the corner of Haight and Ashbury Streets, the very heart of the neighborhood, where you can feel the historical energy that once permeated these streets. Pose a photo with the street sign and take in the atmosphere of the place that defined an era.
Haight Street is lined with eclectic shops and boutiques that pay homage to the neighborhood’s counterculture past. Browse through vintage clothing stores, record shops, and quirky boutiques that still reflect the spirit of the 1960s.
You’ll find tie-dye clothing, peace symbol memorabilia, and psychedelic art that harken back to the era of free expression and self-discovery.
13. Visit the Castro District, one of the world’s most famous LGBTQ+ neighborhoods
As one of the world’s most famous LGBTQ+ neighborhoods, the Castro is a symbol of LGBTQ+ rights, activism, and community.
Begin your visit at the corner of Market and Castro Streets, where you’ll find the iconic Rainbow Pride Flag. This powerful symbol of LGBTQ+ pride and solidarity serves as a welcoming beacon to all who enter the neighborhood.
Visit Harvey Milk Plaza, located at the intersection of Market and Castro Streets, where you’ll find a bronze statue of Harvey Milk and a memorial wall honoring his legacy and the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights.
14. Explore the Asian Art Museum
This world-renowned museum offers a vast collection of exquisite artworks and artifacts from across Asia.
The Asian Art Museum boasts an extensive collection of artworks from countries such as China, Japan, India, Korea, and many others. Marvel at ancient sculptures, delicate ceramics, intricate textiles, ornate calligraphy, and breathtaking paintings.
The museum’s collection spans thousands of years, showcasing the artistic traditions and cultural heritage of Asia.
15. Marvel at the stunning architecture and peaceful surroundings of the Palace of Fine Arts
Designed by Bernard Maybeck for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, this Greco-Roman-inspired structure showcases grand colonnades, majestic rotundas, and a stunning central dome. The intricate details and graceful proportions of the architecture create a harmonious and timeless aesthetic.
The most iconic feature of the Palace of Fine Arts is its magnificent reflecting lagoon so make sure you do not miss it.
16. Drive or walk down the famous Lombard Street
Known as the “Crookedest Street in the World,” Lombard Street is an iconic landmark that offers a unique and thrilling adventure.
If you’re up for an exciting drive, navigate your vehicle down Lombard Street’s zigzag curves. Feel the thrill of maneuvering through the tight turns, carefully following the road’s iconic red brick path. It’s a unique driving experience that will leave you with a sense of adventure and a great story to share.
17. Visit the California Academy of Sciences
This renowned institution combines a world-class aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum, and cutting-edge research facility all under one roof.
As you approach the academy, you’ll be greeted by its striking living roof—a marvel of sustainable architecture. Covered in native plants, the living roof not only provides insulation but also serves as a natural habitat for local wildlife.
18. Climb up to Coit Tower for panoramic views of the city and bay
Reach the top of Coit Tower, and you’ll be rewarded with sweeping, panoramic views that will leave you in awe. The 360-degree views provide a remarkable perspective of the city’s unique geography and architectural beauty.
Coit Tower holds a special place in San Francisco’s history. It was built in 1933 as a tribute to the city’s firefighters, inspired by the generosity of Lillie Hitchcock Coit, a local eccentric and patroness of the fire department. The tower’s unique design, resembling a fluted column, stands as a testament to the city’s resilience and spirit.
19. Explore the Ferry Building Marketplace
This iconic destination is a food lover’s paradise, offering an abundance of artisanal products, gourmet delights, and a vibrant atmosphere that captures the essence of the city.
From farm-fresh produce to handcrafted cheeses, and specialty chocolates to freshly baked bread, the marketplace showcases the best of San Francisco’s culinary scene.
20. Discover the diverse Mission District
The Mission District is known for its rich cultural heritage and the diverse communities that call it home. Explore the dynamic streets, and you’ll encounter a fusion of influences, including Latino, Hispanic, and indigenous cultures.
The neighborhood embraces its roots and celebrates its multicultural tapestry, creating a unique atmosphere that is both welcoming and fascinating.
Prepare to be amazed by the vibrant street art and murals that adorn the walls of the Mission District. As you wander through the neighborhood, you’ll be greeted by a riot of colors and captivating artwork that reflects the local culture, social issues, and historical narratives.
These larger-than-life murals not only beautify the streets but also serve as powerful expressions of creativity and community spirit.
21. Visit the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park
Explore the de Young Museum’s extensive collection of fine art, which encompasses American art from the colonial era to the present day, as well as art from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas.
From classic 19th-century landscapes to modern and contemporary works, you’ll encounter pieces that reflect the nation’s artistic evolution. Experience the diversity of American art and gain a deeper understanding of its cultural and social contexts.
22. Learn about the history and mechanics of San Francisco’s iconic cable cars at the Cable Car Museum
This unique museum offers a captivating exploration of the history, mechanics, and significance of these beloved symbols of the city.
The cable car system dates back to the late 19th century. At this museum, you can learn how these charming vehicles played a vital role in San Francisco’s transportation infrastructure and how they continue to captivate locals and visitors alike.
23. Take a hike along the scenic trails of Lands End
As you hike along the trails at Lands End, be prepared to be awestruck by the mesmerizing coastal views. Take in panoramic vistas of the Pacific Ocean, rugged cliffs, and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.
Lands End is rich in history and dotted with landmarks that add intrigue to your hike. Keep an eye out for the Sutro Baths ruins, the remnants of a historic bathhouse, and explore the hidden labyrinth nearby.
Discover the stunningly picturesque Point Lobos, known for its unique rock formations and stunning ocean vistas.
24. Explore the Legion of Honor Museum
Located in beautiful Lincoln Park, this museum is a treasure trove of European art. Get ready to immerse yourself in captivating paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts.
Oh, and don’t forget to take in the breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Pacific Ocean from the museum’s stunning neoclassical building.
25. Find tranquility in the Japanese Tea Garden
The Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. It’s a hidden oasis of peace and beauty. As you wander through its enchanting pathways, you’ll discover traditional Japanese elements like pagodas, stone lanterns, and tranquil koi ponds.
If you’re looking for serenity, this is the perfect spot. Treat yourself to a traditional tea ceremony or simply unwind with a cup of tea at the tea house.
26. Indulge in delicious chocolate treats at Ghirardelli Square
Prepare yourself for a sweet adventure at Ghirardelli Square in Fisherman’s Wharf! This historic landmark is a chocolate lover’s paradise.
From their famous chocolate squares to delectable ice cream sundaes and rich hot chocolate, Ghirardelli knows how to satisfy your sweet tooth. Plus, you’ll enjoy picturesque views of the San Francisco Bay while you indulge.
27. Catch a live music performance at The Fillmore
Get ready to rock (or sway to your favorite tunes) at The Fillmore! This legendary music venue in the heart of the Fillmore District is steeped in history. With its intimate atmosphere and superb acoustics, it’s no wonder it has hosted some of the biggest names in the music industry.
If you are into music, The Fillmore is the place to be for a memorable live music experience.
28. Take a ferry ride from San Francisco to Sausalito
Hop on a ferry at the San Francisco Ferry Building or another designated pier, and get ready for a scenic ride across the iconic San Francisco Bay. As the ferry glides through the shimmering waters, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of the city’s skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the surrounding natural beauty.
It’s an experience that offers breathtaking views, a relaxing journey, and the opportunity to explore a picturesque waterfront destination.
29. Visit Mission Dolores
Mission Dolores, officially known as the Mission San Francisco de Asís, is the oldest surviving structure in San Francisco. It was founded in 1776, making it a testament to the city’s early history and Spanish colonial roots.
Stepping inside this mission is like stepping back in time, as you explore the preserved adobe walls, beautiful courtyard, and the adjacent Basilica.
The mission is also home to a beautiful cemetery, which is the final resting place of many early settlers and prominent figures in San Francisco’s history.
30. San Francisco is renowned for its diverse culinary scene
San Francisco is a melting pot of cultures, and its culinary scene reflects this beautifully. You can embark on a culinary journey around the world without leaving the city.
From authentic Italian trattorias in North Beach to vibrant Chinese restaurants in Chinatown and bustling taquerias in the Mission District, the options are endless.
You’ll find everything from Michelin-starred dining establishments to hidden neighborhood gems, each offering its own unique flavors and culinary traditions.
let’s not forget about the iconic sourdough bread that San Francisco is famous for. For the best sourdough bread head to Bouldin Bakery.
Frequently Asked Questions
What county is San Francisco in?
San Francisco is located in San Francisco County.
How did the city of San Francisco get its name?
San Francisco got its name from the Spanish explorers who arrived in the area in the 18th century. In 1769, a Spanish expedition led by Gaspar de Portolá and Father Junipero Serra reached San Francisco Bay. During that time the bay was initially named “La Bahía de Nuestro Padre San Francisco de Asís,” which translates to “The Bay of Our Father Saint Francis of Assisi.” This name was chosen to honor Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment.
In 1776, a group of Spanish colonizers established a mission and a fortification near the bay. They named the mission “Mission San Francisco de Asís” after Saint Francis of Assisi, while the fortification was named “El Presidio de San Francisco” (The Presidio of Saint Francis). These early settlements laid the foundation for the development of the city of San Francisco.
As time went on and the settlement grew, the name “San Francisco” became the most commonly used name for the area. It remained even after Mexico gained control of California from Spain in 1821 and when the United States took control of the region during the Mexican-American War in 1846. The name has endured and continues to be used to this day, representing the rich history and cultural heritage of the city.
How did San Franciso become so famous and popular?
San Francisco became famous and popular due to a combination of factors. The Gold Rush of 1849 attracted a massive influx of people seeking their fortunes, leading to the rapid growth and transformation of the city.
The countercultural movements of the 1960s, such as the Beat Generation and the Summer of Love, brought attention to San Francisco’s bohemian spirit and progressive values.
Additionally, the city’s status as a hub for technological innovation in Silicon Valley has contributed to its global recognition and popularity.
What’s San Francisco famous for?
San Francisco is famous for several notable features that have captivated the world the most iconic symbols are the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, Francisco’s cable car system, the cultural diversity and its LGBTQ+ community and the Silicon Valley.
Is San Francisco safe?
No, San Francisco is not completely free of safety concerns, but overall it is considered a relatively safe city for residents and visitors.
Does it snow in San Francisco?
No, it does not snow in San Francisco.
How far is Yosemite from San Francisco?
Yosemite National Park is approximately 200 miles (320 kilometers) east of San Francisco.
How far is San Francisco from San Diego?
San Francisco is approximately 500 miles (805 kilometers) north of San Diego.
How far is Sacramento from San Francisco?
Sacramento is approximately 90 miles (145 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco.
How far is San Francisco from LA?
The distance between San Francisco and Los Angeles is approximately 382 miles (615 kilometers).
How far is Oakland from San Francisco?
The distance between Oakland and San Francisco is approximately 8 miles (13 kilometers) when measuring from downtown to downtown.