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Things to do in  San Francisco

Welcome to San Francisco

San Francisco is seven square miles of fog-shrouded magic. Travelers come for cable-car rides and the Golden Gate Bridge—and stay for edgy neighborhoods, cultural diversity, and beautiful open-air spaces.

When to visit

Mark Twain famously said the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco. In truth, the fog is unpredictable but you can expect a relatively seasonless climate year-round.

Cool summers are perfect for bike rides across the Golden Gate Bridge, or row boat rentals at Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park.

Fall brings Indian summers and the warmest weather, ideal for checking out the produce harvest at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market.

Winter is the heart of whale watching season, and the best time to try Dungeness crab served whole at Fisherman’s Wharf.

With spring come cherry blossoms at the Japanese Tea Garden, and offseason wine country trips—with fewer tourists.

Getting around

Walking: San Franciscans take pride in walking (or biking) instead of driving, and for good reason: they live in one of the most compact and traffic-congested cities in the US. Thankfully, most neighborhoods are perfect for exploring on foot, with lively street life, public spaces, and restaurants and cafes to explore.

Bus and rail: It’s reasonably easy to get around the city on MUNI buses and streetcars, though many lines run infrequently depending on the time of day and stop after midnight. Cable cars take limited scenic routes, while BART rapid rail is the fastest connection from downtown to the Mission, airport, and surrounding Bay Area.

Rideshare: Uber and Lyft services are most widely used, and will save you the trouble of driving and parking. Taxis can be hard to flag down—but they don’t charge surge pricing during peak travel times. Bike shares are common and growing in popularity, especially downtown and along the waterfront.

Traveler tips

San Francisco is known today for being the home of techies rather than hippies; it’s a city in flux, but with time-tested attractions that easily show why it’s a special place. Alcatraz Island, Muir Woods, and Golden Gate Park are worth visiting for their natural beauty alone. Chinatown and North Beach have blissfully held on to their cultural roots, while the Castro, the heart of the city's LGBTQIA+ community, is walkable, sunny, and anchored by the lovely Castro Theater. To see a truly classic side of the city, we recommend visiting the Beach Chalet, Cliff House, and Sutro Baths ruins near Ocean Beach.

Learn more

Top 10 attractions in San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge
#1

Golden Gate Bridge

Cinema buffs believe Alfred Hitchcock had it right: seen from below at Fort Point, the bridge induces a thrilling case of Vertigo. Fog aficionados prefer the lookout at Vista Point in Marin, on the north side of the bridge, to watch gusts rush through the bridge cables. Crissy Field is a key spot to appreciate the whole span, with windsurfers and kite-fliers to add action to your snapshots. Unlike the Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge provides access to cyclists and pedestrians. From the Golden Gate Bridge itself, you can see stunning vistas of San Francisco and Marin County, as well as Alcatraz, Angel Island, and oceangoing liners passing through the bridge’s tall red towers. Golden Gate Bridge connects the city of San Francisco with the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Sausalito and the Muir Woods National Monument....
Alcatraz
#2

Alcatraz

For almost 150 years, Alcatraz has given the innocent chills and the guilty cold sweats. Over the years it's been the nation's first military prison, then a forbidding maximum-security penitentiary, now a National Park. No wonder that first step you take off the ferry and onto 'The Rock' seems to cue ominous music: dunh-dunh-dunnnnh! The trip to Alcatraz is popular and space is extremely limited. Purchase Alcatraz tickets as far in advance as possible, up to 90 days. The roster of Alcatraz inmates read like an America's Most Wanted list. A-list criminals doing time on Alcatraz included Chicago crime boss Al "Scarface" Capone, dapper kidnapper George "Machine Gun" Kelly, and hot-headed Harlem mafioso and sometime poet "Bumpy" Johnson. Though Alcatraz was considered escape-proof, in 1962 the Anglin brothers and Frank Morris floated away on a makeshift raft and were never seen again. A visit to Alcatraz is more than just seeing the inside of an old prison....
San Francisco Bay
#3

San Francisco Bay

Few waterways carry the prestige and iconographic status of the beautiful San Francisco Bay. From the first years of its European discovery the Golden Gate became known as a pivotal access point to the American West. Trade and military strategy aside, The Bay is California’s most important ecological treasure. A natural nursery for crab, halibut, waterfowl, seals and sea lions, as well as endangered species, the San Francisco Bay provides a great ecological treasure to residents and visitors alike. Whale watching, ferrying out to Alcatraz and Marin, or simple sunset tours with the glistening Golden Gate Bridge are favorite pastimes, while residents simply feel assured looking out of their windows and knowing that its calm waters are there....
San Francisco Zoo
#4

San Francisco Zoo

Enjoy a day at the San Francisco Zoo, home to hundreds of animals from around the world. Highlights include the African Savanna exhibit, dual-level Primate Discovery Center, and boundary-free South American Tropical Rainforest. Kids can pet animals in the Children’s Zoo, and kids of all ages like the daily Keeper Talks and animal feedings....
Bay Bridge
#5

Bay Bridge

Though it doesn’t often get the attention of its famous sibling, the Golden Gate, the San Francisco Bay Bridge is spectacular in its own right. Once the largest and most expensive bridge of its time, in 75 years the Bay Bridge has proved critics wrong – the dream of connecting San Francisco to Oakland would not be stopped by anything. Logistics, cost, and politics couldn’t stop the expansion, and now the Bay Bridge has made history yet again my becoming the world’s largest self -anchored suspension bridge. Safely transporting the 280,000 automobiles that transverse its roads every day, the Bay Bridge connects San Francisco to Oakland, with a little stop at Yerba Buena Island along the way....
Pier 39
#6

Pier 39

One of the most popular attractions in San Francisco, Pier 39 is a fun-filled multilevel waterfront complex, complete with shops, restaurants, lively street performers, a video arcade, and stellar attractions. An added bonus is its setting on San Francisco Bay, where you can take in panoramic bay views, fresh sea air, and watch hundreds of sunbathing sea lions lounging along its neighboring docks. From here you can see Angel Island, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Families will have plenty of fun here. At the Aquarium of the Bay, watch sharks circle overhead and manta rays skate by, as conveyor belts guide you through glass tubes. A chariot awaits you on the two-story San Francisco Carousel, then whisks you past the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, other hand-painted city landmarks. Also - don’t forget to watch the sea lions. The slips on the bay can hold as many as 1,300 of the marine mammals, mostly between January and July....
Angel Island State Park
#7

Angel Island State Park

Proving that getting away from the city doesn’t have to be an ordeal, Angel Island, the largest island in the San Francisco Bay, is a quick ferry ride away and seemingly miles away from the ordinary. Small but beautiful, Angel Island has some of the best views of the surrounding San Francisco Bay area. Climb to the top of Mt. Livermore to snap some pictures of spectacular panoramic views of the entire Bay, or head down to the paved walkway to see some of Angel Island’s beautiful coves. All five Bay Area bridges can be seen from the island point, including the imposing and illustrious Golden Gate. Visitors to this small island enjoy miles of superb hiking trails, a cove café and oyster bar, and many forms of transportation fun (segway, tram, and electric scooter). Here you can explore this natural treasure in leisure and at your own pace....
Palace of Fine Arts
#8

Palace of Fine Arts

Like a fossilized party favor, this romantic, Greco-Roman ruin is the memento San Francisco decided to keep from the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Indeed, the Palace is a favorite wedding photo location for many couples in the San Francisco Bay area. But many come just to simply gaze up at the rotunda relief and glimpse "Art Under Attack by Materialists, with Idealists Leaping to her Rescue". The exhibition hall, which originally housed Impressionist paintings during the exposition, was once home to the Exploratorium, a state of the art interactive science museum that moved in Spring 2013 to Pier 15 on the Embarcadero. Now the venue hosts occasional concerts and events but is not generally open to the public. The inside is not the main attraction after all. The nearby lagoon, fringed with Australian eucalyptus trees, was intended to echo those found in classical settings in Europe, where water serves as a mirror to reflect the grand buildings....
North Beach
#9

North Beach

Standing at the apex of the Filbert Street Steps, you can understand what Italian fishermen and beat poets saw in North Beach: tough climbs and giddy vistas, a place with more sky than ground, an area that was civilized by not entirely tamed. A vibrant Italian community thrives in North Beach, which is home to dozens of Italian restaurants and coffeehouses. Columbus Avenue, the neighborhood's main street, is lined with many eclectic shops and one-of-a-kind fashion boutiques - perfect for an afternoon stroll. You won’t find an actual beach in North Beach, though you will discover natural beauty atop Telegraph Hill, the neighborhood’s bucolic centerpiece. A hike up the Filbert or Greenwich street steps will put you at the top, where you can take in panoramic views of the city from Coit Tower. Or forego the climb and watch wild parrots frolic in the treetops from the friendly confines of a park bench in Washington Square....
Fisherman's Wharf
#10

Fisherman's Wharf

Where once Italian fisherman in Genoese feluccas trapped unsuspecting sealife, San Francisco has expertly created one of the most popular tourist attractions in America. Fisherman’s Wharf is filled with shops, restaurants, and a pirate’s booty of attractions. Sea lions laze the day away sunbathing and posing for photo ops on Pier 39, where the Aquarium of the Bay, carousel, and carnival-style attractions keep little kids wide-eyed. At Pier 45, the Hyde Street Pier Historic Ships Collection give navel-gazers a chance to check out tall ships, submarines and WWII warships. Bring your quarters to consult the spooky mechanical fortune tellers and save the world from space invaders at Musée Mécanique. And if it’s raining, head to the Wax Museum and wander among the 250-plus life-like celebrities and former presidents. Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum, with its kaleidoscope tunnel, video displays, and illusions is also a curiously exciting diversion....

Trip ideas

Diane Whitmore, San Francisco Exploratorium

An Exploratorium Exhibit Developer's Guide to San Francisco

Photo of a boat from Alcatraz Cruises departing Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay Area

Know Before You Go: Tips for Visiting Alcatraz

Frequently Asked Questions