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Things to do in San Francisco

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.

Top 10 attractions in San Francisco

#1

Alcatraz

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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.More
#2

Golden Gate Bridge

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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.More
#3

San Francisco Bay

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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.More
#4

Muir Woods

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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.More
#5

Fisherman's Wharf

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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.More
#6

San Francisco Chinatown

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A city within a city, Chinatown is a historic maze of mysterious sights where an ancient culture from the other side of the world survives and flourishes with remarkable authenticity. You enter the oldest Chinatown in America through Dragon’s Gate, on Grant Avenue at Bush Street. Once you walk through the gate, a 24-block labyrinth of restaurants, markets, temples, and shops unfolds. Wander through the massive collection of Chinese artifacts at the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum, or ponder Thomas Chang’s monumental photographs at the Chinese Cultural Center. You can glimpse skaters practicing revolutionary moves beneath the stature of Sun Yat-sen in St. Mary’s Square or head to Spofford Alley to hear the clicking mah-jong tiles, a Chinese orchestra warming up, or even beauticians gossiping over blow-dryers.More
#7

Pier 39

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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.More
#8

Palace of Fine Arts

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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.More
#9

North Beach

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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.More

Trip ideas

An Exploratorium Exhibit Developer's Guide to San Francisco

An Exploratorium Exhibit Developer's Guide to San Francisco

Know Before You Go: Tips for Visiting Alcatraz

Know Before You Go: Tips for Visiting Alcatraz

Top activities in San Francisco

San Francisco Love Tour

San Francisco Love Tour

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Recent reviews from experiences in San Francisco

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The best of San Fran with Agatha
Gerardus, Feb 2021
⭐ Withlocals™ Highlights & Hidden Gems PRIVATE Tour⭐
I highly recommend this tour to see San Francisco through the eyes of a knowledgable local like Agatha
star-5
Grooviest Experience and Guide!!!
Cheryl_C, Oct 2020
San Francisco Love Tour
What a groovy way to see and learn about San Francisco.
star-5
A great fun way to see San Francisco!
Abel_G, Oct 2020
GoCar San Francisco Tour
What a wonderful way to see most of San Francisco!
star-5
A must!
Chelsi_D, Oct 2020
San Francisco Love Tour
This tour was everything you need to see the highlights of San Francisco!
star-5
Exceptional
Marvin_L, Oct 2020
Big Bus San Francisco Hop-on Hop-off Open Top Tour
It was really great, had an opportunity to see many sites and had a chance to discover many different cultures of san Francisco.
star-5
Painted Ladies Tour is Perfect for seeing San Fran
Debra_M, Sep 2020
Painted Ladies Private San Francisco Tour
He had great insight into the city and we got to see all of the highlights in a fun and entertaining environment.
star-5
A great way to see San Fran at your own pace,
Cat_Rich, Nov 2020
GoCar San Francisco Tour
We got to see the city at our own pace and stop along the way to take some awesome pictures with my family.
star-5
A must if ever in San Fran!!!
Erica_D, Nov 2020
Little Italy and North Beach Walking Tour
It was so neat to see him interact with other locals that knew him.
star-5
San Francisco Via Side Car 🏍💨💨
Wendy_M, Oct 2020
Classic Sidecar Tour of San Francisco
I am traveling to visit my nephew & stopped over briefly in San Francisco to experience the scenery that my hometown doesn’t have.
star-5
Awesome Tour
Kelly_L, Sep 2020
Small Group Half Day Muir Woods and Sausalito Morning Tour
He provided alternative destinations for us such as Muir Beach, Sausalito, and other lookout points to see the redwoods and the Golden Gate Bridge.
star-5
Breezy eve
Anonymous, Jul 2020
2-Hour Sunset Sail on the San Francisco Bay
We had a great time it was an amazing way to see San Francisco and some of the islands.
star-4
Fun and informative
ehrenfrd, Feb 2020
Painted Ladies San Francisco City Tour
This was a great way to see and learn about San Francisco.
star-5
One to One tour guide
dprior, Feb 2020
Painted Ladies San Francisco City Tour
Well what a way to see San Francisco!
star-5
Awesome Chinatown and North Beach tour
operaspaz, Jan 2020
Chinatown and North Beach Walking Tour
He was so full of historical knowledge of the area and even if the places we should try to see before we left beautiful San Francisco.
star-5
City Tour
esteslori7, Jan 2020
Combo Tour: Alcatraz Island and San Francisco Grand City Tour
Just enough time to see the Highlights of San Francisco .
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Happy
Kim S, Jan 2020
Small Group San Francisco Half-Day City Tour
Good job in allowing newcomers to see what San Francisco has to offer.
star-5
San Francisco City Tour
Rao V, Nov 2019
San Francisco Grand City Tour Including Free Walking Tour
He spoke fluently demonstrating his expertise while taking us through various San Francisco attractions which included Downtown, China Town, Fisherman’s Wharf, Golden bridge etc.
star-5
Amazing Experience!!
chilgenberg, Nov 2019
San Francisco Vista Helicopter Tour
Great way to see a lot of San Francisco in a short amount of time.
star-5
See the sights in style
Sebastian_D_NJ, Nov 2019
Vantigo San Francisco City Tour
This is a great way to see the best sights in San Francisco, with some amazing views you didn't expect.
star-5
Fun Tour
Compass826969, Nov 2019
Entertaining Tour of San Francisco
He was very flexible and accommodating, ensuring we got to see exactly what we wanted.

Frequently Asked Questions