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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.

Top 15 attractions in San Francisco


A former federal prison that held notorious criminals Al “Scarface” Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Alcatraz is now a national historic landmark and one of the most sought-out (and sold-out) attractions in the San Francisco Bay Area. Highlights include touring what’s left of the maximum-security facility, hearing stories from former inmates, and sailing past the Golden Gate Bridge to reach the craggy isle.More

Golden Gate Bridge

The red-orange Golden Gate Bridge is a San Francisco icon, which spans 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers) across and connects the city’s northernmost point to Marin County. While the suspension bridge is a major route for Bay Area commuters, the famous landmark also attracts visitors from around the world with its panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, the Marin headlands, Alcatraz, and San Francisco.More

San Francisco Bay

A natural harbor spanned by the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, the picturesque San Francisco Bay is the defining feature of California’s Bay Area. Get out on the chilly, choppy water—or just savor the views from the shoreline as the fog rolls in.More

Muir Woods

Home to one of the world's last remaining coastal redwood forests, Muir Woods National Monument allows travelers to hike, relax, or picnic among giant Northern California trees only minutes from the city. This protected nature reserve is also part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, home to Stinson Beach—the park's only lifeguarded beach—and Fort Baker.More

Fisherman's Wharf

Once the stomping ground of Italian fishermen, Fisherman’s Wharf is now one of San Francisco’s most popular tourist destinations. The bustling waterfront strip is filled with souvenir shops, seafood restaurants, and a wealth of family-friendly attractions—most notably a colony of sea lions that sunbathes and poses for photos on Pier 39.More

San Francisco Chinatown

San Francisco’s Chinatown, one of North America’s oldest and largest, has long been one of the city’s top attractions. Highlights of this bustling neighborhood that dates back to the California Gold Rush include shops, dim sum restaurants, temples, and markets.More

Bay Bridge

Though the San Francisco Bay Bridge doesn't share the fame of the Golden Gate, the beauty of its recently reconstructed east span is beyond debate. Locals know it as the best way to cross between Oakland and San Francisco, while travelers enjoy its storied history, Yerba Buena Island connection, and stunning light displays.More

Palace of Fine Arts

San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts dates to the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition. One of the only remaining buildings from the World’s Fair, the Greco-Roman–inspired ruin is a favorite Bay Area venue. Walk under the picturesque rotunda, wander the grounds, and visit lagoons that are home to ducks, swans, and geese.More

Union Square

Union Square is the city’s main dining, entertainment, and shopping district. Visitors can shop at department stores and designer boutiques; stop into various art galleries; grab a bite to eat at any of a number of restaurants; and see a live performance at a nearby theater.More

North Beach

Despite its name, San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood does not border the water and has no sandy spots. But its position between Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, and the Embarcadero makes it one of the city’s most popular areas for visitors and locals, all of whom enjoy its Italian eateries, Beat history, quiet park, and nightlife scene.More

Golden Gate Park

The 1,000-plus acres (412 hectares) of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park are home to museums, picnic sites, lakes, golf, hiking and biking paths, concerts, and more. From the attraction-laden east end to the wilder west side where bison roam, the park offers plenty of ways to relax, get a culture fix, exercise, or gather with friends.More

Lombard Street

Lombard Street runs more than 20 blocks across northern San Francisco, but only one block—between Hyde and Leavenworth streets—gives the thoroughfare its nickname, “the crookedest street in the world.” Lined with well-manicured flowers and trees and tidy million-dollar homes, the red-brick-paved road zigzags its way down Russian Hill.More

Yosemite National Park

One of the United States’ most popular national parks, Yosemite National Park is packed with natural beauty and views that never cease to amaze. From the majestic mountain peaks to the green meadows on the valley floor (plus all the waterfalls and groves of tall Sequoia trees in between), there’s no shortage of outdoor and leisure activities set against the park’s epic views. And whether you spend a single day or stay for a multi-day camping trip, you’ll feel a deeper appreciation for the nature at this national treasure.More

Pier 39

One of the most visited sights in San Francisco, the multilevel Pier 39 complex is home to shops, restaurants, street performers, and a video arcade. Its waterfront setting on the San Francisco Bay means visitors can take in panoramic bay views, breathe fresh sea air, and watch sunbathing California sea lions.More

Coit Tower

Visitors flock to Coit Tower to take in views of downtown San Francisco, Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, and other landmarks. With its perch in Pioneer Park atop Telegraph Hill, the 210-foot-high (64-meter-high) tower, built in 1933, offers some of the best panoramic photo ops in the city.More
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Trip ideas

An Exploratorium Employee's Guide to San Francisco

An Exploratorium Employee'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

Muir Woods & Sausalito Half-Day Tour (Return by Bus or Ferry from Sausalito)
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Muir Woods & Sausalito Half-Day Tour (Return by Bus or Ferry from Sausalito)

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Napa and Sonoma Wine Country Full-Day Tour from San Francisco
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Small Group Yosemite and Giant Sequoias Day Trip from San Francisco
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San Francisco Bay Sunset Catamaran Cruise
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San Francisco Love Tour

San Francisco Love Tour

GoCar San Francisco Tour

GoCar San Francisco Tour

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Monterey, Carmel and 17-Mile Drive - Full Day Tour from San Francisco
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Private City Tour of San Francisco

Private City Tour of San Francisco

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Big Bus San Francisco Hop-On-Hop-Off Open Top Tour and Alcatraz Combo
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All about San Francisco

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.

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A local’s pocket guide to San Francisco

Gianmaria Franchini

A San Francisco native, Gianmaria is a writer making his life between Northern California and Italy.

The first thing you should do in San Francisco is...

take a cable car—you’ll ride a mobile National Monument through some of the city’s oldest neighborhoods.

A perfect Saturday in San Francisco...

starts with coffee from Cafe Trieste, includes a break for a picnic in front of the Conservatory of Flowers, and finishes with a sunset at Lands End.

One touristy thing that lives up to the hype is...

the Golden Gate Bridge and its surrounds, including Crissy Field, the Presidio, and Fort Point (where parts of Hitchcock’s Vertigo were shot).

To discover the "real" San Francisco...

try walking some of the original seven hills, starting with Nob Hill, Russian Hill, or Telegraph Hill.

For the best view of the city...

Twin Peaks is legendary, and the De Young Museum’s Hamon Observation Tower is one of a kind.

One thing people get wrong...

is packing for Santa Monica or Malibu. San Francisco is often cold, windy, and foggy during summer.

People Also Ask

What is San Francisco city known for?

California’s 4th-largest city, San Francisco is known for its steep hills and photogenic attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, and Alcatraz Island. The city also has a thriving gourmet food scene and is an urban hub for innovative tech companies.

What is the best thing about San Francisco?

Depending on who you ask, the best thing about San Francisco may be its diverse cultural attractions, miles of scenic shoreline, farm-to-table food scene, or walkable neighborhoods. Others love the urban parks and proximity to nature havens like Muir Woods, beaches, and the Marin Headlands.

Is San Francisco worth visiting?

Yes. San Francisco is popular with tourists thanks to its scenic location on the San Francisco Bay, array of cultural attractions, and diverse food scene. Its compact size is easy to get around, and visitors can experience museums, beaches, urban hikes, and world-class dining all in one day.

What is the most visited place in San Francisco?

Pier 39 is the most-visited place in San Francisco. This family-friendly pier on Fisherman’s Wharf features souvenir shops, seafood restaurants, and the Aquarium of the Bay. It’s also a departure point for boat tours to Alcatraz Island and home to a noisy colony of California sea lions.

Is it safe in San Francisco?

Vehicle break-ins and property theft are the most commonly reported crimes in San Francisco, though drug use, traffic accidents, and violent crime are also concerns. Visitors can help keep themselves safe by crossing streets carefully, remaining aware of their surroundings, and never leaving valuables inside a car.

What can you do in San Francisco?

The most popular things to do in San Francisco include a tour of Alcatraz Island, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, taking a San Francisco Bay cruise, and exploring the waterfront at Fisherman’s Wharf. Walking around neighborhoods like Chinatown, North Beach, and the Mission is also a great way to explore San Francisco.


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