It’s nearly impossible to capture all the best things to do in San Francisco, and there are more than a few activities that stand out. Whether you’re a tourist wanting to see the sights or a local looking for new ideas, we’re sure these ideas will help point you in the right direction. How many have you tried?
Of course, if you’re looking for more ideas, we have a few other lists that could help expand on this one. Be sure to check out our list of free things to do, things to do on a rainy day, things to do alone, and things to do with kids, just to name a few.
1. Cross the Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge receives over 10 million visits a year and is one of the world’s most recognizable landmarks. The 1.7-mile-long suspension bridge was built in 1937 and has remained a symbol of world-class engineering and local pride ever since.
2. Spend a perfect day at Golden Gate Park
At 1,017 acres, Golden Gate Park is one of the largest public parks in the world. Any trip to the park is different in its own special way, whether you want to bike down JFK Drive or have a picnic in the East Meadow. Some popular stops include the Japanese Tea Garden, SF Botanical Garden, Conservatory of Flowers, bison paddock, Stow Lake, AIDS Memorial Grove, and the Dutch Windmill.
3. Get inspired at the Exploratorium
The Exploratorium isn’t your average museum experience – in fact, they’ve been making their own interactive exhibits since 1969! Explore and play with over 650 fun exhibits including the mysterious Fog Bridge, or check out their Thursday After Dark events for adults.
4. Take a tour of Alcatraz
Alcatraz Island is an essential part of San Francisco’s history, most famously serving as a federal prison from 1934-1963 housing the likes of Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly. It was later the site of a Native American civil rights movement before becoming part of the Golden Gate Recreation Area in 1972.
5. Ride a cable car
SF’s cable cars are the only moving national landmark in the United States, dating back to 1873. There are 2 types of historic cable cars in service in San Francisco today: 12 California cars, which are larger and may be operated from both ends; and 28 Powell cars, which are slightly smaller and operational from one end only. You can learn more about the cable cars at SF’s free Cable Car Museum.
6. Sip on an Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista
San Francisco didn’t invent Irish Coffee, but the Buena Vista Cafe is credited as being the first and arguably the most famous place to serve it in the US. The Buena Vista serves up to 2,000 Irish Coffees per day in an elegant and efficient performance.
7. Discover the Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts was built as a temporary exhibition space for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. When the fair ended, prominent philanthropist Phoebe Hearst helped to preserve the beloved Palace structure and saved it from demolition. Many visitors to the Palace enjoy taking a picnic to eat on the grass surrounding the lagoon.
8. Drink tea and enjoy the view in the Japanese Tea Garden
The Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park is the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States. Visitors can enjoy a relaxing cup of tea and Japanese refreshments in the tea house. Visit during March and April to catch the cherry blossoms!
9. Greet the sea lions at Fisherman’s Wharf
The SF waterfront is a fun and lively place to visit, albeit a little touristy. You could see the sights at Pier 39, strike a pose at Umbrella Alley, and play vintage arcade games at Musée Mécanique. Don’t forget to tour the historic boats at Hyde Street Pier for a fun trip back in time.
10. Go vintage shopping in Haight-Ashbury
Whether you’ve come to admire the historic Victorian houses or grab a drink on your way to Golden Gate Park, Haight-Ashbury has something for everyone. Essential stops include the tie-dye paradise that is Love on Haight and the gorgeous Four Seasons Houses.
11. Watch a movie under the stars at Sundown Cinema
The massively popular Sundown Cinema series presents awesome FREE movies on a giant screen in various parks around the city. Check them out on select days from May through October.
12. Check out the floating rooftop paradise that is Salesforce Park
San Francisco’s Salesforce Park is an amazing modern marvel in the Financial District. The verdant oasis rests 70 feet above the street atop the Salesforce Transit Center, and it’s completely free and open for the public to visit at any time. It also hosts a collection of free events every week including yoga classes, bootcamps, live music, bird walks, and garden tours.
13. Have an unforgettable time at Outside Lands
Outside Lands takes place every year in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The festival began in 2008 and is managed by Another Planet Entertainment, Superfly Presents, and Starr Hill Presents. It’s the country’s largest independently-owned music festival.
14. See the view from Coit Tower
This simple white tower named for Lillie Hitchcock Coit has embellished San Francisco’s iconic skyline since its construction in 1933. Visitors can travel to the top of the 212-foot-high tower and marvel at 360° views of San Francisco, or tour the Depression-era frescoes inside the base.
15. Take a lap around the Ferry Building
SF’s Ferry Building is a center for events, pop-ups, a farmers’ market, and countless excellent merchants who sell their wares daily in the building’s many stalls. Their expansive outdoor dining area has excellent views of the Bay and it’s a fun spot for grab-and-go food.
16. Drive down Lombard Street
This famous red-brick street in Russian Hill attracts 2 million tourists per year. The iconic street features 8 sharp turns in a 1-block stretch, surrounded by lush landscaping and always teeming with cars and foot traffic.
17. Visit the Painted Ladies at Alamo Square
This line of Queen Anne Victorian homes are one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. The houses were built between 1892 and 1896 and have been featured in movies such as Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) and television shows like Full House (1987-1995).
18. Catch a free concert at Stern Grove Festival
Stern Grove Festival has hosted free summer concerts for over 85 years. Headliners have included everyone from Grammy winners to rising stars, including names like Mitski, The Doobie Brothers, Carlos Santana, Pink Martini, Janelle Monae, and more.
19. Take a candlelight tour of Fort Point
Fort Point National Historic Site was instrumental in protecting California’s coast during the Civil War. It’s worth a visit any time of day, but these candlelight tours are a next-level way to truly immerse yourself in the site’s history.
20. Eat a Mission burrito at Dolores Park
This popular 16-acre green space is the city’s favorite spot for people watching, catching up with friends, and enjoying amazing views. Take a walk around the Mission District, grab a burrito from nearby El Faro or La Cumbre, and enjoy an afternoon on the grass.
21. Order a juicy steak at the House of Prime Rib
This old-school English restaurant is one of the top-rated restaurants in the city, and for good reason. Find high-quality prime rib to enjoy alongside excellent wines and cocktails.
22. Get some local produce at a weekend farmers’ market
If you live in the Bay Area, you know that we have access to some of the best produce in the country. That’s why farmers’ markets are a must for countless SF residents who enjoy getting their food from local sources. Some of our favorites are the Alemany Farmers’ Market, the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market, and the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market.
23. Check out the view from Twin Peaks
These 2 adjacent peaks in the city stand 922 feet tall, making them second only to Mt. Davidson. The park itself is 64 acres, and you can see breathtaking panoramic views of the Bay by hiking the 0.7 mile trail network to the top.
24. Attend a film soundtrack concert by SF Symphony
San Francisco Symphony has an absolutely stellar lineup of concerts all year long, but one of our favorites will always be the Film Series. Watch screenings of classic movies to the music of a live orchestra at these unforgettable performances.
25. Go whale-watching in and around SF
California’s coastline is the perfect spot to catch several whale migration seasons – gray whales from January through April, orcas between February and May, and humpbacks between April and December. While you’re at it, keep an eye out for elephant seals!
26. Take a day trip to Muir Woods
We’re extremely lucky to live so close to the largest and tallest trees in the world. These old growth coastal redwoods are breathtaking, and most have been there between 600 and 800 years. See even more of our favorite day trips from San Francisco here.
27. Snag a frangipane croissant at Tartine
Tartine has been a San Francisco staple forever! They’re well-known for their excellent breads (make sure you grab a sourdough loaf), but the pastries themselves receive the same amount of careful attention.
28. Walk on the Castro District’s rainbow crosswalk
SF’s historically gay neighborhood is world-famous with essential stops including the Castro Theater and the Rainbow Honor Walk. Don’t forget to take a pic on the rainbow crosswalk at 18th and Castro Street, and save the date for the Castro Street Fair in October.
29. Get a pic at Andy Goldsworthy’s Wood Line at the Presidio
The city of San Francisco began at the Presidio in 1776 when Spain established a military fort there. World-renowned artist Andy Goldsworthy’s Wood Line is a beautiful sculpture winding through the eucalyptus trees, but there’s no shortage of hidden gems.
30. Hike the Lands End Trail
The Sutro Baths at Lands End are one of San Francisco’s largest historical relics. Make the 3.4-mile hike out there and you’ll find the remnants of an enormous public bathhouse that accommodated up to 10,000 people back in the late 1890s. See more of our favorite local hikes here.
31. Have a bonfire at Ocean Beach
This stunning beach along the west coast of the city is perfect for bonfires (March through October) or for windy sunset beach walks along the coast. Be advised that beaches in San Francisco are unsafe for swimming due to powerful sneaker waves and rip currents.
32. Cover your ears during Fleet Week
San Francisco Fleet Week has been a fixture on the Bay Area cultural calendar since 1981. The Air Show is Fleet Week’s most highly anticipated event, where the U.S. Navy Blue Angels perform a choreographed show between the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz.
33. Get lost in SF Botanical Garden
The San Francisco Botanical Garden is a beautiful, relaxing green space with 7,700 types of plants across 55 acres and it’s free to visit for all SF residents. Some events to look out for include magnolia season from January-March and Flower Piano in September.
34. Stuff your face at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana
This San Francisco staple is one of the city’s most famous pizza places, helmed by 13-time World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani. Order from dozens of pizzas ranging from Sicilian to classic American to coal-fired. Take a spin around the Italian neighborhood of North Beach while you’re at it.
35. Explore SF’s most famous mural collections
Clarion Alley and Balmy Alley each house vibrant, diverse displays of murals by mostly local artists. Some of these masterpieces go back decades into Bay Area history, meaning you can pinpoint certain social movements, artistic styles, and more. Discover more of our favorite public art pieces here.
36. Walk through the Eliasson tunnel at SFMOMA
SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) is easily one of SF’s most famous museums with a frequent rotation of large- and small-scale art exhibitions. One of the most-photographed is Olafur Eliasson’s One-Way Colour Tunnel, which feels like stepping into a kaleidoscope.
37. Explore the CA Academy of Sciences’ indoor rainforest
With some of the most advanced research facilities in the world, this famous SF museum is capable of putting together some seriously fascinating and creative exhibits including a four-story indoor rainforest aflutter with free-flying birds and butterflies.
38. Check out free concerts at the Golden Gate Park Bandshell
These weekly free and family-friendly concerts are some of the most beloved events in the park. Catch over 100 performances each season from March through November.
39. Take a slippery ride down the Seward Street Slides
For decades, thrill-seeking adults and children alike have enjoyed these legendary concrete slides hidden near the Castro. They were designed by a 14-year old girl named Kim Clark, who grew up nearby in the ’70s. Bring your cardboard and get to slidin’!
40. Sip on a mai tai at the Tonga Room
The Fairmont Hotel’s Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar is one of the longest continually running tiki bars in the States. They serve a mix of classic and original tiki cocktails, including the “1944 Mai Tai” which is particularly tasty when enjoyed next to the restaurant’s indoor lagoon.
41. Cruise around Chinatown
San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown in North America. A must-see event is the annual Chinese Lunar New Year Parade in February which dates back to 1851. Visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory and top it off with a Chinese Mai Tai from Li Po Cocktail Lounge.
42. Bring a group of friends to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is a completely free and noncommercial music festival that takes place in Golden Gate Park every year at the end of September. With over 50 food vendors and 6 stages, this is a real treat.
43. Satisfy your sweet tooth at the Ghirardelli Chocolate Experience
The enormous and newly renovated Ghirardelli Chocolate Experience Store reopened even bigger and better in 2022. Customers can enjoy the world’s largest Pick and Mix as well as limitless sundaes, milkshakes, coffees, hot cocoa, and plenty more.
44. Cheer on the Giants
SF’s iconic baseball stadium Oracle Park is located right on the waterfront in SoMa. You can join a year-round tour to see the stadium up close or grab tickets to cheer on the Giants at a home game between March and September.
45. Enjoy cheap eats and beers at Tommy’s Joynt
Tommy’s Joynt is one of San Francisco’s most quintessential no-frills restaurants, if not for their brisket carved on the spot, then for their unbeatable prices. Think $3.50 beer, $5 well drinks, and $6 martinis.
46. Experience a yoga session like no other at Grace Cathedral
Hundreds of people flock to Yoga on the Labyrinth at Grace Cathedral on Tuesday evenings for a spiritual experience like no other. The session is a gentle Hatha yoga practice accompanied by live music in one of the most beautiful buildings in SF.
47. Go wild at SF Pride
The world-famous SF Pride parade and celebration takes over the city every June. As the nation’s largest gathering of the LGBTQ+ community and allies, it’s an epic celebration of the city’s vibrant queer community.
48. Bike around the perimeter of Angel Island
Take the ferry from Pier 41 and rent a bike on Angel island for great views of the Bay, Mt. Tamalpais, and more. The Angel Island Perimeter Loop is 5.9 miles long and pretty flat, save for a few inclines. Plan to stop for photo ops and pack a lunch to enjoy on Perles Beach!
49. Catch the view from the de Young Museum‘s observation deck
The de Young Museum has been one of SF’s most iconic fine art museums since it was founded in 1895. The building features a 144-foot observation tower offering 360-degree views of Golden Gate Park, and it’s free for the public to visit whether or not they hold a museum ticket.
50. Attend a Friday night food truck party at Fort Mason Center
California’s largest weekly food truck event is the only such market featuring a full bar and live music all season long. The free events bring dozens of Off The Grid food trucks to the Fort Mason Center parking lot on Friday evenings from March-November.