Things to do in San Francisco that are too cool to miss
Discover the best of San Francisco with these can't-miss attractions and activities.
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Ride a cable car up the San Francisco hills, walk in the footsteps of infamous prisoners in Alcatraz and sip on wines in Napa Valley. San Francisco is an endless experience of art and history that'll keep you busy from the moment you set foot in the city.
If you're short on time a CityPass is a great way to see a lot in a short amount of time. Or give you a taster to explore more. Read on for all the San Francisco inspiration that you’ll ever need.
Top San Francisco things to do
1. Gaze on the Golden Gate Bridge
A must-see while in San Francisco and an icon of the city is the famous Golden Gate Bridge. Stop by for views and photo opps of the bridge and admire what was once the longest suspension bridge in the world.
2. Walk in the footsteps of renowned prisoners in Alcatraz
Alcatraz is a small island located in San Francisco Bay that is home to a famous prison, lighthouse and military fortification.
As a federal prison from 1934 to 1963, Alcatraz is renowned for housing prisoners such as Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly and Alvin Karpis, the first Public Enemy #1.
You can now visit the prison on tours and see where these bad guys lived. They’re a great way to ensure you get inside as during peak periods tickets can sell out if you don’t book in advance.
3. Ride the cable cars
A trip to San Francisco is not complete without riding one of the classic cable cars up and down the rolling hills of the city.
Tickets can be purchased on-board or as part of hop-on hop-off tours.
What makes these cable cars so iconic is that they belong to the last manually operated cable car system in the world.
4. Catch a baseball game
Watch San Francisco’s baseball team, the San Francisco Giants, play teams from across the country in the MLB league.
Home games are played at the AT&T Park, which overlooks South Beach Harbor and are a spectacle to witness.
5. Visit San Francisco Zoo
Whether you’re an animal lover or have brought the brood along for the ride, the San Francisco Zoo is one of the most popular attractions in the city.
Within its walls are over 250 different animal species and over 20 exhibits including the African Savanna and Penguin Island displays.
Our hot tip? Purchase an admission ticket in advance and avoid long lines, especially in peak season.
6. Check out the Bay Area
San Francisco is the perfect base for exploring the surrounding Bay Area. This is a region renowned for its gourmet delicacies and wineries and spans the San Francisco area as well as neighbouring counties.
Suggestions for what to do in the area include spending a day wine tasting in Napa Valley, visiting California’s Great America theme park in Santa Clara and taking a day-tour to San Jose.
7. Shop till you drop at the San Francisco outlets
Shop designer brands at bargain prices at the top outlets in the city: the San Francisco Premium Outlets.
For a full day out, opt to join a shopping tour tour which departs from San Francisco.
8. Get arty at the Museum of Modern Art
SFMOMA stands for San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and is exactly what the name suggests. Inside you’ll discover a wonderful collection of modern and contemporary art from all around the world.
Some of the most famous pieces you’ll see include Fountain by Marcel Duchamp and Woman with a Hat by Henri Matisse.
9. Dine in Chinatown
Don’t think that San Francisco’s Chinatown is just like every other city’s, because it isn’t. Outside of China, this is the largest Chinatown in the world. Yes, WORLD.
For the hungry, it comes packed with delicious treats from the Asian continent which you can savour while you learn about its diverse history on a food tour.
10. Spend a day at Fisherman’s Wharf
Fisherman’s Wharf is a stunning waterfront neighbourhood in San Francisco.
The area can be explored by foot or on a segway tour for a more immersive and knowledge-filled experience.
11. Go to the ballet
No, really. The San Francisco Ballet Company is steeped in history and performs in one of the most exquisite opera houses in the world. When it opened its doors in 1932 it was renowned for boasting some of the best acoustics in the world.
Performances abound throughout the year and range from classics such as The Nutcracker to modern performances.
5 things to do in San Francisco with kids
- California Academy of Sciences. This is an interactive museum which includes a four-storey rainforest.
- Aquarium of the Bay. San Francisco is renowned for its aquarium which features over 20,000 creatures of the deep.
- San Francisco Bay cruise. The bay is absolutely beautiful from the water and the kids will love heading out on an on-the-water adventure.
- Golden Gate Bridge walk. There's also a museum attached for them to learn more about the structure.
- Walk the coastal trail. It starts in Presidio and ends at Ocean Beach and is a great option on a warm day.
5 things to do in San Francisco in winter
- Christmas lights and festivities. If you're here over winter, you're likely here over Christmas. Check out the lights, sights and tree-lighting ceremonies from mid-November until end-December.
- Catch a musical. San Francisco is an arts hub and there are plenty of productions to keep you warm in winter in the San Francisco Theater District.
- Wine tasting. February is one of the best times of year to sample the local drops as it's when many wine tasting competitions and festivals are held.
- Whale watching. Rug up and keep your eyes open as migrating whales can be spotted off the coast between December and May.
- Baseball and basketball games. Both are winter sports and hotly popular in San Francisco.
5 free things to do in San Francisco
- Walking tour. These are free but donations are appreciated.
- Museums. The Cable Car Museum, San Francisco Maritime Park, 49 Geary, Musée Mécanique, Randall Museum and Wells Fargo History Museum are free to enter.
- Fisherman's Wharf. Stroll around the wharf and catch the sea lions on Pier 39, check out the local street performers and go window shopping.
- City hall. This domed hall has free tours and art exhibits.
- Golden Gate Bridge and Park. Walk the bridge then chill out at the nearby park of the same name.
5 unusual things to do in San Francisco
- Magowan's Mirror Maze. Trip out at this amusement-park style maze room on Pier 39.
- Good Vibrations Antique Vibrator Museum. This is exactly what you think. NSFW.
- Yoda Fountain. Definitely something you don't see every day. If you're a fan of the Star Wars franchise or want to nab some zen, head to Presidio to see this one.
- Listen to the wave organ. Off Fisherman's Wharf is a massive organ plunged into the waters that plays tunes to the sound of the waves.
- Colourful stairways. There are heaps of them throughout the city tiled in bright designs and patterns. Dare you to find them all.
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