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Things to do in San Francisco, California

The city of San Francisco on the West Coast is one of the most densely populated cities in the United States of America. Located in Northern California, San Francisco is one of the best destinations to visit on a Pacific Coast Highway road trip.  It lies at the edge of the San Francisco Bay Area Peninsula and has the Pacific Ocean to its west and the San Francisco Bay to its East. What that means is that there are plenty of beaches, marine life, cruises, and water sports around the city. 

The city is considered to be a popular destination for tourists. It has many attractive landmarks and fun things to do including the world famous Golden Gate Bridge. Other popular tourist attractions in San Francisco are Alcatraz Island, Golden Gate Park, Union Square, PIER 39, Chinatown, Lombard Street, and Muir Woods National Monument. San Francisco has a mild climate year around which makes it a great winter destination for northerners. The city is often enveloped by a dense fog in summer creating beautiful photo opportunities.

Best Things to do in San Francisco 

San Francisco is a fun and vibrant city. It has great cultural diversity and is the financial hub of the region. The city is the thirteenth most populated city in the United States. It is famous for its cuisine including gourmet restaurants run by some of the finest chefs in the world.  There are a lot of places to visit in San Francisco and many activities to do for travelers of all ages and interests. Let us take a look at the best things to do in the city. 

Golden Gate Bridge 

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is a modern architectural wonder that was opened to traffic in 1937. For many years since its completion, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. The bridge is made up of steel and is 1.7 miles long. It has six lanes for traffic as well as dedicated pedestrian and bike lanes. The bridge spans over the San Francisco Bay and connects the San Francisco City with Marin County. This is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. The Pacific Coast Highway or Route 1 passes over the bridge, making it one of the best places to stop on a Pacific Coast Highway road trip. There are many places from where you can see amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge and photograph the icon. If you want to take a memorable panoramic shot, the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point is the best place to do it.  The Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point is situated on a high hill near the south end of the bridge. From here, you can also see the entire city of San Francisco in the background. 

Alcatraz Island 

Alcatraz Island is a rocky land that lies in the middle of San Francisco Bay. It is located about 1.5 miles away from the shore of the city. The island has an interesting history – back in time between 1933 and 1963 it served as a military and federal prison. The prison housed many famous inmates including Al Capone. The prison was however closed due to high operational expenses and was handed over to National Park Services in 1972. Since then the Alcatraz Island has become a popular tourist attraction in the city. On a cruise to Alcatraz Island, visitors can enjoy an audio tour of the island’s history. They can visit the prison cells and listen to information narrated by correctional officers. The trip to the island is quite informative and an interesting part of San Francisco’s history. Moreover, the views of San Francisco bay from the island and during the cruise are breathtaking.  

Fisherman’s Wharf 

Fisherman’s Wharf is the city’s must-see tourist attraction. Located near the waterfront, this area is crowded most times of the day. At the Fisherman’s Wharf, you will find some of the most famous restaurants in the city. They offer a variety of fine dining experiences where tourists can satisfy their taste buds. There are outdoor stalls that sell fresh crabs and plenty of restaurants that offer fresh seafood including catch of the day. In addition to the restaurants, the Fisherman’s Wharf has many fun things to do for kids as well as families including the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, San Francisco Dungeon – which offers a thrilling adventure into the city’s past, and the San Francisco Aquarium of the Bay. History and military enthusiasts can visit the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park and Maritime Museum. The Fisherman’s Wharf is also great for people watching and spending time along the waterfront.

San Francisco Cable Cars 

San Francisco has the last manually operated cable car system in the world presently. Back in its golden days, the city’s cable car system had twenty-three cable car lines that went up and down the city’s steep hills but now only three routes are left. To witness the real San Francisco city charm, you must hop on its popular cable cars. Tourists mostly occupy travel along the Powell Hyde cable car line which stops along many popular attractions such as the Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli Square, Lombard Street, Chinatown, etc. As the cable car goes down Russian Hill, you get beautiful views of the San Francisco bay and Alcatraz Island. More than 9 million people ride the city’s cable cars every year. The cable cars run across the streets of San Francisco, exposing the city’s vibrant street culture to tourists.

Golden Gate Park 

Golden Gate Park is one of the main tourist attractions in the city. This urban park is one of the largest in the country and offers a variety of experiences for tourists. The park has trails, picnic areas, sports areas, playgrounds for kids, gardens, museums, and many more attractions. Visitors can easily take an entire day just to explore the entire park. That’s why, you should decide which attractions you want to visit first. It is convenient to plan an entire day in the park neighborhood to optimize your time. One of the highlights of the Golden Gate Park is the beautiful Japanese Tea Garden that is spread out over five acres. The garden has cherry trees, bamboo-lined pathways, a tea house, and many other features of Japanese gardens. Other attractions include the San Francisco Botanical Garden, Rose Garden, de Young Museum, and the California Academy of Sciences.


San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest in the country. San Francisco Chinatown is a star tourist attraction in its own right. It is home to one of the largest Asian communities outside of Asia. This neighborhood is one of the oldest in North America and was established when Chinese immigrants moved to the USA and settled in San Francisco to try their fortune. The Chinatown was destroyed in the fire that spread over the entire city and was rebuilt in the Oriental style of architecture to create a lasting tourist attraction. The best way to explore this part of the city is by just strolling through the streets, experiencing the culture, shopping in traditional produce markets and souvenir shops, seeing the historic buildings, spotting murals, and eating dim sums as well as other traditional Chinese cuisine, 

California Palace of the Legion of Honor 

The California Palace of Legion of Honor is located at 34th Avenue in Lincoln Park. It was built in the memory of Californian Soldiers who died in World War I. The building is a replica of the Palace of the Legion of Honor in Paris, France. The beautiful building  is located on a hilltop overlooking the San Francisco Bay and has great views of the Golden Gate Bridge. The museum collection has exhibits spanning over 400 decades of ancient European paintings, European decorative arts and sculptures, calligraphy, photography, and ancient arts from the Mediterranean region. Since its opening, the museum draws over thousands of visitors to see its permanent collection and special exhibitions.

Palace of Fine Arts 

The Palace of Fine Arts is one of the most beautiful buildings in San Francisco. This historic building in San Francisco is on the United States National Register of Historic Places. It is a landmark of the city and a major tourist attraction. The building was first created for the Panama-Pacific exposition and then permanently rebuilt in 1974. It has a Grecian style of architecture with tall columns and a central rotunda. The building hosts exhibitions and concerts. The building is one of the most popular photo spots in San Francisco. The shallow lagoon surrounding the palace provides habitat to many birds like ducks, swan, and geese.

California Academy of Sciences 

California Academy of Sciences, located in Golden Gate Park, is one of the premier science museums in the country. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city and is a perfect place to bring the children while on a Pacific Coast Highway road trip. The museum has many galleries, exhibits, and fun activities such as a planetarium, an aquarium, a rainforest exhibit, and a natural history museum. The aquarium is home to around forty thousand marine animals including penguin habitat, albino alligators living in a swamp, and a shark lagoon. 

The rainforest exhibit is home to over thousands of tropical animals, reptiles, and amphibians. The Planetarium has many interesting exhibits and a seventy-five feet screen where you can see daily shows.

Presidio of San Francisco 

Another landmark attraction of the city is the Presidio of San Francisco. It previously served as a military base but is now a park. It lies at the northern edge of the San Francisco Peninsula and under the Golden Gate Bridge. During colonial times, the Spanish and the Mexicans owned the area before the ownership was handed over to the United States of America in 1948. Fort Point, Crissy Fields, Walt Disney Family Museum, Golden Gate Welcome Center are some of the highlights of the Presidio. The area has many viewpoints over the Golden Gate Bridge and the city skyline. The park is a recognized California Historical Landmark and has many visitors.

De Young Fine Arts Museum 

De Young Fine Arts Museum is located in the Golden Gate Park, and it is the United States’ fifth most visited art museum. The museum consists of art collections from the seventeenth century to the present date. It is home to one of the most extensive collections of American decorative arts, African artworks, over thirteen thousand fabrics and costumes of the Americas and Oceania, as well as a unique collection of nineteenth and twentieth-century photography. De Young Fine Arts Museum also hosts temporary exhibitions, tours, special events, and learning programs for children. 

Twin Peaks 

For a stunning view of San Francisco, visit the Twin Peaks. Twin Peaks Natural Recreation Area is one of the most visited attractions in San Francisco. The peaks rise to a height of nine hundred and twenty-two feet above the ground, making it the second-highest point in the city. The area is especially popular with outdoor enthusiasts as it has hiking trails and wildlife viewing opportunities. From the Christmas Tree viewpoint, visitors can have breathtaking views of the city skyline, the Golden Gate bridge, and the Bay area bridge. The view from the Twin Peaks at night is also stunning.

Asian Arts Museum 

The Asian Arts Museum in San Francisco has a vast collection of ancient artwork from all over the continent. The collection spans artifacts from ancient cultures in India, Japan, Thailand, Pakistan, China, Philippines, and the Middle East. Items date back as far as the past 60 centuries. Many temporary exhibitions are also held by the museum. In addition to preserving the Asian history, the museum also conducts educational programs for visitors of all ages including performances, storytelling, activities for kids, and artistic demonstrations. Cafe Asia located inside the museum is a good place to grab lunch.

Union Square 

Union Square is a must-visit attraction in the heart of San Francisco. In Union Square, visitors will find a bevy of high-end brands outlets, gourmet restaurants, luxury boutique hotels, cafes, art galleries, and boutique stores. Union Square also has great nightlife, summer concerts, and many other events. During the holiday season, Union Square is home to San Francisco’s ice rink. The Union Square is also a great place to stay near the most happening attractions in San Francisco.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area 

Golden Gate National Recreation Area is spread over an area of 81,000 acres. With several miles of hiking and biking trails, it is a favorite with outdoor explorers. The most popular attractions within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area include Alcatraz Island, Muir Woods National Monument, Fort Point National Historic Site, the Presidio of San Francisco, and the Marin Headlands. The natural area has a history of use spanning over two centuries. It is associated with the Spanish empire, the Mexican Republic, and ultimately with the growth of the urban city of San Francisco. The area still contains 11 former Army posts of historic importance. Muir Woods is the closest place where visitors can see the famous California coastal redwood trees.

Ghirardelli Square 

San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square has tons of interesting history. It was where the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory was originally established by Domenico Ghirardelli. The factory has long since moved to a new location but Ghirardelli Square continues to be associated with the epic chocolatier. In the square, visitors can buy Ghirardelli chocolates and eat Ghirardelli ice cream at the Original Ghirardelli Marketplace. In addition to the chocolate store, Ghirardelli Square now houses many brand stores, boutique shops, tasting rooms, hotels, and restaurants.

Lombard Street 

Lombard Street has the reputation of being the most crooked street in the world. It has eight hairpin turns that are extremely fun to drive down on – they will remind you of a roller coaster ride! Taking a stroll along Lombard street is a delight. It is a beautiful and charming street with Victorian mansions present on its sides. The mansions are maintained very well with pretty, colorful flowers lining the window sills and pathways. The street is great to explore for tourists – it has plenty of opportunities for taking pictures. Lombard Street is mostly busy throughout the day, though you can probably see it without people early in the morning. The street is easily reachable by the Powell Hyde cable car line. The cable car stops at the top of the hill from where you can see the street from above.

Mission District 

San Francisco’s Mission District is the best place to experience Latin American culture in the city. The Mission District has many claims to glory. This is the area where the famous Mission-style burrito was introduced to the world. Today, visitors frequent taquerias to try the large burrito. Mission District also has many pubs and cafes and is a great nightlife hotspot in the city. Other things to do in Mission District include the murals of Balmy Alley and the Mission Dolores which is the oldest building in San Francisco. The Mission District is a great alternative to the city’s busy tourist’s attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman’s Wharf.

Ferry Building Marketplace 

Ferry Building Marketplace should be at the top of the bucket list for most visitors when visiting San Francisco. The building has many highlights: it was the arrival point for many visitors to the city in the 19th century. The building has excellent architecture and its clock tower is a famous landmark of the city. The building looks equally beautiful from the water. However, the Ferry Building Marketplace is also home to the city;s best food halls. It has a variety of food stalls, eateries, grocery stores, small restaurants, and cafes and is a must visit for foodies. At the Ferry Building Marketplace, you can find all types of foods and Bay area staples like seafood, fish and chips, freshly shucked oysters, gourmet coffee, Japanese food, artisan cheeses, dairy products, and spices as well as nuts. Tourists are attracted by the number of food stalls, food diversity and the quality of food at the marketplace. This is a great place to have lunch or dinner near the San Francisco Embarcadero. 

Coit Tower 

Coit Tower is located in Pioneer Park in the Telegraph Hill neighborhood. The tower is 210 foot tall and rises over the peak of Telegraph Hill. Coit Tower is an iconic landmark of San Francisco and is designated on the National Register of Historic Places. The Coit Tower is a significant landmark of the San Francisco skyline but remains a relatively hidden gem since very few tourists visit it. Coit Tower was completed in 1933. The shape of Coit Tower resembles a fire hose nozzle and it is dedicated to volunteer firefighters who died defending the city from major fires. The tower is built in Art Deco style of architecture and is beautiful inside out. Inside the tower, visitors can see murals in Social Realism style that were painted by 25 artists in 1934. The murals are beautiful and the tower is like a free art gallery. The top of the Coit Tower has 360 degree panoramic views of the city and visitors can see most major landmarks including Lombard Street, Ferry Building, etc from above. 

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art 

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art was the first museum of its kind in San Francisco city. It was the first museum dedicated to the display and preservation of modern art on the entire West Coast. The museum was founded in 1935 and has been serving the community for more than eighty years. The museum was initially located at the War Memorial Veterans Building before moving to its current Downtown location. More than twenty-nine thousand pieces of works of art are displayed in the museum. The exhibits range from paintings and sculptures to photographs and modern architectural features. The museum’s rooftop garden has many stunning sculptures and a great view of the San Francisco skyline. The museum is a must visit for art enthusiasts.


The Exploratorium is a museum of science, technology, and arts. It is located on the Embarcadero at Pier 15. Entering the Exploratorium enables us to participate in hands-on scientific experiments and discover many facets of life. It has many galleries based on human behavior, body systems, physics, etc. At the exploratorium, you can see unique exhibits such as what would the world be if it were colorless or allows us to play simulated games based on memory, perception, and emotions. It is one of the best places in San Francisco for kids of all ages. The six galleries offer a variety of interactive exhibits and you can easily spend half a day at the attraction. It is one of the best places to stop while on a Pacific Coast Highway road trip with kids.

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