San Francisco is a top travel destination for many reasons: its natural beauty, its vibrant and diverse culture, its hills giving the city great views, top-notch food, and its role in the technology industry. The City by the Bay also boasts top attractions like Alcatraz Island, Fisherman’s Wharf, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Whether you’re looking to spend a day outdoors or explore the city’s museums, there’s something for you. In this post, I’ll share the 20 Top Things to Do in San Francisco that are sure to make your trip memorable.
Things to Do in San Francisco California
1. Golden Gate Bridge
If you’re looking for top attractions in San Francisco, you can’t go wrong with a visit to the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge. Spanning the Golden Gate, the 1.7-mile-long (2.7-kilometer) suspension bridge links San Francisco to Marin County. It’s one of the longest suspension bridges in the world and also one of the most photographed structures on earth.
The bridge was completed in 1937 and was, at the time, both the longest and tallest suspension bridge in the world. It’s been declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Although it’s fun to walk or bike across the Golden Gate Bridge (you can access the pedestrian walkway on the east side of the bridge), I think the best way to experience the structure is by taking a drive across it. On a clear day, you’ll have stunning views of San Francisco, the Bay, and Alcatraz Island.
There’s no fee to drive across the bridge, but there is a toll for southbound vehicles only. The best time to visit the Golden Gate Bridge is during the daytime. At night, the bridge is illuminated with orange-colored lights, making for a beautiful sight, but it can be difficult to get a good view because of the low light.
2. Golden Gate Park
Another top tourist attraction in San Francisco is Golden Gate Park. This sprawling urban park covers more than 1,000 acres (4 square kilometers). Within the park, you’ll find gardens, museums, lakes, and more.
Golden Gate Park is a great place to spend a day if you’re looking for things to do in San Francisco. The park has something for everyone. If you’re interested in art and culture, visit the de Young Museum or the California Academy of Sciences. Nature lovers will appreciate a stroll through the Japanese Tea Garden or a visit to the Conservatory of Flowers. And if you’re looking for peace and quiet, spend some time in one of the park’s many gardens or at Stow Lake.
There are also plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities in Golden Gate Park. You can go for a bike ride, take a walk, jog along one of the park’s many trails, or rent a boat and paddle around Stow Lake.
3. Fisherman’s Wharf
Fisherman’s Wharf is one of the tourist destinations in San Francisco, drawing more than 12 million visitors annually. The historic waterfront area is crammed with seafood restaurants, souvenir shops, and street performers.
The Wharf is also a departure point for boat trips around San Francisco Bay, including the popular Alcatraz Island tour. The area got its start in the 18th century when it was used as a docking area for ships. In the 19th century, immigrants from Italy and other countries arrived here, drawn by the promise of work in the city’s booming fishing industry.
Today, the seafood restaurants at Fisherman’s Wharf are top attractions in their own right. Dungeness crab is the star of the show, and you’ll find it served up in all sorts of delicious ways. I highly recommend Crab House at Pier 39 for a casual meal or Scoma’s for something a bit more upscale.
Of course, no visit to Fisherman’s Wharf would be complete without a stop at the world-famous Pier 39. This is one of the top attractions in San Francisco, and it’s easy to see why. The pier is home to a lively collection of shops, restaurants, and street performers. It’s also the best place in the city to get up close and personal with San Francisco’s famed sea lions.
Other top attractions at Fisherman’s Wharf include the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, Musee Mecanique (a delightful collection of vintage arcade games), and the Aquarium of the Bay.
4. Ghirardelli Square
Next on my list of top tourist attractions in San Francisco is Ghirardelli Square, a landmark public space that’s home to several popular restaurants, cafes, and specialty food shops. The Ghirardelli Chocolate Company was founded here in 1852, and the square still retains a certain old-fashioned charm.
The main attraction at Ghirardelli Square is, of course, the chocolate. You can buy all kinds of Ghirardelli chocolate products at the flagship store. But there are also several other excellent places to eat at Ghirardelli Square, including the popular ice cream shop, pizzeria, and seafood restaurant.
If you’re looking for a souvenir to take home, Ghirardelli Square is also a great place to find locally made gifts and products. There are several shops selling things like handmade jewelry, art, and clothes.
Ghirardelli Square is located in the Fisherman’s Wharf area of San Francisco. It’s easy to reach by public transportation, and there’s also a large parking garage if you’re coming by car.
San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest Chinese enclave outside Asia. It’s also one of the top tourist attractions in the city.
The Chinatown neighborhood occupies about 24 square blocks in the heart of downtown San Francisco. Grant Avenue is the main street, lined with souvenir shops, herbal medicine stores, bakeries, and restaurants. You’ll also find a handful of interesting sights, such as the Chinatown Gates on Bush Street, the Tin How Temple on Waverly Place, and the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum on Clay Street.
Be sure to stroll through Portsmouth Square, a small park that’s especially lively in the mornings when older Chinese residents do t’ai chi, play cards, and socialize. On Sundays, the square is taken over by an expansive open-air market selling everything from produce to fresh flowers.
Chinatown can be crowded and chaotic, especially on weekends, but it’s also one of the most vibrant and colorful neighborhoods in San Francisco.
6. Alcatraz Island
Alcatraz Island is one of the most popular tourist attractions in San Francisco. The island was home to a notorious federal prison from 1934 to 1963. Today, the island is a national historical landmark and a popular tourist destination.
Alcatraz Island is located in the San Francisco Bay, about 9.1 miles offshore from San Francisco. The island can be reached by ferry from Pier 33 on the San Francisco waterfront.
A tour of the island includes a visit to the former prison, which is now a museum. The museum is fascinating and provides an excellent history of the prison and its inmates. In addition to the prison, there are also plenty of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors on Alcatraz Island. There are great views of San Francisco and the Bay from various points on the island, and you can also go for a walk or hike on the island’s trails.
7. Angel Island State Park
If you’re looking for fun things to do in San Francisco, consider a visit to Angel Island State Park. The park is located in San Francisco Bay, and it is accessible by ferry from Pier 41. The ride takes about 25 minutes.
Angel Island was once a military base, and it is now a state park. The island has more than seven miles of hiking trails, and it is a great place to go for a hike or a bike ride. There are also several beaches on the island where you can relax and enjoy the views. There are also several picnic areas on the island with picnic tables where you can enjoy a picnic lunch.
In addition to its natural beauty, Angel Island State Park is also home to a number of historical sites. The Immigration Station on the island was used to process more than one million immigrants from 1910 to 1940. The station is now a National Historic Landmark, and it is open to the public for tours.
8. Cable Car Museum
The Cable Car Museum is another one of the top attractions in San Francisco for visitors who are interested in the city’s history. The museum is located in the Nob Hill district and houses a collection of antique cable cars and other artifacts related to the city’s public transportation history.
The museum is housed in the historic cable car power station, which was built in 1887. The power station supplied power to the city’s cable cars until it was decommissioned in 1971. The building was then converted into a museum, which opened to the public in 1974.
Inside the museum, visitors can learn about the history of cable cars and see how they operate. There is also a collection of historic photographs and artifacts. The museum also has a number of interactive exhibits, and it is also home to the world’s largest model of the cable car.
The Cable Car Museum is a great place to learn about the history of San Francisco and its public transportation system. The museum is small, but it is well worth a visit if you are interested in the city’s history.
9. Ride the Cable Cars
Riding the San Francisco cable cars is one of those quintessential tourist experiences that you simply cannot miss. The famous cable cars dating back to 1873, when Andrew Smith Hallidie developed the first system to move heavy streetcars up and down the city’s hilly streets.
Although the original cable cars were powered by steam engines, they were eventually replaced by electric motors. Today, the Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason lines are the only two remaining cable car lines in operation. Both rides will take you on a tour of some of San Francisco’s most popular tourist attractions, including Chinatown, Union Square, Nob Hill, and Fisherman’s Wharf.
Overall, riding the cable cars is a great experience. It’s a fun way to get around town and see some of the top tourist attractions in San Francisco. Just be prepared for long lines and crowds, especially during peak tourist season.
10. Legion of Honor
The Legion of Honor is one of San Francisco’s top tourist attractions. The museum, which is part of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, is located in Lincoln Park on a bluff overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.
The Legion of Honor was built in 1924 to commemorate Californians who lost their lives in World War I. The museum’s collection includes more than 4,000 works of art from Europe and the Americas. Highlights of the collection include paintings by Monet, Renoir, and Van Gogh; sculptures by Auguste Rodin and Canova; and an extensive collection of ancient and medieval art.
The Legion of Honor is popular because of its world-renowned art collection and its stunning setting. So if you’re an art lover, or even if you’re just looking for a beautiful place to spend an afternoon, the Legion of Honor is definitely worth a visit.
11. Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts is one of the top tourist attractions in San Francisco and a must-see on any visit to the city. The structure is a remnant of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, a world’s fair held in San Francisco in 1915. The building was designed by architect Bernard Maybeck and is one of the best-preserved examples of neoclassical architecture that was popular at the time.
The Palace of Fine Arts is located in the Marina district of San Francisco, close to the Golden Gate Bridge. The Palace grounds include a lagoon with walkways, gardens, and a colonnade of Corinthian columns. Inside the Palace, there is an auditorium, art gallery, and museum. The museum houses a collection of artifacts from the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, as well as rotating exhibitions of art.
So if you’re looking for a place to take some great photos or a nice place to walk around, the Palace of Fine Arts is definitely worth a visit.
12. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is a must-see for art lovers visiting the city. Although the museum only opened its current facility in 1995, it has a long history dating back to the early 20th century. In fact, the museum helped lead the city’s transformation into a modern metropolis.
The museum’s collection contains more than 33,000 works of art, making it one of the largest in the United States. The collection is especially strong in 20th-century and contemporary pieces by American and European artists. Some of the most notable works on display include paintings by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Jackson Pollock. The museum also has a significant collection of photographs, sculptures, and architecture.
In addition to the permanent collection, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art features rotating temporary exhibitions. These exhibitions showcase works from up-and-coming artists as well as some of the most celebrated names in the art world. The museum also offers a variety of educational programs, films, and concerts.
This is definitely a great place to spend a few hours if you’re interested in art and want to see some world-renowned pieces. Keep in mind that the museum can get quite crowded, especially on weekends. I suggest you buy your tickets in advance to avoid the long lines.
13. Ferry Building Marketplace
The Ferry Building Marketplace is one of San Francisco’s top tourist attractions, and it is easy to see why. The landmark Ferry Building, completed in 1898, is a beautiful example of Beaux-Arts architecture. It was the terminus for ferries that used to transport passengers and vehicles across San Francisco Bay.
The Ferry Building survived the 1906 earthquake and fire, but ferry service ceased in the 1930s when the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges were built. The Ferry Building was restored in 2003, and it is now home to an upscale food court and farmers market.
There are more than 40 specialty food vendors at the Ferry Building Marketplace, selling everything from fresh seafood to handcrafted chocolates. The farmers market is held three times a week and features fresh California produce. The market is a great place to buy gifts or souvenirs.
14. The California Academy of Sciences
The California Academy of Sciences is one of the top San Francisco attractions, and it’s also one of the most eco-friendly buildings in the world. The museum was built with sustainability in mind, and it features a 2.5-acre green roof that helps to insulate the building and reduce energy consumption. The roof is also fitted with solar panels that provide electricity for the museum.
The academy features the Steinhart Aquarium, home to more than 38,000 live animals from around the world. The Kimbell Natural History Museum, which contains specimens from every continent. And the Osher Rainforest, where you can walk among free-flying tropical birds.
The California Academy of Sciences also has a state-of-the-art planetarium where you can experience the night sky as it changes over time. And don’t miss the earthquake simulator, which gives you a taste of what it’s like to experience a major earthquake.
The Exploratorium isn’t your average museum. It’s an interactive learning center where you can explore the world around you through a variety of hands-on exhibits.
The museum was founded in 1969 by physicist and educator Frank Oppenheimer. His vision was to create a place where people of all ages could learn about science, art, and human perception through direct experience.
Today, the Exploratorium occupies a huge building on Pier 15 on San Francisco’s Embarcadero waterfront. The museum is particularly popular with families and school groups.
Some of the Exploratorium’s most popular exhibits include the following:
- The Wave Organ: This musical instrument is powered by the waves of the San Francisco Bay. It’s located on a pier next to the Exploratorium, so you can listen to it while enjoying views of Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge.
- The Tactile Dome: This is a pitch-black maze you can only navigate by touch. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a popular exhibit nonetheless.
- Human perception exhibits: These exhibits allow you to experiment with how your brain and body process information. For example, one exhibit lets you experience what it’s like to be colorblind.
If you’re visiting San Francisco with kids, they’ll likely want to spend all day at the Exploratorium. But even if you don’t have kids, I think you’ll enjoy this attraction. It’s a great place to learn about the world around you in a fun and interactive way.
16. De Young Fine Arts Museum
If you love art, don’t miss a visit to the de Young Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The museum’s collection includes more than 1,000 paintings, sculptures, and textiles. The museum features an impressive collection of American art from the 17th through the 20th centuries, as well as art from Central and South America, the Pacific Islands, and Africa. The American art collection is especially strong, with paintings by John Singleton Copley, Thomas Eakins, Mary Cassatt, and Andrew Wyeth.
Although the museum is most famous for its American art, don’t miss the superb collection of African art on the lower level. The de Young’s African art gallery is one of the best in the world, with a wide variety of masks, figures, and textiles.
de Young is definitely a top-notch museum, and it’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in San Francisco. The building itself is a work of art, with a sweeping copper facade inspired by the California coast’s topography.
17. Walt Disney Family Museum
Next on our list of San Francisco attractions is the Walt Disney Family Museum. The museum is located in the Presidio and chronicles the life and career of Walt Disney, one of the most influential filmmakers of the 20th century.
The museum is divided into ten galleries, each of which covers a different aspect of Disney’s life. The galleries feature interactive exhibits, videos, and photographs. The museum also has a theater where visitors can watch films from Disney’s early career.
The Walt Disney Family Museum is a must-see for anyone interested in the life of one of the most influential people in the history of animation. The museum is also a great place for families with children.
18. Presidio of San Francisco
The Presidio is a former military base that is now one of the top tourist attractions in San Francisco. The Presidio is located on a 1,491-acre site at the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula. It has more than 3.5 miles of shoreline and 24 miles of hiking and biking trails.
The Presidio is home to a number of historic buildings, including the Main Post, which is the former headquarters of the U.S. Army. The Main Post is now a National Historic Landmark and home to several museums and restaurants. Other notable buildings in the Presidio include the Officers’ Club, the Presidio Theatre, and the Chapel of Our Lady of the Angels.
The Presidio is also home to the San Francisco National Cemetery, the final resting place for more than 30,000 veterans. The area also has a golf course, tennis courts, and a swimming pool.
19. Twin Peaks
San Francisco’s Twin Peaks are two of the city’s top tourist attractions. The peaks, which are named for their identical height of 922 feet (281 meters), offer stunning views of the city and the Bay. On a clear day, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and the Marin Headlands.
The best way to get to Twin Peaks is by car. There is a parking lot at the top of one of the peaks, and street parking is available on the roads leading up to the peaks. From the top of the peaks, you can see downtown San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz Island.
If you are looking for a more challenging hike, you can hike to the top of Twin Peaks from the base of one of the peaks. The hike is about 0.7 miles (1.1 kilometers) and takes about 30 minutes. The trail is steep in places, but the views are worth it.
20. Asian Art Museum
If you love art, particularly Asian art, be sure to visit the Asian Art Museum. With a collection of more than 18,000 objects, it is one of the largest museums in the Western world devoted exclusively to Asian art.
The museum’s origin dates back to an exhibit of Chinese art in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1894. In 1966, San Francisco’s Chinatown was the subject of an urban renewal project, which forced many residents to move. The city decided to build a new library on the site of the old one, and in exchange for the property, the city gave the Chinatown residents a new library and an art museum.
The museum has an extensive collection of art from China, Japan, Korea, the Himalayas, India, Persia, Southeast Asia, and the Islamic world. The collection covers 6,000 years of history and includes paintings, sculptures, ceramics, jades, bronzes, lacquerware, textiles, furniture, and more.
Overall, the museum does an excellent job of presenting the material in an educational and visually appealing way. The galleries are well laid out, and the explanations of the exhibits are clear and concise. It’s definitely one of the top tourist attractions in San Francisco not to be missed.
San Francisco is a beautiful city with a lot to offer tourists. From the Golden Gate Bridge to the Ferry Building Marketplace, there are plenty of attractions to keep you busy. Whether you’re interested in history, architecture, or food, you’ll find something to suit your taste in San Francisco.