30 Best Things to Do and Places to Visit in San Francisco

30 Best Things to Do and Places to Visit in San Francisco

San Francisco has something for everyone. Whether you are looking for culture, nature, history, or day-time entertainment, you will find it in this vibrant and diverse metropolis. But with so many activities to choose from, how can you choose what to do? 

To help you plan your trip, we have compiled a list of some of the best things to do in San Francisco that are free or affordable. Here you can find anything from stunning scenery, fascinating museums, beautiful parks, to delicious restaurants and fine art without breaking the bank. 

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17 minutes read

Things to do:

1. Stroll the Japanese tea gardens

The Tea Gardens is among the oldest public Japanese gardens in the United States. Created in 1894, the garden now features diverse scenery, including plants, ponds, architecture, and statues all inspired by Japan’s beautiful culture.

Photo: Irina Kosareva /shutterstock.com

Visitors can enjoy a traditional tea ceremony at the Tea House or simply relax and admire the serene surroundings. The garden is especially popular during the cherry blossom season in spring.

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 2. Take a Victorian home walk

The Victorian Home Walk is just one of hundreds of new tours popping up across the city. On this two-hour tour by foot, you can see over 200 Victorians. The guide walks you through Pacific Heights, where “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “The Princess Diaries,” and other movies and shows were filmed. You’ll also see inside a Queen Anne Victorian. 

Photo: Mada_Cris /shutterstock.com

In addition to exploring Victorian architecture, you can also learn about the neighborhood’s history and hear interesting anecdotes from the guide. The outdoor tour provides a unique 

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3. Enjoy a fancy meal at Chapeau

  • Cuisine type: French Cuisine
  • Cost: 3-course meal for $75
  • When: Dinner only (5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.) closed Mon & Tues
  • Where: Richmond 

There is no shortage of restaurant options. One spot that stands out to us is Chapeau, an iconic French restaurant that has been around since 1972.

Photo: Tatjana Baibakova/shutterstock.com

Guests can indulge in delicious French cuisine, filling up an out-of-this-world 3-course meal that is sure to satisfy them. While the price point is on the higher end, it is worth every penny. 

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4. Immerse yourself in the fine arts

San Francisco city has a deep connection to fine arts, so we have to include the Fine Arts Museum in our list. The Fine Arts Museum consists of two buildings, each with its own collection of artistic works.

Photo: famsf.org

The first building is The De Young, whose architecture alone is considered art. The other building is the Legion of Honor, which showcases art exhibits from the Renaissance period, along with art from the 18th and 19th centuries.

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5. Indulge at Tartine Bakery

Tartine Bakery is a must if you’re looking for the perfect breakfast or brunch spot in the city or if you simply want something sweet and tasty. Here, you can enjoy a delicious meal built with quality ingredients and made with love and soul.

Their famous tartines (hence the name) bring customers back time and time again. For those who don’t know, a tartine is a European style open-faced sandwich. The bakery also has a large selection of incredible baked goods such as breads and pies. 

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6. Explore the botanical gardens

The Botanical Garden is as pretty as art. The garden is a 55-acre naturesanctuary, home to more than 9,000 different varieties of plants from across the globe (and new ones being introduced), organized in three gardens and 27 thematic places.

Photo: Pung /shutterstock.com

You can discover the dense tropical rainforest, the aromatic Mediterranean garden, the old redwood grove, the vivid California native plants, and many more. These gardens are perfect for those looking to see the beauty of nature in the busy city. 

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7. Go bar hopping!

  • Cost: $$-$$$
  • When: Open as late as 2 a.m., depending on the bar 
  • Where: Try going all over town to try something new!

This lively city has plenty of new and old bars to try, and bar hopping is a popular activity. A few SF bars that we recommend are Vesuvio Café, Lions Den Lounge.

These 2 bars each have their own unique vibe and will take you to different corners of the city throughout the day.

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8. Ride a cable car

Riding a cable car through the city street is one of the most iconic and memorable experiences you can have in SF. Cable cars are not only a mode of transportation, but also a historic attraction (operating since 1873) that showcases the city’s charm.

Photo: sfmta.com

You can enjoy the scenic visability of the bay, the hills, and the landmarks as you glide along the streets. You can also hop on and off at different stops to explore the neighborhoods, such as Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, Nob Hill, and Union Square.

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9. Check out the Sutro Baths

If you’re looking for a unique and scenic spot to explore, head to the Sutro Baths, the ruins of a former public bathhouse that was once the largest in the world. Built in 1896 by entrepreneur Adolph Sutro, the baths featured seven saltwater pools, a museum, a concert hall, and a restaurant. 

Photo: MightyPix /shutterstock.com

A fire in 1966 ruined the baths, but today you can explore the trails and observe the ruins of the pools, tunnels, and walls. You can also admire the scenery of the sea and the cliffs. 

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10. Vibe at Amoeba Music

If you love record shops, don’t miss the chance to visit Amoeba Music, one of the largest independent record stores. Located on Haight Street, Amoeba offers a vast selection of CDs, vinyl, DVDs, posters, and memorabilia from all genres and eras. 

Photo: tripadvisor.com

You can browse through the aisles for hours, discover new artists, listen to live performances or trade in your old records for cash or credit. Amoeba Music is more than just a store; it’s a cultural institution that celebrates the diversity and creativity of San Francisco’s old and new art scene.

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11. Take Whale Tours during the day

San Francisco whale tours offer a unique opportunity to see the majestic whales of the Pacific Ocean up close and personally. You can choose from various tours that leave the bay, depending on the season and your preference.

Photo: idreamphoto /shutterstock.com

During which you can enjoy the spectacular views of iconic overpasses, Alcatraz Island, and the skyline along the way. You will also learn about the ecology of the whales and their habitat from the experienced naturalists on board. 

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12. Indulge in Chocolate in Ghirardelli Square

Calling all chocolate lovers! Ghirardelli Square was a chocolate factory that closed in the late 1890s after operating for 50 years. Around the 1980s, the old factory was converted into a shopping center that still retains the essence of Ghirardelli.

Today, tourist spend time in the region to indulge in delectable chocolates, get their retail fix, and enjoy a meal at one of the many restaurants. 

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13. Hike up to Coit Tower

One of the best things to do in San Francisco is to take in the sights and not much beats Coit Tower. The slender, white concrete structure was completed and brand new in 1933 and allowed visitors to enjoy the incredible view, 210 ft (60m) in the air.

Photo: Max Geller /shutterstock.com

You can choose between a fast elevator trip or walking up the 13 floors for a more satisfying experience to reach the top (don’t worry, we won’t tell if you take the elevator down). The best part is that it is free to stay on the first floor and $3 to go to the top floor, making it highly affordable. Oh! And don’t forget to enjoy a cup of coffee at the Coit Café nearby. 

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14. Catch a show in the Theater District

If you love live entertainment, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to catch a show. This vibrant area is home to some of the most iconic and venues in San Francisco, such as the Curran, the Orpheum, and the Golden Gate Theatre.

Photo: tripadvisor.com and  Photo: EA230311 / shutterstock.com

You can find a variety of shows to suit your taste, from Broadway musicals and plays to comedy acts and concerts. The area also offers plenty of dining and nightlife options, so you can make an entire night out of it. New shows are popping up all the time so don’t worry about any shortages!

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15. Find and climb Famous Stairs

Did you know that San Francisco is home to numerous colorful staircases. In fact, there is even a book dedicated to them, leading many to take on a challenging scavenger hunt to seek them all out.

Originally serving as a practical solution to maneuver the steep hills, these staircases have evolved into more than just a means of getting from one point to another. While some offer breathtaking views, others showcase vibrant artwork, each possessing its own distinct charm.

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16. Visit Oracle Park

If your trip coincides with baseball season, consider spending an afternoon at Oracle Park. Home to the San Francisco Giants, the park offers stunning views of the skyline and the iconic Bay Bridge.

Be sure to catch a game, take a tour, and check out the Giants’ Hall of Fame and learn about the teams past and legends. 

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17. Take a ferry

Never been on a ferry? Try something new and take one to Sausalito and enjoy the scenic 30-minute ride across the bay. It is a great way to enjoy the city skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz Island.

Photo: Sergii Figurnyi / shutterstock.com

On many of the boats, there are both outdoor and indoor seating, which accommodates the preferences of each ride. 

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18. Drive on Lombard Street

If you are looking not only for the best things to do in San Francisco but also something unique, check out Lombard Street. This street has a complex design, with one block that contains 8 hairpin curves on a steep slope.

Photo: Lewis Liu / shutterstock.com

Throughout its existence, the road has become a hotspot for tourists, and many consider it a scenic drive. The top portion of Lombard Street has sights of the city below, making it ideal for sightseeing. 

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Places to visit:

19. Fisherman’s Wharf

  • Cost: Free to walk around
  • When: Open all year round 
  • Where: Fisherman’s Wharf Community Benefit 

Fisherman’s Wharf is a popular tourist destination known for its incredible waterfront, delicious seafood, unique shopping experiences, and many family-friendly attractions, such as sea lion watching in the bay!

Photo: canadastock / shutterstock.com

Whether it’s catching some good views or indulging in delicious food, Fisherman’s Wharf has it all. Plus, the multiple transportation lines available make getting to the wharf easy. 

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20. Presidio Tunnel Tops

The Presidio Tunnel Tops is a unique spot that presents spectacular visability of the Golden Gate Bridge, the surrounding bay, and the city skyline. It is large enough that visitors can also explore trails and gardens, and children can play on playgrounds.

Photo: Ricardo Canino/shutterstock.com

There are even vendors from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the week and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekends. With incredible views, plenty of space for lunch, and family fun activities, the tunnel tops are a great way to spend a beautiful afternoon. 

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21. Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz is a small island across the bay that was formerly a military fort and a high-security federal prison. However, due to its harsh and inhumane conditions, it was closed two decades later in 1963.

What remains of Alcatraz Island today tells stories of American imprisonment, justice, and our shared humanity. We definitely recommend checking out this former ocuppied island. 

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22. The Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge is a suspended overpass in California. It is known for its distinctive red color and its span of 1.7 miles. Many visitors like to view the bridge at a distance from one of the many viewing points around the bay.

Photo by Ragnar Vorel on Unsplash

Others may also enjoy taking time out of their day to cross the bridge and bay themselves. We should warn you, though, that crossing the bridge can be frightening for those with a fear of heights. But we also recommend facing your fears, so go ahead and cross that bridge! 

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23. China Town

  • Cost: No cost to explore
  • When: Open all year round
  • Where: China Town 

San Francisco’s Chinatown is among the largest and oldest Chinese enclaves in America. Tourists flock to this part of town to enjoy authentic Dim Sum, participate in karaoke nights, enjoy Chinese cuisine, and immerse themselves in a Chinese culture without ever leaving the States.

Photo: SvetlanaSF /shutterstock.com

Consider hitting some of the top spots: The Tin How Temple, The Fortune Cookie Factory, and Grant Avenue

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24. Buena Vista Park

As Fog city’s oldest park, Buena Vista Park has an amazing eyeshot of the bay from its upper slopes. It also has one of city’s few remaining live oak groves. Many animals and birds, such as squirrels, sapsuckers, nuthatches, and mice, live in these oaks.

The park also has an odd history, with some of its trails and drainages having headstones from old cemeteries that the city removed long ago.

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25. Palace of fine arts

The Palace of Fine Arts is an attraction in the city that has a beautiful dome and curved columns, and does not charge any admission fee. It’s located in a colorful park on the north side of San Francisco. It is one of the few structures left from the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition.

Photo by Jesse Collins on Unsplash

It’s the biggest structure left and attracts hundreds of visitors daily. It was meant to be a temporary structure for the expo and had plans to be demolished. But people loved it, so they kept it, and people still go see it today, admires its beauty and art. 

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26. The Mission District

The Mission neighborhood is a hot spot in SF, a vibrant neighborhood celebrating its diverse and artistic culture.

The area is known for its colorful murals, which depict the past and current struggles of the Latino community, as well as its trendy bars, restaurants, and cafes, where you can enjoy a variety of cuisines from Mexican to vegan.

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27. Lands ends trail

If you are looking for an adventure away from the street and a day outdoors instead, you should definitely head out to the Lands End Trail. This trail offers a great perspective of the Pacific Ocean, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Marin Headlands and opportunities to explore the unique nature of this rugged corner of the city.

Photo by Sid Verma on Unsplash

The trail is about 3.5 miles long and follows the cliffs along the coast from the Sutro Baths to the Sea Cliff neighborhood. You will encounter rocky beaches, hidden coves, wildflowers, wildlife, and historic landmarks along the way. You can also branch off to other trails that lead to the Legion of Honor Museum, the USS Memorial, and the West Fort Miley batteries.

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28. Muir Woods

If you are looking for a peaceful escape from the city, Muir Woods National Monument is the perfect outdoor place to visit. Muir Woods is a stunning old-growth forest of coastal redwoods, some of Earth’s tallest and oldest living things.

Photo by Caleb Jones on Unsplash

You can explore the beauty of these ancient trees along six miles of trails, ranging from easy to moderate difficulty. Along the way, you can enjoy the sights and sounds of the wildlife that inhabit the woods, such as deer, squirrels, owls, and woodpeckers. 

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29. California Academy of Sciences

The California Academy of Sciences is a world-class research and education center. It houses an aquarium, a planetarium, a natural history museum, and a living rainforest. Visitors can explore the wonders of the natural world and engage in interactive exhibits, live shows, and hands-on activities.

Overall, the California Academy of Sciences is a popular destination for families, students, and tourists who want to learn more about the diversity and beauty of life on Earth and beyond. And who knows? Maybe you will even learn something new!

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30. Washington Square

Washington Square is one of the most iconic landmarks in San Francisco, located in the heart of the North Beach neighborhood.

It is a vibrant and lively place where you can enjoy the panoramic view of the famous Coit Tower and the Saints Peter and Paul Church, as well as the colorful street performers and artists. Washington Square is also surrounded by some of the best restaurants, cafes, and bars in the city. 

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Photo: Marcus E Jones /shutterstock.com

Simplifying your travel with ZenHotels

One of the best ways to experience San Fran is to stay at one of the many ZenHotels in the city. Whether you are looking for a cozy boutique hotel, a lush suite, or budget-friendly accommodation, ZenHotels has something for everyone. You can enjoy the stunning views of the bay, the famous landmarks, and the nightlife, all within walking distance of your hotel. 

If you are planning to visit soon, don’t miss the chance to book your stay with ZenHotels.

You can browse through hundreds of verified reviews, compare prices, and find the best deals on our website. You can also read our blog for more tips and insights on how to make the most of your trip to the Golden Gate City. From the best restaurants and bars to the hidden gems and local attractions, we have you covered.

Check out ZenHotels today and discover why we are the ultimate choice for travelers!

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