31 BEST Things to do in San Francisco [December 2019]

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While it’s most famous for the Golden Gate Bridge, you’ll soon discover that there’s a lot more San Francisco than meets the eye!

A city with a rich history and vibrant modern flare, any trip to San Francisco is guaranteed to be a time you’ll never forget.

From natural parks to excellent cuisine, there’s a little bit of everything to enjoy in this coastal Californian city. To help you plan out your trip, check out this list of the best things to do in San Francisco!

Table of Contents

Our Favorite Places to Stay in San Francisco!

Whether your goal in San Francisco is to check out the nightlife or you’re hoping to make day trips to nearby parks, here are some of the best places in San Francisco to ensure you’re comfortable and well-rested for your vacation adventures!

San Remo Hotel

The best option in Fisherman’s Wharf San Francisco

San Remo Hotel

San Remo Hotel is our pick for the best option in Fisherman’s Wharf San Francisco

  • Completely non-smoking!
  • Renowned Italian restaurant

The San Remo hotel combines historic charm with modern comfort; decoration features Victorian furnishings, while you’ll also have free Wi-Fi and ATM on site.

In the Fisherman’s Wharf area, you’ll be walking distance from the top cultural attractions of San Francisco as well as numerous dining and shopping options!

 

Hotel Nikko San Francisco

The best option close to Union Square San Francisco

Hotel Nikko San Francisco

Hotel Nikko San Francisco is our pick for the best option close to Union Square San Francisco

  • Modern, artsy decorations
  • Perfect location!

Just a few minutes’ walk from Union Square, you’ll be right in on the action of San Francisco at the Hotel Nikko!

Onsite you can enjoy a restaurant, pool, salon, large bathtubs, and 24-hour room service to make sure you comfortable and relaxed during your stay!

Still haven’t booked for San Francisco? We’ve organized the best places to stay in San Francisco for all types of trips!

Palace Hotel

The best luxury option in San Francisco

Palace Hotel

Palace Hotel is our pick for the best luxury option in San Francisco

  • Elegant restored architecture
  • Top-of-the-line service!

From the restaurant featuring crystal chandeliers to the indoor pool with a large glass-domed roof, you’ll be staying in real style at the Palace Hotel!

Enjoy amenities such as a 24-hour fitness center, marble baths, and a highly acclaimed onsite bar. Within walking distance are numerous top attractions of San Francisco!

 

The 31 Best Things to do in San Francisco

 

#1 – Bay Cruise to View the Golden Gate Bridge

Bay Cruise to View the Golden Gate Bridge

The perfect way to enjoy the scenery of San Francisco

  • World-famous views!
  • Awesome photographs
  • Must-do in San Francisco

It’s impossible to come to San Francisco without visiting the famous Golden Gate Bridge!

Whether you’re in the city for a weekend or a week, a bay cruise offers the best view of San Francisco’s top landmark and also lets you learn some interesting history along the way.

 

Let’s make this simple. These are the best hotels in San Francisco!

#2 – Take a Stroll through Golden Gate Park

Take a Stroll through Golden Gate Park

A top outdoor activity within city limits (Photo Credit – bucketlistjourney.net)

  • More than 1,000 acres!
  • No cars on Sunday
  • Gardens, pathways, and landmarks

Of course you’ve heard of the Golden Gate Bridge, but what about Golden Gate Park? One of the top parks of San Francisco, you should definitely check out this green space!

Enjoy exotic blossoms in the Conservatory of Flowers, visit Shakespeare’s Garden, and see bison in the bison paddock!

What sort of trip are you planning? Downtown San Francisco has incredible hotels for all types of visits!

#3 – Hike in Muir Woods

Hike in Muir Woods

The perfect nature activity in San Francisco

  • See the redwoods!
  • Close to San Francisco
  • Incredible natural wonder

The Californian redwoods are the tallest trees in the world! Make sure you include a trip to Muir Woods on your itinerary to see them for yourself.

An easy 30-minute drive from San Francisco, there are plenty of tours to choose from depending on how much time you want to spend exploring the area!

 

#4 – Ride a Cable Car

Ride a Cable Car

See the historic side of San Francisco (Photo Credit – sftodo.com)

  • Classic San Francisco
  • A fun historic activity
  • 3 remaining lines!

Once the primary form of public transportation in San Francisco, the cable cars are now more of a historic tourist attraction.

It’s a fun way to look back on old times of San Francisco and ride through some of the popular downtown neighborhoods!

Editor’s Recommendation: Break up your time in San Francisco by taking a scenic day trip!

#5 – Sample Sonoma and Napa Valley Wine

Sample Sonoma and Napa Valley Wine

Things to do in San Francisco this weekend

  • Famous Californian wine country!
  • Beautiful countryside landscape
  • Visit local wineries!

The Sonoma and Napa Valleys of California produce some of the most famous wine in the world!

Both are easy day trips from San Francisco, giving you the opportunity to enjoy the landscape, learn about the winemaking process, and of course, have plenty of taste tests!

 

#6 – Enjoy nature in Presidio

  • Former military base
  • Beautiful eucalyptus trees!
  • Great hiking and biking

Not only is the natural scenery of Presidio a welcome escape from the traffic of San Francisco, but you’ll also have a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz!

This former military base has been converted into one of the best green areas near San Francisco, and a perfect place to get some fresh air.

Insider tip – Use our expert guide to see when the best time to visit San Francisco is!

#7 – Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tours

Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tours

One of the best things to do in downtown San Francisco

  • All the top landmarks
  • Double decker buses!
  • Sightsee at your own pace

If you’d rather take your time to see the attractions of San Francisco, a hop-on hop-off bus tour is the way to go!

There are numerous ticket options depending on how much time you’re in the city and which attractions you’re most interested in seeing.

 

#8 – Ride in a Helicopter

Ride in a Helicopter

A great activity for adventure seekers in San Francisco

  • Bird’s eye view!
  • Golden Gate, Angel Island, and more
  • Exhilarating ride!

Hoping for a bit of an adrenaline rush? Hop onboard a helicopter tour to give you a whole new perspective of the San Francisco area!

Not only will you get a stunning view, but you can also learn some interesting historic facts from the pilot along the way.

 

#9 – Try Food at the Ferry Building Marketplace

Try Food at the Ferry Building Marketplace

A top foodie experience in San Francisco (Photo Credit – dissolve.com)

  • Largest farmer’s market in the city!
  • Great local options
  • Fruit, veggies, flowers, and more

To get the freshest food of the area, the Ferry Building Marketplace is the spot to go!

If you’re staying in self-catering accommodation, you can pick up ingredients for a tasty meal, otherwise, there are plenty of prepared food vendors to sample the local items.

 

#10 – Visit the Infamous Alcatraz Island

Visit the Infamous Alcatraz Island

  • Top landmark!
  • Inmate’s stories
  • Unique historic site

One of the top tourist attractions of San Francisco is the one-time prison, Alcatraz.

Top criminals such as Al Capone were once held in these walls! You can tour the island for yourself and listen to the suspenseful tales of past inmates and the legacy of the prison!

 

#11 – See a Game at Oracle Park

See a Game at Oracle Park

A great option for sports fans in San Francisco (Photo Credit – cbssports.com)

  • San Francisco Giants!
  • Fun local experience
  • Famous for Wi-Fi hotspots!

Not only is Oracle Park a fun place to watch a baseball game, but it’s also one of the world’s largest public wireless areas!

Winning numerous awards for design and accessibility, Oracle Park has become one of San Francisco’s top landmarks.

 

#12 – Day Trip to Yosemite

Day Trip to Yosemite

Discover the natural wonders of California!

  • See Yosemite Falls!
  • Giant Sequoia trees
  • One-of-a-kind experience

One of the top natural wonders close to San Francisco is Yosemite National Park, most famous for its iconic waterfall.

It’s an easy day trip from San Francisco, giving you plenty of time to walk around, explore, and get some amazing photos that will make all your friends back at home jealous!

 

#13 – Enjoy the View from Coit Tower

Enjoy the View from Coit Tower

One of the best photography sites in San Francisco (Photo Credit – Reddit)

  • Built in 1933
  • Iconic symbol of San Francisco
  • 360-degree view!

The much-loved Coit Tower was named after Lillie Hitchcock Coit, the wealthy city dweller whose request brought about the building of the monument.

Tourists can enjoy the observation deck with a marvelous view out over the city and San Francisco Bay area!

 

#14 – Experience History at Angel Island

Experience History at Angel Island

  • “Ellis Island of the West”
  • Top historic site
  • Now a State Park!

A short ferry ride away from San Francisco is the historic Angel Island, the spot where immigrants arriving on the west coast of the United States used to be processed.

It’s an incredible place to visit, one full of stories where you can learn about the people who once crossed the Ocean set on the dream of America!

 

#15 – Off the Grid Food Truck Fun

A very cool thing to do in San Francisco

  • Great evening activity!
  • Family friendly
  • Live music!

If you’re hoping to get in on the local scene of San Francisco, Off the Grid is the spot to be!

Off the Grid events are food truck gatherings hosted in various locations around the city. It’s evenings of firepits, lawn games, and all-around good cheer.

 

#16 – View Galleries at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

 View Galleries at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

  • Newly expanded!
  • 7 floors of galleries
  • Amazing collections!

Reopened in 2016 bigger and better than before, the SFMOMA has clearly made its status as one of the top attractions of the city!

Covering 170,000 square feet, there are over 33,000 pieces of artwork held at the museum! Browse through the galleries, enjoy the view from the terraces, and grab a bit at the onsite café.

 

#17 – Afternoon in Dolores Park

Afternoon in Dolores Park

Great thing to do in San Francisco with kids (Photo Credit – popsugar.com)

  • Historic site
  • Great spot for families
  • Barbecues, tightropes, and more!

With excellent playground equipment and public restrooms, Dolores Park is a great spot to bring the whole family!

Weekends are particularly popular, with people coming for barbecues, hula-hooping, or simply to relax on the large inflatable couches!

 

#18 – Ride in a Hot Air Balloon

Ride in a Hot Air Balloon

One of the best fun things to do in San Francisco

  • Stunning view of Napa Valley!
  • Mount Saint Helena
  • Amazing perspective

Take your vacation to the next level in a hot air balloon ride over the beautiful Napa Valley of California!

You’ll be able to see the agricultural area and Mount Saint Helena during your incredible flight.

 

#19 – Murals of Mission District

One of the best free things to do in San Francisco

  • Over 200 murals!
  • Amazing local art
  • An enormous outdoor gallery

The detailed murals of the Mission District have captivated tourists from around the world traveling to San Francisco!

Definitely check out these incredible masterpieces! Some of the most famous are found on Caledonia Alley, Osage Alley, and Cypress Alley.

 

#20 – Sunset Cruises

Sunset Cruises

A great romantic activity in San Francisco

  • A new light on the city
  • Relaxing evening
  • Sailing in style!

The perfect way to round off a day in San Francisco is to take a luxury catamaran cruise to watch the sunset!

With the Golden Gate Bridge in the background, the skyline of San Francisco will take on a new and beautiful glow as the sun dips below the horizon.

 

#21 – Roller skate at the Church of 8 Wheels

Roller skate at the Church of 8 Wheels

One of the more unique things to do in San Francisco (Photo Credit – atlasobscura.com)

  • Cool skating venue!
  • Outside events on Fridays
  • Locals and tourists

Even if you’ve never tried roller skating before, the Church of 8 Wheels is welcoming to old-timers and newbies!

Rent a pair of skates and groove to the music at this once-church converted roller rink!

 

#22 – Discover Japantown

Discover Japantown

  • One of 3 Japantowns in the US!
  • Historic area
  • Delicious local cuisine!

San Francisco’s Japan town is an area of rich culture and historic significance and somewhere you’ll definitely want to check out on vacation.

There are plenty of fun walking tours for you to learn about the landmarks and sample some of the delicious traditional Japanese foods along the way!

 

#23 – Ride a Racing Yacht

Ride a Racing Yacht

An adventurists way to sightsee in San Francisco

  • Thrilling experience!
  • America’s Cup Class vessel
  • Sailing on the next level

Get ready for some speed when you climb aboard a world-class racing yacht in the San Francisco harbor!

It’s a step up from any other cruise in the area, and one that will give you a new appreciation for what it means to sail with speed and style.

 

#24 – Musée Mécanique

Musée Mécanique

One of the best cheap things to do in San Francisco (Photo credit – Musée Mécanique)

  • Old carnival games
  • Fun for all ages!
  • Tribute to old times

Salvaged games from the Playland and other carnival areas of San Francisco have been given a second life at the Musée Mécanique!

Adults can reminisce about past times while young children can get a kick out of playing all sorts of fun carnival games!

 

#25 – Admire Victorian Architecture

Admire Victorian Architecture

See the style of San Francisco

  • Learn local legends
  • San Francisco Victorian mansions
  • Interesting artifacts

San Francisco is famous for its lavish old Victorian homes including the iconic “Painted Ladies” located in Alamo Square.

On historic tours of San Francisco, you can visit some of the private properties which have been restored to hold collections of artifacts in a museum-style setting!

 

#26 – A Full-Sound Experience at The Audium

  • A concert like no other!
  • 176 speakers
  • All in darkness…

Turn off the lights and be left to only the sounds at The Audium!

It’s a listening experience like you’ve never had before, and checking out this unique theater is a must-do especially if you’re a music fan.

 

#27 – The California Academy of Sciences

The California Academy of Sciences

Discover how fun learning can actually be!

  • World famous museum!
  • Planetarium, rainforest, and more
  • Try a VIP pass!

Even if you’re not into science, the California Academy of Sciences just might change your mind!

This incredible museum is packed with fun displays like a 4-storey rainforest! With a VIP pass, you’ll have the opportunity to visit the museum without all the crowds…

 

#28 – Shoot Photos at the Lincoln Park Steps

  • Be ready for a climb!
  • Over 400 different stairways
  • Great city views

Take a break from the downtown region of San Francisco and take a hike (literally) to enjoy views from the tops of San Francisco’s hills!

The network of stairways includes some famous ones like a staircase of mosaic tiles and ones lined with beautiful gardens.

 

#29 – Eat Your Way through Chinatown

Eat Your Way through Chinatown

  • Historic area!
  • Local culture
  • Feels like you’re in China!

The authentic Chinese cuisine from the Chinatown neighborhood of San Francisco is one of the foodie highlights of the city!

Get a local guide who can point you to the best locally-owned places to try some of the signature recipes passed down through generations.

 

#30 – Sea Lions of Pier 39

A ‘cool’ thing to do in San Francisco in winter

  • Large colonies of sea lions!
  • Great photo opportunity
  • Local wildlife

During the winter months, large numbers of sea lions come to the San Francisco area and have been known to congregate around the Pier 39 area.

It’s a great chance to get some photos and watch these amazing creatures, bark, play, and splash around!

 

#31 – Technology of Silicon Valley

Technology of Silicon Valley

The future is here in San Francisco

  • Google, Apple, and Facebook!
  • World center of technology
  • See the future…

Silicon Valley has long been distinguished for its technology and development; being the headquarters of some of the biggest social media companies, it’s a place you won’t want to miss!

Fun tours allow you to visit some of the businesses, get cool photos, and see the direction technology will take us in the future!

 

Conclusion

San Francisco is one of the most famous travel destinations in the U.S. and for good reason! The great diversity in activities, the amazing natural surroundings, and the fun and vibrant culture all add to the allure. Discover what makes San Francisco so special for yourself during your next vacation!

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About the Author Nicola Smart

Gin lover. Coffee addict. Nicola has traveled the world for 7 years and is a staff writer for Hotel Jules. Born in London, Nicola first got the taste of travel studying abroad in Barcelona. Since then she's been hooked - traveling the world non-stop. Passionate about green travel and vegan lifestyle, Nicola spends more of her free time staring at maps wondering where she will head to next!