San Francisco is one of those cities that never gets old, no matter how many times you visit.
There’s always a neighborhood you haven’t explored yet, or a scenic spot that you didn’t go to last time, or an activity that you missed on your last visit. I’ve just completed my third trip to San Francisco, and there were still plenty of activities for me to occupy my time.
I challenge you to find someone who doesn’t like San Fran. It’s the kind of city that you just can’t help but like. Those Victorian houses with their bay windows and bright colors will have your heart in a matter of moments.
If you’re planning a California trip anytime soon, here are 12 things to do in San Francisco!
1. THE MISSION DISTRICT
The Mission is my absolute fave area of San Fran. It’s covered in street art (don’t miss the murals of Clarion Alley), and filled with weirdos and young people smoking a joint and playing guitar in Dolores Park.
And of course, you absolutely have to get a mission burrito – a large burrito, filled with rice and beans, and toasted on the outside. There are loads of places to get one, we went to Mateo’s the minute we arrived in San Fran and devoured a huge veggie burrito on the spot.
While you’re in The Mission, be sure to also head to The Castro which is the vibrant local gay district.
2. ANCHOR BREWERY
I have done loads of brewery tours in my lifetime, but this one stands out as by far the best. Not only was it awesome to walk around the brewery and hear a passionate local talk about the beers the brewery makes, but it also included free tastings!
When I did this tour back in 2013 I paid absolutely nothing, but these days it costs $20 per person. Still, it’s 100% worth it. The tour books up in advance, so I’d advise booking as early as possible.
I absolutely love hanging out in Haight-Ashbury, otherwise known as ‘The Haight’. This area is known for being the origin of hippie subculture. Yep. In the 1960’s, this is where it all started.
If you wander along Haight Street between Golden Gate Park and Buena Vista Park, you’ll find loads of cafes, boutique stores, vape shops, vintage clothing, and of course the famous Amoeba Music record store. A great way to spend a few hours away from the bustle of downtown.
4. 16TH AVENUE TILED STEPS
I saw an image of these steps on Pinterest while I was researching things to do in San Fran, and of course I just had to seek them out and take my own photo (such a typical photographer).
You’ll likely need a car to find these steps as they’re not near to any of the other major attractions in San Fran. Head to the intersection of Moraga St and 16th Ave, and you should be able to find street parking close to the bottom of the steps.
5. THE PAINTED LADIES
The first time I went to San Fransisco I was on a bus tour, and we drove past the Painted Ladies so quickly that I barely had time for a blurry-out-the-window-photo. This time, I went back and did it properly.
The Painted Ladies are a set of 7 iconic San Franciscan houses, built in the 1890s, with gorgeous views of the city behind them. If you grew up watching Full House, you’ll probably start humming the theme song when you’re looking at the houses from Alamo Park as it will no doubt bring back memories of the show’s intro.
6. COIT TOWER
If you’re like me and actively seek out city views, then Coit Tower is a must while you’re in San Fran. The tower sits atop Telegraph Hill where you can look out over the city and the bay.
While you’re up there, check out the adorable houses of Telegraph Hill – they’re absolutely gorgeous and will definitely have you wishing that you were wealthy enough to live there.
7. LOMBARD STREET
Lombard Street is a steep one-block street that has 8 hairpin turns, making it the most crooked street in the world. Robert and I didn’t get to drive down it last time we visited San Francisco, so this time, we made it our mission.
Alcatraz is one of the most popular attractions in San Fran, so remember to book ahead as there are limited spots available. You can get a ticket that will get you on the ferry out to the island in the bay, where you’ll then walk up to the top of the rocky cliff and into the prison itself. You’ll also be provided with an audio guide where you can listen to commentary while wandering around at your own pace.
Another option for seeing Alcatraz without actually going on to Alcatraz Island is the Escape from the Rock boat tour. This cruise will take you under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz Island with commentary explaining the history of the prison.
9. FISHERMAN’S WHARF
Fisherman’s wharf tends to get fairly crowded with tourists, but if you can handle sightseeing while you’re squished in with a bunch of other people then it’s definitely worth a look. Take a look at the sea lions lazing about on Pier 39, grab some clam chowder, or take a Fisherman’s Wharf Walking Tour.
10. THE CABLE CARS
It wouldn’t be a trip to San Francisco without a ride on one of the famed cable cars. One tip for grabbing a cable car is to get on a few stops from the end of the track – you’ll avoid long lines this way and will be able to hop on quickly.
Unlimited transportation on the cable cars is included in the San Francisco CityPass.
11. GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE
The beloved Golden Gate Bridge, arguably the most iconic landmark in San Fran. There are a number of ways to see it:
- You can walk or ride a bike across the bridge. A great option is to head to Sausalito on the other side, then catch a ferry back to downtown.
- Drive across and head to the lookout points on the other side, which is where you’ll get the best views (though note that there’s a toll when you drive across the bridge).
- Go to Lands End for views on the San Fran side.
12. LANDS END
Lands End is great if you like to insert a little nature in to your city stays. It’s a beautiful park with loads of trees and walking paths along the coastline, and it has some fabulous views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.
You can also check out the ruins of Sutro Baths, a historic site where there used to be a grand public swimming pool which mysteriously burnt down in a fire during it’s deconstruction in 1966.