They say “only in San Francisco” for a reason. Known for culture, music, diversity, and picturesque views throughout the city, San Francisco is an eclectic city to visit. This city is “out there.” There are a lot of alternative lifestyles here, lots of hippies, and tons of college students. Throw in a very liberal bend, and you are going to get one of the funkiest and coolest cities in America. It’s also one of the most expensive cities to live in the US, so use the tips here to see the sights without depleting your budget!
Top 5 Things to See and Do in San Francisco
1. Tour Alcatraz
2. Walk the Golden Gate Bridge
3. Visit Golden Gate Park
4. Visit Wine Country
5. Visit the Palace of Fine Arts
Other Things to See and Do
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1. Hang out in the Mission
The mission district is a fabulous place to spend your night. After your busy day, go relax in Dolores Park for great views of the city (including the famous “Full House” house), amazing Mexican food, bars, clubs, and a food scene. Watch out for hipsters!
2. Ride the cable cars
Riding the cable cars is an excellent way to tour the city and experience various neighborhoods in San Francisco. Catch the cable cars from Market Street. They are fun to ride and will save you lots of time instead of walking up and down those hills. A one-way fare on a cable car is $7 or a 1-day pass is $20.
3. Visit Lombard Street
While riding the cable cars, make sure to get off at Lombard Street and see what’s claimed as the world’s “crooked-est” street. Watch the cars and bikers navigate the sharp turns as the tourists gawk at them.
4. Head up Coit Tower
Another major city landmark is Coit Tower, perched atop Telegraph Hill. It was built in 1933 to help beautify the city. It features 27 fresco murals by different artists. From the top, you’ll get panoramic views of the city (it’s $8 to go to the top). Otherwise, you can explore the monument and murals at the ground level.
5. Head to Chinatown
Next to NYC, this is the most famous Chinatown in the United States (it’s also the biggest). Immigrants from China first came to the west coast and set up shop in San Francisco. Due to racial segregation, this neighborhood became predominantly Chinese and though the segregation is over, the area has remained Chinese. Chinatown here has some of the best places to eat (dim sum) Chinese food in the country, teahouses, bars, souvenir stalls, and fortune cookie makers. Eat your heart out here. I do.
6. Go on a harbor tour
Take an afternoon cruise of the bay to see the city from the water. You’ll get some good photos, learn about the bay, see some wildlife, and enjoy life on the water. There are many tour companies, but a cheap budget way to see the harbor is to take the public ferries for $7. Same views, cheaper price. You can find prices and routes on the ferry’s website.
7. Hang out in the Castro
The Castro is known as the LGBTQ district of San Francisco and it’s an awesome place to go out at night. The area has a number of ethnic and modern restaurants here and a bunch that serve the locally-sourced organic food the Bay Area is known for. Moreover, there’s a plethora of wild and fun clubs that cater to the LGBTQ community as well as straight people. It’s an awesome place to go out at night.
8. Explore Haight-Ashbury
The birthplace of America’s counter-culture, the Haight was ground zero during the summer of 1967, a.k.a. The Summer of Love. Hippies used to live here, but yuppies have since moved in, buying up all the colorful Victorian homes throughout Haight-Ashbury and replacing head shops with high-end boutiques, chic restaurants and hip cafés. It’s still a fun place to visit and Flower Power Walking Tours run in-depth and informative tours throughout the neighborhood.
9. Take a walking tour
Free Walking Tours of San Francisco has a number of interesting walking tours that can teach you about the history of the eclectic neighborhoods or show you all the scrumptious food the city has to offer, offered daily throughout the day.
10. Eat at the ferry building
My top place to eat in San Francisco, this place is a foodie dream. Outside the building on the weekdays are a lot of food stands and on the weekends, you can also find a big farmers market. Inside, you’ll find restaurants and food vendors selling specialty food items as well as butchers, cheese mongers, a wine bar, and more.
11. Visit Crissy Field
Also near the bridge as you walk along the harbor towards the center of the town, is this park that features a beautiful beach, restaurants, piers for fishing, and parks for Frisbee. You’ll find a lot of locals running, walking their dogs, or laying out on the beach. It offers sweeping views of the entire harbor.
12. Relax with a drink
After all that traveling, you should probably explore some of the city’s amazing brewhouses. The Mission and Castro are two of the best spots for nightlife but you’ll find amazing bars and clubs throughout the city. Here’s a quick video that features five.
13. Explore Japantown
Come here for amazing sushi, Japanese food, Korean food, and kitchen ingredients. Shabu Sen has amazing ramen.
14. Catch a game
San Francisco locals love their sports teams, especially the Giants (their really good baseball team). If you’re in town during a game, be sure to head to the stadium and cheer on the local team. Even if you don’t like the sport (whatever the sport), the locals will happily take you in, explain the game, and drink a beer with you. Also, consider heading to nearby Oakland to see other top-notch pro sports teams.
15. Fisherman’s Wharf
Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, and Ghirardelli Square covers numerous blocks along the waterfront and is one of the most popular (touristy) things to do in the city. There are street performers, souvenir shops, and tons of overpriced restaurants. This is a good place to wander and explore for people watching but don’t eat here. The food is overpriced and, to be honest, not that good. If you want to try some of the mouthwatering seafood that San Francisco is famous for, I really liked Waterbar and the Anchor Oyster Bar.
16. Visit Muir Woods
Muir Woods is the closest place to San Francisco where you can see giant redwood trees. You don’t get to encounter the huge, huge iconic redwoods (which are sequoias and further away at Sequoia National Park) but if you’re looking to see something close to the city, this is as good as it gets.
17. Explore Oakland
Just across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco (a five-minute drive away), Oakland is considered the Brooklyn to San Francisco’s Manhattan. With its own history and community (rife with arts, music, festivals, food, and popular sports teams), Oakland has become popular with hipsters and their bars and specialty restaurants. There’s a lot you can do in Oakland – consider spending a day or more here.
18. Visit Berkeley
Across the bay and close to Oakland is the interesting city of Berkeley, home to music, hippies, students, and the very left-leaning University of California – Berkeley. Here you’ll find even more vegan and vegetarian restaurants, street performers, and eclectic shops (including makeshift booths of jewelry and other goods on the streets).