When you think of the most fun city in California, where do you think of? Los Angeles? Santa Barbara? For me it is always San Francisco. It’s the city of Dungeness crab, sourdough bread and, of course, the breathtaking Golden Gate Bridge. Some people have even left their hearts here. San Francisco is on most travelers “Things to do” list and for very good reason. Whether your a first-time visitor or a local, the City has something to offer for everyone and here’s just a little taste of the best attractions.
If you are not renting a car, most of these attractions can be accessed with the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus. Or do a GoCar 3-Hour Tour of San Francisco’s Parks and Beaches. Plus, with the purchase of a Go San Francisco Card you can get entry to 30 of the Bay Area’s best attractions and tours!
San Francisco Bucket List: 60 Best Things to Do in the Fun City of SF
1. ✦ Shop at Union Square
2. ✦ Drink an Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista
Famous bartender Larry Nolan serves up thousands of Irish coffees a day at The Buena Vista, using a recipe that was perfected in 1952. It’s not just the quantity that’s impressive, but the technique too. On a busy night a couple dozen stemmed glasses will be lined up in a row and strategically filled in a low-tech assembly line fashion. Also, if you sit at the bar with Larry, he might possibly blow your mind with fun magic tricks while you drink your Irish coffee. Don’t get worried if you become a little addicted to this drink because you can learn to make Irish Coffee the Buena Vista way at home.
3. ✦ Eat Chinese Food in Chinatown
4. ✦ Ogle the Architecture at the Palace of Fine Arts
This gorgeous building was built in 1919, and was inspired by ancient Greek and Roman architecture. It is an attraction that needs to be seen from all angles! It stands at the foot of a lagoon that reflects the palace by daylight, so start with a walk of the perimeter. Then head inside to stand amongst of gigantic pillars. There are so many tiny details, statues, and cravings to take in, that you really need to take some time to see appreciate them all. Don’t forget to make your way back to the Palace of Fine Arts at night to get a view of it all lit up.
5. ✦ Get Chocolate at Ghirardelli Square
Located on the fisherman wharf, Ghirardelli Square, is home to some of the world’s best chocolate. Ghirardelli Chocolate, the squares namesake, has been manufacturing at the heart of the square for ages. There is a legendary story to be heard on site, about how the Italian founder, back in the 1800’s, made his way to San Francisco by way of Peru. And although Ghirardelli moved their main plant away ages ago, they still produce on the small-scale here and the storefront remains an iconic symbol of the area.
Get an chocolate sundae or just a simple bar. It doesn’t’ matter, they’re all good. Neighboring alongside the chocolate company is an eccentric mix of shops, and restaurants that will appeal to all palates, even if you don’t have a sweet tooth.
6. ✦ Climb the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps
The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps are a neighborhood project to create beautiful mosaic artwork on a set of 163 stairs. The steps are a colorful display featuring waves of turquoise, bright birds and vibrant sea animals of all kinds. Make your way to the top, stopping to marvel at the fascinating artwork along the way and to catch your breath because the stairs are pretty steep!
This flashy Things to do in San Francisco attraction is situated in a quiet residential area, with limited tourists and plenty of parking. There were only six other people when we went for a visit!
7. ✦ Eat an It’s It
8. ✧ Eat a Molecular Gastronomy Meal
What is molecular gastronomy? It is a study of scientific principles where chefs explore the physical and chemical transformations of ingredients. Think powdered food, deconstructed dishes and delectable foams. Atelier Crenn restaurant in San Francisco is a master at creating a bucket list worthy “cutting-edge” tasting menu. It will be pricy, $335 for the multi-course tasting menu, but it will also be one meal that your taste buds and eyes will never forget. A meal fit for your Couple’s Bucket List.
Bonus: If “eating at a Michelin starred restaurant” is on your bucket list, this one has two.
9. ✦ Take in the View from Twin Peaks
The best view of San Francisco is from Twin Peaks, which is geographically located at the center of the city. It’s hard to believe that the first time I went here was just a few months ago and now I am in love taking in the 360-degree view from the hilltop. Here you can see the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, the Mission District, the famous Haight Ashbury suburb and the gorgeous modern houses surrounding the hill.
If you are lucky you may also get a glimpse of the endangered mission butterfly while you are there, or one of the cheeky raccoons or opossums that call the hill their home.
10. ✦ Shop Oddities at Paxton Gate
11. ✦ Bicycle (or Walk) Across the Golden Gate
Even though it happens often for me, driving over the Golden Gate bridge still is impressive. But, what is even more thrilling is taking a bicycle ride or a walk across San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. You can bring your own bike or easily rent one nearby. Blazing Saddles is a reputable company that will take you on an 8-mile guided bike tour that includes a ride across the bridge or choose to do a self-guided trip (booking information here). Just be sure to abide by the laws of the bridge for bikes and pedestrians.
Book a Tour: Cycle The Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Ticket
12. ✦ Hike Sutro Baths
The eerie ruins at Sutro Baths are a reminder of yesteryear. They were created by the former mayor of San Francisco, as part of an entertainment complex but unfortunately the building mysteriously burnt down shortly after the center was closed in the 60’s. The Sutro Baths were famous for their tide-fed, salt water pools. At the time, the millionaire was dedicated to providing low-cost entertainment to the city’s residents. Today, the ruins sit upon a stony hill overlooking the beautiful Pacific Coast.
There are several trails leading in and around the ruins, and there is even one that will lead you to a brilliant view of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.
13. ✧ Drink at a Tiki Bar
14. ✦ Attempt to Escape From a Trapped Room
One of the most mind challenging thing to do in San Francisco—the Real Escape Game is a live puzzle where the idea is to solve puzzles and riddles in order to find your way out of a locked room in a limited amount of time. This challenging game was brought to San Francisco from Japan, which is not at all surprising since the Japanese are experts at creating quirky experiences, like Tokyo’s Cat Cafe or the Alcatraz ER themed restaurant.
15. ✧ Visit the Antique Vibrator Museum
16. ✧ Play Trampoline Dodge Ball
With over 8,000 square feet of trampoline space, House of Air provides the perfect space for a jumpy game of dodgeball. You can join one of their weekly leagues or hop into the hourly dodgeball sessions during Open Jump.
17. ✧ Pose with the Haight Ashbury Sign
San Francisco is as much about technology these days as it once was about the Summer of Love and the Haight Ashbury neighborhood was at the epi-center of it all. Today, the suburb still embodies the vibrancy and color of its hay-days. There are a number of great walking tours, to hear stories of the stars, leaders of movements, and runaways that once occupied the area. Otherwise, don a pair of circle sunglasses, and throw up a peace sign for an iconic photo at the intersection of these two classic streets that became synonymous with the counter-culture movement.
18. ✦ See a Beautiful Bride at the City Hall
19. ✧ Have Afternoon Tea at the Palace Hotel
The Palace Hotel is nothing short of grand! You will feel like royalty sipping on tea, and snacking the afternoon away here. Their Grand Court Tearoom is set in an admirable glass atrium, and decorated with rich furniture, chandeliers, and greenery. Tea is served on China, and the menu consists of English classics such as scones with Devonshire cream, finger sandwiches, and an assortment of pastries. A pianist is usually tinkling away on the grand piano that sits in the center of the Court. The hotel itself has a rich history, and has been serving San Francisco since the early 1900’s.
20. ✦ Eat a Green Goddess Salad
Green Goddess is a mayonnaise-based salad dressing that originated at San Francisco’s Palace Hotel in 1923. Luckily, Wayfare Tavern has revived the original recipe of this creamy dressing seasoned with anchovy and tarragon. Plus, if you sit at the chef’s counter you may catch them constructing the dish right before your eyes.
21. ✦ Stroll Through the Japanese Tea Garden
I feel as if I have been transported back to my favorite tiny Asian country whenever I explore the Japanese Tea Gardens in San Francisco. This sprawling complex is part of the Golden Gate Park, and has everything you could expect from a Tea Garden. Pagodas, ponds of koi, stone bridges, exotic plants, and of course an authentic tea house. The peaceful atmosphere is also reflective of some of Japans most popular religions, Buddhism and Shino. So there are various carvings, and sculptures dotted throughout the garden to reflect this.
22. ✦ Visit the Pet Cemetery
23. ✦ Drive (& Walk) Down The “Crookedest Street”
Lombard Street has eight hairpin turns that has made it famously known as the “Crookedest Street in San Francisco”, though there is some debate that it isn’t actually the most ziggedy-zaggedy. But, with up to 350 cars an hour driving down, it’s definitely the most well-known and iconic thing to do. Traditionally, tourists will slowly drive down the short switchbacks, but what is even better is walking down this steep 600 foot long road. On foot you are able to fully see not only the red bricked road, but also the beautiful homes that line it.
24. ✦ Go Inside Coit Tower
Go into Coit Tower for the fantastic artwork, and then take an elevator to the top for an utterly impressive 360 degree views of the city below. This attraction was built on Lillian Hitchhook Coit’s request, the towers namesake. She was a wealthy woman and eccentric socialite who left a large sum of her fortune to the City of San Francisco with a parting note. She requested the money be used “for the purpose of adding to the beauty of the city I have always loved.” How beautiful.
25. ✧ Eat Your Way Through the Ferry Building Marketplace
26. ✦ See the Balmy Alley Murals
Balmy Alley is located in the Mission district of San Francisco and has the most concentrated selection of murals in the city. The artwork on this block long alley began in the mid-80’s to voice outrage over political injustices and human rights issues in Central America. Today, it is a colorful collection of murals that depicts the artists’ interpretation of world issues.
27. ✧ Go to the Exploratorium After Dark
The Exploratorium After Dark 18+ event is so fun for a night out! It’s almost like a circus funhouse, with drinks! The exhibit is based on science, art, and perception. It features over 600 interactive exhibits consisting of dazzling kaleidoscopes, distorting mirrors, and pitch black rooms. There is great music, guest speakers, and unique films and clips that keep me coming back time and time again.
28. ✦ Find Your Favorite View of the Golden Gate
29. ✦ Take a Cable Car Ride
Would a Things to Do in San Francisco list be complete without having take a cable car ride on it? The cable car is a San Francisco icon, carrying countless tourists up and down the steep hills. Though it is one of the cities most popular attractions, it is also a handy form of transportation taking folks to many sites around town. You can even follow up your ride with with a visit to the Cable Car Museum.
30. ✧ See What’s in Bloom at the Conservatory of Flowers
This green house and botanical garden is a must thing to do for all ages. I love, as they say, smelling the roses… when they’re in bloom. Flowers blossom year-round here and the onsite greenhouse beautifully compliments the flowers it protects with its glass paneling, and Victorian architecture. Both exotic, and domestic flowers reside within the conservatory. It is part of the grand Golden Gate Park.
31. ✧ Do a Tea Tasting
32. ✦ Eat the California State Bird
Eating the California State bird? Isn’t that illegal? You’re not even allowed to pick the state’s poppy flower, are you? Technically, neither action is against the law, but there is something so wrong about consuming your home state bird. Yet, at San Francisco’s State Bird Provisions, there is also something so deliciously right.
State Bird Provisions is a dim sum style restaurant that each evening serves 12-15 creative plates that servers peddle on push carts and trays. Though the menu may rotate, the CA State Bird (the quail) with Provisions is a permanent fixture on their list. As well as it should be.
33. ✦ Giggle at the Sea Lions at Pier 39
This massive group of sea lions moved onto Pier 39 some years ago, outnumbering the boaters who once docked there. After some discussion with the Marine Mammal Centre, they collectively decided to let them stay and move the boaters to another pier. And they have now become quite an attraction! Apparently, they love this dock so much for the quantity of food in the area, the distance from open water predators, and comfortability of the docks themselves. When I look out onto the hundreds of sea lions that call Pier 39 home, it is not hard to see why they are often likened to water dogs for their playful nature. When they are not lazing around, they are dipping, diving, and barking at each other simply for the fun of it.
34. ✧ Drink at a Rooftop Bar
35. ✦ Take a Selfie With the Painted Ladies
The Painted Ladies are the set of Victorian row houses that are located across from Alamo Park. Also known as “Postcard Row”, they frequently appear in the media and are most well-known for being a part of the sitcom “Full House”.
36. ✧ Take a Ride on the Seward Street Slides
This adult playground is not a well-known attraction in the City of San Francisco but it is one of the best things to do! Bring your own toboggan of cardboard for a faster ride and some durable pants. The pair of slides the park is famous for, are side by side and very steep! Perfect for racing. Surprisingly, the Seward Street slides were designed by a 14-year girl in the 70’s when she won a Parks and Rec competition.
37. ✧ Get a Sushi Burrito at Sushirrito
38. ✧ Explore Alcatraz at Night
Alcatraz is a former military prison located on an island one and a half miles from the mainland. With approximately 1.5 million visitors a year, a visit to “The Rock” is a must for your San Francisco bucket list. But, add more excitement to your adventure by taking an evening tour of Alcatraz. If visiting this jail isn’t spooky enough during the day, by night it will send a chill down your spine. Make sure to book a couple months early, spots fill up fast.
You can make an entire day of it with the Alcatraz Night Tour + Napa & Sonoma Tour from San Francisco.
39. ✧ Find a Gold Painted Fire Hydrant
Somewhere hidden within the historic Mission Distinct of San Francisco is this little hero that saved much of the city. Most of the main water mains were broken or dry following the devastating 1906 earthquake, and fires were breaking out all over the city. They threatened to eat up the Mission District too until someone discovered this “little giant”, the fire hydrant who after two-days managed to put out the riotous fires plaguing the area. A plaque on the sidewalk beside the hydrant honors the firefighters who fought the fires, and each year the hydrant is re-painted in gold to commemorate the event.
40. ✦ Drink Cocktails at a Secret Speakeasy
When you make an ‘appointment’ (not a reservation) at Wilson & Wilson, you are given a password with your confirmation. This password gets you into the secret speakeasy, located behind a nondescript door of the 1920s style bar Bourbon & Branch. Once inside the dimly lit drinking establishment, you can do a 3 cocktail coursing that includes an apertif, main and digestif. An expert mixologist will guide you with the perfect selections for your palate.
41. ✧ Get Happy at the Walt Disney Museum
This remarkable museum walks you through the life of Walt Disney himself, the creator of the iconic brand, onto the early workings of Mickey Mouse as an animated character. There are lots of interactive exhibits, and year-round exhibits. I wouldn’t recommend it for younger kids, but adults and teens will be absorbed in reading about the inspiration behind each character and the cultural implications of them. But beware, you might feel like bingeing on Disney films after your visit, or up and driving to Disneyland itself!
42. ✧ Take a Free Swing Dance Lesson in the Park
Swing dancing is a lively group of dances that originated in the “swing era”, from the 1920s-1950s. This couples dance often features dancers spinning, flipping and lifting their partners through the air. Every Sunday at noon in Golden Gate Park you can be a part of the action by learning basic swing dance moves at the appropriately named event “Lindy in the Park”.
43. ✧ Attend the Folsom Street Fair
Try not to be intimidated by this event, it is nothing but fun and a true testimony to San Francisco’s inclusiveness and laid back attitude. The Folsom Street Fair is dubbed “the world’s largest leather and fetish event”, and “leather pride week”. The scandalous X-rated parade, is what the fair has become famous for, and it is coupled with some great music, and tasty food. It is a San Francisco rite of passage!
44. ✧ Eat at a Food Truck
San Francisco has a growing food truck scene which is very evident by the bustle of people who go Off the Grid every Friday night at Fort Mason. This trendy thing to do is a weekly Northern California food party, that draws 6-9,000 eaters, has over 32 vendors featuring food and drink from around the world. Not only can you get a sensory overload of smells, but also partake in fun games like tabletop shuffleboard and Whack-a-Mole.
45. ✦ See the Jellyfish at the Aquarium by the Bay
It is so fun getting up close and personal with the jellyfish at by the Bay. They have great Japanese Sea-nettle, and moon jellyfish exhibits. If you didn’t know, these underwater creatures are made up of 95% water. So they don’t have any organs, bones, a brain or a heart. This makes them look otherworldly as they float just few inches away from eye level! Thousands of other marine life also call the aquarium home including a number of sharks, star fish, eels, rays, and colorful fish.
46. ✧ Sail Under the Golden Gate Bridge
47. ✦ See the Dutch Windmill
This is a great place to spend the afternoon with family, friends, or a lover. Surrounding the windmill are fields of green, and the lovely Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden. Although the pretty Dutch windmill, and its sibling the Murphy Windmill only exist for aesthetic these days. They were once an important mechanism to irrigate the sandy park by pumping water from wells deep below. By the 50’s the windmills were in a state of extreme disrepair, but the state has since taken efforts to preserve the history of these stunning Golden Gate Park landmarks.
48. ✦ Visit a Fortune Cookie Factory
The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory is a tiny hidden treasure located in the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown. The small shop barely fits a handful of people, but it’s worth cramming your body inside just to get a whiff of the enticing aroma and a free sample of a hot off the press fortune cookie. Photos of the production facility will cost you a mere 50 cents, which seems beyond reasonable when you see these ladies working so hard.
This will probably be the quickest stop on this Things to Do in San Francisco list (tens minutes max), but it is a tasty experience.
49. ✦ Root for the SF Giants at AT&T Park
Take me out to the ballgame! Like most cities in America, we are deeply dedicated to our baseball team. And there is no better way to see our beloved San Francisco Giants kick butt then at home at AT&T Park. Located downtown, the atmosphere is absolutely buzzing come game day! There are loads of restaurants, and bars just outside the park for a bite or drink, before or after the game, if you don’t want to pay stadium prices.
50. ✦ Eat the Famous San Francisco Sourdough
Sourdough bread has been a part of the San Francisco culture since the California Gold Rush when French bakers brought over expert baking techniques. There are plenty of places around the city to buy a loaf of this sour-style bread; Try the Pain au Levain at Acme, Sourdough Long Loaf at Boudin or the Organic Sourdough Batard at Noe Valley Bakery. But, if eating a plain loaf of bread isn’t on your carb agenda head over to Tartine to indulge in one of their delicious sandwiches made with their housemade Sourdough Country Levain.
51. ✧ Soak in an Onsen
This off-beat activity is one of the top ways to relax in busy San Francisco. Onsen is a restaurant, bath house and spa. They offer great health-conscious bites, and authentic Japanese bathing experiences. As they state on their website, “The bathing ritual in Japan is deeply ingrained in their society, with the idea that a daily soak with cleanse and restore body a soul.” So take some time for yourself, or bring and friend and have a fun day with this unique bucket list experience.
52. ✦ Play an Antique Arcade Game
Musee Mecanique is a private collection of coin-operated, antique arcade games and mechanical musical instruments. Walking through will take you on a trip down memory lane, before home video and smart phone app games became so popular. Bring a roll of quarters to take a pony ride, battle with an arm wrestler or hear the Barbershop Quartet belt out a tune.
53. ✧ See an Opera at the Opera House
I think everyone should go to the Opera at least once in their lives. So, look no further than the San Francisco Opera House. They feature both innovative and classical operas for a total of nine different operas annually. The building itself is rich in heritage, and has been dedicated to American war heroes, as the War Memorial Opera House. For decades legendary figures in the world of Opera have donned the stage here. Come and see why opera has never gone out of style!
54. ✦ Marvel at the Outrageously Huge Beach Blanket Babylon Hats
Beach Blanket Babylon is the longest running musical revue and has rightfully been called “the real San Francisco treat”. It has been seen by over 6 million people, with more than 15,000 performances. Why? Because its spoofs on pop culture are hilarious, the headdresses are outrageously huge and the costume colorfully elaborate. I’ve seen it twice!
55. ✧ Take a Brewery Tour
Get a taste of San Francisco history with a peak into America’s first and oldest craft brewery, Anchor Brewing. Though their Steam beer is what they seem to be most known for, you will also get a glimpse into their other tasty selections and their centuries-old craft brewing techniques. Of course the best part of the tour is the samples at the end.
56. ✧ Get Fresh Crab at a Fisherman’s Wharf Sidewalk Stand
57. ✦ Spot the Wild Parrots
There is no specific address where you can spot a flock of wild cherry-headed conure parrots roaming around San Francisco. But, your best bet would be to start at Coit Tower and then walk down the 400 Telegraph Hill steps scoping out the trees along the way. This area is where I had my first sighting and was also the inspiration for the documentary The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.
58. ✧ Play Frisbee Golf at Golden Gate Park
59. ✧ Navigate the Infinite Mirror Maze
60. ✦ Eat an Egg Custard Tart
An egg custard tart features a silky egg yolk custard in a crunchy pastry shell that is traditionally found in various Asian countries. The Golden Gate Bakery in Chinatown is know to have one of the best recipes in the city, maybe the world. If you can act actually get one, you might agree. It is well known that the shop randomly closes. In fact, a “on vacation” sign is in their window so often that there is a website called “Is the Golden Gate Bakery Open Today?” dedicated to letting the consumers know when they can and can not get their beloved tart. Even if they are open, you will most likely have a long line to contend with. This all adds to the bucket list challenge.
Start ticking these activities off your San Francisco Bucket List, and you will soon see why San Francisco is the funnest city in California, and one of the best cities in the world.
OTHER FUN SAN FRANCISCO TOURS
For even more bucket list ideas see the fun San Francisco Things to Do at A Passion and a Passport.
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