This list of the best things to see and do in San Francisco will help you prepare your routes through the most beautiful city in the United States, making the most of your time.
The city of San Francisco falls in love at first sight due to its location around a bay and its European style, far from the noisy and chaotic big American cities. In addition, its mild climate and good cuisine make it an essential stop on any trip to the Western United States.
Crossing the Golden Gate, visiting Alcatraz prison, strolling through the Castro and Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhoods, reaching the Twin Peaks viewpoint or getting on its historic tram, are just some of the reasons to visit this city of steep streets and hills.
The Golden Gate opened in 1937, is the symbol of the city and our favorite place in San Francisco.
This huge orange bridge of 227 meters high and almost 3 kilometers wide that crosses the San Francisco Bay, has appeared in many movies, photographs and lists of the most beautiful bridges in the world.
To get the best views you have to reach several viewpoints located around the Golden Gate and if you are lucky and there is low fog, the views can be heart-stopping.
One of our favorite lookouts is Battery Spencer, which is across the bridge toward Sausalito and up a small hill to the left. From this viewpoint you will have fantastic views of the bridge and the city, with the bay in the background.
Another great place to get a closer look at the Golden Gate Bridge and walk the bridge is Battery East, located just before you enter the bridge on the right. From this area you can also reach Crissy Field, a perfect park for a picnic with views of the bridge.
Our last recommended viewpoint is Baker Beach, a point further away but no less spectacular. Another great way to see the Golden Gate is by booking this San Francisco Bay Boat Tour or by taking the Go San Francisco Card which includes two different cruises and more than 28 city attractions.
Fisherman’s Wharf is the old port and fishing district, which has been restored to become one of the most famous places to visit in San Francisco.
To get to this neighborhood you can take one of the city’s historic trams and start the route savoring a delicious ice cream at the Ghirardelli chocolate shop, the best known in the city.
From this square you can start touring the different piers such as the Hyde Street Pier with several historic ships, and Pier 45, where the SS Jeremiah O’Brien and the USS Pampanito submarine are located, both from World War II.
Before leaving this pier, don’t forget to enter the Musée Mecanique , which houses hundreds of old arcade machines.
To finish the route through this neighborhood you can spend some time at the famous Pier 39, which has an open-air shopping center and a colony of sea lions.
This area is also one of the best to try clam chowder , one of the most typical dishes of the city that consists of clam chowder served inside a round homemade bread.
For more gastronomy recommendations, we recommend you follow this list of restaurants where you can eat very well in San Francisco .
Alcatraz Island, located in the San Francisco Bay and known as The Rock , was a military fort that later became the most famous prison in the world.
The jail operated from 1934 to 1963 and today visiting it is one of the best experiences and things to do in San Francisco. This great influx of tourists and the small size of the island make it essential to reserve your ticket well in advance on this official page or book this tour of the city that includes the visit , so as not to run out of space.
To get to the island you have to get on one of the boats that leave from Pier 33 during the day or one of those that leave at night, to do a night tour of the prison.
During the visit with an audio guide in Spanish, you can see different rooms and cells of the prison, such as the one that Al Capone was in or that of the prisoner that Clint Eastwood played in the movie “The Escape from Alcatraz”.
The visit counting the boat trips can take you about 3 hours.
Castro and Haight-Ashbury
The Castro and Haight-Ashbury neighborhoods are two great examples of the diversity and freedom that have long existed in San Francisco.
Castro was one of the places where they fought the most for the rights of the LGTBI community in the city and for the acceptance of sexual diversity throughout the country.
Among the most outstanding places in the neighborhood are the theater, the colorful streets around number 18, the Victorian houses and the former home of Harvey Milk, one of the great landmarks of this community.
Haight-Ashbury was the place where the hippie movement was born in the 60s and another of the essential neighborhoods to see in San Francisco.
In this neighborhood you will find all kinds of second-hand stores such as Buffalo Exchange, hippie style and vinyl. In addition to hunting for a bargain, don’t forget to find the house of the great Jimi Hendrix and take photos of the Victorious houses that are located on Waller Street, between Masonic and Ashbury and at the intersection of Haight and Masonic.
If it is your first time in the city, it is very interesting to learn about the history and not miss anything important to book this complete tour of San Francisco or this free tour of San Francisco for free! , considered one of the best free tours in San Francisco with a guide in Spanish.
Painted Ladies, one of the places to see in San Francisco
The Painted Ladies, the city’s most famous Victorian-style houses painted in various pastel colors, are located near Alamo Square Park.
These seven houses, located between 710 and 722 Steiner Street, became very popular when the “Forced Parents” series came out. Also, from the top of the park you can take one of the best photos of San Francisco, with the houses in the foreground and the silhouette of the city in the background.
Although it is one of the places to visit in San Francisco, it must be taken into account that the city had more than 50,000 houses of this same style, before the 1906 earthquake, and there are still many scattered throughout the city.
Climb Twin Peaks, one of the best things to do in San Francisco
One of the best things to do in San Francisco at sunset or sunrise is to climb Twin Peaks, the best viewpoint in the city.
These twin hills, almost 300 meters high, offer panoramic views of the entire city, which on a clear day allows you to see points such as the Golden Gate or Alcatraz.
We reach the top of the hill by car, although you also have the option of public transport and if you are very fit you can walk or cycle.
The best time to go up is an hour before sunset to see the sunset and how the city lights up.
Golden Gate Park
The Golden Gate Park, a green space 5 kilometers long by 1 kilometer wide, is another of the essential places to see in San Francisco.
If you don’t want to walk a lot, it is preferable to rent a bike or take the minibus that runs through the park to visit places such as the Japanese Garden, Shakespeare’s Garden, the Great Dutch Mill, the Rose Garden and Stow Lake, among many others.
Also inside the park lives a community of coyotes and American buffalo.
In addition to Castro and Haight-Ashbury, there are other essential neighborhoods to visit in San Francisco such as:
- Chinatown : it is one of the largest China towns in the world in which the following stand out: Grant Avenue and Stockton Street, the Dragon Gate and Portsmouth Square, a square where tai chi and board games are practiced.
- Little Italy : In this neighborhood that has been shrinking over the years, you’ll find Italian shops and venues, many located on Columbus Avenue. In addition to eating at an Italian restaurant, don’t forget to visit the church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, where Marilyn Monroe was married.
- Mission District : it is a neighborhood with a large Latino presence whose great jewel is the Mission Dolores church, it is the oldest building to see in San Francisco. In addition to this church, the many murals and graffiti in Clarion Alley, Balmy Alley and the Women’s Building are worth seeing.
- Japan town – The small Japan town features a 5-story pagoda, Peace Plaza, and the Japan Cener, a shopping center with Japanese shops and restaurants.
A good way to tour all these neighborhoods, if you don’t have much time, is to book this tourist bus with recorded commentary in Spanish.
Driving down Lombard Street, the curviest street in the United States, is another of the best things to see in San Francisco.
Located between Hyde and Leavenworth, this small stretch of road has up to 8 hairpin bends that allow cars to negotiate a 27 degree incline.
In addition to the curiosity of the section, being in an elevated position in the city, good views are obtained.
Places to see around San Francisco
There are several wonders to visit in the United States that are close to San Francisco and that are worth visiting if you have half a day or a day, such as Sausalito and Muir Woods.
Sausalito is a small coastal town, located less than 10 kilometers away, that stands out for its art galleries, houseboats and, above all, for its relaxed and bohemian atmosphere.
You can get to Sausalito by ferry , car, or even by bike.
In the Muir Woods forest, located just over 10 kilometers away, you can see the giant sequoias that can be more than 150 meters tall and live for more than a thousand years.
To get to this fantastic forest you can rent a car or book this excursion that includes Sausalito orthis one that includes the visit to the recognized vineyards of California .