12 Things to Do in San Francisco
While in school for physical therapy, I (Steph) purposely chose internships that allowed me to experience new cities and countries. First up: San Francisco, California. I took a chance, packed up my bags, and flew there by myself for what ended up being some of the most adventurous two months of my life!
Prior to visiting “San Fran”, I had only been on one other out-of-state, long term trip to New York. For me, this was just the second major city I’d ever visited. I went there expecting a sunny, California experience and instead I was greeted with gorgeous marine layer (fog) rolling in during chilly mornings. Regardless of the cold weather, I fell in love with the city and the incredible number of exciting things to do in San Francisco.
San Francisco was founded in 1776 and is now the fourth most populous city in California thanks in part to the California gold rush of 1849. The city itself is pretty much 7x7 miles so it is tiny but jam packed with unique activities and people.
Today I am going to share with you the top 12 things to do in San Francisco, California.
#1 Do the Alcatraz Cruises Island Tour
Alcatraz Island, which is 1.25mi offshore, was first a military prison and then a federal prison. Complete with a lighthouse and water tower, it housed some of the most dangerous criminals who caused trouble at other federal prisons and needed more isolation (like Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud, and George "Machine Gun" Kelly). Alcatraz was voted the #1 landmark in the U.S. by TripAdvisor. While functioning as a federal prison, 36 prisoners attempted to escape by swimming across the cold and choppy waters to the city. All of those attempts failed. It’s incredible to visit the site and learn more history about the island using the Alcatraz Cruises boat tour.
#2 Sip on Fizz Drinks at Cliff House
The Cliff House opened in 1858 and is the most iconic restaurant in the Bay area. It has been re-built and renovated many times over the years but still maintains it’s gorgeous panoramic ocean views. Try out their fizz drinks and consider their weekend brunch!
#3 Drive Down Curvy Lombard Street
Lombard street is the curviest street ever! Drive down this steep street that has eight sharp hair-pin turns- if you dare. You'll see beautiful landscapes and colorful flowers in between rows of houses. Checkout the 5mph speed limit sign and be prepared for crowds! If you don't have a car, at least go check it out. It's simply something unique!
#4 Play in the Park in front of the Painted Ladies Houses
The Painted Ladies are a must-see in the heart of town! These Victorian and Edwardian style homes are multi-colored and were built between 1849 and 1915. The most famous among them are the homes across from Alamo Square park because they appeared in the TV series Full House (oh hey, Olsen twins!).
#5 Ride the Cable Car
San Francisco is home to the last manual cable car system in the world. Only three of the original lines remain so they’re a top attraction in the city. For $7 you can ride one of the lines around town. Be sure to watch the gripman who is conducting the car!
#6 Bike Across the Golden Gate Bridge to Tiburon and Sausalito
I rented my bike for the day with Blazing Saddles. They provided me with a bike, helmet, lock, map, and return ferry. When I first started the bike ride I had no idea it would end up being one of the best days of my life. The serenity and peace I felt throughout the entire day as I passed by gorgeous sites completely blocked the fact that I had rode over 20 miles. I started near Fort Mason park, rode across the Golden Gate bridge, then went winding downhill to the beautiful town of Sausalito before taking a break at Paradise Bay restaurant for lunch. After, I passed the house boats that reminded me of the kid’s television show PB&J Otter. I finished by biking through the serene town of Mill Valley and finally to Tiburon to grab the ferry. It was a ride of a lifetime and my #1 best experience in San Francisco. Bikes start as low as $25 and they even have electric bikes if you’re not up for that much work. Or checkout group bike tours if you want some guidance. It’s the best way to see the Golden Gate Bridge!
#7 Go to a Baseball Game at AT&T Park
In 2010 I was in San Francisco when the Giants won the world series! It was incredible to see the city light up after their win. They have since won the World Series again in 2012 and 2014 so the Giants are widely loved by the locals.
#8 Enjoy Some Famous Clam Chowder
Head on over the Fisherman’s Wharf to find some yummy seafood. San Francisco is known for their clam chowder in a sourdough bowl and boy, is it tasty!
#9 Grab Dinner in the Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood
What was once a young, hippie neighborhood in the 1960s is now an upscale area with great shopping and dining. Wander around and explore the area before grabbing a bite to eat!
#10 Watch a San Francisco Ballet Performance
I was in San Francisco in December so I was thrilled to get to see the San Francisco Ballet perform the Nutcracker. I grew up watching this ballet around Christmas time in my hometown, so to be able to see it done by some of the best dancers in the world was a blessing.
#11 Hug a Redwood Tree in Muir Woods and Hike Mt Tamalpais
If you have time get a rental car and drive 45 minutes Northwest, it will be well worth it. Head to Muir Woods National Monument Park to escape the city and see the infamous Redwood trees. These trees are unlike anything you can imagine. They are ginormous and just walking around the park among the forest is a relaxing and memorable experience. If you feel like hiking too, checkout the trails to Mount Tamalpais and consider stopping at the beach afterward for sunset! (I sure did, while thinking about Zach of course)
#12 Explore Different Areas of the City: Downtown, Little Italy, and Chinatown
What’s better than simply walking around the city, soaking up the atmosphere, and people watching? Start in downtown San Francisco where you can find tons of shopping. Then grab a sweet Boba Tea treat in Chinatown followed by a candlelit dinner somewhere in Little italy!
I hope this post was helpful in planning your time in San Francisco, California!
Checkout Viator for tours you can book while there.