Surrounded by water, brimming with energy and creativity, steeped in history, and located on the beautiful west coast of Northern California, San Francisco makes an excellent travel destination. Here are the top 10 things to see and do when in the bustling city of San Francisco. If you’re planning a lot of outings, make sure you check for discounts before you go to save some money on tourist activities.
1. Ride a Cable Car
San Francisco is known for its steep, hilly streets and is home to the world’s last manually operated cable cars. Of the 23 original lines, only 3 remain, so make sure you hop on a historic streetcar when you’re in town. Cable cars run roughly every 10 minutes, a single ride costs $6, and a day pass costs $14. Start off at the intersection of Powell and Market Street and ride the Powell/Hyde line to Lombard Street (called the world’s crookedest street), up a hill so high you can see the island of Alcatraz, all the way to the end near Ghirardelli Square where you can visit the famous chocolate store after which the square is named.
2. Visit Alcatraz
Alcatraz, an island in the San Francisco Bay, is the site of a former prison and an absolute must when visiting San Francisco. The 2.5 hour Alcatraz tour starts on Pier 33, takes you by boat into the Bay where you’ll get great views of the Golden Gate Bridge while you learn about the history of the island, then you get to dock and walk around the island and old prison facilities. Book tickets way in advance online to guarantee you a spot on this sought after tour. Thursday through Monday you have the option of a night tour, which ups the creepy factor as well as provides a beautiful view of the sunset on the Bay.
3. Visit the Exploratorium
The Exploratorium is a hands-on centre to explore the world in which we live. Exhibits, projects and events will keep you busy all day, and a delicious café on site will keep you well fed. Open Tuesday through Sunday; grab tickets in advance online to save time. If you’re 18+, the Exploratorium offers exclusive adult only Thursday night admission from 6 – 10pm, where you get to mix cocktails and jaw dropping exhibits for a truly one of a kind experience.
4. Cross the Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is part of the classic San Francisco skyline and must be visited when in the city. The best way to see it is to run, walk, or bike. Lanes on either side of the traffic flow are dedicated to pedestrians and cyclists, so you will feel safe as you cross. Bike rentals are available downtown, and they’ll provide you with maps to help you navigate. If you’re driving, there is a toll to cross south back into the city which will be automatically assigned to your license plate. Definitely bring your camera, and check the forecast if you’re on foot or bicycle- it can get windy and chilly out on the bridge.
5. Take in a Game at AT&T Park
Americans love their sports – so what better way to immerse yourself in the local culture than to check out a game when you’re in town? The San Francisco Giants, the local baseball team, plays at AT&T Park, a stadium easily accessible by car or public transit. Check out schedules in advance to secure your tickets, and sit back and relax and enjoy the game. Make friends, drink beer, eat hot dogs, and get into the local sports scene.
6. Take in Some Culture – Symphony, Opera, and Ballet
If want a cultural experience while on vacation in San Francisco, the local music and dance scene will delight you. Davies Symphony Hall, the San Francisco Opera, and the San Francisco Ballet are easily accessible by public transit downtown and offer a variety of programming. Make sure to visit their websites in advance to look at their schedules and plan your trips accordingly.
7. Watch the Sunset at Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks are two hills in the center of San Francisco – a great spot to check out the 360 degree panoramic view of the city. See the bridges, the ocean, the city, and beyond from these lookout points. There is no public transit directly to the top, but there is a stop at the base from which you can walk up. To make the most of your trip to Twin Peaks, pack a picnic or pick up some takeout at one of San Francisco’s delicious restaurants and head up the hill to sit and take in the sunset.
8. Check Out Pier 39
Pier 39 is packed with attractions and is definitely worth a visit when you’re in town. Plan a half day visit to take in all that Pier 39 has to offer. Visit the resident sea lions, watch the street performers, charter a boat to take you under the Golden Gate Bridge, eat some local, sustainable seafood at Fog Harbor Fish House, and grab some clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl.
9. Visit Alamo Square
If you’re an architecture buff or a Full House fan, make sure to visit Alamo Square when you’re in San Francisco. The square itself is a large park with a playground and tennis court, but the houses that surround the square are beautiful, Victorian row houses that were featured on the intro to Full House. Snap some pictures with the houses in the background, take in the view, and check out the local cafés nearby on Divisadero Street.
10. Explore Golden Gate Park
A visit to San Francisco isn’t complete without heading to the Golden Gate Park. You could easily spend an entire day in this massive park, considering it has a golf course, horseshoe pits, a Frisbee golf course, a bison paddock, archery fields, the San Francisco Botanical Garden, the de Young Museum, the California Academy of Sciences, the Japanese Tea Garden, and Stow Lake. With so many options, you might want to rent bikes, skates, or disco golf equipment from Golden Gate Park Bike and Skate to cover more ground. Friday nights at the de Young Museum are free special events – check out their schedule to see what’s happening when you’re in town!