golden gate bridge with boats

Last Updated on November 3, 2023 by Dr. Shannon Barrett

Wondering why so many people think San Francisco is worth visiting?

What is all the hype about?

After living in the Bay Area for many years, I can tell you that San Francisco is a magical place.

There are so many iconic sites to visit, but still many hidden treasures.

So consider this your ultimate compass; let’s embark on an exciting journey into the wonders of San Francisco!

Hopefully I will convince you that San Fransisco has so many wonderful things to see that you’ll want to visit for yourself!

Key Takeaways

  • San Francisco is full of fun places to visit. You can walk on the Golden Gate Bridge or take a boat ride to Alcatraz Island.
  • The city has unique things like cable carsMichelin Star restaurants, and Chinatown. It also lets you watch baseball games at Oracle Park.
  • There are many ways to enjoy nature in San Francisco. You can hike trails with great views or watch sea lions at Pier 39.

This site only contains items I love and highly recommend.  It is reader supported and contains affiliate links.  Read more

Must-Visit Attractions in San Francisco

Map with magnifying glass over san francisco

San Francisco is a gold mine of fascinating attractions waiting to be explored.

Start your adventure by walking on the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, soaking in breathtaking views of the city skyline and San Francisco Bay.

Next, step back in time by visiting Alcatraz Island, once home to some of America’s most notorious criminals.

Take advantage of riding one of the historic cable cars for an authentic San Francisco experience; it’s an excellent way to visit many city landmarks like Fisherman’s Wharf and Lombard Street.

Live your baseball dreams at Oracle Park, home of the San Francisco Giants – even if you’re not into sports, the atmosphere is electrifying.

Stimulate your curiosity at the Exploratorium Science Museum or get lost in architectural beauty at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre.

Lastly, round off your tour with Presidio Tunnel Tops – this vast park offers unparalleled views over the Golden Gate Bridge and beyond – a sight you won’t soon forget.

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge in fog

The Golden Gate Bridge is a sight to see. It is the most famous bridge in the world.

The iconic red bridge links San Francisco with Marin County.

It’s about 1.7 miles long, and over 120,000 cars drive across it daily.

People from all corners of Earth love to take photos; it’s one of the most photographed places on Earth.

You must walk on it when you come here, as it offers incredible views of the Bay and city.

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz island air view

Alcatraz Island is a must-see spot in San Francisco.

It once had the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary open from 1934 to 1963.

Some famous criminals lived on this island, like Al Capone and the “Birdman of Alcatraz.”

Now you can take a ferry to get there.

On your trip to Alcatraz Island, you will have lots to do.

You can join guided tours that show you all around — into the prison cells, dining hall, and library.

You can also see some top sights. 

You see a fantastic view from here: the San Francisco skyline and Golden Gate Bridge.

Cable Cars

Cable car on street in San Francisco

In San Francisco, you must ride a cable car.

The city has the world’s last cable car system run by hand.

It gives you a fun way to see hilly areas and cool places in the city.

You can see the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island from them.

On your ride, you also pass fun spots like Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square, and Lombard Street.

There are three lines: Powell-Mason, Powell-Hyde, and California Street.

Each one takes you to new parts of San Francisco!

Pier 39

Sealions on Pier 39

Pier 39 is a must-see in San Francisco. It’s not just any pier.

It’s like a big party by the sea! Sea lions live here and love to play and bark all day.

People come from all over to see them up close.

But that’s not all you can do at Pier 39.

There are many shops where you can buy cool stuff, places to eat yummy food, and plenty of fun things to do.

Plus, it has some of the best views in town.

You can see Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge without getting on a boat or crossing a bridge.

Street performers play music, too, so there’s always something exciting going on.

Lombard Street

Lombard street in san Francsico

Lombard Street is a must-see in San Francisco.

It’s known as the most crooked road, and it is beautiful to look at.

You can walk or drive down this twisted path. The street is in the Russian Hill area of the city.

You can add it to your tour plan easily because it’s close to other fun spots like Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghirardelli Square, where you can get yummy ice cream.

Oracle Park

Air view of Baseball field
Photo courtesy of Oracle Park

Oracle Park sits in the South Beach part of San Francisco. 

It is where the Giants play baseball. 

More than 41,000 people can sit and watch a game there. 

The park is not only for baseball games, though.

Significant events like the World Series and the MLB All-Star Game also take place here. 

The upper deck at Oracle Park gives stunning views of the Bay.

If you love learning, you can also go on guided tours here.

You will hear fun stories about the park’s past and see parts most people never do.

Fisherman’s Wharf

Fishermans wharf sign with red bus in background

Fisherman’s Wharf is a place you must see in San Francisco.

It is full of life with many seafood places and shops.

You can find sea lions here too.

PIER 39 is part of the Wharf, a market by the water that people love to visit.

The views are incredible at Fisherman’s Wharf.

You can see the Bay and even the Golden Gate Bridge.

There’s much to do here, like boat tours, ferries, or bike renting.

Adventure awaits in your inbox! Sign up for our newsletter, no spam, just travel tips!

* indicates required


Large pink orb outside of museum
Photo courtesy of Exploratorium

The Exploratorium is a fun spot to visit in San Francisco.

It has over 650 exhibits that you can touch and play with.

Kids and adults will love it there.

You can take part in workshops.

This museum is not like others; it’s unique.

After your visit, take some time to check out other cool places nearby.

Palace of Fine Arts Theatre

Palace of fine arts tan domed structure by pond

The Palace of Fine Arts Theatre is a must-see in San Francisco.

The beautiful spot, from 1915,  looks like a Greek or Roman building.

Many people love to take pictures there.

Locals and travelers come here all the time.

You can watch plays, music, and films at this theatre.

With its pretty setting, it is one of the cool spots to visit in town.

Presidio Tunnel Tops

Green lawn overlooking san francsico bay
Presidio Tunnel Tops Lawn. Photo courtesy of

I love the Presidio Tunnel Tops.

It’s beautiful.

The park is enormous, with lots of green space.

You can see the Golden Gate Bridge from there – it’s an impressive view. 

The park sits on top of a busy highway but is quiet and peaceful.

It previously housed soldiers, but it’s a park now open for everyone to enjoy.

It’s a great place to take a break from the city noise.

Top Activities in San Francisco

From strolling across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge to savoring culinary delights in Michelin-star restaurants, San Francisco offers many activities that cater to every traveler.

Walking or Biking Over the Golden Gate Bridge

3 pople biking over golden gate bridge

I love to walk or bike over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

It’s one of my top things to do.

  1. The bridge is fantastic. It’s about 1.7 miles long.
  2. Cars go across it each day, a lot of them. Close to 120,000 cars!
  3. The view from the bridge is beautiful. You can see the city and the Bay.
  4. Getting to the bridge is easy. You can take a bus or walk from places close by.
  5. Being on the bridge makes you feel its size and beauty even more than just seeing it from far away.

Visiting “The Rock”

Alcatraz with boat in front of it

Take a boat ride to “The Rock” otherwise known as Alcatraz Island.

It was once home to a brutal prison.

I went on a tour of the old cell blocks where no inmate ever got out.

The guide will tell you about the island’s history.

Many tried, but no one could escape from Alcatraz. 

You can see great views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge from the island.

Riding a Cable Car

Cable car at night on a street

Riding a cable car is a must-do in San Francisco. 

  • Cable cars are part of San Francisco’s charm. They give life to the city streets.
  • You get stunning views riding the cable car. The Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island are some sights to see.
  • This fun way lets you explore the city and see more neighborhoods.
  • Some lists say that a cable car ride is one of the best things to do here.

Dining at Michelin Star Restaurants

Plate of fish and vegetables on a table at restaurant

You should treat yourself to a Michelin Star restaurant while in San Francisco. 

The city is known for its stunning food scene

This means they make excellent and creative food.

Local fresh goods are used to make the meals.

You will love trying new tastes that you can’t find anywhere else.

Exploring Chinatown

Red Chinese lanterns hanging above city street

Walking through North America’s oldest Chinatown is like entering a different world.

It’s right in the heart of San Francisco! You can see old, grand buildings and small parks with Chinese designs.

This part of San Francisco is home to the biggest Chinese community in North America.

You see bright shops, markets, and decorations on every road here.

There are so many places to try different dishes.

I also enjoy learning about old Chinese customs at temples and festivals.

Shopping is a treat, too, with many traditional Chinese items for sale, such as clothes, art pieces, and even herbal health cures.

It’s easy to lose time while exploring this full-of-life area.

There are also food tours that let you eat authentic Chinese food.

As you walk around, every shop tells a story about the rich past of this place and its people.

Hiking in San Francisco

paved hiking path with golden gate in background
Presidio Promenade Trail. Photo courtesy of

Hiking in San Francisco is one of my favorite things to do.

There are many trails.

Some are easy, others are hard. 

The Presidio is an excellent place for hikers.

It has a lot of trails and incredible views.

  • You can see the Golden Gate Bridge when you hike here.
  • Alcatraz also looks so close.
  • People who live here and people who visit love to hike.
  • You can see the city’s pretty outdoor places.
  • Hiking also lets you enjoy the pure and fresh air.

Enjoying the View from Twin Peaks

View of San Francisco from high point
View from Twin Peaks. Photo courtesy of San Francisco Recreation & Parks

Twin Peaks is a great hike.

It stands tall at almost 925 feet.

The hike is fun and a bit hard.

But it is worth it!

From the top, you can see all of San Francisco.

The sunsets and sunrises are so pretty.

You can also get great pics of the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Area from here.

If you like taking lovely photos, this is a must-visit spot.

Visiting the Ferry Building Marketplace

Ferry building in San Francisco  View from the water with boat in front

I love the Ferry Building Marketplace.

It is the biggest farmers market in San Francisco.

You can find fresh fruits and veggies there.

There are also hand-made items and fancy foods to try.

Visit on the weekends for the largest selection.

They always have vendors inside but there are additional vendors outside on the weekends.

This is when it really comes alive.

This marketplace is in an old building with a lot of history.

It used to be a place where boats came and went from SF.

There are so many food options!

You can try seafood, Asian food, Mexican dishes, and Mediterranean food.

Plus, you can see the Bay and the big Bay Bridge from here – stunning.

Visiting Famous Film and TV Locations

San Francisco shows up in many movies and TV shows.

You can visit places like these when you come here.

One great spot is the Painted Ladies.

These bright houses became famous because they were on the show “Full House.”

The Golden Gate Bridge has been in numerous movies such as “Vertigo” and “San Andreas.”.

Alcatraz Island is known for being part of the movie “Escape from Alcatraz.” and “The Rock”.

Unique San Francisco Experiences

San Francisco is packed with unique experiences that can’t be found anywhere else:

  • Witness the vibrant artistry of the Mission Murals.
  • Savor an afternoon tea at the historic Palace Hotel.
  • Explore Ghirardelli Square’s famed chocolate shops.
  • Listen to whispering waves at the one-of-a-kind Wave Organ.

Keep reading for more insights into hidden gems and unforgettable adventures in San Francisco!

Exploring the Mission Murals

Explore the Mission District.

The area is full of beautiful murals.

They show Latin American culture, history, and social justice themes.

Local artists made these murals to express their ideas and thoughts.

The best part?

You get a feel for San Francisco’s rich heritage just by looking at them.

Having Afternoon Tea at the Palace Hotel

Table with tea pot and cups and fancy desserts on tiered tray
Signature Afternoon Tea at the Palace Hotel. Photo courtesy of Palace Hotel

At the Palace Hotel, I love to sip afternoon tea.

The place is full of charm and history.

Sitting in a big, comfy chair, you can pick from many types of tea.

They also serve yummy treats with the tea.

It’s right in the heart of San Francisco, so visiting other spots after your tea break is easy.

Climbing the Filbert Street Steps

Steps surrounded by green bushes on either side
Photo courtesy of Tripadvisor

If you want to combine views and a workout, consider going up the Filbert Street Steps.

They take you high over San Francisco.

The steps are in Telegraph Hill, a cool part of town.

From the top, you can see all across the city and Bay.

It is really beautiful.

The steps have pretty gardens on each side.

Bright houses add color to your climb as well.

The trip up is hard but fun.

When you get to the top, it feels great to look out over everything.

Many people don’t know about these steps so they are not normally crowded.

Getting an Irish Coffee at Buena Vista

Line of irish coffees along a bar
Irish Coffees at the Buena Vista. Photo courtesy of Buena Vista.

The Buena Vista Cafe is one of my favorite spots in the city.

We stop by every time we are in town!  

It’s famous for making Irish Coffee.

This drink was invented by chef Joe Sheridan in 1952.

Now, this cafe makes up to 2000 of them each day.

Have 1 or 3, they are delicious.

Sit at the bar if there is a seat to watch the Irish coffees being made. 

People have been going to Buena Vista Cafe since 1916.

It is a big part of the city’s history. 

Indulging at Ghirardelli Square

Ghirardelli sign

Ghirardelli Square is a fun place to be.

And who doesn’t like chocolate!!  

It’s where you find the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, which has been making yummy chocolates for over 160 years. 

The place is full of sweet things like sundaes, milkshakes, coffees, and hot cocoa.

The Ghirardelli Chocolate Store is always a stop after having Irish Coffees.  

I recommend their chocolate milkshakes or hot cocoa.

If you have a sweet tooth like me, this is your place in San Francisco.

Spotting Sea Lions at Pier 39

Pier 39 is a fun place in San Francisco.

You can see the famous California sea lions.

They love to hang out on the docks.

Some days, they also float in the water near the pier. 

People love to watch them play and hear their loud calls.

Attending an Outdoor Music Festival

Several people sitting on a lawn for a concert

Going to an outdoor music festival is one of the best things I did while living in San Francisco.

  • Golden Gate Park is great place to see live shows.
  • The live music filled the air, creating a lively vibe that can’t be beaten.
  • The backdrop for the performances was breathtaking. Looking beyond the stage, you can see iconic landmarks.
  • Among all these, there were food stalls on every corner. The smell of mouthwatering food was everywhere.
  • Art installs added a touch of creativity.
  • Lastly, mixing with San Francisco’s culture and soaking up its artistic atmosphere made you feel alive. Its a great way to get to know this city like a local

Listening to the Ocean at the Wave Organ

Rocks along a jetty
Photo courtesy of Exploratorium

I’ve been to the Wave Organ in San Francisco’s Marina District.

It’s a cool art piece that makes sounds with ocean waves.

It’s part of the Exploratorium and located on a jetty.

Each visit feels new because the weather and tide change the organ’s songs.

Best of all, it is free for everyone to enjoy.

Experiencing Sausalito’s Small-Town Charm

a city on a hill as viewed from the water

I love the charm of Sausalito, a small town just north of San Francisco.

We always take the ferry over to Sausalito when we are in town.

Just make sure to bring a sweater because it can get chilly on the water.  

Sausalito has beautiful views and lots of art to see.

I enjoy walking by the water.

They also have lovely shops where you can find unique gifts.

Be sure to grab a burger at the revolving grill downtown.

You can’t miss it; there is a large window with burgers cooking in front of you.

The burgers are delicous! 

There are also great spots to eat where you can look out at the water.

One cool thing about Sausalito is the homes that float on the water!

If you want to learn about more amazing coastal towns, check out our article on the best vacation spots on the gulf coast.

Shopping for Vintage in Haight-Ashbury

Haight ashbury street signs

If you love shopping, make sure to find some groovy gifts in Haight-Ashbury. 

It’s a fun neighborhood for vintage shopping.

It’s a quintessential part of San Francisco.

The stores here have clothes and trinkets from way back. 

This place is associated with peace and love in the 60s.

It’s a great place to find unique items. 

The Best of San Francisco’s Nightlife

As the sun sets, San Francisco’s nightlife comes alive.

You can immerse yourself in classical music at the San Francisco Symphony or dance to live music at the iconic Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar.

Roll into a unique skating experience under swirling disco lights at Church of 8 Wheels, marvel at antique arcade games at Musée Mécanique, or get lost in an auditory adventure in darkness at Audium Theater of Sound.

No matter your interests, there’s a night activity that suits every traveler in this buzzing city.

San Francisco Symphony

Large dark auditorium with hanging lights and orchestra in pit
Photo courtesy of San Francisco Symphony

Try to visit the San Francisco Symphony.

Their music is terrific, and they offer all types of music.

You’ll get to enjoy it in a beautiful building called Davies Symphony Hall.

This hall has excellent sound, so every note is just right.

Prominent star artists join the band from time to time.

Sometimes, they offer extras such as talks before the show or parties after it’s over.

Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar

Wooden boat on a river surrounded by tables in a hotel tiki bar
Photo courtesy of Fairmont San Francisco

The Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar is a fun spot in San Francisco. 

You can find it inside the Fairmont San Francisco hotel.

They have been giving guests a good time since 1945.

The bar has lots of tropical drinks to pick from.

If you like tiki-inspired drinks, this place is for you.

It features a big indoor lagoon.

There are live tunes to groove to and lots of space to dance.

Many say it’s one of the best night spots in the city.

Church of 8 Wheels

Several people rollerskating inside a church
Photo courtesy of Church of 8 wheels

For a unique experience, visit the Church of 8 Wheels.

It’s an old church that has turned into a roller disco.

The place is full of life and color, with people skating to music.

All are welcome here, whether you are an experienced skater or beginner.

They also have fun theme nights like the ’80s night and disco nights.

You want to take advantage of this special part of San Francisco’s nightlife.

Musée Mécanique

several people playing arcade games inside
Photo courtesy of Musee Mecanique

Musée Mécanique is a fun spot at Fisherman’s Wharf.

This museum has over 300 old arcade games.

It also displays some cool antique toys.

One of these is a vintage model of San Francisco.

Musée Mécanique stands out as one of the last mechanical museums in the U.S.

The museum stays open late. 

So, if you love to stay up late, this is a great place for you.

Stop by and enjoy an exciting trip into the past with lots of fun games to play.

Audium Theater of Sound

Large room with speakers overhead and chairs in middle of room
Photo courtesy of Audium

You can’t miss the Audium Theater of Sound.

It was opened in 1967 by Stan Shaff and Doug McEachern.

This theater is not like others. According to the owners, “Listeners are bathed in sound sculptures performed through 176 speakers in total darkness”. 

They play sound from every direction.

All kinds of compositions are played here.

People love this place for its new ways to enjoy sound.

Your ears will enjoy this fun trip to the Audium Theater of Sound. 

Is San Francisco Worth Visiting?


San Francisco is a city full of fun and wonder.

Each day here can bring new adventures.

There’s something for everyone, from food to sports, history to art.

Don’t wait any longer – San Francisco is waiting for you!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Can I enjoy nature in San Francisco?

Yes. You can visit the San Francisco Botanical Garden, Alamo Square Park, or Golden Gate National Recreation Area near Ocean Beach for stunning Pacific Ocean views.

Which museums should I check out when visiting San Francisco?

You could explore the California Academy of Sciences, the Asian Art Museum, and the Walt Disney Family Museum, among many others, for an enriching experience. 

Where can sports fans have fun in San Francisco?

Sports fans have lots to see. The home ground of ‘San Fransisco Giants,’ Oracle Park, is impressive; those interested in sports history would find a tour inside Candlestick Park intriguing.

Does Chinatown offer anything unique to visitors?

Yes. North America’s oldest Chinatown, located here, offers sensational food, while shops along Grant Avenue make shopping delightful.

Dr. Shannon Barrett

Dr. Shannon Barrett

Veterinarian/Travel Writer/Digital Nomad

Dr. Shannon Barrett is a veterinarian and digital nomad. She owned a housecall practice, Island Veterinary Care, for over a decade and now travels full time. She lives in different beach towns and then writes travel guides based on her time there. If you’re looking for resources on travel destinations or how to become a digital nomad, then you’ve come to the right place! Love to bring your pets with you? Even better!