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35 Best things to see & do in San Francisco

  • San Francisco, California, United States of America (USA)

Last updated: 04 July, 2023
Expert travel writer: Laura Kiniry
  • San Francisco, California, United States of America (USA)

The big red bridge spanning across the bay at sunset

Bucket List Experience

Golden Gate Bridge

This red-hued, 1.75-mile suspension bridge that spans the Golden Gate Strait, where the Pacific meets the San Francisco Bay, is the city’s most iconic landmark – and one of the world’s most famous bridges.

Surrounding the bridge is another of San Francisco’s jewels: the Presidio, a former military outpost, which now comprises 1,400 acres of forest, marshland, museums, historic buildings, and even two beaches.

One great way to see and experience the Bridge is to hire a bike and cycle through the Presidio and over the Golden Gate Bridge for coffee or lunch in the quaint village of Sausalito.

Good for age: 8+

  • San Francisco, California, United States of America (USA)

View of Alcatraz prison, San Francisco from the water

Bucket List Experience

Alcatraz

A mile-and-a-half offshore in the San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz – or ‘The Rock’ as its residents affectionately dubbed it – was one of America’s highest-security prisons until it shut down in 1963 (the razor-sharp cliffs and frigid waters were enough to deter most escape plans).

Nowadays, visitors can hop on the ferry at Perry 33 and tour the accommodations once occupied by Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly. Luckily, overnight visitors are no longer accepted.

Adult price: £35

Good for age: 8+

  • San Francisco, California, United States of America (USA)

Telegraph Hill - San Francisco best neighbourhoods

Bucket List Experience

San Francisco’s neighbourhoods

San Francisco is a collection of culturally and visually distinct, fiercely independent, neighbourhoods – and they are undoubtedly the city’s greatest attractions.

Despite its relatively small size (just under 47 square miles), SF manages to pack in 36 ‘official’ neighbourhoods (though on many people’s reckoning, there are more than that), meaning you’ll enjoy a unique and rich cultural journey by default as you explore this beautiful city.

Good for age: 18+

  • San Francisco, California, United States of America (USA)

With seven floors and more than 33,000 works of modern and contemporary art, including design, photography, and media arts, the SF MoMA boasts one of the largest holdings of 20th- and 21st-century works on the planet.

The Mario Botta-designed building is a sight in itself, but inside you’ll find Picassos and Pollocks galore, as well as works by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol’s self-portraits, and photography by Ansel Adams. Also look out for artwork by abstract painter Mark Rothko, and master of 20th Century Realism, Edward Hopper, as well as the 30-foot-tall Living Wall made up of over 19,000 plants.

The museum’s store features everything from sunburst clocks to Warhol ‘Soup Can’ skateboards, and a gourmet cafe serves up tasty seasonal eats.

 

Adult price: £20

Good for age: 18+

  • San Francisco, California, United States of America (USA)

Known for its strong winds, spectacular scenery, barking sea lions, and rich maritime history, the largest estuary in the U.S. already stands-out as a fine place to sail. Add showstopping landmarks the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz to the mix, and you’ve surely got one of the world’s premier places to sail.

Suitable for all levels and ages, sailing here is a tranquil, sometimes exciting, means to soak up the views and take in the panoramic beauty of this extraordinary bay city.

If you have more time, there are sailing courses available too, designed to teach ‘you the ropes’ (pun intended). What better place to learn to sail?

Adult price: £50

Good for age: 8+

Duration: 1.5-3 hours

  • San Francisco, California, United States of America (USA)

To really appreciate the splendour of the Golden Gate Bridge, hire a bike and cycle across the Bridge to Sausalito, a charming small town and artist colony full of cutesy cafés and boutiques, and a number of art galleries.

This compact bayside hamlet marks the perfect end (or halfway point) to a bike ride. Stop for lunch or afternoon tea, with views back across the bay to the city. Then cycle or take the ferry back.

Even if you don’t fancy the eight-mile cycle ride there, catch ferries both ways. It’s still a lovely place for a cycle and a spot of lunch, including the boat trip across the harbour past Alcatraz. You can also hire electric bikes which reduce the effort needed (notably on hills).

Adult price: £20

Good for age: 8+

Duration: 3-4 hours

  • San Francisco, California, United States of America (USA)

Gallery and paintings inside the SFMOMA

Bucket List Experience

World-class art in San Francisco

From its myriad of art museums to its on-the-rise-again street art, there’s no shortage of stand-out artwork in San Francisco.

Nearly everything about the city has an artistic edge. There’s the exquisite Art Deco beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge, and the colourful heart sculptures – which debuted in 2004 – that still dot the streets in spots like the Lyon Street Steps and SOMA’s Moscone Center.

The city is home to several world-class art museums, including the Museum of Modern Art and the De Young Museum for fine art.

For showcasing local artistic talent, there are top-quality independent art galleries and special events such as SF Open Studios, the spring Art Market and the DIY Renegade Craft Fair.

Good for age: 18+

  • San Francisco, California, United States of America (USA)

First of all: the Golden Gate Park is not adjacent to the Golden Gate Bridge. Rather, this rectangular, 1017-acre urban park lies on the city’s west side – San Francisco’s equivalent of Central Park but 20% bigger.

It’s home to some pretty stellar attractions, among them the world-class DeYoung Art Museum, the California Academy of Sciences, the Japanese Tea Garden, and the Conservatory of Flowers – not to mention acre upon acre of green goodness.

You can hire bikes or rollerskates to explore, and rowboats or waterbikes from the boathouse on the northwest side to float on Stow Lake, one of the park’s loveliest spots.

Good for age: 4+

  • San Francisco, California, United States of America (USA)

Part of California’s 82,116 acre Golden Gate National Recreation Area (which also includes Alcatraz and San Francisco’s Presidio), 558-acre Muir Woods is a forest of towering old-growth Redwood trees, some more than 150 years old.

Named after John Muir, ‘Father of the National Parks’, this Endor-like landscape became the country’s 10th national monument in 1908, and the first one to be created solely from land donated by an individual – in this case congressman William Kent.

Here you can stroll among giants in the forest’s Cathedral and Bohemian groves, where you can actually reach out and touch some of these ancient behemoths.

Outstanding walking trails and hiking paths wind through the forest. Trails range from an easy 0.8-mile Main Trail that follows along the park’s Redwood Creek (stroller and wheelchair accessible), to the Dipsea Trail, a strenuous 16.1 km out-and-back hike that climbs through redwood forest and offers sweeping views of the Pacific before descending onto its shores at Stinson Beach.

There’s plenty of wildlife too. Look out for black-tailed deer, bobcats and banana slugs.

Good for age: 4+

  • San Francisco, California, United States of America (USA)

Thanks to both the ocean and an abundance of farms on its doorstep, San Francisco is big on farm-to-table and sustainable cuisine. Green-leanings aside, culinary talent runs rampant in SF – in fact, the Bay Area is one of the three areas in the US that the Michelin Guide series rates.

A long-standing immigrant community from the East translates to some of the best Asian food outside Asia.

Good for age: 18+

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