What you need to know!
Such an interesting deep dive into the Castro and Mission neighborhoods, for which we had an incredibly sunny warm summer day. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable, having grown up in the area, and pointed out not only historical places, but beautiful murals, homes and fun nooks and crannies (like hidden stairways to streets) that we never would have seen on our own. We definitely came away with much more of an appreciation for Castro and the Mission (love Dolores Park!) and will seek out other neighborhoods on our next trip!
I had the most amazing time, as a solo traveller doing a small group tour is perfect. My tour guide was very knowledgeable and friendly. He gave us lots of fun facts along the way and the whole experience was very interesting. Bring your walking shoes we started at 10 am and finished at 6 pm, I highly recommend you do this tour. We went to places tourist didn’t go.
My Boyfriend and I booked an all Day SF tour with Christofer and had an amazing time! He knew a ton of history which we loved and we were able to see a ton. We loved it as it had been our first time visiting. Would highly recommend to anyone wanting to be shown around the city.
Did a wonderful tour with these guys while I was in San Francisco on business. I’d also done a tour with the sister company in Los Angeles several years ago. Kevin, who was the guide, was great and it was so nice to be outside. We learnt tons about SF. Definitely recommended!
Our guide Damien was so very knowledgeable about the area and history of SF. We experienced different methods of transport (avoiding those big hills!) and areas we would not otherwise have known about.
Damien was the best! Friendly & very informative. He took into consideration our interests & made it very enjoyable. Great exercise- best way to see SF. Liked Haight Ashbury the most.
We had a two day layover in San Francisco, so we wanted to make the most of our time there. It’s always been somewhere we wanted to visit and on this tour we got to all the places we most dreamed of going – downtown, Nob hill, Castro, Haight Ashbury, painted ladies, Lombard St, North beach and Chinatown. It was only a small group and the guide was amazing. It wasn’t tiring at all and we had a great time jumping from trains to buses to cable cars. AWESOME DAY!!!
15 Things to Do in San Francisco
Guests ask us all the time for our recommendations of the best things to do in San Francisco (other than our tours of course!). There are, as you might expect in a city like SF, a LOT of options. So, how do you narrow it down? Easy! Check our selection below. There are some icons you definitely will know, like the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, as well as a few lesser known spots like Angel Island, via a couple of National Parks. Either way we give you our advice, based on the fact that we're experts on San Francisco, so you can make the most of your trip to the Bay Area.
We also produce a guide to the top events happening here every month, such as screenings, festivals, exhibitions and concerts on Inside SF. Have a look at that too for more ideas on activities to make the most of your stay.
Activities & Places of Interest in SF
1. ALCATRAZ ISLAND (TOP PHOTO)
This has to be at, or near, the top of your list of things to do in San Francisco - and why not? It's almost certainly one of the top three things that pops into your mind when you think of San Francisco - the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and cable-cars (we'll cover them all here).
Alcatraz Island gets its name from the Pelicans that used to live on the Island ("alcatraz" in old Spanish, now it's "pelicanos") and was, for many years, one of the highest security prisons in the U.S. You can spend a whole day here, exploring the island and its facilities. It's a must-do.
2. GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE
Again, a must-do for most visitors to San Francisco. There are many places with views of the bridge - Alcatraz for one - but, if you can, make a point of actually visiting the bridge itself. It really is awe inspiring.
In Summer 2023 we're launching the Real San Francisco Bike tour which will take guests to the Presidio, which has some of the best views of the bridge.
3. GOLDEN GATE PARK
A fantastic park, with some fascinating - and often hidden - parts that are well worth exploring. There's a Botanical Garden, a Japanese Tea Garden and a great art museum (the De Young Museum) to visit. There's a reason why this is the third most-visited urban park in the U.S.
The birthplace of the 1960's Hippie Movement, the Haight is still well worth a visit. Protestors against the Vietnam War and other Bohemians and artists first moved here due to the abundance of vacant properties and low rents, primarily because a freeway was planned to run through the area.
However, the new residents, through legal action and demonstrations, were able to get the freeway project axed, and so the neighborhood has retained that counter-cultural vibe. It was the first place where you could legally buy LSD in the U.S., and while that's not possible anymore, there are many other attractions in the neighborhood.
5. THE CASTRO
Another socially important San Francisco neighborhood, the Castro has a very important role in LGBTQ history. Partly because of "White Flight" in the 1960's properties in the area became much cheaper and, allied with the Hippie movement (with its preaching of free love etc) becoming established in nearby Haight-Ashbury, the Castro became one of the first "gay neighborhoods" in the U.S. during that time. It's still a vibrant inner-city neighborhood with a ton of great bars and restaurants.
6. MISSION DISTRICT
This is effectively where San Francisco began in 1776 with the Mission San Francisco de Asis. Of course Original Americans already lived here, but the arrival of Spanish Colonialists ended the Ohlone People's largely peaceful and successful existence. Now it's a lively, fun neighborhood with a significant Latin American and artistic flavor.
One of the most interesting things to see in the Mission District are the many street murals in the area, we take guests to some of the best places to view street art and some of the best spots for eat on our SF: Food + History + Art tout.
7. DOWNTOWN SAN FRANCISCO
Downtown San Francisco is cool, it's as simple as that. From its picturesque, historic neighborhoods, like Jackson Square, Chinatown and North Beach (Little Italy), to the cafes and restaurants of the Ferry Terminal and Fisherman's Wharf, to the gondolas of Salesforce Park, to the famed cable-cars rattling through the streets, downtown has something for everyone. You can easily - and definitely should if you have the time - spend two or three days exploring it.
8. MUIR WOODS
California redwood trees are amongst the largest living organisms on the planet and you can see them just across the Bay from San Francisco at the Muir Woods National Park, in Marin County, where they're watered by the Redwood Creek. Take the opportunity to cross the Golden Gate Bridge to visit these awesome, beautiful, California inhabitants, you'll be glad you did.
9. SAN FRANCISCO MUSEUM OF MODERN ART
Was seeing some art on your list of things to do in San Francisco? If not make a point of adding it, because SF MOMA has a great collection of modern art, including important pieces by Georgia O'Keefe, Henri Matisse and Frida Kahlo (amongst many others) and it's handily located, right in the heart of downtown.
10. COIT TOWER
Coit Tower has been a beacon for San Francisco ever since it was completed, in 1933, but many people don't realize that they can actually take an elevator to the top and enjoy its fine views of the city and Bay, from above famed Telegraph Hill.
11. A NIGHT AT THE OPERA
Why not enjoy some "high art" while in San Francisco? San Francisco Opera is one of the biggest Opera companies in the U.S. and the War Memorial Opera House is one of its most beautiful venues. If your timing is right, they may be doing a simulcast while you're visiting, at Oracle Park, meaning you can watch the opera at the San Francisco Giants Stadium. Something else you can do is check if you can catch a game while you're in SF
12. SAN FRANCISCO CITY HALL
San Francisco City Hall quickly became a symbol of the city's rebirth after the devastating earthquake and fire of 1906. It's a beautiful, neo-classical building - that you may recognize from Raiders of the Lost Ark, when it stood in for Congress - and is well-worth a visit. If you do, be sure to find time to walk over to Hayes Valley, a neighborhood a few blocks away that's full of nice cafe's, bars and restaurants.
13. ANGEL ISLAND
After going to Alcatraz, how about visiting another island in San Francisco Bay? This one's sure to be way less crowded. Boasting some great views of the Golden Gate Bridge, there are plenty of things to do on Angel Island, including touring the Immigration Station (the west coast version of Ellis Island), hiking and hanging out in some great little cafes and restaurants.
If you want to learn more about San Francisco, and step off the beaten track a little, we have two tours which visit Haight-Ashbury, the Castro, the Mission and City Hall (in addition to numerous other interesting spots) - the Half Day SF City Highlights and SF in a Day tours. The tours start near Embarcadero and are great for getting an overview of the city.
14. PRESIDIO OF SAN FRANCISCO
This park sits on the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge, so it has some of the best views of the structure (which is great for those Instagram photos :-), but it has plenty of other attractions and things to do including Chrissy Field, the Presidio itself and Baker Beach.
Home of the oldest campus in the University of California, Berkeley has the feel of a College Town in many ways, with a vibrant scene of great bars, restaurants and cafes. It also has some great cultural offerings, such as the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), so there are plenty of reasons to visit.
If you're staying in San Francisco itself you can take the ferry over from the Ferry Terminal to Richmond and walk or take the bus from the wharf.
If you have any feedback on our recommendations of things to do in San Francisco, or if you have some recommendations of your own, please email us and let us know. We’ll be sure to take it into account.
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