San Francisco is one of the most visited cities in the US for a reason. There are so many marvelous attractions and things to do in San Francisco that it comes as no surprise that the number of tourists and newcomers to the area rises every year. Known as the cultural and commercial hub of Northern California, the City by the Bay makes a great home full of opportunities and interesting sites to explore
There’s always something new and interesting to explore here. Now that you’re moving to San Francisco, we’re certain that you can’t wait to dig in and experience all those attractions that so many people flock to see.
There might be just one problem – there’s so much to do and see that you feel somewhat overwhelmed, and you don’t know where to start. To help you make a plan to get to know the area and its beauties, we’d like to share a list of some of the most interesting things to do in Fog City.
Be Sure to Cross the Golden Gate Bridge
It’s only fair to start with the Golden Gate Bridge, given that this landmark is, without a doubt, one of the most iconic symbols of SF. Opened back in 1937, this awe-inspiring structure still stands not only as a symbol of SF but also representing all the hard work and determination invested in its construction. At 746 feet high and as much as 8,980 feet long, Golden Gate connects SF to Marin County.
Even if there’s no actual need to cross it, you should do it – it’s an experience to remember. To make it even more memorable, take a walk or go by bike. This will give you the opportunity to fully enjoy this marvel of modern engineering and the magnificent view of the surroundings. Just make sure to go on a clear day, so as not to get socked in with fog at times.
Watch Blue Angels Flying Over the Golden Gate Bridge
If you happen to be in SF during the Fleet Week, don’t miss the air show featuring Blue Angels, US Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, flying over Golden Gate. This is an annual event held between Golden Gate and Alcatraz that honors men and women serving in the armed forces and cherishes the navy tradition.
Even though there are other attractions to see during Fleet Week, Blue Angels somehow always draw the most attention. The spectacle includes various acrobatic maneuvers performed by six pilots flying at high speed in a tight clump. Their outrageous and amazingly precise stunts leave the crowd breathless. Here’s a sneak peek:
Take a Stroll Down Golden Gate Park
Within its 1,017 acres, this complex hides many attractions worth exploring, some to relax and enjoy tranquility, others to have fun. Whether you’re moving with your kids, just with your partner, or all by yourself, you’ll find something to do here for sure. There’s the beautiful Stow Lake where you can go to escape the crowded streets of SF. There are also picnic areas and gardens, as well as playgrounds for your little ones. You can also take part in some exciting activities here or go to some of the many events held there.
Being home to the highly acclaimed de Young Museum, this park is perfect for fine art lovers. With many hills, gardens, meadows, and lakes, it makes an ideal destination for those looking for some peace and quiet, too. With Dutch windmills, Japanese pagodas, and Chinese pavilion, it is also the right place for those looking for diversity. All in all, it is a must-visit destination for everyone. Let’s take a look at only a few of the many attractions that you should keep in mind.
Visit the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Three-Day Festival
In addition to Fleet Week, if you’re in SF in October, you might want to check out Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, a music festival held the first weekend in October. This is a festival of non-commercial music where you can always hear something new and exciting while spending time in the fresh air and beautiful nature all around you. This is one of the largest festivals of its kind in the entire country.
Go to the Japanese Tea Garden
When you’re yearning for serenity away from the busy streets and the hustle and bustle, head straight to the Japanese Tea Garden to unwind. The winding paths and Japanese plants, ponds of koi, and pagodas all around already make the setting so peaceful that you never want to leave it. Built in 1894, this is the oldest Japanese garden in the country. The Tea House stands in the center of the Garden by the water, overlooking the picturesque landscape and welcoming visitors to come in for a hot cup of tea or some other Japanese refreshment. The Japanese Tea Garden is a must-see, especially when you’re so close to it already. Even more so – it’s worth visiting even if you’re nowhere near it.
Head to Ocean Beach
This beautiful beach might be a perfect place to relax or go surfing if you’re up for an adventure. Keep in mind that the waves are rather strong and can be dangerous, so only experienced surfers dare to test their skills here. Given that the water temperature is usually around 60 degrees, even during summer, this might not be the right beach to go to if you feel like swimming. However, it’s great if you want to go fishing or gather around the bonfire with your friends, which seems to be the favorite thing to do here for many locals.
When it comes to the weather, keep in mind that it can be somewhat foggy and windy at Ocean Beach, so it’s a good idea to pack some warm clothes, too. If you’re not that thrilled about packing to start with, here’s a friendly reminder: you can rely on professional movers to provide you with packing and unpacking services to save you the trouble.
Enjoy the Breathtaking View from Twin Peaks
At the elevation of almost 1,000 feet, Twin Peaks are the perfect spot to enjoy a magnificent view of the city. You can see many of the major landmarks from here, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge, and Transamerica Building. In the distance, you can even see the cities of Oakland and Berkley across the water.
It’s hard to tell whether it is more spectacular by day or night. When it’s dark, this is an excellent place to see all the lights of the metropolis sparkling. If you decide to go by night, it’s advisable to drive to the parking lot instead of hiking because it’s a safer option. You can even join the night tour, which lasts for two and a half hours. Whenever you go, be prepared for stiff winds and somewhat lower temperatures as you reach the top, so dress accordingly.
Hiking Trails Towards Twin Peaks
To get the full experience, it might be best to leave your car and walk to the top of Twin Peaks. Some time ago, the trails leading up to the top were not that convenient for hiking, but now, there are wooden stairs instead of dirt paths, which makes it easier and less slippery for climbing.
Depending on how long you’re willing to hike, you have two options. You can depart from a nearby neighborhood and climb all along the winding paths up to the top, or drive to the parking lot and hike only to the top. You might get a little bit tired of walking all the way up there. But not only will this make the entire experience more memorable, but you might also get to see the endangered Mission Blue Butterfly or any of other animals that inhabit the area, such as brush rabbits and coyotes.
Go to the Museum of Modern Art – It’s Free If You’re Under 18
When in SF, it would be a shame to miss out on one of the largest museums in the country and even worldwide (when it comes to modern and contemporary art). It stretches on 173,000 square feet and currently includes more than 33,000 works of art. Whether you’re interested in paintings, architecture, sculpture, media arts, or photography, you can find it all here. When you wish to get some fresh air, check out the 30 feet high Living Wall, currently the largest such wall in the US.
The entry is free for those aged 18 and younger, while for adults, the ticket costs $25. If you want to have a guide, you can choose between several options – public, private, group, and school visits. SFMOMA is open Friday through Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and it’s closed on Wednesdays. On Thursdays, it’s open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Dining at the SFMOMA
When you get tired and want to take a break, you don’t have to leave the SFMOMA. There are fine eateries for visitors to grab something to eat or just for refreshment. Dining at SFMOMA is a unique feature that will make your experience even more enjoyable and comfortable.
Go to Alcatraz and Hear the Story about the Former Prison
One of the most famous former federal prisons is, without a doubt, one of the most visited attractions today. With that in mind, know that the tickets usually sell weeks in advance, so if you’re planning to visit the island (and you should), make sure you plan it on time and book the tickets well in advance. It is also advisable to take a tour with a 35-minute audio headset to hear more about the prison and stories from former guards – it’s worth it.
You can take a ferry from Pier 33 and be on the island in just 15 minutes. You should know that the island itself is a national park, so there’s even more there to explore and see than just the famous prison. As for the prison, some of the original prison buildings are no longer there, some burned out during the occupation in the 1960s, while others were torn down in the 1970s because they could no longer be repaired.
If you want to make your visit even creepier, you can book the Alcatraz Night Tour and go to the prison at night for around $46. Note that these are available only for about 100 visitors per evening, and they include some special programs that are not included if you go by day.
We suggest that you also consider booking Alcatraz Cruises from Pier 33, which can also include an extended tour to Angel Island, where you can hike, rent a bike or a kayak, or have a picnic and enjoy the beautiful landscape.
The oldest operating lighthouse on the entire West Coast, the white Alcatraz Lighthouse, was built back in 1854. In fact, this was the original version of the lighthouse, which was later replaced by a taller one in 1909 after the 1906 earthquake. Today, it is not open for visitors, but you can still see it from the outside.
Save the Date for the Eat Drink SF Event
In addition to some of the best restaurants in San Francisco, you should also check out the popular food and drink festival held in August. It is excellent both for restaurant owners, who get to promote their gastronomic experience and expertise, and the visitors, who get to taste a variety of specialties, as well as take part in some workshops. A gathering of culinary aficionados, Eat Drink SF offers a wide selection of most exquisite delicacies and wines and thus celebrates the culinary community in the area. More than 3,000 attendees make the festival spectacular and worth visiting regularly. Every year, new world-class restaurants and sommeliers join, bringing something new to taste. Don’t miss some of the finest food delights all under one roof. Make sure you’re in SF next August.
Explore Union Square – You Can Do More Than Shopping Here
Being the third-largest shopping area in the country, Union Square is primarily known as one of the main shopping destinations, but there’s so much more to it. Not only can you enjoy excellent dining places there, too, but you can visit some cultural institutions and events, as well.
When it comes to food, don’t miss out on elegant restaurants serving top-notch specialties with a special emphasis on Italian cuisine. There are also various culinary events, such as tasting dinners, cooking demos, as well as food festivals. If you’re moving during the holidays, there’s a whole list of holiday events to check out, as well as skating events at the Union Square Ice Skating Rink.
As for cultural institutions, you can go to the American Conservatory Theatre, of the most acclaimed theaters there or Martin Lawrence Galleries to admire the works of prominent artists such as Pablo Picasso, Rembrandt, Marc Chagall, Andy Warhol, and many others. If you’re interested in exploring works by contemporary visual artists, there’s San Francisco Art Exchange gallery.
For those of you looking to shop here, be prepared for rather high prices because the plaza is full of upscale stores and exclusive boutiques.
More Things to Do in San Francisco to Explore the City
When going to such a fantastic metropolis like SF, exploring never ends. You can always find more engrossing things to do. Either you missed something or something new emerged in the meantime. Either way, you can be sure you’ll never get bored or tired of learning more about your new place of residence. To help you further explore the area and get to know it even better, we’ll list a couple more ideas on what to do once you finally get there.
Take a Walking Tour
One of the best ways to explore any area and make a day of it is to simply walk around. The same goes for SF. Given its mostly temperate climate, there should be no issues weather-wise stopping you from enjoying the scenic views and majestic attractions hiding around every corner. If you’re looking for an adventure, explore the city by yourself and walk around to see whatever strikes you the most. In case you don’t think you can organize the sightseeing without help, you can always sign up for guided walking tours, such as these:
- Haight Ashbury Flower Power Walking Tour– a quick two-and-a-half-hour walk taking you back to the 60s. A trip to the Psychedelic History Museum is included.
- San Francisco Ghost Hunt Walking Tour– enjoy a walk around Pacific Heights, a posh residential neighborhood offering a panoramic view of the skyline.
- All about Chinatown– as the name itself suggest, this one is perfect for those looking to learn a bit more about SF’s Chinatown, feel the atmosphere there, and stop by Fortune Cookie Factory.
See the Painted Ladies
Be sure to check out another of the many iconic locations – the Painted Ladies, also known as the Seven Sisters, classic, colorful buildings built in the Victorian architectural style give a special vibe to the neighborhood. Combined with the view of SF skyscrapers in the distance, this unique sight is, without a doubt, worth a visit.
Built between 1892 and 1896, these colorful Victorian houses are located at 710–720 Steiner Street, easily accessible from Market Street via Muni line #21. If you go from Fisherman’s Wharf, it will take you about 40-45 minutes to get here.
Go to the Aquarium of the Bay
How do you like getting a close look at various sea creatures, including jellyfish, starfish, sharks, and eels? Head to the Aquarium of the Bay for a memorable experience. The Aquarium is home to more than 20,000 animals inhabiting the Bay Area. Not only do you get to admire the aquatic life here, but you can also learn a lot about various species. There are different exhibit areas to enjoy, each offering a unique experience. You can even touch some types of animals, such as skates, bat rays, leopard sharks, and sea stars.
The Aquarium is open Monday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Depending on whether you’re going by yourself, with your family, or as a part of a group, the ticket price varies. Plan ahead to see what you find more affordable and convenient and explore the magic of the underwater world.
Go to Pier 39 to See the Sea Lions
If you go to the Aquarium, you’re already at Pier 39, so it would be such a shame to miss seeing the sea lions basking just outside at the waterfront. It might be because this is a safe place away from open water predators or because of the comfort of the docks, or something else, either way, the sea lions just love it here. Over time, they have become one of the major tourist attractions in SF. If you’re lucky enough, you might catch them diving or barking at each other for fun. In addition to sea lions, you can also stop for lunch in one of the fine restaurants there.
Take a Hike to Coit Tower
Here’s another place offering fantastic panoramic views of the city. Located in on the top of Telegraph Hill in Pioneer Park, the tower is 210 feet high. It was built back in 1933 using Lillie Hitchcock Coit’s bequest.
Not only can you enjoy a breathtaking view from the top, but the inside of the tower is also worth visiting. The ground floor lobby features a series of fresco murals depicting the daily life routine of the working class in 1930s California. To reach the observation deck, you’ll have to use the elevator and buy a ticket for elevator admission, while the outside area and murals are free of charge. When you wish to go down, don’t take the same road – there’s a path leading straight to the waterfront, so make your experience more enjoyable and exciting.
Take a Walk Down San Francisco’s Lombard Street
You must have seen it so many times – the most crooked street in the entire world. Lombard Street is widely known as a major attraction, whether you go to walk or drive down or just take a picture with it behind you. It stretches from The Presidio to The Embarcadero in the Russian Hill neighborhood. If you ever wondered why it was made so crooked, the answer is quite simple – safety. Namely, the hill is so steep that it would be impossible to drive or walk down it if it wasn’t for these eight hairpin turns.
Just steps away from the crooked part, there are several famous houses, including the Real World House, the Montandon House, as well as Scottie’s Apartment from Vertigo.
Check out Wave Organ
Wave Organ rarely makes it to the list of most popular attractions because of its somewhat hidden location, but it is worth visiting. It’s not that far away, after all. It is located on a jetty in the Marina district. This intriguing acoustic sculpture was built in 1986. The idea was to create a sculpture that will interact with the waves to create the sound of music. How often can you see an organ played by the ocean, right? The music is best heard during the tide, so keep that in mind before you make any plans.
While you’re there, you might also want to go to the Crissy Field recreational area, which is only about 1.8 miles away.
Go to Yerba Buena Gardens Park
When you get tired of the buzzing downtown area, but you still don’t have a chance to go that far away, take a stroll to Yerba Buena Gardens, a park located in the very heart of SF. It is a perfect place to enjoy nature right there in the middle of SF.
More precisely, it consists of two blocks, one bordered by Mission and Howard Streets, and the second one between Howard and Folsom Streets. Wherever you find yourself, you can always get to the other block simply by cross a pedestrian bridge. There are all kinds of attractions there, too, including several renowned museums, such as the Contemporary Jewish Museum, Museum of the African Diaspora, and SFMOMA.
When You Move There, Clear Your Schedule to Explore SF Properly
As you can see, there’s an endless string of opportunities to have fun or see something new and unusual in the Fog City. And the fog won’t bother you because its beauties are sure to make up for any weather inconveniences. You’ll want to leave enough time to enjoy all the parks, gardens, galleries, historic sites, and unique events in this spectacular metropolis. You’ll also need to plan your sightseeing carefully so as not to miss anything. Hopefully, we’ve helped you with the planning part.
Before you start packing your apartment, be sure to learn more about some of the best neighborhoods in San Francisco, too, and the best places to live in San Francisco overall. You should also find out more about the cost of living in San Francisco to be sure you can afford to live there, and perhaps choose your future neighborhood based on monthly expenses. Wherever you go, you won’t regret your decision, as this is an amazing place to call home.
If what concerns you is the relocation process itself, remember that you can always hire reputable San Francisco relocation experts with professional moving services to ease the process. Professional movers can handle everything for you, from storage to auto transport, if you’re shipping your vehicle, too. Your only concern should be how to fit all those fantastic attractions and get to experience most of them for starters.