If you are embodying Scott McKenzie’s 1967 hit and going to San Francisco, you will definitely meet all kinds of people there! What’s more, this diversity is beautifully communicated through local arts, food, festivals, museums, and architecture; leaving us with so many amazing things to do and see in the City by the Bay!
1. Be amazed at the California Academy of Sciences
The California Academy of Science has something for everyone and is bound to leave the whole family in awe and amazement. Attractions include the Steinhart Aquarium, which has over 40,000 creatures; the Osher Rainforest, which has four floors of animals and reptiles; and the Kimball Natural History Museum, which has interactive exhibits and simulators. There is even the Morrison Planetarium, which takes viewers through the universe via a 75-foot-diameter screen. This destination is nothing short of extraordinary, offering lots to look at and learn about!
2. Enjoy the Golden Gate Park
As you leave the Academy of Sciences, you will find yourself in the glory of the Golden Gate Park. This 1000-acre park boasts beautiful gardens, peaceful picnic places, vibrant playgrounds, manicured sports courts, and tranquil walking trails. The stand out features of the park include the Conservatory of Flowers (the oldest of its type in the Western Hemisphere) and the Japanese tea garden. The latter is made up of cherry trees, koi fish ponds, a pagoda that’s five stories high, walkways lined with bamboo, a zen garden, and a traditional tea house.
3. Marvel at the many museums
Families traveling to San Francisco need to make a stop at the Children’s Creativity Museum, where fun and engaging activities are available in a range of topics, from coding, to music, to animation. The Walt Disney Family Museum is also a great stop, allowing people of all ages to learn about the famous creator’s life through interactive displays. The Exploratorium is yet another amazing discovery, offering over 600 exhibits that together create a learning laboratory. Last, but certainly not least, is the Museum of Ice Cream which is a delicious gem indeed!
4. Frolic between fantastic festivals
There is a festival for all seasons in San Francisco! Kicking off Spring, is the Cherry Blossom Festival in Japan Town and the Chinese New Year Parade in Chinatown. Summer heats up with the Pride Parade, Outside Lands (an arts festival), as well as the original Alice Summerthing (a free concert for new and established artists). Fall brings along the Castro Street Fair (a dress-up delight) and finally, Winter closes off with the Ghirardelli Square Tree Lighting Ceremony (a family event with hot chocolate and live music).
5. Take a ride on a piece of history
Cable cars are iconic of San Francisco; often depicted in movies, media, and memorabilia. Originally built in the 1800s, these cable cars became a national landmark in 1964 and remain the only mobile landmark to this day, allowing riders to enjoy the cityscape at a casual speed of 9.5 MPH. Although riding cable cars has become more of a tourist activity than a local experience, most travelers say the experience is well worth it.
6. Hug a tree at the Muir Woods National Monument
For a blissful break from the big city and an opportunity to connect with nature, head on over to the Muir Woods National Monument and marvel at the luscious landscape. Perhaps you can even hug a rosey-barked Redwood, one of the tallest trees in the world which have lived over 800 years! If embracing these wise old trees isn’t your kind of thing, visitors can also enjoy short trail hikes as well as on-site beaches such as Rodeo, Muir, and Stinson Beach.
7. Cruise along the San Francisco Bay
Traveling by boat offers tourists unique views of the city, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the surrounding islands; making this the perfect option for photographers and view enthusiasts. Not to mention the experience of traveling by boat adds an extra element of adventure to any holiday! Tourists have the option to sail around the blue sea, going where the fresh ocean air takes them; take a ferry directly from one destination to the other (like Sausalito, Angel Island, or Alcatraz); or cruise on a comfortable ship for a sunset dinner.
8. Shop till you drop at Union Square
The bustling San Francisco cosmopolitan hub, Union Square, is a feast for the shoppers’ imagination – boasting a wealth of stores to peruse for hours on end. Spend an afternoon browsing this treasure trove of boutique houses brimming with eccentric trinkets, upscale shopping establishments sprinkled with jewel-encrusted garments, and art galleries lined with meticulous pieces of craftsmanship. When our legs start to get weary from the action-packed shopping spree, we can find peace near the granite pedestals where performers entertain passersby under the verdant trees that flank the amphitheater.
9. Get cultured at the Palace of the Fine Arts
The San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts is a momentous architectural landmark and beacon of historical significance, poised near a landscaped park and lazy lagoon in the Marina District. Taking design inspiration from the majestic age-old Greek colonnades and rotundas, the palace is a breathtaking spectacle that beckons to be featured on the ‘gram. Whether settling under the luxuriant trees for an afternoon picnic, or meandering its intricately decorated stone hallways; visitors will lose themselves in the creative spirit of the last remaining construct of the world-famous 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition.
10. Lose yourself at Lands End
Hikers and history buffs will rejoice when exploring the heritage-shrouded trails that wind their way along the sprawling, windswept coastline of the Sutro District in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Known as Lands End, these trekking trails will lead adventure-hungry travelers to lookout points revealing the remnants of Mile-Rock Lighthouse, Point Bonita Lighthouse across the bay, and the Golden Gate Bridge hiding behind the lush foliage. Culminating at Lands End Point, the afternoon sunset over the conserved stone labyrinth will set the sky ablaze for a panoramic, picture-perfect moment.
11. Hike up Twin Peaks
While the name Twin Peaks may start to ring some bells; San Francisco’s Twin Peaks hold much greater significance to locals and visitors than the influential, ‘90s American crime drama series of the same name. The two rolling hills tower over 900 feet into the sky and offer unending views of the larger San Francisco cityscape. With hiking trails and roads weaving their way up the summits, we may relish the idyllic scenes whichever way we choose to.
12. Wander through the city on a walking tour
What better way to explore this magical city than on foot? There are many attractions and districts that are perfectly suited for this adventure. For instance, walking up the gorgeous tiled steps of 16th Avenue, or strolling to the murals at the base of Coit Tower before enjoying the 360-degree views, or exploring areas like Fillmore neighborhood, Castro District, and Hayes Valley. From the free walking tours available at the Fisherman’s Wharf to getting lost for a day along any of the 43 hills in the city – walking through these streets will leave you breathless.
13. Check out the vibe at Mission District
Escape the tourist crowds gathering around the standard holidaymaker attractions and venture to the beloved, bohemian Mission District – a flourishing hipster neighborhood with prominent Latino roots. The atmospheric destination is a melting pot of flair and flavor, presenting an assortment of fashionable coffee shops and eclectic clubs as well as buildings emblazoned in impressive street art. The Mission District is also famous for perfecting the burrito and introducing the Mexican culinary delicacy to the rest of the world, so be sure to grab a bite at La Taqueria or El Farolito before you head out.
14. Adventure to Angel Island
Board a private boat or public ferry and soar across the azure San Francisco Bay to the forested shores of Angel Island State Park. Featuring 360-degree views of the bay, exclusive guided Segway tours revealing the history of the conserved Civil War constructs, an open-air tram that breezes across the island complete with an engrossing audio history tour, hiking trails entering the thicket of the forests, and a cantina where one can sit back to some light live music; adventure awaits on Angel Island.
15. Twist and turn down Lombard Street
There’s something incredibly charming about leisurely zigzagging around the twists and turns of Lombard Street. An endearing switchback road, hemmed in a garden of illustrious flowerbeds and shrubbery, right around the corner from Fisherman’s Wharf. Staggering Victorian mansions take shape as one approaches the top of what is dubbed ‘the most crooked street in the world’, as we queue up in anticipation of an alluring casual cruise accompanied by picturesque views. For an even more bewitching experience, hire a vintage vehicle to enjoy the roads.
16. Admire the architecture
There are so many stunning features of eloquent architecture throughout San Francisco, making this city an awesome amalgamation of modern and Victorian masterpieces. This city is home to 11 historic districts with over 200 buildings marked heritage landmarks. A few of which include the Transamerica Pyramid, the Palace of Fine Arts, St Mary’s Cathedral, San Francisco City Hall, the Jimi Hendrix House, and the Flood Building. There are also 14,000 Victorian homes, with some forming landmarks like Postcard Row.
17. Relax at the Yerba Buena Gardens
The Yerba Buena Gardens is a central and relaxing park offering tourists and locals alike the opportunity to take some time off during a busy day to admire the flowers, water features, and art installations. There is the Cho-En Indigenous Butterfly Garden, the Reflection Garden, the Upper Terrace Garden, the East Garden, and the Sister City Gardens, giving visitors space and sanctuary, which we all need from time to time. There are even three lawns designed to keep the little ones entertained, as well as an ice skating rink and bowling center.
18. Feast your eyes at the Fortune Cookie Factory
The sweet sensation of cracking open a fortune cookie to reveal one’s destiny and lucky numbers inside is a nostalgic childhood memory lovers of Chinese cuisine will never forget. And, if one’s ever wondered how and where these delectable little treats were first made, then visiting San Francisco’s cherished Fortune Cookie Factory will give you the entire rundown. Experts of the cookie creating art run this elegant store which produces some truly innovative and delightful renditions of the classic cookie, so stop off at this sweet tooth paradise for a mouthwatering snack.
19. Watch the Giants at Oracle Park
Nestled on San Francisco Bay, ticket holders attending a Giants game at Oracle Park can marvel at pristine vistas of the bay’s sparkling marine waters all while relishing the baseball. It is an uncanny stadium with an absorbing energy and visitors will be roped up in the entertainment while tucking into an array of delicious snacks such as the renowned Gilroy garlic fries. If you are in the area during the off-season, then you may still visit the grounds on a behind-the-scenes tour bringing you to the field, dugout, suites, and more.
20. Taste the trademarked treats
San Francisco is home to some seriously delicious tasty treats, including local artesan products like mouthwatering Michael Recchiuti chocolate, smooth Cowgirl Creamery cheese, and fragrant Blue Bottle Coffee. Taste-seekers should keep their eyes peeled for the iconic ice cream treat – an oatmeal cookie sandwich dipped in dark chocolate. Other must-taste destinations include the Anchor Steam Brewery, which has been around since 1896, as well as Buena Vista Cafe, which is famous for introducing Irish Coffee to America.
21. Astonishing history of Alcatraz
Alcatraz became the home to America’s worst criminals, including Al Capone and Robert Stroud, and the fascinating historical site’s doors are open to the public for free provided you purchased a ticket for the ferry trip over. Immersive audio tours leading one through the somber halls to eerie cells where the most infamous would rest their heads is a jaw-dropping experience bound to have the hairs on one’s arms raising. Furthermore, the vistas from the former federal prison yearn to be snapped up.
22. A foodies dream at Ferry Building Marketplace
Besides being within walking distance to the popular tourist attractions, Pier 7 and Pier 14 of the Fisherman’s Wharf; Ferry Building Marketplace offers up a delicious range of artisan shops, food stalls, restaurants, and weekend farmers markets. There are staples like pastries and cheeses, classic dishes like seafood and burgers, as well as mountains of Mexican and Japanese delights. The quality and range of the cuisine available here is one of the reasons why the Ferry Building Marketplace is considered the number one foodie destination in San Francisco.
23. And of course, explore the Golden Gate Bridge
No list would be complete without mentioning the Golden Gate Bridge. The international orange structure became the world-renowned landmark of the city of San Francisco in 1973, and offers immaculate views all along the bridge’s walkway. Visitors can walk, bicycle, drive, or go by bus as they marvel at this awesome architectural feat. If tourists are feeling extra energetic, some scenic walking trails lead from the bridge to Kirby Cove and Black Sands Beach, two additional things to explore in this beautiful City by the Bay!