Are you looking for ideas on what you need to book in advance in San Francisco?
My guide offers tips on what you will want to book ahead of your visit, how far out, and what you can wait to book once you arrive.
This is especially important if you are visiting on a busy weekend and on any holidays or holiday weekends.
Disclaimer: I receive a small commission from some of the links on this page.
Just in case you were wondering, you can easily visit San Francisco with little preparation. There are plenty of fun things to see and do, and even if you are here for a week or longer, you won't see it all.
However, you will find that tickets to certain activities and attractions will sell out in advance. And some of the very desirable of them might even sell out months in advance! Meanwhile, some others don't sell out, but you will find a better selection of tickets if you book early.
I've broken this up by timing, so you can get an idea of what you need to book in advance, what you should have tickets for when you arrive, and some tips if you missed out on the standard tickets for some of the top tours and attractions.
My advice on booking in advance is mostly for those visiting during the busiest months (May - October, and Thanksgiving through NYE).
For those visiting during the week on the less busy days, you will find that you can book most things when you arrive.
However, if you are a planner like me, I recommend booking anything in advance that you would be disappointed to miss out on. Taking a chance and waiting to book when you arrive means you may not get the chance to see or visit something special while you are here.
Below you will find some of the most popular attractions and things I recommend you consider booking at least three months before you arrive.
Alcatraz offers several tours a day. You can go on their day tour, night tour, or behind-the-scenes tour.
I recommend that you book these tickets about three months in advance. This will allow you to book at a time that works best for you and not be stuck with the less desirable times (usually in the middle of the day).
Their night and behind-the-scenes tours offer limited tickets. Both only run on certain days of the week, so the tickets go fast. I recommend buying these as soon as you finalize your plans, even if that is months in advance.
Also, if you buy individual Alcatraz Prison Tour tickets (not combo tickets), you only want to buy from the City Experiences website. This is the official site and the only place that I recommend you purchase individual tour tickets.
If you happen to arrive at the City Experiences site and see that tickets are sold out for your days, you do have a few options.
This is our most popular museum. They offer tickets for sale several months in advance, and during their busy season, certain days will almost always sell out.
The ticket prices also increase as they start to reach capacity. Booking in advance allows you to ensure you get the best price possible for the day you are visiting.
Due to the number of visitors to Muir Woods, they have implemented a reservation system for their shuttles and parking.
Since both are limited, you will find they often book up early. They are on a timed system, so even if you can get a seat or a spot, you may find that the timing of what is available does not work with your schedule.
Want to see some of the best professional basketball during your visit? The Golden State Warriors are hot these days, so tickets to the games are expensive.
If you want to see them in action, you must plan ahead for your tickets.
Ticketmaster is the official retailer for Warriors tickets at the Chase Center.
You can find tickets for their upcoming games on Ticketmaster here.
However, they often sell out at the beginning of the season and only have a handful of tickets left over. If this is the case, head over to StubHub for third-party tickets.
San Francisco offers eight to ten traveling Broadway shows each year. Tickets to these shows will sometimes sell out early.
Some shows that will almost always sell out early include Wicked, Hamilton, and the Lion King.
You can purchase them directly on the theater's website or through Ticketmaster.
San Francisco has hundreds of hotels, so you can always find somewhere to stay. However, I recommend booking early for a couple of reasons.
First, you will be able to choose from a variety of options. Second, you will be able to ensure you are in the district you want to stay in.
Also, even though San Francisco has a lot of hotels, you don't want to be caught having to be stuck in a hotel you don't want because everything else is booked. You may end up far from all the events and activities, or you could end up in a less desirable location.
I recommend starting to look for your hotel the minute you book your flights. This might be up to six months in advance. I know this sounds very early, but it makes sense for a number of reasons.
Also, although hotels don't often book up this early, certain large conventions come to town, and the attendees book early. This means prices become really expensive as the event nears.
Booking early allows you to get the best price possible in this situation.
Here are some top picks.
While you can almost always find a room, it might not be one that works for you based on location or, more likely, price. Here are a few additional ideas for you.
Another thing you will want to book at least three months in advance is large, private tours. I recommend booking as early as possible as most tour companies need to book a large van or bus to accommodate large groups.
Three months is a minimum, and for this one, I'd recommend up to six months in advance if possible.
If you are visiting San Francisco for a special occasion, then I highly recommend booking a table at a fancy or fine dining spot in advance.
Places like Gary Danko and the House of Prime Rib will often fill up months in advance.
Here are my recommendations for the best fine dining options. While you might get lucky if you walk up and ask for a table, I wouldn't rely on this if you really want to eat at one of these places.
There are a few other things I'd recommend you book in advance. These are some items I suggest you start looking at about a month before you arrive.
In the busier months, it's best to get these booked early so you can get them without a problem. Meanwhile, in the slower months, some of these are fine to hold off on for another week or two.
The San Francisco Giants play in Oracle Park, one of the best and most beautiful stadiums in the US. It sits along the waterfront and has a huge selection of tasty treats to enjoy during each game.
Even in years when the SF Giants are not doing too well, both locals and visitors flock here to see a game.
You can purchase tickets on Ticketmaster or at the Box Office.
Ticketmaster is the official ticket office for the San Francisco Giants. You can find tickets here.
Muir Woods National Monument is one of the most popular attractions near San Francisco. This Coastal Redwood Forest is just 30 minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge and is a must-see for all visitors.
The easiest way to get here is to book a guided tour. This includes a ride to and from the redwoods with a stop on the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge as you head north.
While you can often find a tour when you arrive, I recommend picking up tickets early so you can get the date and time that works with your schedule.
The morning tours are often the most popular so these tickets can sell out during our busier months.
You have three types of tours to choose from:
The first two offer about 90 minutes to explore on your own. The last one offers about 60 minutes. All three are a great way to see these fantastic trees up close and in person.
I personally love the tours and try to use them when I go here. That way, I don't have to deal with parking and other hassles since I let the agencies do the work for me. That way, I can just enjoy the ride out to it and take in the beauty of these amazing 300-foot-tall trees all around me.
You will find a variety of tours to wine country, so it's another one you could wait to book when you arrive. However, I recommend looking at these a few weeks before your visit, so you can read through what each one offers and select the day that works best with your schedule.
Make sure to read each tour carefully, so you know exactly what to expect.
Yosemite National Park is a must-see for those that love the outdoors. It's one of the best national parks in the US and is a popular option for locals and visitors.
During the busiest months from late May through late September, I highly recommend you book your Yosemite Park Tour early.
These one-day tours are a quick overview of this national park and are perfect for those only staying for a few days. The tour lasts about 14 to 15 hours, with about five hours in the park.
Here are some of the best Yosemite National Park Tours.
Visiting with a large group is great, but you will want to plan ahead for your evening meals. For groups of six to eight, I recommend calling ahead to make reservations.
Most places can accommodate groups this large without reservations. However, you will most likely end up being seated at different tables.
Therefore, if you want to sit together, I recommend calling ahead so they can prepare a table for your group.
Visiting Napa Valley is such a fun experience. If you plan to visit on your own, you'll want to start planning your trip at least a month in advance.
While you can walk into certain wineries, if you are set on a certain one and visiting on the weekend, then I highly recommend reservations.
You will also want to start looking at private tours at least a month in advance. Since the tour companies usually created their schedules far in advance, they will need to reach out to find tour guides for private tours.
This will allow them time to find the best tour guide for your private tour.
The tours and attractions on this part of my list don't often sell out. However, it's a good idea to pick them up a bit early, so you don't have to worry about waiting in line or wasting time while you are here.
I would pick up tickets to the SF Museum of Modern Art at least a week in advance. While they don't often sell out, it's a good way to make sure you can get tickets for the day you want to visit.
Even though you can buy these tickets off the street during your visit, I recommend booking in advance for a discount. When you book online before you arrive, the tickets are usually $5 to $10 cheaper per person.
SFCityGuides is a San Francisco Library program with free walks around SF. You can explore specific districts and attractions. It's also a great way to learn more about our local history.
Most of them allow you just to walk up and join the tour, but some of the more popular ones require that you sign up before the tour.
This is another San Francisco attraction that doesn't sell out very often, but I recommend booking ahead of your stay.
The San Francisco Zoo is quite a distance from our other attractions, so I think it is a good idea to plan out your visit here before you arrive. This will allow you to see if it's worth your time before heading all the way out here when you are in the city.
While I love visiting, and it's great for kids and families, it will take up most of your day to visit it.
One of the best ways to explore San Francisco is through our public transportation.
Instead of paying for each ride, make sure to look into the San Francisco Muni Passport. It's a one, three, or seven-day passport that offers unlimited rides around SF.
It includes buses, cable cars, street cars, and light rail trains.
It's good to book in advance so you can get used to the app before you arrive.
Everything else on this list includes popular free sites or places you can easily walk up to when you visit to get your tickets.
The Golden Gate Bridge is free to visit and is one of the top San Francisco attractions. You can visit all year round without tickets.
You can either walk or bike across. Several guided tours also include a drive across it to reach places to the north of the city.
Here are a few pages to help you plan your visit to the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge:
This is another free attraction, so it does not require tickets.
It's open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. You can walk or drive down it. You can also take a guided tour to learn more.
I recommend heading over first thing in the morning. This is when the crowds are the lightest, and you can explore with fewer people around for the best photos.
You also don't need to book ferry tickets in advance. All tickets are for any departure, so you just need to make sure you arrive in time to get a seat on that specific boat.
The busiest is the Sausalito Ferry which is often full of bikes from those riding over the Golden Gate Bridge. I recommend arriving at least 30 minutes early so you can get in line before it gets too full.
You also don't need to book Coit Tower tickets before you arrive.
You can visit the first floor for free, but the elevator ride to the top floor requires a ticket. You can simply pick one up at the ticket booth on the first floor and hop in line for your turn.
You can also walk up to most of our other museums and buy tickets when you arrive. Many don't sell out most days, but the ticket line might be busier on certain holidays and weekends.
Tickets for the SF Bay Cruises can be purchased in advance or once you arrive. The tickets you buy are for a specific day but not any specific cruise that day.
You will need to review the schedule and then head over to the terminal about 30 minutes before they leave. They offer seats based on a first-come, first-served basis, even if you have a ticket for that day.
If you are a planner like me, you can also reserve them in advance in order to save a little time during your stay.
Unless you plan to head to a fine dining restaurant, you will not need to worry about booking restaurant reservations before you arrive.
San Francisco is home to almost 3,500 restaurants, so if there is a line at one, you will most likely find a second or third spot nearby with seats for dinner.