San Francisco Activities: 25 Fun Things to Do in the City by the Bay

Jill on a windy day at the Golden Gate Bridge

by Jill Loeffler  •

Updated: January 29, 2024

San Francisco activities include cruising around the bay, visiting our engaging museums, and discovering our colorful street art.

Other fun things to do here include taking a stroll on the Golden Gate Bridge, admiring the lovely Painted Ladies of Alamo Square, and seeing a Broadway hit musical or play.

Read on for details on some of my favorite events, attractions, and other places to see in SF.

Activities in San Francisco

Disclaimer: I receive a small commission from some of the links on this page.

1. Cruise the Bay

SF Bay Cruise

One of the most popular San Francisco activities is taking advantage of its location and heading out onto the water for a bay cruise. There are many different tours to choose from, but I've narrowed it down to the five best. 

They differ by vessel, tour length, time of day, and refreshments offered, but all of them feature riding under the Golden Gate Bridge, passing by Alcatraz Island, and admiring the city skyline.

>> Find tickets online in advance

>> More information on taking a cruise on the SF Bay

2. Visit the California Academy of Sciences

Claude at the California Academy of Sciences

This is one museum sure to please the whole family, as it encompasses a wide range of science subjects presented in creative, interactive formats.

You'll find an aquarium, a four-story living rainforest, a planetarium, an earthquake exhibit, and a garden of a rooftop--not to mention everyone's favorite albino alligator, Claude. 

This is one of the San Francisco activities that is located within beautiful Golden Gate Park.

>> Find skip the line tickets for this museum so you don't have to wait in line when you arrive

>> Ideas on what it's like to visit this top museum

3. Explore the Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

One of the signature tourist activities in San Francisco is visiting the SF icon, the Golden Gate Bridge.

This orange architectural beauty, for many years the longest suspension bridge in the world, spans from the northwestern corner of San Francisco across the Golden Gate Straight to the cute town of Sausalito. 

There are many ways to explore it: on foot, on bike, by car or bus, cruising under it, or even riding a helicopter over top.

>> Best ways to see the Golden Gate Bridge

>> Best places to take pics of one of our most popular attractions

4. Enjoy a Tour of Alcatraz

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Prison is one of the most famous sights in San Francisco.

Often referred to as "The Rock," it's a small island in the bay that served as a federal prison for the country's worst criminals, with its 1.5-mile frigid swim to shore acting as a deterrent against escapes. 

But indeed, there were several escape attempts, and you'll learn about them and the rest of the prison's history on your tour, which starts with a pre-booked ferry ride from San Francisco.

>> Where to find tickets and what you can expect on your visit

>> Tips to go on the night tour

5. Head Out on a Guided Walking Tour

Coit Tower

There is nothing like discovering San Francisco on foot. With a guided walking tour, you have the chance to see attractions up close and from different angles, take in the distinct sights, smells, and tastes of each neighborhood, and learn about the local history, all at a comfortable walking pace. 

Some of these San Francisco activities are free, and others' prices vary by length and region. This is a great way to learn little known facts about Chinatown, North Beach, and other famous districts.

>> My favorite guided tours and tips to find discounted tickets

6. Discover Our Hidden Gems

Hidden Gems

Sure, you may have crossed off all the usual tourist attractions on your trip, but have you taken a closer look at SF beyond that? Have you meandered the Mission streets to admire the colorful murals, visited the Buddhist temples in Chinatown, or climbed the 163 beautifully mosaiced steps in the Sunset? 

Click the link below to find out about 25 different hidden gems and San Francisco activities that you should not miss.

>> Where to find our lesser visited beauties

7. Admire SF's Famed Street Art


One of the most interesting San Francisco activities is looking at the street art. There are over a thousand murals throughout the city. Some are in plain sight, especially in the Mission and North Beach Districts. 

Others are tucked inside historic buildings like the Rincon Center, Coit Tower, and the Beach Chalet, which are all free to visit. Check out the variety of colors and themes portrayed by many generations of this city's artists.

>> How to find our best street art

>> Maps showing where to find the best murals in the Mission

8. Stroll Around Fisherman's Wharf

Fishermans Wharf

Visiting Fisherman's Wharf is one of the most popular tourist San Francisco activities. This district is right on the waterfront, making for great views, deliciously fresh seafood, access to ferry rides, sea lions, and even an aquarium. 

Fisherman's Wharf hosts many festivals throughout the year, and also contains a variety of small museums, kid-friendly attractions, shops, and restaurants. 

>> Best activities in Fisherman's Wharf

>> Best places to stay in Fisherman's Wharf

9. Sample Local Wines

Wine Tasting

With its proximity to the world-famous wine producing regions of Napa Valley and Sonoma County, San Francisco offers a lot of opportunities to taste delicious local wines as well as imports. 

Check out the wine tasting rooms, bars, festivals, and cruises all over SF. These are great ways to discover new wineries while exploring different parts of the city. Also, get the information you need to plan a tour to nearby wine country. 

>> My recommendations on where to taste the best local wines

>> My favorite wine bars

10. Save Money at Our Free Attractions

Palace of Fine Arts

Did you know that some of the best SF attractions are actually free to visit? These include the most iconic sights, like the Painted Ladies in Alamo Square, the Golden Gate Bridge, crooked Lombard Street, the Palace of Fine Arts, and more. 

Find out how to get to my ten favorite free attractions in San Francisco.

>> A list of our 10 best free attractions

>> A list of my favorite free museums

11. Study the Ancient Pieces at the Asian Art Museum

SF Asian Art Museum

Over six thousand years of the history of one continent in paintings, sculptures, pottery, and jewelry, all contained under one roof. This is what awaits you at the popular Asian Art Museum in SF's Civic Center district. 

Among its regional galleries and unique traveling exhibits, you'll find a very impressive collection of artwork from India, China, Burma, Laos, and all over Asia. Admiring these artifacts is one of my favorite San Francisco activities.

>> Pictures of the museums and tips to visit

12. Entertain Your Kids & the Entire Family

Aquarium of the Bay

If you're going to be traveling with kids, you'll appreciate having an insider's guide to the best family San Francisco activities. 

Clicking the link below will take you to a full list of SF places that kids love to visit, from hands-on discovery museums, a zoo, and an aquarium, to boat rides and antique arcade games on the pier. You'll also learn about fun local trails to bike or hike.

>> 25 ideas that are perfect for families

13. See the Famous Painted Ladies of Alamo Square

Alamo Square

Many know them as the "Full House" houses, a charming row of pastel-colored Victorians with a green grassy park in the foreground and the SF skyline behind them. 

They are also called the Seven Sisters, or Painted Ladies, of Alamo Square. 

This neighborhood just west of Hayes Valley is full of these beautiful, historic homes. 

>> Best spots to take pictures and how to find them

14. Cheer on One of Our Local Sports Teams

SF Giants

In the realm of professional sports, the San Francisco Bay Area is lucky to have two baseball teams, one football team, and a basketball, soccer, and hockey team. That means that no matter what season you visit, you will most likely be able to attend an exciting home game! 

Cheer on the champion Giants, A's, 49ers, Warriors, Earthquakes, or Sharks at a stadium near SF, and get a taste of what Bay Area sports are all about.

>> More about Bay Area sports teams and a schedule of upcoming games

15. Learn About SF on These Free Walking Tours

Golden Gate Bridge

One of the best free San Francisco activities is participating in a walking tour led by expert volunteer guides from SF City Guides.

These are high quality, informative tours that cover almost every district and a variety of interesting themes, such as the legacy of the 1906 fire, the Gold Rush, Art Deco architecture, city murals, and more. 

There are several free walking tours offered every day of the year, so check the schedule to find out where and when to meet.

>> Details on the City Guides walking tours

16. See a Broadway Hit at the Theater

The Lion King

San Francisco theater offers several popular musicals every year, including shows like Hamilton, Finding Neverland, The Lion King, and more.

Many of these Tony Award-winning productions come fresh from Broadway. 

Others make their debut here before heading to New York and around the world. Either way, you are in for a treat with talented casts, elaborate costumes, memorable music, and fantastic stories, not to mention the beautiful historic theaters themselves.

These are just a few of the upcoming shows.

>> Monthly schedule of upcoming musicals and plays

17. Get to Know Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park

With over 1,000 acres of gardens, trails, museums, and sports fields, Golden Gate Park is a true asset to the city as a major green public space. The park stretches from the Sunset District to Ocean Beach on SF's west coast. 

It contains the California Academy of Sciences, the Conservatory of Flowers, the de Young Museum, and so much more.

Every year, it also hosts large outdoor music festivals. Explore GG Park by attending an event, biking around, or taking a walking tour.

>> More ideas on what you can see and do in Golden Gate Park

18. Spend the Day in Wine Country

Wine Country

If you cross the Golden Gate Bridge and travel north a little over an hour, you'll head right into the heart of California wine country.

Both Napa Valley and Sonoma County are full of beautiful rolling hills and lots of vineyards where you can taste delicious local wines. 

You can either head up on your own or take a guided tour. 

As far as tours from SF go, you can bus, bike, take a train, or even a helicopter ride over the gorgeous area. 

>> Tips to select a guided tour or visit on your own

19. Head Out on Other Day Trips

In addition to heading up to wine country on a day trip, you will find several other fun day trips from San Francisco.

The top options include visiting Muir Woods, spending the day in Monterey, or exploring Yosemite. 

You can visit on your own or you can take a guided tour. Here are a few additional day trip tours I recommend.

Muir Woods + Sausalito Half-Day Tour

I like taking this tour to Muir Woods as it's an easier way to get there vs. renting a car or trying to time my arrival for the shuttles. It picks up in San Francisco and takes you straight to Muir Woods for your visit.

I also like this one because you get about 90 minutes to explore the park, on your own. You don't have to go in with a large tour, you get to explore it on your own.

Ninety minutes might not seems like long, but it's plenty of time for anyone wanting to soak in the beauty of this national gem.

You will then head over to Sausalito for a short tour. You then get to decide if you want to stay there on your own and return by ferry or if you want to head back to SF on the bus.

>> Find out more about this amazing half-day tour

One Day to Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea

If you are only here for a few days and want to check out Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea, this one day tour is a great option.

I've taken it a few times to check it out and I think it does a great job of giving visitors a feel for these two amazing waterfront towns.

The tour picks up in San Francisco and then drives down Highway 1. You will stop a few times along the way for pictures and will then arrive in Monterey. 

Once you get to Monterey, the bus will drop you off along Cannery Row and you will have two hours to explore on your own. You can do a little shopping, do a quick visit of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, or even just grab a relaxing bit to eat.

You'll then head down to 17-Mile Drive with a few photo stops.

The final part of the tour is a one-hour stop in Carmel. Again, this will be on your own and one hour is enough time to explore this cute town.

You will then head back to SF. 

>> Find out more about this fun one day tour

Yosemite Day Trip with Giant Sequoias Hike

Yosemite is a gorgeous national park that you could explore for days. If you only have a short time in SF and you really want to see it, I highly recommend this tour. It's another one I've been on a few times and it's a great overview tour of this fantastic park.

It starts and ends in San Francisco. Once you leave SF, you will drive to Yosemite with a short stop along the way.

The tour has a few stops before it reaches Yosemite Valley. You'll stop at Bridalveil Falls and Tunnel View. 

Once you reach Yosemite Valley, you will have a couple of hours on your own to do a short hike, grab some lunch, do a little shopping, or just soak in the views.

On your way out, you'll do a quick stop at El Capitan, Valley View, and the do a one mile hike through the Giant Sequoias.

It's a long day, but is an amazing way to see this park without having to head here on your own.

>> Find out more about this one day tour to Yosemite

20. Soak in the Beauty of the Japanese Tea Garden

Japanese Tea Gardens

The Japanese Tea Garden in SF's Golden Gate Park is the perfect place to hang out, relax, and (of course) sip tea! You'll first arrive at the gorgeous wooden entrance gate, then step inside a world that makes you feel like you've traveled back in time and halfway around the globe. 

It's green, peaceful, and aesthetically captivating. As you meander the trails, you'll encounter a beautiful high arching drum bridge, a five-story pagoda, a dwarf tree collection, a zen rock garden, and more. 

>> Images of what you will see and tips to visit

21. Venture Out on Your Own with My Self-Guided Walking Tours

City Hall

If you're not much of a fan of organized tours because you like to go at your own pace, explore in depth, and get a real taste of each neighborhood, you're in luck because I've put together a bunch of self-guided itineraries for each SF district, and for seeing the whole city in one to four days. 

You'll get great ideas for how to spend a perfect day between the best attractions, restaurants, and San Francisco activities in Chinatown, North Beach, Haight Ashbury, and more.

>> Dozens of self-guided itineraries to see SF at your own pace

22. Find Gifts for Yourself and Your Friends at these Shops

Shopping in SF

Whether you're looking for souvenirs, artisan gifts, bargains, or brand-name items, you'll find plenty of shopping areas to fit your needs. San Francisco has several large malls as well as specialty centers like Ghirardelli Square, the Cannery, and the Ferry Building, which offer lots of boutique shops. 

Find an incredible variety of cheap gifts in Chinatown, or more upscale items on the streets of the Marina. Click the link below for more information on where to start your shopping spree.

>> Best places to shop all around town

23. Visit Chinatown's Top Attractions


Chinatown is a busy, crowded neighborhood with shops, restaurants, temples, and lots of Chinese American residents. It's been called a "city within a city" because it's so complex and visiting can be a little overwhelming if you don't have a guide to all of its highlights. 

Some of the top year-round attractions in this district include the fortune cookie factory, bargain shops, dim sum, and Buddhist temples. Also, between January and March each year, you'll find Chinese New Year decorations and celebrations. 

>> Top things to do and see in Chinatown

24. Step Inside SF's Celebrated Museum of Modern Art

SF Museum of Modern Art

Another one of the top San Francisco activities is visiting the SF MOMA, which has gotten much attention this year for its recent reopening after a huge expansion that doubled its capacity for exhibits and established the building itself as a shining work of art in the downtown area. 

This museum now offers 10 stories of artwork, including contemporary paintings, photography, and architectural pieces. You'll find work by famous painters like Matisse and Diego Rivera, as well as pieces from all corners of the world.

>> What to expect on a visit to the SF MOMA

25. Find More San Francisco Activities on Our Monthly Event Calendars 

The links below offer you a look at the top events for each month in SF. These San Francisco activities include details on upcoming festivals, wine tasting events, concerts, and more. 













San Francisco Activities: 25 Fun Things to Do

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