Top Things to Do in San Francisco

When you visit San Francisco, one thing’s certain: You’ll never run out of things to do. If it’s your first trip to the city or if you’re short on time, deciding on a manageable sightseeing checklist can be a challenge. We’ve picked out the essential San Francisco attraction highlights that have stood the test of time and should be on any visitor’s itinerary.

The Golden Gate Bridge will never disappoint, and it’s worth the effort to book tickets in advance for a cruise to Alcatraz Island, the unexpectedly picturesque site of an infamous former maximum-security prison.

Exploring the top sights will take you all around the city, which occupies about 49 square miles of the tip of the peninsula that separates the San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean. Be sure to wear comfortable footwear to navigate the hills and to dress in layers. (Temperatures can fluctuate wildly depending on the neighborhood and time of day, and summers are famously chilly, while the fall months bring warmer temperatures and sun.)

Golden Gate Bridge

One of the most iconic landmarks in the world, let alone San Francisco, the magnificent international orange Golden Gate Bridge defines the city. The 4,200-foot suspension bridge was completed in 1937 after four years of construction to a rowdy, week-long celebration.

Alcatraz Cruises

This is the only way to get to “The Rock,” the famous former federal penitentiary that housed some of the nation’s most notorious criminals from 1934-1963. Now one of San Francisco’s most popular visitor attractions, ferries depart regularly for the island from Pier 33 starting at 8:45 am.

Ferry Building Marketplace

Located within the historic Ferry Building at the foot of Market Street, this marketplace is home to shops large and small that celebrate food in all its forms, offering everything from artisan cheeses to handmade chocolates to the best spreadable salumi you’ve ever tasted.

Cable Cars

These moving National Historic Landmarks run on three lines 6 am-12:30 am daily: Powell-Hyde (line 60), Powell-Mason (line 59) and California Street (line 61).

Lombard Street

Eight hairpin switchbacks and the downward pitch of the so-called “crookedest street in the world” have made this block a must-drive for visitors. The quarter-mile downhill stretch is lined with gorgeous gardens and barriers to ensure that drivers maintain a speed of five miles per hour.

Muir Woods National Monument

The world’s most famous grove of virgin redwoods, this forest is full of trees that are 400-800 years old and grow to more than 250 feet high, as well as a plethora of other wildlife. Activities include a leisurely (wheelchair accessible) hike alongside a salmon-filled creek.

Coit Tower

Upon her death in 1929, socialite and art patron Lillie Hitchcock Coit bequeathed funds for the “beautification of the city.” Her heirs used the money to build Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill. Completed in 1933, the fluted column provides bird’s-eye views from an observation deck near the top.

Painted Ladies

This row of seven perfectly pastel, ornate Victorian homes from the 1890s (made famous by the opening credits of the sitcom "Full House") lines the eastern side of Alamo Square park. Victorian and Edwardian-style houses are among San Francisco’s most recognizable architectural features.

Golden Gate Park

Bigger than New York's Central Park and encompassing over 75,000 trees, this horticulturally diverse urban oasis is home to countless attractions, including the de Young Museum; California Academy of Sciences; Japanese Tea Garden; Botanical Gardens; Stow Lake; Conservatory of Flowers; Garden of Shakespeare's Flowers; two hist