20 Best Things To Do In San Francisco in 2023

Cazzy Magennis
Written By:
Cazzy Magennis
Last Updated:
January 2, 2023
From the iconic San Francisco Bridge to Alcatraz Island, you won't run out of amazing things to do in San Francisco! Keep reading for more tips...
things to do in San Francisco

San Francisco is a city with so much to offer.

With food, history, weather, culture, and even sea lions, it's no surprise that San Francisco was rated the best city in the world in 2021!

With so many activities on offer, it can be tough to narrow down what to do during your visit to this incredible city. 

But you're in luck! We're going to countdown the top things to do in San Francisco in 2023 with a few money-saving tricks and travel tips along the way. 

That means you'll have no problems planning your trip

Let's get started...

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How to get to San Francisco

how o get to san farcanis

Fly 

San Francisco International Airport is a huge airport that welcomes direct flights from over 140 other airports in the world.

This means it's likely that if you're coming to San Francisco by plane, you'll probably fly directly into SFO. 

From the airport, there are several ways you can get to downtown San Francisco. The BART trains have a station next to the international terminal and trains run every 20 minutes between the airport and Powell street as well as many other stops along the way. 

The cheapest option would be to get the SamTrans bus which goes between the airport and downtown every half an hour. 

The buses and trains don't run after midnight so if you're landing late, your best bet would be to catch a taxi or an Uber from the designated pick up area - this option is likely to set you back around $60. 

Train

While San Francisco does not have its own Amtrak station, it's easy to get to the nearby Amtrak stations located in Hayward, Oakland, and Emeryville

We would recommend getting the Amtrak into Oakland if that's an option for you. Then you can catch the ferry over to San Francisco which is a beautiful journey that's definitely worth the detour! 

By Road 

San Francisco is a city often included in everyone's dream USA road trip. 

While you might not want to travel within the city by road, it's a perfect stop along the west coast, easily accessible from Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Portland by car or RV. 

How to get around San Francisco

How to get around San Francisco 

Public Transport 

Public transport really is the best way to get around the city of San Francisco. The public transport is run by Muni and this service includes buses, trains, cable cars, trolley cars, and light rail - all of which will help you get around downtown San Francisco. 

Download the Muni app to help view schedules, route planners, and purchase tickets. 

Walking

Ranked the most walkable city in the US, San Francisco is so easy to explore on foot. A lot of the main attractions in the city center are located within walking distance of each other and have well maintained sidewalks. 

Cycling 

San Francisco has made a conscious effort to become a cycle-friendly city in recent years and now the city is pretty much all reachable on a bike. 

Bikes and e-Bikes are commonly found around the city and are available to rent at either an hourly or daily rate. 

Driving

San Francisco is notorious for being horrendous to drive around, however, it's not impossible. Traffic and parking are likely to be your biggest issue so it will be best to find a parking spot and use an alternative method for getting around day to day. 

If you're wanting to drive, check out the SFMTA website to find special blocks and garages that you're able to park in as finding on-street parking is near impossible. 

Another idea is to book accommodation with parking included!

If you're wanting to do a couple of trips outside of the city or have plans for onward travel, then you can always hire a campervan in San Francisco. You can also check out Rental Cars if you'd prefer something smaller!

I just wouldn't recommend using this mode of transport to visit everywhere as the traffic can be crazy.

Where to Stay in San Francisco 

Budget choice: Grant Hotel

Grant Hotel is just a 5-minute walk from Union Square and is located in downtown San Francisco! There are a variety of rooms available, and each one features a work desk, a safety deposit box, free WiFi, and a private bathroom.

Mid-range: Riu Plaza Fisherman's Wharf

This gorgeous hotel is just a 10-minute walk from Pier 39 so it's in a great location for exploring the city. Boasting an on-site swimming pool, a restaurant, a bar, and a fitness center, this place has a lot to offer! 

Luxury pick: The Fairmont Heritage Place Ghirardelli Square

If you're searching for a luxury stay in San Francisco then look no further! Offering gorgeous bay views, spacious apartments, and fantastic facilities, you couldn't ask for much more!

Best things to do in San Francisco 

1. Walk or Cycle Across Golden Gate Bridge

golden gate bridge

Without a doubt, Golden Gate Bridge is the most iconic landmark in San Francisco. 

This impressive bridge connects San Francisco Bay to Marin Country California, over the pacific ocean. Before the bridge was built, the ferry was the only option between these two locations, and the Golden Gate Ferry was once the busiest ferry company in the world! 

For the best views of Golden Gate Bridge, book this Seaplane Tour, to get those perfect bird’s eye view shots!

sunset at the golden gate bridge

While the bridge is cool to look at from afar, if you're visiting San Francisco, you really should travel over it!

The bridge is 1.7 miles long and has a pedestrian walkway on the east side, making it a beautiful sunrise stroll - if you like waking up that early! 

If that sounds like too much of a walk for you, it's possible to cycle over the bridge on both the east and the west sides of it.

Alternatively, the bridge has 6 different lanes for driving so you can easily drive over and still enjoy the views but you'll have to pay a toll if you're driving into the city. 

2. Take a Trip to Alcatraz Island

The famous Alcatraz Prison is a must-visit for any trip to San Francisco. 

This former max-security prison is located on an island in the middle of San Francisco Bay. While between 1933 and 1963 it was a notorious federal prison, famous for housing some notorious criminals, it's now a very popular tourist attraction. 

Take a ferry over to Alcatraz island, and walk the grounds including the Wardens House, the recreation yard, and the cell house, before completing the audio tour of the inside of Alcatraz prison. 

During the tour you can hear the first-hand experiences of some of the ex-inmates and guards, learning about the famous escape attempts, tight schedules, horrendous living conditions, and even the chaotic prison riots. 

If you enjoy a bit more of a spooky experience, book a night tour of the island and prison! These night tours include a boat ride around the island and if you're lucky you can experience the haunting foggy evening views back over to the San Francisco skyline. 

3. Segway around Golden Gate Park

Lush gardens of Golden Gate Park
Photo by Jeffrey Eisen on Unsplash

Golden Gate Park is another iconic attraction in San Francisco. 

Visiting this park is the perfect way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and relax amongst the 1000 acres of greenery. It also offers fantastic views of the Bay area!

On the grounds of the park are some of the city’s most beloved attractions: the Japanese Tea Garden, The Fine Arts Museum, Strawberry Hill, Golden Gate Park Aquarium, the Conservatory of Flowers, and the Academy of Sciences

Book yourself on to a Golden Gate Park Segway Tour to see all of the highlights of the park as well as some hidden gems, and learn all about the history of one of the most visited parks in the US. 

While the park contains a couple of restaurants and cafes, having a picnic in the gardens really is one of the best things to do in San Francisco. 

Although maybe not as famous as San Francisco, the bustling city of Denver in Colorado is another fantastic place to visit if you're looking to enjoy a bit of nature during your urban escape!

4. Look out from the Top of Twin peaks

twin peaks

Want to see an impressive panoramic view of the city of San Francisco? Head to the top of Twin Peaks! 

These two hills sit geographically in the middle of the city and are about 1000 feet above, giving the most amazing views of San Francisco and the ocean beyond. 

The best way to get to Twin Peaks is to drive, however, it's possible to get there via public transport. Get the 37-Corbett bus and get off at Crestline Drive, from here it's only a short walk to the top. 

Alternatively, you can complete the uphill walk from the Castro, which is a beautiful hike if you have the time to do it. 

If, like us, you do enjoy a hike, you can hike the trails over both the peaks from the viewpoint at the top. These hikes are clearly signposted and well worth the journey! From the southern peak, you'll get to see the 360-degree views of the city! 

Here's some more information on hiking up to the Twin Peaks in San Francisco...

5. Take a Ride in the City’s Cable Cars

san franciso trolley

A ride in San Francisco’s cable cars (sometimes called trolleys) is an iconic activity in itself. 

San Francisco is very proud to say that they now operate the last cable car system in the world that's still manually operated. 

There used to be 23 different cable car routes around the city that were commonly used by locals and tourists alike. Today, however, everyone has switched to more efficient forms of transportation and only tourists tend to use the last three remaining cable lines. 

If you have time you can visit the Cable Car Museum to learn all about not only the history of the city's cable car lines but also see the mechanics of how they operate. 

Take the route down to Fisherman’s Wharf to get the classic photos of yourself enjoying your ride! 

If you're wondering what to do in San Francisco then don't miss out on this fun activity! 

6. Experience the Exploratorium

Exploratorium and Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco

If you're visiting San Francisco with kids or just like to release your inner child, take a trip to the Exploratorium at Pier 15. 

This fun museum helps to educate people on technology, arts, and scientific principles using fun hands-on activities. You'll find a variety of exhibits and museum galleries here, so there's a lot to see.

Be sure to check the Exploratorium events calendar as they regularly host fun events and have temporary exhibitions, especially during the school holidays. 

Book your ticket in advance here but be sure to check the museum's website for opening times on the day!

7. Take a Day trip to Napa Valley

napa valley

San Francisco is the ideal location to take a day trip to Napa Valley (also known as wine country).

Book this Napa Valley Wine Tour to not only try some of the very best of California’s wines but also to see what else Napa Valley has to offer. 

After being picked up from your accommodation, you'll be transported across Bay Bridge and to Castello di Amorosa. Here you'll take part in a guided tour around the 13th-century style Italian castle, take your best Instagram shot at the Welcome to Napa Valley sign and enjoy a European-style lunch. 

wineres in napa valley

After lunch, you'll continue to two more wineries in Napa Valley where you'll experience wine tasting and talks from your expert guides! 

This private Napa Valley tour is the perfect thing to do in San Francisco as a group trip and is very popular amongst bachelorette parties. 

8. See a Game at Oracle Park

Baseball game at Oracle Park, San Francisco

Home to the San Francisco Giants, Oracle Park is an epic stadium in the heart of the city. 

Whenever there is a match at Oracle Park, the city comes together in unity and celebration. If you have the chance to see a baseball game at Oracle Park, you should definitely take it! 

If you're heading to San Francisco out of season, be sure to still check their events calendar as they host a tonne of other events such as concerts, theater shows, and tribute acts which are all worth going to not only for the show but to experience the stadium in itself. 

The stadium has an amazing selection of eateries featuring some of the city’s best dishes including crab sandwiches, bacon-wrapped hotdogs, and the iconic Oracle Park dish: Gilroy garlic fries! 

The stadium has also been voted the most vegetarian-friendly ballpark several years in a row, so great news if you're a veggie visiting San Francisco! 

9. Spend Time at Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39

Pier 39 is the most visited destination in San Francisco and is the busiest section of Fisherman’s Wharf. I’m sure there are many reasons why tourists flock to this pier in particular, but it's probably because of the adorable sea lions! 

After the 1989 earthquake, sea lions started hanging out on a particular dock in the area. No one knows why, but everyone loves to watch them!

The sea lions are not the only attraction at Fisherman’s Wharf though.

The area is filled with vibrant shops, arcades, activities, street performers, and some of the best food in the world! A bold claim I know but this area is famous for its fresh fish and seafood dishes. 

pier 39

If you're looking for fun things to do in San Francisco for the whole family, spend some time at Fisherman’s Wharf! Popular activities here for kids would be the Aquarium of the Bay and the 3D rides along the piers. 

Fisherman’s Wharf is also a starting point or a stop for a lot of the tours around San Francisco, one of the best being the Golden Gate Bay Cruise

10. Look out from Lands End

lands end

The coastal walk of Lands End makes a beautiful day out in San Francisco. Lands End is somewhat of a hidden gem, kept quiet by locals, making it a lot less crowded than many of the city’s other attractions. 

Most of Lands End's trail is unpaved and can be uneven in places as some of the cliff edge has crumbled away over time. While the whole walk is under 2 miles, it's a coastal walk meaning a lot of steep hills and steps. 

Along the walk is Lands End Point. This area really feels like you're in the middle of the water and provides epic views of the city. If you're lucky you might even be able to spot some whales out from the shore!

If you do enjoy a short hike or walk this really is a beautiful chance to see some of the natural scenery that San Francisco has to offer and get some peace away from the main city. 

So, if you're looking for free things to do in San Francisco then don't miss out on this place!

11. Shop in Union Square

Union Square in San Francisco

San Francisco is known for being a great location for a bit of retail therapy and Union Square really takes the cake. 

Located just off Union Square is Maiden Lane, what used to be part of the red light district is now an upmarket shopping mall, home to luxury designer stores such as Chanel, YSL, and Gucci. 

Across from Union Square is Westfield San Francisco Shopping Center, which has a lot more affordable high street style stores as well as a large Bloomingdales and Macy’s which are always bustling with people.  

Not to worry if shopping isn't your thing, there are plenty of other attractions in Union Square to make it worth a visit. 

The lively square always has something going on so is a great location to grab a coffee or a meal at one of the city’s top-rated restaurants and watch the world go by. 

12. Learn Walt’s History at Walt Disney Family Museum

Walt Disney Family Museum

A bucket list item for any Disney fan is the Walt Disney Family Museum

Here you can learn about the life of the legend that is Walt Disney. His early life, his first cartoons, and how he got into filmmaking, all through a series of animations narrated by Walt Disney himself. 

You might think “I’ve been to Disney World and Walt Disney Studios, why do I need to go to the Walt Disney Family Museum” but this museum really is unlike any other museum located in the parks.

This museum is not catered towards young children at all and has a lot of written exhibits giving a deep dive into the intricate thoughts of Mr. Disney himself. 

As you might be able to tell from the name, the Walt Disney Family Museum is a non-profit created by Walt Disney’s daughter and operated by the Disney Family themselves. 

Book your admission tickets here and take your time on your self guided tour around the museum. Be sure to check out the amazing views from the location of the museum before you leave! 

13. Try Some Chocolate at Ghirardelli Square

Ghirardelli Square has a rich history spanning over a hundred years. What now is a busy city square, was once a chocolate factory, established by an Italian Domenico Ghirardelli in 1852. 

Unfortunately, in the 1960s the chocolate factory was sold. Residents of the local area were worried about what would happen to the site so decided to purchase the square.

Local businesses of shops and restaurants set up shop in the square in 1964, making Ghirardelli the busy square you can still visit today. 

You can sample Ghirardelli Chocolate at three different locations within the square and it's absolutely to die for! 

The first is the Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop. Here you'll find the famous Ghirardelli Square sign, view the original chocolate-making equipment and taste homemade fudge in their signature sundae. 

The second is a Ghirardelli Chocolate Experience, a trendy eatery with views overlooking the bar and an opportunity to sample a variety of chocolates at the world's largest pick and mix. 

And finally, Ghirardelli-on-the-go is a convenient gift-buying stop where you can pick up sundaes or chocolate samples to go. 

14. Visit The Farmer’s Market in The Ferry Building

The Ferry Building At San Francisco Waterfront

Famous not only for being a historic landmark but also for its exquisite culinary scene, The Ferry Building is a must-do for any trip to San Francisco! 

The building itself first opened in 1898 as the city’s main transportation hub; it was once the busiest terminal in the world. After the Golden Gate Bridge was constructed, the Ferry Building wasn't needed anymore, so it was turned into offices in 1955. 

Luckily, in 2003, the Ferry Building opened as the Ferry Building Marketplace, filled with eateries and indoor food vendors. 

If you have the chance, the farmer’s market held at The Ferry Plaza next to The Ferry Building is the perfect thing to do while you're in San Francisco. 

The market is open Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. The Thursdays are popular for street food, and Saturday is known as the day that the local restaurants showcase some of their new dishes. 

Occasionally The Ferry Building also puts on a flea market, where locals flock to get the best antique furniture and second-hand goodies. 

15. Lookout from the Top of Coit Tower

Coit Tower

Without a doubt, one of the best views of San Francisco is from the top of Coit Tower. 

You literally can't miss this place! It sticks out like a sore thumb amongst San Francisco’s skyline, sitting up from Telegraph Hill.

The column was built in 1933 and stands at an impressive 64 meters tall! 

Luckily you can purchase tickets from the gift shop below to ride the elevator all the way to the top viewing platform. From here, you can see panoramic views of the whole city, including the Golden Gate Bridge, the city skyline, and the harbor. 

It's easy to reach Coit Tower via public transport, simply catch the 39 Muni bus from Fisherman’s Wharf. 

If you're looking to learn some more information about this quirky tower, then here's some more information about Coit Tower...

16. Climb up 16th Avenue Tiled Steps

16th Avenue Tiled Steps

The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps are not your average stairway. 

In 2003 The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps Project started, this was a community based project to transform the 163 steps into beautiful mosaic tiles. 

These steps look absolutely stunning during the day and are definitely worth a trip to see.

Not only do they really brighten up the area but they also set an example of what can be achieved with community spirit and perseverance to a cause - the project took over two years to complete! 

While you should definitely visit during the day, the magic really happens at night.

Once the sun starts to set, the stairs catch the light and become even more spectacular. 

Photos simply do not do this work of art justice, it really needs to be seen in person! 

17. Snap a Pic of The Painted Ladies

painted ladies san franciso

Located around the perimeter of Alamo Square Park, sits one of the most photographed hot spots in San Francisco. 

This line of brightly colored unusual style Victorian houses are still occupied by locals who must be used to having queues of people posing for Instagram's outside. 

Book this iconic Painted Ladies San Francisco Tour to travel around the city in a vintage style Volkswagen camper van! This tour stops in all the city’s top landmarks, obviously including the painted ladies!

Your private group will get to enjoy free Californian wine while listening to classic 1960s music and learning about the history of the city. 

Not to worry, the tour guides know the best photo spots, unique stories about the city, and how to have a good time! 

18. Stroll Around San Francisco Botanical Gardens

san franciso botanical gardens

Located within Golden Gate Park, is San Francisco Botanical Gardens

Open daily from 7:30am, the garden is home to over 8000 different types of plants from all over the world. 

The botanical gardens are so big that they are the largest on the West Coast, spanning 55 acres.

The collections at the garden are split into several different sections including Mediterranean, Mild-temperate climate, and Montane tropic. 

Free tours of the gardens are run by experts daily, usually leaving from the Botanical Garden’s library on site. 

If you're traveling to the city with kids, an adorable activity for them to do would be to join the monthly 10am storytime session followed by a stroll through the gardens. This activity is completely free and popular amongst locals and tourists alike. 

These gardens are one of the best places to visit in San Francisco so don't leave this place off your itinerary!

19. Find The Lincoln Park Steps

Lincoln Park Steps‍

Sensing a theme here? No boring staircases in San Francisco! 

Smaller than the other mosaic steps located around the city, the Lincoln Park Steps are harder to find and therefore somewhat of a hidden gem! 

Okay maybe they aren't that secret but they're a lot less busy than the others and if you're lucky you might visit and be the only person there! 

Located at the end of a side street close to an apartment complex, these strikingly stunning steps lead up to a golf course and not much else. 

It's possible to reach the Lincoln Park Steps via public transport by the 1-California bus.

However, it's best to ask your driver where the best place to hop off and reach the steps is. 

The Lincoln Park Steps are a great activity to tie into your trip to Lands End as you can easily walk along to the Lands End coastal walk after, which is nearby. 

Visiting these steps is one of the more unique things to do in San Francisco, which is why you won't have to fight off the crowds!

20. Explore Haight-Ashbury

Colorful Stores in Haight Street, San Francisco

Often called the hippie district of San Francisco, Haight-Ashbury is an awesome area to explore during your stay. 

This area of San Francisco is famous for its rich history, interesting culture, and bright colorful architecture. During the latter half of the sixties, young people wanted to create their own kind of society on these streets, with the beliefs of peace and freedom. 

The best way to learn about the district's awesome history would be to book a walking tour of the area.

That way you can explore the town's highlights including Haight Street, and look at the extravagant shops and bars while listening to the stories of the experts. 

Be sure to visit Piedmont Boutique during your trip! You won't be able to miss it as it's a boutique shop with a giant pair of women's legs sticking out the roof! 

San Francisco Travel Tips and FAQ

san franciso travel tips

When is the best time to visit San Francisco? 

Surprisingly, September to November is actually considered the best time to visit San Francisco. The weather is best in autumn and you can avoid the larger crowds that summer brings. 

Spring is another great time to take a trip to San Francisco. The weather is mild, the crowds are less intense and the prices will be slightly lower. 

If you visit in winter it's likely you'll be met with chilly weather and a LOT of rain. 

How long should you visit San Francisco? 

3 to 4 days is the perfect amount of time to spend in the city as there are so many incredible things to do in SF! 

If you have enough time you can spend longer here and see everything that the city has to offer, but a long weekend trip to San Francisco is plenty of time to see the highlights! 

Is San Francisco walkable? 

By American standards, San Francisco is a very walkable city! Most of the main attractions you'll be able to reach either on foot or easily via the city’s expansive public transport system. 

Is San Francisco safe? 

In terms of large American cities, San Francisco is actually considered very safe, especially for tourists. 

Unfortunately, the city does have a lot of homelessness which can sometimes lead to crime. However, this is no more than in any other large city so you should always just be cautious and aware of your surroundings, especially at night. 

What is a good budget for San Francisco? 

San Francisco is known for being quite an expensive city to visit, however, this doesn't mean that it can't be done on a budget. 

It's likely that accommodation will take up a huge chunk of your budget during your stay but you can check booking.com for the most up-to-date deals. 

Minus accommodation costs, you're likely to spend around $110 per day in San Francisco, according to current travel trends. 

To save money, be sure to purchase a San Francisco CityPass to visit the city’s top attractions at the best price. 

Can you book a tour of San Francisco? 

Yes! There are so many great tours that will take you around San Francisco’s highlights. 

These are some of the top reviewed: 

Where to go after San Francisco

There are so many incredible things to see in San Francisco! It's a vibrant city full of history and culture and definitely worth the visit. 

If you're looking to get a fantastic view of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge then don't forget to book this Seaplane Tour in advance!

It would be impossible for us to list every activity in San Francisco so please do let us know any we've missed and what your favorite things to do there are! 

If you're looking to travel somewhere after San Francisco there are a few places that would be easy to travel to. We would personally recommend exploring more of the United State's West Coast and visiting places such as San Jose, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and San Diego!

However, if you're looking to go a bit further afar then we've got plenty of travel guides that you might find helpful:

Disclaimer: Fully research your destination prior to travel, or any products prior to purchase. We can accept no responsibility for anything you experience as a result of the information found on this website. Some posts may contain affiliate links, which means we receive a small commission for some purchases, at no additional expense to you. Read more here
Some images courtesy of Deposit Photos.
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