I am by no means a big city girl, but if I HAD to live in one big city out of the entire world, it would be San Francisco. This photogenic and unique city is bustling with things to do, making it the ultimate bucket list destination!
San Francisco has a culture completely of its own. I compiled a list of things to do to give you a well-rounded experience of The Golden City, including the most touristy spots, local spots, and just some… weird spots. A lot of these items are things that you can only do in this city and are the top Unique things to do in San Francisco – ENJOY! 🙂
Pssst: Don’t forget to check out my round-up for 17 best San Francisco Hotels with a view!
There’s a chance that this post contains affiliate links. I may receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you), that goes directly towards little Rosie’s dog treats!
1. Take a Cable Car Ride
Taking a cable car ride through the hilly streets is something you can only do in San Francisco! An iconic experience and not to mention, will save your feet from a vacation length of walking. San Francisco is known for its practically vertical streets, so you will feel like you’re hiking one minute and tumbling down a hill the next.
These cable car rides can save your energy for more important things… like wine bar hopping (don’t worry, more on this later). The cable cars do not run down every street in San Francisco, so you may need to walk a little ways to get on one. The two main streets where they operate are on Powell / Mason and Powell / Hyde Streets. You can also look them up on Google Maps!
2. Valencia Street Thrift Shopping
Valencia Street is an incredibly hipster neighborhood (well most of San Francisco really), but especially this area. You can spend your day channeling your inner hipster by doing the 3 most hipster things, ever:
- Looking at street art
- Going to vegan coffee shops
- Thrift shopping
Assuming you are in Fisherman’s Wharf area (the most touristy area of San Francisco), it will be about a 25 minute drive to Valencia Street. Once you are here, you can easily spend the day shopping and having lunch in cute coffee shops.
3. Murals on Mission Street
If you keep heading south on Valencia Street, you will eventually hit Mission street. This area is known for its beautiful and vibrant street murals!
And I’m not talking a few murals here and there, they are everywhere.
If you want to make sure you don’t miss a single mural, you can check out Precita Eyes Mural Arts Center where they provide tours for purchase. They are a non-profit mural arts organization that can give you a walking tour, bike tour or private tour.
4. Muir Wood Forest
Only 45 minutes outside of the city, you can go on a hiking through the biggest living things on the planet. While the ones in San Francisco only reach 258ft (only?), these types of trees reach 380+ ft! To put that in perspective, that is over 70ft taller than the Statue of Liberty.
Wouldn’t you just totally hate yourself if you were only 45 minutes away from this amazing piece of the world and you didn’t go? If that doesn’t convince you, hiking through the Muir Woods are a sure-fire way to get rid of any hangover, no matter how bad. (Okay, don’t quote me on that one, but seriously… just go!).
If you have a car and want to drive yourself, make sure you make a reservation online before you go! The winding street down to the entrance is extremely long and once you are down there, you can not make a reservation online because there is ZERO service. They will not let you into the parking lot without the online reservation.
If you don’t have a car, you can do tours for extremely cheap – Click here to see reviews and pricing on Muir Wood Tours.
5. See San Francisco’s Skyline
My favorite thing to do in any city I travel to is escape the busy city for just a few hours and go somewhere where I can soak in the city from afar. Luckily for you, San Francisco is hilly AF and there are multiple options for you!
– Coit Tower –
The Coit Tower is located 250ft above the Telegraph Hill neighborhood, extremely close to Lombard Street. For only $9, you can take the elevator to top to soak in the breathtaking San Francisco skyline.
At the bottom of the tower you can find more murals and a lovely little park. 🙂
– Twin Peaks –
Twin Peaks is my favorite option because it is completely FREE! This 64 acre park is nestled up on a hill where it gives you expansive views of San Francisco’s skyline. You will need to do a little exercising to get up there (I know, I know, I’m asking a lot of you on your vacation but just trust me on this one!).
I personally think this view is better than Coit Tower because you are little ways away from the heart of the city. This way you get a better view!
TIP: If you have the time, go to a market and pick out some picnic items to enjoy at the park.
– Bernal Heights –
Bernal Heights is another grassy hilltop in the Bay Area. You will see the skyline and beautiful views of the bay. Since it’s a little far from all the touristy attractions, this will be more of a local hang out.
If you’re a dog lover, be prepared to get your dog fix here too!
Either a short ferry ride or drive away from San Francisco, you can indulge in water front restaurants, local shops and a wonderful view of the Golden Gate Bridge!
To take the ferry to Sausalito, it takes only 30 minutes and costs roughly $25.00 round trip. The ferry will pick you up near Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco and drop you off right in Sausalito. Click here to see ferry times!
If you want to learn more about Sausalito history or sign up for a food & wine tour, click here to browse options!
7. Painted Ladies
Are you a Full House super fan like.. the rest of the world?
This is where all your Full House dreams come true! If it’s a nice day, pack a lunch and head over to Alamo Square Park for a picnic. You can enjoy the picturesque, colorful homes that are featured in the show Full House. Please be respectful and not walk all over their front yard – people actually live there!
This is one of my favorite spots in all of San Francisco because I feel like time really slows down once you sit on the lawns. San Francisco can be bustling and stressful, but this is the perfect spot to rest your feet and take a deep breath!
8. Lombard Street
This is what I think of when I think of San Francisco (other than the Golden Gate Bridge of course). This street is so quirky and unique that it’s an absolute must-see!
I would NOT recommend driving down this street, the line just to enter the street is simply absurd (and I think they are now charging a toll?!). Plus, walking down it will get you far better pictures!
Also, I hate when people would just say “Lombard Street,” because this street is over 2 miles long! You can find the picturesque street between Hyde St and Leavenworth St.
TIP: I would recommend walking DOWN Lombard street because the climb up is exhausting. The stair case is extremely narrow and you are baking in the sun.
9. Ghirardelli Square
Ghiradelli Square is a brick building oasis in the heart of San Francisco. Here, you can taste chocolate and get some of the best ice cream of your life! There are also a lot of little shops, which makes it the perfect stop to buy some souvenirs for back home.
This area is fairly small and will only take about 30 minutes to explore. There is also a wine bar called Wattle Creek Winery in the square that does wine and chocolate tastings!
10. Castro Street
If you want to see the most colorful street in the U.S., head over to Castro Street. This neighborhood is one of the oldest and well-known gay neighborhoods in the world. San Francisco is known for having a large LGBTQ community and hosts many parades throughout the year.
Also, fun fact: Did you know it’s legal to be naked in San Francisco? You can witness people exercising this right first-hand! This is your chance to experience, real and true San Francisco, ha!
11. 16th Avenue Tiled Steps
I’m going to be 100% honest with you, there is literally nothing to do here other than take a very popular insta-worthy picture. Which, hey! No judgement here! I love to get a good picture for the gram just as much as the next gal.
To get to 16th Avenue tiled steps, just head over to Grandview park and you will see them!
12. Ferry Building Farmer’s Market
If you want to continue living out your hipster alter-ego, head over to another totally “SanFran” thing to do… Go to a farmers market! You can waltz around talking about how beautiful the $30 bouquets of flowers are and buy all organic, non GMO goods for your picnic! 🙂
The market at the Ferry Building is only open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 10am-2pm. It does get crowded, so if you want to avoid the crowds of people, I would try to go right when they open.
13. Church Of 8 Wheels
Go roller skating at an old church any Friday or Saturday night at Church of 8 Wheels. I love this idea because it’s such unique thing to do in San Francisco!
If you have no idea how to skate, they provide lessons and skates for only $30/hour! This is such a fun date night idea… unless you suck at skating and fall on your face.. then, not so much!
The Church of 8 Wheels is located right next to the Painted Ladies (#7), so you can easily link these two together.
14. Fisherman’s Wharf & Pier 39
This is the single most touristy place in all of San Francisco, but honestly.. you have to see it at least once! Fisherman’s Wharf is an area in San Francisco that is located on the bay. You can easily spend hours exploring the sites and spending hundreds on souvenirs, ha!
The best (and stinkiest) thing to do is watch the hundreds of sea lions sun bathe on the docks. You can see this at any point in the day in almost every season.
There are also restaurants, shops, arcades and street performers around the entire area. Not to mention, the best view of Alcatraz and Golden Gate Bridge from this area.
TIP: This is right on the water so make sure you bring a jacket because it can get windy!
15. Golden Gate Bridge
So this is kind of a duh moment, but the Golden Gate Bridge is the staple of San Francisco. You can walk along it, go to the Golden Gate park, drive along it or just soak it in from one of the many viewpoints in the city (#5)!
On a sunny day, the vibrant red bridge on the bright blue water is so picturesque you’ll feel like you are looking at a postcard. If you are heading to Sausalito for the day, you can see it from that area OR you can stop on the end of the bridge to take in the views!
TIP: When driving out of San Francisco to Sausalito, you will cross the bridge and there will be a large parking area for you to take a photo of the bridge!
Want to follow me along on my travels? Don’t forget to check out my Instagram for more photos! 🙂
Alcatraz is also extremely touristy, but is one of those things you must see once! This place holds so much interesting history and there are so many tours that will take you through the entire story. You can compare tours here.
This island is right off the coast of Fisherman’s Wharf where you can see the remains of an old prison. Back in 1962, three prisoners escaped and swam across the shark-filled waters.
If you are a swimmer, sign up for Alcatrez Sharkfest where you can have the opportunity to swim from this abandoned prison to the shore. Only 800 spots that sell out extremely fast! You can learn about the annual swimming competition here.
17. Lands End & Sutro Baths
This is sort of a hidden secret in San Francisco, but not for long! This picturesque area is home to the ruins of a public salt water pool. These pools were created by a past mayor of San Francisco, but the pools ended up burning down years ago. You can learn more about the history from this extremely useful article.
I would recommend linking this area with Golden Gate Park since it is only a few block away! 🙂
18. China Town
Almost every city now-a-days has a China Town of some sort. For example, Las Vegas has one but it’s truly pitiful.
China town in San Francisco is huge! It contains parks, hospitals, and endless restaurants. It would be impossible not to find a great spot for lunch in the 24 blocks it covers! Not only are the restaurants and shops actually good, but the prices are fair the streets are adorable. This is a perfect spot for an Instagram photo-opp!
19. Japan Town
Japan Town? Yes, you heard me right! Like China town, but soo much better.
Japan Town has Japanese Gardens, spas, karaoke bars, ramen, sushi, and so much more! Japan Town is significantly smaller than China Town so you can easily walk the entire area in less than an hour.
If you are in town in April, don’t miss their annual cherry blossom festival to celebrate spring time. You can find the exact dates here.
20. De Young Museum
De Young Museum is located in Golden Gate Park, which is a huge park located right on the water near Ocean’s Beach. This area is also close to Lands End (#17) and 16th Ave Tiled Steps (#11).
Fun fact, did you know that Golden Gate Park is 20% larger than Central Park? I was so surprised to hear that because if you’ve been to Central Park, it is HUGE.
This museum costs $25-$30 (depending on the day), and gives you a day filled with fine arts and beautiful views!
21. Napa or Sonoma Valley
It’s a crime to be so close to some of the best wine in the world and not go! Free a day of your vacation to spend the day wine tasting in beautiful, California wine country. Being only 90 minutes from San Francisco, this is an easy day trip!
If you don’t have a car (which, either way you shouldn’t be wine tasting and driving), there are so many great tours to do. If you are on a budget, you can do a group tour where they pick you up from your hotel in San Francisco.
For those of you are are fancy AF, your options are endless! Want to make a VIP entrance to a top winery in a helicopter? Want a private limo ride to take you through the vineyards? Want a yacht transfer through the bay area? You name it, there’s an option for you!
Want more information on wine tasting in Napa Valley? You can check out my 21st Birthday trip to Napa Valley here!
22. Wine Bar Hopping
If you haven’t fully decided if you like wine yet, and don’t want to spend an entire day drinking it.. Wine bar hopping would be better for you! This is also WAY more affordable that taking a tour from San Francisco.
San Francisco is so close to Napa Valley and Sonoma that most of their wineries open up a shop for tasting in the city. You can taste all of the amazing wine without having to leave the comfort of your San Francisco bubble!
There are endless bars to choose from, I would just pick a few that are near where you are staying and go from there. Here are some examples that are walking distance from each other:
Like wine? Check out my other wine-related itineraries!
- Wine Tasting in Paso Robles, California
- 21st Birthday to Napa Valley
- Wine tasting in Wilamette Valley, Portland
- Wine Bar hopping in downtown Sacramento, California
23. Head to the Beach
San Francisco has beaches? I thought it was cold there?
Yes! San Francisco has many beaches, even though the water is freezing year round, you can certainly relax on the sand.
Want to spend a day out of the hectic city? Two great day trips are Monterey and Big Sur! Being only 2.5 hours away from San Francisco, these quiet coastal towns will give you a much-need contrast from the busy city life! Or if you plan to explore more of California, be sure to check out my California Itinerary (7 days) for ideas on things to see from San Francisco to LA!
Wondering where to stay in San Francisco?
Check out my round-up for 17 best San Francisco Hotels with a view!
Thanks so much for stopping by!
Like this guide? Pin it here!