Things to do in San Francisco, CA

1,138 activities

Discover the Best Activities in San Francisco, CA

If California is a state of mind, then San Francisco is euphoria. Welcome to the city that will take you to new highs, leaving your mind spinning, your tastebuds tingling, and your calves aching. The dazzling views, daunting hills, one-of-a-kind neighborhoods, and laid-back, friendly people fascinate visitors. Though smaller than most “big” cities, the city manages to pack an incredible amount of vitality, from its thriving art communities and bustling shops to the pulsing beats in some of the country’s hippest nightclubs and bars.

Top Things to Do in San Francisco, CA

Plan less, play more. Check out our recommended experiences and activities

Get to Know San Francisco, CA

Your one stop resource for where to go, what to see, and how to make the most of your stay.
Produced in partnership with Let's Go! Travel Guides.

Get Oriented

San Francisco sits at the junction of several major highways, including I-280, US 101, Highway 1, and I-80. From the east, I-80 runs across the Bay Bridge into the South of Market (SoMa) area and then connects with US 101 just before it runs into Van Ness Avenue. Market Street, one of the city’s main thoroughfares, runs on a diagonal from the Ferry Building near the bay through downtown and to The Castro in the southwest.

Neighborhood boundaries get a bit confusing; a good map is a must. Touristy Fisherman’s Wharf sits at the northeast edge of the city. Just south of the wharf is North Beach, a historically Italian area, and south of North Beach lies Chinatown. Wealthy Nob Hill and Russian Hill round out the northeast of the city. Municipal buildings cluster in the Civic Center, which lines Market St. and is bounded on the west by Van Ness Ave. On the other side of Van Ness Ave. is hip Hayes Valley. Retail-heavy Union Square is north of Market St. and gives way in the west to the rougher Tenderloin, which, incidentally, is not the meatpacking district.

The Golden Gate Bridge stretches over the bay from The Presidio in the city’s northwest corner. Just south of The Presidio, Lincoln Park reaches westward to the ocean, while vast Golden Gate Park dominates the western half of the peninsula. Near Golden Gate Park sits the former hippie haven of Haight-Ashbury. The trendy Mission takes over south of 14th St. The diners and cafes of the “gay mecca” of The Castro dazzle on Castro and Market St., northwest of the Mission. On the opposite side of the city, the skyscrapers of the Financial District crowd down to the Embarcadero.

See & Do

What to see in San Francisco

Make the most of your time in San Francisco: check out our list of top attractions in the city. Click on the links to reserve tours or local guides.

Eat & Drink

San Francisco’s legendary culinary scene continues to dazzle. From Michelin-starred restaurants to casual street food, this city fulfills every foodie fantasy. Looking to imbibe? San Francisco delivers seriously good drinking, from cozy dives with great craft beer selections to sleek bars with expert mixologists. We’ll leave the restaurant reviews to the experts (after all, the buzz is continually changing), but here are a few classic standbys.

  • The Ferry Building: This marketplace is chock-full of Bay Are specialites. Don’t miss Cowgirl Creamery (cheese), Acme (bread), and La Cocina (a non-profit that helps low-income entrepreneurs launch and grow food businesses).
  • Humphrey Slocombe: These ice cream innovators have made the classic cone ultra-trendy with unique, surprising flavors.
  • Tartine Bakery: Long lines are worth the wait at this delicious Mission spot.
  • Chez Panisse: This Berkeley icon put California cuisine on the map.
  • The Tonga Room: Tiki kitsch reigns supreme at this Fairmont Hotel institution, open since 1945.

Arts & Culture

Museums & Visual Arts

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) houses an outstanding collection of 20th-century American and European art, as well as numerous collections of photography, painting, and sculpture. The Artists Gallery showcases a rotating collection of pieces by current Bay Area artists, some of which are for sale.

The San Francisco Art Institute is one of the oldest art schools in the country and the alma mater of American greats such as Ansel Adams, Mark Rothko, Dorothea Lange, and others. The Institute regularly hosts exhibitions and public programs in their galleries.

The Martin Lawrence Gallery showcases a large Chagall collection as well as Picasso studies and several pieces from pop art greats like Warhol and Haring.

In the Mission District, visitors can explore colorful murals in the tradition of Diego Rivera and José Orozco. Walk east or west along 24th street.

Part of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the California Palace of the Legion of Honor has a diverse collection of European and ancient art. Best-known for the Rodin sculpture collection, the Palace also houses an impressive collection of Impressionist art by Degas, Renoir, Monet, and others.

Theater, Film & Performance Arts

The Palace of Fine Arts Theater is a major cultural center for the city, hosting dance, theater, and film festivals.

Just south of Union Square, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is a hub for contemporary, multi-disciplinary arts. Don’t miss the serene Rooftop Gardens.

Customs & Etiquette

Table manners

In the US, good table manners means quiet eating. Loud chewing, talking with food in your mouth, or slurping are seen as rude, and burping or flatulence is not seen as complementary to the chef. Servers at sitdown restaurants usually expect to be tipped 15-20%.

Public behavior

Dress in the US tends to be more modest than in Europe. Toplessness, particularly in women, should be avoided. Many establishments will require a customer to wear a shirt and shoes. The most acceptable forms of public affection are hugging and holding hands; kissing in public will usually draw some glances. Although most cities are tolerant of homosexuality, gay or lesbian couples should be aware that they may receive unwanted attention for public displays of affection, especially in rural areas. Also, note that many American will say “see you later” without really intending to make future plans.


One of the most offensive gestures in the US is extending your middle finger at someone. Known as “giving someone the finger,” this gesture is considered not only rude, but obscene. On the other hand, a “thumbs up” gesture is a sign of approval and a widely recognized signal for hitchhiking, which Let’s Go does not recommend.

Popular Destinations Nearby

Discover top destinations near San Francisco, CA