Cities / San Francisco / San Francisco Bucket List: The 20 Best Things To Do

San Francisco Bucket List: The 20 Best Things To Do

By San Francisco Bucket List

The Best Things To Do – For Locals & Tourists Alike.


San Francisco may only measure 50 square miles, but the foggy city packs a world-renowned punch. Famous for the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, Victorian architecture, gorgeous oceanfront, outstanding eateries, natural wonders including giant Redwood trees, and so much more—you could likely stay your whole life here and keep finding new things to experience. 

Whether you’re visiting, moving in, or have been here awhile and want to absorb all it has to offer (great choice): you’ve come to the right place. Experience the greatest hits of one of the best cities in the world below:

Explore Golden Gate Park

 
 
 
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You can’t skip this 1,017-acre forest oasis right inside the city. The miles of green contain botanical gardens, a dutch windmill, multiple museums, and even a live Buffalo Paddock. 
Need a one-day itinerary? Start with an early stroll through the koi ponds of the Japanese Tea Garden, and a morning cup in the Tea Room (free admission 9AM-10AM M/W/F). When you’re finished, choose between the nearby De Young Museum and the California Academy of Sciences, each of which contain full restaurants for lunch. Finally, walk fifteen minutes to reach the Stow Lake Boathouse to end the day with a paddle boat ride—last rentals at 4 PM.
Mini/Local Version: In early August, check out Outside Lands, the 3-day multi-genre music festival. Last year’s headliners included Paul Simon, Childish Gambino and Twenty One Pilots. 
When: Most attractions are year-round, but check out the latest events, and what’s blooming in the Conservatory of Flowers. 
Where: 75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr (starting at Japanese Tea Garden)
For more information.

Bonfire at Ocean Beach 

 
 
 
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SF may be more often foggy than sun-bathed, but it has its share of 70+ degree-days. If you catch one, head over to Ocean Beach for the day, where a gorgeous stretch of sand dunes and open ocean borders the Sunset District of the city. Plus, tons of local pups (they host two corgi-cons a year here). 

For the cozy move, bundle up with your friends and grab some firewood for a sunset bonfire. Rather take in the scenery in a more posh setting? Walk across the road for a table at Beach Chalet Brewery & Restaurant to enjoy steak or lobster with your ocean view. 

Mini/Local Version: Lunch at the more bar-bites and brews downstairs version of the restaurant: Park Chalet. 

When: Year-round, but the warmest SF months are Mid Oct-Sept (s/o indian summers) 
Where: 1000 Great Hwy

For more information.

Visit the Oldest Smoke Shop in SF on Haight Street

 
 
 
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Weed has been allowed for recreational use in SF for a bit now, and the city’s long history of vibrant cannabis culture was brought to life by this freedom. Whether or not you partake, it’s worth walking the crown jewel urban hippie-paradise of the city: Haight Street. Start in “Pipe Dreams,” the oldest smoke shop in SF,  for authenticity. Then, bar hop some of the multiple pubs for lunch and drinks, and see what you can find in the bohemian thrift shops.

Mini/Local Version: Check out a lounge dispensary, like Barbary Coast, or the root-based, relaxing Kava Lounge.  

When: Shops close at 8 PM 
Where: 
1376 Haight St

For more information.

Hike to Twin Peaks (from the Castro)

 
 
 
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Hikes don’t always have to be backcountry affairs. Starting at the intersection of Market and Castro street, eventually rising 900 feet, this urban hike peeks on a magnificent 360-degree view of the city. 

There’s various guides online, including the AllTrails app version, but we recommend the step-by-step route from the late SF native Bill Choissier. Taking you down bustling streets of the Castro—past the historic Castro Theater—and through the weaving neighborhoods with great appreciation. Grab a sandwich and a jacket (wind is a constant) for the top, you’ll want to stay awhile.

Mini/Local Version: Don’t feel like a big physical trek? It’s just as pretty as a drive up. 

When: Year-round, but May-Oct could be prime weather conditions.   
Where: Market St & Castro St

For more information.

Catch a game at the new Chase Center 

 
 
 
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The brand new home of the Golden State Warriors delivers the glitz of a professional NBA team home, with the signature thoughtful depth of SF business. Think gleaming white trimmings, decorative blue aura, and artisanal stadium food from local vendors (including Bay Area darling: La Cocina’s Tamales). 

Beyond the artsy hype—you’ll find there’s not a bad seat in the house, due to the stadium’s compact bowl shape, the biggest scoreboard in the NBA, and a star-studded performer lineup if you’re not a basketball junkie.

Mini/Local Version: See a game for free on their giant outdoor video board. 

When: Year-round shows, October-June basketball season. 
Where:
 1 Warriors Way

For more information.

Walk or Bike the Golden Gate Bridge 

 
 
 
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Arguably the most iconic staple of San Francisco—you’ve got to experience the Golden Gate Bridge. Not only is the architecture itself magnificent, but you’ll also see Angel Island, Alcatraz, and the city skyline across the ocean. 

Our favorite master plan? Bike over the bridge and down into the seaside town of Sausalito (worth a day trip in and of itself), returning to the city by ferry.

Mini/Local Version: Hike the Marin Headlands for the same sweeping views of the bridge, a little farther away but more wind-protected.  

When: Open 5:00 AM—6:30 PM
Where: 
Check out this Parking Guide from Fog City Secrets.

For more information.

Eat Crab and Sourdough 

 
 
 
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No need to choose a single best restaurant, just make sure you taste some variety of seafood. Be it crab, oysters, or a signature clam chowder bread bowl—you haven’t tasted SF until you’ve tasted its shellfish.    

Options are everywhere. For the souvenir-worthy stop, try the chowder bowl at the flagship Boudin Bakery on the Wharf. Prefer a neighborhood gem? Try the Swan Oyster Depot or the Woodhouse Fish Co. (where the Lobster and Squid Ink Pasta may or may not change your life).

Mini/Local Version: Oyster Happy Hour is a (wonderful) thing. 

When: Year-round. 
Where: 
City-wide. Boudin Bakery at the Wharf is at 160 Jefferson Street, Lower Level

For more information.

Nightlife at California Academy of Sciences


(Photo Courtesy of Tim Williamson)

NightLife is an educational, and electric, immersion. The Academy is the only place on earth to contain a Planetarium, Rainforest, Aquarium, and Natural History Museum all under one roof (which is a “living” roof, to boot). 

The term “NightLife” refers to their Thursday evening 21+ ticket option. These nights are uniquely themed each week, and complete with DJ’s and signature cocktails that match each exhibit. Grab a cocktail, a Planetarium movie ticket, and amble through the iridescent Aquarium to contemplate the beauty of life while searching for elusive Octopi.

Mini/Local Version: The Exploratorium also does an 18+ Thursday night ticket option called “After Dark.” These exhibits are smaller scale, but more interactive. 

When: Thursday evenings 6:00 PM—10:00 PM   
Where: 
55 Music Concourse Dr.

For more information.

Day Party at Phoenix Hotel

 
 
 
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The definition of a hidden gem. Located in the gritty Tenderloin, this oasis-like, retro-inspired little hotel has hosted rock musicians and celebrities since the 50s. Legend has it that Neil Young lived here with his pet bush babies while recording Deja Vu. 

Fast-forward to today, the Phoenix hotel hosts a summer series of day parties in its courtyard. Complete with up-and coming EDM DJs, multiple bars, cabana options, and an absolutely clutch BBQ station. 

Mini/Local Version: Try their Poolside Yoga + Mimosa events instead for a slower pace. 

When: Check their Facebook page for updated event dates. 
Where:
 601 Eddy St

For more information.

Picnic in Mission Dolores Park

 
 
 
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Boasting the warmest weather in the city, this refuge lies in the heart of SF’s latino-infused Mission District. Large enough to handle its huge weekend crowds with ease, bring your friends to enjoy a meal and drinks under a shady palm tree, or climb a hill for a spot with spectacular views of the downtown skyline. 

Expect eclectic surroundings, like Michael the Coconut guy serving rum in fresh coconuts, people bringing their parrots, and costumed mascots.

Mini/Local Version:Try the calmer Alamo Square, where you can also check out the Painted Ladies

When: Year-round 
Where: Dolores St &, 19th St.

For more information.

Enjoy Fisherman’s Wharf 

 
 
 
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Fisherman’s Wharf is a lovable, all-age mecca for newcomers to SF. While this does mean crowds, it also means there’s plenty to do, see, buy and eat! 

Browse through the souvenir shops with a special stop into Houidin’s Magic Shop, and take a turn or two on the Carousel. Enjoy coffee and beignets at Tugboats. Little museums and psychedelic exhibits are all around you, like Magowan's Infinite Mirror Maze or The Aquarium of the Bay. But the absolute must-see attraction? The happy-go-lucky sea lions, basking on the dock of the pier.

Mini/Local Version: Check out the italian-steeped North Beach neighborhood. Close enough to the peer attractions, but light on tourist crowds. 

When: Year-round 
Where:
 Jefferson Street, Between Hyde and Powell Streets

For more information.

Chocolate-out at Ghirardelli Square 

 
 
 
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A former chocolate factory, à la Willy Wonka, the original Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop is now a three-level inviting and delicious shop and restaurant conglomerate for San Franciscans’ pleasure. Think warm baking aromas, fire pits and twinkling lights, frothy sodas and milkshakes, entire cheese shops, and outdoor beer gardens. 

Indulge your sweet tooth here under the iconic “Ghirardelli” sign, be it for chocolate, wine or fudge-topped ice cream sundaes.

Mini/Local Version: A short drive away, try local darling Salt and Straw Ice Cream, with new flavors by the month.

When: 9:00 AM—11:00 PM 
Where:
 900 North Point St

For more information.

Explore Chinatown

 
 
 
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The oldest Chinatown in the nation lies behind the ornate San Francisco “Dragon’s Gate.” Enter, and gold and jade glitters at you in store windows, dim sum and other traditional eateries surround you, and all is right in the world. Souvenir shops are abundant, but so are authentic Budhist Temples, such as the historic Tin How, as well as herbal shops and tea companies.

For a delightful stop (maybe with kiddos), peek into the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in Ross Alley. The little bakery prepares homemade fortune cookies in an open kitchen, with free tours available. Beware though picture-taking is a hefty 50 cents a pop.

Mini/Local Version: Catch the Chinese New Year Festival here in February (not January) or the Autumn Moon Festival in September. 

When: Year-round.
Where: 
Bush St, Grant Ave (Dragons Gate)

For more information.

Tour the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)

 
 
 
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With one of the largest multi-media/medium collections in the nation, the SFMOMA is a must-see while you’re in The Bay. Think exhibit themes as far ranging as extraterrestrial design, Andy Warhol, and soundtracks of film (with the famous “singing pond” installation)—all while still keeping a spotlight reserved for Bay Area native creators. 

For the most immersive experience, download the SFMOMA’S free mobile app. The locationally aware app will lead you through the massive museum in a way that's imaginative and state-of-the-art. 

Mini/Local Version: If you can score a ticket while you're in town, also try the Museum of Ice Cream.

When: 10 AM—5:30 PM all week, but open until 9:00 PM Fridays and first Thursdays of each month.
Where:
 151 3rd St.

For more information.

Take a Bay Cruise

 
 
 
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Would you believe us if we told you the best view of either of SF’s famed bridges, is underneath it? The numerous SF bay cruises really can’t be beat—it’s the best way to see the nearby islands, bridges and skyline in the entire city. The most popular route departs from Pier 39, sails around the SF waterfront, under the Golden Gate Bridge and around infamous Alcatraz Island before dropping you back off. But also be on the lookout for twilight cruises, whale watching tours, and cruises that take you under both local bridges.

Mini/Local Version: SF has a ferry system available to take you all around the Bay Area (Oakland, Sausalito and Marin). Not a recreational cruise by design, but you can still pop outside to feel the ocean spray and enjoy a drink and snack bar on-deck. 

When: Cruises are mostly year-round, from 60 to 90 minutes long. 
Where: 
One popular option is the Blue & Gold Fleet at PIER 39, a 3 min walk from Aquarium of the Bay.

For more information.

Visit the Giant Trees of Muir Woods 

 
 
 
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For a natural wonder, walk among the towering old-growth coast Redwoods in federally protected Muir Woods. The luscious forest is home to these Sequoia sempervirens trees, ranging from 400 and 800 years old (the oldest is at least 1,200 years old), with heights up to 250 feet. Trails stretch for miles under the canopy, and you’ll never feel smaller then you do walking amongst the primeval giants. 

Mini/Local Version: Much farther away, but to go big, road trip to Yosemite National Park. A must-see at least once in a lifetime. 

When: Year-round. 
Where: 
1 Muir Woods Rd

For more information.

Wine taste on Treasure Island 

 
 
 
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This man made island is a mere 7 minute bus ride from SF. The little rock has been home to the Bay Area's largest flea market, an EDM festival, and currently hosts a museum, several restaurants, and a paddle boarding spot. 

Best of all, Treasure Island has become a hub for wine appreciation. The spacious, industrial design of each winery is like a breath of fresh air—and they’re all short walks apart from one another. Choose from Sol Rouge, the french-focused gem, ​Vie Winery, for tastings with a side of Bocce Ball, Sottomarino, for drinking in a WWII Submarine (awesome), and the award-winning Winery SF to create your perfect day.

Mini/Local Version: A brewery on the Island, Woods Island Club, features a sandy beach area for its patrons.

When: Most wineries operate from 12 PM—5:30 PM Saturdays and Sundays.  
Where: 
The Winery SF at 30 Avenue G is a good place to start. 

For more information.

Adventure at the Sutro Baths and Land’s End Trail

 
 
 
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ConfessionSutro Baths is my favorite spot in SF. Route yourself over to the parking lot by the Sutro Bath trail head, and start with a walk down to the crumbling architecture by the sea. Originally designed as a millionaire’s large, privately owned saltwater pool—the bath was abandoned long ago and blended with the natural surroundings to create a stunning feature. 

After that, continue on to the out-and-back Land’s End seaside trail.The easy-going trail switches between enclosed forest areas, and more open cliffside-paths with views of the Golden Gate Bridge. (Hint: one of the little side paths on the trail leads to a labyrinth.)

Mini/Local Version: Enjoy a meal in the Cliff House overlooking the Sutro Baths.  

When: Year-round. 
Where: 
680 Point Lobos Ave.

For more information.

Escape from Alcatraz

 
 
 
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Not one to shy away from a darker historic landmark? You have to experience the infamous island that was a Civil War fort, a military prison and one of the most notorious federal prisons in our nation’s history: Alcatraz Island.   

You’ll need to take a boat from Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing, but it's included with the all-day tour price of $39. That ticket also provides you with award-winning audio tour headphones, so you can walk the decaying prison walls and hear stories from former inmates and correctional officers that lived on the island—including famous escape attempts and solitary confinement woes.

Mini/Local Version: The city hosts a “Escape from Alcatraz” triathlon, and a guided open water swim from Alcatraz Island to the St. Francis Yacht Club in June—if you want to push yourself.   

When: Hours of operation vary with the season—departures are available about every half hour throughout the day beginning at 8:45am. Evening tours and combined Angel Island-Alcatraz Island tours are also available seasonally. Check their website for up-to-date hours.
Where:
 Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing

For more information.

Ride a Cable Car

 
 
 
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The SF cable car system is the world's last manually operated cable car system. Regardless of where you’re going, make time to hop on one for history’s sake. 

Mini/Local Version: No substitute. 

When: Year-round. From 6:30 AM—until a little after midnight. Scheduled to operate every 6-15 minutes, depending on the time of day.
Where: Try one of these three routes.

For more information.


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