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Things to do in San Francisco

Experience a patchwork of unique neighborhoods and bold metropolitan beauty rich in cultural delights.

Our most recommended things to do in San Francisco

San Francisco: Skip-the-Line 1-Hour Bay Cruise by Boat

1. San Francisco: Skip-the-Line 1-Hour Bay Cruise by Boat

Enjoy a 1-hour journey along San Francisco's historic waterfront and experience the thrilling history of the San Francisco Bay, with all the sound and glory it deserves. The 1-hour non-stop Bay Cruise takes you past the famous PIER 39 sea lions and along San Francisco’s historic waterfront, revealing the city’s fascinating skyline. Relax in comfort, with both indoor and outdoor seating, and enjoy a full narration describing major landmarks as you sail by. See sights like the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and the iconic San Francisco skyline as you go. Whether it’s your first time to San Francisco, or your 10th visit, the Bay Cruise is something you should experience at least once in your life. You will get a complimentary souvenir map, which is available in nine languages, and if you get hungry, there’s a full-service snack bar on board with food and drink available to purchase.

San Francisco: Alcatraz Visit with Ferry and Bay Cruise

2. San Francisco: Alcatraz Visit with Ferry and Bay Cruise

Head inside the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary on Alcatraz Island to learn about America’s most ruthless criminals, including Al Capone. Enjoy a ferry transfer from San Francisco and an admission ticket. Embark on a scenic cruise of San Francisco Bay before or after your visit. Board the ferry and arrive at the island to begin your visit. Take advantage of an insightful audio guide to immerse yourself in the dark history of Alcatraz and hear all about its old inhabitants. Additionally, enjoy a sightseeing cruise of San Francisco Bay. Sail past the famous Pier 39 sea lions and along the historic waterfront, revealing the city’s fascinating skyline.

San Francisco: Big Bus Hop-On Hop-Off Sightseeing Tour

3. San Francisco: Big Bus Hop-On Hop-Off Sightseeing Tour

Hop aboard a sightseeing bus for a tour of the City by the Bay and delve into the fascinating history of San Francisco and its legendary landmarks, such as the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman's Wharf. The hop-on-hop-off route stops at the main points of interest all around San Francisco.  Experience the diverse culture, beautiful parks, stunning architecture, and picturesque views from the top of an open-air sightseeing bus. Hop off anytime and create your customized itinerary at your leisure. Explore 3 routes depending on your ticket purchase and enjoy photo stops at the Golden Gate Bridge on each route. Sit back and enjoy the ride as you cruise through the city on an open-top bus. Learn about the unique history of San Francisco while passing through Chinatown, Union Square, Civic Center, and Alamo Square. Enjoy the hop-on hop-off service at your leisure for a full day. Choose the 48-hour ticket to choose either a free bike rental or admission to the USS Pampanito. Take a deep dive into the history of this WWII submarine or cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge and into Sausalito. You have the freedom and flexibility to choose your own San Francisco adventure.

San Francisco: California Sunset/Twilight Boat Cruise

4. San Francisco: California Sunset/Twilight Boat Cruise

Enjoy sunset views as you sail on beautiful San Francisco Bay. See important landmarks, including Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. In the winter months, take in the serene twilight views instead. Along the way, view numerous National Historic landmarks and San Francisco sights, including Coit Tower, the Transamerica Pyramid, St. Peter, Paul's Church, and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. As the sun begins to set over the Marin Headlands, cruise past Alcatraz, Angel Island, and the shorelines of Tiburon, Belvedere, and Sausalito. Watch the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean, as you sail west towards the Golden Gate. On your way back to Fisherman’s Wharf, see many more famous sights, including the Presidio, the Marina District, and Fort Mason.

SF: Alcatraz Ticket w/ 2-Day Hop-On Hop-Off Bus & Night Tour

5. SF: Alcatraz Ticket w/ 2-Day Hop-On Hop-Off Bus & Night Tour

See the best of San Francisco with this combined hop-on-hop-off ticket and Alcatraz Island visit. Explore the island of Alcatraz and enjoy 2 days of sightseeing with insightful commentary from a live guide. Tour the famous prison that has played a role in jailhouse folklore and the historic evolution of the West Coast. Learn more about the 14 unsuccessful escape attempts by over 30 prisoners and their fates. Your Premium Big Bus hop-on-hop-off pass is a great way to see the sights of San Francisco. Listen to commentary by live English-speaking guides, or enjoy pre-recorded audio commentary in 10 languages. Your 2-day ticket includes a full day of unlimited hop-on-hop-off and a 1-hour panoramic night tour. Explore one of San Francisco's most fascinating neighborhoods on a fun and informative walking tour of Chinatown. The tours are offered daily, and you can ask an agent for locations and time schedules. Also included are a bonus 1-hour bike rental (with the purchase of a 1-hour rental) and Players Arcade Drink and Game Tokens. Hop-on, hop-off tour stops include: Stop 1: Corner of Jefferson & Mason StreetStop 2: Holiday Inn Northpoint b/w Jones & ColumbusStop 3: Washington Square - Columbus & Union StreetsStop 4: Embarcadero Center - Corner Clay & Battery StreetsStop 5: Ferry Building - Market St b/w Stuart & Spear StreetsStop 6: Union Square South - Geary St across from Macy’sStop 7: Hilton Hotel - Corner Mason & Ellis StreetsStop 8: Civic Center - Fulton St b/w Larkin & Hyde StreetsStop 9: Alamo Square - Corner Fell & Pierce StreetsStop 10: Haight Ashbury - Haight & Shrader StreetsStop 11: Golden Gate Park - Music Concourse Drive Golden Gate ParkStop 12: Golden Gate Bridge- North Vista PointStop 13: Palace of Fine Arts - Richardson & Francisco StreetStop 14: Marina Neighborhood - Lombard & Fillmore StreetsStop 15: Lombard Street Corridor - Lombard & Gough StreetsStop 16: Union Square North - Post & Powell StreetsStop 17: Chinatown Gate - Grant and Bush StreetsStop 18: Portsmouth Square - Kearny & Clay StreetsStop 19: Pier 35 Cruise Terminal - The EmbarcaderoStop 20: Pier 39 Fisherman’s Wharf (then return to Stop 1)

San Francisco: Golden Gate Bay Cruise

6. San Francisco: Golden Gate Bay Cruise

Cruise around the Golden Gate Bay on a boat tour. Enjoy informative commentary, see sights like Alcatraz Island, and purchase food and drink from the onboard bar. Launched in 1939 as part of the Golden Gate International Exposition, this 1-hour cruise has been a highlight of any visit to San Francisco for over 75 years. With 8-14 departures daily from Fisherman's Wharf, you will sail along San Francisco's breathtaking waterfront, under the majestic Golden Gate Bridge, and close to the notorious Alcatraz Island. Discover San Francisco's fascinating history, brought to life through audio commentary broadcast in 16 languages via personal headphones. Look out for wildlife along the way, including pelicans, sea lions, and even dolphins and whales. Sail past the lively neighborhood of North Beach, the famous swimming clubs of Aquatic Park, the historic vessels at Hyde Street Pier, and San Francisco Maritime National Park, before heading west towards Golden Gate Bridge. Enjoy views of Crissy Field and the lush hillsides of the Presidio, before cruising under Golden Gate Bridge. Steam back into the Bay, traveling past the wildlife reserves of the Marin Headlands, and the legendary town of Sausalito, once home to the 1960s’ flower generation. With Angel Island State Park to your left, cruise around the infamous Alcatraz. After a full hour of exciting sights, the barking sea lions at Pier 39 welcome you back to Pier 43 1/2. A full bar with drinks, snacks, and merchandise, including logo wear, is available at reasonable prices on board the iconic red and blue sea vessels.

From San Francisco: Napa & Sonoma Valley Full-Day Wine Trip

7. From San Francisco: Napa & Sonoma Valley Full-Day Wine Trip

Indulge yourself in luxury on this full-day tour of California’s wine regions from San Francisco. Visit 3 different wineries for tasting and a tour, and enjoy a stop at historic Downtown Sonoma Square. Take in panoramic views of California on the way toward Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley, 2 of Northern California’s famous wine regions. Enjoy the services as a professional guide for a tour featuring wine tastings at 3 of the local partner's favorite wineries. At each winery, learn about wine-making techniques on a tour of the estate, and enjoy extraordinary wines at your tastings. In addition to visiting wineries, your professional guide will take you to see other famous sites in California’s wine country, including a lunch stop at the historic Downtown Sonoma Square. Here, enjoy eclectic dining options and boutique shopping during your lunch break. You also have the option to book this trip to include lunch at a local restaurant in the middle of the historic Square in Downtown Sonoma. Enjoy items from a variety of Californian-inspired dishes with appetizer, entree, beverage, tax, and gratuities all included.

San Francisco: Yosemite National Park & Giant Sequoias Hike

8. San Francisco: Yosemite National Park & Giant Sequoias Hike

Experience both the Yosemite Valley and the Giant Sequoia Walk on this day tour. See why artists and poets have been inspired for generations by the breathtaking sceneries at the national park. Since 1890, the beautiful Yosemite National Park has been the jewel of America's National Parks, possessing some of the best-known landmarks in the world, such as the tallest waterfall in North America, Yosemite Falls. Have 5 hours to explore the stunning national park, and take in the majestic natural wonders, accompanied by a complimentary audio-guided tour. See the spectacular Half Dome and El Capitan, two of the most frequently climbed cliffs in the world. It is also home to several groves of stunning Giant Sequoia trees, the largest trees on earth. The Giant Sequoia Walk is along 1 mile (1.5 km) of paved trail with a 400 ft (120 m) incline, snow depth permitting. Marvel at these giant trees — the largest in the world. In winter, when conditions on the Tuolumne Sequoias Grove trail are snow-covered or unsafe, we substitute this experience with other attractions. On a group tour, view stunning panoramas, go on walks, and even hike a little, before returning to San Francisco. Or if you prefer, upgrade to a private tour for your group only.

From San Francisco: Muir Woods and Sausalito Half-Day Trip

9. From San Francisco: Muir Woods and Sausalito Half-Day Trip

Explore the ancient groves of coastal redwoods in Muir Woods National Monument alongside an expert guide on a half-day tour. Then discover the charming streets of Downtown Sausalito on a relaxed half-day tour. After a pick-up from a central San Francisco hotel, head north over the bridge and into the Marin Headlands. If the fog is clear, you might get a chance to stop and take some pictures of the bridge up close. When you arrive in Muir Woods, take an hour and a half to roam through this ‘living museum’ where you can glimpse the towering trees that used to dominate the west coast from Santa Barbara to Washington. Following your exploration of Muir Woods, hop back in the coach for a quick ride over to Sausalito. Enjoy a 15-20 minute, narrated in-coach tour through the beautiful seaside Mediterranean-style town, and then some free time to walk around. After about 45 minutes in Sausalito, hop back in the coach for a trip back across the Golden Gate Bridge, or opt for a ferry ride back to San Francisco. You'll be dropped back off at your pick-up point. This half-day tour is a great way to see all the highlights of the northern San Francisco Bay in a limited amount of time. 

San Francisco: Half-Day Wine Country Excursion with Tastings

10. San Francisco: Half-Day Wine Country Excursion with Tastings

Discover some of San Francisco's best wines on this half-day outing. Visit 2 wineries and 3 to 5 tastings. Enjoy scenic views from your comfortable coach. Start your day in the afternoon, as you head north to the Golden Gate Bridge. Enjoy a scenic drive over the Golden Gate Bridge and marvel at the San Francisco skyline in the distance. Next, drive through the beautiful town of Sausalito, a seaside Mediterranean-like village harbored across the San Francisco Bay and famous for its sweeping views. As the vine-covered hillsides come into view, you will visit 2 favorite wineries of the region for wine tastings and an exclusive estate tour. Experience the inner workings of the wineries and their family history in Napa and Sonoma Valley as an expert wine host walks you through the fermentation process, barrel-aging, bottling, and, of course, tastings of some award-winning varietals. At each winery, enjoy up to 3-5 tastings of their signature blends. Your day concludes with a scenic drive back over the Golden Gate Bridge and into San Francisco as the sun slowly starts to set into the Pacific Ocean.

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Frequently asked questions about San Francisco

What are the best day trips and excursions from San Francisco?

The best day trips and excursions from San Francisco are:

Yosemite National Park

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Insider tips: Planning a trip to San Francisco

There's good reason so many people have left their hearts in San Francisco. The stunning views, rolling hills, historic culture, and more make the city one of the most exciting to visit in the United States. To help you make the most of your time in San Francisco, we've enlisted help from travel expert Cathy from Mummy Travels. Read the tips below for your next visit.

What should I do on my first trip to San Francisco?

Start by soaking up San Francisco's atmosphere - you can't miss a look at the Golden Gate Bridge, but it's fun wandering around Pier 39 to spot the sea lions, browsing at the Ferry Building, eating and enjoying street arts in the Mission District - or hop on a cable car to beat those famous hills.

What are some hidden gems to see in San Francisco?

Head out towards the yacht harbor for a unique performance as the wave organ transforms the sound of the tide into music - it's easy to wander along to the beach by Crissy Field and get great views of the bridge too. Set aside plenty of time to explore the Golden Gate Park - it's huge and you can spot everything from American bison to windmills, a Japanese garden, 19th-century Conservatory of Flowers, the San Francisco botanical gardens, a classic carousel, lake, and several museums.

How much time should I spend in San Francisco?

Set aside at least three days to see your top sights and do some exploring, but if you're determined to pack as much in as possible, you can happily fill a week. Realistically, it's not possible to fit everything into one trip but if you break the city down into districts, you can make the most of your time. Allow half a day for Alcatraz alone, and for any of the major attractions, but leave time to wander along the beaches, soak in the views, browse the shops and try some of the city's great food rather than filling every minute of your itinerary.

What food is San Francisco known for?

You could happily eat your way around San Francisco with great artisan food and local producers - make sure you stop for some fresh seafood at Fisherman's Wharf and try a Mission Burrito in the Mission District, as well as checking out the treats in the Ferry Building. If you're craving Chinese, Japanese and Italian food, you'll be spoiled for choice in Chinatown, Japantown, and North Beach.

What neighborhood should I stay in when I visit San Francisco?

You'll be spoiled for choice when it comes to places to stay, so it's worth considering how much you're happy to travel. Union Square is a great central spot for hotels, and if you're traveling with younger kids, Fisherman's Wharf is touristy but close to a lot of attractions. For more budget accommodation and self-catering, look at the neighborhoods outside the center but make sure they have good transport links - Noe Valley is another great option for families, as it's easy to explore from but makes a chilled out base.

What is the best way to get around San Francisco? 

San Francisco is one city where you'll find yourself using most transport to get around - there's a great public transport network, which is easiest to get across the center (and the cable cars are attractions in their own right) but if you're trying to pack a lot in, a car will come in very handy. Only the very fit would fancy cycling up the city's hills, but a bike tour over the Golden Gate Bridge is a fantastic experience. Once you've got from A to B, walking is the best way to soak up the sights and the atmosphere though.

What are the best months to visit San Francisco?

San Francisco is best in spring and autumn (fall) - May-June and September-October usually have good weather without the crowds (though the famous fog is usually around in June too) and you'll miss the worst of the rain. 

What are the best things to do with kids in San Francisco?

San Francisco is a fantastic city for families - there are quirky spots to discover like the golden fire hydrant, Seward Street and Bernal slides, and the 16th Avenue mosaic steps, along with fun sights including the twisty Lombard Street and sea lions at Pier 39. Even the tours have a unique touch: a fire truck city tour beats a bus hands down. You could climb onboard a submarine or a 19th-century ship, there are two aquariums and zoos, plus some fabulous interactive museums to explore. And that's all before you hit the beach.

Other Sightseeing Options in San Francisco

Want to discover all there is to do in San Francisco? Click here for a full list.

What people are saying about San Francisco

Overall rating

4.6 / 5

based on 18,054 reviews

Easy to navigate. The big bus stop made collection super simple. The audio tour at Alcatraz is really well put together, booking in advance is a must. Recommend packing extra layers for the night tour if you plan to sit on top of the bus, the wind chill is next level. Overall a great experience - highly recommend.

This cruise was fantastic. Being able to see Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Angel Island, the Bay Bridge, and the San Francisco waterfront so close was an awesome experience. The commentary throughout the cruise provided interesting facts about the locations and their history which added to the experience.

Really picturesque cruise, sunset views of the GGB were perfect, my son always gets seasick on the way to Catalina but not on this trip, despite swells under the bridge. Came real close to Alcatraz which was sobering. Clean and comfy on board

The tourist guy was amazing and very informative,friendly and just has excellent communication and customer service skills.we truly enjoyed ourselves.

We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and learned quite a bit about the history of SF.