8 things to do in San Francisco

Wondering what to do in San Francisco? Here are some ideas to get you started.

Planning on visiting Northern California? Well, no trip to the Golden State would be complete without a stopover in San Francisco. From world-famous landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge to the bustle of Chinatown to the hills of Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco is sure to have something to pique your interest.

Before you ride your first cable car and snap postcard-worthy photos, you might want to plan your day to ensure you make the most of it. Here’s a list of fun things to do in San Francisco to get you started on your next trip to the Bay Area.

1. Golden Gate National Recreation Area

A must-see for any nature lover, Golden Gate National Recreation Area covers an impressively large area. The 82,791 acres of protected land include 1,439 historic structures, 370 identified archaeological sites, 3,947 plant and animal species (37 of which are threatened or endangered species), 91 miles of shoreline bordering the ocean and the bay, and over 250 hiking trails. Park access is free (with the exception of Alcatraz Island and Muir Woods).

2. Lands End

Lands End is exactly what the name implies: a place where earth meets ocean. With an archaeological record that extends well before the arrival of European settlers, this park is an area of historical and cultural significance. And, wouldn’t you know it, it’s also breathtakingly beautiful. Explore crumbling ruins, enjoy a picnic at West Fort Miley, take in some facts at the visitors’ center, and more.

3. The Presidio

According to its visitors’ site, the Presidio is “where San Francisco began.” And, once you see it for yourself, you may agree. With a rich history of indigenous Spanish, Mexican and U.S. settlement, this national park site is as culturally significant as it is lush and vibrant. The historic Presidio Officers’ Club offers education, family activities and live music events.

The Palace of Fine Arts.

4. Washington Square Park

Established in 1847, Washington Square is one of San Francisco’s oldest parks. It’s nestled in the shadows of the impressive Saint Peter & Paul’s Church. The beautifully tended landscape is the perfect place to relax, and it’s only a short walk from the famous Fisherman's Wharf. Nearby shopping and dining—and frequent park events and activities—make this a great option for visitors who want to experience some of the best that San Francisco has to offer.

5. Cable Car Museum

Few things are as intrinsically San Franciscan as cable cars. But why? How did cable cars become so central to San Francisco’s identity? And how do they work? For these answers and more, check out the Cable Car Museum. Built around a historic cable car barn and powerhouse, the museum gives visitors a firsthand look at the equipment that keeps the city’s cable cars moving. Antique cable cars, historic equipment and photographs, and a shop full of memorabilia all make this a unique and educational stop.

Cable cars in San Francisco.

6. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art®

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is the largest museum of contemporary and modern art in the United States. See works that defined the movements, then explore new trends from some of today’s most talented artists. With 7 gallery floors and 45,000 square feet of space, you might find it difficult to see it all in one visit.

7. Coit Tower

Standing proud atop San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill, Coit Memorial Tower is a beautiful addition to the city’s skyline. But as nice as it looks on the outside, you haven’t truly experienced it until you’ve climbed its steps, seen its 25 painted frescoes and gazed out over the city. The view from the top is breathtaking.

8. Alcatraz Island

The site of one of the most infamous maximum high-security federal prisons in U.S. history, Alcatraz Island is well worth the ferryboat ride. But visiting the former prison (now a tourist site), isn’t the only thing to do on San Francisco’s most famous island. Alcatraz is also a remarkable nature preserve. If you find yourself there between late September and Feb. 1, consider walking the Agave Trail for a closer look at a unique island ecosystem.

Alcatraz Island.

A golden place to explore

If you’re visiting San Francisco, there’s so much to see, do and photograph that you might feel a little overwhelmed. But don’t be! Just relax. Enjoy yourself and explore your options. Plan out your perfect San Francisco visit and you’ll see for yourself just what makes the City by the Bay so golden.

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