This is our ultimate San Francisco bucket list.
SF is one of my favorite cities and one that I keep going back to. I love the vibrant color of the city. We’ve talked about living in SF for a year, but so far it was hard for us to stomach the rent cost. Maybe after a year in NYC though, it might soften the blow.
With the help of our friends Hsiao (lived here for 4 years) and Young (lived here for 10+ years), we put together the ultimate San Francisco bucket list for both first-time visitors and those living in the city who need a little extra inspiration to get out and explore.
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Last Updated: June 23, 2020
Your Ultimate San Francisco Bucket List - 101 Things to Do in San Francisco
There’s so much to see and do within 49 square miles. On my personal list, I still have 300+ things I want to check out, but it does get overwhelming to look at. As we go back to visit, we’ll continue to update and modify this list. We also tried our best to group them not just by category but by location too. There’s a map at the bottom, to help you see what’s nearby.
Walk across or bike across to Sausalito. It’s not for inexperienced bikers and a lot farther than you think. The Bridge itself is 1.7 miles. They have bike + ferry packages. There is vehicle traffic-free Sat April through Sept where you can run, ride, walk on the bridge.
It’s a nice spot to take photos with cute houseboats and a great view of the skyline
(North Beach/Telegraph Hill) It’s the tourist thing to do to visit Pier 39, see sea lions, and have clam chowder in a bread bowl at Boudin at the Wharf. You gotta do it at least once.
(Russian Hill) According to our local friends, the food isn’t good and this is the dumbest attraction in SF (think M&M store in Times Square), but most tourists still do it.
(Russian Hill) Crookedest Street of San Francisco with 8 hairpin turns. The best photo opps are from the bottom since you can only see the first two turns from the top.
Go to Peace Plaza and Pagoda for your photo opp, eat ramen and Shabu Shabu, play Japanese arcade games, get your Japanese nail art done, and end the night in a karaoke room.
(Alamo Square, Western Addition) This park is a nice place to picnic and imagine you’re part of the intro in Full House. The houses are often mistaken as the Full House house, but the actual house is down the street (1709 Broderick – purchased by the show creator). Photo Tip: go mid-morning after the sun peeks over the buildings across the street or on a cloudy day.
San Francisco Cable Cars
You can ride the entire 2.1-mile route or portions of it. Bring exact change. The best views are along Hyde between Chestnut and Bay St and California and Drumm is less touristy. Best photos are from the front-left side and on the outside runner. Another option is the Historic Street Cars for $2 you can get on the F-Line and see Civic Center, Downtown and Fisherman’s Wharf instead of paying for Grayline Bus.
The country’s largest Chinatown. The tourist side is Dragon’s Gate and the local side is towards North Beach on Stockton St (SF’s “Little Italy”). The local side is mainly made up of small groceries, herb shops, and old school divey Chinese bars that have strong pours (go at your own risk). Golden Gate bakery has famous egg tarts and China Live has one of the best Sheng Jiang Bao in SF.
(Embarcadero / SoMa) It’s a quick stop 5-10 min walk from the Ferry Building.
San Francisco Ferry Building
(San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge) The walking/cycling path. You need a car or it’s a long trek to get to the start on the East Bay.
Murals and Photo Spots
Murals in the Mission
Balmy Alley Murals, Cypress St, and Lilac St are close together then Clarion Alley is 1 mi north. The Mission can be a choose your adventure. Stay in Valencia to see the gentrified “nice” stuff or you can go up and down 24th st and see a lot of the old school Mexican owned businesses. Artists offer cultural guided mural walks on weekends starting from Precita Eyes Mural Arts Center.
(Financial District) Not impressive to go to, but it’s a landmark that photographers like to shoot (the best shot is arguably from the Mandarin Oriental).
photo: joojoob27 / Shutterstock
MUSEUMS + MONUMENTS + MEMORIALS
(Golden Gate Park, map) World’s greenest museum with a planetarium, natural history museum, aquarium, scientific research program and a four-story living rainforest with 1.7 million native plant species. Check out: 21+ adventure on Thursdays and Yoga class in the aquarium.
(North Beach/Telegraph Hill) National Park Unit
(North Beach/Telegraph Hill) The only museum in the Western US dedicated to the preservation and exhibition of all forms of cartoon art.
(Pier 45, North Beach/Telegraph Hill) A National Historic Landmark from WWII.
(Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach/Telegraph Hill) More than 300 items, ranging from orchestrions, coin operated pianos, antique slot machines, and more.
(North Beach/Telegraph Hill) Feed The Sharks Tour on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays at 2:30pm.
(North Beach/Telegraph Hill) The learning lab with 600 hands-on exhibits, feel around the Tactile Dome. Exploratorium After Dark on Thurs Nights 18+, cocktails and music. – fun for all ages. so much to do. regular visits allow a couple of hours. it can get crowded so popular areas will have a line.
(Nob Hill) Learn about the the history and ongoing efforts to save the cable cars of SF.
(Union Square / SoMa) Fascinating and sometimes controversial exhibits on Jewish history and culture.
(SoMa) San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has 7 floors of museum to explore, closed Wednesdays.
(Civic Center) Artworks from all the major cultures of Asia. Free admission first Sunday of the month.
The Institute of Illegal Images
Better than San Francisco Zoo, which is covered in fog 90% of the time.
UC Berkeley Campus
Sather Tower gives you good views of the campus and city. They started charging.
(Alameda) $15 for unlimited play
By Frank Lloyd Wright’s, Stanford. One of his first works in the Bay area. Reserve ahead of time. Tours fill up fast.
Hoover Tower gives you a good view of the campus and city.
Outdoors + Urban Parks
(Tiburon) Take a ferry ride to find 13 miles of hiking trails. Hike to the highest spot Mt Livermore for 360 view of SF skyline. Camp here with unbelievable views. Popular with kayakers that launch from SF or Sausalito. Beware of currents. Take a guided tour for beginners.Angel Island State Park
(Glen Park) View of the whole city
One of the largest man-made parks in the world. It’s California’s Central Park but 20% larger. Points of Interest: Paddle boating in Stow Lake, the Buffalo Field, Rose Garden, Shakespeare Garden, Lawn Bowling + Archery (Sunday at Noon), Lindy in the Park (free swing lessons between Richmond and Sunset districts), Casting Pools (practice fly fishing here), and don’t forget to Find the Faery Door (there are more throughout SF. You can read messages left for the fairies and their answers here).
- Hawk Hill, Marin Headlands – see the entire 8980 ft span of the Golden Gate and the SF skyline.
- Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center, Presidio and get your stamp.
- Vista Point is the popular shot of Golden Gate, but make sure you also head up into Marin Headlands also.
(Golden Gate NRA) Lands End Trail is a popular and easy hike that takes you to Sutro Baths, the Labyrinth, and Eagle Point. Sometimes you spot sea lions, dolphins, and migrating grey whales. Wear sneakers. Get drinks or food afterward at Cliff House.
(Golden Gate NRA) Former US Army military fort turned into a park. There are 11 miles of hiking trails and you get views of the Bay, Alcatraz, the city, and Golden Gate. The park encompasses Baker Beach, Marshall’s Beach, Crissy Field, Fort Point and more. Walk Lovers Lane, Hike to Inspiration Point (views of SF Bay, Alcatraz, Angel Island and the Presidio forest), walk the Golden Gate Promenade, Batteries to Bluffs Trail, and see 3 installations by Andy Goldsworthy – the Spire, Wood Line, and Tree Fall. Presidio Picnic os on Sundays with food trucks and games.
(Golden Gate NRA) SF’s longest beach and most reliable surfing spot. Skimboard, bike, skate the esplanade, fly kites. Adjacent to Land’s End. swimming is not recommended due to strong riptides. Bonfires are first come, first served and fun with a group of friends. BYOB.
(Presidio, Golden Gate NRA) Up-close view of Golden Gate, great at sunset. Popular spot with portrait and wedding photographers.
(Golden Gate NRA) Camp or go to the nude beach. It’s a whole day thing and can be difficult to get to if it’s a nice day with so many cars.
(Telegraph Hill) 210 ft tower with views of the entire city, bay, and Transamerica Pyramid is framed by tower’s arches. Lots of stairs that take you through cool parts of the area – Climb the Filbert Steps or Greenwich street stairs to get there. $7 for the elevator to the top). Check out the free views first. It’s a great view but not sure if the price is worth it because there is a fence all around the top. Allot more time if you want to find the famous Parrots of Telegraph Hill. They’re also at Cole Valley and Fort Mason.
(Nob Hill) Two hills at 925 ft in the center of SF. You can drive to the top and get the best view of the city at sunset. It’s super windy so pack layers. Tourists have also gotten mugged here, so be aware of your surroundings.
(Twin Peaks) Can’t beat the downtown views. You’re not allowed to the top of it though.
(Castro & Corona Heights) Panoramic views of the city.
(Alameda) See SF skyline from the East Bay
(Presidio) Southern side just under Golden Gate and is very photogenic. There are ranger-led candlelit tours for free but reserve in advance. Also, high five hopper’s hands on the fence and surf here when the conditions are just right.
(Sherwood Forest) The highest point in the city at 928 ft. It gives you views of Twin Peaks and downtown.
(Marin Headlands, Sausalito, Golden Gate NRA) The “secret” swing is no longer there. Great camping spot and recreational area with a view of Golden Gate
(Pacific Heights) Run, walk, enjoy the view from the top for a workout.
(Castro) Pick up a burrito, a cone at Bi-rite, Pizzeria Delfina, or Tartine Bakery and bring it for a picnic. The view NE over Dolores park offers a great view of the greenery and urban skyline.
(Mill Valley, Marin County, North Bay, 14.1 mi / 30 min no traffic) Hike or mountain bike over 100 miles of trails. It’s the highest point in Marin County. Mt Tam is sometimes referred to as the mountain biking birthplace. It’s also great for beginner rock climbing with views of the Bay Area.
(Golden Gate NRA, Mill Valley) Check out the Dipsea Trail. It has some of the last remaining coastal redwoods.
(Bernal Heights) Lovely view of the city, and there are secret slides (Esmerelda Street Slides).
Bolinas Ridge Trail
(Golden Gate NRA, Lakeshore) Popular for hiking, horseback riding, and one of the top hand gliding launch points in the US.
(Diamond Heights) In town bouldering.
Mt Diablo Summit Hike
(Clayton, East Bay) The highest point in the Bay Area at 3849 ft. On a clear day if you bring binoculars you can see Half Dome. You can also find trad, top rope, and sport climbing routes.
(Pacifica) Go to the fanciest Taco Bell and surf. Mori Point Trail is a cool hike and not crowded. It’s far from the city, so it’s more worth it if you’re into surfing or really into Taco Bell, since the beach isn’t much diff from Ocean Beach.
(Inverness) Take your gram at the tree tunnel, kayak, hike to Alamere Falls, bike, camp. Other points of interest: Point Reyes Lighthouse, Tomales Bay – Oyster Farm, Point Reyes Shipwreck.
An artificial island with great skyline views.
Whale Watching Cruise
Near the Farallon islands, which are called California’s Galapagos. Not great for swimming, but you can see the islands on clear days. Also, it’s known to be a popular Great White Shark feeding grounds.
Shows + Venues
(South Beach) Take a tour, watch a Giants Game, and eat the famous $13 crab sandwich. Bring Layers.
(Lower Pacific Heights) 49 seat theatre of sound-sculptured space.
The Castro Theater
(Castro) Big independent theater that shows lesser-known films. Participate in sing alongs to a movie (with lyrics on screen) and enter the costume contest. Also has an organist who plays on stage before each show
Palace of Fine Arts Theater
(Marina District) Visit the swans and take photos.
(Western Addition) Historic music venue which hosted performers like Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, and Pink Floyd.
(NoPa, Alamo Square) World-renowned concert venue. It’s medium-sized venue but all the best bands come here.
(Mission Bay) Golden State Warriors Game
Marrakech Magic Theater
(Tenderloin) Close-up magic and comedy in an intimate Morrocan speakeasy.
(Civic Center) Low key jazz spot.
(Hayes Valley) You can bring your own cocktails.
War Memorial or Beaux Arts Opera House
(Civic Center/Hayes Valley) A memorial to WWI soldiers and also home to San Francisco Opera and Ballet.
Davies Symphony Hall
(Civic Center, Hayes Valley) Home to the San Fransisco Symphony and occasionally, non-orchestral contemporary musicians.
The Speakeasy, the Palace Theater
Buy tickets and then they’ll give you instructions. Dress code – 1920s or you can rent them there. You Follow 35 characters on a choose your own adventure during the Prohibition Era – similar concept to Sleep No More.
Cobb’s Comedy Club
(Russian Hill, North Beach) – Young or Punch Line San Francisco in the Financial District hosts bigger acts, but Cobb’s has same owner, but it’s where you can catch up and coming comedians.
(Marina District) A sculpture that interacts with the waves of the bay and creates sounds.
Church of 8 Wheels
(Lower Haight, Hayes Valley) 120-year-old former Catholic church turned into a burning man type roller skating rink. Fri and Sat nights are adults only. Wear your costumes.
Seward Street Slides
(Castro) Slide down. bring cardboard, or there’s some there at the bottom.
Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory
(Chinatown) They’ve been making custom fortune cookies by hand since 1962. They have free tours.
The Starlight Room
(Union Square) They have Sunday Drag Brunch
The Palace Hotel
(Financial District) Go for Afternoon Tea
Anchor Brewing Company
(Potrero Hill) Brewery tours at SF’s original craft brewery. More brewery tours at Barebottle Brewing Company, Lagunitas Brewing Company, Speakeasy Ales & Lagers, and Trumer Pils Brauerei.
Hangar 1 Distillery Tour
(South Berkeley) Thai Brunch at a small Thai Buddhist Temple. Every Sunday the temple hosts a communal Thai brunch. You make a donation, get tokens, then buy food with your tokens.
San Francisco Bucket List Map
Seasonal Things to do in San Francisco
(late Jan to early Feb) Film festival celebrating classic from all over the world.
(mid-Feb) Who loves beer?
(Mar) The IOFF celebrates the world’s oceans.
(Easter Sunday) Bomb down a hill in your own big wheel.
(Apr) Annual film festival.
(3rd Sunday in May) Run in a fun costume or just party!
(mid-June to late Sept) A favorite movie every week.
(end of June) Largest LGBT Parade and festival in the US.
(mid-June to mid-August) Music festival for all.
(late July) The world’s biggest leather event.
(early Sept) Anyone else love chocolate?
(Sept) Cycling fest.
(early Oct) Support our service men and women.
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass at Golden Gate Park
(first weekend in Oct) Perfect for fans of bluegrass.
Essential Tips for First Time Visitors
- If you’re heading out of the city, it takes a lot more effort and time than the mileage seems. Traffic is bad. Getting to East Bay can take over an hour. If you’re leaving the city, you’ll need at least half a day to get there, so plan a few things to do when to make it worth it.
- In SF, uber/lyft/cabs and public transit is much better than driving yourself. Last time we visited, we talked about leaving our car in South Bay and taking public transport into the city.
- Dress in layers. San Francisco can still be cool in the summer. Layers will help you stay prepared for whatever weather you get.
- Need to store your luggage while you’re exploring town? Check out Luggage Hero to find a convenient and secure spot.
- Wear comfortable shoes. It’s very much a driving city.
- Locals don’t like to hear ‘Frisco’ or ‘San Fran’. They are the uncool nicknames that tourist gave the city.
- Expect fog, and be pleasantly surprised to get clear days. Esther still hasn’t seen the Golden Gate on a completely clear day.
What to Pack / Favorite Travel Gear
Best Places to Stay
Can you think of anything else that should go on our San Francisco bucket list?
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“Discovery consists not of seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes” – M. Proust
Esther + Jacob
Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, which is one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found both near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.