Top 5 Things to Do in San Francisco

We tend to think of San Francisco as a big city – and it certainly is in terms of things to do and see, conveniences, culture, sports and lots of other things. But it’s actually relatively small in terms of its geography; the core of the City by the Bay occupies a space of only about seven square miles. That’s a great bonus for visitors, because it means you can get around rather easily and pack a lot of sightseeing and activities into a day. But it’s also a little deceptive, because you can traipse these streets a long time and still not take in all the rich experiences this city offers. But, the fun is in the trying, so here’s our list of the top five things to do with your family in San Francisco.

Have fun at Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39

Fisherman’s Wharf is one of the city’s most popular attractions, especially fun for families. Sure, it’s “touristy” but there’s so much to do!

Pier 39 is like a funhouse on the water. There’s an aquarium, a mirror maze, street performers, shops, a two-level carousel and lots more for old and young. But without question, the stars of the show are the sea lions. Just head to the far end of the pier on the left, by the marina, and you’ll see these marine matinee idols lounging in the sun while a few hotheads argue over the best spots for sunbathing and photo opps.

Visit the California Welcome Center, not too far inside the entrance to Pier 39 on the left, second floor. There you can get a Pier 39 Fun Pack, a 55-page booklet full of money-saving coupons for Pier 39 attractions and shopping (including two hours of free parking at the garage across the street). If you’re a member of AAA, show them your card! 

See the Golden Gate Bridge

Every great city has its iconic landmark, and San Francisco has a few of its own, but none compares to the Golden Gate Bridge. Completed in 1937, it spans San Francisco Bay connecting the city to Marin County on the north side, a length of 1.7 miles. The American Society of Civil Engineers named it one of the Wonders of the Modern World, a marvel of engineering and a thing of beauty all at once.

How do you take in such a famous and photogenic landmark? You can take a boat tour to see it up close and from below. Or you and your loved ones can even walk or bicycle over it. You could rent bikes near Fisherman’s Wharf, cruise along the waterfront and then ride over the bridge. Enjoy a leisurely lunch in Sausalito or Tiburon, and then ride a ferry back to the city.

If you’re venturing out on the bridge or anywhere on or near the waters of the bay, you’re best advised to bring a sweater. Even on the balmiest of days it can be quite a bit chillier out on the bay, and the weather in San Francisco can change quickly.



Take a cable car ride

To take a ride on a cable car is to have a true San Francisco experience. You’ll get fantastic views of the city as the car clangs its way up and down the hilly streets. And even though they only run on three lines now, you’ll pass through some of the city’s most interesting neighbourhoods.

You can buy tickets ($7) at the turnarounds at the ends of each route. The Powell Street Cable Car is one of the most popular routes, but the line-ups to get on at either end can be long. You can get the same experience by instead finding your way to the end of the California Street line. It’s not far from the waterfront, close to the Embarcadero Metro Station on Market Street. It’s a steep ride up to the hilltop, but that just adds to the thrill.

Consider purchasing a Visitor Passport for 1, 3, or 7 consecutive days of unlimited rides on cable cars, the historic streetcars that run along Market Street and the Embarcadero, as well as buses and the Muni Metro transit systems.


 Escape to Alcatraz

“The Rock” is an especially good spot to visit with family or in a group outing with friends. Built on a rocky island in the middle of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz used to be a fortress before being transformed into the infamous maximum-security prison from 1933 to 1963. It’s claimed that no prisoner has ever successfully escaped from Alcatraz, though dozens have tried.

It’s free to enter Alcatraz, but you’ll have to buy a $33 USD ferry ticket to get there. That includes a fascinating tour of the cellblocks and audio guides that feature firsthand accounts from former inmates and guards. The only ferries that take you to Alcatraz are operated by Alcatraz Cruises, who sell tickets online at, by phone at 415 981-7625, or at the ticket booth on Pier 33, where the ferries depart from. Be aware that there are several other companies online that sell tickets to Alcatraz, but they buy them from Alcatraz Cruises and resell them, sometimes at inflated prices.

But above all, book early to avoid disappointment. It’s a very popular attraction and you’ll need to book your spots weeks ahead of time, maybe even a month in advance in the summer and during holidays.

Explore Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park is one of the world’s finest urban green spaces, larger than New York City’s Central Park, boasting more than 1,000 acres of bridle paths, lakes, flowers, green lawns, countless trees and thousands of varieties of plants. It’s a wonderful place to romp around or have a peaceful picnic. But it’s not just greenery; there are Dutch windmills, remote-controlled boats, museums, great events like Outside Lands and even a heard of buffalo at the Bison Paddock.

While the park is free, of course, some of the attractions charge admittance. The Japanese Tea Garden ($8) is one of the park’s most popular places to see. And if you’re interested in botany, you’ll want to visit the Conservatory of Flowers (closed Mondays), which is the oldest Victorian greenhouse this side of the England.

Word to the wise: The park is huge, so you may want to consider more than one way to get around. On foot, you can stroll at your leisure, or hike up to Strawberry Hill for some incredible lookout points. You can rent a paddle boat on Stow Lake and enjoy a lazy lap or two while sipping some refreshments. Or rent a bicycle and ride the length of the park to the beach and back.

There’s so much to see and do in San Francisco, and this list only scratches the surface. What are your favourite things to do in the City by the Bay? What are you planning to do and see when you visit? Let us know in the comments below.

Tags: ,

Comments are closed.