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: 1-Hour Bay Cruise by Boat

1. San Francisco: 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: Golden Gate Bay Cruise

2. 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.

San Francisco: Escape from The Rock Bay Cruise

3. San Francisco: Escape from The Rock Bay Cruise

Hop on board a boat and cruise around Alcatraz Island and other sights of San Francisco Bay on this round trip journey. Benefit from a straight-to-the-gate access ticket and informative commentary as you go. Cruise San Francisco Bay and sail under the Golden Gate Bridge on a 90-minute narrated tour by boat around Alcatraz Island. Skip the box office line and go straight to the gate with your ticket. See Alcatraz island from the water while listening to accounts of the chilling escape attempts and the notorious criminals that called Alcatraz prison home. Enjoy a cruise with food and drink available to purchase onboard. Cruise full circle around Alcatraz Island, allowing you to view every angle of this mysterious island, which housed famous inmates such as Al Capone, Billy Cook the Killer, and Clyde Johnson, whose escape attempt is legendary. Gain a clear picture of what life in this maximum-security prison was like when it was the most feared institution in the American penal system.

San Francisco: California Academy of Sciences Entry Ticket

4. San Francisco: California Academy of Sciences Entry Ticket

Visit the world’s only aquarium-planetarium-rainforest-living museum at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. The superb complex incorporates all 4 attractions under one living roof, with exhibits and shows that explain the universe! Don’t miss the African penguins – and 38,000 other live animals – at the California Academy of Sciences in the heart of Golden Gate Park, a must-see attraction in San Francisco. Rocket through the galaxy at the speed of light or journey deep into the oceans of the world as the Academy boldly brings life to life. Come face-to-face with snakes and piranhas, meet Claude the American alligator with albinism, and hang out with Pierre, Howard, Ocio, and the rest of the South African penguin colony. Stroll through the rainforest dome with its free-flying birds and butterflies and become immersed in the rainforests of Borneo, Madagascar, Costa Rica, and the flooded Amazon. Discover Borneo bats, chameleons, poison dart frogs, leaf cutter ants, gliders, snakes, and so much more. Catch the latest amazing digital planetarium show, taking you on a spectacular journey to the far reaches of the universe, held 7-10 times a day. Designed by award-winning architect Renzo Piano, the museum housed under a living roof will inspire lifelong curiosity for the natural world as you experience the depths of a Philippine coral reef, climb into the canopy of a Costa Rican rainforest, and fly to the outer reaches of the universe.

San Francisco: California Sunset/Twilight Boat Cruise

5. 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.

San Francisco Zoo Admission Ticket

6. San Francisco Zoo Admission Ticket

Visit the San Francisco Zoo, home to over 2,000 animals and 250 species of plants. Your full-day admission ticket includes access to the Leanne Roberts African Region and the Valentine Family Savanna. Both zones offer multi-species landscapes with giraffes, zebras, kudu, ostriches, storks, and more. At Hearst Grizzly Gulch, get nose-to-nose with rescued grizzly bear sisters Kachina and Kiona. See how lemurs leap through the Lipman Lemur Forest, the largest outdoor lemur habitat in the country. Marvel at Penguin Island, home to the largest colony of Magellanic penguins outside of the wild. Admire the Zoo's gorillas in the Jones Family Gorilla Preserve. Feed and pet the farm animals in the Fisher Family Children's Zoo. Find the historic 1921 Dentzel Carousel and 1904 miniature Little Puffer Steam Train. Learn about the fun rides, educational programs, and exciting events for children.

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

7. 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. With the Classic (24-hour) ticket, enjoy the Hop-on Hop-off service at your leisure for a full day and try the bike rental offer and ride along San Francisco's stunning waterfront. The Premium (24-Hour) and Deluxe (48-hour) tickets allow you to venture out to see the daytime and evening views of San Francisco with the panoramic Night Tour. Additionally, the Deluxe (48-hour) ticket includes the option to choose from either a bike rental, or admission to the USS Pampanito. Take a deep dive into the history of a World War WWII submarine or cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge and into Sausalito. San Francisco City Hop-On Hop-Off Tour Sit back and enjoy the ride as you cruise through the city on an open-top bus. Learn about the unique history of San Fransisco while passing through Chinatown, Union Square, Civic Center, and the Alamo Square.  Panoramic Night Tour Board the night bus to explore the dazzling city of San Francisco at nighttime. Climb the historic Nob Hill for a stunning close-up view of the magnificent Grace Cathedral. The Night Tour is included in the Premium (24-Hour) and Deluxe (48-Hour) Tickets. Then, make your way across the grand Bay Bridge for picturesque views of the city skyline from Treasure Island, the World Fair site in 1939. After heading back to the city, continue along the Embarcadero to view the glittering lights of the Port of San Francisco.

From San Francisco: Yosemite National Park Full-Day Trip

8. From San Francisco: Yosemite National Park Full-Day Trip

Spend an active, fun-filled day learning why Yosemite is one of America’s most popular national parks. Hike through the park with an experienced guide and immerse yourself in the beauty of nature on this tour. Start off by making your way east from San Francisco and heading across the Bay Bridge. Continue toward the Sierras and into the mountains. Learn about California’s rich history as you pass through some of the first settlements built during the Gold Rush. Arrive in Yosemite National Park for a 2.5-mile round-trip hike to see the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias. Be prepared for a strenuous hike, descending 400 feet into the grove, before turning around and trekking back up. Next, cruise into the famous Yosemite Valley to take in views of Bridalveil Falls, El Capitan, Half Dome, and more. Capture breathtaking photos at Tunnel View and take in the eastern expanse of Yosemite Valley. Then, enjoy 1.5 hours of free time to explore on your own. You can meander down paved paths, hike around Yosemite Falls, engage further with the park’s history at the visitor’s center, or visit the Ansel Adams Gallery. In the late afternoon, you’ll depart for San Francisco, stopping for a short break before arriving back in the city. Arrive back at your hotel in the late evening to sleep off the day’s adventures.

San Francisco: Yosemite National Park & Giant Sequoias Hike

9. 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 to 6 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. 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 National Monument Guided Tour

10. From San Francisco: Muir Woods National Monument Guided Tour

Discover the coastal redwood forest at Muir Woods National Monument on a guided tour from San Francisco, with entry tickets included. Cross the famous Golden Gate Bridge, marvel at California’s wildlife, and enjoy a sightseeing bus tour of Sausalito. Meet your guide in San Francisco to start your experience. Board the bus and drive towards Muir Woods National Monument, where you’ll enjoy 1.5 hours inside the forest. Admire the towering sequoia trees as you wander along hiking trails through the forest. Learn about the region from your guide as you appreciate the surrounding nature. Continue to Sausalito, a coastal city with sweeping views over the bay. Pass the main sights as you drive through the town on your return to San Francisco. If you want to explore Sausalito on foot, you can choose to get off the bus and see the city at your own pace. Afterwards, you'll make your own way back to San Francisco by ferry (tickets not included).

Frequently asked questions about San Francisco

What top attractions are a must-see in San Francisco?

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

The best day trips and excursions from San Francisco are:

Napa

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 17,021 reviews

Fred was genuinely a kind friendly soul with tons of knowledge! Really enjoyed every stop he made for us! We definitely couldn’t have done all the thing we did in one day, especially with a toddler! You get the cool facts, and information that you wouldn’t get if you were trying to do this on your own! On top of that, imagine all the planning it would haven taken, renting a car, looking for parking at every spot, deciding where to go, which route to take, they saved SO MUCH time & stress for our family! This was a wonderful surprise gift for my husband! He throughly enjoyed it!!

Jeffery was this most kind and fun tour guide. We really enjoyed everything!! All the vineyards and lunch at Napa was just perfect for Mom’s 70th birthday. Thank you for making it so special! We would absolutely recommend and we will be back!

Great day out Disappointed we couldn’t see the Sequoias and was lead to believe that at this time of year that is usually the case. Perhaps it shouldn’t be included/costed into the package at this time of year

We had a good time. Our guide was knowledgeable in so many things, giving us plenty of info nuggets throughout the trip. All 3 wineries visited had their good points, and the hosts were welcoming.

The package is very worth with the hop up and off bus plus the night view of San Frans.. Easy to redeem.. The night view trip is fatastic...