The Best San Francisco Guide for Tourists

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Things to do in San Francisco, California

From the glittering bridge at the waterfront to the downtown parks, museums, and shopping centers, with the city roads laced by cable cars and faces from all around the world, there’s always something exciting that’s hustling and bustling in San Francisco.

Landmarks and Attractions in San Francisco

The San Francisco Waterfront is what most people think of when they hear of the city: the Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, and Ghirardelli Square. Here you will also find the infamous former prison Alcatraz (be sure to reserve your tickets in advance), and the Golden Gate Bridge. Around town, hop onto one of San Francisco’s shifting landmarks (a.k.a. cable cars) and make your way to Chinatown (yes, you will temporarily forget you are in America!). Dizzy yourself on Lombard Street, the most famous (and supposedly most crooked) street in the city. Discover the modern hands-on museum Exploratorium (quirky, thought-provoking, and featuring over 600 “please touch!” exhibits), the Palace of Fine Arts, and the plethora of museums and galleries.

Enjoy a stroll the lovely urban oasis of Golden Gate Park and savor the botanical garden, Japanese Tea garden, the California Academy of Sciences and Conservatory of Flowers… and the herd of bison! Also be sure to take a ferry across San Francisco Bay to the charming bay-front town of Sausalito, where you can enjoy art galleries and grab a bite while enjoying the most spectacular view of the San Francisco skyline.

Nightlife and Family Fun in San Francisco

The Live Theater district, the city’s Zoo and Aquarium, and chocolate factory Ghiradelli Square are all definite family delights. Be sure to enjoy the city’s acclaimed symphony, opera, and ballet troupe, or see if you can catch a Giants baseball game at PacBell Park! Hike through Muir Woods to hug the timeless giant redwoods, or let the spectacular 360-degree views from Twin Peaks hilltop steal your breath.

San Francisco nightlife has been called as varied as the city itself, each bar, lounge, and club with its own distinct delightful vibe. The city’s SOMA features electronic music, hip-hop, and chill art lounge styles; the Mission district caters to bar-hopping hipsters and rockers; the Castro and Polk districts are popular among the LGTB crowd; brilliant neon lights of bars and slick strip joints illuminate North Beach until the wee hours; Union Square is flocked by university students; and downtown art gallery bars, dive bars, and pubs become packed while big-name DJs are busy stirring up the club scene.

For a nighttime chill, take a three-hour Ghost Walk through Pacific Heights with noted ghost expert Jim Fassbinder. To settle those goosebumps, enjoy a bonfire at Ocean Beach (per NPS regulations). For a nighttime walk sans the chill, try the pleasurable San Francisco Night Segway Tour.

Off the Beaten Path in San Francisco

Sip and smile in the Winery Collective, a multi-winery tasting room that brings you flavors from all across California, or visit the world’s premier wine-growing region Napa Valley. Check out Beat-era reading at City Lights Booksellers   Publishers, or the world’s biggest collection of CDs at Amoeba Music at Haight-Ashbury (the hippy haven during the ’67 Summer of Love). Pay a unique visit to the elephant seal colony at Ano Nuevo State Reserve, or follow the paved beach trails at scenic Half Moon Bay.

Restaurants and Shopping in San Francisco

A plethora of shops and scrumptious seafood restaurants line the Fisherman’s Wharf. Over at North Beach, home to many Italian immigrants, you’ll find a cultural community of mouthwatering meals, charming cafes, and surprisingly vibrant nightlife. North Beach is a respective Hispanic community with great authentic Mexican cuisine, and there are many other ethnic neighborhoods with great cuisine ready to serve. Downtown, you’ll find restaurants catering to ethnic and American tastes alike, from Yank Sing Restaurant and Medallion Steakhouse to House of Prime Rib and Jamba Juice.

San Francisco offers a plethora of noteworthy and even world-renown shopping districts, including Hayes Valley, upper Fillmore, Sacramento Street, and the downtown Shopping Center. Be sure to explore the shopping venues at Union Square with the finest brand names, and don’t be surprised to find some delightful deals and items in hidden side streets too. Along Union Street you’ll also discover chic shops and restaurants, embellished by vivid Victorians and secret courtyards.

Photos provided by: Alain Picard, Kevin Stanchfield