Visit San Francisco

Best Things to Do in San Francisco

San Francisco may only stretch across 7 miles, but it’s packed with an assortment of activities that’s sure to please outdoorsy types, art lovers, foodies and curious wanderers of all ages.

The Golden Gate Bridge is a must-see, while a visit to Alcatraz Island to tour the infamous and now closed maximum-security federal prison should also be high on your list. Instead of spending all your time around the touristy Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghirardelli Square, you can discover a more authentic side of San Francisco by grabbing a bite at the Ferry Building Marketplace or with a walking tour through the vibrant Castro or North Beach neighborhoods. And whether it’s climbing to the top of Twin Peaks or Coit Tower, sauntering through Mission Dolores Park or marveling at the redwoods in Muir Woods, active types and nature lovers will find plenty to enjoy while in San Francisco. 

Like any city, San Francisco offers so much more than its iconic landmarks. While the Golden Gate Bridge is a must-do, Golden Gate Park is also worthy of a visit. Larger than New York’s Central Park, the park is home to notable museums and top-notch attractions, including the California Academy of Sciences and the well-manicured Japanese Tea Garden.

What would a trip to San Francisco be without a ride on a cable car (especially the iconic Powell-Hyde line)? A walk or drive down crooked Lombard Street, shopping at Union Square or a self-guided sightseeing trip through Haight-Ashbury, where the hippie culture made its mark, are great additions to any full-day itinerary.

San Francisco is a hub of excitement, and the cultural, commercial and financial heart of Northern California. The city is the 13th most populated in the U.S. but has the second highest population density in the county, with only New York being busier. The city shot to fame in 1849 as the home of the Californian Gold Rush which at the time made it the largest city on the West Coast.

The city is famous for it’s restaurants and some of the best chef’s in the country are lucky enough to call this home. 

San Francisco (Spanish for “Saint Francis”), officially the City and County of San Francisco, is the commercial, financial, and cultural center of Northern California. The city proper is the fourth most populous in California and 17th most populous in the United States, with 815,201 residents as of 2021. 

It covers a land area of 46.9 square miles (121 square kilometers), at the end of the San Francisco Peninsula, making it the second-most densely populated large U.S. city. Among the 331 U.S. cities proper with more than 100,000 residents, San Francisco was ranked first by per capita income (at $133,856) and fifth by aggregate income as of 2019. Colloquial nicknames for San Francisco include SF, San Fran, The City, Frisco, and Baghdad by the Bay.

The historic center of San Francisco is the northeast quadrant of the city anchored by Market Street and the waterfront. It is here that the Financial District is centered, with Union Square, the principal shopping and hotel district, and the Tenderloin nearby. Cable cars carry riders up steep inclines to the summit of Nob Hill, once the home of the city’s business tycoons, and down to the waterfront tourist attractions of Fisherman’s Wharf, and Pier 39, where many restaurants feature Dungeness crab from a still-active fishing industry. Also in this quadrant are Russian Hill, a residential neighborhood with the famously crooked Lombard Street; North Beach, the city’s Little Italy and the former center of the Beat Generation; and Telegraph Hill, which features Coit Tower. Abutting Russian Hill and North Beach is San Francisco’s Chinatown, the oldest Chinatown in North America.

The South of Market, which was once San Francisco’s industrial core, has seen significant redevelopment following the construction of Oracle Park and an infusion of startup companies. New skyscrapers, live-work lofts, and condominiums dot the area. Further development is taking place just to the south in Mission Bay area, a former railroad yard, which now has a second campus of the University of California, San Francisco and Chase Center, which opened in 2019 as the new home of the Golden State Warriors.

North of the Western Addition is Pacific Heights, an affluent neighborhood that features the homes built by wealthy San Franciscans in the wake of the 1906 earthquake. Directly north of Pacific Heights facing the waterfront is the Marina, a neighborhood popular with young professionals that was largely built on reclaimed land from the Bay.

In the southeast quadrant of the city is the Mission District—populated in the 19th century by Californios and working-class immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Italy, and Scandinavia. In the 1910s, a wave of Central American immigrants settled in the Mission and, in the 1950s, immigrants from Mexico began to predominate. In recent years, gentrification has changed the demographics of parts of the Mission from Latino, to twenty-something professionals. Noe Valley to the southwest and Bernal Heights to the south are both increasingly popular among young families with children. East of the Mission is the Potrero Hill neighborhood, a mostly residential neighborhood that features sweeping views of downtown San Francisco. West of the Mission, the area historically known as Eureka Valley, now popularly called the Castro, was once a working-class Scandinavian and Irish area. It has become North America’s first gay village, and is now the center of gay life in the city. Located near the city’s southern border, the Excelsior District is one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in San Francisco. The predominantly African American Bayview-Hunters Point in the far southeast corner of the city is one of the poorest neighborhoods and suffers from a high rate of crime, though the area has been the focus of several revitalizing and controversial urban renewal projects.

The construction of the Twin Peaks Tunnel in 1918 connected southwest neighborhoods to downtown via streetcar, hastening the development of West Portal, and nearby affluent Forest Hill and St. Francis Wood. Further west, stretching all the way to the Pacific Ocean and north to Golden Gate Park lies the vast Sunset District, a large middle-class area with a predominantly Asian population.

The northwestern quadrant of the city contains the Richmond, a mostly middle-class neighborhood north of Golden Gate Park, home to immigrants from other parts of Asia as well as many Russian and Ukrainian immigrants. Together, these areas are known as The Avenues. These two districts are each sometimes further divided into two regions: the Outer Richmond and Outer Sunset can refer to the more western portions of their respective district and the Inner Richmond and Inner Sunset can refer to the more eastern portions.

Many piers remained derelict for years until the demolition of the Embarcadero Freeway reopened the downtown waterfront, allowing for redevelopment. The centerpiece of the port, the Ferry Building, while still receiving commuter ferry traffic, has been restored and redeveloped as a gourmet marketplace.

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