What to Do in San Francisco
A One-Of-a-Kind City
From famous Chinatown and Haight-Ashbury to the San Francisco Zoo and Fisherman’s Wharf, from beautiful parks and classic squares to great architecture and soaring monuments, You'll love exploring San Francisco.
Where to start? San Fran has great museums, art galleries, wine tasting events, live theatre, concerts, sporting events and much more. Our list rounds up some of the City by the Bay's most iconic places and favorite events to help you start to plan your time here.
This area of San Francisco offers visitors a plethora of seafood selections and restaurants that serve mouthwatering dishes plucked right out of the Pacific. You can still get a glimpse of the vestiges of the old fishing crafts that were used by the Italian immigrants who brought the Wharf alive after the Gold Rush ended.
One of the most famous Chinatown’s in the country (if not THE most famous), San Francisco’s Chinatown will make you feel like you are truly in the Orient, due to having the largest Chinese population outside of China itself. Chinatown offers you authentic appeal and many places to shop and grab a bite of authentic Chinese food. It is a center of the Chinese community in the U.S. and you can easily get past the “touristy” parts and get to the best food and retail goods. The key – watch where the locals eat and shop.
Golden Gate Bridge
You’ve no doubt seen this famous bridge in a hundred Hollywood movies, in books and on television. Take the opportunity to drive, bike or even walk across the famous span. You will be amazed by the sensational views of the ocean and mountainsides, so don’t forget to bring your still or video camera for some great pictures, movies and lasting memories.
Here you will find great shopping opportunities and some of the finest clothing chains in the state, include Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany’s, Macy’s and Neiman-Marcus. Don’t skip the side streets in the area either, as they are well-known for holding some great surprises for shoppers, too. In addition, the “outlet malls” and stores had their beginnings right here, so scope them out for the best possible deals. You can even stay right at the Square, as it has some of The City’s best hotels.
Golden Gate Park
This park is a beautiful place to have a picnic lunch while you take in some of the lovely gardens, picturesque views, colorful atmosphere and even a herd of bison (seriously, an actual herd of bison). This is where the 1968 “Summer of Love” took place and is the home of the original hippie flower power movement (see “Haight-Ashbury” below).
Take a trip back in time to this foreboding prison island which was once home to such prisoners as Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelley and other menacing criminal figures. This is a trip that should be saved for adults and children over the age of 10 due to the boat ride and the fact that the prison has areas are not suited for strollers or small children.
San Francisco has some of the country’s finest and most world-renowned museums and art galleries. From the SFMOMA to the Asian Art Museum to the DeYoung, San Francisco offers a selection of galleries, museums and ongoing exhibit halls that are a must-see for any arts-loving vacationer.
This part of San Francisco (Haight and Ashbury are two intersecting streets up the hill from Golden Gate Park) was the center for the “Summer of Love.” Today, the neighborhood is way more commercialized than back then but it still worth the time to stop and see the history and the magnificent architecture of the area.
The theater district here is a unique blend of talented performances, hit shows, small troupes and street performers that is both musical and dramatic. Come and see some great live entertainment with fine dining not far from the theatres, making it the perfect beginning and end to any evening in the city.
San Francisco Zoo
Located near the South side of Ocean Beach, the Zoo is a perfect vacation pastime for families and children and adults—that means everyone! The zoo is open 365 days a year, rain or shine. The SF Zoo is world famous for its collection of all kinds of different species of wildlife, so it’s a great place for children to learn about the animals that live on our planet. Be sure you don’t miss some of its more rare and amazing features, like the pandas!
Wine Tasting in the City
If you want to get a good cross-section of California wines without the travel, you can stop by the Winery Collective, the first multi-winery tasting room in San Francisco focused purely on boutique wineries. This a great experience for wine lovers at heart. It allows you to taste different wines from several wineries across California in one setting, so you don’t have to travel all over the state for the finest wines.
Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival
What’s not to like – chocolate and a party. At the Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival the city recognizes the well-established hometown chocolatier and candy factory and celebrates its great love for food. Here you can taste some delectable chocolates made right in the factory by chocolate makers that take pride in what they do. This is a great treat for men, women, kids, families….ok, anyone that loves good chocolate.
Chinese New Year Festival and Parade
This is an ongoing event every January and February (there’s a build up to the actual event) that is not to be missed and is quite famous. You will see an incredible display of brilliant colors, happy people, loud fireworks, traditional dancing, festive lions, elaborate costumes and decorated floats. Some of the other highlights include a martial arts group, marching bands from schools and colleges, lion dancers, stilt walkers, Chinese acrobats, the annually crowned Miss Chinatown USA and the Golden Dragon. The Parade is a celebration of both the city’s Chinese heritage and the contribution the culture has given through their diversity, cuisine, arts, language, and merchant goods and products.
Castro Street Fair
This is a celebration of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) population of the city and surrounding region. Here you will see an outpouring of merriment and love of life from some local San Franciscans and the beautiful neighborhoods (some recently restored) that they are all a part of. The Fringe Festival is a part of the Castro Street Fair that gives a voice to the more alternative crowds and allows for the prospect of innovation, performance and experimentation. All of these things combined make for an artistic spectacle that is truly different, and is open and welcoming of all people.
Amateur, College and Pro Sports
The Bay Area is home to Major League Baseball’s San Francisco Giant and Oakland A’s, the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, and San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders of the NFL. You can even travel a bit south to watch some great hockey as the San Jose Sharks of the NHL play in that city. The University of California, Berkeley and Stanford University are the top schools in the area, with both universities fielding teams in all major college sports year-round. You can also take in games of the San Jose State Spartans and the University of San Francisco Dons.
Ongoing Annual Events
- San Francisco Symphony Concert Series
- Oktoberfest By The Bay Pier 48
- Free Night of Theater Celebration at various venues through the year
- Golden Gate Bridge to Bay Bridge 12K Run
- Glide Memorial Church Blessing of the Fishing Fleet at Fisherman’s Wharf
- Fleet Week at the Aquatic Park and Pier 39
- American Indian Film Festival at the Palace of Fine Arts
- Fabulous Food Festival Concourse Exhibition Center events year-round
- San Francisco Green Festival
- Embarcadero Center Building Lighting Ceremony at Christmas
- Holiday Harmony and Pier 39 Tree Lighting Ceremony (November)
- Turkey Trail Trot at Golden Gate Park
- San Francisco International Automobile Show, every year
- The Great Dickens Christmas Fair, a city tradition
- The Great San Francisco Crystal Fair Fort Mason Center