San Francisco is one of my favorite cities to visit. It’s got just about everything I look for in a vacation destination: history, great food & drink, and gorgeous architecture & views. With as much as there is to see, do, drink, and eat in San Francisco and the surrounding area, it was hard to narrow it down to just a few things, but below you’ll find my top 10 things to see, do, & eat in San Francisco!
Top 10 Must Do San Francisco (and nearby)
1. Try the Local Food
My first trip to San Francisco introduced me to one of my favorite foods, fish tacos (with grilled/blackened fish not deep fried). My must go to place in San Fran for tacos is Nick’s Crispy Tacos. Nick’s Crispy Tacos isn’t you’re typical restaurant, it’s more of a taco stand that’s in a bar called Rouge Lounge, but they make one fantastic fish taco not to mention a pretty good margarita to wash it down. Last time I was in town for a conference, me and about ten other conference goers walked over a mile (which is a lot farther when you’re going up and down giant hills) to get there. Once everyone had their food, they totally agreed that it was worth it!
Another really cool restaurant to check out while you’re in town is Yank Sing. We went to the Ricon Center location on a weekend and it was a great atmosphere. Since it was my first time going to a traditional dim sum restaurant, I was blown away with how well the system worked. We had a great time and got to try a lot of delicious food!
2. Take a Ferry Ride to Sausalito
It’s hard to believe, but there was a time when I didn’t plan out my trips well in advance and silly me thought I could just show up to San Francisco and buy a ticket to see Alcatraz. For those of you familiar with buying tickets to see Alcatraz, you already know that my chances of there being any available tickets on Memorial Day weekend were pretty much zero. Thankfully, my friend who I was visiting suggested that we take the ferry over to Sausalito as a replacement. The ferry trip gave me a chance to get a closer view of Alcatraz and some great views of San Francisco. Wandering around Sausalito was also a lot of fun. The views of San Francisco were great and there were a bunch of cute shops to browse!
3. Visit the Painted Ladies
If you grew up watching Full House, you have probably seen these houses a million times. While they are a bit off the beaten path compared to most of my list, they are definitely cool to see and take pictures of if you have the time! There is a park across the street so you may want to pack a picnic and make an afternoon of it.
4. Golden Gate Bridge & Park
Getting some great pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge is a must while in San Francisco. Even if you don’t have the time to dedicate to walking over the 1.7 mile bridge, you should find time to check out Golden Gate Park. With everything from a Japanese Tea Garden to a Dutch Windmill, you could easily spend days exploring the 1,017 acre park.
Riding a cable car is pretty much San Francisco’s equivalent to taking a gondola ride in Venice. It was one of the first things I did my first time in San Francisco and while it was cool, I probably won’t bother doing it again because it’s more expensive than taking Street Cars (which have a ton of charm of their own) and depending on when and where you try to hop on you may have to wait in line for quite a while. That being said, it’s definitely one of those things I think everyone should check off their sightseeing bucket list. I took the Powell-Mason Line from the Powell Market turn table towards Fisherman’s Wharf. If you’re going to be doing a lot of sightseeing the day you ride the car, it’s probably worth getting the $13 one day fast pass that is good for use on the cable cars, street cars, and buses.
6. Sight See at Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, & Ghiradelli Square
Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, and Ghiradelli Square are pretty much a tourist trap trifecta. That being said, they are something that most people, myself included, want to see on their first trip to San Francisco. I recommend doing them all together since they are easily walkable. Start by stopping by Pier 39 to get a glimpse of the famous sea lions. After you’re done exploring the pier head over to Fisherman’s Wharf for some more shopping and exploring. If you need a bite to eat while visiting Fisherman’s Wharf, be sure to stop into Boudin’s Bakers Hall for some delicious food featuring their sour dough bread (I recommend the chowder in the sour dough bread bowl!). Next up is Ghiradelli Square where if you’re time your trip right, you can grab some delicious chocolate ice cream before watching the sunset!
7. Wander through Ferry Building
I love farmer’s markets and so the fact that the Ferry Building is not only an historic building but a Farmer’s Market makes it one of my favorite stops when I visit. It reminds me a little bit of Chelsea Market in New York and is a great place to grab a bite to eat. It gets extremely crowded during lunch on weekdays, but I’ve found that the line at Gott’s Roadside typically moves pretty quickly and their burgers are delicious!
8. Take a day trip to Napa or Sonoma
While theoretically you could visit San Francisco and not leave the city limits, if you are a wine lover or foodie a day trip to Napa or Sonoma is a must do. If you aren’t visiting a local like I did, your best bet is a guided day trip. While they can get a bit pricey, they take care of all the planning and driving which in my opinion is well worth it!
9. Visit Lombard Street
Lombard Street is one of the crookedest (and yes that’s actually a real word) streets in America. While I don’t know if I’d want to try driving down it myself, it is very fun to walk down and watch the cars drive down. Plus the beautiful gardens make for a great photo op!
10. Get a Drink at the Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar
Have you ever wanted to drink out of a coconut at an inside tiki bar that has periodic “thunder storms”? Well if not, you should! The Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar is definitely worth the trek up Nob Hill. I recommend going for happy hour and enjoying a tropical cocktail while waiting for a “storm” to roll through.
You may have noticed that there are a few things missing from my list that many people consider must do activities in San Francisco. I haven’t forgotten about them, I just haven’t had a chance to do them myself yet. Below you’ll find a list of the 5 Things that are on my list for the next time I visit!
5 Things I’m still Dying to Do in San Francisco
- Visit the Red Woods at Muir Woods
- Take a ride on the Wine Train
- Visit Alcatraz Island & Coit Tower
- Walk Across the Golden Gate Bridge
- Go on a Mission District Food Tour