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Things to do in San Francisco, California | Don't Ever Look Back

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7 Things To Do In San Francisco, California

7 Things To Do In San Francisco, California

San Francisco is one destination where we’ve felt right at home as soon as we stepped foot there. The eclectic City by the Bay reminds us a lot of our hometown of Melbourne and we’re looking forward to visiting SF for a third time sometime in the future.

Until then we look back at our experiences in San Francisco with fond memories and feel blessed to have seen so much of this city. We’ve compiled this list of 7 things to do in San Francisco to share our highlights with you but remember – this list is just the beginning!

1. Walk or Bike Across The Golden Gate Bridge

Bike Across Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge is the most photographed bridge in the world and obviously a must-see for all visitors to San Francisco. So why not get up close and personal by actually crossing it?

It doesn’t matter if you choose to walk across it or ride a bike, it’s an unforgettable experience that will almost certainly become the highlight of your visit to the city. Read our post Biking the Golden Gate Bridge to find out more about our experience riding across the bridge in 2009.

Our Recommendation: Remember to stick to the city side of the bridge! If you’re on your bike and follow the signs to the bike path, you’ll end up with some very quick (and serious) cyclists speeding past you. We made this mistake which is why we have no photos of us on the bridge!

2. Visit Alcatraz


Alcatraz, also known as “The Rock”, was one of the most infamous prisons in the United States when it was used between 1934 and 1963. The history and stories from Alcatraz make a trip out to this island in the middle of San Francisco Bay a must-do for any visitor to the city.

Make sure you take the Alcatraz Cellhouse audio tour which allows you to walk around Alcatraz on your own and learn a lot about the fascinating history of the prison.

Our Recommendation: Alcatraz can be sold out several days in advance so make sure you book online through Alcatraz Cruises prior to your visit. When booking, we highly recommend you book the Early Bird Tour and go first thing in the morning – the crowds are at their smallest which means it’s the best time to explore!

3. Ride a Cable Car

Cable Car San Francisco

Cable cars were invented in San Francisco since 1873 and it’s another thing that you can’t leave San Francisco without doing at least once! It’s touristy, it’s iconic, the views are superb and seeing them turn the cars around at Powell Street is a pretty cool thing to watch.

Our Recommendation: Be prepared for long lines, sometimes over an hour, if you want to take the car from the start or end of the line. If you’re not prepared to wait, walk a block away from the turnarounds and get on the cable cars there where it’s much less crowded.

4. Check out the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

Artwork at SFMOMA

The two of us aren’t really into art but were pleasantly surprised when we visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. SFMOMA houses an internationally recognized collection of modern and contemporary art exhibits and is spread over five floors.

If you’ve got even the smallest interest in modern art, take the time to visit SFMOMA.

Our Recommendation: If you’ve got more than a few days in the city, purchase yourself a San Francisco CityPASS for $69. Not only will you get free public transport and access to SFMOMA, but it’ll also include admission to the Aquarium of the Bay, California Academy of Sciences, a Bay Cruise and the Exploratorium or de Young Museum.

5. Take a San Francisco Bay Cruise

San Francisco Bay Cruise

A great way to see the city of San Francisco from a different angle is from the bay. An hour-long cruise will allow you to see the city skyline and the cruise takes you around Alcatraz and under the Golden Gate Bridge, our top two attractions in the city.

Our Recommendation: Beware of the San Francisco fog – you can go right underneath the Golden Gate Bridge and not even be able to see the top of it on a bad day! Try and go on a a clear day (if you get one!) but if there is fog in the air, stay warm. It gets really cold on a moving boat out on the bay!

6. See San Francisco’s “Crookedest Street”

Lombard Street, San Francisco

Lombard Street in San Francisco is famous for having a steep, one-block section with eight sharp curves. It’s an image that you see on many postcards and represents San Francisco (along with the Golden Gate Bridge) around the world.

Hundreds of tourists visit here every day and it’s definitely worth the stop just to take some photos and say you’ve been – it’s all about the experience!

Our Recommendation: If you’ve got a car, take a drive down the curving part of the crowd and have your traveling partner lean out with a video camera to record it. Otherwise, take a scenic photo from the bottom of the hill before climbing back to the top and taking the cable car.

7. Just walk around and explore!

Queen Anne Houses in San Francisco

Despite some areas of San Francisco being extremely hilly, the city is actually ranked the second most walkable large city in the United States behind New York.

So step out of your door and just start walking – there are many great neighborhoods to explore including Fisherman’s Wharf, The Castro and the Mission District and attractions to see such as the Victorian Homes (the Painted Ladies in particular) and Golden Gate Park. And that’s only a small part of this fantastic city.

Our Recommendation: Take the walk through Crissy Field within the Golden Gate National Parks. It’s one of the world’s best urban walks with bridge views all the way as well as views of the San Francisco skyline. Best of all, it’s dead flat and perfect for walking! Oh, and make sure you bring a jacket… it can get cold in the City by the Bay as we’ve already written.

As we mentioned at the top of this post, this list of 7 things to do in San Francisco is only just the beginning.

Two of our other San Francisco highlights were taking a Segway tour around the city and enjoying a unique trampoline workout at the House of Air and we’re sure you’d love both of them as well if you have the time.

What other things would you recommend for a visitor to San Francisco?


  1. Posted May 24, 2012 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    Great list…heading to SF in July and plan on doing several of these. When you say to stay on the city side of the bridge on the bikes, do you mean the right side? I’ve heard the crossing can be hairy with all the cyclists. Also, did you bike up into the Headlands at all, or just straight down to Sausalito? Hoping to get slightly into the Headlands for a few pics, but not sure if it’s within our cycling skillset:)
    D.J. – World of Deej recently posted..The Expedition Everest Challenge

    • Posted May 24, 2012 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

      If you’re leaving San Francisco then yeah, it’s the right side. Just stay on the side closest to the city with the pedestrians and you’ll be fine.

      Unfortunately we only rode to Sausalito where we had a great afternoon before catching the ferry back. It definitely gets a bit hairier as you leave the city as you’re sharing the road with cars but it’s really not too bad at all.

  2. Posted May 25, 2012 at 1:19 am | Permalink

    Great choices! We’ve lived in SF and now have a place over the bridge in Oakland. SF is a 7×7 mile city. You can cover a lot. If you have time, cross over either of the bridges to Marin or Oakland. Some amazing things to see and do that’s a little different from the city.
    Carlo+Geneva recently posted..WIFI and Cobblestones: Spanish school in San Pedro de Laguna, Guatemala.

    • Posted May 25, 2012 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      Yep, if you’ve got more than a few days in SF then go and explore beyond the city! Whether that’s Sausalito, Napa Valley or Marin or Oakland as you suggested. Great tip.

  3. Posted May 25, 2012 at 3:55 am | Permalink

    LOVE the crooked street! I am so going to try and make it there whilst I am in San Frans.

    Did you check-out Fishermans Wharf? Too touristy?
    Nicole recently posted..The Ando Japanese Doll Shop in Kyoto

    • Posted May 25, 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      We actually stayed at Fisherman’s Wharf on our first visit to San Francisco and although it’s touristy, we love it there. Be sure to try some sourdough from Boudin there (and some In-N-Out Burger while you’re at it!) and watch out for the man disguised as a tree. You’ll know what we’re talking about when you visit haha.

    • Posted May 25, 2012 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

      The tree dude is pretty hilarious! 🙂
      David recently posted..GeoPosted Gazette X: Close Encounters

  4. Posted May 25, 2012 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    I live just North of SF and just recently rode a bike across the Golden Gate Bridge. I only got yelled at once 😉
    Annette recently posted..Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace (Part 2)

    • Posted May 25, 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      Haha nice work Annette – fortunately we didn’t get yelled at but made sure to pull over to the side every time we saw a speeding cyclist!

  5. Posted May 25, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    Great list of things to do there… We went for a few days last summer and loved just exploring the city and walking by the ocean, taking in the views.

    • Posted May 25, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

      Yep, it’s a great city just to walk around and explore. It sounds like you walked through Crissy Field which is a beautiful walk as we mentioned. 🙂

  6. Posted May 25, 2012 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    Great tips as usual. I would add Coit Tower to the list. It’s on a little hill within walking distance from one of the cable car stops and gives some great views of the city as well.
    David recently posted..GeoPosted Gazette X: Close Encounters

    • Posted May 25, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for the tip David, we never did make it to Coit Tower but that just proves how much there is to do in this awesome city!

  7. Posted May 25, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    This is a great guide, thanks! I’ve always wanted to go to SF and visit City Lights Bookshop and Fisherman’s Wharf. Maybe in the next couple of years… 🙂

  8. Posted May 27, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    I’ll be heading to San fran in July so thanks for the tips! Did you happen to check out Chinatown? I think our hostel will be near there.
    Stacey Onetravelsfar recently posted..My thoughts on the Homeless in America

    • Posted May 27, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      We only passed through Chinatown but have heard some pretty great things about it – it’s known as a “city within a city” and I’m sure you’ll love being located so centrally. Enjoy your visit to San Francisco!

  9. Posted May 28, 2012 at 2:34 am | Permalink

    I noticed that you didn’t mention eating, but SF is a great food destination! We had some pretty incredible meals when we were there a few years ago….
    Steph (@ 20 Years He recently posted..China Visa Woes, Oh Noes!

    • Posted May 28, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

      Yes it is! We could go back just for the sourdough and that’s only the beginning of the delicious food we enjoyed while in SF!

  10. Posted May 28, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    You pretty much nailed it. I couldn’t stand Fishermans Wharf but all the spots on your list are great. Visiting the Castro is another good suggestion, for its historical importance and vibrant culture.
    Scott – QuirkyTravel recently posted..Quirky Attraction: Zzyzx Road

    • Posted May 28, 2012 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

      I think Fisherman’s Wharf is one of those places you either love or hate – the first time we visited we stayed in a hotel there and loved it but the second time we visited the city we got sick of it real fast. The Castro is a brilliant neighborhood and a definite must for anyone who visits San Francisco.

  11. Posted May 28, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Nice list! I did many of these and more recently and SF, and will eventually put together a similar post. San Francisco is so full of things to do!
    Amanda recently posted..The Golden Gate Bridge: Still Awesome at 75

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