San Francisco Bucket List: 17 Best Things to do in San Francisco, California (2023)

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Walled by the bay and the Pacific Ocean, you wouldn’t think there would be so much to do in such a small area, but San Francisco has got it all.

From parks to museums to top-notch shopping, you will need to make a list to be sure you get to it all.

Luckily for you, we’ve already got a San Francisco bucket list, and you won’t regret using it.

San Francisco Bucket List

Snap a photo at the Golden Gate Bridge

Red bridge stretches across blue water

The famed Golden Gate Bridge suspends sturdily over the bay; how can you not want a picture of something like this?

The Golden Gate Bridge lookouts will get you some up-close photos of the bridge, but head to Chrissy Field or Baker Beach to get a different, but still stunning, view.

Once you’ve seen the Golden Gate Bridge, you’ve seen one of the most famous landmarks on Earth. It is truly something to behold.

Visit Alcatraz

An island sits surrounded by water, with mountainous landscapes behind it

Visit the famous fortress that has held infamous criminals and played an active part in North American history.

Take a short ferry ride over to the island for either a day tour, a night tour, or if you are really interested and have a lot of time, the Behind the Scenes tour. On this tour, you’ll be able to see parts of Alcatraz that have not been previously open to the public.

Depending on the tour you choose, tickets range from $50-$100 per person—discounts for seniors and children.

Explore the Japanese Tea Garden

Japanese inspired garden with a body of water in the middle

The Japanese Tea Garden is a must on your San Francisco bucket list.

This still, serene garden located in Golden Gate Park is a chance to get a break from the bustling city in a beautiful, faithfully Japanese fashion.

Stroll through the gardens, gazing at statues and structures that enhance its beauty, or stop at the tea house and gift shop for some tea and to get your fortune read.

Tickets for February to October are $14 for adults and $7 for seniors and children. Prices go down from November to January.


Where should you travel next?

Hike Sutro Baths

Sutro Baths are San Francisco’s local ruins, once a bustling recreation center, now abandoned cement pools near Point Lobos Avenue.

Adolph Sutro created the baths to be an affordable but still fun swimming facility for San Franciscans.  He even included museum-like exhibits at the entrance and architecture straight out of ancient Greece.

The times changed, and the attraction lost popularity, but its ruins have kept a steady crowd visiting its grounds.

To explore the mystique of Sutro Baths, you can get a tour or walk around it unguided.

Explore Muir Woods

A path goes between tall trees in a forest

Muir Woods is one of those wonders that can stop anyone dead in their tracks.

500-year-old trees that reach over 200 feet high flood the area, obscuring the sunlight and creating a veiled area for visitors to explore.

Muir Woods is just 40 minutes north of the city. Hike and explore one of the most wondrous places in the world.

Drive Lombard Street

A crooked street surrounded by colorful houses

Driving the most crooked and windy road in the world should also be a must on your San Francisco bucket list.

Designed to make one of the steepest hills in San Fran safer, the curved road is framed by beautiful modern mansions and landscaping on either side.

Drive down the eight hairpin turns if you dare, or you can opt to walk it. Or take a few pictures and be on your way!

🚗 Book your San Francisco rental car here! 🚗

Enjoy afternoon tea at The Palace Hotel

Experience the peak of luxury at The Palace Hotel.

And not only is this a beautiful building, but it is also a historical staple of San Francisco, standing since 1875.

The Palace is home to two SF bucket list restaurants, including The Garden Court. This is where you’ll get your tea. The other is called Pied Piper Bar & Grill.

To feel like you’re dining with royalty in England, join in at the Palace Hotel.

🏨 Book a stay at The Palace Hotel here! 🏨

Have some chocolate at Ghirardelli Square

Cityscape with a big sign that says "Ghirardelli" by the water at sunset

Overlooking a greasy field and the water, Ghirardelli Square sits proudly in a beautiful building reminiscent of the industrial revolution; you can’t miss it.

More than just a chocolate shop; this is the chocolate shop. Get all your chocolate needs here in as many forms as you can think of.

You can enjoy live music, art installations, and events at the square. Shops and restaurants are intermittent with peaceful sitting areas.

See the iconic Painted Ladies

A row of 5 brightly colored Victorian homes

San Francisco’s favorite ladies are a must-see on your San Francisco bucket list.

Incredibly American, these beautiful houses stand arrayed in all colors before the ever-growing downtown of the city.

Surrounded by other homes of the same style (but not quite as popular) and a park, this area is a relaxing one with an iconic view.

Visiting the Painted Ladies, or “Postcard Row,” will not disappoint.

Shop at Fisherman’s Wharf

Seals sit relaxing on a pier by the water

Fisherman’s Wharf is San Francisco’s seaside entertainment hub.

Perfect for families, couples, and friends, there’s plenty to see for miles. With restaurants on every corner, you have no shortage of dining options either. I would recommend heading into Pier Market for their bread bowls.

Pier 39 is Fisherman’s Wharf’s entertainment center. Stop into the Aquarium of the Bay, visit the Musee Mecanique, or play a tune on the piano stairs. There’s even a mirror maze (which was my favorite thing on the Pier).

Dine in Union Square

Union Square is another popular San Francisco destination.

The square is characterized by a few sculptures guarding the entrances, benches, lots of people, and some of the more high-end shopping in the city.

And with that luxurious shopping comes even more luxurious dining.

You will find cuisine from all over the world: sushi, tikka masala, pizza, and more. Check out Sears Fine Food if you’re trying to hit an SF bucket list restaurant.

Stand in awe at the beauty of The Palace of Fine Arts

A red rotunda sits by the water with trees

The Palace of Fine Arts is what Ancient Greece would have looked like 2000 years ago. Columns line a semi-circle, convening in an intricately beautiful open-air rotunda.

This is a place to come to escape, to live in a different time. The Palace sits on the edge of a small lagoon with greenery spilling over every open space.

It is truly a sight to behold and should definitely be on your Bay Area bucket list.

Wander around Chinatown

Red lanterns are strewn across a street

San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the oldest in the United States. A bustling community has been established here and welcomes visitors to experience their cuisine and culture.

Walking through the Chinatown Gateway is a rite of passage into the neighborhood. With attractions, restaurants, and shops at every turn, you can’t help but want to go to every store and try every restaurant.

Look up what events will be happening during your visit, and you might get to see a cultural festival.

Ride one of the Cable Cars

Red cable car with yellow details on a street

You see them everywhere, vehicles gliding up and down the San Francisco hills.

And if you’re there, you have to ride one. It’s a San Francisco rite of passage. They were the first city to have cable cars launched.

There are three lines to choose from: California, Powell/Hyde, and Powell/Mason. Just hop on the start or end of the route and see the city from a cable car’s eyes.

Long lines can pile up at the ticket booths, so skip the lines and purchase your tickets online instead.

Explore Golden Gate Park

The Central Park of San Francisco, Golden Gate Park, is one of my favorite things to do in the city.

Walk, bike, or take the park’s shuttle to see the endless attractions hidden throughout the park. Experience science in new ways at the Academy of Sciences, go fishing, marvel at the Conservatory of Flowers, or see a free show at the Music Concourse.

You could spend days in this park without seeing all there is to see. Golden Gate Park is one of the best things to do in San Francisco.

Visit Coit Tower

Tall white circular tower surrounded by trees

Coit Tower has been a beacon in San Francisco’s skyline since 1933.

Named for and endowed by a patron of the city’s firefighting department, Lillie Hitchcock Coit, the tower is a monument to the volunteer firefighters of San Francisco.

The tower’s observation deck provides 360-degree views of the Bay Area, but the bottom of the tower is stunning as well. The exterior is surrounded by greenery and sloping walkways, and the inside is veiled with a circular mural depicting Californian life during the Great Depression.

Enjoy the view from Twin Peaks

City skyline by the water

Twin Peaks is the second-highest peak in the area, so just imagine the views of the city flowering beneath you.

I promise you, anything you imagine will not do the actual view justice, so you might just have to go see it.

To get the best views, you’ll hike the 0.7-mile trail to summit the peaks. 

Once you’re in the park, you may catch other beautiful views as well, such as the endangered Mission Blue Butterfly.

Final Thoughts: Best Things to Do in San Francisco

San Francisco is a city so rich with history, culture, and entertainment it’s hard to contain our San Francisco bucket list to only 17 things. But you won’t be disappointed with a single thing on this list, so we think it was worth it.

San Fran’s bay area charm awaits you!

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