40 Free + Cheap Things To Do In San Francisco



40 best things to do in San Francisco CA by Where Are Those Morgans top free cheap and fun places to visit in SF sunset over Golden Gate Bridge from the Bay

San Francisco is an attraction-heavy city with an abundance free and cheap places to visit. We’ve spent a total of 8 days exploring San Francisco as tourists, and for us the best things to do include walking the Golden Gate Bridge, taking a tour of Alcatraz and exploring museums. But there’s many more fun and affordable activities you can do on a first or return visit to SF.

In this guide we show you the 40 best things to do in San Francisco based on our own experiences.

Our San Francisco Experience

Man sat on wooden pole at Marin Headlands with Golden Gate Bridge in background
Mark enjoying the Golden Gate Bridge view from Marin Headland

We’ve spent a total of 8 days in San Francisco between trips in October 2019 and September 2022. In that time we’ve taken a day and night tour of Alcatraz, been to the top museums, walked and cycled across the Golden Gate Bridge, found hidden gems and stayed at hotels in the most popular neighborhoods. Read more about us.

San Francisco is one of our favorite US cities to visit because it has lots of unique attractions and neighborhoods. It’s an expensive place, but SF is a fantastic city to be a tourist. Our favorite activity so far in SF has been taking a night tour of Alcatraz.

About This Guide

Alcatraz Island close up surrounded by blue waters of SF Bay one of the best things to do in San Francisco
Approaching Alcatraz Island by boat

We’re hoping you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how many fun attractions there are for families, couples and groups of friends in San Francisco. And most of the top activities in SF are completely free or extremely affordable.

Below the map you’ll find 40 excellent ideas for things to do in SF, whether it’s your first visit or you’ve been before. We’ve listed attractions in order of price from free to most expensive.

Attractions Map

Click the map below to activate. Zoom in and out, move around San Francisco and find the locations of the best free and cheap attractions in the city.

Map key:

  • Red – Free things to do
  • Purple – Cheap things to do

1. Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge view from Battery East in SF on a sunny day with light clouds walking across is one of the best free things to do in San Francisco
The Golden Gate Bridge from Battery East

Seeing San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is one of those truly unmissable things you simply must do on a first visit to the city. We recommend walking or cycling across the legendary bridge for the most immersive experience. Just look out for the locals who whizz by on road bikes!

Alternatively, you can drive your car and park in various parking areas on both sides of the bridge. It’s completely free to walk, cycle or drive across the bridge. And you know those famous foggy photos of the Golden Gate Bridge? They’re usually taken early in the morning between June and August.

Best places to see the Golden Gate Bridge:

  • Battery Spencer
  • H Dana Bowers Memorial Vista
  • Marin Headlands
  • Alcatraz
  • SF Bay Cruise
  • Marshall’s Beach
  • Battery East
  • Crissy Field
  • On the bridge

Further Reading: The best Golden Gate Bridge photo spots

2. Twin Peaks

View over San Francisco from Twin Peaks vista city buildings in distance
Kristen looking at SF from Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks is the best viewpoint overlooking San Francisco because you can see the entire city from its wide open vista, including skyscrapers in the Financial District and the Bay.

We recommend sunrise or sunset as the two best times of day to see SF from Twin Peaks for soft light. The viewpoint is hard to reach, so you’ll either have to take a taxi or ride-share, or drive your own hire car up. Read more about Twin Peaks.

3. Painted Ladies

Painted Ladies row of seven colorful houses in Alamo Square SF
Painted Ladies in Alamo Square

San Francisco’s Painted Ladies are a row of 7 brightly painted Victorian houses on the edge of Alamo Square. Known as “postcard row” or “seven sisters”, this idyllic collection of adjoining houses are among thousands built during the California Gold Rush as a sign of wealth in the city.

The best thing to do is relax on the grass at Alamo Square with a picnic and snap photos of the houses. They’re west facing, so if you want the best light you should visit later in the afternoon or early evening. You can see the houses are in shadow in our photo above because we visited earlier in the day.

4. Beaches

Marshall's Beach near Golden Gate Bridge is with Pacific Ocean in distance walking along beaches is one of the most underrated free things to do in San Francisco CA
Marshall’s Beach near Golden Gate Bridge

Sitting on beaches might not be the first thing you think of when you start planning your San Francisco bucket list. But if you’re the type of traveler who enjoys a brisk walk on the sand with a fresh coastal breeze, we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised in SF.

Head west out of the touristy neighborhoods and you’ll find miles of sandy beaches connected by headland trails. And the best part is the beaches have fantastic views of the Golden Gate Bridge, especially when you get closer.

Best beaches in San Francisco:

  • Ocean Beach
  • Mile Rock Beach
  • China Beach
  • Baker Beach
  • Marshall’s Beach

5. Palace Of Fine Arts

Palace of Fine Arts in SF with cyclist wearing helmet stood in front of lagoon
Kristen at Palace of Fine Arts on our bike ride through SF

San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts is one of its standout architectural wonders. Originally built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, the Palace of Fine Arts is now a theater and convention center.

It’s a picture perfect photo spot or picnic area with Greco-Roman columns and domes, a three quarter encircling lagoon and quaint gardens. Check the Palace of Fine Arts schedule of events to see if there are any performances during your visit.

6. Lombard Street

Lombard Street in San Francisco is one of the most popular free things to do and a top instagram spot twisting road leading down a steep hill through residential area
The famous Lombard Street twisting down a hill in SF

Lombard Street is a picturesque road descending a steep hill with 8 switchbacks in the heart of residential Russian Hill neighborhood. It snakes and slaloms from Hyde Street to Leavenworth Street, and it can be walked, cycled or driven. Remember, this is a residential area so it’s important to be respectful.

If you drive you’ll navigate eight tight turns and if you walk you’ll climb a long staircase to either side the road. Lombard Street is one of the most popular instagram spots in San Francisco, so expect it to be busy. We found it most crowded around sunset and early evening.

7. 16th Avenue Tiled Steps

16th Avenue tiled steps in SF flowing patterns sea to stars
16th Avenue tiled steps

The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps was community led collaboration resulting in a “Sea to Stars” themed mosaic flowing elegantly up 163 steps in the Golden Gate Heights district of San Francisco.

There are several picturesque staircases leading up San Francisco’s hills, but 16th Avenue takes the unofficial title for most attractive. The steps are another excellent photo and instagram spot, but they’re a bit of out of the way so you’ll need a car or bicycle.

8. SF Movie Locations

California street in San Francisco at sunrise with Oakland Bridge and sun
Iconic angled streets in SF as seen in several movies

San Francisco has been the filming location for so many blockbuster movies over the years that you’re never too far from a familiar looking street or building. Are you a movie buff? Well, we’re sure you won’t mind stumbling across iconic filming locations.

Films like Godzilla, Venom, Planet of the Apes, Pursuit of Happiness, Dirty Harry, Milk, Ant Man and A View To A Kill were all filmed in San Francisco.

Most popular movies with locations:

  • Escape from Alcatraz – Alcatraz
  • The Rock – California Street and Alcatraz
  • Bullitt – Fisherman’s Wharf, Russian Hill and Marina
  • Mrs. Doubtfire – The house is located at 2640 Steiner Street in Pacific Heights

9. Union Square Shopping

Union Square lit up at night with ice rink in winter months
Photo we took of Union Square lit up at night

Union Square is San Francisco’s major shopping hub. You can find everything from plush designer boutiques to low key independent stores in and around the Union Square neighborhood.

You can also head slightly north into Chinatown, east into Financial District or south into SoMa for more shopping opportunities as they all overlap with the retail heavy Union Square. Here’s everything you need to know about shopping in Union Square.

10. City Lights Bookstore

City Lights Bookstore exterior photo from across the road
The City Lights Bookstore in SF

City Lights is a landmark bookstore and publishing house located between Chinatown and North Beach in San Francisco. This quirky independent bookstore is exceptionally popular with locals and tourists alike.

You’ll climb narrow and creaky staircases as you walk through the maze of bookshelves covering every topic imaginable. Even if you don’t need to buy a new book, it’s still well worth taking a quick look around City Lights. Read more about City Lights Bookstore.

11. Ferry Building Marketplace

Inside Ferry Building Marketplace tall curving roof with vendors selling goods
Inside Ferry Building Marketplace

Ferry Building Marketplace is a ferry terminal located on the Embarcadero at the end of Market Street. It hosts a popular weekly Ferry Plaza Farmers Market selling locally produced food on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:00am-2:00pm, and Saturdays from 8:00am-2:00pm.

If you visit outside of those times, you can still grab a coffee, empanada or ice cream from a vendor permanently located inside the landmark structure. It’s also a very attractive building to photograph from the outside, so don’t forget your camera. Learn more about Ferry Building Marketplace.

12. Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman's Wharf neighborhood one of the best places to visit in San Francisco at sunset with light reflecting on tram track
Serene sunset photo we took at Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf is one of the most famous tourist spots in San Francisco. Many families choose to book hotels close to Fisherman’s Wharf because it has loads going on for adults and kids alike, like Pier 39, the aquarium and lots of gimmicky shops.

We think Fisherman’s Wharf is a little tacky but it’s definitely the most family friendly part of San Francisco and it’s fun to walk around. Read more about Fisherman’s Wharf.

13. Pier 39

Sea Lions sleeping and playing at Pier 39 in SF
Sea Lions sunbathing and playing at Pier 39

Pier 39 is the beating heart of Fisherman’s Wharf and you’ll naturally be drawn to the pier like a gravitational force when you visit the area. You’ll find seafood restaurants and independent stores, but the main attraction is a famous Sea Lion viewing area at the far end of the pier.

Thousands of tourists descend upon this Sea Lion viewpoint every day to watch the marine animals sleeping, playing and sunbathing on floating docks in the marina. Learn more about Pier 39.

14. Musee Mecanique

Two pinball machines side by side in a dark room with dim lighting
Photo courtesy of Musee Mecanique

Musee Mecanique is a family owned and operated museum filled with one of the world’s largest privately owned collections of video arcade games and musical instruments.

The museum is located on Pier 45 in Fisherman’s Wharf and it’s open from 10:00am-8:00pm, 365 days a year. Machines are coin operated, so you’ll need to arrive with a few dollars worth in change. Learn more about Musee Mecanique.

15. Ghirardelli Chocolate Experience

Ghirardelli letters above Ghirardelli Square
The Ghirardelli sign from below

Ghirardelli Square is an upscale dining and shopping experience on the far west side of Fisherman’s Wharf. You’ll find the Ghirardelli Chocolate Experience, as well as other eateries and one of the finest 5 star hotels in California called the Fairmont Heritage Place.

Step inside Ghirardelli for chocolate heaven, with wall to wall treats and gifts to take home from your visit to SF. At night, you can’t miss the huge letters of Ghirardelli glowing a deep red above Ghirardelli Square. Read more about Ghirardelli.

16. Cable Car Museum

Cable Cars in San Francisco one of the most iconic cheap things to do in SF two cars on parallel tracks at dusk
Iconic SF Cable Cars

The SF Cable Car museum is located at 1201 Mason Street in Nob Hill, and it’s another fantastic place you can visit in San Francisco for free. It won’t take you long to explore the small museum, but it’s well worth a visit.

You’ll find exhibits and educational boards about the history and development of San Francisco’s famous Cable Car system explaining everything you would ever want to know! Read reviews about the SF Cable Car Museum.

17. Chinatown

Underneath a colorful lantern in Chinatown
Close up photo underneath a colorful lantern in SF Chinatown

Chinatown is one of San Francisco’s most enjoyable places to walk around, so we recommend you allow time in your itinerary to walk the popular neighborhood’s labyrinthine streets.

You’ll find vibrantly colored lanterns and decor, hidden gems like the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, and a host of fantastic places to eat, drink and party.

18. Japantown

Sign marking street name in English and Japanese with houses and cars behind
Street signs in Japantown

Japantown is one of the most underrated places to visit in San Francisco. It’s located far from any traditional SF attractions, which means it’s rarely on tourist itineraries. San Francisco’s Japantown is the largest of just three remaining in the US.

If you’re interested in Japanese art, culture and architecture, Japantown should be firmly in your plans. You’ll find a 5 story peace pagoda, an eclectic mix of Japanese goods and of course plenty of ramen. See what you can do in Japantown.

19. Mission District

Busy road with cars and people leading to buildings
Busy street in Mission District

Mission District, or The Mission, is one of San Francisco’s most popular and in-vogue neighborhoods. It’s a place full of life, color, passion, boutiques, food and energy. You can eat a tasty Mission style burrito, find a classy cocktail bar, admire art murals in Clarion Alley and visit The Castro Theater nearby.

We recommend spending half a day wandering the vibrant streets or an evening socializing in Mission District during your first visit to SF. But on a second visit, you should spend a whole day in the area because it’s more authentic than the likes of Fisherman’s Wharf.

20. SF Cable Car Ride

People hanging off the side of a cable car in San Francisco California one of the best things to do on a first visit to SF
Tourists clinging onto the side of a cable car

Riding a cable car is a rite of passage in San Francisco. This one is a must and it’s suitable for the entire family. For just $6 per person, you can hop on a cable car and ride it through the famed streets of SF. It’s definitely touristy, but it’s something you just have to do.

The most famous place for tourists to start and end a cable car ride is the Powell / Mason cable car turnaround in Fisherman’s Wharf. Read more about the cable cars.

21. Boudin Bakery Sourdough

Soup in sourdough bread bowls with cheese toastie one of the best things to eat in San Francisco
Our tomato soup sourdough bowls at Boudin Bakery

Boudin is the original creator and oldest of all San Francisco sourdough bakers. You won’t taste sourdough bread like it anywhere else in the world thanks to a special strain of bacteria that thrives only in San Francisco’s climate.

A popular lunch time special is soup eaten out of a round sourdough bread roll, with tomato and clam chowder the best sellers. Are you a foodie looking for great places to eat in SF? You simply can’t miss Boudin, which is located in Fisherman’s Wharf. Read more about Boudin.

22. Coit Tower

Woman at the top of Coit Tower looking through three arched windows at the Bay
Kristen looking out over the bay from Coit Tower observation deck

Coit Tower is a 210-foot tall cylinder-shaped concrete tower located in the Telegraph Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. You can see the prominent Coit Tower bursting into the skyline from many parts of the city, but you can also go up to the top for a relatively low price.

You can either take an elevator or climb 250 steps to the rooftop observation deck. The elevator was broken the day we visited so we had to take the steps. Views from the top are great but the windows are all covered with perspex glass. Read more and book tickets for Coit Tower.


  • Adult (18+) – $10
  • Youth (12-17) – $7
  • Child (5-11) – $3

23. Japanese Tea Garden

Lush green vegetation in San Francisco Japanese Tea Garden with wooden bridge and stone path leading through ponds one of the best things for couples to do in San Francisco
Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco

San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden is one of the most beautiful places in the city and it’s among the best gardens we’ve seen outside of Japan. We joined a free walking tour around the gardens and it was superb.

If you plan to visit Golden Gate Park for museums and gardens, the Japanese Tea Garden with its intriguing history and stunning grounds is simply unmissable. Read more and book tickets at Gardens of Golden Gate Park.


  • Adult (18+) – $13
  • Youth (12-17) – $7
  • Child (5-11) – $3

Further Reading: How to visit the San Francisco Japanese tea garden

24. San Francisco Botanical Garden

Pink flower in bloom with blurred out green vegetation background
Flower in SF Botanical Garden

San Francisco Botanical Garden is a 55 acre oasis showcasing various plants, flowers and trees from around the world. It’s located close to the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park and it can provide a much needed escape from your otherwise hectic city itinerary.

You could get lost in here for hours wandering around the diverse vegetation representing Earth’s continents and countries. Keep an eye out for what’s in season during the time of year you visit SF. Read more and book tickets for the Botanical Garden.


  • Adult (18+) – $13
  • Youth (12-17) – $7
  • Child (5-11) – $3

Note: You can purchase a special Gardens of Golden Gate Pass which gives you entry to Botanic Garden, Japanese Tea Garden and Conservatory of Flowers at a discounted price.

25. De Young Museum

Artifacts in a De Young Museum exhibit
Mayan artifacts in the de Young Museum

The de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park makes up one half of San Francisco’s Fine Arts collection. You can find the other half at Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park.

De Young was opened in 1895 and holds American art from the 17th century until today, plus art from Africa, Oceana and the Americas. Read more and buy tickets for the de Young Museum.


  • Adult (18+) – $15
  • Youth (0-17) – Free

26. Asian Art Museum

Exhibit of a small sculpture inside a museum with Asian art
Photo courtesy of SF Asian Art Museum

The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco is located in the Civic Center Plaza opposite City Hall. It houses more than 18,000 artworks and artifacts of Asian origin and influence, but it closes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

It’s the largest museum in the US dedicated solely to Asian art and it’s widely regarded as having one of the greatest collections of Asian art in the world. Read more and buy tickets for the Asian Art Museum.


  • Adult (18+) – $20
  • Youth (13-17) – $14
  • Child (0-12) – Free

27. San Francisco Zoo

Monkey sat on a wooden ledge in a zoo
The San Francisco Zoo

San Francisco’s zoo is home to over 2,000 animals who live in 100 acres of peaceful gardens. It’s located right on the coastline near Ocean Beach.

You can take the L Line bus shuttle from several stations in Downtown SF to reach the zoo directly or you can drive yourself. Read more and buy tickets for San Francisco Zoo.


  • Adult (12+) – $25
  • Child (2-11) – $18

28. SF MoMA

Colorful walkway exhibit in SF MoMA
Looking up in the lobby of SF MoMA

San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art is one of the premier modern and contemporary art museums in the United States. We really enjoyed the colorful mirror tunnel you can see in our photo above, but it was so busy with people taking selfies!

You’ll find multiple floors filled with thought provoking art installations, photographs, paintings and special exhibits. Read more and buy tickets for SF MoMA.


  • Adult (25+) – $25
  • Youth (19-24) $19
  • Child (0-18) – Free

29. Walt Disney Family Museum

Walt Disney Family Museum path and grass leading to brick buildings with windows
Outside the Walt Disney Family Museum

The Walt Disney Family Museum is a San Francisco favorite showcasing the life and legacy of legendary animator Walt Disney, who transformed the entertainment industry.

Located in the peaceful Presidio area close to Golden Gate Bridge, the Walt Disney Family Museum features original artwork and hands on exhibits perfect for the whole family to enjoy. Read more and buy tickets for Walt Disney Family Museum.


  • Adult (18+) – $25
  • Youth (6-17) – $15

30. Bike Rentals

Cycling on a road next to SF Bay with Golden Gate Bridge in background
Kristen cycling alongside SF Bay

Renting a bike is one of the most fun things to do in San Francisco. We hired bikes in Fisherman’s Wharf and cycled the Bay hugging path through Marina and Presidio before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. Next, we cycled down to Golden Gate Park to visit the museums and gardens.

We hired our bikes in San Francisco with Bay City Bike Rentals for $25.60 per person, per day. But there are a handful of alternatives to consider so shop around. Also, be aware that SF is very hilly which makes it hard to cycle around once you leave the Bay.

31. Angel Island

Angel Island from SF Bay boat cruise
Our view over Angel Island from a boat tour in SF Bay

Angel Island State Park is a great half day trip for families or couples to take from Pier 41 in Fisherman’s Wharf. You can ride the ferry to Angel Island for some of the best views overlooking San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz and the city skyline.

After arrival, you can take an open top tram to learn about its colorful history, including Civil War and immigration. Did you know Angel Island is known as the “Ellis Island of the West”? Learn more about Angel Island State Park.

Ferry prices (one-way):

  • Adult (19+) – $14
  • Youth (5-18) – $7

Note: Roundtrip ferry tickets must be purchased together before departing for Angel Island. Total prices are $28 per adult and $14 per youth, which includes Angel Island State Park entrance.

32. Alcatraz Tour

Row of cells inside Alcatraz on a tour of the prison one of the top things to do in San Francisco
Row of cells inside Alcatraz on a prison tour

Alcatraz is by far the most popular paid San Francisco attraction. It’s our top recommendation for family, friends and our readers, and it’s also rated as the number one SF activity on Tripadvisor. We’ve personally taken both the day and night tours, both of which were fantastic.

We don’t want to give too much away, but we can say that the NPS have done a superb job with the self guided audio tour of Alcatraz prison and grounds. If there’s only one thing you pay for during your visit to SF, make it Alcatraz. Trust us, you won’t be disappointed!

You can only book tickets through City Experiences and you only pay for the return ferry. Alcatraz is run by the NPS and it has no entrance fee. Book tickets with City Experiences.

Ferry prices roundtrip (starting at):

  • Adult (12+) – $45.25
  • Child (5-11) – $27.55

Further Reading: Our review of the Alcatraz day and night tours

33. Aquarium Of The Bay

Tunnel through San Francisco Aquarium of the Bay with sharks and fish swimming on both sides and above
Tunnel leading through Aquarium of the Bay

Aquarium of the Bay is San Francisco’s small but popular and extremely family friendly aquarium located in Fisherman’s Wharf. We’ve been to our fair share of aquariums and we wouldn’t say this is one of the best, but it’s an easy way to keep the kids entertained for an hour or two.

The highlight of this aquarium is two long tunnels covered on both sides and above by marine life including sharks. Take your time walking through the tunnels because they’re by far the best part! Read more and book tickets at Aquarium of the Bay.


  • Adult (13+) – $31.75
  • Child (4-12) – $21.75

34. California Academy Of Sciences

Skeletons of ancient marine life inside a museum with exhibits
Exhibit in California Academy of Sciences

San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences is one of the world’s only aquarium, rainforest, planetarium and museum collections under the same roof. It’s essentially a dream come true for parents who need to entertain the kids!

We spent a good few hours exploring each of the areas and could easily have stayed longer. Book planetarium shows as soon as you arrive so you don’t miss out. Read more and book tickets at California Academy of Sciences.


  • Adult (18+) – $35.75
  • Youth (3-17) – $28

35. San Francisco Bay Cruise

Man standing on the side of a boat with Alcatraz Island in the background
Mark enjoying a sunset cruise in SF Bay with Alcatraz in the background

San Francisco Bay Cruises are one of the best ways to see the Golden Gate Bridge, city skyline and Alcatraz Island but without stopping. You can choose to sail during the day or at sunset, and we recommend booking in advance, especially for the sunset time slot.

We took a sunset cruise with Blue and Gold Fleet. The ticket office can be found right in Fisherman’s Wharf between Pier 39 and Pier 41.


  • Adult (18+) – $37
  • Youth (12-17) – $31
  • Child (5-11) – $26

36. Exploratorium

Self centered mirrors exhibit in Exploratorium SF interactive museum man taking photo
Mark taking a photo in the “self centered” mirrors at Exploratorium

Exploratorium is a fully immersive and interactive hands on experience for adults and children alike. You’ll find countless devices, machines and instruments to play or tinker with. There’s lots of puzzles and educational challenges for all ages.

We enjoyed Exploratorium far more than we expected. It’s like taking a physics or biology class at school, but fun! Read more and book tickets for Exploratorium.


  • Adult (18+) – $39.95
  • Youth (4-17) – $29.95

Further Reading: Our guide to visiting the SF Exploratorium

37. Sports Teams

Oracle Park baseball stadium in San Francisco CA
Oracle Park baseball stadium in SF

San Francisco is home to a major sports team in each of the NFL, MLB and NBA. Watching sports teams in the US isn’t cheap (trust us, we know as Buffalo Bills fans!) but it’s a bucket list experience you have to try at least once.

Here are the teams you can watch:

  • NFL – San Francisco 49ers
  • Baseball – San Francisco Giants
  • Basketball – San Francisco Golden State Warriors

38. Day Trips

Yosemite national park from Valley View at dusk one of the best day trips from San Francisco
Valley View in Yosemite National Park

If you’ll be spending 5 days or more in San Francisco, you might want to consider taking a day trip. You’ll run out of things to do in the city and there’s plenty of great places you can visit near SF.

Best day trips near San Francisco:

Yosemite National Park – It would be a heck of a day trip at 3 hours 30 minutes driving each way, but Yosemite is one of the most majestic landscapes on Earth and would be well worth the effort. And you could always stay a night.

Lake Tahoe – A slightly shorter drive time could take you to the shores of spectacularly beautiful Lake Tahoe. There’s lots of hiking trails and stunning photo spots around the lake.

Point Reyes National Seashore – At just over 1 hour each way, Point Reyes could be a more realistic day trip option. It has beaches, waterfalls, marine life and spectacular coastal views.

Big Sur – Perhaps the most popular and desirable day trip from SF is driving down California Highway 1 on the Pacific Coast Highway to Monterey, Carmel and Big Sur. Again, it would be a lot of driving but it’s beautiful.

39. Food And Drinks

Neapolitan pizza margarita on a white plate
Delicious pizza with San Marzano tomatoes at Tony’s Pizzeria Napoletana

San Francisco is one of America’s most popular and culturally diverse cities, which means you’re in for a culinary treat. There’s hundreds of amazing places to eat and drink in SF, from boozy bars to classy cocktail lounges and from hole in the wall eateries to high end fine dining.

Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Italian and Californian foods are all fabulous in San Francisco. We ate the best Neapolitan pizza we’ve had outside of Italy at Tony’s Pizzeria in SF. But you’ll need to set aside a significant portion of your travel budget for eating out because it’s not cheap!

40. Luxury Hotels

Hotel building in Union Square SF at night
Hotel building in Union Square San Francisco

One amazing thing you can do in SF is splurge on a luxury hotel stay for a special occasion. Fisherman’s Wharf and Union Square are the two most popular neighborhoods for first time visitors to stay. But we recommend looking at SoMa for a more luxurious hotel stay.

Let us be the first to warn you, hotels in SF are very expensive. We’ve traveled the world extensively and we even have a website dedicated to helping travelers find the best hotels. But every time we go to San Francisco, our bank balance takes a hit on lodging!

Further Reading: The 20 top rated hotels in San Francisco

San Francisco Attractions Pass

Many of the popular paid attractions in this guide are included on San Francisco attraction passes. We’ve used attraction passes in cities all around the world, so we can speak directly from experience when we say they can definitely save you money.

We recommend you consider buying a San Francisco pass if you plan to visit several top attractions in the Golden City. There’s a couple of great options offering different ways you can save, so be sure to take a look at each pass so you save the most.

Three types of San Francisco attractions city passes to use for bundling the best things to do in SF
CityPASS, Sightseeing Pass and Go City are all excellent attractions passes for SF

Three Passes Available

Here are the 3 SF attractions pass competitors:

If it’s your first time in SF, we recommend CityPASS or Sightseeing Pass. But if you’re a returning visitor and want to visit more unique attractions, we recommend Sightseeing Pass or Go City Pass.

You can read our San Francisco CityPASS review for more information on that particular pass.

CityPASS is best for seeing fewer top attractions, whereas Sightseeing Pass is better if you want to do loads of fun things in San Francisco.

Further Reading: Which San Francisco attractions pass is best?


California Street SF Oakland Bridge view at night with cars and tram lines completely free thing to do in San Francisco
Awesome view of Oakland Bridge through California Street buildings at night

What Are The Best Free Things To Do In San Francisco?

Are you visiting SF on a shoestring budget? Here’s the best things you can do without paying a cent:

  1. Walk the Golden Gate Bridge
  2. See SF from Twin Peaks
  3. Photograph the Painted Ladies
  4. Explore diverse SF neighborhoods
  5. Photograph Lombard Street

What Are The Best Things To Do In San Francisco For Couples?

Taking a couples trip to SF? Here’s the best things you can do as a dynamic duo:

  1. Take a walk on Ocean Beach
  2. Wander through the Japanese Tea Gardens
  3. Take a sunset cruise on SF Bay
  4. Grab a sourdough lunch at Boudin Bakery
  5. Eat and drink your way through SF

What Are The Best Things To Do In San Francisco For Families?

Are you taking the kids on vacation? Here’s the best things you can do as a family:

  1. Visit Aquarium of the Bay or SF Zoo
  2. Take a tour of Alcatraz
  3. Play with interactive exhibits at Exploratorium
  4. Watch the Sea Lions at Pier 39
  5. Watch a baseball, basketball or NFL game

More San Francisco

More California

Want more California content? Head to our California Travel Guides to explore National Parks, popular road trips and things to do in major cities of the sunshine state.

We hope this guide to the best things to do in San Francisco helps with planning your visit to California!

Please let us know if you have any questions about visiting SF in the comments box below.

Happy Travels,

Mark and Kristen

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