Fort Point & the Golden Gate Bridge

100 Fantastic Things to Do in San Francisco

This post is part of a series on travel close to home. You can find more posts from this series on my page Getaways Near Me (or You)

San Francisco is my hometown.  I wasn’t born there, and I now live about 30 miles away.  But the City by the Bay is where I spent my formative years (K – 12 and college) and where I raised my family.  Sometimes I feel like I’ve walked all the Streets of San Francisco! 

There are so many different and eclectic things to do in San Francisco; you will not run out of fun.  Whether you are here for a day, a long weekend “getaway,” or more, there are always new things to do and explore.

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Take Some Time to Plan Your Trip

These “things to do in San Francisco” are grouped by context.  However, the attractions are spread out all over the City.   San Francisco is kind of a square shape.  You’ve probably heard the 7 x 7 saying that the City is 49 square miles. That’s not an accurate statement, but it’s close.

A google map of San Francisco

Don’t be deceived by the relatively small area the City covers.  You still need to plan and map out your destinations, or you will find yourself spending endless hours in the notoriously bad San Francisco traffic. San Francisco is the second-most densely populated city in the US.

Visiting San Francisco is expensive.  However, if you look closely, there are many free or almost free things to do in the City by the Bay. Several of the attractions I mention below can be done for little or no money.

Many museums are free on the First Tuesday of the month. The de Young, Legion of Honor, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts all take part in this admissions-free day. 

Lastly, be prepared for the “Fog.” We San Franciscans love our natural air conditioning.  But for those from other locales, it can be mind-bending.  When the fog rolls in, the temperature drops quickly, and it can be downright cold, even in August.  Dress in layers, or you will fall prey to the hawkers at Fisherman’s Wharf selling overpriced, gaudy sweatshirts.

Museums and Attractions – the City Has A Lot

Every city and most small towns have museums of one sort or another.  In San Francisco, you could visit a different museum every day for a month and still not have seen them all.   The City is even the host of the Museum of Ice Cream.  I didn’t even think you needed a museum for ice cream, but this is one of the hottest tickets in town.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts & Yerba Buena Gardens

Located in downtown San Francisco in the SOMA (South of Market) area, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts showcases contemporary art, performance, and film.  Here you will find unique exhibits and performances.  Dance troupes from around the world bring their talents and perform. Local and foreign artists exhibit their works on a rotating basis.  Additionally, there are ongoing, uniquely curated Film/Video endeavors changing each season.

Yerba Buena Gardens

Children’s Creativity Museum

On the south side of Yerba Buena Gardens is the Children’s Creativity Museum.  If you are visiting San Francisco with children between two and twelve, this is a great place to go.  The Museum’s hands-on exhibits in art, technology, and multi-media will keep you and the kids engaged for hours.  You can choose from the Animation Studio, Robot Coding, or Music Making Studio.  The museum also lets you host events and is a fantastic place for a birthday party.

SFMOMA (The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art)

Just a few short blocks from Yerba Buena is SFMOMA. The MOMA is the quintessential home of modern art featuring work by Paul Klee, Richard Diebenkorn, Georgia O’Keefe, Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol, and a host of others. Whether you are into Architecture + Design, Painting, Sculpture, or Photography, you can get lost in the many lovingly curated collections.

Asian Art Museum

Closer to the Civic Center and the beautiful Golden-Domed City Hall, the Asian Art Museum provides a home for works from all of Asia.  Persia, Southeast Asia, the Himalayas, and Tibet, along with China, Korea, and Japan, are all represented here in over 2,000 pieces of art.

De Young Museum

In the center of Golden Gate Park, the de Young Museum holds court across from the great Bandshell and music concourse. Initially built for the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894, the museum and Bandshell have undergone many renovations and repairs over the years. 

The Bandshell still retains its original architecture.  The De Young, however, is entirely new.  After suffering significant damage in the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989, the original building was demolished, and a new de Young built in its place opening in 2005.

The de Young is one of San Francisco’s fine arts museums, housing collections of artists’ works from the Americas, Africa, and Oceania. 

The Harmon Observation Tower is part of the museum complex, but is admission free!  From this glass-walled space, visitors have a 360⁰ view of downtown San Francisco, Golden Gate Park, the Bay, and the Marin headlands.

Note, your ticket for the de Young is also valid for same-day admission to the Legion of Honor (see below).

Legion of Honor

The Legion of Honor building itself is a work of art and was a gift of Alma de Bretteville Spreckels, wife of the sugar magnate, constructed in the early 1920s.  From the Hall of Antiquities with Egyptian mummies to the sculptures of Rodin, every room you walk through fills your mind with beautiful images. 

The Legion sits atop the massive granite outcropping that covers the Northwest corner of the San Francisco Peninsula.  Around the Legion of Honor, you can hike all or part of the Land’s End Trail, part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area.

The hike provides some fantastic views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the City to the East, and the Pacific Ocean to the West.  The Legion of Honor will always be my favorite museum in the City

San Francisco Cable Car Museum

Everyone who comes to San Francisco wants to ride a Cable Car. But do you know how they work and why they are here? Up on Nob Hill at the corner of Washington and Mason is the “Car Barn” and the Cable Car Museum

At the museum, you will learn about the inventor, Andrew Smith Hallidie, and the technology that saved the lives of many great horses.  During your visit, check out the many versions of cars that have graced our streets over the years.  If you are lucky, you may even get to ring a bell!

Coit Tower

Many of San Francisco’s landmarks and museums are tributes to days gone by;  Coit Tower is maybe the most iconic of all.   This slender white concrete column rises high atop Telegraph Hill.  Inside the tower base are murals painted in 1934 by artists employed by the Public Works Art Project.  These murals depict life in California during the Great Depression.  You can also take the elevator to the top of Coit Tower, where you have a 360⁰ view of the City.

Palace of Fine Arts

A remnant and reminder of the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, the Palace of Fine Arts sits at the edge of the Marina district, just outside the gates of the Presidio.  

The famed architect Bernard Maybeck was the creator of this fabulous palace.  Take your time to walk the grounds and admire the meticulously crafted collonade, Rotunda, and lagoon with its resident swans.

There are no artworks currently housed at the Palace of Fine Arts, the property itself being the museum.  The Palace of Fine Arts now provides unique space for Weddings, Galas, Trade Shows, and other special events

The Exploratorium

The Exploratorium started its life at the Palace of Fine Arts in 1970.  But in 2013, the museum relocated to a facility more in keeping with its Mission on the Embacadero.  This museum is not at all a typical museum.   The Exploratorium is a place to engage your mind and learn the science of the natural world.

All of the exhibits at the Exploratorium are hands-on and, in general, geared toward youngsters.  But if you have a curious mind and a young heart, even if you don’t have kids, you will have a blast on your visit.

Musee Mecanique

You will feel like you’ve stepped back in time when you enter the Musee Mecanique.  Your entry into the museum is free, but there is a catch.  The exhibits at the Musee Mecanique are all early 20th-century penny-arcade games.  If you want to see the games in action, you have to ante up the coin.

Many of us who grew up visiting the Musee Mecanique at the Cliff House were disappointed when it was announced that the renovations there did not have space for the museum.   However, in its new home on Pier 41, all the games are enjoyed by more than 100,00 visitors each year.  You can still hear Laffing Sal laugh and have your fortune told.

Madame Tussauds

Did you ever want to be in a Hitchcock movie?  Get up close to Leonardo Di Caprio or Jennifer Anniston?  Well, you can do all that and more at San Francisco’s very own Madame Tussauds. You will be awed and amused at the recreations the artists have created for your viewing pleasure.  Each exhibit is so well done; you will want to touch them to make sure they are not breathing!

Aquarium of the Bay

Not to be confused with the aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences, the Aquarium of the Bay sits on the Bay as part of Pier 39.  What makes this aquarium different?  This aquarium is all about the aquatic life in and around San Francisco Bay.

Discover the bat rays, sharks, sturgeon, and anchovies as you walk along 300 feet of acrylic tunnels surrounded by the Bay waters.  Topside you can visit with tidepool animals and land-dwelling creatures whose existence and habitats are affected by the Bay.

San Francisco Zoo

In the early 1920s, the San Francisco Zoo finally found its home by the Pacific Ocean on the edge of the City.  Since then, the Zoo has grown from just 30 acres to nearly 100.

SF Zoo

Today the San Francisco Zoo houses lions and tigers and bears along with giraffes and monkeys and all other sorts of mammals.  You will find birds of all kinds, amphibians, reptiles, and creepy crawly bugs.  But you won’t find Elephants. 

In 2004, the last of the Zoo’s Elephants was relocated to an animal sanctuary.  The decision to end the Elephant exhibit was difficult but in the best interest of the animals.  Elephants need a lot of space to roam 15 acres or more.  And this just isn’t possible with the limited land the Zoo has.

Is Shopping on Your List of Things to Do in San Francisco?

Is “shopping” your thing?  Do you save all your hard-earned money to splurge on fancy things?  Maybe you prefer to keep it low-key but must have that one unique scarf from Hermes.  San Francisco has you covered.  You can shop til you drop here in the City by the Bay.

Union Square

Here you will find the most notable collection of upscale shops in the City: Burberry, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Saks, Tiffany, Neiman Marcus, Cartier, San Laurent, Valentino, Gucci, Dior, Armani, and more.

But don’t be discouraged, Union Square has shopping for everyone.  H&M, Uniqlo, Macy’s, CB2, the Disney Store, North Face, and on and on. If shopping is your thing, Union Square is the place to go.

Union Square San Francisco

Ghirardelli Square

In about 1895, Domenico Ghirardelli relocated his chocolate factory to San Francisco and continued to make his famous chocolate confections at this location until the 1960s when the manufacturing operation was sold.  Fearing the buildings may be demolished, a group of San Franciscans bought the property and turned it into a retail mecca.

In 1982 Ghirardelli Square was granted a place on the National Historic Register, Thus preserving this unique building on the City’s bayside waterfront. 

The square is now home to a unique collection of boutique shops with fashion for you and your home.   Enjoy dining at one of several excellent eateries.  And don’t miss Ghirardelli Chocolate, where you can get one of the best hot fudge sundaes I’ve ever tasted.

Pier 39

Do you need souvenirs to take home?  Would you like to have a photo op with the resident sea lions that have taken over the fishing boat piers next door?  Then Pier 39 is the place to go.

You can pick up just about any item made with an SF theme from keychains to sweatshirts. Enjoy dining with some pretty fabulous views of the San Francisco Bay. Play a tune on the musical stairs. Take a ride on the Flyer or test your courage on the Bay Plunge. Find your way through Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze or just take a relaxing spin on the beautiful San Francisco Carousel.

Pier 39 is also the home of the Aquarium of the Bay.  So it’s an easy way to combine two fun things to do all in one day.

Westfield Center

You probably didn’t come to San Francisco to go to a mall. But Westfield San Francisco Center is so much more than just a mall.  Yes, there is a fantastic amount of shopping you can do here. If there is a retailer you can think of they probably have space here.

But Westfield Center isn’t just any mall.  At the center are a five-level circular escalator and a spectacular 102-foot wide skylit dome that was built in 1908. 

Things to do in San Francisco - Skylit dome shining over Westfield Center

And when all the shopping has your feet aching, you can send the kids off to the movies at the nine-screen theater, while you relax with a massage at the elegant Burke Williams Day Spa.  But make sure you book this treat in advance!


For a change of shopping culture, head over to Japantown! San Francisco is home to one of the only three remaining Japantowns in the United States.  You can take a self-guided walking tour of this small community that covers about ten city blocks and has 16 interpretive signs that inform you of the events that shaped this area.

Japantown -  San Francisco

As you walk and learn, you can step into one of the many unique shops.  From Bonsai to Teapots to Hello Kitty, you can find it all here.  When you are done walking and shopping, indulge in a hot bowl of Ramen or some of the best sushi in town at one of the local restaurants.   

Filmore Street

At the west end of Japantown is Filmore Street. Over the years, this neighborhood thoroughfare has become a chic shopping and dining venue.  Starting from Geary Street on the south side and heading uphill to Jackson Street on to the North, you will find distinctive boutiques, bakeries, and bookstores.  Wander through the antique shops, stop by a local jeweler, or pick up an exceptional piece of art for your home

Cultural and Spiritual Things to do in San Francisco

San Francisco Ballet / San Francisco Symphony / San Francisco Opera

 San Francisco Ballet has been performing classical and contemporary Ballet for more than 80 years.  In 1944 the company launched the first full-length production of “The Nutcracker” in the United States, and it has since become a Holiday Tradition.  The Ballet performs at the War Memorial Opera House, a venue they share with the Opera.  A typical season for the Ballet starts just after Thanksgiving and runs through the end of June.   

Ballet Dancers

Nearly as soon as the Ballet leaves the stage, the Opera begins its season.  San Francisco Opera is one of the world’s leading opera companies for more than 97 years.  But San Franciscans have loved Opera and made it part of the City as far back as 1851.

Remarkable talents such as Leontyne Price and Mario del Monaco were”discovered” by the San Francisco Opera.  Indeed, the legendary tenor, Luciano Pavarotti, once said of San Francisco, “This is my second hometown.  Musically, it is my first.”

Until 1980, when the Lousie M. Davies Symphony Hall was opened, the San Francisco Symphony shared the stage with the Opera and Ballet.  Today in their new home, the Symphony continues its century-long tradition of bringing beautiful music to the City. With performances running from September – June, there is always an opportunity for a terrific show.

American Conservatory Theater

San Francisco’s live theater company is the American Conservatory Theater (ACT).  Each year the company presents a wide range of classical and contemporary shows at its two theaters.  In the 2017 – 18 season, the productions ranged from “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare to “The Birthday Party” by Harold Pinter to “A Walk on the Moon” based on the book by Pamela Gray.  Every year during the Holiday season, they also do a lavish production of Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.”

The main venue, the Geary Theater, was built in 1910 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  In 2015 ACT opened the Strand Theater to use for cabaret performances and education workshops.

Additionally, ACT has made it part of its mission to provide a wide range of classes and is accredited to grant Master of Fine Arts degrees for actors.  Notable Alumni of the MFA program are Denzel Washington, Elizebeth Banks, Harry Hamlin, and Annette Bening.

Mission San Francisco de Asis / Mission Dolores Basilica

Because of the City’s importance on the world stage, the Jesuits founded a mission in San Francisco quite early on.  Mission San Francisco de Asis was founded in 1776.  The same year the United States declared its independence from Britain, but 75 years before California became a State.

San Francisco de Asis, even in the early days, was referred to as Mission Dolores due to the presence of a nearby creek named Arroyo de los Dolores (Creek of Sorrows).  The original Mission Chapel remains the oldest intact building in San Francisco.  Additionally, the Cemetery and Gardens of Mission Dolores, located adjacent to the Mission, are the only remaining cemetery within the City limits.

With all this history, it made sense that this site eventually became the Basilica for San Francisco.  In 1913 construction began on a new church right next to the original Mission and was completed In 1918.

Mission Dolores became the first Basilica West of the Mississippi in 1952, making it the fifth in the United States. The churrigueresque ornamentation (“Ultra Baroque”) of the church and its ornate interiors entice you to spend a few minutes of reflection.

Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption

While Mission Dolores is the City’s Basilica, the principal church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco is the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption.  Locals generally call this church Saint Mary’s Cathedral.

Although initially planned with a more typical design, the new Cathedral, built between 1967 and 1971, is of very contemporary architecture.  While Archbishop McGucken was participating in the Second Vatican Council, it was suggested that the new Cathedral should reflect the greatness of San Francisco and incorporate the new liturgical directives.

The acoustics created by the unique design and architecture of the Cathedral make this a wonderous venue for music.  You can attend Musical Meditations each Sunday from 4 to 5 pm and enjoy the intricate and powerful music from the Ruffatti Organ.

Grace Cathedral

In the heart of San Francisco, on top of Nob Hil, sits Grace Cathedral, the seat of the Episcopal Diocese of California.  Grace Cathedral has been near this site since 1849.  The current Cathedral was built in 1910 after the 1906 earthquake in the French Gothic style.  Renowned for its mosaics, two labyrinths, and its forty-four bell carillon, the Cathedral is awe-inspiring to walk through.

Grace Cathedral Chapel and Labyrinth - San Francisco

Every Tuesday, a Yoga class is held on the Labyrinth and attended by people of all ages and faiths.  You can download an “App” and tour the Cathedral on your own or take a behind-the-scenes tour that includes traveling up four stories to the top of the South Tower. Lastly, the Evensong service is performed on Thursdays at 5:15 pm.

Great Views and Insta Photo Ops

San Francisco is one of the most photographic cities in the world.  There are literally hundreds of drop-dead gorgeous views all over the City.  You will run across many grand vistas while you are out and about doing all the things you came to do in San Francisco, but don’t miss these!

Golden Gate Bridge  

This iconic bridge has come to represent the City itself.  First opened In 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge serves a vital function in connecting the North Bay to the City. Its choice location provides for some of the most breathtaking panoramic views around. 

View of Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Point - San Francisco

Fort Point      

Nestled under the South anchor of the Golden Gate Bridge is Fort Point.    Built at the height of the Gold Rush, the fort has been standing guard at the Golden Gate Narrows for more than 150 years.

If you are a Hitchcock fan, you may remember the opening scene of Vertigo when Jimmy Stewart rescues Kim Novak from the Bay; this is where that happened.  If the location was good enough for a Hitchcock film, you know it’s camera ready.

Chrissy Field

Chrissy Field offers grassy expanses, calm bayside beach space, and views of the City, Alcatraz Island the Marin Headlands, and the Golden Gate.  On the Northside of the Presidio, Chrissy Field offers all this and more. 

Marina Greens / Golden Gate Yacht Club / Wave Organ               

More great views of the Bay can be had at the Marina Greens.  Make your way around the small marina to the Golden Gate Yacht Club.   Then follow the wee bit of land from the Yacht Club to the Wave Organ and enjoy the wave-activated acoustic sculpture while taking in the incredible sites.

Washington Square Park

Washington Square Park sits in the middle of North Beach, San Francisco’s “Little Italy.”  What makes this park a great photo op is all that surrounds it.  There are sidewalk cafes all around, and Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral stately standing at the North end.

Lombard Street         

Lombard Street doesn’t need much introduction.  But you should know that you want to head to the foot of the one block nick-named “the crookedest street in the world” located at Lombard & Leavenworth, for the best camera angles and shots.

Dragon Gate  

At the intersection of Bush and Grant,  Dragon Gate marks the formal entrance to San Francisco’s Chinatown.  This structure was a gift to the City from the Republic of China (Taiwan)  and is actually three separate portals, customary in Chinese ceremonial gates.   

The two smaller gates sitting to the East and West of the main entrance, feature traditional guardian lions (one male and one female). On top of the central portal is the dragon and fish; the dragon symbolizing power and fertility and the fish, prosperity.  

The Painted Ladies

Just off Alamo Square at Hayes and Steiner sits the row of homes known as the Painted Ladies.  This row of Victorian houses (seven in total) is the most photographed homes anywhere in the City.  You will find many other splendid examples of Victorian and Edwardian architecture all over San Francisco.  But this is the block you will recognize. 

16th Avenue Tiled Step / Hidden Garden Steps

In the Golden Gate Heights neighborhood, several stairsteps lead up the steep hills.  When you get to the tops of these stairways, you are rewarded with some outstanding views of the Pacific Ocean and more. 

16th Ave Tiles Steps - San Francsico

Most of the stairways are just plain concrete.  However, the neighborhood’s residents have taken on the creative project to enhance the beauty of their community and turn their stairs into works of art and garden spaces.  The  16th Ave Tiled Steps was completed in 2005, and Hidden Garden Steps a few years later. 

Come for the art and the view.  Take pictures to your heart’s delight. But remember you are in a residential neighborhood, and these neighbors maintain these works of art for the public.    

Twin Peaks                

Take a drive and successfully navigate your car up the twisting road to the top of Twin Peaks. Once you reach the top of the North Peak and park your car (or get off the bus), you are rewarded with a fantastic 180⁰ view of the City.  This is how most tourists see Twin Peaks. 

Night vew of San Francisco seen from Twin Peaks

But if you are in for a bit more exercise and adventure, you can hike the trail network that ascends both peaks.  The trail isn’t long, only around ¾ mile, and for your effort, you get an even grander, 360⁰ view that will knock your socks off!

Safety Note: 

All big cities have opportunistic thieves, and San Francisco is no different.  Be aware of your surroundings.  If you are driving and park your car, do not leave anything inside the vehicle.  Even an empty gym bag or the cord for your iPhone is enough to entice a car thief to do a smash-and-grab.  Many people will choose to place items of value in the trunk.  Do this before you get to your location.  The thieves are watching for this and will break into your trunk.

Head to the Beach

The beaches in San Francisco are not like the beaches in SoCal.  You won’t usually find sunbathers lounging on the sand (there often isn’t any sun!). But you will find surfers enjoying the waves, grand vistas, and terrific walks and hikes.  

At most of the beaches, you will see folks “surf fishing,” casting their lines into the surf from the beach. It’s not uncommon to catch striped bass, California halibut, rockfish chinook salmon, and even sharks! 

If you have time and patience, you can get a license in season and set crab traps at Baker Beach or China Beach. With luck, you will harvest some delicious Dungeness Crab. Note, you must be in the ocean for crabbing (on the West side of the Golden Gate Bridge).  It is illegal to be crabbing in the Bay

And best of all, the beaches are free!

Baker Beach

Renowned for its views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands, Baker Beach offers long stretches of sandy shoreline to walk along or just sit and enjoy the views.  Note that the end of the beach closest to the Bridge is clothing optional. 

Swimming is not recommended due to treacherous rip currents, but this is the calmer of the two ocean-side beaches in San Francisco.

Things to do in San Francisco - Enjoy the view from Baker Beach

Baker Beach is directly adjacent to the Presidio. During its heyday, there were many Batteries holding armaments to protect the Bay and the City. Just above the beach is Battery Chamberlin.  This battery holds the last six-inch “disappearing gun on the West Coast.  This weapon had a range of nine miles. It was one of four guns mounted on disappearing carriages to hide them from any enemy.

Lands End / Sutro Baths

Lands End and Sutro Baths are not beaches per se.  There is a lot of sand here, but mostly rocky ridges that are great for hiking.  Enjoy your time here exploring the ruins of Sutro Baths or taking a hike out to the Lands End Labyrinth. There is a visitor center where you can learn the history of the area. 

Remember that you are walking along cliffs looking over the sea, and the sea is not a calm one here.  The trails are maintained by the National Park Service, and you can get a map here.  Stay on the trails; you don’t want to be one of the many who wander off only to be rescued by the coast guard or emergency services each year.

Ocean Beach

Ocean Beach starts just below the Cliff House on the western side of San Francisco and continues south for nearly five miles to just past the San Francisco Zoo.  This is where the surfers hang out. 

The waves at Ocean Beach are strong and relentless pushed up against the shore by the never-ending winds.  You will see swimmers, but not many, and in most places, it is clearly warned against.  Some of the worst rip currents anywhere are found just off the shore.  Drownings happen every year.

But Ocean Beach is a beautiful place to take a long walk in the sand and dip your toes in the freezing water (average temperature is 56*F).   You can often find unique seashells, whole sand dollars, and gnarly driftwood.  And you can’t beat the sunsets over the Pacific (on a sunny evening).

Fort Funston

When you get to the end of Ocean Beach, you are just a short jog away from Fort Funston.  Once parked in the lot, take a minute to walk over to the wooden observation deck and take in the stunning view of the beach and ocean.   After you take in the sights, you can make a more informed decision about walking down to the beach below.

There are several hiking trails on the bluffs above the beach, so if you choose not to head down to the water, you won’t be disappointed.  But if sand and water are a must, two trails lead down.

Fort Funston is where adventurous souls can take advantage of the high winds and actually take flight.  At the end of the southern trail to the beach is a hang gliding launch.  On most days, you can watch the daring men and women run to the edge of the cliffs and launch themselves into silent flight.

Fort Funston is dog-friendly and also has trails for bikes and horses.

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area

All of the beaches in San Francisco and much of the coastline around the Bay, North, South, and East of the City are part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA). 

The Presidio

The Presidio of San Francisco was established as a military base in 1776 by Spain as its northernmost outpost. In 1847 during the Mexican-American War, the 1st New York Volunteer Regiment moved in and was followed by the US Regular Army the next year.

In 1994 the Presidio was turned over to the National Park Service and became part of the GGNRA. You can spend your whole day here visiting places like The Walt Disney Family Museum and Marshall’s Beach

Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park covers a wide swath of the City.  Roughly three miles long and  1/2 mile wide, the Park covers just over 1,000 acres.  You can spend a day in the Park for free wandering the various gardens and sites. 

Or spend a few dollars and take in culture at the de Young Museum, or learn more about our world at the California Academy of Sciences.  Generally speaking, if you have to pass through an “entry” to get to the attraction, you will need to buy a ticket.

Conservatory of Flowers

Near the east end of the Park sits the Conservatory of Flowers.  The building is a fabulous Victorian-style greenhouse.  Initially opened in 1879, The Conservatory has had a long, but tumultuous life.  A fire, an earthquake, another fire, and the in 1995 a devastating windstorm. 

There are hundreds of rare and unique flowering plants throughout the Conservatory.  The Aquatic Plants feature carnivorous pitcher plants, orchids, and bromeliads. Highland and Lowland Tropics with plants from Malaysia, New Guinea, Central, and South America.  You can wander for hours lost in paradise.

Japanese Tea Garden

If you are looking for a quiet place to reflect, the Japanese Tea Garden is for you. Walking through the garden is a quiet meditation as you pass pagodas and lanterns, and cross the arched drum bridge. After enjoying the gardens, stop by the Tea House and enjoy a brief refreshment of tea and biscuits, while gazing out over the pond.

California Academy of Sciences

You won’t find a better natural history museum than the California Academy of Sciences.  Under one gigantic “living roof,” you will find an aquarium, planetarium, rain forest, and natural history museum.

Califorina Academy of Sciences - Things to do in San Francisco

Get up close and personal with parrots and butterflies.  See the famous albino alligator, Claude, check out the coral reef and pet some starfish.  Lose track of time watching the mesmerizing Jellies. Most of all, don’t leave without visiting the penguins, everyone’s favorite.

Children’s Playground and Carousel

Are you visiting San Francisco with young people (maybe 10 and under)? Visit Children’s Playground to give the kids a chance to burn off some energy and you a chance to sit and rest.  When the kids have had their fill of running, jumping, swinging, etc., everyone can take a slow-down ride on the carousel.

This beautiful carousel was built in 1914 by the Herschel-Spillman company and came to Golden Gate Park in 1940.  The carousel has been taking kids young and old on a short trip to fantasy land for years and years.

Stow Lake

Stow Lake is the largest manmade lake in Golden Gate Park and dates back to 1893. An excellent place for a picnic or just a long walk to enjoy the local wildlife, ducks, fish, and turtles abound.  If you have a bit more energy, you can rent a pedal boat and take a spin around the lake on the water!

San Francisco Botanical Garden

Strybing Arboretum is the home of the San Francisco Botanical Garden.  Over the 55 acres of the garden, you will find more than 9,000 plants from all around the world.  Plants from the Andean cloud forest, Australia, Chile, the Mediterranean, New Zealand, and South Africa have found their way to this quiet corner of San Francisco.

Last, But By No Means Least – Major League Sports!

The San Francisco Giants

At Oracle Park, the San Francisco Giants take the field each year to bring the thrill of major league baseball back to the City. The Giants came west from New York City in 1958 and have been in San Francisco ever since.  Initially playing at Seal Stadium and then at Candlestick Park, a home shared with the San Francisco Forty-Niners.  In 2000, the Giants finally got their own ballpark, now known as Oracle Park.

Golden State Warriors

The Golden State Warriors recently returned to San Francisco after being located in Oakland (just across the Bay) since 1971.  In April 2014, the Warriors purchased a new 12-acre site in San Francisco’s Mission Bay, built the new Arena now called Chase Center, and started the 2019 – 20 season back in the City.

No Football?

Yes, the Forty-Niners are still called the San Francisco Forty-Niners, and we love our team. But in 2014, the team moved to their new stadium (Levi Stadium) about 40 miles south to Santa Clara. So if you want to watch a football game, you won’t be doing it in San Francisco.

What About Other Things to do in San Francisco?

This post is now heading towards 6,000 words. If you have stayed with me so far, thanks! But I haven’t even touched on many of the other things to do that make the City so crazy fun. For example, the incredible food scene or neighborhood street festivals and live music, including the fantastic “Outside Lands Festival.”

Guess we are all just going to have to come back for more 🙂

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