sea lions at pier 39

The 6 Best Things to Do in San Francisco, CA

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Our best things to do in San Francisco, California, includes historic landmarks, cute sea lions, and international hoods to mention a few.

Thanks to Visit California and IPW Travel for hosting my trip to San Francisco. As always, opinions and reviews are 100% mine and unbiased. 

San Francisco is one of the most visited cities in the United States, if not the world. People flock to this “City by the Bay” for its Victorian architecture, history, cuisine, world-famous landmarks, and beautiful views. I prefer the city’s gorgeous architecture, adorable sea lions, and beautiful blooms even more so. Here are the 6 best things to do in San Francisco, California.

best things in San Francisco ca
city by the bay skyline view with boats

1. Stroll Around Fisherman’s Wharf

You’ll probably smell the Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco before you see it, but you will find some of the most fantastic food in the city.  This historic neighborhood is one of the best things to see in San Francisco and the most popular things to do. Fisherman’s Wharf includes a big part of the waterfront area and most of the nearby piers’ touristy parts, with #39 and #41 being the most visited.

tourist spots in San Francisco
Fishermans wharf sign San Fran

While you are here, feast on a classic sourdough clam chowder bowl or Bubba Gump’s tasty shrimp, afterward, explore the souvenir shops, enjoy the Instagram-worthy photo-ops, and admire the adorable, but smelly sea lions at Pier 39. If you have time, stop in the Aquarium of the Bay, one of the most popular attractions in San Francisco. 

Fishermans grotto and sourdough bread
sea lions at pier 39

2. Visit Alcatraz

Alcatraz Island, previously home to some of the world’s most notorious criminals, is located only a little more than a mile from the San Francisco Bay. Today, it is a museum visited by a million people each year. You can get up close and personal to the prison with a boat cruise (or stop to visit the attraction) or see it from a distance from the San Francisco Pier.

pier for ferry crossing san Francisco

Not only is Alcatraz Island home to the federal prison, but also a lighthouse and military fortification. If you haven’t seen the movie “Escape to Alcatraz,” starring Clint Eastwood, rent it to be a little more familiar with the daring escape story.

In 1986, Alcatraz became a National Historic Landmark and part of the National Park Service

alcatraz prison museum

3. Sightsee in Chinatown

San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the highlights of the city and spread over 24 blocks. It is, in my book, the most impressive Chinatown in the whole United States. Be sure to watch for photo-ops such as Dragon Gate, pagoda arch, and the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory (the size of a hole in the wall!). Grant Avenue is the most photogenic part of town. A great way to see Chinatown and learn its history is with Linda Lee, one of the best-known guides.

If you are hungry, pop into a Dim Sum restaurant for some of the best food of your life! One of my favorites is the Tien Hau Temple. 

vegetables in chinatown San Francisco market
chinatown scenery San Francisco
chinatown street art san Francisco
chinatown fortune cookie factory

4. Take a Boat Tour

See the fabulous and iconic Golden Gate Bridge from the water on a San Francisco Bay Cruise for the best photo ops. Red and White Fleet, founded in 1892, is the go-to company for water tours with three different offerings:

  • Golden Gate
  • Bridge to Bridge
  • California Sunset/Twilight Cruise

Cruises range from one to two hours. The boats are comfortable and afford the best views for your entire family. For me, this ride is the quintessential thing to do in San Fran. There is both indoor and outdoor seating available.

golden gate bridge from boat tour
melody pittman visiting San Francisco

5. Drive (or Walk) Down Lombard Street

Known as the “crookedest street in the world,” Lombard is something you have to see to believe. The road nose dives down the hillside, with turns making it almost as cool as a test track. On both sides of Lombard are stately Victorian houses decked out with beautiful flowers and hanging baskets. The view of the ocean ahead is fantastic! Be sure to keep your foot on or near the brake at all times. The acceleration from the downhill slant is more than you may have bargained for. 

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6. Embrace the Haight

The Haight Ashbury District, or “The Haight,” as it is more commonly known, is the era-gone by hippie district of San Francisco. Interesting shops with eye-catching displays lure tourists (and locals), while upscale restaurants and exclusive vintage boutiques entertain and swoon today’s savvy crowds. This 60s Summer of Love neighborhood is a real crowd-pleaser. It has some of the most gorgeous homes in all of San Francisco. Pick up a real estate guide and check out the prices; your jaw will drop. 

Haight Ashbury district
street mural Haight Ashbury
victorian homes Haight Ashbury
colorful mural in Haight Ashbury

Hungry in San Fran? 

Oren’s Hummus is a remarkable authentic restaurant serving Israeli favorites, kebobs, skewers, and pita sandwiches. Try hummus bowls with eggplant, lamb, cauliflower, mushrooms, beets—you name it, they’ve got it. The stylish and modern eatery serves breakfast (bottomless mimosas on weekends), lunch, and dinner. Oren’s hummus is the best I’ve ever had! Stop in on Wednesdays for Wine Down Wednesdays, offering half-price wines all day.

orens hummus San Francisco

Cowgirl Creamery at the Ferry Building is another great local eatery to try. The Creamery is not only a restaurant (Sidekick Cafe and Milk Bar), where you can choose custom-built sandwiches, grilled cheeses, homemade soup, and salads, but also an award-winning full-line European cheese shop. I’m a fan of the Alpine Grilled Cheese (Gruyére on sourdough) with the Sidekick Tomato Soup. Don’t miss the housemade bread & butter pickles. Cookies and organic milk make an excellent dessert option. 

cowgirl creamery grilled cheese

blue bottle iced coffee

Need a Place to Stay in San Francisco? 

The YOTEL San Francisco is a hip tech-driven hotel option with just the right amount of space. Located in the Mid Market neighborhood, the YOTEL is extremely easy to check-in and get to. The stylish “cruise ship size” cabins offer adjustable smart beds, high-tech charging stations, premium Urban Skincare toiletries, and a bunk bed.

My favorite features were the heated bathroom towel rack, rain shower, and Smart TV. I loved the YOTEL cabin concept and found the bed one of the most comfortable hotels I’ve ever stayed in. 

San Francisco yotel room

San Francisco, Always a Scenic Treat

While I could list things to see and do in San Francisco all day, these 6 things are the best in San Francisco to me and a great way to start your travels. From seeing the cute sea lions to exploring the historic attractions, San Francisco is one of California’s jewels.

Which number will you visit first?

golden gate bridge in the distance

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best things to do in San Francisco
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Read more of our California adventures in these posts: 

Buena Park

8 Things to Do in Oakland

San Diego Hornblower Champagne Brunch 

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