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Everyone loves going off the beaten and discovering hidden gems along their travels. But sometimes a city’s biggest tourist magnets are insanely popular for a reason. San Francisco, with its oodles of charm, is no exception. Here are some of the most popular, must-see things to do in San Francisco, along with reasons why each is totally worth battling the crowds to experience.

1. Visit Alcatraz

This isolated former prisonlocated just 1.5 miles off-shore in San Francisco Bay, is one of San Francisco’s most visited tourist locations, and one of the best activities in the city. So much of SF’s history happened here: The site was founded as a military fortification in 1868, served as one of the country’s most notorious prisons from 1933 to 1963, was occupied by Native American protesters in the late 1960s/early 1970s, and is now run by the National Park Service. The island was also the movie-set for several blockbusters such as Catch Me If You Can and Escape from Alcatraz, and offers unbeatable views of the city and Golden Gate Bridge.

San Francisco Alcatraz

2. Take a cable car ride

There’s no better way of seeing the city than to hop on one of San Francisco’s famous cable cars. A single ride will cost you less than $5 and the utterly iconic cars run side to side across the central district, up and down steep hills opening to bay views. Perfect for a photo opportunity!

Related: Totally worth it—the road trip less traveled, California’s Highway’s 395.

3. Visit Fort Point and the Golden Gate Bridge

Fort Point is one of the city’s most historical sites and a must-visit spot for any San Francisco tourist. Why? The seacoast fortification dates back to 1769, when the Spanish occupied the area. Plus,no other spot offers vistas quite this spectacular and epic, offers incredible views over Golden Gate Bridge. Afterward, take a taxi and ride across the bridge the quaint town of Sausalito, where boat tours, kayak rentals, stand-up paddleboarding, and other activities await.

San Francisco- Golden Gate Bridge

4. Say hello to the sea lions

Perhaps San Francisco’s most famous residents (right after Mrs. Doubtfire and the Tanner brood), these cheeky sea creatures set up home at Pier 39 and have been attracting tourists ever since. It costs nothing to see them (because they’re living in the wild!) so it’s well worth a trip down to the pier to take a look at these flabby, adorable locals.

San Francisco- Pier 39

5. Get lost in the crowd Fisherman’s Wharf 

This popular waterfront enclave in San Francisco is tourist central—and home to some of the city’s most visited restaurant chains, shops and hotels. If you have kids in tow, it’s worth an afternoon of exploration, with its aquarium, theater, museums, games, restaurants and photo opportunities.

6. Stroll through Golden Gate Park 

This picturesque part of the city is one of the most beautiful parks on the West Coast, and a favorite with both tourists and locals alike. On a sunny day, there’s nothing nicer than taking a stroll through the park and enjoying the views. Be sure to check out the de Young Museum of Art, the Japanese Tea Garden, Stow Lake where you can rent a row boat, Strawberry Hill with its Chinese temple and great views, or Hippie Hill where you can expect drum circles, dancing and great people watching. Bikes are also available for rent in the park.

Related: Here’s how to have three perfect days in San Francisco and Napa.

7. Visit the Painted Ladies 

The Painted Ladies is a nickname given to the brightly painted Victorian row houses in San Francisco, all of which have their own unique character and color scheme. The houses have become famous over time because of their many appearances in TV shows and movies, with the residences at 710–720 Steiner Street—also known as Postcard Row—being some of the city’s most well known. Go see them, then take a picnic and enjoy the views from nearby Alamo Square.

San Francisco- Painted Ladies houses


8. Take a trip to Twin Peaks

The Twin Peaks are two hills near the center of San Francisco. Up top, you’ll be greeted with awesome views of the city—perfect for any Instagram-addict or photography enthusiast. Except for Mount Davidson, Twin Peaks is the highest natural point in the city.

9. Drive out to Muir Woods

Muir Woods have recently become well known through the Planet of the Apes movies, but this nature park has always been a beautiful place to visit. With its iconic redwood trees towering higher than offices blocks, it’s hard not to feel a sense of awe.

10. Soak in the sun at Baker Beach

If you’re in San Francisco during summer, a trip to Baker Beach is a must-do. The beach, sitting about a mile below rugged cliffs on the western shore of the Presidio, has the most phenomenal views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands, and you’re bound to have a truly San-Fran moment while visiting.

Tagged: California

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Elle-Rose Williams
Elle-Rose is an award-winning travel blogger from the UK, who is the editor of She is based in London, but travels as far and wide as she can, as often as possible.
Elle-Rose Williams

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3 thoughts on “10 totally touristy (but worth it) things to do in San Francisco”

  1. You forgot to mention the homeless people sleeping on the sidewalks camping in door ways dedicating everywhere watch your step!!! It’s not from dog dropping I. A nice sunny day the smell of urine is inticing. It was such a beautiful city now it’s just sad

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