There’s so much to do in San Francisco; we’re not at all surprised to hear you’ve forgotten all the essential recommendations. But whether your visitors are art lovers, history buffs, foodies, craft beer connoisseurs, or even young kids, they’ve already chosen a great place to visit. Our city offers attractions to suit every age and every interest.
In this guide, we rounded up the essentials with selections covering the entire city, so your guests can sip coffee in the Haight, see art in the Mission, wander along the Embarcadero, make a stop along Fisherman’s Wharf and more.
For more ideas, check out some of our other helpful guides: What to Do in San Francisco in One Day, Your Guide to Spending a Full Day in The Presidio, Mapped, Your Self-Guided Tour of the Mission District, Mapped, and 17 Instagram-worthy Backdrops in San Francisco, Mapped.
One of the most iconic buildings in the city, the Ferry Building is the home of CUESA’s Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and one of the best indoor marketplaces in the country. Inside, visitors can shop Bay Area originals like Book Passage, beekind and Heath Ceramics. Then, be sure to eat your way through Donut Farm, Biscuit Bender, Boulettes Larder, Hog Island Oyster Co. and many, many more. To see a complete list of vendors, click here.
2. See Clarion Alley.
One of the most visited alleys in the city, Clarion Alley runs for one block between 17th and 18th and Mission and Valencia Streets in the Inner Mission. Inspired by Balmy Alley—another mural arts alley that began in the ‘70s and focused on Central American social struggles—a group of six artists established this second alley with similar goals focused on social inclusiveness and aesthetic variety. Over the years, Clarion Alley Mural Project has supported artists of all ethnicities, ages and levels of experience. It’s a must-see during any trip to the city. Plus, you can get an iconic Mission burrito while you’re in the neighborhood!
The constantly evolving Tartine story begins with Tartine Bakery, a rustic and award-winning bread bakery still located in the Mission District. Today, the team operates seven total locations in the Bay Area, Los Angeles and Seoul, and the San Francisco Tartine Manufactory is a must-visit. Here, they combine coffee, breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus a bar, a bakery and an ice cream shop. To learn more, click here.
For both good food and great fun, we recommend heading to the flagship and headquarters of Boudin Bakery. In addition to the upscale Bistro Boudin and Bakers Hall—which offers a marketplace, café and espresso bar—you can watch the bakers making fresh bread by hand through the 30-foot observation window. For even more, check out the Museum and Bakery Tour, which explores the history of Boudin Bakery in San Francisco and offers even more views inside the facility.
5. Go to Golden Gate Park.
Golden Gate Park covers more than 1,000 acres of San Francisco and is home to some of the most serene spaces, the most fun activities and the most well-known attractions in the city. That long list of attractions includes the San Francisco Botanical Garden, the California Academy of Sciences and the Conservatory of Flowers. To find out all you can do, check out our guide Everything You Can Do At Golden Gate Park.
Photo courtesy of Cellarmaker Brewing Co.
One of the most highly recommended in the city, Cellarmaker is also one of the Bay Area’s most innovative breweries. Dedicated to producing small batches of experimental beers, their team doesn’t follow a set production schedule or produce flagship beers, so you’ll always find something new and delicious in the taproom—whether you’re on the hunt for something hoppy and approachable or something bright and effervescent.
If your visitors are beer lovers, check out our other guides The 14 Best Brewpubs in San Francisco, Award-Winning Bay Area Breweries You Have to Try, and 32 Craft Breweries Within a 20 Minute Walk From BART.
Waiting in line for great food is something every San Franciscan has to do at some point, and at the famous Swan Oyster Depot, the wait is worth it. The no-frills spot serves fresh lobsters, clams, oysters, crab, trout, salmon, octopus and more from the counter, and they have done so for more than 100 years! So, grab a spot in line so you can grab a seat at the 18-seat counter and enjoy one of the best meals in San Francisco.
Musée Mécanique houses one of the world’s largest privately owned collections of coin-operated mechanical musical instruments and antique arcade machines in their original working condition. That means you can play on and interact with more than 200 antique games and machines! Located on Pier 45 in Fisherman’s Wharf, admission is free every day, and it’s the perfect destination to see this tourist-friendly neighborhood.
9. Sip wine at Tank18.
Located in the thriving SoMa neighborhood, Tank18 is a true urban winery serving up their own wines alongside housemade beers and delectable dinner and brunch menus, too. Their wines are sourced locally around California’s wine country, including juices from Napa, Sonoma, El Dorado and Santa Cruz. If you’re not sure where to start, just ask the expert servers!
And for even more wine in the city, check out The 20 Best Wine Bars in San Francisco.
The Flywheel story begins with founder Aquiles Guerrero who was born in a coffee farm in Nicaragua, grew up picking coffee, was a barista by the age of twelve, a roaster by eighteen, attended Capuchino High School in San Bruno, and began his San Francisco coffee experience at Martha and Bros. Coffee, which was owned by his family. Today, Flywheel Coffee Roasters is still family-owned and -operated in Haight-Ashbury by a team of artists, coffee lovers and San Francisco locals. Located in one of the city’s most famous neighborhoods, it’s a great place to sit and enjoy a taste of San Francisco; then, go right down the street to see the Grateful Dead House!
11. Grab a cocktail at Trick Dog.
Housed inside a converted warehouse, Trick Dog is an unpretentious cocktail bar with world-class beverages. In fact, their menus have snagged the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited award for the world’s best—and it’s not just because of the drinks! Every six months, the team releases a new menu and every time it looks like anything but a cocktail menu. Past examples include paint swatch books, Chinese restaurant menus and a kid’s book called What Rhymes with Trick Dog?
For more essential cocktail bars, check out The San Francisco Cocktail Bar Bucket List [Interactive Map].
A great excuse to see Chinatown—one of the oldest and most established Chinatowns in the country—the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory is an icon of the neighborhood. Open since 1962, this little factory churns out fresh, handmade fortune cookies (up to 10,000 every day!) and offers a free tour, too. For details, click here.
13. Get brunch at Nopa.
This neighborhood restaurant is famous for their weekly changing menu, their thoughtful cocktails, their welcoming atmosphere complete with an open-air kitchen, and their must-try weekend brunch. Through all of these characteristics, they display their love for local. Their simple, delicious foods are made using seasonal ingredients sourced from local purveyors and Bay Area farmers’ markets. When you’re planning weekend brunch, be sure to snag a reservation for your group in advance here.
Though it is a bustling city, San Francisco offers a surprising number of open, outdoor spaces and hiking trails. The trip to Lands End Lookout is a favorite for both history and views. Winding through the northwest corner of the city, the route explores hillsides of cypress and wildflowers, provides views of old shipwrecks, offers access to the ruins of Sutro Baths in the Sutro Historic District, overlooks pocket beaches and more!
The Exploratorium was opened in 1969 by artists, educators, developers and one man with a passion for education. Today, the museum is located on Pier 15 along San Francisco’s Embarcadero and still serves to bridge the gap between formal and informal education through immersive experiences, hands-on investigation and fascinating exhibits. And, if you come by on Thursday night, you’ll get to experience the adults-only event, After Dark, which we definitely recommend. The weekly event includes the fun of more than 650 interactive exhibits as well as adults-only programming like guest speakers, live music and more.
Do you have recommendations?
If you have more places, sights, activities and local businesses to add to the list, tell us in the comments below!