How to Spend A Day In San Francisco: 19 Fun Activities

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San Francisco is one of the great cities of America; with its combination of history, tech, culinary innovation, and city landscapes, it’s no wonder that tourists flock to this coastal California destination year-round. The city has always been one of our favorite weekend getaways, as there is always something new to explore both within the city and in the surrounding hills, wilderness areas, and beaches.

If you’re looking for a fun, family-friendly getaway, then definitely add San Francisco to the list. Just don’t forget to pack that rain jacket, as even though the rest of California may be sunny year-round, this Bay Area city tends to remain cool and foggy even in the heart of summer.

To make the most of a day in this amazing city, here are our favorite sights in and around town.

Golden Gate Bridge

Famous Golden Gate Bridge view from the hidden and secluded rocky Marshall's Beach at sunset in San Francisco, California
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No trip to the Bay Area is complete without a visit to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. This red (not golden) bridge crosses between San Francisco and the Marin Headlands to the north and is a favorite for locals and tourists alike for walking and biking across its 4,200′ span. There is parking at either end of the bridge, although our favorite is to park in one of the lots just west of the bridge on the San Francisco side. From here, it’s only a short walk to the bridge, where you can take in the views of the city, bay, and Marin Headlands.

Alcatraz Island

Aerial view of the prison island of Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz jail in San Francisco bay aerial view. Beautiful aerial view of the Alcatraz island with Golden Gate bridge.
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Alcatraz Island is one of America’s most infamous prisons, even though it shut down more than 60 years ago! Today the island and former prison building is one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of San Francisco. Visitors line up daily to ride the ferry over to this former maximum security prison. Once on the island, you can explore the jail cells, tour the building, and imagine what it would have been like for the few prisoners who escaped and swam across the bay to freedom.

Fisherman’s Wharf

City streets and buildings along Fisherman's Wharf at sunset.
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The Fisherman’s Wharf is a bustling tourist area along the bayfront in the heart of San Francisco. Here, you’ll find all the quintessential San Francisco dishes and gifts like sourdough bread bowls filled with clam chowder, Ghiradelli chocolates, tour boats running to attractions around the bay, and quirky characters like the Bush Man. This is a popular spot to rent a bike or a small GoCar to tour the city or Golden Gate Bridge.

Cable Car Ride

Classic view of historic traditional Cable Cars riding on famous California Street in morning light at sunrise with retro vintage style cross processing filter effect, San Francisco, California, USA
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While the golden age of trolley cars in America’s cities has long since passed there are a few still alive and running around the country. One of the most famous is the cable cars right here in San Francisco. These cars run on three different routes: Powell to Hyde Street, Powell to Mason Street, and along the length of California Street. The cars are all hop on/hop off at designated stops and cost $8 per ride. The price is worth it, though, as you get an up-close look at the cable operators who have to have a skilled hand to know when to attach and detach the cars to the continuously moving cables that run under the road.


Сhina town. Streets of San Francisco
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San Francisco’s Chinatown neighborhood is the largest in the country, and walking through it feels like you’ve been transported out of the city entirely. Here, you’ll find authentic Asian grocery stores, restaurants, and shops filled with locals who live and shop in this neighborhood. This is one of our favorite stops after riding the cable cars, as there are always interesting spots to discover throughout this lively neighborhood.

Lombard Street

Side view Lombard Street with aerial of San Francisco Bay and residential buildings
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Building roads and buildings throughout the hills of San Francisco has always presented challenges due to the extremely steep grades and narrow boundaries to work within. One of the best examples of the ingenuity that comes from these challenges is the famous Lombard Street. Along a one-block stretch where the grade reaches a mind-boggling 27 percent, the street was constructed with 8 hairpin turns. Today, this windy road attracts more than 2 million visitors per year. They walk the paths along the road and watch as cars navigate the sharp turns.

Golden Gate Park

Richmond and Golden Gate Park
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This urban oasis, which stretches nearly halfway across San Francisco, is one of the most visited parks in the country, with over 20 million visitors per year! Within the park, which spans from the Pacific Ocean on the west to the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood to the east, you’ll find playgrounds, lakes, museums, sports fields, and trails through thick forests that make it feel like you’re miles away from the middle of one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country.

After a day exploring the park, you can head directly across the street to the ocean, where there are firepits perfect for enjoying the sunset on this beautiful stretch of coastline.

Marin Headlands

Panorama of  View at California's Point Bonita Lighthouse in the Marin Headlands at sunset in San Francisco, California, USA
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Located directly north of the city across the narrow stretch of water spanned by the Golden Gate Bridge is the Marin Headlands. An outdoor lovers paradise filled with wildlife, windy trails that run from the high hills all the way down to the ocean, and stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco.

While there are some roads that will take you through the headlands, the best way to explore this wild area is on foot or by bike. Expect a workout, though, as there are very few flat sections of trail in this area!

De Young Museum

de young,Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco,California
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On those misty San Fransico days that beckon visitors indoors, the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park is a splendid way to spend an afternoon. Known for being one of the best fine art museums on the West Coast, this modern building, which was rebuilt after the original building was heavily damaged by the 1989 earthquake, houses an extensive collection of art, including textiles and contemporary art pieces from the Americas, Oceania, and Africa.

Japanese Tea Garden

Japanese Tea Garden colorful red wooden pagoda and surrounding trees.
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The Japanese Tea Garden, located within Golden Gate Park, is the oldest Japanese garden in the United States. Originally built in 1894 for the World’s Fair, this tranquil garden features an authentic Japanese tea house, gardens, ponds, and plenty of other tranquil spaces that will bring calm during a busy trip through the city.


Haight Ashbury street intersection sign in the famous eclectic neighborhood, hippie area of San Francisco
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Known as the epicenter of the 1960s counterculture movement, the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood still leans into this history even though decades have passed. Here, you’ll find eclectic shops, colorful murals, and the homes of famous musicians of that era, such as Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, and Jefferson Airplane.

While the neighborhood may look far different than it did in the 1960s (the homes were not in this good of shape then), it is an important part of the city’s history and a fun place to explore.

Mission District

Impressions from Mission District in San Francisco
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This trendy area features a melting pot of cultures and here you’ll find some of the best Mexican food in all of San Francisco. Walking through the streets, expect to see colorful murals, old-school restaurants, and eateries serving modern cuisine. This is one of our favorite areas to wander with no specific destination in mind, as every street seems to turn up interesting places to stop in for a coffee or a bite to eat.

Twin Peaks

Amazing City Skyline View above Downtown San Francisco
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Situated nearly 1,000 feet above sea level, the Twin Peaks serve as a reminder of how the area looked before human development. These peaks are a popular destination for 360-degree views of the Bay Area and can be reached by car, bike, or on foot. The trail leading to the top is only 2 miles round trip, but it does include a decent amount of elevation gain, so bring some comfy shoes and water!


 Exploratorium - museum of science and art in San Francisco
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Visiting the Exploratorium in San Francisco is an immersive experience. It offers interactive exhibits that spark curiosity and wonder about science, art, and human perception. The museum’s hands-on nature invites visitors of all ages to engage directly with experiments and installations, making learning both fun and memorable. Located on the Embarcadero, the museum also provides stunning views of the Bay.

Ferry Building

San Francisco Ferry Building, Port of San Francisco
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The Ferry Building in San Francisco is a great place to stop on a walk along the waterfront. Its marketplace showcases local artisans, gourmet food vendors, and fresh produce and the historic architecture provides a charming backdrop. After you’ve grabbed a bite to eat, you can sit outside and watch the ferries that serve communities around the Bay Area come and go.

Ghirardelli Square

Facade of the old Ghirardelli chocolate factory in San Francisco in one morning.
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Indulge in the world-famous Ghirardelli chocolate at the historic Ghirardelli Square building. This building once housed the Ghirardelli chocolate factory but has since been transformed to a tourist destination. There is more than just chocolate in the building; it is also home to shops, restaurants, and family-friendly events like concerts and art exhibits.

The building is located just across the street from the Fisherman’s Wharf which makes the area an ideal afternoon destination.

The Presidio

Golden Hour Illuminates the Presidio
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The Presidio stands as a testament to this area’s rich history, as this space has served as a military installation under three different countries over the years: Spain, Mexico, and the United States. Today, the Presidio is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and serves as both a playground and historical museum for locals and visitors alike. Here, you can visit any of the four visitor centers to learn about the history of the area, play on the tunnel top parks, explore the views of the bay, Golden Gate Bridge, and the city, and visit the Walt Disney Family Museum.

Sutro Baths

Scenic view from Sutro Baths Upper Trail. Beautiful tourist spots in San Francisco, with blue waves of Pacific Ocean
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Once a massive bathhouse with seven different pools filled with ocean water, the Sutro Baths are now just a few ruins and part of the Golden Gate Natural Recreation Area. The area around the baths features extensive hiking trails, lookout points where you can take in views of the Pacific Ocean and Golden Gate Bridge, and the Cliff House, which held a restaurant and bar that boasted some of the best views in the city.

Ocean Beach

Great Highway, Ocean Beach, San Francisco
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Visitors to San Francisco can easily forget that the bay isn’t the only waterfront area in the city. On the city’s western edge, you’ll find Ocean Beach, which is home to wide, flat beaches, perfectly surfable waves, fire pits for an evening bonfire, and a relaxed attitude that makes you feel like you’re miles away from the city.

While the ocean here is popular with surfers it is recommended that you not swim as the beach has dangerous rip currents and bitterly cold water.

About the author
Derek Carlson
Pacific Northwest native, cross-country skier, hiker, mountain biker, wannabe fly fisherman, writer and owner of Roam the Northwest