25 Things You Must Do When Visiting San Francisco

The ultimate vacation checklist, whether it's your 1st or 15th time

Early to bed, early to rise: That should be your strategy when exploring the City by the Bay. You’ve got a whole lotta walking--and eating--to do. Here, 25 things to add to your itinerary.


1. Stroll around the iconic Ferry Building during its bustling Saturday farmers' market and make a meal of free samples. (Don’t miss the spiced nuts, toffee and brittle from G.L. Alfieri.)

2. Take the elevator to the observation tower at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. It’s free and grants you unforgettable 360-degree views of the city.

3. Share a chocolate fudge sundae at Ghirardelli Square.

4. Wind your way down the famously crooked section of Lombard Street. Then put your driving skills to the test on the actual crooked-est street in S.F.: Vermont Street between 20th and 21st streets, near McKinley Square in Potrero Hill. (It has a total of seven sharp turns.)

5. Take a selfie in front of the Painted Ladies that line Alamo Square (aka where the Full House house is).


6. Reflect on the Beat Generation’s poems and essays at City Lights Books.

7. Visit the U.S. birthplace of the Irish coffee at Buena Vista Café. And throw at least one back while you’re there. (Or judgment.)

8. Walk, bike or drive across the Golden Gate Bridge--something that never gets old, no matter how many times you’ve done it.

9. Be mesmerized by the twinkling Bay Lights Project on the Bay Bridge. Best viewing spot? Somewhere along the Embarcadero south of the Ferry Building.

10. Sift through vintage boutiques along Haight Street (the legendary epicenter of hippy culture). Wasteland is a must-visit. While you’re there, take the requisite pic at the corner of Haight and Ashbury. Then walk a few blocks to Amoeba Records to browse some vinyl.

11. Rent a bike and pedal through Golden Gate Park (which is--fun fact--not beneath the bridge). See if you can spot the bison.


12. Join the flocks of tourists and photographers at the Palace of Fine Arts. It’s too beautiful to pass up.

13. Make the super-steep hike to the top of Nob Hill and marvel over the stunning Grace Cathedral. No religion required.

14. Refuel over pork buns at Hong Kong Lounge (which is not technically in Chinatown but has the best dim sum in the city).

15. Instagram the ruins at the Sutro Baths before hitting the trails at Lands End. Bonus: Watch the sunset from the bar at the legendary Cliff House with a drink in hand.

16. Then roast marshmallows over a bonfire on Ocean Beach.


17. Drink and dance with locals at the beloved weekly party at the California Academy of Sciences (every Thursday from 6 to 10 p.m.).

18. Barhop in the Mission: Elbo Room, 500 Club and Lone Palm. (It's the biggest hipster 'hood outside of Brooklyn.) Then go on a self-guided mural walking tour by downloading the 1AM app.

19. Try your hand at vintage arcade games at Musée Mécanique. (We're not talking 1980s games; we're talking 1920s games.)

20. Take the night tour at Alcatraz (and try not to quote Nicolas Cage the whole time).


21. Eat your way through a sourdough bread bowl of clam chowder at Pier 39 while you watch the barking sea lions and then buy yourself a commemorative sweatshirt. Because you want to be a tourist, dammit.

22. Take a ride on one of the city’s classic cable cars. Cheesy, yes, but essential.

23. Keep the historic theme going and sing along to classic movies at the Castro Theatre.

24. Walk your dog (or your best friend’s dog or, really, any dog) along the waterfront at Crissy Field, which overlooks the Golden Gate bridge. 'Cause you should see it one last time.

25. Close it all out by gazing up at the redwoods at Muir Woods and contemplating when you can come back.


jillian quint
Jillian Quint

Editor-in-Chief, Avid Reader, Wallpaper Enthusiast

Jillian Quint is the Editor-in-Chief of PureWow, where she oversees the editorial staff and all the fabulous content you read every day. Jillian began her career as a book editor...
read full bio