Top 10 Things to Do in San Francisco on a First Visit, USA inner banner

Top 10 Things to Do in San Francisco on a First Visit, USA

San Francisco is one of the USA's most popular travel destinations, and it's not hard to work out why! Tick off these ten great things to do on your first trip.
Ten top things to in San Francisco on a first visit
Ten top things to in San Francisco on a first visit

As prospectors flocked to California to find their fortunes in the late 1840s, San Francisco’s journey to become one of the most picturesque and diverse cities in the world began.

These days fortunes are made in Silicon Valley to the south, whilst the city is joined to the greater Bay Area by the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges. Originally a Spanish settlement and rebuilt after the great earthquake of 1906, modern San Francisco is a melting pot of cultures and cuisines from all corners of the globe. It offers fabulous shopping experiences and easy access to stunning natural landscapes. Give yourself at least four or five days to cover all the must-see sights.

Here are ten top things to in San Francisco on a first visit. Trust us: it won’t be your last!


USA tours

USA Tours, Activities & Attractions


1. Visit Alcatraz

Alcatraz Island sits in the middle of San Francisco Bay and served various purposes over the years. However, it’s best known as the site of a maximum security federal prison, which hosted the who’s who of notorious civilian miscreants from the mid 20th century. The prison closed in 1963 after just 29 years of operation; today, it’s an eerie-but-fascinating time capsule and San Francisco’s most popular attraction. The standard day tour includes your return ferry tickets, an excellent audio tour of the Cellhouse, and the opportunity to explore the prison and its surroundings more widely. It’s quite the experience, and you’ll leave feeling very thankful that you’re a law abiding citizen!

Ten top things to in San Francisco
Ten top things to in San Francisco: Alcatraz. Image: Adam Ford

2. Ride a cable car up or down Nob Hill

You’ve seen them referenced in popular culture umpteen times; now it’s your turn to ride! For 150 years, the city’s historic cable cars have been a feature of Nob Hill — gripping the cables that drag them up the steep inclines and ease them down the other side. You can board at any turntable or designated stop — providing there’s room!

3. Explore the colourful Castro

San Francisco is at the forefront of lesbian and gay rights, and incorporates the LGBTQ community into civic life with pride. Rainbow flags line Market Street, which leads to The Castro — one of the city’s most characterful neighbourhoods. Gay or straight, you’ll enjoy exploring this colourful precinct — home to amazing architecture and a plethora of bars, cafes, and eateries. The ornate Castro Theatre hosts screenings of classic movies and accompanying sing-alongs.

Ten top things to in San Francisco
Ten top things to in San Francisco: Castro Theatre. Image: Bigstock

4. Take in the view from Coit Tower

Learn how to use the panorama setting on your smart phone and you’ll be rewarded with spectacular photographs of the city and bay from the summit of Coit Tower, which sits on top of Telegraph Hill. From there, work your calf muscles for seven blocks along Lombard to reach the street’s famous series of hairpin bends.

Ten top things to in San Francisco
Ten top things to in San Francisco: Lombard Street. Image: Bigstock

5. Go to a museum or gallery

San Francisco boasts a swag of world-class cultural facilities and institutions, and deciding which ones to see and, unfortunately, miss, is a difficult task. The Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture welcomes more than a million visitor every year with its diverse programme of cultural events, while at SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) a 33,000-piece collection of contemporary art awaits you. Fans of live performance should find out what’s playing at the Palace of Fine Arts. The magnificent dome makes this is one of the most photographed buildings in the city.

Ten top things to in San Francisco
Ten top things to in San Francisco: Palace of Fine Arts

6. Pick up a good book at City Lights

If you’re in the market for a good holiday read, you’ll find it at the longstanding and much-loved-by-locals City Lights Bookstore in North Beach. Browse the shelves at your leisure or get a recommendation from the helpful staff. History buffs will revel in the large body of reference works devoted to San Francisco’s past.

Ten top things to in San Francisco
Ten top things to in San Francisco: City Lights Bookstore

7. Shop up a storm

Books aside, there are endless opportunities to get some retail therapy during your stay. The streets radiating out from busy Union Square boast every brand you can think of, including one of the largest Macy’s outside of New York City. For souvenirs and trinkets, swing by Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. Tie dyed t-shirts and bell-bottoms are the dress code in Haight-Ashbury, which clings to the 1960s and is the place to shop for vintage.

Ten top things to in San Francisco
Ten top things to in San Francisco: Haight-Ashbury. Image: Adam Ford

8. Enjoy cheap eats

San Francisco has a terrific dining scene, and the good news is that it’s not necessary to spend a fortune to get amongst it. Get the day off to a great start at one of the city’s classic diners. Enjoy strong coffee and eggs done every which way at 1950s throwback Lori’s Diner in Union Square. Popular Mama’s on Washington Square is best known for its heavenly French toast — and yes, you may have to queue!


North America multi-Day tours and trips

Save $100pp on North America Multi-Day Tours


The cafes and eateries that open onto the footpaths of Little Italy in North Beach have been satiating patrons with well priced pasta and vino for years. Ideale is an intimate family-run affair with a well deserved reputation for delicious tucker. Join the locals for coffee at Caffe Trieste, where Francis Ford Coppola wrote much of The Godfather screenplay.

Ten top things to in San Francisco
Ten top things to in San Francisco: Caffe Trieste. Image: Adam Ford

Happy hours in the USA rock, and E & O Kitchen and Bar does a range of bites and bevvys at great prices every afternoon from from 3 till 6. Drop in to recharge while shopping around Union Square.

9. Cycle over the Golden Gate Bridge

Just under three kilometres from end to end, riding a bike across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge is an exhilarating experience (and a great way to work off some of those extra calories!). Pedal over this engineering marvel and down the hill on the other side to lovely Sausalito; if you set off in the morning, you’ll arrive in the village just in time for lunch. Blazing Saddles will kit you out with wheels at their outlet near Fisherman’s Wharf. From there, skirt around the Bay and up onto the Bridge! Tip: Spare your quads and return to town on the ferry!

Ten top things to in San Francisco
Pedal across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco to Sausalito. Image: Adam Ford

10. Meet the mighty Redwoods and try some top drops

Muir Woods in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area — 18 kilometres north of the Golden Gate Bridge — is home to towering 500 to 800-year-old redwood trees. Walk among giants and soak up the serenity of this incredible environment, which was officially designated a National Monument in 1908. You can make a day of it by continuing on to the Napa Valley for lunch and a wine tasting.

Find a place to stay in San Francisco



Booking.com

For more travel inspiration, visit www.sftravel.com.

Browse our range of San Francisco tours and experiences here.

Do you have any tips for top things to do in San Francisco on a first visit? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Additional images: Bigstock

Neil Brook

About the writer

As a travel blogger and photographer, Neil Brook travels the world looking to meet interesting people, taste great food, and find different angles from which to write about his adventures. He is privileged to have lived in Australia, the Philippines, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and the United Kingdom. More a traveller than a tourist, Neil prefers to mix with the locals, learn their history and culture, and walk the backstreets to uncover hidden gems worthy of praise in words or quiet moments of private reflection.

Adam Ford

About the writer

Adam Ford is editor of Top Oz Tours and Travel Ideas, and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger, and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa, and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.

 

1


Travel essentials

You can book many aspects of your holiday on the Top Oz Tours & Travel Ideas website, including flights, hotels, car hire, travel insurance, and more. When you purchase a product or service using the following links from our partners, we receive a small commission. It does not affect the price you pay, and it enables us to continue to provide readers with amazing travel inspiration.




Flights

Compare airlines, flights, and fares in one place with Booking.com. They don't charge any credit card fees and you can always see exactly what you’re paying for in the price breakdown. You can book one-way, round-trip, and multi-city flights, and change your travel dates with ease when you opt for a flexible ticket option (an additional cost applies). It all adds up to a great flight! Search for flights with Booking.com


Hotels

If you're looking for a great deal on your next hotel or homestay, look no further than Booking.com. Their mission is to make travel affordable and accessible to more people, and to deliver seamless accommodation experiences that complement your holiday. Search for hotels and homestays with Booking.com



Car hire

Discover Cars is an award-winning (World Travel Awards) car rental comparison website, which helps customers find, compare, and hire cars at the most competitive prices globally. You’ll get access to meticulously maintained cars, 4WDs, and minibuses from the world’s leading brands, and at the best possible price. Search for car hire with Discover Cars



Campervans & motorhomes

Make Jucy your first choice for campervan and motorhome hire. Since 2001, this progressive company has had a vision to be world-famous for enabling experience seekers to discover happiness on the road. The Jucy crew live and breathe their core values of passion, pride, family, and fun, and these values influence every one of their interactions with customers. They’re ready to help you find 'your happy'. Search for campervans and motorhomes with Jucy



Day tours & experiences worldwide

Search and book day tours, guided experiences, and attraction tickets and passes worldwide with Top Oz Tours and Viator. There are no booking or credit card fees when you book through us, and you’ll have access to the widest choice of activities and most competitive prices. Search for tours and experiences



Multi-day tours & trips worldwide

Travelling on an extended tour with a local guide is a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the destination of your choice. Top Oz Tours has joined forced with Tour Radar to bring you a fabulous range of multi-day tours and trips from the world's leading operators. Travel with like minded people and get the best possible price on the holiday of your dreams. Search for multi-day tours and trips



Travel insurance

World Nomads aims to be a part of every traveller’s journey by providing a reassuring range of travel insurance services. Travellers can buy insurance, extend their policy, and claim online, 24/7, on the road or from home. Travel insurance benefits include coverage for emergency medical and evacuation or repatriation, lost baggage, trip cancellation, and more than 150 adventure activities. Get an insurance costing from World Nomads


Subscribe to our newsletter for the chance to win a $100 voucher

keyboard_arrow_leftPrevious
Nextkeyboard_arrow_right

 

Share

Please leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.

Your Cart
Your Cart Is Empty
error: This content is protected.