San Francisco is one of America’s most eclectic cities. The city boasts a rich history, and yet it is now one of the most progressive cities in the United States, with Silicon Valley having a reputation as a global technology and innovation powerhouse.
Being the second-most densely populated city in the United States, San Francisco is home to liberals, immigrants, hippies, techies, and yuppies. One could say that diversity is embedded in the city’s DNA. With such a mix of different and creative personalities, it is no wonder that there is always something new and exciting going on.
Here is a suggested list of 25 weekend activities not to be missed in San Francisco:
1. Walk or cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is a 2.7-kilometer (1.7-mile) long suspension bridge that serves as the only road connection between the city of San Francisco and Marin County. Not only is the bridge arguably the most internationally-renowned symbol of California, it is also said to be one of the most photographed things on Earth. This orange structure is even considered a piece of engineering art, and was declared one of the Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Travelers can choose to either walk across the bridge along the pedestrian walkway or cycle on the western side. Both options guarantee a spectacular view of the San Francisco skyline and waterfront. For the curious, pop into the visitor’s center to find out more on the history of the park and interesting facts about the bridge’s construction.
2. Go to a Giants’ game at AT&T Park
If you are in San Francisco during baseball season (April to October), you will not be disappointed with a visit to AT&T Park. Cheering on the Giants, a popular baseball team, is an uplifting experience not to be missed. You can also check out the several family-friendly facilities within the park, such as.the Wall of Fame, different eateries, and behind-the-scenes tours.
3. Rent a bike and go around the city
Even though San Francisco is covered with impossibly-steep hills, it is still a bike-friendly city. In fact, it is actually advisable to explore this city on two wheels. Many bike-rental companies are available for travelers to choose from, and it is relatively easy to navigate around the city, especially with Google Maps.
The Fisherman’s Wharf to Golden Gate Park route is recommended; travelers can see most of what the city has to offer all in one day. This route is approximately 3-4 hours long and takes you down San Francisco’s scenic waterfront path to the Golden Gate Bridge and Land’s End, and then lets you take in the sights and sounds of the iconic Golden Gate Park.
4. Drive down the crooked Lombard Street
San Francisco is well-known for its steep hills, so it is only natural for travelers to flock to Lombard Street, which is one of the world’s crookedest streets. Visitors can simply hike up around the eight sharp hairpin turns, but it is definitely more thrilling to drive down the one-way street from the top.
Lined with Victorian mansions and neatly lawned landscaping, Lombard Street is also considered one of San Francisco’s most scenic streets. It is a popular spot for photographers, as you can capture both the entire winding street from the bottom as well as the spectacular view from the top. Additionally, you can look out over the city landscape, which includes the Bay Bridge and Coit Tower.
5. Take a walk around Chinatown
The oldest and second-largest Chinatown in North America, San Francisco’s Chinatown is a must-go. Strung with lanterns and sheltered by pagoda roofs, San Francisco’s Chinatown really transports you to somewhere in China.
Take a morning walk down this densely-packed neighborhood and you can spot street vendors setting up their stalls along the sidewalks and butchers displaying their exotic array of meats. Remember to grab a few of the best egg custard tarts from Golden Gate Bakery while you are there.
6. Tour Alcatraz Island
Alcatraz is the famed former federal prison, sitting on an island of the same name, located 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) offshore from San Francisco city. It housed some of America’s most difficult and dangerous criminals from 1934 to 1963. The prison earned itself the nickname “The Rock”, as no inmate managed to break free from it, despite attempts to do so.
Since its closure, Alcatraz has become a national landmark, welcoming over 1 million visitors a year. The informative pre-recorded audio tours are strongly recommended, as they allow you to learn about the prison as you roam the grounds at your own pace. This peculiar experience is definitely one not to be missed in San Francisco.
7. Explore Fisherman’s Wharf
If you are in San Francisco for the first time, be sure to allocate some time to visit the famous Fisherman’s Wharf. It is advisable to visit the wharf after going on the Alcatraz tour. There are simply too many things to experience here. You can sign up for a bay cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge, walk the decks of the tall ships at Hyde Street Pier, and watch the sea lions near Pier 39.
Needless to say, you have to make sure to grab a clam chowder and secure a spot along the wharf. Enjoy your clam chowder while people watching, or be entertained by the numerous street performers.
8. Visit San Francisco Cable Car Museum
Riding on the cable car in San Francisco is like a rite of passage, which is why you should add the San Francisco Cable Car Museum to your list. Not only is it free, but it will only take about 30 minutes to walk through. This informative museum will definitely be worth your time, as you will find out how the cable cars work as well as how this invention came about. You can even see the real cables below ground!
9. Take a stroll at Clarion Alley and take in the street murals
Located between Valencia Street and Mission Street in the Mission District, Clarion Alley is a place not to be missed. Take a stroll through the alleyway and stop to appreciate the beautifully painted murals by local artists. The walls on both sides of the alley are fully covered in paint, with displays of thought-provoking quotes and political statements. This colorful space is the perfect spot for a photo op.
10. Attend a concert at The Fillmore
Music-lovers should definitely check out this elegant auditorium. You will not be disappointed with whichever show you go for at The Fillmore. With impressive acoustics and a capacity of only a thousand seats, it promises an intimate experience with the artist.
The best thing about this concert venue is that it also doubles as a museum. The Fillmore has been home to shows of every genre since its opening in 1965, with former artists having included Metallica, Prince and B.B. King.
11. Get cultured at the Opera
If rock or pop music is not your thing, be guaranteed an enthralling night at the San Francisco Opera. Probably one of America’s oldest and finest opera companies, it hosts world-class singers. If you have a special occasion, treat yourself to an evening at the opera. Dress nicely, sit back, and be impressed by great costumes and exceptional voices.
12. Buy a book at City Lights
Poets and book-lovers will surely have heard of this cozy little San Francisco institution, often compared to other famous bookshops like The Strand and Shakespeare & Co. City Lights, the first all-paperback bookstore in America, is also where the Beat movement was born.
However, people are so drawn to this place due to its powerful influence on American poetry back in the day when it published Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, and also for fighting censorship. You can easily spend hours of your afternoon tucked in the charming poetry room upstairs.
13. Run up the Lyon Street steps
Active travelers or fitness junkies will surely appreciate the Lyon Street steps. With almost 300 stairs from bottom up, this is a great place to get some exercise if you are visiting the city. The view at the top will, without a doubt, be worth the uphill climb. It offers a scenic view of the bay, overlooking the Presidio Forest and the Palace of Fine Arts.
14. Relive the hippy scene at Haight-Ashbury
No visit to San Francisco is complete without a trip to the Haight-Ashbury district. People from all over the country came to the city during the late 1950s and 1960s, and this area was the meeting point for free love, drugs, and rock and roll. It became home to the hippy generation.
Even though the colorful Victorian homes in the district have been commercialised and turned into boutiques, vintage shops, restaurants, and cafés, the colorful Haight-Ashbury is still a fun site to take a stroll and relive the olden days.
15. Expand Your senses at the Exploratorium
Whether you are traveling solo, with friends, or with family, the Exploratorium is one museum you must stop by. It serves as a public learning laboratory, providing full hands-on experiences for every visitor to explore the sciences, art, and human perception.
The Exploratorium has been hailed by the New York Times as, “the most important science museum to have opened since the mid-20th century, an achievement attributed to ‘the nature of its exhibits, its wide-ranging influence and its sophisticated teacher training program’”. It is a museum for kids and adults alike, and you will undoubtedly benefit a lot from spending an afternoon here.
16. Take afternoon tea at Palace Hotel
If you have a special occasion to celebrate, treat yourself by booking a spot at the highly-raved about afternoon tea at Palace Hotel. The experience of sipping tea and indulging in delicate sweets in the historic and extravagant interior of the Garden Court will take you back to the Victorian era. Being in this area, which boasts a high ceiling, glass atrium, and crystal chandeliers, will make you feel like royalty.
Palace Hotel San Francisco
Address: 2 New Montgomery St, San Francisco, CA, USA
17. Experience Cinema Glam at Castro Theater
If you are a theater-lover, you cannot leave the Castro Theatre from your itinerary. Take your movie-going experience to a whole new level at this classical old theatre. Complete with the bright neon lights of the marquee, and built in the Roaring Twenties, the Castro Theatre is one of the few motion picture palaces left in the country.
The theater offers a unique programme, ranging from classic Hollywood films to arthouse movies and independent film festivals. It also has special sing-alongs from time to time, so do check out their website and keep your eyes peeled for those.
18. Walk to the highest point of the city
If you need a little getaway from the city, head to Mt. Davidson to get your quick fix of the outdoors. Standing at 938 feet (286 meters), this is the highest point of San Francisco. It is only a short 10-minute walk up, but it rewards you with a magnificent view of Sutro Tower and Twin Peaks, as well as a panoramic view of eastern San Francisco. Bring a camera as there are great photo opportunities with the giant 103-foot (31.4-meter) cross at the peak and the famous fallen tree.
19. Take a hike at Muir Woods
Have an afternoon to spare at the weekend and would love to get in touch with nature? Muir Woods is the place to go! Muir Woods is easily accessible from the city, and a trip here is worthwhile just to get a glimpse of the magnificent Coastal Redwood trees.
The forest walk is a breathtaking and spiritual experience. If you have spare time, there are a few different hiking trails of varying difficulty levels and duration, and they are all well-maintained.
20. Appreciate European ruins at the Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts is easily one of the most beautiful places to visit in all of San Francisco, and it is not difficult to see why. Head here to take a look at the French-inspired domed structure, surrounded by a man-made lagoon. Marvel at the details of the pillars and ceilings.
The best thing about this park? Admission is free, making it the place to go to for a casual stroll, people watching, or even to have a photo shoot.
21. Browse a huge selection of records at Amoeba Music
Music enthusiasts will definitely love Amoeba Music. This independent store, tucked in a corner on Haight Street, offers a huge collection of new and old vinyl, cassettes and CDs. Even if you are not an audiophile or music collector, you can easily spend a good amount of time here browsing through their vast selection of music. The things here are very well-organized, and you can find anything within any budget, from $1 vinyls to rare limited edition items.
22. Take a stroll at Lands End
If you have time and you are ready to take a hike, Lands End will not disappoint. This spot is wonderful, as you can see San Francisco’s coastline and both the Golden Gate Bridge and Oakland Bridge.
The walk here is fairly easy, with stairs on all the trails making it a simple hike up the hills. The Sutro Baths and Labyrinth are also worth checking out while you are here. Be sure to stay here long enough for the spectacular sunset.
23. Enjoy cocktails in San Francisco’s oldest bars
While in San Francisco, be sure to hit up some of its oldest bars and wind down with some cocktails. Afterall, the city is not famous for its bar culture for nothing. Head down to Buena Vista Café for some Irish Coffee, or step into Homestead to enjoy some historic cocktails.
24. Eat a burrito in The Mission
If you are a foodie, you will probably have heard of the famous Mission burritos. As they say, you cannot find Mexican food quite like those in San Francisco’s Mission District. So be sure to have an empty stomach when you go to The Mission and step into one of the many taquerias in the neighborhood. If you are lucky, you can even witness impromptu mariachi bands as they enter the eateries and serenade you with Mexican tunes.
25. Hit up San Francisco’s best museums
You cannot leave a city without getting to know some of its art and culture first, and any traveler will be spoilt for choice as San Francisco has so many museums to pick from.
If you are tight for time, go to the California Academy of Sciences as it houses an aquarium, a planetarium, and a national history museum. Art-lovers will not be disappointed at de Young Museum, which contains an impressive permanent collection of classic paintings and sculptures.
Spend a quality weekend, soak up San Francisco
San Francisco is a vibrant city recognized for its fog, hilly landscapes, and assorted styles of architecture. Even if you are tight for time and are only in the city for a weekend, just the simple act of exploring the varied neighborhoods and taking in the sights can be very rewarding for any traveler and will leave you wanting to go back for more.