Nestled in the northern part of California, the city of San Francisco is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in The Golden State, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Palace of Fine Arts and Alcatraz Island.
Waters surround the city, and it also has beautiful rolling hills. Overwhelming as it may seem, San Francisco is a friendly city for solo travelers. To help you plan your solo trip, we’ve narrowed down the list of the best activities you can enjoy alone here!
1. Enjoy a cable car ride
You’ll know you’re in San Francisco when you see those cable cars running on the streets. It is known as a historic symbol of the city and your trip here wouldn’t be complete without experiencing a ride. These cable cars operate as early as 6 in the morning up until midnight. To help you travel efficiently through San Francisco’s cable car network, it would help if you will print out a detailed cable car map. Another thing, if you’re planning to use the cable car the whole day, purchase a day-pass so you can save a few bucks.
2. Explore Chinatown
What? Another Chinatown? For sure there are lots of Chinatowns in the world, but the largest one outside of Asia is located in San Francisco, and that makes an enough reason for you to check out this community. Stroll through picturesque streets as if you’re suddenly transported somewhere in mainland China, then see some souvenir shops or taste delicious Asian food. If you’re fond of attending festivities, you should come here during the Chinese New Year, the Autumn Moon and the Dragon Boat Festivals.
3. Check out the city’s charming staircases
In San Francisco, staircases are a thing. They’re not just mere passageways, but more often a work of art. Some of the most attractive staircases in the city are found near Lombard Streets. There’s also one at Filbert and Greenwich Street where you will see beautiful blooms and trees. Meanwhile, at the Upper Market, stairways are leading through the residential areas, providing a beautiful view of the city. Make it a little adventure and enjoy your staircase hunt!
No one to take selfies with? No problem! Visit the Madame Tussauds in San Francisco and enjoy taking pictures with life-sized wax figures of various celebrities. Rub elbows with Oscars Best Actor Leonardo diCaprio, strike an athletic pose with Serena Williams or hangout with Mark Zuckerberg. There’s also an area in the museum called Music Zone where you can interact with your favorite music icons including Adele, Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga and Elton John. Imagine being surrounded by some of the world’s most sought-after figures, then you won’t feel so alone anymore!
Don’t hesitate! Grab your tickets now.
Madame Tussauds San Francisco Including Complimentary Admission to the Dungeon
Price: From 24.95 USD
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5. Rent a bike and go around the city
Enjoy your alone time in San Francisco and go soul searching on two wheels! You can rent a bike from Hayes Valley and ride from the heart of San Francisco all the way to the Golden Gate Park. If you’re not comfortable riding too far, you may go around the neighborhood and check out Market Street, South of Market, Van Ness Avenue and Alamo Square. Another good alternative for bike-loving tourists is the Bikeshare at the Bay Area. Tip: download a biking map app to help you make your way through the city streets effortlessly!
6. Appreciate an alley filled with murals
Lovely street murals fill the Clarion Alley, making it look like an open-air museum — one of the most beautiful outdoor museums in San Francisco for that matter. With beautiful colors and hip vibe, this is a perfect place to visit whether you are an art enthusiast, or you simply want an enjoyable stroll. Since 1992, Clarion Alley has been a part of a project which allows various local and international artists to collaborate, create art and exchange learnings. If you’re lucky, you might even spot an artist at work when you come here!
7. Grab a meal while enjoying nice views
Travelling solo means having to eat your meals alone most of the time. Make up for it by dining with an excellent view! There’s the Sky Terrace at the Westfield Mall for an instance, where you can find a cozy place to eat, away from the bustling mall crowd. Please note that there is no direct entrance from the mall to the rooftop, but you can go there using the elevators at 835 Market. Another good option is 343 Sansome, which is open from 10 am to 5 pm. Its rooftop has many chairs and tables and also features a sundial obelisk made by Joan Brown.
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8. Visit a whole stretch of a street filled with different museums
One of the liveliest tourist areas in San Francisco is the Fisherman’s Wharf. It could be pretty jampacked on some days, but there are still many attractions here that are worth visiting. At Jefferson St. alone, you will find cafes, museums and shops which can get you occupied for hours. There’s the Maritime Museum, where you can learn about the local maritime history, and the Musee Mechanique, which features old arcade games from the 80s.
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If you’re feeling adventurous, ride a ferry from Fisherman’s Wharf to Alcatraz Island, a former high-security prison. Here, you will see the remnants of the abandoned jail including its Main Cellhouse, Lighthouse, Water Tower, Parade Grounds and Recreation Yard, among others. Take note that there are two different kinds of Alcatraz tours: the island tour and the harbor tour. If you choose the island tour, you will get to step on the island itself and see the former prison up close. Meanwhile, for harbor tours, the ferry only circles the island but on a slow pace so guests can still appreciate the views.
Go on a bay cruise and Alcatraz combo tour with this deal!
Alcatraz and San Francisco Bay Sightseeing Boat Tour
Price: From 155 USD
Duration: Approximately 90 minutes
Hightlights: Bay cruise and Alcatraz combo tour.
Explore the former island prison of Alcatraz with a self-guided audio tour.
Zip across San Francisco Bay on the RIB boat.
Admire views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Choice of several departures throughout the day.
10. Fill your tummy with a serving of clam chowder in a bread bowl
After touring around Alcatraz, treat yourself to a delicious snack at Boudin Bakery. They have three stores around the Fisherman’s Wharf, particularly located at Jefferson St., Taylor St. and Pier 39. Make sure to order their speciality: the Clam Chowder in a bread bowl! If that’s not your thing, you can order other stuff on their menu like the Rustic Tomato Soup, Beef Chili and Sourdough Pizza. At Boudin Bakery’s flagship location at Jefferson St., you can even learn about the history of the bakery and buy gift items for your loved ones back home.
There are various musical and theater performances in San Francisco that you can enjoy even without a date! There’s the San Francisco Opera, offering both new and classic dramatic acts, and San Francisco Symphony, a famed concert hall which can accommodate up to 2,700 people. Meanwhile, at the Museum of the Legion of Honor, organ concerts are held usually during weekends. Whatever your taste in music or theatre, San Francisco is a great place to get cultured!
Skip the lines and get your tickets now!
Legion of Honor Museum Admission
Price: From 15 USD
If you are a fan of live theater, you just have to check this out.
San Francisco Playhouse Theater Performance
Price: From 70 USD
Duration: Approximately 2 hours
12. Experience a bit of Japan
Aside from Chinatown, here’s a destination you can get more dose of Asian culture: Japantown! Also known as Nihonmachi and Little Osaka, this Japanese community in San Francisco was formed after an earthquake in 1906. Here, you may visit the Peace Plaza, see Ruth Asawa’s origami fountains and marvel at the five-tiered Peace Pagoda. You may also relax at the Kabuki Hot Springs, a traditional Japanese onsen and spa. Meanwhile, for some “kawaii” Japanese supplies shopping, don’t forget to drop by Kinokuniya Stationery and Kinokuniya Bookstore!
A unique experience combining science, art and human perception awaits guests at Exploratorium, a famous public learning library located at Pier 15. Here, you won’t just stare at the models or listen to the guides — you can experience them firsthand! Exploratorium hosts more than 600 exhibits, with an outdoor gallery, public space, and a restaurant. Tip: before coming here, check their website for special events. They’re open from Tuesday to Sunday, and they have adult-only visiting hours during Thursday nights.
Exploratorium General Admission
Price: From 29.95 USD
14. Enjoy views of the Golden Gate Bridge from a quiet beach
San Francisco is indeed a big city filled with buildings and many other manmade structures, but it also has a fair share of natural attractions that you can enjoy. For some quiet time, you may go to Baker Beach located at Gibson Road. Swimming is prohibited here because of the strong currents, but you can have your own mini picnic by the shore with, of course, a lovely view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Another good option is the Crissy Field Marsh and Beach, which has great cycling and walking trails.
15. Sip coffee and go people watching
Nothing beats a sip of hot coffee on a cold day! At Haight, there are cozy coffee shops where you can simply relax and watch people go by. There’s La Cafe du Soleil at Filmore Street, with outdoor seating and a menu offering pastries and sandwiches to go with your brew. At The Grind, aside from coffee, you can have your favorite breakfast items like omelette, buttermilk pancakes, toast, and hashbrowns. Other coffee places you can visit at Haight are Bean There, Cafe International and Coffee to the People among others.
16. Meet cute sea lions
Pier 39’s West Marina has been serving as home to sea lions since an earthquake hit San Francisco in 1989. Approximately 900 sea lions stay here during wintertime and they usually migrate during the summer. However, there are those who stay at the dock all year round. California sea lions are not just cute, they are known for their intelligence and playfulness too!
17. Try San Francisco’s food trucks
Ditch the fancy restaurants this time and enjoy the fun dining experience you can only get at food trucks. Off the Grid, for an instance, has different food truck vendors spread throughout the city. The range of cuisine vary, which includes Asian Fusion, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, Indian, Mexican and Peruvian, among others. Baked goods, savory items and even farm produce are also sold in food truck events. Tip: see Off the Grid’s website for specific schedules and locations!
18. Shop like a local
Learn how to shop like a local at the Ferry Building Marketplace, located at the Embarcadero. Here, you will find shops selling cookware, tableware, as well as farm produce and specialty food. If you can’t get enough of San Francisco’s delicious fare, this is the best place to get those artisan cheeses and the perfect wine to pair with it. For your sweet tooth cravings, pastry, ice cream, and chocolates are also available in some shops.
19. Join a walking tour of the city
Feel like meeting new people and joining a group? San Francisco City Guides offer free walking tours of various city neighborhoods! There’s no need to pre-register, all you have to do is to check the schedules on their website and then show up at the meeting place of the particular tour you would like to join. There is tours available all-year round, like those in Marina & Presidio, Haight & Western Addition, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Mission & Bernal Heights. Again, these tours are free but you can also give donations to your friendly local tour guide.
20. Attend a free concert
If you’re planning to visit San Francisco during summer, you should come to the Stern Grove Festival and see bands playing every Sunday from June to August. Better if you can attend the kickoff party, as it features famous acts and artists! As of 2016, it is already on its 79th season and admission is still absolutely free! Just make sure to come early because seating is on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Alone but never lonely at the Golden Gate City
Great food, interesting museums, fun events, and diverse culture — these are more than enough reasons to travel solo in the Golden Gate City. Keep those cameras handy, pack some nicely-fitting outfits, download some navigation apps (or get a physical map!), and you’ll be ready to rock San Francisco on your own!