If you’re looking for things to do in San Francisco and want to visit all of the iconic spots, then here is a San Francisco bucket list guide.
The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most iconic spots in the world, which is why it is high on most people’s bucket lists and one of the best things to do in San Francisco.
For those looking to do it on a budget, our favourite spot was Battery Spencer. It gave all the vibes we’d expected and in fact left us a little speechless.
However if you want to avoid the crowds completely then Golden Gate Overlook is an alternative spot to view the bridge from.
In real life it isn’t just a place, it’s a feeling. And after seeing it in the movies, the Golden Gate Bridge certainly didn’t disappoint.
If you plan ahead, Alcatraz is THE most popular tourist attraction in San Francisco, however tickets sell out way in advance.
So the best bet is to reserve your tickets as soon as possible, and one of the best value for money ways to do so is by booking the Alcatraz and Big Bus Premium Ticket Combo.
For those thinking what the hell is Alcatraz? Well…Alcatraz Island is located in San Francisco Bay, 1.25 miles (2.01 km) offshore from San Francisco, and was most famous for it’s a federal prison. However the prison closed it’s doors in 1963.
The federal penitentiary was shut down because its operating expenses were much higher than those of other federal facilities at the time.
During nearly three decades of operation, Alcatraz housed a total of 1576 men. Including many infamous prisoners such as Al Capone and Robert Franklin Stroud.
Today, the island is a tourist attraction and many people flock here each year to explore the depths of the abandoned prison.
There are so many ways to incorporate an Alcatraz visit into your trip, such as the Half-Day Golden Gate Catamaran Cruise & Alcatraz Visit or an Alcatraz Ticket + Walking Craft Beer Tour.
Either way, it’s one of the bucket list of best things to do in San Francisco!
Fisherman’s Wharf is San Francisco’s most famous waterfront community.
With it being one of the city’s busiest tourist areas, there is everything you expect to see from America combined into one place.
There are souvenir shops, stalls selling crabs fresh from the seafront and clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls appear at every turn.
Our advice to you is be the best tourist you can be at Fisherman’s Wharf!
Pier 39 is located in the heart of the San Francisco waterfront in the Fisherman’s Wharf area.
Its famous for it’s entertainment, shopping & restaurant facilities, and most importantly the world-famous sea lions.
The beautiful creatures having been welcoming guests daily at K-dock since 1990. Pier 39 is their home, so as far as Sea Lions go, a visit to San Francisco starts at the Pier.
If you want to get even closer to the sea life, Aquarium of the Bay is located at the end of Pier 39 and is one of the most popular attractions in the area.
Therefore we recommend you book your Aquarium of the Bay: Skip-the-Line Tickets in advance.
Lombard Street is known for it’s eight sharp turns that are said to make it the most crooked street in the world.
This curvy road is a major tourist attraction, receiving around two million visitors per year and up to 17,000 per day on busy summer weekends.
It’s not only curvy, but very pretty too. The floral arrangements as well as the bushes and trees are very well kept and the view from the top is incredible.
If you’re looking to tick off seeing places with world records, your bucket list of best things to do in San Francisco has to include Lombard Street.
Bernal Heights has a small town feel while still being in a central part of San Francisco.
Not so long ago, it was the city’s best kept secret but with it’s impeccable views overlooking the whole city, it was obvious that it would become a newly discovered hotspot.
With it being one the best bucket list things to do in San Francisco, a swing now hangs from a tree where you can get a famous Instagram shot.
However, there are also many other photo opportunities from this viewpoint amidst the flowers and stunning skyline backdrop.
The neighborhood is primarily residential, with a commercial strip along Cortland Avenue featuring a few restaurants, shops and bakeries.
We stayed at Cova Hotel, which happened to have a rooftop bar with awesome views of the city.
We highly recommend finding a place where you can observe San Francisco’s concrete jungle. Waking up at sunrise to listen and see the city from above was one our most special moments in San Francisco.
Some of the best rooftop bars are: Rooftop 25, Oeste, Everdeen and El Techo de Lolinda.
The Painted Ladies, a set of exquisitely preserved Victorian houses, sit just off Alamo Square and they are like postcards.
If you take the San Francisco Sightseeing Hop-on-Hop-off Bus this will be one of your stops. The bus lets you explore legendary sites such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf. With options of a 24, 48 or 72 hour pass.
You may recognise them from the TV show ‘Full House’ aired in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and there’s even a Beyond the Painted Ladies Walking Tour!
If you take a walk to the top of the hill you can see San Francisco’s skyline in the backdrop.
They are one of the most famous attractions of the city, having frequently appeared in media, postcards and photographs of the city, including an estimated 70 movies, TV programs, and ads.
Aside from Pier 39, there are many other beautiful piers along the San Fransisco coastline.
Pier 7 was another of our favourites because of its stunning city backdrop.
If you start at the Ferry Building, opposite Sue Bierman Park and walk along the Embarcadero, you may find markets, buskers and creative groups of people strolling up and down the strip.
Union Square is a shoppers paradise in the heart of San Francisco.
The bustling square near the theater district has everything from upscale department stores and boutiques, to discount houses.
This central spot is the hub of the skyscrapers, and if you look up and spin around, you are surrounded by the tallest blocks in the city.
One of the coolest things we saw in Union Square was the Union Square Cable Car City Tour, a one-of-a-kind city tour that lets you travel the streets of San Francisco in style aboard an authentic classic cable car.
Another cool tour we found online was the San Francisco Evening Ghost Tour. Where you can join a ghost walking tour through Nob Hill and Union Square, if you’re brave enough!
In the neat, vibrant square you will find rows of palm trees, art sculptures in each corner and very unique street performers.
They say no moment of silence was ever found at union square, and we can vouch for that. Which is kind of what makes visiting Union Square one for the bucket list of best things to do in San Francisco!
Our expectation of San Francisco was spot on with the Wall Murals and different creative districts.
San Francisco has more than 1,000 murals throughout the city. However, the largest concentration of them is in the Mission District.
Our advice would be to wander around and explore the city and we promise you’ll find yourself taking endless pictures of talented art work.
It is the wall murals in this city that make it so vibrant, yet retro. You may even come away with a new, hipster wallpaper.
12. Ride The Cable Cars
You can’t visit San Francisco and not take a ride on one of the city’s most iconic attractions. Riding a cable car has to be on the bucket list of best things to do in San Francisco!
Of the 23 cable car lines established between 1873 and 1890 there are only three lines now remaining. However, they all offer an exhilarating and unique way of doing some sightseeing around the city.
Carrying over 7 million passengers a year, you will see lots of locals jumping on and off. However, most passengers will be tourists aiming for a big tick on their San Francisco bucket list.
Offering breathtaking views it’s no wonder that these historic cable cars are a top attraction in San Francisco.
Running every day from 7.00am to 10.30pm, single ride tickets are $7 per adult.
If you prefer a guided tour the City Walking Tour and Bay Cruise w/ Cable Car includes a cable car ride.
13. Ghirardelli Square
Ghirardelli Square is a popular retail area in the Marina District of San Francisco. Beautifully renovated factory buildings are home to inviting shops, restaurants and galleries.
Originally built as the headquarters of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company in 1893, when the company relocated in the 1960s this full city block of 19th century buildings was tastefully repurposed.
However, the main attraction of the square is still the Ghirardelli Company’s chocolate shops and ice cream parlours. Visitors have been coming here for decades to enjoy their delicious chocolate and ice cream sundaes.
With its lively mix of retail, restaurants and sea views, it’s easy to see why this is a popular tourist attraction. As well as a go-to spot for all chocolate lovers.
The City Walking Tour and Bay Cruise w/ Cable Car includes a stop at Ghirardelli Square to sample the famous chocolate.
14. Boudin Bakery
Boudin Bakery is iconic when it comes to bakeries in San Francisco. The oldest continually operating business in the city, it’s loved by locals and visitors alike.
Famous for its delicious sourdough, first made here back in 1849 by Isidore Boudin, you will find plenty of outlets across San Francisco.
However, the Boudin Bakery flagship is located in the heart of Fishermans Wharf. Here you can enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner, all in a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
In addition, if you are interested, you can watch the bakers at work and learn the full story of the famous sourdough bread and the city that made it possible
Offering everything sourdough, from sandwiches to pizzas, the stand-out dish that they are famous for is definitely their clam chowder sourdough bread bowl. (They also have vegetarian options.)
From fast food heaven, to plant based Mexican, we absolutely loved our food journey in San Francisco.
One thing we didn’t realise about San Francisco until we arrived, is how famous it is for its wine!
There a so many wine tasting tours and wine country excursions on offer that you may want to check them out before you go.
For us, however, we stuck to the food!
A plant based Mexican restaurant with flavours that create fireworks in your mouth.
We weren’t surprised to hear that Gracias Madre were winners of the ‘Best Vegan Restaurant in San Francisco’ in 2022.
Serving a great variety of flavoursome Mexican dishes including enchiladas, burritos, fajitas and tacos, as well as some great cocktails, there is something for everyone.
Open at 11am each day, they serve brunch right through to dinner and also have a great Dessert and Cafe menu!
This was definitely the best Mexican food we’ve ever had.
In n Out Burger
Famous for serving 100% beef burgers, made fresh to order, and hand cut fries, they are definitely doing something right.
They offer three burger varieties – hamburger, cheeseburger, and ‘Double-Double’. As well as veggie and vegan options and grilled cheese sandwiches. Not forgetting the delicious fries and milkshakes.
A well known secret (not officially on the menu) are their popular Animal Style Fries. A plate of fries loaded with cheese, extra spread, grilled onions and pickles!
For me, the Grilled Cheese Animal Style with the almighty fries hit the spot!
Super Duper Burgers
Super Duper Burgers are a massive, world wide food chain. This said, they really do live up to their name and produce the goods!
Proudly serving 100% all-natural burgers with delicious fries and milkshakes. They also offer vegetarian options such as the unbelievable tasty organic, veggie patties with avocado.
If you’re on the go and looking for some tasty fast food, we can definitely recommend Super Duper Burgers. The best burger we had in America!
Eating, eating and eating is certainly one of the best things to do in San Francisco! And don’t forget to grab a few cool ‘candy’ bars to take home!
Where To Stay In San Francisco
One of the most sought after hotels in San Francisco.
Located in the SOMA District of San Francisco, St Regis features a full service spa, an indoor infinity pool and an on-site restaurant.
This 5-star accommodation is just an 8 minute walk from Union Square, and is super central to everything in the city.
All guest rooms come with a luxurious bathroom with a soaking tub, and a TV.
Centrally located in Downtown San Francisco, Cova Hotel offers a free shuttle service to Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf.
Guests can enjoy a daily continental breakfast at the hotel.
Cova Hotel rooms include a 42-inch flat-screen HDTV, a French balcony and free WiFi. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer city views.
In-house guests can enjoy a complementary unlimited wine reception from Monday through Sunday from 17:00 until 19:00 at the rooftop bar.
The hotel also has a 24-hour business centre, a fitness centre, and room service is also available.
Conveniently located in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, Boston Hotel is set less than 0.6 miles from San Francisco City Hall.
A 20 minute walk from Union Square, the accommodation offers a 24-hour front desk and luggage storage for guests.
At Boston Hotel all rooms have a wardrobe and a flat-screen TV as well as free WiFi.
A shared bathroom with a shower and a hairdryer is available for all to use.
For more places to stay in San Francisco, you can check the latest prices on Booking.com.