There’s so much to see and do in San Francisco that it can be hard to know where to start. If you’re looking for some ideas on what to add to your bucket list, you’ve come to the right place! From iconic attractions like Alcatraz and Golden Gate Bridge to hidden gems off the beaten path, here are some must-see spots in SF. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a local looking for something new, these 21 items will help you get the most out of your trip. Get ready to explore one of America’s most beautiful cities!


1 Alcatraz Island:

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 24: Alcatraz City Cruises approach and dock for the partnership with The National Parks Service, Alcatraz City Cruises celebrates the 50th Anniversary of Alcatraz Island opening as a National Park at Alcatraz Island on October 24, 2023 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Araya Doheny/Getty Images for Alcatraz City Cruises)

No trip to San Francisco is complete without a visit to Alcatraz, one of the most famous prisons in the world. This historic island was once home to a notorious federal prison, which housed some of America’s most famous criminals. These days, it’s a popular destination and has some great views of the city. Take a guided tour of the island and learn about its fascinating history, then explore the cell blocks and soak up the incredible views. In fact, Bay Area Moms lists the Alcatraz Night Tour as part of their “Bay Area Fall Bucket List” for the Fall of 2023!

2 Golden Gate Bridge:

Another can’t-miss SF landmark is the Golden Gate Bridge. For the best views, walk or bike across the bridge, then stop at one of the lookout points to snap some photos. You can also take a tour on one of the bridge’s iconic red buses.

3 Muir Woods:Muir Woods

Just a short drive from San Francisco, Muir Woods is a must-see for nature lovers. This beautiful forest is home to towering redwoods, which make for a stunning setting for a hike or picnic lunch. Don’t forget your camera!

4 Fisherman’s Wharf:

Fisherman’s Wharf is one of San Francisco’s most popular tourist destinations, and it’s easy to see why. This historic district is home to a number of restaurants, shops, and attractions, including the world-famous Pier 39. Be sure to check out the sea lions at Pier 39 and Ghirardelli Square for some delicious chocolate.

5 Lombard Street:

Lombard Street is one of San Francisco’s most popular tourist attractions. This crooked street is located in the Russian Hill neighborhood and is known for its eight sharp turns. Be sure to walk or drive down this street- it’s an experience you won’t want to miss!

Chinatown San Francisco

6 Chinatown:

San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest in the United States and is well worth exploring. There’s a lot to see and do, from traditional Chinese restaurants to herbal shops in this vibrant neighborhood. You can dip in and out of delis, bakeries, taquerías, dim sum spots, and more!

7 Japanese Tea Garden:

The Japanese Tea Garden is a serene oasis in the middle of the city in Golden Gate Park. This garden is home to many traditional Japanese features, including a tea house, koi ponds, and stone bridges. Be sure to take a stroll through this tranquil setting.

8 Cable Cars:

San Francisco’s legendary cable cars are more than just a mode of transportation- they’re also a great way to see the city! Hop on board one of these iconic cars and hold on tight as you make your way up and down the hills of SF.

9 Union Square:

Union Square is the perfect place to do some people-watching or window shopping. This central plaza is home to high-end shops, hotels, and restaurants, as well as several art galleries. Be sure to check out the giant Tiffany & Co. store on Post Street.

10 Ghirardelli Square:

Ghirardelli Square is another great spot for shopping, eating, and people-watching. This historic district is home to Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory, as well as many cute cafes and shops. Be sure to try one of their delicious chocolate treats! Don’t forget to grab a box of chocolates to take home with you!

11 Twin Peaks:

For the best views of San Francisco, head to Twin Peaks. These two hills offer panoramic views of the city, Golden Gate Bridge, and beyond. On a clear day, you can even see Oakland!

Twin Peaks San Francisco

12 The Castro:

The Castro is one of San Francisco’s most vibrant and colorful neighborhoods. This historic district is known for its LGBT population and lively nightlife scene. Be sure to check out the world-famous Castro Theatre while you’re here.

13 Coit Tower:

Coit Tower is a great spot for panoramic views of San Francisco and the Bay Area. This Art Deco tower is located in Telegraph Hill and can be reached by taking a short hike or riding one of the city’s iconic cable cars.

14 Golden Gate Park:

Golden Gate Park is San Francisco’s version of Central Park and is well worth a visit. This massive urban park is home to a number of museums, gardens, and lakes. Be sure to check out the Japanese Tea Garden and the California Academy of Sciences.

Golden Gate Park San Francisco

15 The Presidio:

The Presidio is a large park located in San Francisco’s northern district. This former military base is now a great spot for hiking, picnicking and enjoying the stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

16 Sutro Baths:

Located in the Cliff House complex, Sutro Baths was once a public bathhouse that was destroyed in a fire in 1966. These days, it’s a popular spot for hiking and photography and offers some great views of the city.

17 Mission Dolores Park:

Mission Dolores Park is one of San Francisco’s most popular parks. This urban oasis is home to many events and festivals throughout the year, as well as a great view of the city.

18 The Painted Ladies:

The Painted Ladies are a row of Victorian houses located in San Francisco’s Alamo Square. These colorful houses are some of the most photographed buildings in the city and make for a great photo op.

19 The Wave Organ:

The Wave Organ is a unique musical instrument located in San Francisco’s Marina district. This outdoor sculpture uses the waves of the Bay to create sounds that are truly unique. Be sure to visit at high tide for the best experience.

20 The Palace of Fine Arts:

The Palace of Fine Arts is a beautiful structure located in San Francisco’s Marina district. This elegant building was constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition and now houses art galleries. Be sure to stroll through the grounds and enjoy the stunning architecture.

21 Fort Point:

Fort Point is a 19th-century fort located in San Francisco’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area. This fort was built to protect San Francisco Bay from enemy ships and now serves as a popular spot for fishing, picnicking, and photography.

22 San Francisco Dinner Cruise:

Savor an elegant evening on the Bay with our San Francisco Premier Dinner Cruise. We promise delicious cocktails, plated, chef-prepared menus, and top-notch service. Live entertainment sets the mood while you soak in the San Francisco skyline from climate-controlled interiors and open-air rooftop decks. You’ll delight in awe-inspiring sights, like Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and Bay Bridge.

San Francisco is a truly unique city with plenty to see and do. Whether you’re looking for great views, shopping, or just a fun night out, you’ll find it all here. Don’t take our word for it?  The Matador Network endorses City Experiences for five must-do San Francisco tours that include riding the iconic cable car, a trip to Chinatown, Alcatraz, Musée Mécanique, and a spectacular dinner cruise.

Be sure to add these spots to your San Francisco bucket list!

FAQs – San Francisco Bucket List (2024 & 2025)

What are must-visit landmarks in San Francisco?
Exploring Alcatraz Island, biking or walking across the Golden Gate Bridge, and visiting Coit Tower for panoramic city views are essential experiences. Alcatraz offers a glimpse into the infamous federal prison’s history, while the Golden Gate Bridge and Coit Tower provide stunning views of the city and the bay.

Can I experience unique culinary delights in San Francisco?
Absolutely! Don’t miss trying a Mission Burrito, a San Francisco invention known for its size and flavorful combination of ingredients. Dandelion Chocolate is a must-visit for chocolate lovers, offering bean-to-bar chocolates and factory tours. For a unique dining experience, consider a molecular gastronomy meal at Atelier Crenn, known for its innovative and visually stunning dishes.

Are there unique outdoor and cultural experiences?
Yes, San Francisco is filled with them. Visit the serene Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, discover the vibrant street art in Balmy Alley and Clarion Alley, and enjoy the stunning sunset views from Twin Peaks. For those interested in history and architecture, Fort Point offers a unique perspective of the Golden Gate Bridge and a dive into military history.

What are some not-to-be-missed activities?
Riding a cable car is quintessentially San Franciscan and offers a historic mode of transportation with fantastic city views. Ice skating in Union Square during the holiday season adds a festive touch to your visit. Exploring the Sutro Baths ruins provides a mix of history and natural beauty, perfect for those looking to combine an outdoor adventure with learning about San Francisco’s past.

Why should City Cruises be on your San Francisco bucket list?
City Cruises offer an unparalleled opportunity to see San Francisco from the water, providing breathtaking views of iconic landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and the San Francisco skyline. These cruises not only offer a memorable sightseeing experience but also provide a relaxing and luxurious atmosphere where you can enjoy fine dining, cocktails, and entertainment against the backdrop of stunning ocean and city vistas. It’s a perfect blend of leisure and exploration, suitable for romantic evenings, family outings, or simply a novel way to see the city’s sights from a new angle.

Why should Alcatraz City Cruises be included in your bucket list?
Alcatraz City Cruises is your gateway to exploring one of San Francisco’s most historic and intriguing attractions: Alcatraz Island. Known for its notorious federal prison, which once housed some of America’s most infamous criminals, the island is now a fascinating museum. A visit to Alcatraz offers a glimpse into the prison life of the past, escape attempts, and the island’s history before it became a prison, including its role as a military fortification and a Native American protest site. The audio tour, often highlighted for its engaging storytelling, brings the history of Alcatraz to life. Including Alcatraz City Cruises in your bucket list ensures an educational, immersive experience that combines history, mystery, and spectacular views of the surrounding Bay Area​​.

What neighborhoods should I explore to get the true essence of San Francisco?
Don’t miss the chance to explore the diverse neighborhoods of San Francisco. The Mission District is famous for its vibrant street art and culinary scene, while Haight-Ashbury takes you back to the Summer of Love with its psychedelic murals and vintage shops. North Beach, the city’s Little Italy, offers charming cafes and a rich Beat generation history.

Can I find family-friendly activities in San Francisco?
Yes, San Francisco is full of family-friendly activities. The California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park is an educational wonderland for all ages, featuring an aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum. The Exploratorium on Pier 15 offers hands-on learning experiences that engage children and adults alike in the wonders of science.

Are there any hidden gems in San Francisco I shouldn’t miss?
For a unique experience, visit the Wave Organ, an acoustic sculpture located on a jetty in the San Francisco Bay, which produces music with the ocean’s waves. The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps offer a beautiful mosaic that leads to a breathtaking view of the city, making it a worthwhile climb.

What seasonal events are a must-see in San Francisco?
Experience the magic of the Chinese New Year Parade in the spring, one of the largest celebrations of Asian culture outside of Asia. In the summer, enjoy free performances at the Stern Grove Festival. The Illuminate SF Festival of Light during the winter holiday season showcases stunning light art installations throughout the city.

How can I enjoy San Francisco’s natural beauty?
Take a ferry to Angel Island State Park for hiking, biking, and spectacular views of the San Francisco skyline, Marin County, and Mount Tamalpais. The Lands End Trail offers rugged coastline views, a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge, and access to the secluded Mile Rock Beach.

What special events can I celebrate with City Cruises in San Francisco?
City Cruises in San Francisco is perfect for celebrating special events like birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, or simply enjoying a unique night out. Themed cruises, such as sunset cruises or holiday fireworks cruises, provide a festive atmosphere for any celebration.

Does City Cruises offer educational opportunities in San Francisco?
Yes, some City Cruises offer educational content, such as narrated tours that delve into the history and significance of San Francisco’s landmarks, the ecological importance of the Bay Area, and insights into the city’s architectural marvels, making it a valuable experience for both tourists and locals interested in learning more about their city.

Original Posted on August 10, 2022