San Francisco packs so many joyful surprises into its seven square miles, squeezed in between the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean and the roller coaster hills that slope down to the bay. Paul Kantner of the Jefferson Airplane rock band said, “San Francisco is 49 square miles surrounded by reality.” The city’s surreal sights and colorfully quirky neighborhoods create a fun-loving atmosphere that inspires fun outings. This Top 10 Fun Things to Do in San Francisco list suggests something for everyone, from a dessert-tasting safari in Hayes Valley to a pedal boating excursion in Golden Gate Park.
1. Taste your way through the Ferry Building
Locals know that the best place to find gourmet food in San Francisco is at the Ferry Building. Inside the historic terminal are some of the city’s most prestigious specialty food shops: Acme Bread, Miette Bakery, Recchiuti Chocolates, Blue Bottle Coffee as well as purveyors of fine wine, cheese and even rare mushrooms. Enjoy a burger at the American Eatery, a grilled cheese sandwich at Cowgirl Sidekick or a Baja-style fish taco at Mijita Cocina Mexicana and sample Humphry Slocombe ice cream for dessert. On a warm day, sit outside to enjoy the stunning views of the bay. Then go for a scenic stroll along the Embarcadero waterfront, the city’s most picturesque boulevard. Looking to learn more about the Ferry Building? Read our Self Guided Walking Ferry Building Food Tour.
2. Relax at Yerba Buena Gardens and find the MLK quotes
Right in the heart of downtown San Francisco, Yerba Buena Garden is a peaceful retreat for busy professionals on their lunch break. This spot is also ideal for tourists to relax on a sunny day. Pick up an artisan sandwich at Split Bread and then have a picnic in the park. Be sure to see the Martin Luther King Memorial, an installation of Sierra granite behind a 20-foot high waterfall. Twelve glass panels are inscribed with King’s inspiring words and poems.
Photo by David Dames
3. Play Arcade Games at the Musée Mécanique and dine at Alioto’s Restaurant
An exciting world of vintage amusement awaits visitors to the Musée Mécanique, one of the world’s largest collections of antique arcade games. Open daily with free admission, the Musée Mécanique is located on Pier 45 at the tourist hot spot of Fisherman’s Wharf. Nearby is Alioto’s, a famous Italian restaurant with amazing views of the fishing harbor and the Golden Gate Bridge, and known for its seafood specialties, including its historical involvement in San Francisco Cioppino. Read more about the history of Cioppino.
4. Browse Hayes Valley boutiques and sample delicious desserts
One of San Francisco’s stylish up-and-coming neighborhoods, Hayes Valley is full of fashionable clothing boutiques and enticing foodie spots. The city’s best macarons are found at Chantal Guillon on Hayes Street and just a few doors down is Christopher Elbow, a tempting little shop that sells exquisite chocolate truffles. Other highlights are Miette Bakery and Smitten Ice Cream. For more desserts, check out our Self Guided Walking Hayes Valley Sweets Tour.
5. Step back in time with cocktail hour at a 1920s’ speakeasy
For the most authentic Prohibition-era experience, make a reservation at Bourbon & Branch. This historic speakeasy sold alcoholic beverages illegally from 1921 to 1933. Renovated in elegant 20s style, Bourbon & Branch has the ambience of a bygone era and serves handcrafted cocktails based on classic recipes. Adding to the charm, guests must provide the hostess with a password (provided when you make a reservation) before being allowed to enter.
Balmy Alley Mural
6. Go on a Food Tour and mural walk in the Mission District
The Mission district is famous for its vibrant murals painted by local artists from the community and its trendy culinary scene. Many of the murals express a political message and reflect the neighborhood’s hispanic heritage. Clarion Alley near Valencia Street and Balmy Alley near 24th Street have the best collection of murals. Why not combine the food and the art by taking an Avital Food Tour in the Mission District – see some of the murals and savor trendy tacos and historic burritos while getting to hear their stories.
7. Weekend flea market and wine tasting on Treasure Island
A short drive from the city at the midpoint of the Bay Bridge, Treasure Island offers an escape to nature and fantastic views of the San Francisco skyline. On the last weekend of every month, Treasure Island hosts a popular flea market with food, drinks and entertainment. The island also has several wineries (part of the San Francisco Wine Group) that are open to the public every weekend.
8. Take a cable car ride to Chinatown and enjoy local Chinese cuisine
A visit to San Francisco would not be complete without a cable car ride. Begin in the financial district and take the California Street line to Chinatown. After exploring the shops, take time to sample authentic Chinese cuisine. For dim sum, City View on Commercial Street or Yank Sing in the financial district are great choices. Another popular restaurant is Z&Y Restaurant which boasts the Michelin 2015 Bib Gourmand designation and distinguished patrons including President Obama and the president of China – plus amazing spicy Szechuan regional cuisine.
9. Picnic at Dolores Park and have ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery for dessert
A favorite local hangout, Dolores Park is a wonderfu place to soak up the Mission’s balmy weather and eclectic ambience. A must-stop for foodies is just across the street from the park—Bi-Rite Creamery, which makes some of the city’s best handcrafted ice cream from fresh local and organic ingredients.
10. Spend the afternoon pedal boating on Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park
For a truly nostalgic experience, head to the idyllic Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park. Rent a pedal boat to take a relaxing journey around the lake. Stow Lake also has a cafe that serves healthy organic food as well as old-fashioned classics like pink popcorn.