The Everybody Does List

San Francisco go car
GoCar Tour

There’s a reason why San Francisco is one of the world’s most visited cities. From natural splendors to manmade attractions, the city’s 7 x 7 miles overflow with things to do, places to go, and people to see. This is the typical list of what people do when visiting the city, but that doesn’t mean you have to have a typical experience. To avoid the crowds at SF’s most popular tourist attractions, consider visiting at odd  hours or during low season.

  1. Alcatraz: Ferry from Pier 33 to take an entertaining audio tour orated by old inmates of this notorious abandoned prison. If you want to go to Alcatraz, book as far in advance as possible—tickets are sold out weeks in advance! 
    Alcatraz's beautiful gardens

    Alcatraz’s beautiful gardens

  2. Alamo Square: Big buildings scrape the sky in the distance but in Alamo Square, little houses all lean prettily in little rows. SF locals love it for its serene environs in the midst of city living. Great for picnics.
  3. Cable Cars: Ride the only “moving” national historic landmark. $5 for a ticket (cash only). Tip: Muni’s historic F-Market streetcar offers shorter lines and cheaper tickets.
  4. Chinatown: The largest Chinese community outside of China. Don’t miss Portsmouth Square and Ross Alley (home to the fortune cookie factory!).Tip: Walk down the Inner Richmond’s Clement Street for a less touristy trip to China.
  5. Ferry Building: Artisan shops, an amazing farmers’ market Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and fresh caught seafood. You can also catch a ferry to Sausalito or Tiburon. Visit ACG’s Financial District page to read more.
  6. Fisherman’s Wharf & Pier 39: Clam chowder bread bowls, sidewalk shows, and souvenirs. Not many locals here unless bringing guests that insist a visit here. Tip: Visit Musée Mécanique or participate in an old Irish tradition on the  first Saturday night of each month aboard a historic ship for a Chantey SingVisit ACG’s Fisherman’s Wharf page to read more.
  7. Golden Gate Park: Larger than NYC’s Central Park, GGP offers both peace and recreation. Don’t miss The Botanical Gardens, Japanese Tea Garden, Stow Lake, the bison, and AIDS Memorial Grove. Tip: Plan your trip on a Sunday when an outdoor skating party takes place from 12-4pm, as well as free dance lessons with Lindy in the Park, from 11am– 2pm. Both events take place near Music Concourse.

    Skating Party, Golden Gate Park every Sunday 12-4pm

  8. Haight-Ashbury: Hippies, smoke shops, and second-hand clothing stores. Visit ACG’s Haight-Ashbury page to read more.
  9. Union Square: Shopping, shopping, and shopping. You’ll find crowds and fanfare, but not many locals. Check out Burritt Room + Tavern: a vintage speakeasy bar tucked inside the Mystic Hotel with amazing specialty craft cocktails and live jazz music.  Their Negroni is a must try. For parties of 6-8, order one of their punch bowls.
  10. Twin Peaks: Is it possible to travel to Ireland in 30 minutes from downtown SF? Yes. Check out SF’s 2nd and 3rd tallest points and take in incredible city views. And it’s not all about the view from the top—enjoy the unique architecture on the trek up. You can walk from either the Castro or the Haight. Challenge: Find Ali’s “footprints” and take a photo!
  11. Ghirardelli Square: Tourists eat up the free chocolate samples and famous ice cream sundaes. Sip a famous Irish Coffee at nearby Buena Vista Café. Tip: Check out free Musée Mécanique and find the typewriter fortunate teller. Tip: Buy better local chocolate from Dandelion Chocolate (storefront in the Mission @ 18th St. & Valencia), TCHO (factory just across the bay in Berkeley), or XOX Truffles (storefront in North Beach on Columbus & Greenwich).
  12. Golden Gate Bridge: Although quintessentially touristy, the experience of walking across it really is special. Tip: Cross with a bike and keep pedaling to Sausalito. You can return to SF by ferry. Tip: Take photos without other tourists along Lands End trail.
  13. GoCar Tour: Similar to the hop-on-hop-off buses, as you get to visit all the touristy spots in one go.