Best Things to Do in San Francisco, CA

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The first place I take a visitor from out of town is to The Ferry Building Farmer’s Market – especially on a Saturday morning.  As San Francisco is such a foodie town, I find that this is a great way to see the culture of the Bay Area.  Time for only a drink?  Go to the Burritt Tavern in Charlie Palmer’s Mystic Hotel for a cocktail.

When I crave San Francisco cuisine, I turn to  Californian/French cuisine.  My favorite unknown restaurant is Isa (located on Steiner between Chestnut and Lombard) – serving small tapas style plates with French Cuisine.  Sushi is always a go to in San Francisco. There are many little spots that offer fish such as Kiss Kiss or Sushi Ran in Sausalito.

To escape work go to Chrissy Field for a run along the water towards the Golden Gate Bridge.  Tune out to an iPod or the sound of the fog horns.  Lyon street stairs, a stroll down Chestnut Street or a bike ride to Sausalito are always good escapes. Or, get out of the city and hideaway in Sausalito, walking the docks.

For complete quiet, I can hide away at  the Japanese Tea Garden or rent a paddle boat at Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park.  Need to relax? Book a massage at Nob Hill Spa and spend the afternoon poolside in the Hotel Huntington’s famed relaxation haven. Why not take a book and head over to the beach at Chrissy Field?

If You Come to San Francisco

If you come to San Francisco, get your picture taken at the top of Mt. Tamalpais overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and the city.  Take your picture on the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, ferrying to Sausalito, enjoying an Irish coffee at Buena Vista Café or hop on a cable car and go shopping in Union Square.

If you have to order one thing off the menu at Restaurant Out the Door, get the Pork Belly to go, or if you want to really splurge, order the Mac Daddy Mac and Cheese at Fat Angel.

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San Francisco is my one stop shop for sourdough bread. Acme makes the best bread and is located in the Ferry Building. If you are in Fisherman’s Wharf, Boudin is a close second.  Fresh produce at the farmer’s market is a San Francisco treat.

La Taqueria taco, best places to eat in san francisco mission district
La Taqueria has the best tacos in San Francisco’s Mission District

When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I go to Nopalito or La Taqueria on Mission Streeet for the best tacos.

For a huge splurge, I go to Spruce or the new Francis.  Of course there’s Gary Danko or Fleur de Lys.

Photo ops in San Francisco include the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge (at night), Museum of Fine Arts, Lombard Street, and people watching on Haight Street.  There’s also Top of the Mark,  Bay to Breakers race,  the Pride Parade and the Blue Angels in October.

The best vantage points are taken by walking to the top of  Nob Hill.  You can see vantage points of the Bay Bridge, downtown, Portrero Hill, and Pacific Heights.  Not high enough?  Go to the top of the Mark for a full panorama.  Alternatively, walk to the top of Telegraph Hill overlooking the Bay Bridge at night – best for a full moon!

The most random thing about San Francisco is the Totally Illegal Big Wheels race down Vermont Street at 20th and the Gay Pride Parade. Bay to Breakers  is unique – watch the tortillas fly in the air at the start of the race.

sail under golden gate bridge, walk across golden gate bridge, best things to do in san francisco, golden gate bridge sunset
An active day in San Francisco involves walking across the Golden Gate Bridge. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

In San Francisco an active day outdoors involves walking, hiking or biking.  Walking the hills of San Francisco is most certainly an urban hiking experience.  Wander down (or up) the squiggly path of Lombard Street – beats being stuck in a car on Lombard Street.  Rent a bike and ride across the Golden Gate Bridge.

My favorite walking route is Chrissy Field in the Marina or Tennessee Valley in Marin.

San Francisco’s best museum is the DeYoung in Golden Gate Park – it has the largest collection.  SF MoMA is recommended for modern art and the Contemporary Jewish Museum offers a touch of culture that spans beyond Judaism.

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For a night of dancing, go to Press Club San Francisco on the weekends for a high class wine tasting and dancing experience that spans beyond the grimy club scene.  Best part?  Top DJ’s spinning house, funk and jazz tunes.

The Press Club is the spot for late night dining.With a late night wine pairing menu with bites including Braised Artichoke and Panzanella Salad and Smoked Salmon and Caviar Blintz with crème fraiche pair expertly with premium wines from the six exclusive wineries located on premise, it is not to be beat.  For more casual fare, Caribbean Pulled Pork Sliders with house made orange fennel marmalade paired with Miner Family Tempranillo and Crispy Three Cheese Pizzetta with fresh mushrooms; fennel, pepperoncini and organic onion paired with Hanna Chardonnay.

To find out what’s going on at night or on weekends, read the San Francisco Chronicle, Daily Candy SF, Urban Daddy, Thrillist, Eater SF and Tablehopper.

You can tell a lot about the Bay Area from visiting Pt. Reyes and dining on oysters at Marshall.  Carried Away Tours can arrange a private, custom tour of this area with highlights including the Bovine Bakery, a local favorite, and even Pt. Reyes Blue Cheese. You can also go horseback riding to the beach in Olema.

In the spring you should attend Bay to Breakers race.

In the summer you should attend the Gay Pride Parade.

In the fall you should visit Sonoma and Napa Valley during the wine harvest.   This is a prolific time to be in the area, and also a major tourist attraction so plan wisely.  Visit Maisonry in Yountville for tastes of cult wines including Uvaggio.  Can’t make it to Napa?  Stop by the Press Club to experience the latest vintages of the wine bar’s exclusive brands including Chateau Montelena Winery- the Calistoga brand that placed California wines on the international stage during Napa Valley’s wine birth more than 30 years ago; Fritz Winery famed for its Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley grapes;  Hanna Winery & Vineyards, a 250 acre estate Sonoma vineyard; Miner Family Vineyards which produces its flagship Oracle – a Bordeauxstyle blend; Mount Eden Vineyards, one of California’s first boutique wineries; and Saintsbury, whose California Pinot Noir placed the varietal firmly on the world’s wine map.

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In the winter you should go to the outdoor ice skating rink at the Embarcadero Center.  Nothing beats the idea of ice skating under Palm trees.  Chilly?  Stop into Americano Restaurant for a nightcap in the Hotel Vitale only steps away from the rink.

palace of fine arts, best things to do in san francisco
Don’t miss San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts. Photo © Nancy D. Brown

A hidden gem in San Francisco is Sacramento Street for shopping or the rooftop of JAQK Cellars’ headquarters for wine pairing  with a view of the bay.

For a great breakfast treat or espresso, go to Foreign Cinema for the famous Pop Tart!  Philz Coffee’s Philharmonic is the best coffee in town.

Just outside of San Francisco you can visit Tiburon. Have lunch (margaritas and guacamole) at Guaymas Restaurant overlooking the harbor and Angel Island with views of San Francisco.  Take the Ferry to add to the experience.

The best way to see San Francisco is to walk or take the cable car for a true San Francisco experience.

If you have kids, you won’t want to miss The Exploratorium near Pier 15/17 or Golden Gate Park’s buffalos.

What are your favorite things to do in San Francisco?

Article, YouTube video and photos by Nancy D. Brown

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12 thoughts on “Best Things to Do in San Francisco, CA”

  1. Great list. I’ve always wanted to visit SF. I’m going to try and get a stop over sometime when I’m coming back from Asia.

  2. @Nancie
    You will love San Francisco. It’s quite different from Asia – no drying rice on the side of the road- but we have a wonderful China town district. Great food may be found throughout the city.

  3. This is the best info I’ve found! I’ve been trying to plan a trip to the city, and will definitely use your info! Thanks for including the links, too.

  4. Hi Nancy,
    Coming to the US in Aug. 2013 with my daughter and her husband.
    Years ago…and I mean YEARS… I bought a square of deep fried sour dough with I think, sour cherries and cream from a sidewalk vendor. No one seems to have heard about them do they still exist?
    Thanks for your suggestions, we are putting our itinerary together with the help of a travel agent but I think it best if we do our own thing in our own time with help from people such as yourself and have the ‘real’ San Francisco experience.
    Best wishes..Carol..

  5. @Carol
    Thanks for stopping by. I’m born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and I have yet to encounter deep fried sourdough bread with sour cherries. You’ll want to check out the many food trucks we have in San Francisco on your summer trip. Also, remember to bring a sweatshirt for an August visit. You’ll have more sunshine outside of the City. I have plenty of insider tips listed under San Francisco. Enjoy!

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