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Best things to do in San Francisco

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Where in the world: USA  /  California  /  San Francisco
Things to do in San Francisco include exciting and sophisticated activities suited to all kinds of travelers. The infamous former prison on Alcatraz Island is among the most popular destinations within the city. Packed with museums, galleries, historical buildings, souvenir shops, and seafood restaurants, the waterfront neighborhood of Fisherman's Wharf draws millions of visitors each year. To spend a relaxing afternoon with friends or family, head to Golden Gate Park and enjoy a lakeside picnic on one of its shaded lawns. Wine tasting tours of Napa Valley are immensely popular among gastronomes, while curious travelers of all ages will appreciate a trip to Exploratorium, a museum of art and science.

San Francisco is best known for its Islands, Bridges, and Piers & Boardwalks.

Top 15 things to do in San Francisco

1. Alcatraz Island

Tour the infamous former maximum-security penitentiary on Alcatraz Island. Nicknamed The Rock, this small island in the San Francisco Bay is now a national park. After taking a ferry to the island, follow the audio guide, available in ten languages. You'll go through the inside of the old prison's facilities, which include a lighthouse, military fortifications, and cellblocks. Though long considered escape-proof, the prison suffered an irreparable blow to its reputation in 1962, when three inmates mysteriously disappeared using a makeshift raft. Explore the protected recreation area with a park ranger, who can enhance your visit with little-known information about the island's current inhabitants: the black-crested night herons and western gulls.
Suggested duration: 2h 30 min
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2. Golden Gate Bridge

One of the most photographed structures in the world, Golden Gate Bridge is the first feature of San Francisco you'll see when driving in from the north. Opened in 1937, the structure boasted the longest suspension bridge main span until 1964. Still considered one of the world's greatest engineering feats, the bridge draws visitors with its numerous vantage points, from which you can see and photograph the picturesque bay and boats passing under the iconic structure's red towers. The bridge has sectioned-off pathways on each side for both pedestrians and cyclists, so you can take your time crossing and admiring the views. Though the bridge closes for pedestrians at night.
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
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3. Fisherman's Wharf

Encompassing the northern waterfront of San Francisco, Fisherman's Wharf ranks as one of the city's top tourist attractions, packed with souvenir shops and seafood restaurants. Nearly 12 million visitors flock to this neighborhood each year, drawn by its museums, galleries, historical buildings, piers, and scenic vistas over the San Francisco Bay. For over a century the area served as the headquarters of the city's fishing fleet, which numbered nearly 500 vessels. Though the fleet's numbers dwindled over time, the remaining boats continue to supply some of the city's finest restaurants with fresh seafood. You can enjoy views of the bay from any number of restaurants, but try to explore other attractions as well, like the maritime museum, chocolate factory, and the infamous Alcatraz Island.
Suggested duration: 3 hours
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4. Golden Gate Park

Visit one of the country's largest and most-visited urban parks in the heart of the city at Golden Gate Park. The rectangular park is home to numerous museums, lakes, a botanical garden and conservatory, landscaped gardens, and athletic facilities. Spend a relaxing afternoon exploring the Japanese Tea Garden, or tour the previous home of the San Francisco 49ers football team, Kezar Stadium. Pack a picnic to enjoy lakeside or on one of the park's shaded lawns. Due to the park's sheer size, 412 hectares (1,017 acres), you might want to plan to take a bus or free shuttle back to the city center after exploring the park.
Suggested duration: 3h 30 min
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5. Ferry Building Marketplace

Located inside a landmark building designed by architect A. Page Brown in the Beaux Arts style, Ferry Building Marketplace takes up the entire ground floor, the former baggage handling area of a ferry terminal. At its completion in 1898, this building was the largest project ever undertaken in the city. Today, the marketplace attracts foodies from around the country with its small shops selling everything from expensive mushrooms and sourdough bread to award-winning wines, cheeses, and chocolate cupcakes. The plaza just outside the building hosts local farmers and merchants selling organic produce grown in the area, as well as fast foods like burgers, pizzas, and tacos. Don't miss a stop at one of the marketplace restaurants, serving fresh seafood dishes and signature cocktails.
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
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6. Exploratorium

At Exploratorium, observe a fruit fly under a microscope, create smoke signals, improve your memory, or learn about the world through experiments. You can join in 600 participatory exhibits suitable for all ages at this museum of science, art, and human perception. Take an excursion in total darkness, where you'll have to find the way out using only your sense of touch. More than a million visitors per year come to this site, which has been recognized by the National Science Board of the United States. To explore the outdoor section, dress accordingly.
Suggested duration: 4 hours
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7. Japanese Tea Garden

Originally constructed in 1894 for the World's Fair, Japanese Tea Garden represents the oldest garden of its kind in the country--a mainstay of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Spread out over 2 hectares (5 acres), the garden features quaint bridges, traditional pagodas, stone pathways, koi ponds, and scores of plants and foliage native to Japan. You'll find that the garden lives up to its namesake as well: Stop for a cup of traditional Japanese brew at the on-site tea house. The gift shop offers different blends and tea sets, along with all of the accompanying ceramic wares.
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
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8. Twin Peaks

Admire a spectacular view of San Francisco from Twin Peaks. Located 20 minutes from the city center, the park features two of the highest points in San Francisco and is a well-known escape from the buzz of the city, where visitors can enjoy a tranquil walk or picnic with sprawling views of the Bay Area from 281 m (922 ft) up. Be sure to pack a jacket, as the area is known for windy conditions.
Suggested duration: 3 hours
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9. California Academy of Sciences

Explore one of the world’s largest museums of natural history at California Academy of Sciences. Located in Golden Gate Park, the center offers the world’s only combined aquarium, planetarium, rainforest, and living museum. Ride past tigers and elephants on a simulated African safari or admire tropical animals and vegetation by climbing through the canopy of a living rainforest. Don’t miss the chance to shake things up in the earthquake simulator. Free parking is available for the first 4 hours.
Suggested duration: 3 hours
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10. Wine Tours & Tastings

Savor the delicate tastes and aromas of California's wine country on a tasting tour from San Francisco. You'll get to sample the best reds, whites, and sparkling wines in Marin, Sonoma, and Napa County, as you learn about local secrets of viniculture from a friendly guide. With a vast variety of excursions, you can easily find the combination of activities that suits your taste and budget. Nature lovers can admire towering redwood trees while trekking through Muir Woods National Monument. A scenic ride on a restored antique train provides a true hedonistic experience for those interesting in doing little more than relaxing. If you'd prefer a big dose of adrenaline, opt for a helicopter flight over Napa's rolling vineyards. You can choose from half-, full-, and two-day tours.
Suggested duration: 8 hours
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11. Wine Tours & Tastings, Napa

Delve into the gourmet culture of a world-famous wine region on a guided tasting tour of Napa Valley. As you admire the lovely scenery of sprawling vineyards and rolling hills, your engaging guide will provide a bit of history behind both big-name and family-owned estates. You can cycle (regular or electric bike) down country trails, hop on the historic Napa Valley Wine Train or Sonoma Wine Trolley, lounge on the comfy seat of a private limo or party bus, or join a walking tour of Healdsburg. Choose from a number of combo tours, some of which include trekking in Muir Woods or a visit to a medieval-style castle. The duration of these tours is flexible, spanning from 60 minutes to 2 days.
Suggested duration: 8 hours
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12. Musee Mecanique

Experience the entertainment of the past at Musee Mecanique, while interacting with Ed Zelinsky’s personal collection of 20th-century penny arcade games, music boxes, photo booths, and other coin-operated wonders. The museum pays homage to this impressive assortment that he began at the age of 11 and continued to add to throughout his life. Now grown to hundreds of antique machines, it is one of the largest of its type in the world. Although entrance is free, be sure to bring your spare change so you can try your luck out on some of the games.
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
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13. SoMa

SoMa attracts locals and tourists with its blend of lofty residences and run-down houses, art spaces, furniture showrooms, fashionable nightclubs, and international restaurants. This former industrial district--famous for its historically progressive attitude towards gay rights--started out as a working class neighborhood. In the 1980s and 1990s, it served as a hub for the city’s underground music scene. Today, it abounds with museums and art galleries, major tech firms, and internet companies. Sample dishes from food trucks while enjoying waterfront views of the bay and the bridge. Make sure you visit Martin Luther King’s memorial and the ballpark of the San Francisco Giants.
Suggested duration: 3 hours
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14. Beer Tastings & Tours

Experience some of the most prominent localities in San Francisco, including the infamous Alcatraz Island, on a beer tour and tasting. You can choose from a range of small-group trips to explore with a local guide, who will introduce you to the secrets of San Fran's beer-brewing history. If you're looking for a way to sweat out the alcohol in between beer tastings, try biking through Haight-Ashbury, the very center of the 1967 Summer of Love. Tours and tastings vary in range from just hour-long to full-day experiences.
Suggested duration: 4 hours
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15. Simraceway Performance Driving Center, Sonoma

A leading racing school with world-class instructors operating from a state-of-the-art facility at the finest road course in America

The Simraceway Performance Driving Center graduates hundreds of career-minded racers and thousands of motoring enthusiasts each year, so whether you’re seeking a life-changing experience or yearning for the experience of a lifetime, take a look at the wide range of programs and courses we offer to find out what we can do for you.
Suggested duration: 6 hours
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