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Top 10 Things to do in San Francisco on your next visit

Your guide to San Francisco / Things to do in San Francisco

Things to do in San Francisco

Whether you want to explore vibrant art scenes, beautiful outdoor attractions or iconic landmarks, San Francisco has just what you're seeking. Discover the best of the Golden City and find out what to do during the ultimate San Francisco getaway.

Take a Mural Tour in the Mission District

Take a Mural Tour in the Mission District

Address: 2981 24th Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

Find it on Google Maps.

The Mission District has long been known for its colorful murals, and you won't want to miss the chance to tour the artwork alongside a knowledgeable guide. For over 40 years, Precita Eyes has overseen the murals' care and creation, and this community organization also offers guided tours of the murals. Group tours take place every weekend and are designed to introduce you to the bold artwork that lines Mission Street and 24th Street in the heart of the district. Tours begin at the Precita Eyes Center and typically last a little over two hours. You'll walk a total of about six blocks, stopping frequently to hear about the artwork and the Mission's history. Reserve your tickets ahead of time or ask about a private weekday tour — ideal if you're traveling with a group.

Escape to Alcatraz

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Alcatraz Island is famous for its former prison, but visiting the island is guaranteed to introduce you to much more than that infamous place. You can learn more about the prison's history and its most notable inmates through photography exhibitions, or you can sign up for one of the few behind-the-scenes guided tours of the crumbling structure. You can also join one of the National Park Service's many themed tours to learn more about the natural history or the Native American background of the island.

If you'd rather explore the island on your own to spot seabirds, check out the natural beauty and wander through the remaining buildings, you can certainly can. Just be sure to reserve your ferry tickets ahead of time, as this popular attraction is known to sell out, especially during the summer months. Alcatraz Cruises operates the ferry and offers tickets. Prices vary depending on the type of tour you choose.

Ascend to the Top of the Coit Tower

Ascend to the Top of the Coit Tower
Image via Flickr by lawepw

Address: 1 Telegraph Hill Boulevard, San Francisco, CA 94133

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Since it was built in 1933, Coit Tower has been an unmissable San Francisco highlight, nestled in Pioneer Park and perched on top of Telegraph Hill. Intended to add beauty to the city's skyline, this simple concrete tower houses impressive murals and offers some of the best views of the Bay Area.

You can independently tour the murals (which are the result of a 1934 Public Works of Art project) or you can sign up for a docent-led tour to learn the intriguing backstory of this artwork. Of course, you can't visit Coit Tower without ascending to the top to see the views. Buy your tickets online to skip the crowds and you can head straight to the top in the elevator. Note that the tower closes at 5 or 6 p.m. depending on the season, so this is a destination for daytime views only.

Explore the California Academy of Sciences

Explore the California Academy of Sciences

Address: 55 Music Concourse Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118

Find it on Google Maps.

Whether you're curious about sustainability, sea life, astronomy or any aspect of natural history, visiting the California Academy of Sciences is a must. Save plenty of time to tour the Steinhart Aquarium, home to over 38,000 animals and a colony of African penguins; the Osher Rainforest, a four-story structure with incredible biodiversity; the Morrison Planetarium, which is one of the most technologically advanced of its kind; and the Kimball Natural History Museum, which showcases both historical discoveries and pressing scientific problems.

You can visit the museum, which is tucked away in Golden Gate Park, any day of the week. If you have a special interest in science or animals, however, consider booking a behind-the-scenes tour. If your group is 21 or over, check out the museum's NightLife event every Thursday evening.

Grab an Ice Cream Cone at Smitten Ice Cream

Address: 432 Octavia Street #1A, San Francisco, CA 94102

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You've never had a frozen treat quite as fresh as the cones and cups at Smitten Ice Cream. This popular spot churns ice cream to order, using organic milk and cream, pure sugar and any add-ins you choose. Within about a minute, the churning process turns these raw ingredients into a smooth, creamy treat that locals and visitors alike line up for hours to enjoy.

Smitten's flavors are subject to change, but you can typically find classic vanilla, TCHO chocolate, cookie dough with pretzels and chocolate chips, passionate date and jasmine tea. Get yours in a cup, a freshly rolled waffle cone or a housemade waffle bowl and add your choice of chocolate sauce, brown sugar caramel, strawberry prosecco sauce and other goodies to top it off.

Hike the Presidio Trails

Hike the Presidio Trails

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Also known as the waterfront green space adjacent to the Golden Gate Bridge, The Presidio is a 1,500-acre park that boasts a dozen trails with varying difficulty levels. Whether you want to get lost under the shady trees, learn about local ecology, hike along the coast or glimpse gorgeous views of the Golden Gate Bridge, you'll find the ideal trail.

Take the 4-mile Golden Gate Promenade/Bay Trail from the Marina district to soak in beautiful vistas of the bridge and the Marin Headlands. Step back in time on the 2.7-mile Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, which commemorates the military commander's 1776 voyage. For beautiful views over steep cliffs, tackle the challenging yet short Batteries to Bluffs Trail, which is especially lovely at sunset. Enjoy a private urban hike while learning the history of this historic park and former military post.

Drive Down Lombard Street

Photo of Lombard Street - San Francisco Things To Do
Lombard Street

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Lombard Street might not be the steepest or most crooked street in the nation, but this roadway has developed a reputation for being both scenic and fun to navigate. The famous portion of the street spans just one block, but within this short distance, you'll have to complete no fewer than eight hairpin turns at a steep downhill grade.

To drive or walk down Lombard Street, head to the intersection with Hyde Street and prepare to navigate downhill slowly. When you reach the foot of the hill, you'll be within mere blocks of Fisherman's Wharf.

Hang Out in Union Square

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Nestled in the center of San Francisco near Nob Hill and the Financial District, Union Square is the heart of the city. Start your tour in the middle of the square, where you'll find Union Square Park and the unmissable Dewey Monument. Snap a photo with the brightly colored heart sculptures, and then start exploring the greater area.

Admire the historic architecture that surrounds the square, including the Frank Lloyd Wright Building, which is the legendary architect's only structure in the city, and the Westin St. Francis Hotel, which dates back to the turn of the 20th century. Wander down Maiden Lane, which is home to several high-end designer shops, or shop at any of the countless stores around the square. When you work up an appetite, you'll never be more than a step or two from a restaurant or café.

Ride the Cable Car System

Ride the Cable Car System
Image via Flickr by Janitors

San Francisco is home to three cable car lines that connect you to many of the most popular districts and attractions, including Fisherman's Wharf, Ghiradelli Square, Chinatown, Lombard Street, Union Square and the Ferry Building. While taking one can offer a practical way to get around, riding the cable car system is also fun thanks to the vintage cars.

Before you get on, be sure to buy a ticket from the booth at most cable car stops or use your Visitor Passport. Then grab a seat inside the car or hang onto the outside of the car for an even more authentic experience. When you want to hop off, just tell the conductor before you reach your stop.

Catch the Sunset at Ocean Beach

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You won't find a better way to wrap up a trip to San Francisco than with a stunning sunset at Ocean Beach. You'll find this 3.5-mile stretch of sand all along the western side of the city, starting at Land's End, passing by Golden Gate Park and the San Francisco Zoo and ending at Fort Funston.

Arrive early and you can catch surfers just offshore. Take a stroll along the esplanade or the seawall or get cozy around a bonfire in one of the designated fire pits. When the sun starts to dip, however, you'll want to make sure you're in a prime spot to see the sunset. While you'll find good views from almost anywhere along Ocean Beach, a favorite spot for locals is on the northern end at the Sutro Baths or Cliff House restaurant.

From sunrise to sunset, the Golden City has countless things to do, see and taste. Use this list to start planning your ideal vacation to San Francisco.

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