In this post I hand-picked 23 unique (and suitable for kids) things to do in San Francisco, a city full of wonders.
San Francisco was named after Saint Francis of Assisi (a town in Italy), has its own fog, named Karl, and 50+ hills. SF is one of the most popular places to visit in the United States.
Unique things to do in San Francisco
1. Golden Gate Bridge.
As tall as a 65-story building, Golden Gate is one of America’s favorite bridges.
Some tips about visiting the wonder of engineering:
- Depending on your luck, you can see Golden Gate crispy clear or completely wrapped in the famous “Karl The Fog”. (Karl even has his own Twitter account).
- To get great views of the Bridge and the city, start from Battery Spencer and drive to the Point Bonita Lighthouse. There are multiple viewpoints along the way.
Below illustration of Karl The Fog in action:
2. Victorian Houses of San Francisco.
SF is the only city in the US where you can find 1,000+ colorful, well-preserved homes from the period of Queen Victoria’s reign in a single neighborhood. (Haight-Ashbury).
- We spent hours walking with a stroller to the “very last house”, and then to “only one more”, and couldn’t stop. The houses are all different and so amazing!
- The most popular example of Victorian architecture in SF is “Painted Ladies”. But the biggest surprise is that you can locate them basically all around the city
- Tip: the lawn in front of the Painted Ladies is a popular spot to watch the sunset and make a picnic.
- The place where this picture was taken is Alamo Square Playground, great for kids.
- You can try to book “Victorian” for a night through Airbnb, it would be a unique accommodation.
Some houses seem like they jump out of a storybook! 4 y.o. Erika was completely sure that only princesses and kings live there, not “regular people” and truth be told, I was under the same impression:
3. Drive through Lombard Street.
The most unusual street in San Francisco has 8 turns in just one block.
Surrounded by flower beds and topped with the best views, driving through Lombard Street was the biggest highlight of the trip to SF for me.
- Visit by foot, car, or cable car (Powell-Hyde route).
- Wheels wouldn’t pass there, due to the stairs on both sides of Lombard Street.
It was pretty scary to drive downhill with a 27% grade, but I would love to do it again.
4. 300 working antique penny arcades: Musee Mecanique
Musee Mecanique, a huge private collection of 20th-century penny arcades, was a top destination in San Francisco for Artem (9 y.o.) but we ended up liking it as well. Pier 45, Fishermans Wharf:
5. Fisherman Wharf (Pier 39) and its “sea-lebrities”
Fisherman Wharf might seem like a tourist trap: crowded, with tons of shopping. But walk a little further and you’ll see what it’s all about: hundreds of sea lions, up close, and wonderful views of the city and the Bay.
- Pier 39 is the best spot to encounter sea lions in a wild in the San Francisco area, year-round.
- All-time record is 1,700 lions in 2009 at Pier 39.
- Three main things attract sea lions in such quantities: food (mostly herring), protection (little or no predators), and docks for leisure and rest.
6. Golden Gate park
You may want to rent a bicycle or an electric scooter to visit Golden Gate Park. The place is huge, bigger than Central Park in New York City: 5km wide and 1km long.
Golden Gate is the 3rd most visited park in the United States:
7. The California Academy of Sciences
Located in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, the Academy of Sciences is one of the ten largest natural history museums in the world. It is perfect to visit with a family and has Aquarium and Planetarium within its walls.
8. Harmon Observation Tower
Also located at Golden Gate Park, Harmon Tower has free admission and 360-degree views of the park and SF.
- Walk into the museum’s main entrance, say you are going to the observation platform and look for the elevator signs.
- This is a great place to get panoramic views of SF while being with a stroller.
9. Japanese Tea Garden
Natural beauty and serenity could be found in the heart of San Francisco at a Japanese-style Tea Garden. It is a popular feature in Golden Gate Park. Tickets may be purchased online or at the door.
10. Koret playground and Carusel
Highly popular among locals, Koret playground has the coolest possible play area, a large area of lawn, and an old-style carousel:
11. Strawberry Hill
Strawberry Hill is an island located in the heart of Golden Gate Park. Two secrets of the Hill: you can get away from the city… in the center of the city, plus amazing views of SF.
There are also trails, bridges, turtles, birds, and a lawn to have a picnic or sunbathe.
12. San Francisco Zoo
Located on the west side of the city, SF Zoo is home to more than 2,000 exotic and endangered animals who live among beautiful gardens. Open year-round.
13. Cable cars of San Francisco
One of San Francisco’s icons is famous cable cars.
- SF cable car system is actually the world’s last manually operated cable car system.
- San Francisco cable cars fall into the category of ski lifts.
- Millions of tourists try to use the famous cable cars, be ready for waiting to get in.
14. SF unique experience: biking through Golden Gate to Sausalito
One of the popular routes in SF is to bike Golden Bridge to Sausalito, then go back to the city on a ferry.
- Check the weather before you go, especially how windy it is.
- It takes around 25 minutes to bike across Golden Gate Bridge (2 miles) and 30 min more to bike to Sausalito.
- Sausalito is a lovely, small, waterfront community, with good food.
- Try to choose weekdays to avoid crowds.
15. Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts is located at Presidio of San Francisco, a spacious, beautiful park near the Golden Gate Bridge.
- The amazing architecture luckily survived the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
- Wonderful place to relax, often quiet in the mornings
16. San Francisco’s Little Italy
Not far from Lombard Street, in the North Beach neighborhood, settled San Francisco’s Little Italy. Bustling, with a rich heritage, you can spend there a good hour-two.
- Stop at the Cafe Greco or Cafe Trieste for coffee, desserts, and cool interior design.
17. Vesuvio Cafe Bar
For trying something local: go for Vesuvio Cafe Bar. Nice drinks, a unique atmosphere, plus music, and art. Located in Little Italy.
18. Molinari’s Deli
For getting gourmet sandwiches: one of the best in the SF area is Molinari Delicatessen. “A family keeping Italian-American culture alive in SF since 1896”, they also have cheese, wine, salami, and panettone.
19. City Lights Bookstore
Must stop for book lovers in SF is City Lights Bookstore in Little Italy. Browse books or get a book/poster/postcard as a souvenir.
20. Coit Tower
Built in 1933 in Art Deco style, Coit Tower was made to honor SF firefighters. Located in the small, quiet park, the Coit Tower is quite high: it is sitting on the top of the hill and is 165 m high.
- 360-degree panorama is great on a clear day.
- Paid attraction
- If you can’t/don’t want to climb to the top, murals and views at the base of the tower are very worth visiting.
21. Hidden Filbert steps
If you are looking for a hike, amazing views, and a hidden place, try Filbert Steps. The secret of the place is that you can spot Red-masked parakeets in the garden that surrounds the steps!
- Gardens, where you can spot the parakeets, were created by Grace Marchant, who spend decades transforming a former garbage dump into a lovely garden.
- Parakeets are attracted by red berries that grow in the Garden.
22. Irish coffee at Buena Vista Cafe
Irish coffee is a traditional cocktail in Irish cuisine, made with hot coffee, brown sugar, whiskey, and cream. Buena Vista was the first bar where Irish coffee was introduced to America. Originally Buena Vista opened in 1916: it was a boardinghouse and later a saloon.
23. Mission San Francisco de Asís
To finish (or begin) your trip to SF, go to Mission San Francisco de Asís, the oldest and first building in San Francisco.
This church is the most significant for me in SF, as from the “Mission San Francisco de Asís” the city of SF inherited its name.
- Fall is the best time to visit SF, for the weather and little crowds. (next comes spring).
- Try to book accommodation in advance to get the best possible rates
- Driving up and down the hills might be scary, but you’ll manage it 🙂
This post is dedicated to my dearest friend and great photographer, Anastasia :).
Thanks for reading! We are very happy to have you here.
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