The 49 best things to do in San Francisco

Your ultimate guide to things to do in San Francisco—from the city's best restaurants and shops to museums and sightseeing

Cable Cars

There are countless things to do in San Francisco, but in homage to its compact size of 49 square miles, we’ve narrowed it down to just shy of 50. From Alcatraz to vintage streetcars, the iconic San Francisco attractions lure nearly 17 million visitors every year—but that doesn’t mean they’re just for tourists. Even the most jaded locals never tire of admiring iconic landmarks like the sweeping span of the Golden Gate Bridge. Crammed with top-notch restaurants, artisanal coffee shops, sidewalk cafés, unusual and excellent museums, pocket gardens, hidden stairways, and eclectic shops, the city invites exploration. San Francisco events such as the zany Bay to Breakers race, sing-along musicals, and the colorful, cacophonous Chinese New Year parade tap into the unique local character. Whether you’re new to the city or just looking for new ideas, this list should provide plenty of inspiration.

Best things to do in San Francisco


Walk across the Golden Gate Bridge

Walking or biking across the bridge is a bucket-list must-do for locals and visitors alike. From the east side walkway, you can take in the soaring 746-foot towers, the city skyline, the Marin Headlands and the Pacific Ocean stretching to the horizon. The most photographed bridge in the world, the Golden Gate never fails to thrill—even when it’s shrouded in a blanket of fog.

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Forage for fresh produce at the Ferry Building

Critics' pick

On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays until 2pm, hordes of food-obsessed locals can be found combing the crowded aisles and produce stands of the Ferry Building Marketplace, where 75 regional farmers and artisan food purveyors offer a dizzying array of organic fruit and vegetables, and gourmet goodies from olive oils, meat, cheese and bread to chocolate, jams and flowers. In addition to the tri-weekly farmer's market, homegrown brands such as Acme Bread, Cowgirl Creamery, Hog Island Oyster Co. and Blue Bottle Coffee sell from permanent stalls.

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Dine on dumplings at Yank Sing

The aromas coming from the steamed and fried dumplings at Yank Sing are so tantalizing, you'll likely gobble them down before finding out what's in them. Exceptionally fresh and flavorful dim sum is undoubtedly what keeps this longtime restaurant thriving in an unlikely corner of a massive office complex. Ordering is half the fun: Just point at what looks good as the waiters roll their carts past your table. Favorites include shanghai dumplings with pork, scallion, ginger and a shot of hot broth, stuffed crab claws, and goldfishdumplings filled with crunchy shrimp and bamboo shoot tips.

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Ride on a rolling landmark

A few dollars can buy you a slow rollercoaster ride on an officially designated historic landmark. San Francisco's cable cars are a relic of the pre-automotive age, built to scale the precipitous slopes that were too steep for horses. Three cable car lines leave from Union Square and the end of California Street, traveling at top speeds of 9 mph through Chinatown, Nob Hill and Russian Hill to Fisherman’s Wharf. For extra thrills, hang off on the running boards and ride Doris Day–style. You may even get a bell-ringing serenade from the conductor.

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Belly up for a Mission burrito

As any San Franciscan knows, the Mission District is the epicenter of the eponymous Mexican wrap. The steamed tortilla—packed with some combination of meat, cheese, beans, rice, guacamole and salsa fresca—was first introduced in the city circa 1969 at La Cumbre Taqueria (515 Valencia St at 16th St, 415-863-8205). Now dozens of taquerias have their devotees for “the best” Mission Burrito. Most people agree you can’t go wrong with Taqueria Cancun (2288 Mission St near 19th St, 415-252-9560), Pancho Villa (3071 16th St at Valencia St, 415-864-8840), El Farolito (2777 Mission St at 24th St, 415-826-4870), or—our favorite—La Taqueria, where the behemoth foil-wrapped bombs are filled with beans, cheese, salsa and meats ranging from carne and pollo asada to carnitas (but no rice).


Feel the Beats at City Lights

Critics' pick

A bookshop and temple to the anti-authority Beat Generation, City Lights was cofounded in 1953 by bard/publisher/artist Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who still keeps the candle dripping over the chianti bottle well into his nineties. It was here that Allen Ginsberg’s Howl & Other Poems was first published and Ferlinghetti was arrested on obscenity charges, putting the Beats on the map. The nation’s first all-paperback bookstore is still a hub for progressive politics, fiction, music, philosophy, and all manner of poetry and indie literary voices. Appropriately, it’s located along Kerouac Alley and next to Vesuvio Café, the bar where Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady and friends once held court.

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North Beach

Picnic in the Presidio

On Sundays from April through October, the food truck gathering known as Off the Grid offers Picnic at the Presidio, with dozens of food vendors, free lawn games, live music and a “bubble bar” on the expansive lawn of the Presidio’s Main Post, overlooking the Golden Gate. On Thursday nights from April through October, Twilight at the Presidio is a food truck “campout” with lantern-lit dining cabanas, cocktail service, Adirondack chairs, music and s’more fire pits. Additional Off the Grid gatherings all over the city feature food and entertainment year-round.


Be a part of musical history

Celebrating its 40th year in 2014, wacky, saucy, and uniquely San Franciscan Beach Blanket Babylon lays claim to the title of longest running musical revue in theater history. Its pun-laden send-ups of a shifting array of public figures, pop icons and dubious celebrities are loosely tied together under the auspices of a Snow White tale, but really this is just a vehicle to poke fun at everyone from Kim Kardashian and Hillary Clinton to the British Royal Family and Lady Gaga—all while sporting hats the size of small zeppelins.

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Take a night tour of Alcatraz Island

The formidable fortress in the middle of San Francisco Bay known as “The Rock” was once a maximum-security prison that housed notorious inmates such as Al Capone, George "Machine Gun" Kelly and Robert “the Birdman” Stroud. Haunting at any time of day, the very popular night tour adds an extra layer of chill—especially on creepy, foggy evenings. For the full effect, get the audio cellhouse tour narrated by former inmates and guards, which recounts harrowing tales of prison life, including the numerous tragic attempts at escape.

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Sip a handcrafted cocktail

Lychee, lemongrass, fenugreek and chrysanthemum blossoms in your cocktail? Absolut-ly. The craft cocktail movement—arguably launched, and certainly lovingly cultivated—in San Francisco, has brought fresh-squeezed citrus, market-fresh herbs and an encyclopedia of hand-muddled and artfully infused ingredients to bar menus around town. Comstock in North Beach brings fresh twists to classic cocktails such as the Sazerac, Manhattan, Blood and Sand and San Francisco’s own Pisco Punch. Bar Agricole’s extensive cocktail list draws from small-batch curated spirits, bitters, vermouths and syrups—with ice cubes tailored specifically to each drink. Trick Dog’s elaborately crafted cocktails, named after iconic San Francisco sights and attractions, include such offerings as the Sutro Baths: El Dorado 3, Pampero and Don Q anejo rums, Sightglass coffee, grapefruit, fenugreek and lime.


Promenade down Crissy Field

Formerly an army airstrip, Crissy Field is now a restored salt marsh and recreation area, with a 4.3-mile waterfront promenade that wanders through grassy fields, past sheltered beaches, windsurfers and picnic areas, all the way to Fort Point and the Golden Gate Bridge. Start at the informative Crissy Field Center for some background history, then follow the bayfront path past the Farallones Marine Sanctuary center to Torpedo Wharf for a postcard photo of the Golden Gate Bridge. Make a pit stop at the Warming Hut for organic soups, sandwiches, and only-in-San-Francisco books, games and souvenirs. Along the way, there are also kid-friendly attractions such as the House of Air trampoline park, Planet Granite climbing gym, and La Petite Balleen swim school. The trail ends at Fort Point, a fortification built during the Civil War to defend against a battle that never happened. In addition to self-guided and ranger-led tours, there are regular cannon drills and a fascinating film about the building of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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Ride a vintage streetcar

Tourists may shell out for a Grayline bus, but for a mere $2 (75 cents for seniors and youths) you can hop on a vintage F-Line streetcar and take a grand tour of Civic Center, Downtown and Fisherman’s Wharf by rail. The colorful retro trolleys that toddle up and down Market Street were brought over from places like Hamburg, Blackpool, Milan and Philly. There’s even an original New Orleans streetcar named Desire. The cars have been lovingly restored and each still bears the markings and design details of its native city.


Explore the country’s largest Chinatown

Crowded, chaotic and compact, San Francisco’s Chinatown is a feast for the senses. Enter on Grant Avenue near Bush Street through the ornate Chinatown Gate with its carved foo dogs (to ward off evil spirits) and browse the souvenir stops along Grant Avenue for kitschy trinkets and imports. Then head to Stockton Street for a taste of the real, working Chinatown, where residents shop for ginseng and herbal remedies, dried fish parts and delicacies such as live quail and water eels. For a glimpse of pre-20th century Chinatown, walk up the narrow stairs to the Tien Hau Temple (125 Waverly Pl) above Grant Avenue, on the alley known as the Street of Painted Balconies. Purportedly the oldest Taoist temple in the U.S. (circa 1852), it’s festooned with gold paper lanterns, calligraphy, incense, hundreds of candles and miniature shrines featuring photos of departed loved ones. Stop for a bite at one of innumerable eateries, including Yuet Lee for superb seafood, House of Nanking (919 Kearny St between Jackson St and Pacific Ave, for Shanghai-style cooking and R&G Lounge (631 Kearny St between Clay and Commercial Sts, 415-982-7877) for specialties such as salt-and-pepper crab. Don’t miss the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory (56 Ross Alley, 415-781-3956), where some 20,000 fortune cookies are made every day—folded by hand as they come off an ancient-looking cookie conveyor belt.


Sing along to The Sound of Music

Critics' pick

What started out a decade ago as an excuse for Castro District denizens to don dirndl dresses and do their best Julie Andrews impressions has turned into a full-on citywide tradition, with movie sing-alongs at the Castro Theatre scheduled throughout the year. The Sound of Music is still the premier event: Kids and families come to the matinees, while a rowdier, less inhibited (read: buzzed) crowd attends the evening shows. Other sing-along offerings now include Little Mermaid, Grease, West Side Story, Wizard of Oz, and Frozen. Goodie bags, bubbles and subtitles are usually provided; costumes and props are BYO.

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Skate or bike through Golden Gate Park

One of the largest manmade parks in the world, Golden Gate has three miles of landscaped gardens, forests and meadows that beg to be explored without the noise and interference of cars. Happily, on Sundays year-round (and Saturdays Apr–Oct), the main road through the park, John F. Kennedy Drive, is closed to auto traffic so that strollers, skaters and bikers can wander freely. Meander through the Japanese Tea Garden and the Arboretum, discover the rhododendron dell and rose garden, visit the park’s resident bison and windmill, or do some disco rollerskating with the pros (6th Ave and JFK Dr). If you don’t have your own wheels, skate and bike rentals are available at shops along Stanyan Street, Haight Street and Fulton Street.

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Root for the San Francisco Giants

Even if you know nothing about home runs and fly balls, seeing a game at AT&T Park is a fun and quintessentially San Francisco experience. Set on the docks of San Francisco Bay, the park affords fabulous views of the waterfront, with kayakers and paddleboarders chasing each other to retrieve “splash hits” over the right-field fence. In true SF style, AT&T offers some of the best ballpark fare in the country—everything from Caribbean Cha Cha bowls (grilled marinated chicken over black beans, rice, zucchini and carrots, with various toppings) and garlic fries to grilled crab sandwiches, Tony’s Neapolitan pizza, and Ghirardelli chocolate sundaes. There’s also an onsite gastropub with a local-centric beer selection and an outpost of James Beard Award–winning chef Traci Des Jardins’ taqueria, Mijita. With two World Series championships under their bats since 2010, SF Giants games are usually sell-outs, but tickets are almost always available last minute through StubHub or at the ballpark ticket office.


Discover the secrets of sourdough

Sourdough bread is as synonymous to San Francisco as fog and Twitter. At the flagship Boudin Bakery on Fisherman’s Wharf, tangy loaves are still made from a mother dough first cultivated here in 1849. You can watch the bread-making process from the railing overlooking the showcase kitchen, sample it at the café, and buy a few loaves to bring home with you, too.

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Get a taste of tradition at Tadich Grill

Established in 1849, Tadich is the city's oldest restaurant, and still one of its most popular. Power-lunching politicians, techies and tourists alike belly up to the classic mahogany horseshoe bar and tuck into old-school San Francisco dishes such as crab Louis, shrimp a la Newburg, Hangtown Fry (oysters and eggs), and giant bowls of San Francisco cioppino (shellfish stew) accompanied by a big hunk of sourdough bread. If you prefer more private seating, let one of the white-coated waiters usher you into a wooden booth (with service bell). No reservations are accepted and there's invariably a line out the door, but it's worth it to experience a bit of Barbary Coast San Francisco.

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Climb a secret stairway

Nearly 400 different stairways connect San Francisco’s 42 hills, many of them tucked away in underexplored pockets of the city, and most of them affording splendid views. Leafy, secret Macondray Lane (off Leavenworth St between Union and Green Sts) was the inspiration for Armistead Maupin’s Barbary Lane in his Tales of the City series. The grand Lyon Street stairway (between Green St and Broadway), built in 1916 to connect Cow Hollow to the lofty climes of Pacific Heights, features some 290 steps that take you past flower gardens, hedgerows and palatial mansions to the entrance of the Presidio, where you’re rewarded with views of Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge. Tank Hill, the often-ignored stepsister of Twin Peaks, is accessed via the delightful garden-dotted Pemberton Steps that start at the bottom of Corbett and Clay streets. The Filbert Street Steps, arguably the most spectacular of the city’s stairways, starts at the bottom of Sansome Street and climbs all the way to Coit Tower, passing through lush tropical gardens and flocks of wild parrots along the way.


Try award-winning Neapolitan pizza

Tony Gemingnani, the first American to win the World Champion Pizza Maker title in Naples, has made his namesake pizzeria one of North Beach’s top destination dining spots, with crowds lining up sometimes hours to sample one of his perfectly blistered creations. Ten different kinds of pizza are baked in seven different ovens, ranging in temperature from 550 to 1,000 degrees. Heavenly Tomato Pie, made with hand-crushed tomato sauce cooked in a 1,000-degree coal-fired oven, and the award-winning Margherita, with handmade San Felice-flour dough and San Marzano tomatoes (limited to 73 per day)—are just the tip of menu. Among the other dizzying choices are Detroit and Sicilian styles, stromboli and calzone. No reservations, so put in your name and be prepared to wait.

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Tour the murals of the Mission

The Mission District is home to more than 200 colorful murals that reflect the area’s Hispanic heritage and the immigrant experience, many of them around Balmy Alley and 24th Street. The eye-popping public art is due in large part to the efforts of Susan Cervantes and the Precita Eyes Mural Arts Center  (2981 24th St near Harrison St), founded in 1977. Artists from Precita Eyes offer several different cultural and historical guided mural walks on weekends, starting from the Center.


Track down the city’s smallest park

Tucked between a tangle of trees and a manicured garden on Russian Hill, a set of zigzag steps leads to tiny Jack Early Park, a park built-for-two by neighborhood resident Jack Early in 1962. The entire expanse amounts to a small square platform, an old-fashioned lamppost and two seats, but the views overlooking Fisherman’s Wharf and the harbor give you a deliciously secluded spot from which to watch barges ply the bay, smell the steam of the crab pots, listen to the sea lions bark, and hear the fog horns moan. Steps are accessed from Grant Avenue between Chestnut and Francisco.


Catch a set at the SFJAZZ Center

Critics' pick

Step into the sleek SFJAZZ Center, the first stand-alone structure in the country built specifically for jazz, and you’ll understand why jazz heavyweights around the world are clamoring to play here, and why it’s become one of the hottest tickets in town. Pitch-perfect acoustics and unobstructed sightlines from every seat in the house, along with a terrific restaurant, and a bring-in-your-cocktails policy that lets concertgoers sip while savoring the music—all add to the allure. Performances by big names like Allen Toussaint, Wynton Marsalis, and Herbie Hancock are augmented by local talent and artists in residence.

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Hayes Valley

Explore the ancient Americas at the de Young

Built in 1894 for the California Midwinter International Exposition, the M.H. de Young Museum originally housed a collection of oddities purchased by its founder, including knives, forks, keys, jade, guns, snuff bottles and medals. Todays, it is considered the foremost museum in the western U.S. focusing on American art. Completely remodeled in 2005, the building features a massive perforated copper tower and an exterior skin that is designed to patina with age. Inside, the exterior walls take a backseat to the impressive and vast collections of art. The de Young holdings include some 27,000 paintings, sculptures, objects, crafts and textiles from Africa, Oceania and the Americas dating from the 17th to 20th centuries. Rotating exhibitions cover a wide swath—everything from the treasures of King Tut and the Impressionists to Edward Hopper and Keith Haring. There’s also an excellent store and café with large outdoor seating areas in a sculpture garden. The observation tower offers commanding views over the park and can be entered without paying admission.

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Sip Irish coffee at the Buena Vista

As atmospheric as the clang of the cable car on a foggy night, the chummy wood-paneled Buena Vista Café has been a local watering hole and hangout for seafaring folk since 1916, but its claim to fame is that it was the bar that first introduced Irish coffee to America. The recipe was nabbed from a Dublin bartender by a local newspaper columnist in 1952, and today, white-jacketed bartenders serve up some 2,000 of the frothy whiskey concoctions daily from the long, mahogany bar. Buena Vista’s cozy spot in an old Victorian overlooking Aquatic Park and Fisherman’s Wharf make it an ideal place to unwind at the end of the day. The menu also includes burgers and seafood specialties such as clam chowder and Dungeness crab cakes.


Play minigolf through SF landmarks

San Francisco prides itself on marching to the beat of its own drummer—even when it comes to sports. Among the extracurricular activities we regularly participate in are Big Wheel racing, doga (yoga with your pooch) and trampoline dodgeball. Then there’s minigolf at Urban Putt, an indoor steam-punk course inside a Victorian mortuary where you can putt your ball around the Transamerica Pyramid, inside a Jules Verne-esque submarine beneath the Bay, alongside cable cars, and even through the 1906 earthquake. The bar and upstairs restaurant offer fabulous California comfort cuisine and portable bar bites, including decadent duck poutine, chicken and waffle skewers, and cornmeal-crust deep dish pizza.

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Do dinner and a movie at Foreign Cinema

Critics' pick

A Mission District foodie fixture, Foreign Cinema features an open-air courtyard where classic films are screened nightly. Tableside speakers deliver the soundtrack for those who want to listen, but the focus is still the exceptional food; the seasonal selection of locally interpreted Mediterranean dishes might include natural beef carpaccio with lemon-truffle emulsion or Tuscan roast chicken, along with a full local oyster and shellfish raw bar.

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Escape the fog in Marin County

San Franciscans love to hate the famous fog, which blankets the city in cool, gray mist during the summer months, typically burning off midday only to crawl back a few hours later and leave you wishing you’d remembered to bring your down parka. Happily, plentiful sunshine is just across the Golden Gate Bridge in the beaches, parks, and leafy hamlets of Marin County. Take the spectacular coastal Shoreline Highway 1 from Mill Valley through Mt. Tamalpais State Park to the shores of Point Reyes National Seashore and idyllic Tomales Bay. Rent kayaks or canoes and watch for herons, osprey, cormorants and sandpipers. The area surrounding the town of Marshall is known for local shellfish, with eateries and oyster farms along the way offering varieties such as Hog Island Sweetwaters, Kumamotos, and Miyagis fresh off the boat. At day’s end, find a perch at the restaurant at Nick’s Cove for some local wine and a plate of barbecued oysters, then bunk down in one of the rustically luxurious cottages set on stilts in Tomales Bay and watch the tide roll in.


Take a tour of the War Memorial Opera House

Critics' pick

The magnificent Beaux Arts opera house, built in 1932 as a memorial to the soldiers who fought in World War I, is home to the San Francisco Opera and Ballet. The building was also the site of the signing of the United Nations charter in 1945. Get a glimpse behind the scenes during opera season on one of the backstage tours with guild volunteers, which take in dressing rooms, the wardrobe department and makeup areas, and illuminate the architecture and history of the building (reservations required).

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Civic Center

Feel the pulse of the city’s nightlife scene

Critics' pick

Public Works opened in 2010 and has quickly become a staple of SF nightlife with a mission to “give the people what they want.” Bouncy, foot-friendly dance floors, a top-of-the-line sound system by Funktion-One, an occasional pop-up art gallery of rotating art, great drinks with or without alcohol, and an upstairs loft for a party within a party all come together for the city’s liveliest local and international underground scene.

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See how Walt Disney got started

Walt Disney’s oldest daughter, Diane, opened the Walt Disney Family Museum in 2009 to give people an inside look at the man behind the mouse. Housed in a repurposed army barracks and gymnasium in the Presidio, the exhibits follow Walt’s early career as a cartoonist for his high school yearbook all the way to his death in 1966. Don’t miss the audio-enhanced account of how the Disney brothers brought Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to the big screen, and the 13-foot model of Disneyland as Walt originally envisioned it.

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Dig into farm-to-fork cuisine

Critics' pick

Organic, seasonal, local is the mantra of San Francisco chefs today. Down in the Marina District at Fort Mason, Greens was one of the pioneers of the farm-to-table movement, and chef Annie Somerville’s wildly inventive dishes continue to explode the stereotype of vegetarian cuisine as a variation on alfalfa sprouts and tofu. The spectacular waterfront setting, with views of the harbor and Golden Gate Bridge, makes a meal there a memorable experience.

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Try salted caramel ice cream at Bi-Rite

Crowds queue up in sunshine and in fog at Bi-Rite Creamery, the ice cream shop that launched the craze for this perfect pairing in the city, and quite possibly the country. Other flavors have since garnered cult followings, among them balsamic strawberry, brown sugar with ginger caramel swirl, honey lavender, basil, and ricanelas (cinnamon with snickerdoodle cookies). If the line is too long, you can always opt for a pint or a quart from the store down the street.

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Admire the view from Coit Tower

The fluted tower atop Telegraph Hill, built in 1933, is the legacy of Lillie Hitchcock Coit, a wealthy eccentric who left San Francisco a bequest “for the purpose of adding beauty to the city I have always loved.” Inside the base are newly restored Depression-era WPA murals depicting California agriculture, industry and the city’s leftist leanings (note the socialist references in the library and on the newsstands). Take the elevator to the observation tower at the top for panoramic views of the city and the bay.

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Drink a Gibraltar from Blue Bottle

Critics' pick

Blue Bottle Coffee spearheaded what’s referred to as the Third Wave of artisan coffee brewers (first wave Folgers, second wave Starbucks), crafters of single-origin small-batch and ridiculously fresh coffee. At its Mint Plaza café, java aficionados line up for 12-hour cold-brewed single-origin iced coffee and Gibraltars—the perfect blend of espresso and foam served in a short glass.

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Play a vintage arcade game at Musée Mécanique

Set on the docks of Fisherman’s Wharf, the late Ed Zelinsky’s collection of more than 200 coin-operated games and amusements date back to the 1880s. Gypsy fortune tellers, giant mechanical-circus dioramas, can-can girl stereoscopes, carnival strength testers, player pianos, and a Laughing Sal (a cackling mechanical relic salvaged from San Francisco’s defunct Playland at the Beach amusement park) are among the games that delight kids and adults alike. Along the walls, photos of early San Francisco and earthquake memorabilia recall a bygone era, when the city was still something of a western outpost on the edge of the Pacific.

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Expand your mind at the Exploratorium

Create holes in the time-space continuum, make a human tornado, capture your face in a drop of water, challenge your brain’s perceptions of color, shape and motion… Covering the length of three football fields along the Embarcadero waterfront, this fascinating hands-on museum features more than 600 exhibits that challenge the principles of physics and human observation.

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Join in a parade

From snaking dragons and conga lines of gyrating samba dancers to human centipedes charging toward the Pacific Ocean, there’s a parade for every season on San Francisco’s calendar of events. The Bay to Breakers foot race is the highlight of spring, when runners, joggers, walkers, naked guys and thousands of costumed zanies race from the foot of the Bay to the shores of the ocean breakers. The eye-dazzling Carnaval parade at the end of May marks the beginning of summer, a celebration of Latin American and Caribbean culture, with sizzling samba dancers in feather headdresses striding down the streets of the Mission to a Brazilian beat. Kicking off the summer, the rambunctious LGBT Pride Parade is one of the largest in the country. The start of Chinese New Year in winter delivers the city’s most colorful, cacophonous procession, with drummers, lion dancers, acrobats, martial artists, stiltwalkers and a 268-foot Golden Dragon making their way through the streets of downtown.


Get baked at Tartine

Locals line up around the block when Tartine’s crusty, chewy country bread loaves come out of the oven after 5pm. The smell alone will make you salivate. Once inside, you’ll be tormented by other temptations from the creative hands of patisserie masters Liz Prueitt and Chad Robertson, including heavenly croque monsieurs, hot-pressed sopressata sandwiches, fresh fruit bread puddings, frangipane tarts, and lemon meringue cakes. Almost everything here is made using local, organic ingredients, including the espresso.

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Commune with sea lions at Pier 39

Amid the carnival of street performers, souvenir shops, seafood restaurants, arcade games and touristy attractions at this popular wharf venue, are some genuine salty sea characters. Nearly 25 years ago, a colony of barking, belching sea lions took over Pier 39’s west-side docks, and they’ve been more or less permanent fixtures there ever since. Stroll down to the end of K-Dock to observe these playful pinnipeds. Naturalists from the Aquarium of the Bay are stationed here throughout the day to answer questions.


Walk through a living rainforest

The California Academy of Sciences is considered the world’s greenest museum—the only institution of its kind to combine an aquarium, digital planetarium, natural history museum and scientific research program under one roof. The complex is anchored by a four-story living rainforest dome that’s home to flitting butterflies and birds, and a “living roof” that features some 1.7 million native plant species, providing insulation and water for the museum, and reducing its carbon footprint.

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Go on a global beer tour

Craft beer fanatics will find nirvana at Monk’s Kettle, a Mission District bar and gastropub featuring some 200 rotating beers—more than 20 draft, 180 bottled and 15 vintage pours from the cellar— spanning European and American styles, as well as a number of local brews. The pub also offers a selection of rare suds, such as barrel-aged AleSmith Old Numbskull from San Diego.

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Indulge in slow fast-food at Gott’s Roadside

The Ferry Building branch of Napa Valley’s famed slow food/fast food burger stand offers ten different juicy, drippy burger variations ranging from hefty 1/3 pound Niman Ranch Angus beef cooked to pink perfection to Diestel Ranch turkey and ahi tuna burgers. Try the Western Bacon Blue Ring, topped with blue cheese, bacon, pickles and an onion ring, accompanied by sweet potato fries and an organic Three Twins ice-cream shake.

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See 6,000 years of Asian Art

The country’s largest showcase for Asian art, the Asian Art Museum has one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Indonesian and Southeast Asian art, spanning 6,000 years of history with more than 15,000 objects. Artifacts range from Japanese Buddhas and Indonesian shadow puppets to sacred texts and porcelains from the Ming Dynasty.

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Sample Napa Valley wines without leaving the city

The Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant in the Ferry Building Marketplace is a combo shop/wine-tasting bar that offers a huge selection of small-production wines from Napa and Sonoma vintners, as well as from European winemakers—with 15–20 available for tasting every day. Accompany your wine with cheese, antipasti and other small bites, or grab some fresh-baked bread from neighboring Acme Bakery, a hunk of cheese from Point Reyes’ Cowgirl Creamery and have an impromptu picnic.


Get animated at the Cartoon Art Museum

This quirky, entertaining SoMa museum is dedicated to cartoon and animation art in all its forms, with more than 6,000 works ranging from editorial cartoons and Sunday funnies to graphic novels and original animation cels. Be sure to check out the camera in the lobby that was used to create the first animation for television (Crusader Rabbit produced 1949–51).

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Hear the San Francisco Sound

Critics' pick

For anyone interested in the birthplace of the San Francisco Sound, and the stage from which rock impresario Bill Graham launched everyone from the Grateful Dead, Santana and Janis Joplin to Jimi Hendrix and the Who—the Fillmore is a bucket list must-do. Most of the bands that play here today have their feet firmly planted in the 21st century, but you’ll still find a good helping of modern-day throwbacks—from Mickey Hart and Jackie Greene to Traffic). Don’t leave without checking out the upstairs lounge, where hundreds of psychedelic posters pay tribute to the legendary bands that have performed here.

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Fillmore District

See the stars at American Conservatory Theater

San Francisco’s acclaimed resident repertory theater, ACT has been staging modern classics and groundbreaking new works since 1967, including major works by David Mamet and Tom Stoppard. ACT’s Conservatory counts numerous Hollywood bigwigs among its alumni, including Denzel Washington, Annette Bening, Nicolas Cage and Danny Glover.

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Catch an offbeat film festival

There’s a lot more to SF’s film scene than a few high-profile annual events like the San Francisco International Film Festival—the cinephile’s calendar is packed with dozens of festivals every year that run from the mainstream to the edges of fringe. Hard-boiled detectives and femmes fatales are the focus of the annual Noir City film fest in January at the art deco Castro Theatre. The Ocean Film Festival in March celebrates the beauty, power and mystery of the world’s oceans. And in summer, Film Night in the Park screens modern classics in the great outdoors at parks all around the city.