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The 47 best things to do in San Francisco right now

Things to do in San Francisco this summer include outdoor concerts, movies, hikes, picnics and more!

By Sarah Medina, Shoshi Parks, Nina Bai, Tim Lowery and Time Out contributors

June 2019: Wondering what things to do in San Francico this summer? The fog may be out in full force, but that just means we know how to take full advantage of those rare sunny days. Among the best things to do in San Francisco this summer are annual events like the free concerts at Stern Grove (#1), Giants games at Oracle Park (#10) and the return of Off the Grid at Fort Mason on Friday nights and the Presidio Main Post on Thursday nights and Sunday afternoons (#5). Also on the list are summertime staples that you can enjoy any night of the week: a seasonal cocktail at a rooftop bar (#3), shopping fresh produce at the Ferry Building farmers market (#15) and admiring the blooms at the SF Botanical Garden (#4). And be sure to catch Beach Blanket Babylon (#2) one more time before the musical revue closes permanently this winter. 

We’ve distilled the endless treasure-trove of the best things to do in San Francisco to a tidy list of essentials. Get the skinny on iconic San Francisco attractions, the best restaurants in San Francisco (which burrito is the best in the Mission, anyway?), world-renowned culture, seasonally-spectacular bars and under-the-radar gems. 

Done something on this list and loved it? Share it with the hashtag #TimeOutDoList and tag @TimeOutEverywhere. You can also learn more about how Time Out selects the very best things to do all over the world, or take a look at our list of the 50 best things to do in the world right now.

Best things to do in San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge
Photograph: Courtesy Oliver Plattner

1. Golden Gate Bridge

Things to do Presidio

What is it? The world’s most photographed bridge (for good reason). 

Why go? The expanse's iconic 746-foot tall orange towers have stood sentinel over the San Francisco Bay since 1937. Even when shrouded in fog, the bridge never fails to impress. The view is spectacular when passing over this span, with cityscapes on one side, nature on the other and a beautiful shock of blue below. Bikes and cars are permitted access across the bridge 24-hours a day, and walkers can cross using the east sidewalk between 5am and 6:30pm. 

Don’t miss: Come prepared wearing extra layers; Karl the Fog doesn’t mess around when it comes to the Golden Gate. 

Photograph: Shutterstock

2. Alcatraz Island

Things to do Walks and tours San Francisco

What is it? A former maximum security prison in the middle of San Francisco Bay.  

Why go? Converted from a lighthouse station to a military prison in the 1870s, this formidable fortress in the middle of San Francisco Bay was home to the early 20th century’s most notorious criminals. Today you’ll only make it to “The Rock” via ferry from Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing. Once there, the self-guided audio cellhouse tour narrated by former inmates and guards will fill you in on harrowing escape attempts, prison riots and the 19-month long occupation of the site by Native Americans demanding reparation for broken treaties in 1969. 

Don’t miss: To get a more creepy bang for your buck, try a night tour. Plan to spend about three-hours round trip and bring a jacket to protect you from heavy year-round fog and the agonized spirits of the island’s former residents.  

Sea lions at Pier 39
Photograph: Courtesy Aquarium of the Bay

3. PIER 39 + Fisherman's Wharf

Things to do Fisherman's Wharf

What is it? Where to see a plethora of playful, barking California sea lions. 

Why go? It wasn’t until after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that sea lions began “hauling out” on K dock at Pier 39. Why they chose this location is a mystery but the protected bay, teeming with the fish and squid pinnipeds prefer, has kept them coming back for 30 years. Watch the group, which is mostly made up of younger males, frolic all year long from the wooden walkway behind Pier 39.  

Don’t miss: A naturalist provides commentary and answers questions daily between 11am and 4pm, weather permitting.

Photograph: Courtesy Conservatory of Flowers

4. Golden Gate Park

Things to do Golden Gate Park

What is it? Twenty percent larger than New York’s Central Park and just as iconic, Golden Gate Park is 1,000-plus acres of rolling hills, groves of trees, gardens and hidden treasures. 

Why go? Golden Gate Park houses both some of San Francisco’s most beloved institutions—the Victorian-era glass-ensconced Conservatory of Flowers, the de Young Fine Arts Museum and the Academy of Sciences, among them—and less famous joys such as the bison paddock, Shakespeare’s Garden and the north and south windmills. On Sundays, the main drive is closed to cars, so bicyclists, rollerskaters and eager Lindy Hop aficionados take over the streets. 

Don’t miss: Snacks can be found throughout the park but for a meal, the Beach Chalet and Park Chalet on the park’s western edge offer lovely views and house-brewed beer.

Photograph: Courtesy SFMOMA

5. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Museums Art and design Yerba Buena

What is it? SF MOMA is the stylish go-to for top-notch modern art. 

Why go? Reopened to much fanfare in May 2016, this new-and-improved institution features a ten-story 170,000 square foot addition that nearly triples the space of its original Mario Botta-designed building. On display alongside favorites from the museum’s permanent collection are sixteen special exhibition galleries, works specially commissioned for the new museum and 45,000 square feet of ground-floor exhibits that are open to the public at no charge.

Don’t miss: "Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again" on display through September 2.

Looking down the main drag in San Francisco's Chinatown
Photograph: Pixabay

6. Chinatown

Things to do

What is it? The oldest and most storied enclave of Chinese immigrants outside of Asia.

Why go? After passing through the Dragon Gate at the corner of Bush Street and Grant Avenue, get revved to explore Chinatown's historic buildings, pocket parks and shops. Considered the birthplace of American Chinese food like chop suey and fortune cookies, as well as  credited with introducing dim sum to the Western palate, you’d be remiss not to stop for a bite at an eatery like Hunan Home’s Restaurant or Good Mong Kok Bakery

Don’t miss: The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory (56 Ross Alley), where some 20,000 fortune cookies are made every day—folded by hand as they come off an ancient-looking cookie conveyor belt.

Cable Cars
Photograph: Shutterstock

7. San Francisco Cable Cars

Things to do Walks and tours Tenderloin

What is it? A chance to take in Nob Hill, Fisherman’s Wharf, Russian Hill and the Bay while hanging off the running boards Doris-Day-style. 

Why go? In the late 1800s, San Francisco’s cable cars ran 23 routes to move people around the city’s 49 square miles. Today, though most locals have switched to more efficient modes of public transportation to get around, a ride on one of the three remaining cable car lines is still a classic San Francisco treat. Hop aboard one of these and a National Historic Landmarks and shoot back to simpler times.  

Don’t miss: Make a stop at the Cable Car Museum at Mason and Washington Streets to learn more about the cars’ history and get a glimpse of the giant wheels turning the underground cables that power 'em.  

The Presidio
Photograph: Julian Bialowas

8. Presidio

What is it? A former military base that boasts more than two square miles of swaying eucalyptus and gorgeous views. 

Why go? From the oceanside Crissy Field with its immaculate views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz to the Disney Museum on the Main Post, from the abandoned military forts on the shore to the Yoda monument, the Presidio is full of surprises. Hike or bike around this park, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and larger than Golden Gate Park, or take the free PresidiGo shuttle.

Don’t miss: Check out the Presidio’s two outdoor Andy Goldsworthy creations: the Wood Line, which parallels Lover’s Lane, and the Spire, which towers over the Bay Area Ridge Trail. 

Ferry Building Marketplace, one of San Francisco's best grocery stores
Photograph: David Wakely

9. Ferry Building Marketplace

What is it? The city’s largest farmer's market and a beloved permanent home for local artisan producers.  

Why go? Inside the historic Ferry Building, you’ll find merchants like Cowgirl Creamery, Dandelion Chocolate and Fort Point Beer Company but three days a week the real action is outdoors. On Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10am until 2pm and Saturdays from 8am until 2pm, regional farmers and ranchers converge to hock fresh veggies, flowers, meats and other small-batch beauties. On market days prepared-food stalls give indoor brick-and-mortar restaurants like Charles Phan’s Vietnamese juggernaut the Slanted Door and the brand new Brown Sugar Kitchen outpost a run for their money.

Don’t miss: Delve into the market's history with one of San Francisco City Guides' regular free tours.

Photograph: Courtesy Exploratorium/Amy Snyder

10. Exploratorium

Museums Science and technology North Beach

What is it? A massive museum for the child in everyone.

Why go? At its home on the Embarcadero waterfront, this San Francisco institution uses play and experimentation to introduce visitors to scientific principles. From the storage lockers that play tones when you touch them to the outdoor “fog bridge” by artist Fujiko Nakaya, everything in the museum is hands on. New exhibits appear regularly but even the museum’s most beloved mainstays—the Sweeper's Clock, a fascinating movie loop in which two street sweepers keep time by pushing around piles of trash; the toothpick diorama of San Francisco; and the Tactile Dome, a sensory-deprivation crawl-through maze—are worth returning for again and again. 

Don’t miss: Upstairs on the second floor, the glass and steel Bay Observatory and the sustainable seafood restaurant Seaglass offer a more sweet views of the Bay. 

Stern Grove Festival
Photograph: Courtesy Stern Grove Festival

11. Stern Grove Festival

Music Music venues Parkside

What is it? Free weekly concerts in the middle of a eucalyptus forest.

Why go? A summer of free shows at this idyllic outdoor ampitheater in Golden Gate Park kicks off on June 16 with Digable Planets and their unique brand of smooth, old-school hip-hop. Other acts, such as the SF Symphony and the Psychedelic Furs will perform at the park every Sunday through August 18. 

Don't miss: Pink Martini brings their unique cocktail of jazz, swing, world music, cabaret on August 11. 

AT&T Park
Photograph: Courtesy Oracle Park

12. Oracle Park

Sports and fitness Stadiums South Beach

What is it? Overlooking the Bay, Oracle Park is home to the San Francisco Giants.

Why go? With over 700 Wi-Fi access points, the park is one of the largest public wireless hotspots in the world. It was the first Major League ballpark to receive LEED Silver Certification. It was ranked the Most Vegetarian-Friendly Ballpark by PETA in 2014, 2011, 2006 and 2005. And it is where Kanye West proposed to Kim Kardashian in 2014.  

Don't miss: The Giants take on the L.A. Dodgers June 17–20 and  the Oakland As August 13–14. 

Beach Blanket Babylon
Photograph: Rick Markovich

13. Beach Blanket Babylon

Things to do Russian Hill

What is it? Wacky, saucy, and uniquely San Franciscan, Beach Blanket Babylon lays claim to the title of longest running musical revue in theater history.

Why go? At its heart, the show is really 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.

Don't miss: The famous show will come to an end on Janaury 1, 2020. So make sure you pay them a visit before then. 

Photograph: Courtesy California Academy of Sciences

14. California Academy of Sciences

Museums Science and technology Golden Gate Park

What is it? An amazing showcase for all things science. 

Why go? The academy offers a bit of everything for science-lovin' folks. The Morrison Planetarium is state-of-the-art, which is great for aspiring astronomers. For the marine biology set, the Steinhart Aquarium takes up the museum’s entire lower floor with exhibits like the world’s deepest living coral reef display. Are you into ecology? Check out a four-story living rainforest that boasts butterflies, birds and a variety of tropical plants.

Don’t miss: The “living roof” that is home to 1.7 million native plant species.

Coit Tower
Photograph: Barry J. Holmes

15. Coit Tower

Things to do Event spaces North Beach

What is it? Added to the San Francisco skyline in 1933, this monumental love letter to the city remains an iconic welcome for travelers westbound across the Bay Bridge. 

Why go? Named for Lillie Hitchcock Coit, a wealthy eccentric whose $118,000 bequest to the city resulted in the tower’s construction, the tapered, fluted tower stands 180 feet tall at the crest of Telegraph Hill. At top is the tower’s observation deck with 360 degree views of San Francisco and the Bay. 

Don’t miss: A rotunda at its base, which is covered in Depression-era WPA murals depicting socialist images that were painted by more than two dozen artists, some of whom studied under Diego Rivera.

El Techo de Lolinda
Photograph: Courtesy of El Techo de Lolinda

16. El Techo de Lolinda rooftop bar

What is it? Rooftop bars with spectacular views of the San Francisco skyline.

Why go? Given our cold, foggy nights, you may not expect to find outdoor rooftop bars in San Francisco. But roof decks there are and they're some of the best bars in the city, but not just for the unparalleled views. At Charmaine's atop the Proper Hotel find an inspired cocktail menu created by Trick Dog veterans. At the Mission's El Techo de Lolinda, it's tasty Mexican bites and margaritas for days. Across the bay in Oakland, Oeste cultivates a low-key, backyard vibe. 

Don’t miss: The newly opened Everdene on the top of the stylish new Virgin Hotel in SoMa.

Photograph: Courtesy San Francisco Botanical Garden

17. San Francisco Botanical Garden

Things to do Golden Gate Park

What is it? Seasonal blooms bring new life and color to this beautiful garden. 

Why go? This 75 year old gem sprawls across 55 acres in Golden Gate Park. While the native plants are plentiful, it's particularly known for its assortment of flora from around the world, including the forests of Central America, South America and Southeast Asia. The garden lays claim to the fourth most significant collection of magnolias in the world. Wander amid mosaic-paved trails and stone-laden paths and you'll find the ancient plant garden, a quiet redwood grove, the rhododendron garden and the dwarf conifer pond.

Don't miss: One of the most popular areas is the Garden of Fragrance, where plaques encourage visitors to sniff sweet-smelling plants like cascading rosemary, rockrose, lemon verbena, chamomile and lavender.

Palace of Fine Arts
Photograph: Shutterstock

18. Palace of Fine Arts

Things to do Event spaces Marina District

What is it? Local architect Bernard Maybeck's pièce de résistance, this Greco-Roman rotunda is one of the only surviving structures from the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. 

Why go? You’ll feel like you’ve stepped onto a movie set watching the swans skim across the reflections of the Greco-Roman columns and rotunda of the Palace of Fine Arts. Originally constructed of wood and burlap for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exhibition, the structures were so beloved they were preserved and rebuilt in the 1960s. Bonus: The Palace is an easy, descending walk from the also-picturesque Lyon Street Steps. 

Don’t miss: For a serene stroll—that is, unless you enjoy photobombing wedding photos—visit on a weekday, or in the evenings when spotlights set the columns aglow. 

Presidio Twilight returns this week
Photograph: Courtesy Off the Grid

19. Off the Grid

Shopping Music and entertainment Upper Haight

What is it? A weekly food truck food festival par excellence.

Why go? Off the Grid events can be found all over the Bay Area but two locations, in particular, are not to be missed: The Presidio and Fort Mason. Both locations—Thursday evening at the Presidio's Main Post and Friday evening at Fort Mason—hold a weekly event with firepits, cabanas, and DJs (or live music). Sunday afternoons, the Presidio picnics again in a popular family- and dog-friendly event full of lawn games and activities for little ones.

Don’t miss: The Sunday picnic at the Presidio kicks off each week with a free yoga class at 11am.

A Japanese lantern surrounded by greenery and fog
Photograph: Pixabay

20. Japanese Tea Gardens

What is it? The oldest public Japanese gardens in the country at the heart of Golden Gate Park.

Why go? The Japanese gardens burst with color and beauty in the early spring as maples flame and cherry blossoms bud. Walk stone paths through manicured terraces, through pagodas and over the impossibly-arched drum bridge or meditate on the zen garden before heading to the picturesque Tea House for a cuppa.

Don’t miss: For over a century, the Tea House has served fortune cookies, believed to be the first to be introduced to the United States. They are still on the menu, tucked into cookie plates and bowls of arare. 

Alamo Square
Photograph: Javier Ignacio Acuña Ditzel

21. The Painted Ladies

Things to do Alamo Square

What is it? Colorful Victorian and Edwardian houses that feature three or more colors. 

Why go? The most famous ones—there are hundreds—can be found in NoPa, the Lower Haight, Haight-Ashbury and Cole Valley neighborhoods. But there’s one row, in particular, so iconic that it’s simply referred to as “the Painted Ladies” (or sometimes “Postcard Row”): the houses of 710-720 Steiner Street at the corner of Hayes Street. These gals have appeared in an estimated 70 movies, ads and TV shows including, yes, Full House.

Don’t miss: You can’t enter the Painted Ladies (real people live there) but you can get a great view and a photo of your own from the east-facing hillside of Alamo Square across the street. 

Photograph: Shutterstock

22. San Francisco Whale Tours

What is it? A short boat ride out of San Francisco Bay affords you a front-row seat to one of the most spectacular wildlife migrations, when some 20,000 gray whales traveling south in January and back north in the early spring months.  

Why go? From April through November, humpbacks and blue whales—the largest animals to have ever lived—frequent these anchovy-rich waters. San Francisco Whale Tours and the Oceanic Society both offer 2.5-hour whale-watching tours ($45) led by expert naturalists.   

Don’t miss:  For the more seaworthy, full-day expeditions circle the Farallon Islands ($99–$128), home to massive breeding colonies of sleek Common Murres and clownish Tufted Puffins. Round that out with seals and sea lions, dolphins, killer whales, and the peculiar mola mola, and you’ll feel like David Attenborough for a day. 

Fisherman's Wharf
Photograph: Hans Kwiotek

23. Boudin Sourdough Bakery & Café

Restaurants Bistros Fisherman's Wharf

What is it? At the flagship Boudin Bakery on Fisherman’s Wharf, tangy loaves are still made from a mother dough first cultivated here in 1849.

Why go? Discovered by Gold Rush-era bakers, sourdough became so beloved so quickly that miners seeking their fortune in the nearby Sierra Nevadas snuggled up to their yeast starters (“mothers”) on cold nights to keep them alive. The bacteria responsible for the sour flavor, lactobacilli sanfranciscensis, has since even been named after the city—and this is the place to sample sourdough, period. 

Don’t miss: Watching the bread-making process from the railing overlooking the showcase kitchen, sampling it at the café, and buying a few loaves to bring home with you. 

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Lands End
Photograph: Courtney Stenberg

24. Lands End hike

What is it? That rarest of modern American metropolises, San Francisco is crisscrossed with dozens of hiking trails.

Why go? Some treks, like the Creek to Peaks trail at Glen Canyon Park traverse steep, rocky terrain while others, like the Presidio’s Bay Ridge Trail, are better suited for a leisurely wander. Whatever level of difficulty you choose, your path is sure to expose you to the city’s natural landscape which rivals in beauty the built one that made it famous.

Don’t miss: Still have energy? Other favorites include the trails at Mt. Davidson, Lands End, Bernal Heights Park and Buena Vista Park

The newly re-opened Dolores Park
Photograph: Gaelen

25. Dolores Park

What is it? Once a Jewish cemetery, today Dolores Park is one of San Francisco’s favorite warm-weather destinations.

Why go? It may be miles from the ocean, but sunny Mission Dolores Park might just be the most popular "beach" in San Francisco. Any weekend above 60 degrees and every green inch of the park is guaranteed to be packed with barbecues, 20-somethings lounging on inflatable couches, hula-hoopers and tightrope walkers. Recently expanded restrooms and an updated playground for little ones make the convergence a little more comfortable.   

Don’t miss: The southwest slope offers the best views of the downtown skyline and a variety of manscaping on what's known as the "Fruit Shelf."

Fort Point Beer Company
Photograph: Molly DeCoudreaux

26. Fort Point Beer

Bars Breweries SoMa

What is it? Founded in 2014 by brothers Tyler and Justin Catalana, the indie brewery now makes nearly 20 varieties of craft beer, from a smoked altbier with charred manzanita to a tropical fruit-infused IPA.

Why go? This Presidio-based brewery is instantly recognizable for its colorful cans, which are sold throughout the city, so it’s fitting that its mini-beer-garden in the Ferry Building is backed by a giant aluminum wall of them. You’ll find six taps with rotating beer picks, plus growlers and chilled six-packs to-go. 

Don't miss: Channel the vibes of summertime Germany by sipping a Darling Berliner Weisse on the newly extended patio. 


Naya Bihana
Photograph: Matt Markovich

27. Mission murals

Things to do

What is it? The Mission District’s alleys and buildings are decorated with over 200 distinct murals, many reflecting the neighborhood’s Latino heritage and themes of social justice. 

Why go? Thanks in large part to the efforts of artist Susan Cervantes and the Precita Eyes Mural Arts Center, you’ll find the most concentrated outdoor galleries at Caledonia Alley (at 15th Street), Clarion Alley (at Valencia Street), Balmy Alley (at 24th Street), Horace Alley (at 25th Street), Cypress and Lilac Alleys (at 26th Street) and Osage Alley (at 25th Street). 

Don’t miss:  Keep an eye out for Mary Nash’s Las Milagrosas: Tribute to Women Artists on Balmy Alley.

La Taqueria
Photograph: Marcia Gagliardi

28. La Taqueria

Restaurants Mexican Mission

What is it? SFs quintessential dish. 

Why go? It’s common knowledge that burritos as we know them today are an American invention. And no burrito is more famous than SF’s Mission-style burrito formed in the '60s. There's still some debate as to who created the first Mission-style burrito. Taqueria La Cumbre is generally credited with the creationthey introduced the tortilla wrapped combination of beans, rice, meat and cheese in 1969. Their neighborhood competitor, El Faro (2399 Folsom St), also claims have to have originated the delicacy, serving it up to local firefighters as early as 1961. If you want the best, though, head to La Taqueria (2989 Mission St), which consistently appears on top restaurant lists year after year thanks to its behemoth, rice-free foil-wrapped bombs.

Don’t miss: An all-inclusive food tour of the Mission. 

Treasure Fest
Photograph:Courtesy Treasure Fest

29. TreasureFest

Things to do

What is it? Every last full weekend of the month, Treasure Island becomes a destination with more than 400 vendors, 40 food trucks, bars and live music. 

Why go? The recent rebrand to TreasureFest from Treasure Island Flea is a fitting upgrade for this kid- and dog-friendly outdoor extravaganza. Expect handcrafted jewelry and ceramics, vintage clothing, antique art and furnishings. Sip a sangria, show off your pooch, and hunt for that perfect pair of vintage Levi’s. 

Don’t miss: Bring cash for extra haggling power. 

Castro Theatre
Photograph: Hans Kwiotek

30. Castro Theatre

Movie theaters Independent The Castro

What is it? The chance to dress up and belt out Hollywood hits en masse. 

Why go? What started out as an excuse for Castro District denizens to don dirndl dresses and do their best Julie Andrews impressions has blossomed into regular sing-along sessions to some of the biggest live-action and Disney musicals of the last 100 years, including Grease, The Little Mermaid, West Side Story and Frozen. Free goodie bags filled with relevant props and karaoke-style subtitles keep the audience on point at both family-friendly matinees and alcohol-fueled evening shows.

Don’t miss: Come dressed to impress—a raucous costume contest kicks off each showing.

Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar
Photograph: Courtesy Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar

31. Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar

What is it? The kitschy, island-themed Tiki Bar born in the Bay Area and the city still boasts the country’s best.

Why go? At the city's oldest standing Tiki Bar, Trad'r Sam in the Richmond District, a tiki-dive adorned with wooden palapas and a bamboo-adorned horseshoe bar, not much has changed since its opening in the 1930s. The tiki kitsch is at its best though at the historic Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar where the walls drip with tropical storms and an island band plays on a floating island in the middle of what was once the pool of the Fairmont Hotel.

Don’t miss: For a more dramatic take on the dark side of Tiki, head to the Duboce Triangle’s Last Rites where bar goers sip sophisticated rum-based cocktails from the belly of a doomed passenger plane.

City Lights bookstore
Photograph: Shutterstock

32. City Lights Bookstore

Shopping Bookstores Chinatown

What is it? For more than 60 years, City Lights bookstore has been a beacon of free-speech and radical ideas. 

Why go? Co-founded in 1953 by poet-artist Lawrence Ferlinghetti, City Lights is where Allen Ginsberg’s Howl & Other Poems was first published, putting the Beat Generation on the map. The creaky wooden shop and publishing house is still a center of progressive politics and indie-literary voices, which it stocks alongside a huge inventory of new and used fiction and nonfiction.

Don’t miss: You’ll find the shop on the corner of Jack Kerouac Alley (so named after being renovated and reopened to the public in 2007) and across from Vesuvio Cafe, the bar where Kerouac, Neal Cassady and other Beat heavyweights once held court. 

La La Land
Photograph: Courtesy Dale Robinette

33. San Francisco Symphony

Music Civic Center

What is it? Whether you’re a classical music connoisseur or can’t tell Bach from Beethoven, you’ll find something to love about the San Francisco Symphony’s film nights

Why go? Watching a Hollywood movie on the big screen while a full orchestra performs the score is the ultimate surround sound and a glimpse of movie magic. It’s also a high-wire act for the musicians who have to stay in perfect sync scene to scene while channeling adrenaline and shmaltz.

Don’t miss:  The 2018-2019 season features classics like Jurassic Park and Mary Poppins and new hits like La La Land

Irish Coffee at Buena Vista Café, one of the world's best cocktails
Photograph: Nik Pledger

34. Buena Vista Cafe

What is it? The birthplace of the famed drink, right in  Fisherman’s Wharf.  

Why go? Although the Buena Vista has been slinging drinks for seafaring folk since 1916, it wasn’t until 1952 that the cafe got its big break. That year Joe Sheridan, an Irish chef, invented the Irish Coffee. These days, the restaurant’s white-jacketed bartenders serve up to 2,000 of the frothy, whiskey concoctions daily from behind the long, mahogany bar. 

Don’t miss: Alongside their specialty, the Buena Vista has a menu full featuring a variety of seafood options like clam chowder and Dungeness crab cakes befitting of its Fisherman’s Wharf location. 

El Rio
Photograph: Courtesy El Rio

35.  El Rio LGBTQ bar

Bars Dive bars Bernal Heights

What is it? The chance to take in the city's rich LGBTQ culture (and a few drinks). 

Why go? San Francisco—home of the country's first openly gay elected official (Harvey Milk), birthplace of the rainbow flag and the first city in the United States to legalize gay marriage—remains a major LGBTQ epicenter. While the Castro serves as the community’s beloved home with plenty of music-pumping gay-friendly bars (many of which have been favorites for decades like Moby Dick and Twin Peaks Tavern), SoMa is where you can really dance like no-one’s watching or catch one of the city’s best drag shows at clubs like the The Stud or SF Eagle

Don’t miss: For great live music, try Bernal Heights’ Latin-themed former Brazilian leather-cum-lesbian bar, El Rio.

Tony’s Pizza Napoletana
Photograph: Flickr/ Barbara Wells

36. Tony’s Pizza Napoletana

Restaurants Pizza North Beach

What is it? 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.  

Why go? Don't come here looking for New York–style pizza. This is Gemingnani's paean to Napoli, complete with ten different kinds of pizza baked in seven different ovens, ranging in temperature from 550 to 1,000 degrees. Crowds line up sometimes hours to sample one of these perfectly blistered creations. And there are no reservations, so put in your name and be prepared to wait. 

Don’t miss: Heavenly Tomato Pie, with hand-crushed tomato sauce and cooked in a coal-fired oven, and the Margherita, with San Felice-flour dough and San Marzano tomatoes. 

Photograph: Courtesy Apothecarium

37. Apothecarium dispensary

What is it? A new "crop" of recreational cannabis dispensaries with lounges for on-site smoking.

Why go? Since recreational marijuana use became legal in 2018, San Francisco’s weed dispensaries have slowly ramped up to offer not just ever-wider varieties of edible and smokable strains but full on Amsterdam-inspired weed cafes. (Architectural Digest even named Apothecarium one of the best-designed dispensaries in the country). At the Barbary Coast Dispensary, the brick walled bud bar and damask wallpapered lounge channel Gold Rush-era San Francisco. Try the dabs “on tap” or purchase a pre-rolled joint to smoke in the lounge’s high-backed leather booths. Volcano vaporizers laid out on tables at SoMa’s Sparc are available for a quick sit-and-hit or a longer stays.

Don’t miss: If you like a bit of entertainment when you smoke (or eat, or vape), check out a comedy night in the open-flamed licensed lounge at SoMa’s steampunk dispensary, Urban Pharm.

The Church of 8 Wheels
Photograph: Aimee Bruckner

38. Church of 8 Wheels

Nightlife Lower Haight

What is it? An old church where you can roller skate to funky beats. 

Why go? Each weekend the Godfather of skate, D. Miles, Jr., holds the “rolliest” of services at the Church of 8 Wheels. Strap on some skates (available for rent for $5) and join the Holy Rollers, the groovy costume-wearing regulars, beneath the twinkling mirror ball. It's the most spiritual of skating experiences.

Don’t miss: Want to take the party outside? On Fridays, the Rollers host an alfresco 12-mile skate that kicks off at Ferry Plaza. 

Photograph:Flickr/Dave Patten

39. Musée Mécanique

Museums Special interest Fisherman's Wharf

What is it? An homage to turn-of-the-century mechanization, with more than 200 coin-operated games.

Why go? A museum in name only, everything at the Musée Mécanique can, and should, be played with. Many of of these amusements were salvaged from San Francisco’s now-defunct seaside amusement park, Playland at the Beach. Gypsy fortune tellers, giant moving dioramas, can-can girl stereoscopes, carnival strength testers, player pianos, and a looming Laughing Sal (the cackling Playland greeter) are just as amusing for adults as they are for kids. 

Don’t miss: When you’ve had your fill of fun, check out the earthquake memorabilia and early photos of San Francisco along the walls of the arcade.

Photograph: Chad Robertson

40. Tartine Bakery

Restaurants Bakeries Mission Dolores

What is it? A Mission bakery where you can munch on tried-and-true pie varieties baked to perfection, from the creamy pumpkin to the oat-walnut crumble-topped apple.

Why go? Tartine’s master bakers, husband and wife team Chad Robertson and Liz Prueitt, have taken home numerous local and national awards for their rustic approach to pastry and bread. The line around the block of food lovers seeking heavenly croque monsieurs, fresh fruit bread puddings, frangipane tarts and their famous crusty country bread hasn’t budged since the bakery opened in 2002. And it’s still worth the wait. 

Don’t miss: Don't have time to queue? At Tartine Manufactory, you’ll find Robertson and Prueitt’s beloved baked goods along with some of the city’s best artisan ice cream, coffee and more. 

Photograph: Courtesy Angel Island Company

41. Angel Island

Things to do Camps Tiburon

What is it? The Ellis Island of the West. 

Why go? The lesser-known cousin of Alcatraz, Angel Island is a hidden gem that serves up a perfect mix of history and nature for an easy day-trip from the city. Tour the U.S. Immigration Station, where over a million Chinese immigrants were processed from 1910 to 1940 and sometimes detained for years. (Chinese poetry can still be seen carved into the walls of the barracks.) 

Don’t miss: Afterwards, hike to the summit of Mt. Livermore, bike the 5-mile Perimeter Trail, or take a break at several picnic sites. 

Photograph: Flickr/Cara Courage

42. The Audium

What is it? A one-of-a-kind theater for blowing your sonic mind. 

Why go? Throughout a two-hour performance, theater-goers are left in darkness to be bathed in “sound sculptures” from the 176 speakers surrounding the circular 49-seat theater. The sound calls attention to its speed and movement but any more than that is hard to explain; you’ll just have to experience it yourself.

Don’t miss: Relaxing, opening your ears and embarking on one hell of a trip. 

Photograph: Courtesy Nopa

43. Divisadero Street

What is it? What Valencia Street was to the Mission 10 years ago, Divisadero Street is to the Alamo Square/NoPa—a corridor filled with some of the city's best eateries and bars with more on the way.

Why go? There are so many fantastic restaurants and bars packed into these six blocks of Divisadero Street, you'll have trouble choosing your favorites. For brunch or a light snack, try Brenda's Meat and Three, which serves some of the city's best soul food or The Mill for freshly baked toast and Four Barrell coffee. At dinner, head to the new Italian favorite Che Fico or the original neighborhood dining powerhouse, NoPa. For drinks, try Indian Paradox, a vibrant wine-bar with a South Asian menu, the cocktail bar Horsefeather or Club Waziema, an Ethiopian restaurant with a beloved dive bar upfront.

Don’t miss: Theorita, the fledgling bakery and dinette from the owners of Che Fico where pie is on the menu at any hour of the day.

Mosaic of stairs in Lincoln Park, graffiti in San Francisc
Photograph: Courtesy

44. Lincoln Park Steps

What is it? Nearly 400 different stairways, some of them built more than a century ago, that connect San Francisco’s 42 hills.

Why go? These steep passageways not only get you off the grid but offer some of the city’s best views, from the 290-step Lyon Street stairway (between Green Street and Broadway) to the delightful, garden-accented Pemberton Steps (starting at Corbett and Clay Streets). On Moraga Street in the Inner Sunset, 163 mosaic tiled steps connect 15th and 16th Avenues. Macondray Lane (off Leavenworth St between Union and Green Sts) inspired Armistead Maupin’s secretive, leafy green Barbary Lane in his Tales of the City series. 

Don’t miss: The Filbert Street Steps, arguably the most spectacular of them all, climbs through tropical gardens from the bottom of Sansome Street to Coit Tower in North Beach.

Anchor Public Taps
Photograph: Courtesy Anchor Brewing

45. Anchor Public Taps

Bars Breweries Potrero Hill

What is it? The Bay Area has a bevy of intoxicating options for suds savants. 

Why go? Sipping your way through San Fran's famed breweries might be the best (or at least buzziest) way to spend an afternoon. There's Almanac Beer Co. (known for its farm-to-barrel brewing techniques), Anchor Brewing Company (a pioneer dating back to 1896), the Rare Barrel (for sour-beer lovers), Fort Point Beer (an expert in low-ABV brews) and many other great breweries that will keep any hops-head happy. 

Don’t miss: Anchor still offers their famed daily tours ($25 for 90 minutes with beer tastings) by reservation. But Anchor Public Taps, which opened in late 2017, lets you feast on food-truck goodies and nurse a pint without a tour.  

The Pearl
Photograph: Courtesy The Pearl

46. Dogpatch neighborhood

Restaurants Ice cream parlors Mission Dolores

What is it? Once an industrial neighborhood, the Dogpatch is reinventing itself as a go-to for craft brewers, wine bars and cocktail experimentation.

Why go? Where should we start? Breweries? Sure, the Dogpatch has those. Try Triple Voodoo Brewery and Tap Room. Cocktails are on order at the drinks-and-jerky bar Third Rail and the the Latin American lounge, School Night, a collaboration with celebrity chef Traci Des Jardins. You can also sip wine at the playful, unassuming Yield Wine Bar, take a deep dive into the classic Victorian stylings of The Sea Star, or ogle views of the city from the rooftop deck of the event space, The Pearl.

Don’t miss: Ungrafted, one of the newest additions to the Dogpatch, is an industrial-cool, family-friendly wine bar with a menu of grown-up comfort food.

Photograph: Courtesy Sausalito Floating Homes Tour
Sausalito Floating Homes Tour

47. Sausalito & Tiburon

Shopping Tenderloin

What is it? Quaint waterside towns just across the bay from San Francisco.

Why go? The side-by-side villages just north of San Francisco make for a daytrip to remember. Tour Sausalito's floating homes, shop Tiburon's adorable Main Street, and gorge on some of the Bay Area's most lauded Japanese food at Sushi Ran. Add an aquatic element to your day by taking the ferry from Pier 41 across the sparkling water.

Don’t miss: The century old Sam's Anchor Cafe reopens this month after a hiatus for renovations. This seafood restaurant on a Tiburon pier is perfect for an afternoon of oysters, adult beverages and sun worship.  

More great things to do across the globe

Uluru’s ‘Field of Light’
Photograph: Mark Pickthall, courtesy Field of Light, Uluru, Bruce Munro 2016

The 40 best things to do in the world right now

Things to do

Going out and doing things satisfies our need to explore, to learn and to grow (and then to brag about it on social media). Our hope is that the DO List becomes not just your bucket list, but your inspiration to experience and appreciate the corners of magic in the world.


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