15 Epic Outdoor Adventure Activities in San Francisco
Published by Josh Hirsch.
You might think you’ve seen all of San Francisco, but there’s still plenty of epic outdoor adventures for you and your crew to experience. From the waterfront to Chinatown to Muir Woods, it’s easy to miss something if you don’t know what to look for. The City by the Bay is known for three things: food, architecture and outdoor activities. These 12 outdoor activities in San Francisco will show you all the city’s most iconic sites from where they were meant to be enjoyed — outside.
What’s better than eating? Eating outside! We take your traditional food tour and move it out into the streets, so you can see, smell and experience more of the city.
Whether you’re into Latin-inspired cuisine, Chinese food or Italian, you’ll be able to take in the flavors of the City By the Bay on one of the most popular outdoor adventures in the city. The best part? You’ll learn all about the history of San Francisco in between stops.
Biking is one of the best ways to cover lots of ground in a short amount of time. Yet if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can be a real pain in the butt in San Francisco — thanks to our hilly landscape. These two bike tour companies will get you around one of the hilliest cities in the U.S. without losing steam.
Still worried about hoofing it up those hills? Streets of San Francisco offers electric bike tours of the city’s hilliest neighborhoods. You’ll get four-to-six hours of guided narration and stops at some of the most iconic attractions in the city.
Feel confident with your peddling skills? Their city bike tours will take you around the city’s most infamous hills so you can get in a great workout without missing a thing.
If you’re looking for a great selection of itineraries, the folks at Dandyhorse have you covered. From the essentials to food to private tours, these guys offer plenty of options. The best part is that they consistently receive five-star ratings on TripAdvisor, so you know you’re going to get great customer service at the same time.
San Francisco and its surrounding areas are famous for hiking. While the grand hills and steep inclines might deter some from hitting the city by foot, those who are in the know understand that these hills’ peaks offer some of the most stunning viewpoints in the Bay Area.
If you want a guided tour of these vantage points, look no further than Urban Hiker San Francisco hiking and history tours. Just a few of their famous hike themes include:
- Castro and Twin Peaks
- Union Square, Nob Hill and Chinatown
- Coit Tower and Lombard Street
- The Presidio
Muir Woods Tours
You can’t come to San Francisco without visiting Muir Woods. Only about 45 minutes north of the city, this redwood preserve is one of the few of its kind in the Bay Area.
Discover some of the most glorious and oldest trees in Marin County with these three tour companies.
The worldwide renowned company that you know from practically every other city also offers tours to Muir Woods. Learn about the history of this famous preserve as you drive through Marin County. As the bus snakes down to the visitors’ center, you’ll listen to quirky antidotes and stories told by local guides.
This tour is offered as a stand-alone tour and as a combo with Sausalito.
Dylan’s Famous Tours is a locally owned company with access to the famous national park and reserve. On this tour, you’ll get a chance to stretch your legs at seven different photo stops and enjoy a full hour of the park itself.
After a long walk in the park, you’ll head to Sausalito for lunch before heading back to the city to see some of the most iconic filming locations.
Want a chance to see more uncharted redwoods? Best Bay Area Tours offers a tour of Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. Since Muir Woods has become so popular, the National Park Service has been limiting the number of tickets sold to tour companies throughout the day. Most of the small companies were unable to secure spots, so they’re heading here instead. You’ll get to see the same spectacular redwoods that you’d see at Muir Woods — you just won’t run into as many tourists here.
Outdoor enthusiasts flock to San Francisco for its moderate climate, beautiful scenery and access to natural wonders. Luckily, there’s plenty to do here that will keep you outside for the duration of your vacation.
The Golden Gate Bridge is the unofficial icon of San Francisco. You’ll recognize its rusty orange color the moment you see it. It’s been featured in dozens of films and TV shows — as well as plenty of promotional material. If you’re a fan of “Full House,” “The Maltese Falcon” or “So I Married an Axe Murderer,” you’ll recognize this impressive structure.
When it comes to enjoying the bridge, you have a few options: walk it, bike it, drive across it or simply enjoy it from afar. If you’re planning on walking the bridge, you’ll want to plan a little ahead of time. It’s 8,981-feet long, so it’ll take you just under 45 minutes to cross (without stopping for photos). It can get pretty chilly here in San Francisco (even in the summer), so dress accordingly. If you’re planning on biking across it, you’ll want to plan appropriately too.
Driving across is the easiest way to get to Marin County from San Francisco, but you might miss some of the best views from the car. The local hop-on, hop-off buses also cross over the bridge, including Gray Line, City Sightseeing and Big Bus. You’re more likely to snag a great photo from the top of one of these double-decker buses than from a car.
If you want to enjoy the bridge from afar, you can always head to the Presidio or Golden Gate View Point (in Marin County).
Another iconic activity in San Francisco is riding the cable cars. While many locals find some of the other modes of public transportation a little more convenient, the cable car is the most enjoyable way to see the city.
The cable car system is the oldest of its kind. It’s been featured in movies and TV shows (like “Roger Rabbit”) and is known for its role in the Rice-A-Roni commercials.
San Francisco Bay Cruise
San Francisco is surrounded by water on three sides. One of the best ways to see the city from a different angle is to take a bay cruise. Several companies offer cruises that depart near Fisherman’s Wharf. Some of our favorite bay cruises include:
- Hornblower Cruises and Events
- Blue and Gold Fleet
- San Francisco Bay Boat Cruises
- The San Francisco Sailing Company
Lombard Street is the most twisted street in the city — and possibly the U.S.! This iconic street is most famous for its stretch that spans between Hyde and Leavenworth. You might not be able to drive down this street for long either. City officials are talking about banning traffic on this stretch because it’s become so famous. The best way to experience it? By walking down the hill on foot.
Outdoor Activities for Kids
San Francisco has so many fun activities for kids, sometimes seems like it was just made for little ones. From Fisherman’s Wharf to Ripley’s Believe It or Not to Alcatraz Island, this city knows how to deliver local history with a little bit of childhood excitement.
Fisherman’s Wharf is the epicenter of fun in San Francisco. It’s where kids can learn about the local history, culture and wildlife. Oh, and when you get hungry? There’re tons of great kid-friendly restaurants nearby, too. Don’t forget to check out the sea lions over at Pier 39 before you leave.
San Francisco’s aquarium is one of the best in the country. Discover all the marine wildlife that calls the San Francisco Bay home. Your kids will also learn about animals that hail from as far as the Sierras.
While one of the country’s most infamous former prisons might not seem like the best place for children, it’s actually a great spot to learn about local history. Many of the tours offered here during the day are kid-friendly and are engaging and exciting enough to keep little ones’ attention.
Head over to Oakland for one of the most kid-friendly outdoor activities in the Bay Area. Children’s Fairyland is an amusement park that offers 10 acres of small rides. Your kids will be transported to a storybook world here for a few hours.