18 Best San Francisco Tours & Attractions [2019 Ultimate Guide]
By: Joshua Hirsch
We’ve compiled a list of the 18 best things to do in San Francisco. San Francisco has it all. From great seafood to jaw-dropping scenery to a world-famous art scene, there’s something for everyone here. You could spend months in this city without even scratching its foggy surface. These 18 San Francisco tours, events and activities will help you understand why the Bay Area is one of the top vacation destinations in the U.S.
Top 18 San Francisco Tours, Events, & Activities
The City By the Bay is one of the most culturally diverse areas of the U.S. Though the downtown area isn’t large, it’s full of neighborhoods, sites and activities. Taking a tour can help you see more of the city in less time. These four San Francisco tours will help take the guesswork out of your itinerary planning.
San Francisco is home to residents from all over the world — and you can experience those cultures in the local food. Try unexpected flavors and textures on a Chinatown Food Tour; discover old-world Italian salami, pizza and pasta on a North Beach Food Tour and some of the best Mexican food north of Chihuahua on a Mission District Food Tour.
What better way is there to learn about the history of San Francisco than with a taco in one hand and a falafel sandwich in the other?
This city is known for being a haven for hippies and free thinkers. Back in the 1960s, VW vans from all over the country pointed their maps in San Francisco’s direction. Why not experience some of the city’s most iconic sites from a restored VW van?
Tour themes include “The Heart of San Francisco,” “Alcatraz” and “The Haight.” Take a trip back in time as you cruise around the city in tie-dyed style.
A mere 90-minute drive north of Downtown sits Napa Valley, a wine lover’s dream. Both Napa and Sonoma are home to hundreds of vineyards. Many of them make award-winning vintages and have tasting rooms where you can try the wine before you buy.
Terrific Tours leads tours to both Sonoma and Napa Valleys from San Francisco — and they’ll pick you up in a luxury van, mini-coach or SUV.
They even set you up with a wine educator to ensure all your burning wine questions don’t go unanswered.
Cover more ground in less time on a bike! Dylan’s Tours makes use of electric bikes, minibuses and tuk-tuks to get you around the city — without worrying about peddling up the iconic hills!
Depending on your route, you’ll see most of the city’s must-see attractions, including Muir Woods, Alcatraz Island, Sausalito and the Golden Gate Bridge.
And let’s be honest, at a length of nearly 9,000 feet, the Golden Gate Bridge was practically made to be enjoyed by bike.
San Francisco Events
San Francisco experiences weather like no other city; we get chilly weather in the summer and see plenty of sun in the winter. Basically, the temperatures don’t drop too drastically any season of the year.
That means we can enjoy 12 months of glorious weather — perfect for the many festivals and events that attract both locals and visitors each year.
The SF Chronicle Wine Tasting Event has become one of the most important wine competitions in the country. 3,500 participants flock here each year in hopes of taking home one of their coveted prizes. Tickets are available for the public tasting events, which include both small bites from local restaurants and (of course) wine.
San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest in the country, and its Chinese New Year Parade has been running since the 1860s. It’s worth the trip to the Bay Area just to get a glimpse of the performers and colorful floats. The Miss Chinatown Pageant is one of the main events during the celebration and attracts women from all over the U.S. in hopes of winning the honor of being “Miss Chinatown U.S.A.”
When spring rolls around, it means one thing in San Francisco: baseball! And lucky for San Franciscans, the Giants have one of the best fields in the MLB, Oracle Park. Sit in the right seats, and you’ll even get great views of the bay.
In the summer, the park also hosts big-name musicians, like Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga and Journey.
As gay pride festivals go, San Francisco hosts one of the largest of its kind every June.
The festival kicks off each year with a full day of celebration on the last Saturday of the month. The parade starts at 10:30 a.m. the following Sunday and ends with a VIP party at City Hall
Sausalito is known for its kitschy, eclectic vibe, and one of the best reasons to visit is to check out the local art scene.
Every Labor Day Weekend, the neighborhood hosts an art festival, featuring live music, fine art from around the world and food tastings. Artists from around the world head to this festival to show their work. Art is available for purchase in the categories of mixed media, ceramics, digital, drawing, fiber, functional, glass, jewelry, painting and photography.
A trip to San Francisco just wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory. Head here in September, and you can get an entire weekend of chocolate at their famous festival.
The festival has been running for over 20 years, and proceeds go to Project Open Hand, providing nutritious meals to local, underserved residents in the community.
If baseball isn’t your sport, you can always opt to visit in October. The San Francisco 49ers start playing every week in the Fall at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
As an added bonus, it’s one of the few stadiums in the country where you don’t need to bring your hand warmers to games in the middle of the winter.
The San Francisco Ballet is a world-renowned company; snagging tickets to any of their performances is a treat for adults and little ones alike. Yet, attending the Nutcracker in December is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Founded in 1933, the SFB now performs a combination of classical and contemporary ballets.
San Francisco Activities
You can’t leave San Francisco without a stop at these six iconic attractions. From the Golden Gate Bridge to Muir Woods and Fisherman’s Wharf, there are just some activities that can’t be missed.
The Golden Gate Bridge is the unofficial icon of San Francisco. Finished in 1937, it’s still one of the longest suspension bridges in the U.S.
It can be seen throughout San Francisco and Marin County even in dense fog — thanks to its telltale reddish-orange color. Take a bus, ride a bike or make the 1 mile walk from San Francisco over to Golden Gate Bridge View for some of the best views of the bridge and the city.
This island was once home to some of the country’s most notorious criminals. Originally built as a fort in 1846, the island was soon transformed into a military prison. In 1933, the United States Department of Justice acquired the island, transforming it into a federal penitentiary. Some of the most dangerous criminals in the U.S., such as Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly and Robert Franklin Stroud were sent here.
Today, it’s run by the National Parks as a tourist attraction.
One of the most popular tourist destinations in the city is Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco’s restaurant and shopping district. This is where you’ll find Boudin’s famous sourdough bread bowls, filled with clam chowder; sea lions barking on Pier 39 and Ghirardelli Square.
New York City has the subway, Whistler has a gondola, but how many cities can lay claim to cable cars as a primary mode of transportation?
San Francisco’s cable car system is the oldest (and only) manually operated system in the world. Take the Powell-Hyde line from Union Square, up the hill, to Lombard Street for one of the most scenic rides in the city.
Only a 45-minute drive north of the city, Muir Woods feels like it’s on another planet. This preserved area of Marin County is home to old-growth redwood trees. Hike the many trails, learn about the conservation of the forest and grab a bite to eat at the snack bar.
Once a former military barracks, the Presidio is a cluster of historic buildings and a park that sits in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. You’ll get some great photos of the bridge and the bay from here — as well as some amazing shots of the Palace of Fine Arts that sits on the edge of the park.
The newly opened Walt Disney Family Museum sits quietly in one of the old military buildings and tells the story of how Walt Disney went from being the son of a lower-middle-class Midwestern family to famous animator.