Top 10 Things to Do in San Francisco for a First Timer
Finding things to do as a first timer in San Francisco can be overwhelming. After all, with 25 million people visiting The Golden Gate City each year, there are tons of tourist attractions begging for a moment of any visitor’s attention. If you’re new to the city, either as a tourist or current resident, these top 10 things to do will get you acclimated to the city in no time.
Golden Gate Bridge
If you haven’t already seen the Golden Gate Bridge, you’re probably not really in San Francisco. The Golden Gate Bridge can almost be seen from every street corner and park around the city. But to really appreciate the iconic bridge, you’ll have to get up close and personal. Walking across the bridge, or even renting a bike on Lombard Street to pedal across around sunset is highly recommended. It’s also possible to capture flawless photos of the bridge from the Marin Headlands.
One of the world’s most well-known and notorious islands, the prison on top of Alcatraz housed some of the most dangerous criminals ever to live. From Al Capone to “Machine Gun” Kelly, Alcatraz has no shortage of awe-inspiring stories. Riding a ferry to the island and touring the inside of the prison is possible, but make sure to book tickets weeks in advance, due to the fact that it’s such a popular historical tour.
Another epicenter of activity in San Francisco, checking out the Fisherman’s Wharf on the coast is a must-see attraction to cross off on your list of things to do. Even if you’re not fond of large crowds, seafood, or wharfs for that matter, stop by Pier 39 to see the local gathering of Sea Lions that call the bay area their home. There’s also a range of hotels, specialty restaurants, unique shops, and other famous attractions in the Fisherman’s Wharf area.
As one of the largest and most established Chinese areas outside of Asia, San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the most popular attractions in the city. Get lost among 24 city blocks, cross under hundreds of Chinese dragon lanterns, and take in the smells of Peking duck and fried spring rolls. Make sure to pose for a photo in front of the two stone lions at the Chinatown Gate. Then, walk six blocks back to catch whiffs of vanilla leading you to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory.
Golden Gate Park
Stroll through a Japanese Tea Garden, savor the beauty of rare and exotic plants in the Conservatory of Flowers, or visit the California Academy of Sciences. With over a thousand acres of public grounds, it’s practically guaranteed that every visitor will find something to take their breath away. Spending a large majority of the day can easily be done here, so plan accordingly. Each attraction in the park has its own distinct features and they’re only made more beautiful on especially sunny days.
Remember the opening credits of the TV show Full House, where the Tanner family shares a picnic in front of beautiful Victorian and Edwardian homes? That exact filming location can be found in San Francisco’s Alamo Square. Deemed as the “Painted Ladies,” these iconic homes are back-dropped by a vista of downtown skyscrapers. The famous park can be found at the corner of Hayes and Steiner Street.
While technically located in the Fisherman’s Wharf area, Ghirardelli Square is a popular attraction for first timers seeking exciting things to do. There’s not only tons of delicious chocolate morsels here, it’s also a great location for wining and dining, shopping, and the occasional triple chocolate ice cream cone. For an even more sumptuous treat, stop by the square at night by walking along the waterfront and admiring the large glowing Ghirardelli sign.
Climbing the steps along Filbert Street is one of the most physically-demanding, yet fully rewarding hikes found anywhere in the city. Although it’s possible to drive to Coit Tower, taking the hidden steps up make for a thrilling trek to the top. Once reaching the peak of Telegraph Hill, ride an elevator to the top of the tower, or simply enjoy the famous Depression-era murals in the lobby. For an alternative experience hiking down, take the Greenwich Stairs and look out to the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance.
That romantic scenic overlook you’ve seen in the movies can easily be found atop Twin Peaks. Take in incredible 360 degree views of the city and the bay further off in the distance. There is no cost to make it to the top either by driving, or hiking the 3.8 mile loop trail through the park. As a world-famous tourist attraction, the panorama found at the top of Twin Peaks is an unmissable thing to do in San Francisco.
For baseball fans, check the sports schedule to watch the San Francisco Giants play or take a tour of the stadium on non game days. Oracle Park (formerly AT&T Park) is located in the South Beach neighborhood of San Francisco, altogether offering stunning views of the San Francisco Bay in the background. Although some fans might swear allegiance to the Giant’s New York heritage, it’s undeniable that San Francisco is the home of the Giants Franchise.
More to see…
If you’re still craving more from the city, there are plenty of things to do as a first timer. Check out the historical Haight-Ashbury district, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, or the largest beach in San Francisco, Ocean Beach. Stroll along the Embarcadero on the waterfront, starting at the Cupid’s Span sculpture. Or you can choose to ride San Francisco’s famous cable cars around all day, if that suits your interests.
With so many things to do in San Francisco, there’s no shortage of activities and attractions to occupy every ounce of your time. While the city is not the most favorable for walking between locations because of its steep hills, there are plenty of options for touring the city with a rental vehicle or a paid service, like Uber and Lyft. Once you’ve seen each of these top things to do, you’ll officially qualify as an experienced first timer in The City by the Bay.