The Best Things to Do in San Francisco

San Francisco is one of those places that I’ve wanted to visit for a long time. There’s something about the city that has always appealed to me. And everyone kept recommending it. So when I was planning my trip around the US, I knew I couldn’t skip this hippie paradise.

Although neither the hippie nor the paradise part really applies anymore, I did really enjoy San Francisco. It’s a beautiful city with charming architecture, cool sights and it’s pretty walkable. Hiking up and down those hills was a great work out! But I have to be honest, after four days, I couldn’t wait to leave.

Because as lovely as San Francisco is, it is also very rough. The amount of human suffering (homelessness, drug use, prostitution) was starting to get to me. I’d never seen anything like it before, until I got to Vancouver. San Francisco used to be a haven for anyone who was different, and it still is, but there is a lot of misery as well.

Even with the astronomical cost of living and the many problems, San Francisco is undoubtedly a cool place and worth a visit. There is a ton to do and see, and I had a great time exploring the city. Here are some of my favorite activities in San Francisco:

Walk throught the Tenderloin

San Francisco California USA Tenderloin Cable Car city guide travel tips travel guide things to do activities sightseeing

I used to love the Tenderloin, until I made some tender coin

Train – Save Me San Francisco

The Tenderloin is the beating heart of Frisco (don’t call it San Fran!). To me, it’s where you can see everything that makes San Francisco iconic in the space of a few blocks. Walking around the Tenderloin you see all the best things about this city: beautiful architecture, hip coffee shops, cultural diversity, trolleys, thrift stores and community gardens.

But also the bad: junks, prostitutes, dirt and tech companies. The Tenderloin is real during the day and gritty at night, not the best place to walk alone.

Although some of it is pretty touristic (don’t waste your money on the cable car), it’s a great place to eat, shop and soak in San Francisco. Be sure to go all the way down to the Civic Center with City Hall, the Public Library and the Asian Art Museum, which has a very European feel. On Saturdays, there’s a lovely farmers market here as well.

If you get hungry walking through the Tenderloin, make a pit stop at Bob’s Donuts. Their apple fritters are the best thing I have ever eaten, and they make all their donuts fresh 24 hours a day!

Stroll around Chinatown and Little Italy

San Francisco California USA Chinatown city guide travel tips travel guide things to do activities sightseeing

San Francisco has a huge Asian community. Chinatown in San Francisco is the second largest in North America (after NYC) and it covers 24 city blocks. It’s a super fun place to stroll around and, of course, eat. Stepping into Chinatown really feels like stepping into a different city. The architecture is distinct and a lot of the residents barely speak English.

Walking in the direction of the harbor, Chinatown seamlessly transitions into North Beach (basically Little Italy). Although it is not as culturally immersed as Chinatown, the Italian flags on the lamp posts are a cute touch. If you are looking for some killer pizza, this is really the only place to go. North Beach is also a popular party zone in San Francisco and the little bars get pretty wild on the weekends.

Visit the Fisherman’s Wharf

San Francisco California USA Fisherman Wharf city guide travel tips travel guide things to do activities sightseeing

From Chinatown and North Beach, it’s a short walk to one of the most touristic areas of San Francisco: Fisherman’s Wharf. It gets packed here, especially at the famous pier 39. But it is still worth a visit.

The gentle ocean breeze, view of Alcatraz and all around lively atmosphere make it a fun place to walk around. My advice is to just take a leisurely stroll and perhaps stop for some seafood. Although they look like tourist traps, the restaurants around Fisherman’s Wharf actually serve some good quality seafood, straight from the ocean.

Try to catch a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco California USA Golden Gate Bridge city guide travel tips travel guide things to do activities sightseeing

The coldest winter I ever spent was summer in San Francisco

Mark Twain

When I went to California, I was under the impression that it’s the land of perpetual sunshine. It is not. And especially not in San Francisco. In fact, the city is covered in fog pretty much every day of the year. Between the marine layer and the ocean wind, San Francisco gets pretty damn cold, even in summer.

Another downside of the fog is the limited visibility. Sometimes you can’t see more than a few meters ahead of you. The picture above is the best one I could take of the Golden Gate Bridge during my four days in San Francisco.

But don’t let that deter you, because The Golden Gate Bridge is undoubtedly the most iconic landmark of San Francisco. For the best views, head to Battery East or Battery Spencer. Crossing the bridge is really only worth the 8 dollar toll fee on a clear day.

Relive the 70s in Haight-Ashbury

San Francisco California USA Haight hippie summer of lovecity guide travel tips travel guide things to do activities sightseeing

If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair

Scott McKenzie – San Francisco

San Francisco is synonymous with hippie culture and flower power. And in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, the summer of love never ended. In the 60s, thousands of hippies moved to this then affordable neighborhood. The thriving subculture drew musicians such as the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. The Summer of Love, in 1967, put the hippie lifestyle on the global stage. Unfortunately, all the love in the world couldn’t keep the drugs, poverty and crime away.

The neighborhood fell into disarray, but was revived in the 70s. Nowadays, Haight-Ashbury tries to keep the hippie sentiments alive. With crystal shops, tie-dye and murals everywhere, let yourself be transported back into those San Francisco glory days. Walk all the way down to Golden Gate Park and lounge, where the hippies used to sunbathe.

After my stay in San Francisco, I have mixed feelings about the city. On the one hand, the flower child in me loves all the old-school hippie vibes. Foodies will also have a great here, as will lovers of good vintage shopping. But you cannot disregard the problems, the drugs and poverty.

Have you ever been to San Francisco? What was your favorite thing to do there? Let’s chat in the comments 🙂

7 thoughts on “The Best Things to Do in San Francisco

  1. Love San Francisco! There are so many beautiful areas to explore. I actually loved Fisherman’s Wharf too, even though it was so touristy haha. The sea lions are the best! That’s a shame it was so foggy for you – we got lucky on our second (or third?) day.

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