San Francisco: Things to Do

San Francisco is one of those unique places everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. With its rich history, cosmopolitan atmosphere, cultural diversity, natural beauty, unique outlook, eclectic architecture, great food, unpredictable weather, and so many things to do, there's just no place quite like it.

San Francisco city view
San Francisco City View photo: © 2013 California Vacations Now

San Francisco started life as a Spanish settlement called Yerba Buena in 1776. It became part of Mexico in 1821, later to be claimed and renamed by the U.S. during the Mexican-American War in 1846. Between then and now, the city would see such as events as the California Gold Rush, Chinese immigration, the 1906 earthquake, the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, the transformation of Alcatraz island into a federal prison, the Summer of Love, and the dot-com boom, with each contributing to the city's history and reputation.

Activities and Attractions

Here's a few things you should try and get to when visiting San Francisco...

Alcatraz Island
More commonly known as "The Rock", this island in San Francisco Bay has been a lighthouse, a fortress, a military prison, and of course, the nation's premier federal maximum security prison. Take the tour, experience a taste of the isolation, or maybe see a ghost (the remnants of the prison are said to be haunted).
So, where is Chinatown? The main entrance is on Grant Avenue at Bush Street. Sure, this is a bit of a tourist trap, but it also has some great restaurants, exotic atmosphere, and interesting architecture. As the largest Chinatown outside of Asia, this is still a must-see attraction.
Coit Tower
Telegraph Hill. This tower (built in 1933) was financed by local eccentric Lillie Hitchcock Coit, as a tribute to the city's volunteer firemen. Oddly enough, it looks a bit like a fire hose nozzle. You can get some great views of the city from the observation deck of this 210-foot art deco structure.
Fisherman's Wharf
Beach St & Embarcadero. Okay, this one is more than a bit of tourist trap, but it's a very good tourist trap. You have to visit it at least once to experience the great seafood, spectacular views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, and street entertainers. You might even see a few sea lions.
Golden Gate Bridge
Hard to miss if you have an unobstructed view of the bay, this is arguably the most famous bridge in the world, and often called one the of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. If you want to walk it, give yourself a good half-hour and prepare yourself for breathtaking views and cold, windy weather.
Japanese Tea Garden
Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park. Simply beautiful, this four acre walk-through garden features lush landscaping, koi ponds, waterfalls, bonsai trees, and a few Japanese-style buildings. Serene, peaceful, and not to be missed.
Lombard Street
Often called the "crookedest street in the world", Lombard street winds and curves it way down steep hills and past Victorian houses. It's also been seen in quite a few movies.
San Francisco Cable Cars & Barn
Since 1873, these cars have been traversing the steep hills of San Francisco. The remaining cars on the last 10 miles of track, have been preserved as mobile historical landmarks. Always a fun ride. Check out the Cable Car Museum and Powerhouse on Mason Street.

What's that Square in San Francisco?

Places to Eat

San Francisco is full of great places to eat, so trying to narrow it down to a few choices is an impossible task. Still, there are a few gems that are worth your attention...

Gary Danko
800 N. Point St. (Hyde St.). If you can afford the arm-and-a-leg prices, this is considered by many to be the best restaurant in the city - an unforgettable dining experience.
Little Star Pizza
846 Divisadero St. One of the best places on the West Coast to get deep-dish Chicago-style pizzas. Cool atmosphere and out of this world pizza.
Tartine Bakery
600 Guerrero St. (18th St.). There's usually a line out the door of people waiting to sink their teeth in the wonderful breads and pastries here. Worth the wait!
Antica Trattoria
2400 Polk St. (Union St.). Where the locals go for great Italian food.
Wayfare Tavern
558 Sacramento St. Nice atmosphere. Amazing fried chicken. A bit pricey.