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19 Epic Things to do in San Francisco for the First Time

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Millions of visitors descend on San Francisco every year, and it is one of my favorite places to escape the New Orleans heat. San Francisco offers a little bit of everything for all tourists – places to eat, nature, and lots of sightseeing.

Whether you are going to San Francisco for the first time or visiting for the 30th time, read my top 19 list of favorite Things to do in San Francisco. Make sure you pack properly for San Francisco.

Mallory standing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Mallory standing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge on one of her many trips to San Francisco.

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1. Farmers Market Ferry Building – One Ferry Building #50

Every time I am in San Francisco over a weekend, I make sure to go to the Farmer’s Market at the Ferry Building. Our family’s game plan is to arrive hungry and sample everything under the sun.

My favorite lunch finds so far has been the Porchetta Sandwich from Roli Roti. The line for the food truck will long, but it moves very quickly.

The sandwich is large enough to split with your travel companion because there are tons of delicious to treats to eat around the farmers market.

Porchetta Sandwich from Roli Roti

The yummiest thing at the Farmers Market is the Porchetta Sandwich from Roli Roti.

We usually end up bringing home some fresh produce back to New Orleans with us. The best veggies and fruits that fly the best are Corn, Heirloom Tomatoes, Peaches, Cucumbers, and oranges.

Just make sure to wrap any soft fruits and vegetables in plastic bags in case anything gets squished or explodes.

This Farmer’s Market happens three times a week on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. So make sure to plan time to eat, buy, and see everything at the Farmer’s  Market.

Peppers and vegetables at the Ferry Market Farmers Market

All of the vegetables are so fresh and colorful at the Ferry Market Building in San Francisco.

2. Bison in the Golden Gate Park – North/west corner of the Golden Gate Park

Did you know that the Golden Gate Park has a heard of Bison just chilling and roaming in Golden Gate Park? They are!

If you haven’t seen a Bison in real life before, don’t let this moment pass you up while you are in San Francisco. Seeing these mighty beasts may even peak your interest in traveling to Yellowstone National Park to see them roam free.

Bison eating grass in San Francisco

Did you know that there is a Bison in Golden Gate Park? If you haven’t been Yellowstone you should check out this Bison group while you are in California.

3. Eat in Chinatown

One afternoon, we walked all over the Chinatown hopping from restaurant to restaurant trying different appetizers. Egg rolls in one restaurant, and dumplings in another we snacked our way all the way to dessert – a fortune cookie.

Chinatown in San Francisco

Eating in Chinatown is the best way to tour the area. Walking with the rolling hills you can eat your full on delicious delights.

4. The Fortune cookie factory – 56 Ross Alley

Fortune cookies are one of my favorite things to eat after a big Chinese dinner. But visiting this factory, you will learn that the fortune cookie is not a Chinese invention – they were created in San Francisco.

The cookies were invented by a Japanese American and are not traditionally eaten in China. The Fortune Cookie folding machine was invented in Oakland.

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5. Sea Lions at fisherman’s wharf – Pier 39

Pier 39 is one of my favorite spots in San Francisco because you will see hundreds of Seals just lounging on the rocks sunbathing themselves while entertaining all of the tourists coming to see them.

The Sea Lions arrived in 1990, right after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. There is a small number of Sea Lions that stay all year round, but during the summer, the number of Sea Lions can topple over 900!

Seal Lions <a href=

6. Ghirardelli square- 900 North Point St

Ghiradelli Square is another great spot for shopping and dining and a great place for chocolate lovers! This Square also holds the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop where you can buy a variety of chocolates and Ice Cream.

Make sure you have plenty of time while browsing the square and the Chocolate Shop because the shop can get very packed and the lines get long!

7. Alcatraz

Alcatraz was one of my first National Parks that we visited. The only way to get to the island and explore the prison is by going through the sponsored cruise line named Alcatraz cruise.

You can purchase tickets 90 days out, but they tend to sell out in advance. Try booking your tickets 14-21 days from the day you want to explore the island because they tend to sell out.

Each ticket comes with one audio tour which I found to be very helpful when touring all of the old jail cells.

The island does have quite a few hills, but the National Park Service offers free rides in a golf cart ride to go up the steep hill, there is also a fully accessible elevator inside of the cell house.

I recommend not buying the ticket the day you arrive, because it is an exhausting 3-4 hour tour!

Mallory locked up in Alcatraz

Mallory locked up in Alcatraz! Make sure to take the audio tour to really enjoy all of the sightseeing.

8. Go Down a Concrete Slide – 30 Seward St

There are a couple of concrete slides in the San Francisco, but the one I visited was in Seward Mini Park. Make sure to put on a pair of pants, cover your arms, and bring cardboard because you will have a ton of fun going down this slide.

Make sure to bring your camera and record going down the slide! Don’t’ be scared but you might get a little scraped up.

Concrete slide in Seward mini park

Go down a concrete slide in Seward mini park.

9. Lombard Street – between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets

Known as one of the most crooked streets in the world, Lombard Street takes eight sharp turns. Tourists come to this area to walk or drive down the street and admire all of the beautiful houses lining the crooked street.

We wandered down Lombard Street a couple of times – driving down it, walking down it, and ubering down Lombard Street. It was so much fun to experience this street in a variety of ways.

Fun Fact: Even though everyone flocks to Lombard Street – check out Vermont Street between 20th and 22nd street – the real most crooked street in San Francisco.

Lombard Street in San Francisco

Lombard Street is one of the crooked streets in San Francisco.

10. Painted Ladies -Alamo Square Steiner St & Hayes St

One of the prettiest areas in San Francisco is Alamo Square also known as Postcard Row where the Painted Ladies are located. Enjoying a small picnic is the perfect way to enjoy the people seeing and snap a few photos of the beautiful Victorian houses.

These Victorian houses are widely known as the Full House House because the Tanners had a picnic in Alamo Square. But, if you want to see the actual Full House House, you will need to head over a few blocks down to 1709 Broderick Street.

Painted ladies in San Francisco

Enjoy the Painted Ladies in San Francisco. Watching the sun set on these Victoria Houses is a fun, free activity.

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19 things to do in san francisco

11. 16th Avenue Tiled Steps -Located on Moraga St. between 15th & 16th Ave.

One of my favorite hidden spots in San Francisco. These stairs were on my list of ‘things to see’ every time I went to San Francisco, and it took mom and I three trips to finally see them! They were well worth the wait.

If you want to walk down the stairs, start at 15th Avenue and work your way down. On either side of the stairs is a beautiful succulent garden.

Take time by viewing each set of stairs and take in all of the unique spots of the mosaic tiles. My favorite section is this small checkered picnic area that was unique to the stairs.

checkered tiles of 16th Ave

I spotted this tiny corner immediately as we were walking down the stairs, this was the only corner I could find that looked like this.

If you do plan on driving, make sure you do not have any valuables showing because frequent daytime car theft happens in this area. It’s better to take an Uber or public transportation.

16th Avenue tiled stairs and Mallory

Mallory trying to get a selfie with the 16th Avenue Tiled Stairs without people standing int he middle.

12. Ride a Cable Car – anywhere in San Francisco

As someone who lives in a town where Streetcars are aplenty, I just had to ride a Cable Car in San Francisco. There are three different routes to choose from, but whichever route you are on, make sure to hold on tight when going up and down the hills.

A one-way cable car fare is $7 and is not transferable, make sure to buy a 1, 3 or 7 day Visitor pass to save some money.

13. Cable Car Museum – 1201 Mason St

The Cable Car Museum is a free Museum that showcases a collection of historic cable cars and mechanical displays. Touring the museum doesn’t take much time, but a quick trip inside is worth the trip.

Cable Car Museum in San Francisco

The Cable Care museum in San Francisco is a free museum that is a must stop once you are in San Francisco!

14. Eat at the Cliff House Bistro- 1090 Point Lobos Ave

Brunch at the Cliff House is a must, not only is the food delicious but the views are incredible! The casual atmosphere will allow you to have a relaxed dining experience – just make sure to request a seat by the window!

Also, eat all of the popovers you can get your hands on because they are delicious. Actually – grab some for me too, I miss those things!

You can’t make a reservation for the Bistro and if you go on the weekend get ready to wait. We passed the time by sipping on mimosas and watching the ocean.

a mimosa and beautiful view at the Cliff House

Drinking Mimosas and waiting for our table at the Cliff House – is there anything prettier?

15. Sutro Baths

After dining at the Cliff house, make your way over to the Sutro Baths. The Sutro Baths used to be a massive public bathhouse could host up to 10,000 people at one time.

Exploring the ruins, you can see all of the craftsmanship that went into constructing these baths. After a little exploring, you can find your way to a cafe and peak your head out at the Pacific Ocean.

San Francisco Sutro Baths

One of my favorite places to explore are the Sutro Baths of San Francisco.

16. Drive the Golden Gate Bridge

Drive, walk, or bike – whatever your transportation decision is, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge is exciting. Just make sure when you are coming back to San Francisco, you remember the pay the toll to cross the bridge.

The toll is cashless and is automatically charged to your car based on the license plate. Every time I’ve rented a car, I can opt-in to pay for my tolls ahead of time for a small convenience fee.

The golden gate bridge at a distance

The beautiful Golden Gate Bridge with the fog about to roll in.

He went so fast on the Golden Gate Bridge #departtravel

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17. Muir Woods -1 Muir Woods Rd

Just across the Golden Gate Bridge and past Salsuilto, is Muir Woods – one of the best National Monuments I’ve visited so far. If you are a National Parks Pass holder admittance is free to walk around the forest and view the beautiful redwoods.

Just note, that in 2018, the National Park Service changed their rules and you must pay to park or take one of the shuttles that brings you to and from a designated parking spot to enjoy Muir Woods.

There isn’t much regarding concessions once you get into the thick of the mountain, and cell service is next to none, so I suggest stopping by Fred’s Place, a little cafe in Sausalito and eating breakfast or picking up a to-go sandwich.

Mallory infront of the Muir Woods Sign

Mallory getting ready to enter Muir Woods

18. Road trip down Highway One

After spending a few days in San Francisco, a road trip might be in your future. I highly suggest road tripping down Highway One and Spending a night or two in Carmel By the Sea – a lovely town about 2 hours south of San Francisco.

Highway 1 scenery.

One of the scenes that we saw while on our hike. What a beautiful scenery.

Check out all the fun things to do in Carmel by the Sea!

Where to stay in San Francisco

Kimpton Sir Francis Drake Hotel – 450 Powell St

On our last stay, we stayed at the Kimpton Sir Francis Drake Hotel, a boutique hotel owned by the IHG Family. Our room was quite spacious and was in a great location in San Francisco, we were able to avoid walking up any hills and walked down quite a few.

As platinum IHG members we received a benefit of $20 off of the mini-bar in the room (hint it is in the top right drawer) and had free unlimited refills on coffee from the coffee shop downstairs.

The Sir Francis Drake Hotel is located in the heart of Union Square and is conveniently located across the street from a Walgreens.

Sir Francis Drake Hotel

Sir Francis Drake Hotel was one of the many IHG properties that we could have stayed in.

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Saturday 25th of August 2018

I love San Fran. Been twice and loved it every time. Not quite sure I could do 30 trips though. Great suggestions, some of which I have not done, so perhaps I must return! Kx


Monday 27th of August 2018

So glad to hear! My favorite was the slide! I've done 3 trips over 4 years --- may I can hit 30 trips in the next 30 years lol!

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