The Top Things to Do in San Francisco
San Francisco is only 7 miles wide by 7 miles long, but there is so much to do when you are in the city that you will not have enough time over a weekend. To help you experience the best the city has to offer, our Racertrips™ Ambassadors have hand-selected the best sites to see and things to do during your stay. Be sure to keep the more active activities farthest away from race day!
Best Attractions Overall
Racertrips TipsHere are three of Ambassador Luda's favorite walking tours:
- Chinatown Family Associations, Tongs and Gangs: A Historic Look—Luda likes this one in particular because it shows Chinatown's rich (and interesting!) history. You'll get to see the exact buildings and places where history took place during the Gold Rush.
- Golden Gate Bridge—A great introduction to SF's most famous landmark and its importance.
- Nob Hill—Luda recommends this tour to anyone looking for an intro to San Francisco's history. It's also perfect if you don't have too many days in the city but still want to learn more about it.
- Map It: The tours start in various locations around the city. Please check the website for the starting point of your walking tour.
- Call: 415-557-4266
If you aren't running the marathon or you didn't get a good look the first time, you must spend some time in San Francisco appreciating the beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge. Easily the most iconic landmark in San Francisco, you can walk, bike or drive across the bridge and check out some of the beautiful vistas and trails on the other side. They offer perfect places to capture a photo of the bridge with the city in the background, according to Racertrips ambassador Luda.
While you can drive or walk across the bridge, we highly recommend renting bikes and cruising along the bay in San Francisco, pedaling uphill to and then across the Golden Gate and coasting down into the quaint town of Sausalito. You can fuel up with lunch in Sausalito and then catch a ferry back to San Francisco or continue your bike ride into Tiburon. It's a unique, family-friendly excursion that offers fresh air, beautiful views and lifelong memories.
- There are days when the bridge can be entirely hidden behind the famous San Francisco fog. Be as flexible as you can with your plans to visit the bridge: If you get a clear morning or afternoon, seize the opportunity to get the best views of and from the bridge!
- Biking the bridge? It's about an 8- to 9-mile bike ride to Sausalito and another 8 to 11 miles to Tiburon, so we highly recommend doing this well in advance of the marathon or a day or two after.
- Biking? There are plenty of places to rent bikes in SF. We recommend Bay City Bike Rentals. We rented from their 501 Bay Street location and thought they were nice people with good equipment. We really appreciate the gearing capabilities on the bike as we began to climb the path to the bridge.
- Thinking of driving? Although there are vista points with parking lots on both the north and south sides of the bridge, they are often jammed with tourist traffic, making it impossible (or near impossible) to find a parking spot. If you have the option to see the bridge without driving, go that route!
- Because of the popularity of the tours, we recommend buying your tickets well in advance.
- The ferry ride to and from the island offer spectacular views of the San Francisco skyline. But it can be breezy and chilly. Bring a jacket (at a minimum).
Best of San Francisco Outdoors
While you'll be running through the Golden Gate Park during the marathon or half marathon, there's so much to see and do here that it's worth coming back and spending some time relaxing or going to one of the museums or attractions located within the park, according to Racertrips Ambassador Kim.
Golden Gate Park is a 1,017-acre park located on the west side of San Francisco, and it is often compared to Central Park in New York, except that Golden Gate Park is 20 percent larger. The park truly offers something for everyone, including the De Young Museum (fine arts museum with a sculpture garden), California Academy of Sciences, Conservatory of Flowers and a rich history of San Francisco. It's a great place for a picnic and relaxing afternoon the day after the race. There are 10 lakes to enjoy, a carousel and playgrounds for the kids, windmills and a tulip garden, a buffalo paddock and even a restaurant with an ocean view.
A favorite destination within the park for Racertrips Co-Founders Angi and Chip is the Japanese Tea Garden. It is the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States, and it was built in 1894 to showcase a Japanese village for the California World's Fair. With its incredible variety of plants, trees, shrubs, water features, bridges, and Japanese structures, the garden is a must-see wonder when you're in San Francisco. And yes, you can extend your time at the garden by enjoying tea or a light meal at the tea house. (How to get to the Japanese Tea Garden.)
- If you want to be outside and get an overview of the park, rent bicycles from a nearby bike shop and bike through the park. Racertrips Co-Founders Angi and Chip recommend Golden Gate Park Bike & Skate. They're located right across the street from the park and offer good equipment at reasonable prices.
- Admission to the Japanese Tea Garden is free if you enter by 10 am on Monday, Wednesday or Friday. Kids under 4 are free every day.
- Heading to the park around lunchtime? Look for a handful of food trucks near the Music Concourse and the Japanese Tea Garden.
According to Racertrips Ambassador Luda, you won't find these steps in many guidebooks because they're a hidden gem. Tucked in a quiet neighborhood outside of the city center, the Tiled Steps are a colorful mosaic that makes a perfect photo opp. Runners will also love the fact that they can climb the steps for an additional cardio boost and be greeted with stunning views at the top.
- Grab lunch from one of the nearby cafes or restaurants and have an impromptu picnic at Grandview Park, which is across 15th Avenue from the tiled steps.
- The steps are located in a quiet neighborhood, and the volunteers who made the project a reality also offer several tips for visiting and ask you to follow several rules in return.
Located in a 16-block stretch near the Financial District and North Beach neighborhoods, San Francisco's Chinatown is both the largest Chinatown outside of Asia and the oldest in North America. If you haven't been to China, this is as close as it gets, according to Racertrips Ambassador Kim. Most of the locals here don't speak English, and you may have a hard time ordering food in some hole-in-the-wall restaurants, but Chinatown boasts some of the best food San Francisco has to offer, as well as an incredible sightseeing opportunity.
- You can find yourself walking quite a ways, so be sure to visit after race day.
- Be sure to go hungry and check out one of the famous local restaurants, like Great Eastern Restaurant for Dim Sum or R&G Lounge for their Salt and Pepper Crab (made famous by a review from Anthony Bourdain).
- Map It: Chinatown, San Francisco, CA
If you're looking for a quiet, non-touristy place with a view, check out Bernal Heights Park, also known as Bernal Hill or Bernal Heights Summit. This peaceful spot is recommended by Racertrips Ambassador Tricia and offers a short, uphill hike via a paved road or dirt trails (or both). At the top, you're rewarded with a 360-degree view of San Francisco and the surrounding area.
On one side of the hill, you'll also find a large, adult-friendly swing hanging from a massive tree. Be sure to take a few minutes here to snap some photos for social media. (We say adult friendly because it's not for the faint of heart. It takes a little effort to climb onto and to hold onto. It's better for bigger kids, not the little ones.)
This is also a popular spot for dog walking, so if you need a canine fix, you may just be able to find a friendly pooch to pet.
- Before or after you head up to the peak, grab a bite to eat at the Precita Park Cafe. We did a full review on our Best Places to Eat in SF page.
- There is a decent amount of street parking nearby. Take your normal precautions, though, and don't leave any valuables in the car.
While the mountains of California are just a short car ride from downtown San Francisco, it's actually very popular to hike right within the 7x7 borders of the city. Urban hikes are popular with locals because the city is so hilly, there are so many vistas, and each neighborhood is so different and unique. For example, walking through the Presidio will give you sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge, while walking through The Mission will give you a glimpse at the diverse Mexican-American community in San Francisco (and the best neighborhood for food in the country, according to Thrillist).
While you can easily plan your own hike, Racertrips Ambassador Derek thinks it may be best to book one with Urban Hiker San Francisco, the only urban hiking tour company in San Francisco. San Francisco neighborhoods, while generally safe, can have pockets where it may not be as safe to walk through, especially for those with children. Walking with a tour company ensures you stay out of these areas and have a fun and safe urban hike.
- The hikes average 5 miles each, so make sure your group is able to complete this distance. It may not be the best outing for the morning before or after the race. In addition, most of the hikes will include hills and/or stairs. (Welcome to San Francisco!)
- Each hike is $49 per person and requires at least two people on each tour. Each hike starts in a different location, and each hiker is responsible for their own water. The hikes are geared for those 13 and up, so it's not suited for those with younger children.
- Call: 415-669-4453
When you think of bathhouses, you probably don't think of coastal California. But San Francisco has its very own bath house ruins right along the ocean. The Sutro Baths were originally built in 1896 by Adolph Sutro, an eccentric, wealthy entrepreneur and former mayor of San Francisco. At the time, it was the world's largest indoor swimming pool, with six saltwater pools and one freshwater pool. It was built on the beach under the famous Cliff House so that when the tide came in, it would fill the pools. During low tide, a large pump would bring in the water. The facility burned down in 1966, and now all that remains are the ruins of the once-great Sutro Baths.
Racertrips Co-Founders Angi and Chip recommend the Sutro Baths and a hike or jog through Lands End for visitors who want a quieter outdoor experience and majestic views of the Golden Gate from a different vantage point.
Sitting next to the original Sutro Baths is Lands End, a shoreline park which is part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area. It connects to the famous Coastal Trail, which leads you along the rocky coastline ridge to Mile Rock Point, Mile Rock Beach and eventually to the Golden Gate Bridge. Lands End is a popular hiking destination for locals due to its breathtaking views and convenience in location, being in San Francisco proper.
- To make a full day of this, be sure to explore down in Sutro Baths and the cave that once houses the water pump, take a short hike on the Lands End Coastal Trail to catch views of the Golden Gate Bridge, and then have a nice meal at the Cliff House, another famous San Francisco landmark.
- If you still have time after this, roll out a blanket at Ocean Beach and watch the surfers. Just be wary of getting in the water because the current is very strong.
- Map It: Sutro Baths: 1004 Point Lobos Avenue San Francisco, CA 94121
- Map It: Lands End: 680 Point Lobos Avenue San Francisco, CA 94121
Best SF Attractions for Grown-Ups
For those looking for a relaxing evening and who love comedy shows, you'll love BATS improv, the longest-running improv theater and school in Northern California. According to Racertrips Ambassador Derek, they specialize in their own style of improv comedy, which unlike traditional stand-up or sketch comedy, contains a mix of theater, comedy, and acting. It's located near the race expo in Fort Mason and features tons of great, local comics. The tickets are inexpensive and there are multiple showtime options most nights, so it should not be an issue finding seats.
- If you check in on Yelp upon arrival, you'll receive a free drink ticket, so make sure you have the Yelp app downloaded before arrival.
- They rely heavily on audience participation, including shouting out scenes and ideas. If you're feeling extra brave, you can even get on stage for a scene.
- The location can be tricky because there are a couple of building within Fort Mason. Make sure to look for the building with the sign "Building B." There is plenty of parking for those who plan to drive.
- Because of the popularity of the tours, there are no "walk-ins" per se. You must make a reservation, which you can do up to 3 months in advance.
- Children are permitted on the tour, but of course, you must be 21 or older to do the tastings after the tour.
- There is no parking lot—only street parking. We highly recommend taking public transportation.
Love wine but don't have time to hit Napa or Sonoma this trip? Experience the best of San Francisco AND wine country with a 2-hour daytime or sunset boat cruise aboard "Wine Therapy," SF's only wine tour on the water. With San Francisco Bay Boat Cruises, you'll move along the Bay in a classic 1958 cabin-top cruiser while sampling award-winning California wines (including from Sunce Winery, one of our favorites) and nibbling on cheese and other appetizers.
After leaving the dock, you'll head to and underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, where you can view it from all angles. On the way back, you'll get a close-up of Alcatraz Island, the SF skyline and then AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. If there's a baseball game in progress, the boat will idle in an alcove outside the park, where you often see hard-core kayakers patiently waiting to catch a game ball.
Although there's ample seating inside the boat, we highly recommend bringing jackets so you can spend at least sometime outside taking in the sites and sea air. You can also test out the very cool and practical wine glass holders, which enable you to keep your wine nearby while snapping all kinds of selfies or pics of the Golden Gate at sunset.
- The boat leaves from Pier 39, which is part of Fisherman's Wharf. If you want to get a dose of Fisherman's Wharf without going overboard on touristy attractions, getting to and from the boat will give you just that. Plan to arrive a few minutes early, and you can head to the end of the pier (a very short distance) and take in the entertaining sites and not-so-entertaining smells of the sea lions.
- Although we have this classified as a "grown-up" activities, kids were permitted when we did this tour. We recommend calling to confirm the policy.
Fun Attractions for Families
If you are staying near Fisherman's Wharf or are in the area, be sure to check out Musee Mecanique, a favorite of Racertrips ambassador Luda. It's a retro arcade game museum with hundreds of antique arcade games and coin-operated musical instruments in their original working condition. It's a perfect family activity that isn't too walking intensive. There are more than 200 working arcade games in the privately-owned collection, one of the largest in the world. Some of the games are from as early as the 1920s and are still in operation.
- You can actually play the games! Remember to bring change or dollars to do so. The games range from 1 cent to $1, but most are 25 to 50 cents to play.
We'll be the first to admit that Fisherman's Wharf and Ghirardelli Square are two of the most touristy places to go in San Francisco. However, if this is your first time to San Francisco, it's worth spending a little time at least walking this stretch of the city. (In fact, many of the excursions and restaurants we recommend are nearby, so you may get some "exposure" without having to specifically build it into your itinerary.)
- Map It: Fisherman's Wharf | Ghirardelli Square: 900 North Point St, San Francisco, CA 94109
- Call: Ghirardelli Square: 415-775-5500
Racertrips Ambassador Derek knows San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and there's no better way for someone that appreciates being active to see the city than with a walking tour.
Wild SF Walking Tours offers several tours of the city, including a free tour every day at that meets at 10 am in Union Square and offers a great orientation of the city. Or if you prefer to book one of their specialty tours, examples include the Haunted San Francisco Ghost Tour, Food Crawl! and Street Art Tour.If you're traveling with kids, perfect! These tours are not strenuous, and many kids and older adults take these tours with no issues at all. There are frequent stops.
- Call: Wild SF Walking Tours: 415-580-1849
Located right along the Embarcadero (you'll run right past it during the first mile of the race) is the Exploratorium Museum. While it is a science and technology museum, it is the perfect place for kids because their exhibits are hands-on and designed by the employees themselves since 1969.
While their exhibits are always changing, some examples include animation stations where you can make your own stop motion animation, an anti-gravity mirror, a giant bacterial terrarium, and various illusions, color exhibits, and a cloud chamber.There are a restaurant and cafe inside, as well as a museum store.
- The museum is open from 10 am to 5 pm Tuesday through Sunday, and the tickets are $29.95 for adults, $24.95 for seniors over 65, youth 13-17, teachers, students and people with disabilities. Children's tickets are $19.95 for ages 4-12 and free for children three and under.
- The best time to visit is weekend mornings and during weekdays. However, weekdays can also be busy as this is a popular destination for local school field trips.
The California Academy of Sciences is a natural history museum and research institute, and it is the perfect way to spend the day for kids who are animal lovers. The museum is located in Golden Gate Park, so it makes for a great day trip to see the museum and spend time with family in the park afterward.The museum houses the world's largest digital planetarium dome and a huge aquarium featuring coral reefs, tide pools, swamps, a colony of African penguins and Claude, the famous albino alligator. But the best exhibit might just be the 90-ft glass dome, which houses rainforests of the world in a temperature-controlled environment and various species of plants, bugs, reptiles and amphibians. There are a restaurant and cafe inside, as well as a museum store.
- The museum is open from 9:30 am to 5 pm Monday through Saturday, and 11 am to 5 pm on Sunday. Tickets are free for children under three, $29.95 for children 4-11, $34.95 for students, children ages 12-17, and seniors over 65, and $39.95 for adults.
- The best time to visit is weekend mornings and during weekdays. However, weekdays can also be busy as this is a popular destination for local school field trips.
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