San Francisco is one of America’s most unique and exciting cities, offering nearly endless options in food, fun, and entertainment. Since we’re in the business of knowing the most intriguing places and spaces of cities when planning our challenging and unique scavenger hunts, we’ve put together a short list of the best of the best things to do in the Bay Area just for you!
Read on for our take on the best things to do in San Francisco.
1. Fisherman’s Wharf
Stretching from Ghirardelli Square to Pier 35, the energetic and eclectic Waterfront District offers countless things to do and see. A central attraction is Pier 39, where you’ll find street performers, the San Francisco Carousel, tons of shopping, and places to eat and drink. Be sure to pop out onto the deck on the west side of the pier to watch the famous sea lions lounge, play, and tussle on the dock they’ve claimed as their home since 1990.
1.25 miles out in the bay and far from the circus atmosphere of the Wharf sits the most ominous and infamous federal penitentiary in history—Alcatraz Island. Closed since 1963, the former home of Al Capone and other notorious villains is one of the most intriguing attractions in San Francisco. Alcatraz Cruises offers various exclusive touring options and packages. We recommend a night tour for special programs that only happen after the sun goes down and a creepier feel befitting the former prison.
3. See the City
From its rolling hills and picturesque natural scenery to its significant historical and cultural landmarks, San Francisco is an exceptional city to view by land, sky, and sea. A hop-on, hop-off bus tour like the ones offered by City Sightseeing San Francisco hits all the top spots such as Lombard Street (the crookedest street) and Height-Ashbury neighborhood (birth-place of hippie counterculture). Be sure to hop off at Alamo Square, home of the colorful row of historic Victorian houses known as the Painted Ladies, for easy access to a variety of central San Fran highlights and amazing views of downtown and the bay. Or for a truly different tour the town, try GoCar, a GPS-enabled mini sports car that actually guides you to locations and tells captivating stories as you motor through Fog City.
4. The Old Ship Saloon
Established in 1851, The Old Ship Saloon is the longest continually operating watering hole in town. There are many inviting bars to wet your whistle in the Embarcadero and surrounding areas, but this venerable old pub with its nautical theme and understated charm maintains the authentic spirit of old-world San Francisco.
5. Giants Games
A seaside location in South Beach with views of the Bay Bridge, terrific sight lines, statues of all-time greats like Willie Mays, a giant old-timey baseball glove, and the Coca-Cola Superslide out in right field make AT&T Park one of the best places to catch a ball game in the majors. A variety of ballpark tours are available most days year-round, and the area around the ballpark is increasingly loaded with places to grab a bite and a beer before or after the game.
6. Little Italy
Climb to the top of the striking 210-foot Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill for terrific views, take in a fair or festival in Washington Square Park, or dine at one of the many traditional restaurants, pizzerias, and trattorias that line the streets of North Beach. Literary buffs will enjoy retracing the steps of the Beat Generation to City Lights Book Store and the adjacent Vesuvio Cafe, where legendary writers such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg shared many a nights of poetry, prose, and revelry.
7. Stow Lake
Nestled inside the lush and beautiful Golden Gate Park is Stow Lake, a small, man-made body of water that’s been beckoning city dwellers searching for an outdoor escape since 1893. Whether for a romantic picnic or a family outing, you’ll find wooded paths for strolling and spotting the local wildlife (look out for cute little turtles sunning themselves on rocks by the water); pedal, row and electric boats for rent; and the Chinese pavilion, an entrancing waterfall and on-site café. Combine your visit with a stop at the Japanese Tea Garden, Conservatory of Flowers, California Academy of Sciences, or de Young Museum.
8. Lands End Trail
A rugged, windswept natural area inside the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Lands End offers sensational views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco’s scenic Pacific coastline. Start at the new visitor center for insight on the history of the area. Then follow the tranquil paths through rocky terrain and fields of wild flowers to Sutro Baths to explore the haunting ruins of what once was the largest indoor swimming center in the world.
9. The Castro
The Castro Theatre is a San Francisco Designated Landmark that’s been entertaining the masses since 1922. The theater is located in the heart of the Castro District, one of the first gay neighborhoods in the U.S., and features a level of elegance no longer found in modern movie houses. On any given night you can catch creative movies, film festivals, and a variety of lively special events.
10. Cable Cars
There’s nothing more charming than taking a ride on the iconic San Francisco cable car system. Begin at the free Cable Car museum on Mason Street in the Nob Hill neighborhood for a historical overview dating back to 1873 and to view assorted artifacts and real antique cable cars. Then hop on a trolley at a local stop and ride it to the end of the red line at Powell and Hyde Streets to watch the operators physically turn the car around for the trip back up the hill. From here, you’re just a few paces away from Ghirardelli Square and the landmark chocolate factory, the ultimate place for a sweet treat.
Watson Adventures’ San Francisco Bay Area scavenger hunts: From murder mysteries to themed outings focused on local history, culture or the culinary scene, scavenger hunts are an engaging way to experience the Bay Area, including Silicon Valley. Teams search for hidden clues and solve tricky questions that will have you smiling as you explore individual locations—such as Chinatown and North Beach, the Exploratorium, or the California Academy of Sciences—or take part in a hunt that traverses the town.
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