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51 Awesome Things to Do in the San Francisco Bay Area

Looking for things to do in the San Francisco Bay Area? Discover SF Bay Area things to do in The City, East Bay, Peninsula, South Bay and beyond.

I lived in and around San Francisco for a total of 7 years and even when I lived elsewhere, I've visited the Bay Area 3-4 times a year for work for over two decades. My trips to the Bay Area continue to this day. 

As you can imagine, over the years, I've discovered an amazing array of things to do in the San Francisco Bay Area.

As an added bonus, I also have family in the SF East Bay who are constantly suggesting great off-the-beaten track things to do when we visit Northern California.

Read on for a curated list of 51 things to do in the San Francisco Bay Area whether you are visiting for work or vacation. If you live in the SF Bay Area and are looking for some new places to explore, this post has got you covered. 

View of the San Francisco skyline at dawn

My list covers activities from San Jose to San Francisco along the Peninsula as well as fun things to do in the East Bay and beyond.

I'll give you the tl;dr: on each recommendation with links to learn more and dig in a little deeper as you plan your itinerary or SF day out.

Things to do in the San Francisco Bay Area at a Glance

Let's take a look at San Francisco Bay Area attractions at a glance organized by area: The City, The Peninsula and South Bay, The East Bay, and SF Bay Area day trips that are further afield. 

Click on any item of interest to jump to that Bay Area activity to learn more.

Table of Contents

SF East Bay Things to Do

View of the San Francisco Bay Bridge

The Peninsula, Silicon Valley, and the South Bay

What to Do in The City

Pan-Bay Area Activities

SF Bay Area Day Trips and Weekend Breaks

Things to do in the San Francisco Bay Area in Detail

Now let's take a look at some of my favorite SF Bay Area activities in detail. Once again, I'll break it down by region.

View of the Ferry Building in San Francisco at sunrise

SF East Bay Things to Do

Visitors to the Bay Area often overlook the East Bay, yet places like Alameda, Oakland, and Berkeley are home to some of my favorite things to do in the region. Let's explore the best attractions and activities in the SF East Bay.

1. Catch a Ride on the Alameda Ferry 

Alameda is a charming island city just a short ferry ride from San Francisco. It's the perfect place to spend a day exploring, with its vibrant downtown area, scenic waterfront, and family-friendly attractions.

The ferry ride itself is a treat, with stunning views of the city skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge. Once you arrive in Alameda, be sure to visit the USS Hornet aircraft carrier museum, where you can learn about the ship's history and explore its many exhibits.

Things to do in San Francisco: ride the Alameda Ferry

Alameda is also home to a variety of shops and restaurants, so you're sure to find something to your taste. For a unique dining experience, try one of the many restaurants with outdoor seating overlooking the water.

If you're looking for a fun and easy way to explore the San Francisco Bay Area, be sure to take the ferry to Alameda. You won't be disappointed!

Read more about riding the SF to Alameda Ferry

2. Check out Fruitvale Public Market

Churros filled with chocolate and caramel at Fruitvale Public Market
It was a gorgeous sunny day in the East Bay and it was definitely churro o'clock. My sister-in-law and her family lives in Alameda and after a picnic in the park in the Oakland Hills, we stopped at Fruitvale Public Market (map) in Oakland on the way home for some sweet, sweet churros.

What is Fruitvale Public Market?

Fruitvale Public Market is actually a small business incubator opened in 2008. The market is home to 11 vendors with a Latin American focus and featuring both food and arts and crafts. 
Fruitvale Public Market

Getting to Fruitvale Public Market

The Fruitvale Public Market in Oakland is adjacent to the Fruitvale BART station. You best option to get here is via BART blue, green, and orange lines from points around the San Francisco Bay Area.

Churros at Fruitvale Public Market

The churros at Fruitvale Public Market are made fresh while you wait.
Churro truck at Fruitvale Public Market
They can be eaten plain or filled with a variety of delicious flavors.
Churro Menu at Fruitvale Public Market
We opted for chocolate and caramel.  We ate our churros warm and fresh out of the fryer.

If you have a sweet tooth, it's definitely worth a detour to the Fruitvale Public Market on a sunny afternoon for a churro-licious treat.

Learn more about Fruitvale Public Market

3. Eat Your Way Through Oakland's Grand Lake Neighborhood

Grand Lake is a vibrant Oakland neighborhood with a bit of a hipster side. Discover a sunny main street alive with shops and restaurants anchored by the gorgeous Art Deco Grand Lake theatre. Come hungry and take yourself on a self-guided food tour to sample some of the neighborhood's best eats.

Things to do in the SF Bay Area: Grand Lake Theatre in Oakland

Explore a world of spices and seasonings at Oaktown Spice Shop.  Sip a glass of wine and enjoy the lively atmosphere at Ordinaire Wine Bar.

Learn more about Grand Lake on the Visit Oakland website.

4. Relive Childhood Birthdays in Alameda

Are you looking for things to do in and around San Francisco with kids? My nephew turned 8 years old when we visited and we had the honor of tagging along to his birthday party in Alameda. 
Video games at High Scores arcade in Alameda, California
Turns out that children's birthday parties involving Old School video games and ice cream are also awesome for adults. 

We enjoyed video game classics like Rampage and Paperboy at High Scores Arcade and ice cream at Tucker's classic ice cream shop in the East Bay.
Ice cream cone from Tuckers Ice Cream shop in Alameda

Learn more about visiting Alameda

5. Explore the SF Bay Area's World War II History

The Bay Area is home to some great tributes to World War II history. We visited the S.S. Red Oak Victory ship and the Rosie the Riveter Memorial in Richmond, CA.

S.S. Red Oak Victory Ship

The S.S. Red Oak Victory is a bit off the beaten path, but it's worth a visit. We were able to tour the inside and outside of the ship, and learn about its history. The ship was built in a little over a month by a team of mostly women welders, which is an impressive accomplishment.

Dilapidated ship in Richmond, California

Rosie the Riveter Memorial

The Rosie the Riveter Memorial is a tribute to all the women that went to work in traditionally male jobs when the men went off to war. 

The National Park Service offers a free informational tour of the memorial on Saturday afternoons. The tour is fantastic, complete with props and popular music from the WWII era.

6. Catch a Show at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland

Seeing a classic film at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland is a true delight. The theatre is simply stunning, with Art Deco opulence at every turn. 

We saw It Happened One Night. The performance itself was highly entertaining, starting with an organ performance on the Mighty Wurlitzer and ending with a few spins of the Dec-O-Win wheel. 

Golden statues inside the Paramount Theatre in Oakland

The only annoying part of the evening was that they confiscated my CamelBak water bottle, even after I offered to empty out the contents. Definitely check out the Paramount if you have the chance, just leave any food and drink at home.

7. Explore Berkeley

Berkeley in the SF East Bay is one of my favorite college towns in the U.S. It's well worth spending a day here. Visit Rockridge Market Hall for fresh pasta, baked goods, and other local produce.

Take a walk through the UC Berkeley campus and admire the beautiful architecture and scenery. Window shop on Telegraph Avenue and check out the junkyard robots at Amoeba Music and the mannequin in distress at Mars Mercantile. 

Carved wood bears on the UC Berkeley Campus

Enjoy a quick and inexpensive dinner at Naan and Curry. See a movie at the Pacific Film Archive Theater. It's a great place to see independent and international films.

8. Tour Mills College in Oakland

I visited Mills College in Oakland, a beautiful campus with a long history. I was impressed by the fountains, the Campanile, and the whimsical graffiti in the bathrooms. 

Mills College in Oakland California

The Bender Room in Carnegie Hall had a Middle Ages feel to it, with a surprisingly energy efficient chandelier. The only disadvantage of traveling to Mills College from San Francisco is fighting the Bay Bridge traffic, but the views of the city are worth it.

9. Visit Tilden Regional Park Redwood Valley Railway

I visited Tilden Regional Park and rode the Redwood Valley Railway, a miniature steam train that takes you through the redwoods. 
Things to do in the San Francisco Bay Area: Tilden Regional Park railway
The train ride is only $3.50 per ticket or $15 for 5 and offers stunning views of the San Francisco Bay. The park is also home to a dedicated community of steam train enthusiasts who offer free rides to the public on some Sundays. 

I highly recommend this activity for families with young children.

The Peninsula, Silicon Valley, and the South Bay

Silicon Valley and the South Bay are home to countless Tech companies like Google and Meta, not to mention top universities. This is where I typically find myself when I visit the SF Bay Area. Let's discover some of my favorite haunts on the Peninsula and in the South Bay.

10. Browse the San Mateo Farmers Market

The San Mateo Farmers Market is a must-visit for any foodie or fan of fresh produce. With its stunning views of the San Francisco Bay and wide variety of vendors, there's something for everyone to enjoy.

On any given Saturday, you'll find a dazzling array of fruits, vegetables, and flowers on display. The berries are always my favorite, but I also love browsing the selection of seasonal produce. 

And don't forget to check out the prepared food vendors! There's everything from fresh-baked bread to homemade jams and jellies.

View of the San Mateo Bridge from the San Mateo Farmers Market

Of course, no visit to the San Mateo Farmers Market would be complete without taking a moment to appreciate the scenery. The views of the bay are simply breathtaking. So grab a bite to eat, find a spot to sit, and enjoy the show!

Check out photos of the San Mateo Farmers Market and plan your visit

11. Sip the SF Bay Area's Best Margaritas in Mountain View

In my opinion, the San Francisco Bay Area has some of the best Mexican food in the U.S. Of course, my favorite beverage for washing down a plate of enchiladas has to be a margarita. 

Margarita, chips and salsa at ViVe Sol in Mountain View, CA

Make sure to check out Vive Sol in Mountain View. In my opinion, their margaritas are the absolute best of any I've tried in the Bay Area.

Learn more about where to find the best SF Bay Area margaritas based on my personal experience (I've done a lot of research 😎).

12. Explore Stanford University

Stanford University is a place of learning and innovation, but it's also a beautiful place to visit. On my recent return to campus (I was a grad student in the Stanford Chemistry Dept. many years ago), I was struck by the iconic architecture and lush landscaping. 

View of Memorial Church on the Stanford University Campus

Take a walk down Palm Drive. Stop by the Cantor Arts Center to admire the Rodin sculptures, and then head to the Stanford Memorial Church for a moment of peace and quiet.

If you're planning a trip to the Bay Area, be sure to add Stanford University to your itinerary. There's something for everyone on campus, from the world-class museums to the stunning hiking trails. And who knows, you might even run into a current or future Nobel laureate!

Read more and plan your visit to Stanford University.

13. Shop the Sunnyvale Farmers Market

I visited Sunnyvale, California recently for the first time after living there more than 20 years ago. The town has transformed with shops and restaurants lining historic Murphy Avenue. 

Things to do in the South Bay: Sunnyvale Farmers Market

The Saturday morning Farmers' Market in particular is worth a visit. You'll find the area bustling with vendors selling a wide variety of California products, including flowers, almonds, and fruits and vegetables. 

Find out more about the Sunnyvale Farmer's Market.

14. Explore the Art Exhibits in San Francisco Airport

San Francisco Airport is known for its creative art installations that take you back in time. Keep an eye out in the check-in area of the international terminal and after security as you walk to your gate if you are flying domestic on United. 

Robot with big feet at San Francisco Airport

I had the opportunity to explore a sci-fi exhibit at the San Francisco airport, which featured a variety of robots, including Lone Star Elephant Nose, Bug-Eyed Gear-Bot, and Bigfoot. 

I also saw a display of robots made from recycled glass bottles and a comic strip about the power of science to turn fiction into fact. 

The exhibits change regularly so there is always something new to explore at SFO.

15. Climb Crittenden Hill in Mountain View

I visit Mountain View a few times a year for work. I've always noticed the hill and trail behind my office but never made an effort to climb it until recently when the prospect of a beautiful sunrise was just too enticing to pass up.

I picked my way through a small amount of brush and found the trailhead. It turned out to be only about a 10-minute climb. I'm kicking myself for waiting this long to actually take this walk!

Sunrise from Crittenden Hill in Mountain View, CA

Before starting my ascent, I stopped to admire a sculpture of a wild stallion. As I climbed, I could see Moffett Field and the hangar that once housed the space shuttle in the distance. 

I continued to climb, coffee in hand. Turning around in the other direction, I spotted Shoreline Amphitheatre. I was nearing the summit. When I got to the top, I spun around and admired the view in all directions. What a peaceful, morning retreat before the workday begins!

16. Take an Early Morning Walk to Vista Slope

I recently found a new place to explore in Mountain View, called Vista Slope. It's a park with rolling landscapes, parched wildflowers, and windblown trees. 

You can see Stanford's Hoover Tower in the distance and the Googleplex nestled in the valley below. 

View of Stanford's Hoover Tower from Vista Slope in Mountain View

The park connects with the Steven's Creek Trail, which you can follow all the way to the San Francisco Bay. I think it's a great place to take a walk before work or enjoy a cup of coffee in nature.

What to Do in The City

There are so many fun things to do in San Francisco! Let's explore some of my favorite activities to try in the city.

17. Walk the Barbary Coast Trail

The Barbary Coast Trail is a 3.8-mile path that winds through some of San Francisco's most historic neighborhoods. It's a great way to see the city's past and present, and to learn about the people and events that have shaped it.

The trail starts at the Old Mint, which was built in 1874. From there, it passes through Portsmouth Square, the oldest park in San Francisco, and Coit Tower, which offers stunning views of the city. The trail also takes you past Ghirardelli Square, Fisherman's Wharf, and Alcatraz Island.

Antiques in North Beach on the Barbary Coast Trail of San Francisco

Along the way, you'll see a variety of historic buildings, including the Palace Hotel, the Ferry Building, and the Transamerica Pyramid. You'll also pass by many of the city's most popular tourist attractions, such as Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, Ripley's Believe It or Not!, and Ghirardelli Chocolate World.

Whether you're a history buff or just looking for a fun and scenic way to explore San Francisco, the Barbary Coast Trail is a must-do.

Read more about the SF Barbary Coast Trail

18. Explore San Francisco's Art Deco Architecture

San Francisco is a city with a rich architectural heritage, and Art Deco is one of its most distinctive styles. From the iconic Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Building to the elegant Russ Building, there are Art Deco masterpieces to be found all over the city.

Art Deco sculpture on the building in the Marina neighborhood of San Francisco

If you're interested in taking a walk through San Francisco's Art Deco past, I recommend the free walking tours run by SF City Guides. 

We explored some of the city's most iconic Art Deco buildings both Downtown and in the Marina. We learned so much about the history and significance of this unique architectural style.

19. Climb the Stairways of Potrero Hill

I spent a weekend in San Francisco and went on a Stairway Walk through Potrero Hill. 

We started at the top of a steep hill and descended through a local park, enjoying the views of the city skyline and spotting interesting things like a leopard kitty, an old-timey car, and colorful homes. 

San Francisco skyline view from a stairway walk in Potrero Hill

We also crossed a utilitarian bridge over Highway 101 and passed the Anchor Steam Brewery. My walk concluded with a last glimpse of the city before we headed back downtown.

20. Explore the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps

In the city itself, we even discovered an attraction we'd never been to before with the help of Google Maps. 
16th Avenue Tiled Steps in San FranciscoView of Twin Peaks from the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps in San Francisco
The 16th Ave tiled steps are worth the climb for panoramic vistas over San Francisco from the Bay all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
Pacific ocean and Outer Richmond viewed from the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps in San Francisco

21. Take a Dolores Heights Stairway Walk

Dolores Heights offers yet another outstanding stairway walk in San Francisco. We did a 3-mile walk that included many interesting sights, like Victorian homes, colorful flowers, and amazing views of the city.

I started my walk with brunch at Toast in Noe Valley. Then, I climbed up Sanchez to Hill St. and began my stair climb. I saw many beautiful flowers and berries in bloom, as well as some unique houses.

View of Victorian homes in San Francisco viewed from Dolores Heights

The climb was hard work, but the views were worth it. I could see Sutro Tower atop Twin Peaks in one direction and the San Francisco Bay in the other. I also saw the Castro Theatre and the signature rainbow flag waved in the strong breeze.

Overall, it was a great workout and a fun way to see the city.

Buy the book and read more about Stairway Walks in San Francisco

22. Escape to Alcatraz 

I visited Alcatraz Island on a weekend commemorating the 75th anniversary of the prison's opening. I took a ferry from Pier 33 and was greeted with a stern warning about concealing the escape of prisoners. 

I learned about Alcatraz's history as a military prison, federal prison, reclaimed Native American land, and US National Park. 

Alcatraz island and an Alcatraz cruise boat

I also heard a short talk and Q&A with a former bank robber and inmate of Alcatraz, Darwin Coon. Coon shared his experiences at Alcatraz and credited the harsh and strict conditions with turning him around. 

After the talk, I toured the facility using the provided audio tour, which was narrated by a number of former guards and inmates. I learned about various escape attempts over the years, everyday violence and intimidation, and fear-inspiring conditions. 

I also saw Cell 13, one of the solitary confinement cells also known as "The Hole". 

23. Cycle the Golden Gate Bridge

Another fun thing to do in San Francisco is cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge. There are a number of places that rent bicycles in the Fisherman's Wharf neighborhood of the City, particularly around Ghiradelli Square. 

According to Google Maps, it takes about an hour to cycle from Fisherman's Wharf to Sausalito. In my experience (I am in ok, but not great shape), it does take a bit longer. 

View of the Golden Gate Bridge

I found that I had to walk my bike on a couple of uphill segments of the ride and the views are really nice so you'll want to budget time to take some pictures. From Sausalito, we caught the ferry back to San Francisco to save our legs the return trip.

If you prefer to cycle with a group, here are some Golden Gate Bridge cycling tour suggestions.

24. Browse Green Apple Books

Green Apple Books in the Richmond is one of my favorite places to spend an afternoon browsing for a good read, especially if you visit San Francisco during the winter rainy season.  

Statue holding a book and a green apple

Green Apple is one of the best places to while away a rainy Saturday afternoon. This bookstore is absolutely cavernous and features both new and used books. Located on Clement Street, grab brunch before or dinner after you nose around the books. 

25. Walk Bay to Breakers

Bay to Breakers is a San Francisco institution that takes place in May each year. It is one of the largest running events in the world. Bay to Breakers is a 12K race that starts at the San Francisco Bay and finishes at the Great Highway on Ocean Beach, thus earning it's name. 

The race is known for its festive atmosphere and costumed participants. The early morning start tends to be chilly in the City, but that doesn't stop people from stepping out in the barest of outfits (or no outfit at all...you will see nudity if you do Bay to Breakers).

Bay to Breakers participants wearing bacon costumes

I participated 3 times in Bay to Breakers as a walker. The tortilla toss is an integral part of the Bay to Breakers experience. I didn't bring my own tortillas, but I recycled some that others had thrown.

Some of my favorite characters from the race included a spider scaling a wall near Alamo Square, a guy in a hot pink unitard on a unicycle, and even a bull dog in a cute costume.

Learn more about Bay to Breakers.

26. Seek out the Parrots of Telegraph Hill 

If you're looking for a unique wildlife experience in San Francisco, head to Telegraph Hill to (hopefully) see the Wild Parrots. These colorful birds are a popular tourist attraction, and they can be seen and heard throughout the city.

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill in San Francisco

I've spotted the parrots on Telegraph Hill itself, as well as near Lafayette Park in Pacific Heights early in the morning. The parrots are especially active around dawn and dusk, so those are the best times to see them.

Buy the book and read more about the Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

27. Walk Crissy Field to Fort Mason

I spent an amazing day exploring Crissy Field, a beautiful stretch of land alongside the San Francisco Bay leading up to the Golden Gate Bridge. I started my walk at the Crissy Field Center and continued on the trail, enjoying spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the surrounding area. 

Crissy Field sand dune and view of the Golden Gate Bridge in SF

Along the way, I saw a verdant globe encouraging me onward and a life-size Jelly Belly cheering on walkers in a March of Dimes March for Babies walk-a-thon.

I made my way out to the Warming Hut and then turned around and walked all the way to Fort Mason, stopping along the way to admire the Peaceful Warrior boat. 

Plan your visit to Crissy Field and Fort Mason.

28. Hike to Fort Point in the Shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge

As an alternative option from Crissy Field, take a hike to Fort Point. Fort Point is a Civil War era fort that sits in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. 

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Point

It takes about 15 minutes to walk along the San Francisco Bay to Fort Point from Crissy Field. We were delighted by the stunning views and rich history captured in this spot.

Plan your visit to Fort Point

29. Catch an SF Giants Baseball Game

Nothing beats an outing to a baseball game in San Francisco. Oracle Park overlooks the SF Bay and kayakers can be seen trolling the waters waiting for home run balls.

Oracle Park in San Francisco viewed over the water

Evening games tend to be chilly and windy so it's important to dress for the weather. Bring layers that you can add or subtract based on the temperature and wind situation.

30. Take a Behind the Scenes Tour of Oracle Park

I had the opportunity to take a behind-the-scenes tour of Oracle Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. I was attending a conference and the tour was sponsored by a large publisher. I was able to attend by pretending to be the "Editorial Assistant" to a professor that I know who writes textbooks for this publisher.

The tour was amazing! We got to see the stadium from a player's perspective, including the press box, the dugouts, and the locker room. 

We also learned some interesting facts about Major League Baseball operations, such as the fact that the visiting team ships their uniforms to the stadium dirty and it is the home team's job to launder them before the game.

Woman in a suit in a batting cage at Oracle Park

After the tour, we were treated to a delicious meal and then we got to hit a few balls in the batting tunnel. I am not a particularly good baseball player, but I managed to hit about 50% of the pitches thrown my way (not bad considering I was wearing a suit!).

This was an amazing and impressive outing. I highly recommend taking a behind-the-scenes tour of Oracle Park if you have the opportunity. It is a great way to see the stadium from a unique perspective and learn more about the history of the Giants and Major League Baseball.

31. Tour the California Academy of Sciences

The California Academy of Sciences hosts a weekly event called NightLife on Thursday nights. This event is a great way to learn about science in a fun and interactive way. 

As a scientist myself, I loved the fact that this event makes science cool and accessible to people who otherwise wouldn't be interested in it.

Fish at the California Academy of Sciences

When we visited, there were robots roaming the premises, hissing cockroaches, turtles rockin' to the beat, and even scientists conducting real-life experiments. 

You can even take your glass of wine and head up to the roof to see the living display. NightLife is a great way to spend a night out in the San Francisco Bay Area.

32. Explore the Palace of Fine Arts

The Palace of Fine Arts is absolutely my favorite green space in San Francisco and is located in the Marina. 

The structure and grounds were originally built for the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition to exhibit works of art. The palace was designed by architect Bernard Maybeck, who chose to create a structure that would evoke the romantic ruins of ancient Rome and Greece.

Palace of Fine Arts and it's reflection in the lagoon

The Palace of Fine Arts is surrounded by a lagoon, which was intended as an homage to those in classical settings in Europe. The expanse of water provides a mirror surface to reflect the grand buildings and an undisturbed vista to appreciate them from a distance.

I think the Palace of Fine Arts is one of the most Instagrammable places in San Francisco on a sunny day.

Plan your visit to the Palace of Fine Arts

33. Catch a Show at the Hip Hop Dance Festival

If you visit San Francisco in November, make sure to check out the Hip Hop Dance Festival at the Palace of Fine Arts. Performers from around the world take the stage in creative, edgy dance performances. When we lived in San Francisco, we regularly attended the Hip Hop Dance Festival. 

Buy tickets to the Hip Hop Dance Festival

Mission Theatre sign in San Francisco

34. Check out the Ethnic Dance Festival

If you’re looking for something unique to do in the San Francisco Bay Area, I highly recommend checking out the Ethnic Dance Festival. It’s held at the Palace of Fine Arts for four weekends each year in June and features top Bay Area talent performing authentic dances from regions around the world. 

Classical status covered in Mexican blankets

During one performance I attended, I was particularly impressed by Leung’s White Crane Lion and Dragon Dance Association. Their number featured two teenage boys in a lion costume complete with blink-able eyes and a wagging tail. The performers bounced around on impossibly thin posts in amazing feats of balance. 

I’ve attended one or more performances over three different seasons and I’ve always come away inspired and impressed.

Learn more about the Ethnic Dance Festival

35. Visit Musée Mécanique in Fisherman's Wharf

On a whim, we stopped at Musée Mécanique on Pier 45. The mechanical amusements were a hoot and, even better, admission is free. 

I consider Musée Mécanique to be one of the most unique things you can do in San Francisco. This free San Francisco attraction is the ultimate hidden gem; hidden in plain sight in Fisherman's Wharf. 

Barber Shop Quarter machine at Musee Mecanique in San Francisco

Some of the attractions were childlike and innocent, while others were more risque or even dark and sinister ("Opium Den" and "English Execution" come to mind). I also liked the barbershop quartet which included both a hobo and a police officer as members. Singing...the great equalizer!

Plan your visit to Musée Mécanique or take the 3D tour online!

36. See San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park

I went to a Sea Shanty concert on board the ship Balclutha on the Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco. The Balclutha is part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. 

The Johnson Girls sang classic seafaring folk songs that ranged from haunting to randy. The ship itself was a sight to behold. 

It was dark and quiet as I walked along the pier to board. I could hear sea lions frolicking and snorting in the water alongside the ship.

On board, I had a chance to explore both above and below decks before the concert started. I saw a big fat, furry cat roam below deck and make himself comfortable on a red velvet couch. 

The views from the ship were quite lovely with San Francisco lit up in the background. Ghirardelli Square was particularly prominent.

The performance was fun and not like anything I'd seen before--all sung acapella. It was definitely worth checking out.

37. Go to the Roller Derby

I think one of the most unique things to do in San Francisco is catch a roller derby. I went to a roller derby match between the San Francisco Bay Bombers and the Brooklyn Red Devils at Kezar Pavillion. 

To me, it felt like a cross between hockey and WWF wrestling, with teams skating around a banked ring in roller skates and protective equipment. 

Roller Derby match in San Francisco

The jammers, who wear cross-shaped helmets, try to break free from the pack and pass as many opposing team members as possible, while the blockers, who wear solid-colored helmets, try to prevent them from doing so. The black-helmeted skaters can break away from the pack but must stay behind the jammers. 

The event was inexpensive and entertaining, and I'm glad I went.

38. Browse Fort Mason Farmers' Market

Visiting Fort Mason Farmers' Market on a Sunday is one of my favorite things to do in San Francisco.

When I went, the market was packed and there were many vendors selling fresh produce, baked goods, and other food items. 

I enjoyed looking at the tumbling piles of peaches and cherries, and I bought some excellent veggies and baked goods. 

Sign for the Fort Mason Farmers' Market

I also learned about the causes of various kinds of cracks in the pavement at an educational display sponsored by the Exploratorium. 

After visiting the market, I went to Book Bay, one of my favorite bookstores in the city. I found some great books at a bargain, and I enjoyed the foggy views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Palace of Fine Arts.

Learn more about the Fort Mason Farmers' Market

39. See a Movie During the San Francisco Silent Film Festival

The Silent Film Festival is a unique and special event that takes place at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco each year. The festival features a variety of silent films from different eras and genres, all accompanied by live music.

The Castro Theatre is a beautiful and historic movie palace that is the perfect setting for a silent film festival. The theater has a sumptuous interior with ornate chandeliers, velvet seats, and a Mighty Wurlitzer organ.

Silent film playing at the Castro Street Theatre in San Francisco

One of the films that I saw at the festival was He Who Gets Slapped. This film is a dark and dramatic story about a scorned scientist who turns into a clown after his benefactor takes credit for his work and steals his wife. The film was accompanied by live music, which added to the atmosphere and made the experience even more special.

If you are looking for a unique cultural experience, I highly recommend attending the Silent Film Festival at the Castro Theatre. It is a great way to see classic silent films in a beautiful and historic setting.

40. Visit the Candy Store in Russian Hill

The Candy Store, just off of Polk Street in Russian Hill, is one of my favorite San Francisco hidden gems. The Candy Store has a great selection of classic candies like all-day suckers, Chuckles, and French Chews (I'd never heard of this last one until someone at work was reminiscing about them from her childhood...)

All day suckers at The Candy Store in San Francisco

When we lived in San Francisco, I would go every year around Halloween to buy sour gummy pumpkins and again at Christmas to pick up the oh-so-addicting sour gummy Santas. 

If you have a sweet tooth, I recommend visiting the Candy Store and then taking a walk up and down Polk Street.

41. Get Thinking with the Commonwealth Club

The Commonwealth Club of California is the largest public affairs forum in the United States. They host a variety of talks by prominent speakers in San Francisco.

I've attended many Commonwealth Club events over the years, but two in particular stand out. The first was a talk by the Mythbusters, who shared their passion for science and safety. 

The Mythbusters at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco

My favorite quote of the night was when Adam Savage confessed that they didn't intend to make an educational show...they were just "fartin' around with science". 

The second was a talk by Neil deGrasse Tyson, who discussed the reclassification of Pluto from planet to Trans-Neptunian Object. 

42. Support the San Francisco Pride Parade

Whether you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community or a straight ally, San Francisco's Pride Parade is one of the coolest things to do in San Francisco in June. 

I went a couple of times when I lived in San Francisco and thought it was amazing! There were floats, dancing, and music. 

Float in the SF Pride Parade

The Pride Parade is a great way to celebrate and support the LGBTQ+ community. 

I especially loved the family I saw with signs that said "I HEART my straight parents" and "We love our gay son." It was very heartwarming.

43. Tour the Haas-Lilienthal House in San Francisco

Because I lived nearby, I visited Haas-Lilienthal House in San Francisco, a lesser known attraction in the Pacific Heights neighborhood. The Haas-Lilienthal House is only open limited hours (mainly weekends) and you can visit on a guided tour only (10 USD pp).

I learned a lot about Victorian living from the docent, including how the ladies would receive callers in the drawing rooms and the man of the house would preside over the evening meal. 

I also saw a Pasteur "Germ Proof" filter jug, which was required to purify the water after the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906. 

In the basement, there was an extensive toy train set-up that was operating for the enjoyment of the visitors. I bought a book on Victorian entertaining in the gift shop on the way out.

Plan your visit to Haas-Lilienthal House

44. Tour San Francisco's Octagon House

I visited the McElroy Octagon House in the Marina and took a self-guided tour. The house is filled with period furnishings and decorations, and it has a tight curved staircase that runs up through the center. 

Octagon House dates back to the Civil War (1861). The house is preserved by the National Society of Colonial Dames, and many of the artifacts inside are from the Colonial period of US history. 

Things to do in San Francisco: tour Octagon House

I also visited the gardens, which are located behind the house.

Note: Octagon House is open limited hours so check online or call before heading over.

Plan your visit to Octagon House

Pan-Bay Area Activities

While most of the San Francisco Bay Area activities and attractions that I recommend are localized to one part of the region, others span multiple areas. Let's look at ideas for things to do around San Francisco that aren't tied to a single destination.

45. Go Birdwatching

I've always loved the SF Bay Area's diverse landscape and abundant wildlife. One of my favorite ways to experience the outdoors is through bird watching. 

With its mild climate and varied habitats, the Bay Area is home to a wide variety of bird species, from hummingbirds to hawks to pelicans.

Close up of a hummingbird in the San Francisco Bay Area

I've discovered a number of cool spots for bird watching, particularly in the South Bay and East Bay that I highly recommend.

So grab your binoculars and get ready to explore the Bay Area's feathered friends!

SF Bay Area Day Trips and Weekend Breaks

Now let's explore San Francisco day trip ideas and destinations further afield that I recommend for a weekend break.

46. Spend a weekend in Napa and Calistoga

Napa Valley is probably the most popular wine country weekend that you can do from San Francisco. I think Napa and Calistoga are worth visiting at least once before graduating to other California wine regions like Sonoma, the Russian River Valley, or Lodi.

Ivy covered building in Napa

Given Napa's popularity, it can be expensive, especially if you choose to go to well-known wineries. Our strategy of going to a lesser known winery near a very popular winery and then asking for additional recommendations to try worked out really well. 

47. Drive to Lodi for the day

Lodi, California is a charming wine country town located just an hour and a half drive from San Francisco. On a recent trip to the Bay Area, we took the opportunity to do a day trip to Lodi with friends. 

I personally enjoyed Mettler Family Vineyards, d'Art Winery, and Michael David Winery, all of which offer tastings and tours. 

Lodi arch

After visiting the wineries, Take a walk through downtown Lodi and visit the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve, a beautiful nature preserve with over 1,000 acres of hiking trails.

If you're looking for a fun and relaxing day trip from San Francisco, Lodi is the perfect destination. With its beautiful scenery, delicious wine, and charming downtown area you're sure to enjoy this SF day trip.

48. Spend a Weekend in Monterey

I spent a relaxing weekend in Monterey, staying at the Best Western Plus Monterey Inn . I explored the Monterey Old Town Historic District, following the Path of History, which led me to a number of beautiful adobe structures, including the Old Whaling Station, California's First Theatre, and the first brick house in Monterey. I also visited the Monterey Museum of Art.

The next day, I drove into Seaside and stumbled upon a charming cafe, where I had a latte and enjoyed some imaginative works of art. I then continued on to Carmel Valley Village, where I visited Boekenoogen Winery. I had a fantastic lunch at the Corkscrew Cafe, and tried a flight of wines from Georis Winery.

Sand sculpture of a giant dog in Monterey

After wine tasting in Carmel Valley Village, I drove back to Monterey via Pacific Grove. I took a detour to see the Point Pinos Lighthouse, but it was closed for the day. I then stopped at Burlwood Industries and bought a wooden pelican to commemorate my weekend in Monterey.

On my last day, I explored Carmel, a quaint village put on the map by former celebrity Mayor Clint Eastwood. I started with some fuel at the Carmel Bakery and Coffee Company, and then strolled through downtown, admiring the unique cottages and charming cats.

The real motivation for my trip to Carmel was to check out the fanciful Sand Castle Building competition on the beach. 

People took their creations very seriously, and there was some interesting stuff, including a canine-themed bad-ass guard dog and a feline-themed sand cat. I was also happy to see a mound of sand that seemed to be channeling the mashed potatoes in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

As you can see, I had a wonderful time in Monterey and Carmel and I recommend that you make time for a visit on your San Francisco Bay Area itinerary.

49. Explore Steinbeck's Salinas

Salinas, John Steinbeck's hometown, is worth a day trip on a San Francisco Bay Area itinerary.  This is especially true if you are a fan of American literature. 

The town is steeped in Steinbeck's legacy, from the restaurants to the murals to the National Steinbeck Center. 

Art Deco theatre in Salinas California

At the Steinbeck Center, I learned about Steinbeck's life and the times that informed his writing. I also saw an exhibit on the region's agriculture, including a quilt that highlights the massive amounts and variety of produce grown here. 

Salinas has changed a lot since Steinbeck's day, but I still caught a glimpse of his world when I saw a line of antique cars headed north on Hwy 101 on our way back to the South Bay.

50. Explore Half Moon Bay

Half Moon Bay, a small coastal town in the San Francisco Bay Area is another day trip I recommend. 

I hiked down to Gray Whale Cove State Beach to see the waves crashing on the sand. I then visited the town of Half Moon Bay, where I saw a surfer scene on the side of a building, a mosaic on another building, and a small church that looked like it was transported from 1950s small town America. 

I also saw the old jail which had been turned into the Spanishtown Historical Society Museum. I was lured in by the Half Moon Bay Wine & Cheese Company, where I tasted wine and admired the presentation in Erlenmeyer flasks. 

Wooden sea captain in Half Moon Bay

I passed by a ruby red car with fins, a colorful wooden bird carving, and a fence exuding love. I finished off the day by checking out a section of the California Coastal Trail, where I saw wildflowers and a creatively decorated cottage.

For dinner, I went to Barbara's Fish Trap in Princeton-by-the-Sea, where I was greeted by a miniature sea captain carved out of wood. 

The restaurant was decorated with a fisherman's theme and I felt as if I'd been caught in one of their nets as I sat below the riotous ceiling. 

I had sourdough bread, clam chowder, and cajun seasoned red snapper.

Once again, I hope you'll agree that based on my experience, Half Moon Bay is worth visiting.

51. Channel Your Inner Hitchcock in Bodega Bay

I have one final suggestion for a day trip from San Francisco. Take a road trip to Bodega Bay, a small seaside town made famous in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds

Getting there is half the fun. I started with a pitstop in Petaluma for coffee. Next, I went wine tasting in the Russian River Valley and visited Marimar Estate. Marimar Estate had giant metal likenesses of the winery dogs standing guard over the vines.

I finally arrived in Bodega Bay and saw a number of fruit stands selling cherries. I had a late lunch at a seaside restaurant and saw a carved wood Cap'n and a boat named Chaos, which reminded me of the movie The Birds.

White church from "The Birds" in Bodega Bay

I planned to drive back home down the Pacific Coast Highway, but the tourism office told me it would be a 3-4 hour drive due to the winding roads. Instead, I drove north for a few miles and then reconnected with the highway further up.

I finished my road trip with a stop in Duncan Mills for tea. My last stop was Guerneville, where I enjoyed the shops along the main street and had some soft serve ice cream.

What do you think? Are you up for a slightly spine tingling road trip to Bodega Bay?

Pictures of the San Francisco That Will Make You Want to Visit

I thought I'd conclude this post about things to do in San Francisco and the surrounding region with some of my favorite pictures that I've taken during my more recent trips to the Bay Area. Dare I say that they'll make you want to hop on a plane to California?

sunrise over the SF Bay BridgePalace of Fine Arts in San FranciscoGolden Gate Bridge in the distance
Giant arrow and the Ferry Building in SFSan Francisco Bay BridgeSunrise over the Bay Bridge
The Transamerica Building in San FranciscoOne pillar of the SF Bay BridgePier and view of San Francisco Bay Bridge
Close-up of the Palace of Fine ArtsThe Ferry Building in San FranciscoThe Ferry Building viewed through power lines
Ruined pier and San Francisco Bay BridgeSF Bay Bridge on a sunny dayGolden Gate Bridge viewed from Crissy Field
Sunrise over the SF Bay BridgeTransamerica building viewed from belowSan Francisco Bay Bridge
Ferry building and rubble fountain in SFTugboat under the Bay BridgeSan Francisco Bay Bridge in fog
Lamppost and the Golden Gate BridgeSF Bay Bridge on a sunny daySan Francisco Bay Bridge viewed from below

Now that we've taken some time to get to know Northern California and things to do in the San Francisco Bay Area, let's embark on a California Coast road trip to see more of what the Golden State has to offer! 

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Things to do in the SF Bay AreaThings to do in the SF Bay Area

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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: 51 Awesome Things to Do in the San Francisco Bay Area
51 Awesome Things to Do in the San Francisco Bay Area
Looking for things to do in the San Francisco Bay Area? Discover SF Bay Area things to do in The City, East Bay, Peninsula, South Bay and beyond.
Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog