Things to do in the Bay Area
The Bay Area and surrounding areas are one of the most popular places to visit in the United States. With iconic attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge, Wine Country and Alcatraz Island, San Francisco alone sees well over 25 million visitors per year. If you are looking for things to do as a visitor or if you are a local looking for some new experiences, we can help! Check out our recommendation on the best events, bars, restaurants, attractions, music venues and more.
San Francisco is an amazing city to visit and the surrounding Bay Area, which includes Oakland, San Jose, Silicon Valley and more. Visitors will be greeted with a plethora of exciting attractions, events and things to see, some which are unique to the area. For first time visitors, joining one of the many San Francisco tours is highly recommended if you want to make the most of your time in the city and get a chance to see many amazing landmarks that the Bay Area is known for.
The items that you add to your itinerary are going to depend on the time of year, especially if you are looking for great events. From massive pub crawls to amazing music festivals, San Francisco has some great annual events that bring people from all over the nation to party in the City by the Bay. Some of the best annual events include:
Outside Lands Music Festival: Northern California’s largest music festival, Outside Lands has been going strong since 2008, attracting over 200,000 people every year. The event takes place in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and features over 60 musical acts playing on six stages, art installations, vendor booths, great food and a wine tasting area.
Bay to Breakers: This truly unique San Francisco event once set a Guinness World Record as the Worlds Largest Footrace (1986) and has become the perfect combination of a running event and a massive outdoor party. While it started as a small event in 1912 to further the city’s healing process after the 1906 earthquake, the race continued every year and grew to over 100,000 participants at its highest point. But what really sets Bay to Breakers apart is the fact that the majority of participants dress up in crazy costumes and most of them don’t really do any running. There are a number of people that race competitively, but most people just walk a few miles of the course and party with their friends and, up until 2009 when the organizers added new regulations on drinking, you could see thousands of participants drinking and dancing along many creative floats with DJs, full bars and more. While it isn’t quite as crazy as it had been in the past, it is still a very fun and unique experience you should see at least one time.
San Francisco Halloween Pub Crawl: There are all kinds of Halloween events in San Francisco, but if you really want to have a good time on the Holiday, The Crawloween Pub Crawl is the way to go. One of the largest pub crawls in the nation, more than 7,000 participants dress up in creative costumes and enjoy drink specials at over 25 bars, live DJs, party bus rides and more.
Other great annual event options are SF Sketchfest, Bottlerock Music Festival, The San Francisco Marathon, The St. Patrick’s Day Pub Crawl, Fleet Week and more.
If you are a first time visitor, you will probably be interested in seeing some of the famous attractions in the San Francisco Bay Area. The good thing is most of the top attractions are open all year long due to the moderate climate in Northern California, however if you are visiting during the busy season, you may need to plan in advance. Top attractions in the San Francisco Bay Area include:
Alcatraz: San Francisco’s busiest tourist attraction, The former Federal Penitentiary sees almost 1.5 million visitors per year. Since Alcatraz is an island in the San Francisco Bay, you will need to take the Alcatraz Cruises Ferry, which leaves daily from Pier 39 in Fisherman’s Wharf. Take a tour of the prison, which used to house inmates like Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and check out the cellblocks, dining hall, recreation yard and more with a free self-guided audio tour.
Pier 39: Located on the waterfront in the Fisherman’s Wharf District, Pier 39 is a busy tourist attraction filled with tons of great shops, restaurants, bars and more. At the end of the pier is a unique two-story carousel, which is a popular attraction for kids. If you go to Pier 39, make sure you check out the sea lions that took over most of the docks next door after the 1989 earthquake.
The Golden Gate Bridge: Probably the most recognizable landmark in San Francisco, The Golden Gate Bridge connects SF with Marin County, crossing over a one mile section where the Pacific Ocean meets the Bay. Officially opened in 1933, the suspension bridge is one of the most photographed things in San Francisco and is an amazing sight to see. You can drive across the the bridge yourself or, for a even cooler experience, you can bike across or walk across and enjoy amazing panoramic views of the city and the bay.
Other must see attractions in San Francisco include the Ferry Building, Coit Tower, Muir Woods, Union Square, Haight-Ashbury, The Painted Ladies, Cable Cars, The Sutro Baths and more.
San Francisco is home to some of the most recognizable landmarks in the world. Here are some of the must-see landmarks you should add to your itinerary:
Golden Gate Bridge: No visit to San Francisco is complete without crossing the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge spans 1.7 miles and provides breathtaking views of the bay and the city.
Alcatraz Island: Alcatraz is a former federal prison that is now a National Park. Take a ferry ride to the island and explore the prison, which housed some of the most notorious criminals in American history.
Lombard Street: Lombard Street is known as the “crookedest street in the world.” Its hairpin turns make it a popular destination for tourists and photographers.
Coit Tower: Located atop Telegraph Hill, Coit Tower offers stunning panoramic views of the city. Inside the tower, you’ll find murals that depict life in California during the Great Depression.
San Francisco is home to many attractions that are worth visiting. Here are some of the most popular:
Fisherman’s Wharf: Fisherman’s Wharf is a popular destination for tourists. Here, you’ll find seafood restaurants, souvenir shops, and the famous sea lions that sun themselves on the docks.
Exploratorium: The Exploratorium is a science museum that is fun for visitors of all ages. It offers interactive exhibits that allow visitors to explore the world around them.
California Academy of Sciences: The California Academy of Sciences is a natural history museum that is home to a planetarium, an aquarium, and a rainforest exhibit.
Golden Gate Park: Golden Gate Park is one of the largest urban parks in the world. It offers a variety of attractions, including the Japanese Tea Garden, the de Young Museum, and the San Francisco Botanical Garden.
Taking a tour is a great way to see the city and learn about its history and culture. Here are some of the best tours in San Francisco:
Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour: The Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour is a great way to see the city’s top landmarks and attractions. You can hop on and off the bus at any of the stops along the route.
San Francisco Bay Cruise: Take a cruise on the bay and enjoy stunning views of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge. You can choose from a variety of cruises, including sunset and dinner cruises.
Chinatown Walking Tour: Explore the vibrant streets of San Francisco’s Chinatown on a guided walking tour. You’ll learn about the history and culture of one of the largest Chinatowns outside of Asia.
San Francisco is home to many annual events that are worth checking out. Check out the San Francisco Bay Area Event Calendar for the best things to do each month. Here are some of the best events each year:
San Francisco Pride: San Francisco Pride is one of the largest LGBT pride celebrations in the world. It takes place in late June and features a parade, music, and performances.
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass: Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is a free music festival that takes place in Golden Gate Park in early October. It features a wide variety of musical acts, including bluegrass, folk, and rock.
Fleet Week: Fleet Week is a celebration of the United States Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. It takes place in early October and features air shows, ship tours, and other events.
Pub Crawls: Check out some magnificent bars in different neighborhoods and meet new friends on a good ‘ol fashioned pub crawl. CrawlSF offers the best pub crawls in the city for Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day and more.
San Francisco is full of hidden gems that are off the beaten path. Here are some secret spots that you might want to explore:
16th Avenue Tiled Steps: The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps are a hidden gem in the city’s Sunset district. The staircase features beautiful mosaic tiles that were created by local artists.
Sutro Baths Ruins: The Sutro Baths were once a popular swimming complex that was built in the late 19th century. Today, the ruins are a hidden gem that offers stunning views of the ocean.
Land’s End Labyrinth: The Land’s End Labyrinth is a hidden gem that offers a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. The labyrinth is made of stones and offers beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
San Francisco is a foodie’s paradise, offering a wide variety of cuisine from around the world. Here are some of the best restaurants in the city:
Zuni Cafe: Zuni Cafe is a San Francisco institution that has been serving California cuisine for over 40 years. The restaurant is known for its roasted chicken and oysters.
Tartine Bakery: Tartine Bakery is a must-visit for anyone with a sweet tooth. The bakery offers a variety of pastries, breads, and cakes, including the famous morning bun.
Burma Superstar: Burma Superstar is a popular restaurant that serves Burmese cuisine. The restaurant is known for its tea leaf salad and coconut rice.
Bars and Music Venues
San Francisco has a vibrant nightlife scene that offers something for everyone. Here are some of the best bars and music venues in the city:
The Fillmore: The Fillmore is a historic music venue that has hosted some of the biggest names in music, including Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, and Janis Joplin.
City Lights Booksellers and Publishers: City Lights is a legendary bookstore that has been a gathering place for poets, writers, and intellectuals for over 60 years. The store also has a small bar where you can enjoy a drink while browsing the books.
Bourbon & Branch: Bourbon & Branch is a speakeasy-style bar that offers a variety of craft cocktails. The bar is hidden behind an unmarked door and requires a password to enter.
San Francisco offers a variety of activities for visitors, including outdoor adventures and cultural experiences. Here are some of the best activities in the city:
Bike the Golden Gate Bridge: Rent a bike and ride across the Golden Gate Bridge for a breathtaking view of the bay and the city.
Hike in Muir Woods: Muir Woods National Monument is located just north of the city and offers hiking trails through a redwood forest.
Visit the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is a world-class museum that features modern and contemporary art.
San Francisco is a city that offers endless opportunities for exploration and adventure. From iconic landmarks and attractions to hidden gems and secret spots, there is something for everyone in San Francisco. Whether you’re interested in history, culture, food, or outdoor activities, you’re sure to find something that captures your interest. So pack your bags, book your trip, and get ready to experience the best that San Francisco has to offer.
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