So your flights are booked and you’re planning your holiday to the States! Or perhaps you’re daydreaming at your desk considering where to book your next adventure? San Francisco should definitely be on your list.

Of course, there are the obvious choices of visiting Alcatraz, checking out the sea lions at Fisherman’s Wharf, or taking a cable car up the steep hills. These are all worth doing if you have the time, but I have the ultimate guide of things to do – straight from a local! Here’s a list of some lesser-known activities to check out while you’re in town.

San Francisco
San Francisco

Visit the Ferry Building

The Ferry Building is positioned right by the waters of the bay at the east end of Market Street. Pop in here and check out the marketplace that hosts many local treats and shops. Grab some delicious coffee, fresh baked bread, or sit and relax while enjoying wine and cheeses from the Napa Valley.

Relax in Alamo Square with a view of the Painted Ladies

You’ve probably seen the classic San Francisco photo of these colourful Victorian and Edwardian style houses many times. Bring a picnic to Alamo Square park and relax while taking in the views of these well-known homes with the city skyline in the background.

Take a walk through Land’s End

Wanting to take in a bit of nature without having to go far outside the city? Head to Land’s End where you’ll find a beautiful walking path situated near the Outer Richmond and Sea Cliff neighbourhoods. Stroll along this oceanside trail and you’ll forget how close you are to the city – that is until you catch a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge for a perfect photo opportunity!

Cycle through Golden Gate Park

Another great way to take in some nature within the city is by cycling through Golden Gate Park where you’ll be surrounded by the eucalyptus and pine trees that call it home. Start in Haight-Ashbury and you’ll get a glimpse of the neighbourhood that was home to the 60’s hippy movement. Rent your bike here and start on the eastern side of Golden Gate Park, making your way through the park to Ocean Beach on the western end. Expect to see beautiful gardens, many trees, the iconic windmills, and even buffalo roaming in their paddock.

 Explore the streets and food of the Mission District

If you’re looking for some authentic burritos, tacos, or papusas, the Mission District is the place to head! With many delicious taquerías, you’ll have no trouble finding a good spot to grab a burrito. Grab your food to-go and make your way to Dolores Park, where you’ll get a great view of the SF skyline and experience a favourite local hangout on a sunny day. The Mission is also known for their local boutiques, so if that’s more your style, you’ll find many great shops to pop into on Valencia Street.

Get dim sum and fortune cookies in Chinatown

San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest in North America and largest outside of Asia. Have a wander through these streets and stop in a restaurant for dumplings or dim sum. San Francisco lays claim to being the original home of the fortune cookie*. Head down Ross Alley to the Fortune Cookie factory, where you’ll find a small shop and get a glimpse into how these cookies are made. Also consider taking a walking tour of the neighbourhood to learn more about the history of the Chinese community in San Francisco.

*The origin of the fortune cookie is a debated topic as Los Angeles has also laid claim to the origins of the fortune cookie in the past.

Munch on some eats from a food truck

SF is known for their delicious food, and in recent years food trucks have become a favourite for many locals. Check out Off the Grid, an event put on in many locations around the Bay Area where food trucks gather and visitors get a chance to try many different types of food all in one spot! My favourite is the Presidio location, where you can relax on a beautiful green and take in views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the bay.


If you want to head out of the city for a few days...

Spend a day at Muir Woods

Make your way across the bridge to this National Park to spend the day among the redwoods. With many hiking trails to choose from, you’ll have the option to take an easy stroll along a well-kept path, or opportunities to take on some more rugged trails for a more challenging adventure. It’s an easy drive or bus ride across the bridge, so this can easily be done in a day. If you’re driving, start the day early to ensure you’re able to secure a parking spot at the park.

Drive down the coast for a beach day in Santa Cruz

Wanting to soak in some sun at the beach? Drive down Highway 1 on the coast, and you’ll be in Santa Cruz in under two hours. Here you’ll find a sunny beach and boardwalk with a small amusement park. The water may be cooler than Australian beaches, but it’s a nice place to enjoy the sun and take a dip on a hot day.

Trek through Yosemite National Park

If you want to take a few days away from the city, I suggest going to Yosemite National Park. If you’d like to stay in the park, there are options to camp, stay in basic cabins, or even a nicer lodge if that suits you more. Spend a few days hiking the trails and taking in the gorgeous views of Half Dome, Vernal falls, and Bridalveil falls. On those warmer days, float down the river through Yosemite Valley to cool off. Be sure to book your campsite or hotel accommodation in advance as it can get quite busy in the summer months.

Go camping in Big Sur

If you prefer coastal views, drive down Highway 1 to Big Sur on the central coast of California where the redwoods meet the ocean. Big Sur has many options for camping or lodging and has beautiful beaches and hiking trails that wind through the forest. This is another one to book in advance as this is also a popular destination!

Before you head off to San Francisco, I have one tip for you – bring layers! San Francisco is known for being foggy for good reason. Even on a clear sunny day the fog can roll in during the late afternoon and bring a chill to the air. Bring a jumper for the mornings and evenings and you’ll always be prepared

Feeling inspired?

Love an adventure? Check out our Yosemite trek.