San Francisco vacations are wildly popular for thousands of very good reasons. The city is beautiful, sophisticated and unique, with so many marvelous things to see and do you’ll never get bored. The weather is mild, yet ever-changing, making San Francisco an attractive year-round vacation destination. Explore the City’s varied cultural offerings, enjoy some excellent food, and take in the view from the City’s numerous hills.
There’s something exhilarating about driving into San Francisco, whether over the Oakland Bay Bridge or the Golden Gate Bridge. You see the metropolis across the bay, perhaps glittering in the sun, perhaps shrouded in fog, and you know you’re in for something special.
So what are all the things to do on a San Francisco vacation? Here’s a few ideas to get you started.
Do the tourist thing: If this is your first visit to San Francisco, you’ll want to check out all the marvelous places and attractions you’ve heard about. A proper San Francisco tourist simply must at least visit Fisherman’s Wharf, take a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge, and ride a cable car. After that, you can explore on your own, or take one of the many tours offered. Whatever your interest, there’s bound to be a tour for you.
Have some family fun: San Francisco is an exciting city for kids, and, as luck would have it, most of the things kids love best about the City are fun and exciting for adults too. Take a tour of Alcatraz, check out the eye-popping California Academy of Sciences or the Exploratorium, and of course, ride a cable car. If the kids need to run off a little energy, there’s the children’s playground (aka Koret Children’s Quarter) in Golden Gate Park. Of course, just walking up and down all those hills is likely to wear the little darlings out, and give you some blessed peace come evening!
Get yourself some culture: San Francisco has culture coming out its proverbial ears. There’s something to suit just about any taste, from highbrow to lowbrow. For art and architecture, check out the City’s famous Victorians (aka “painted ladies”) and the de Young Museum, where you’ll enjoy both fine art and stunning architecture. There are ethnic enclaves (like Chinatown) to explore, plus historic sites, parks and gardens and quite a variety of museums. At night, you can enjoy live entertainment ranging from opera, symphony, theater and ballet to comedy clubs and a variety of music clubs.
Go outside: San Francisco is absolute heaven for the outdoor enthusiast. Take a scenic hike along the coastal trail from Land’s End to the Presidio. Go kayaking in the calm waters of the Bay. Explore Golden Gate Park, the Presidio, or the Golden Gate Bridge on a bicycle. Take a walking tour of the City, or head out to sea for some whale watching (available year-round). Whether you strike out on your own or join one of the numerous tours offered, you’re bound to enjoy some great scenery.
Shop till you drop: Whether you’re looking for something special or just enjoy window shopping, there’s plenty to see in San Francisco. You’ll find the big department stores and luxury goods in the Union Square area. For fun and/or exotic goods, try Chinatown or head to Fisherman’s Wharf, where Ghirardelli Square and the Cannery offer lots of shopping and dining in refitted old factories. Or try Fillmore St. (between Jackson and Geary) to see for yourself if US News is right to call it one of the best shopping streets in America.
Eat yourself silly: San Francisco is famous for its seafood, sourdough bread, and culinary inventiveness. With more eateries per capita than any other city in the nation, you’ll find something to suit any taste or mood. To make sense of all these myriad choices, you might want to get a San Francisco dining guide, or perhaps just check out what other visitors are saying.
Take a road trip: The Bay Area features stunning scenery, redwood forests, and fun destinations. You might just want to do a bit of exploring on your San Francisco vacation, so let's see what's out there...
Looking for Adventure? Head out on the Highway -- Highway 1 to be exact. There are some wonderful places to explore just a short drive from San Francisco. Let’s take a road trip beyond the City to see what we can find. Since this web site is all about the coast, we won’t stray too far inland, with a few exceptions.
We’ll start our road trip north of the City in Marin County, at the wild and beautiful Point Reyes National Seashore, about an hour’s drive from San Francisco. Here you can hike, camp, horseback ride, and enjoy some of the most beautiful scenery on the California coast. During the gray whale migration, enjoy a great view whale watching at Point Reyes Lighthouse.
South of the park, you might want to stop off at the lovely Bolinas Lagoon to see if you can spot some egrets or herons, and then check out the tiny burg of Bolinas, famed for both its quirkiness and natural beauty.
Heading south on Highway 1, you’ll find the turnoff for Muir Woods National Monument, where you can take a walk in the hushed splendor of the redwood forest. This is a popular excursion for San Francisco vacationers, and if you prefer not to drive yourself, there are many tours to take you there. Muir Woods is a mere half hour drive from the City.
Then on to the Golden Gate Bridge. You’ll want to stop off at the Vista Point before heading into the City. You’ll enjoy a great view of the bridge from there. You might also want to check out the two small towns on this side of the Bay: Tiburon and Sausalito, which are popular with tourists for their restaurants, shopping, and views. You can also take a ferry from San Francisco, or rent a bike and ride across the Golden Gate Bridge.
Now we head into the City, whose virtues can’t be covered in a few short paragraphs, so we’ll cover San Francisco tourism elsewhere.
As we head south of the City on Highway 1, we come to the small town of Pacifica, which sports a pier popular with fisherman, waves popular with surfers, and lots of fog. The best time to visit is the last weekend in September when they hold their annual Pacific Coast Fog Fest, scheduled, ironically enough, during one of the sunniest times of the year.
This section of the coast features a number of small beaches and coves. In Moss Beach, you can enjoy some tidepooling at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, or head down to Half Moon Bay, where you can enjoy camping along the coast, surfing, sportfishing or whale watching cruises.
As we head south toward Santa Cruz, we enter redwood country in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where you can go hiking, camping or even take a scenic train ride through the redwoods. Once you hit Santa Cruz, there’s plenty of fun to be had. The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk offers family fun at a unique beachside amusement park. There’s plenty of art galleries and museums, wineries and tasting rooms, plus an abundance of outdoor activities. Driving to Santa Cruz from San Francisco on Highway 1 will take about 1.5 hours.