15 things you shouldn't miss in San Francisco

Where to start about San Francisco…I have no idea?! The Bridge? The Hills? The Architecture? It’s a different city than Los Angeles for sure. To start off with, it’s more compact (7×7 miles as I was told and kept on repeating) and can be explored with buses/trolleys and on foot (your calves are going to have one hell of a workout)!

Here three days were enough for us to visit the main attractions of the city and take things a little more slowly than our whirlwind LA trip! Here are 15 things I think (by experience) that no visitor of San Francisco should miss!

Opt In Image
Get the 9 Days California Road Trip Itinerary

What to see, where to stop and eat in Los Angeles, Pacific Coast Highway and San Francisco!

1) Golden Gate Bridge

The city’s trademark in my opinion! One shot is never enough, so I got many from different angles! And of course you should walk on the bridge too! Provides nice views to San Francisco (if it’s not hazy), Treasure Island, San Francisco- Oakland Bay Bridge and Alcatraz!  There are many viewpoints for a good shot of the Golden Gate Bridge. The first photo in this post was taken from Lincoln Highway in Lands End, while the first photo in this collage was taken from the vista point after crossing the bridge towards Sausalito.

2) Cliff House & Sutro Baths

Now, the word bath for me is associated with Roman Baths, which obviously isn’t the case here! From the ruins I couldn’t really tell what kind of baths they were until I saw a photo at the gift shop in Cliff House: Sutro Baths were late 19th century baths/water park! You can read more of their story and ill fate right here!

The Cliff House started out as a resort for the wealthy and after a couple of destructions and renovations now functions as a restaurant providing a nice view over the ocean.

On the south side of Cliff House lies Ocean Beach, ideal for photo opportunities (especially if it’s a bit hazy)!

3) Enjoy the View from the Twin Peaks.

The view from Twin Peaks, San Francisco

Twin Peaks is the second highest elevation point in the city and located right at its center, so it’s ideal for 360 degrees views!

4) Explore Chinatown

I’ve seen the Chinatown in NYC, London, Washington DC and Boston, but this one’s unique, as it’s the largest Chinatown outside Asia! Notable features are the Dragon’s Gate on Bush Street & Grant, the unique lamp posts and the red lanterns. Not so sure that the latter are there year round or were in place for Chinese New Year.

5) Walk around the Port

Ferry Building Marketplace is a popular feature here. It’s full of artisan shops and a few restaurants! To be brutally honest I expected it to be more crowded and have more dining options. We had lunch at Mijita, a cute tacos restaurant and then walked towards Piers 3, 5 and 7. Those Piers have also a couple of restaurants and provide a nice view over Bay Bridge.

6) Walk along Broadway

In order to get from the port to our next stop which was City Lights Bookstore, we walked along Broadway, from The Embarcadero to Columbus Avenue. I don’t know how to put it, but this street is full of NSFW establishments, but the neon light marquees (on the left) were so vintage and tacky, so I couldn’t leave it out of my “cool things to do in SF” list! Plus in the intersection of Columbus and Broadway, there is an intellectual mural combined with some “literary” lights (on the right)!

7) Visit City Lights Bookstore

City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco

We found this bookstore in a Buzzfeed list and being booklovers we had to visit (especially since we missed The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles). The City Lights was the first all paperback bookstore in the US (source). It’s also a publishing house, which back in the days published beat literature. One my friends bought Big Sur by Jack Kerouac and I’m waiting for her review, since we passed from Big Sur on our way to San Francisco! I bought a classic that missed from my Jane Austen collection: Persuasion, as well as Boy, Snow, Bird (which is based on Snow White).

8) Visit the Painted Ladies

A spot I found on Pinterest, before a realized that it’s actually a celebrated one and even printed on postcards! We didn’t spend much time there apart from taking photos and walked (it was almost downhill!) to our next destination.

9) Walk around Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park spans 1017(!) acres and includes gardens, playgrounds, lakes, picnic groves, trails, monuments, museums and even a Dutch windmill!! You need a whole day to see it! Our walk consisted of passing by the Conservatory of Flowers, California Academy of Science and De Young Museum. We visited the Japanese Tea Garden and surprise, surprise, we also had tea!

Related: Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

10) See the murals around Mission District

While researching things to do in San Francisco the murals in Mission District kept cropping up. We visited Balmy Street which has some of the oldest ones (pictured on the right), but came across some new ones as well.

11)Breakfast/Brunch at Golo Cafe

Our hotel actually had breakfast (not the best, but still…food), but one day we missed breakfast, so we popped in cafe Golo which was pretty close to us. We weren’t disappointed. The place is tiny, but the food is amazing and the owner is a true businessman! When he heard that we were Greek, he told us that he had trained under a Greek chef and owes a lot to him! P.S. Cafe Golo doesn’t have a website, so I cannot link it, but it’s located on 1602 Lombard street, San Francisco, CA 94123.

12) Walk Filbert Street up to Filbert Steps

When I asked around about things to do in San Francisco, Filbert steps came up a couple of times. I didn’t plan to go there, but I was searching for a certain view that I’d seen of Pinterest, which interestingly enough was Filbert Street! So we walked up the street to the direction of the steps and stopped at their foot for many photos!

13) Walk around Union Square

Union Square is regarded as San Francisco’s center. It’s full of hotels and shops! As accommodation goes, I wouldn’t stay in this area,as I didn’t find it very “inspiring” to be honest! It surely is a grand shopping destination though! As you can see we spotted one of San Francisco’s cable cars as well! We didn’t ride one though, as we couldn’t justify spending 6 dollars for a short ride (sardine style)!

14) Visit Pier 39

Pier 39 can be found in the North Beach area of San Francisco. It’s full of restaurants and stores; it has a long wharf (ideal for Alcatraz views) and has a sea lion viewing point (though we saw even more sea lions in San Simeon). For me it’s a better and “neater” destination than Fisherman’s Wharf, which I found to touristy (hate the term, but there’s no better way to put it)! If you’re looking for a seafood restaurant I totally recommend Fog Harbor Fish House!

15) Have a dessert at Ghirardelli Square

And last…you cannot leave San Francisco without a stop here. Preferably try one of their delicious desserts as well! Now there’s a Ghirardelli store here in Boston, but let’s say that the one in Ghirardelli Square is the “original one”. The square is also home to other cute stores like Lola of North Beach (my favorite kind of store, where I like everything but always manage to resist temptation)!

Have you been to San Francisco? What did you like seeing/doing the most?

Read the rest of my California posts: 12 Fun Things I did in Los Angeles, 15 things you shouldn’t miss in San Francisco, Visiting the Sequoia Park

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links which mean if you click through and book a hotel I may receive a small commission.

Opt In Image
Get the 9 Days California Road Trip Itinerary

What to see, where to stop and eat in Los Angeles, Pacific Coast Highway and San Francisco!