For the quintessential Northern Californian experience, there are few cities that can outdo San Francisco. There’s always something to do in this famed city by the Bay, from sampling dim sum in Chinatown and exploring Golden Gate Park to enjoying a theatre performance. Many San Francisco vacation rentals are situated in the middle of the bustling city, which is no stranger to the awe-inspiring fog that hugs the Golden Gate Bridge. To help you plan your vacation in San Francisco, check out the top 15 things to do in the city.

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1. Attend a Concert of the Wave Organ

The sea plays her melody on the Wave Organ that was built on San Francisco Bay in 1986. It is an acoustic sculpture that features more than 20 pipes extending down into the water. When the waves roll in, the pipes amplify the sounds of the waves, responding with low, gurgling tones. The organ’s jetty consists of carved granite and marble from an old cemetery, fitted together to form terraced seating.

2. Take a Cruise to Alcatraz

The cruise to Alcatraz island takes about 15 minutes, and if you allow time for the audio Cellhouse tour, you should plan to allow about three hours for your visit. Museum displays, guided tours, and bookstores are available to enhance your visit.

3. Bend an Elbow at the Old Ship Saloon

The ship Arkansas ran aground in 1849 and started her second life as a bar in 1851. By 1855, the aboveground portion of the ship disappeared, but the location remained in the business of serving drinks. While finding any remains of the bar’s shipwreck origins may be difficult nowadays, you can ask for the Pisco Punch, San Francisco’s Gold Rush day’s drink of choice.

4. Tour the City in a Classic Cable Car

The Classic Cable Car tour lets you take your time exploring the city as you get on and off at the 16 stops along the route. If you prefer more structure, the three-hour tour includes four stops at key locations where you experience personal guided walking tours: Civic Center, Alamo Square Park, Haight Ashbury District, and the Golden Gate Bridge.

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5. Relax in the Japanese Tea Garden

As you enter the tranquility and harmony of the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, stress melts away. It’s easy to find your zen amid classic tea garden elements, including the arched drum bridge, the pagodas, stepping stone paths, koi ponds, and stone lanterns. If you happen to be in the city during March and April, you can enjoy the cherry blossoms throughout the gardens.

6. Tour the USS Pampanito

In 1943 the USS Pampanito submarine went into action for World War II at a cost of $6 million. She became a museum and memorial in 1982, 12 years after being deactivated as a training platform. Except for the hatch and ladders visitors use to enter and exit the sub, she looks the same as she did in 1945. When you tour the sub, note the size of the quarters in which 70 crew members and 10 officers lived and worked together, and imagine what it was like to serve in this vessel.

7. Relive the Summer of Love in Haight Ashbury

Since 1967, when more than 100,000 young people gathered in a Victorian sector of San Francisco, the Summer of Love lives on in Haight Ashbury. If you visit the corner of Haight and Ashbury Streets, you find vintage clothing, books, and records that harken back to the tie-dyed hippie days. Locals love to point out that Tank Hill is where you find beautiful views of the city.

8. Explore the San Francisco Zoo

With cool breezes wafting off the Pacific Ocean, any day is a fun day to get into the San Francisco Zoo mood. Beautifully-kept landscapes, a large playground, and a child-friendly steam train and carousel make it a pleasant and inviting family adventure. Look for over 2,000 animals, including amphibians, birds, invertebrates, mammals, and reptiles.

9. Encounter the Unique Characters at Madame Tussauds

Curiosity remains the attraction at Madame Tussauds since the mid-18th century through present-day San Francisco. Your self-guided tour through the attraction typically takes about 60 to 90 minutes. Exhibit zones include music, sports, film, A-List, and more. From Michael Jackson to Johnny Depp to Joe Montana, perhaps your favorite celebrity awaits around the next corner.

10. Bike Across the Golden Gate Bridge

Your three-hour guided bike tour takes you along a mostly flat route along the San Francisco waterfront, including Aquatic Park Grove and Crissy Field. Then you follow your tour guide on a scenic ride across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. Once across the bridge, you get to explore coastal Sausalito or the Marin Headlands on your own. Your tour package includes bikes and helmets.

11. Use the Art-O-Mat Machine at the Exploratorium

If you want to experience something truly different, the Exploratorium belongs on your San Francisco bucket list. As you meander through over 650 interactive exhibits, you can walk on a fog bridge, step inside a tornado, and see yourself upside-down in a mirror. In addition to a cafe and a restaurant, the facility features two stores; one of which includes an Art-O-Mat machine. That’s a repurposed cigarette vending machine that sells artwork.

12. See a Show at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre

Near the Golden Gate Bridge, the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre rises majestically, a Greco-Roman architectural masterpiece that hosts a dynamic roster of performing arts. International and national stars share their talents in music, dance, drama, and comedy. It is a picturesque backdrop for family snapshots and a favorite spot for travel photographers.

13. Experience the Walt Disney Family Museum

If Walt Disney’s work inspires your family, the Walt Disney Museum gives you a behind-the-scenes look at his life. There you see the innovation and inspiration that unfolded in his animation and transformed the world of entertainment. Interactive galleries include exhibits narrated in Disney’s voice, featuring early art, cartoons, films, an impressive model of Disneyland, and much more.

14. Immerse Yourself in the Culture of Chinatown

San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest and oldest one in North America. As one of the city’s top attractions, it gives you a chance to experience the culture, history, attractions, and events as they unfold in bright and beautiful Asian traditions. Enjoy Peking duck, play Mahjong, or buy a cheongsam – a traditional long dress – to wear.

15. Pet the Sharks at Aquarium of the Bay

Aquarium of the Bay features more than 20,000 marine creatures for you to discover in an adventure that begins in the Discover the Bay exhibit. Strolling through 300 feet of clear tunnels, you get to experience the magic as marine animals from San Francisco Bay swim above and beside you. In the interactive Bay Lab station, the touch pools feature sharks, rays, and starfish.

 
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