12 essential activities for a weekend in San Francisco

Painted Ladies, San Francisco

San Fran is one of those cities that never gets old, no matter how many times you visit.

There’s always a neighbourhood you haven’t explored yet, or a scenic spot that you didn’t go to last time, or an activity that you missed on your last visit. I’ve just completed my third trip to San Francisco, and there were still plenty of activities for me to occupy my time.

San Fran is the kind of city that you just can’t help but like. Those Victorian houses with their bay windows and bright colours will have your heart in a matter of moments.

If you’re planning a trip to San Francisco anytime soon – I have some suggestions for you! Here are 12 essential activities for a weekend in San Francisco.

Rob and Ash in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

Where we stayed:

On our first visit to San Francisco we stayed at HI City Center, which I really liked. The hostel was a little further from downtown than some other hostels, but there was plenty of public transportation around for us to catch. It also had one of those old elevators with a sliding cage door, which was a huge novelty!

For our second visit, we stayed at the Days Inn Downtown as it was one of the only places near the city center with parking. It was surprisingly good, for a motel! I’d stay there again, for sure.

Clarion Alley, San Francisco

1. The Mission District

The Mission is my absolute fave spot in San Fran as its covered head to toe in street art (don’t miss the murals of Clarion Alley – see them on a Mission murals and graffiti tour). This area is filled with weirdos and young people relaxing in Dolores Park while smoking joints and playing a guitar.

And of course, you absolutely have to get a mission burrito; a large burrito, filled with rice and beans, and toasted on the outside. There are loads of places to get one, we went to Mateo’s the minute we arrived in San Fran and devoured a huge veggie burrito on the spot. It was amazing. I regret nothing.

Anchor Brewery, San Francisco

2. Anchor Brewery

I have done loads of brewery tours in my lifetime, but this one stands out as by far the best. Not only was it awesome to walk around the brewery and hear a passionate local talk about the beers the brewery makes, but it also included free tastings!

When I did this tour back in 2013 I paid absolutely nothing, but these days it costs $20 per person. Still, it’s 100% worth it. The tour books up in advance, so I’d advise booking via the Anchor website as early as possible.

Haight Ashbury, San Francisco

3. Haight-Ashbury

I absolutely love hanging out in Haight-Ashbury, otherwise known as ‘The Haight’. This area is known for being the origin of hippie subculture. Yep. In the 1960’s, this is where it all started. If you want to maximise those hippie vibes, you can even see this area on a VW bus through a San Francisco love tour!

If you wander along Haight Street between Golden Gate Park and Buena Vista Park, you’ll find loads of cafes, boutique stores, vape shops, vintage clothing, and of course the famous Amoeba Music record store. A great way to spend a few hours away from the bustle of downtown.

16th Avenue Tiled Steps, San Francisco

4. 16th Avenue tiled steps

I saw an image of these steps on Pinterest while I was researching things to do in San Fran, and of course I just had to seek them out and take my own photo!

You’ll likely need a car to find these steps as they’re not near to any of the other major attractions in San Fran. Head to the intersection of Moraga St and 16th Ave, and you should be able to find street parking close to the bottom of the steps.

Painted Ladies, San Francisco

5. The Painted Ladies

The first time I went to San Fransisco I was on a bus tour, and we drove past the Painted Ladies so quickly that I barely had time for a blurry-out-the-window-photo. This time, I went back and did it properly. If you want an up-close look at these pretty houses, try a Painted Ladies mansion tour.

The Painted Ladies are a set of 7 iconic San Franciscan houses, built in the 1890s, with gorgeous views of the city behind them. If you grew up watching Full House, you’ll probably start humming the theme song when you’re looking at the houses from Alamo Park as it will no doubt bring back memories of the show’s intro.

Coit Tower, San Francisco

6. Coit Tower

If you’re like me and actively seek out city views, then Coit Tower is a must while you’re in San Fran. The tower sits atop Telegraph Hill where you can look out over the city and the bay.

While you’re up there, check out the adorable houses of Telegraph Hill – they’re absolutely gorgeous and will definitely have you wishing that you were wealthy enough to live there.

Lombard Street, San Francisco

7. Lombard Street

Lombard Street is a steep one-block street that has 8 hairpin turns, making it the most crooked street in the world. Robert and I didn’t get to drive down it last time we visited San Francisco, so this time, we made it our mission.

Want to know what it’s like to drive down this crazy street? Here’s a video!

Alcatraz, San Francisco

8. Alcatraz

Yes, Alcatraz is touristy, but some of you might know that I’m really into dark tourism, so I definitely can’t leave it out of this list. Alcatraz is one of the most popular attractions in San Fran, so remember to book ahead with Alcatraz Cruises as there are limited spots available.

Your ticket will get you on the ferry out to the island in the bay, where you’ll then walk up to the top of the rocky cliff and into the prison itself. You’ll be provided with an audio guide where you can listen to commentary while wandering around at your own pace.

And if you’ve seen The Rock, you have permission to pretend like you’re Nicolas Cage saving the city of San Francisco.

Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco

9. Fisherman’s Wharf

I don’t particularly like crowds so I usually tend to avoid super touristy places like Fisherman’s Wharf, but if you can handle sightseeing while you’re squished in with a bunch of other people then it’s worth a look.

The best things to do at Fisherman’s Wharf are to look at the sea lions lazing about on Pier 39, and if you’re not a vegetarian like me then you can grab some clam chowder.

Cable Cars, San Francisco

10. Ride the cable cars

It wouldn’t be a trip to San Francisco without a ride on one of the famed cable cars.

Check out this website (which is awfully designed but informative) for the cable car routes. For something more comprehensive, try this ultimate guide to public transportation in San Francisco which has info on the city’s cable cars, trains, buses, and ferries.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

11. Golden Gate Bridge

The beloved Golden Gate Bridge, arguably the most iconic landmark in San Fran. There are a number of ways to see it:

Golden Gate Bridge from Lands End, San Francisco

12. Lands End

Lands End is great if you like to insert a little nature in to your city stays. It’s a beautiful park with loads of trees and walking paths along the coastline, and it has some fabulous views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.

You can also check out the ruins of Sutro Baths, a historic site where there used to be a grand public swimming pool which mysteriously burnt down in a fire (I know, right?) during its deconstruction in 1966.

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23 Responses to “12 essential activities for a weekend in San Francisco”

  1. Hayley Simpson

    I love San Fran and agree with all your tips. The one thing I would add is visiting Sausalito. You can bike over the Golden Gate Bridge to get there and catch a ferry back to Fisherman’s Wharf. Such a good day!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Thanks Hayley! I actually already have Sausalito under the Golden Gate Bridge tip. So glad you agree with my recommendations for San Fran! It really is an interesting city 🙂

  2. Petra @ The Global Couple

    Great tips for a great city! You’ve covered all the things I’d recommend doing there, nice 🙂 One of my favourite cities – can’t wait to go back sometime!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Thanks Petra! Isn’t San Fran just the best. The fact that I’ve visited three times (which is something I barely ever do) is a testament to how great the city is! I hope you manage to get back there sometime soon 😀

  3. Liz Peterson

    So glad to see Lands End on the list! I love hiking around there :). In the Mission my absolute favorite burrito is at El Farolito. Also, what a huge bummer to hear that Anchorsteam is charging now! Since that’s the case, I’d recommend just checking out a couple of their beers at City Beer Store, 21st Amendment, or Southern Pacific Brewing Company.

    Can’t wait for my visit back to San Francisco in one week!


    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Lands End is actually something I hadn’t heard about until a friend recommended it to us for this most recent trip. That area is so lovely! If I had more time (and if the weather wasn’t as crap as it was) I definitely would have liked to do some hikes around there.

      I was actually going to write about how the Anchor tour was free, and then I checked their website and found out that it’s not anymore 🙁 Thanks for your tips on getting their beers elsewhere in the city though! I hope you have a fab time back in SF, Liz 🙂

  4. Amanda | Chasing My Sunshine

    You’re right! I seriously love this city. I visited in July two years ago, thinking it would be super cold so I packed appropriately. Of course, the second I got there, San Fran was hit with a heatwave! During the day was hot, but then I’d be freezing at night. I do love the city, but the weather is an interesting character. Can’t wait to get back there!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Haha of course, a heat wave! Instead of saying that the weather will be colder, I should have said that the weather is unpredictable. You just never really know what it will be like until you’re there. And even then, it’s hard to predict!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      You wouldn’t think that you’d have to book ahead for something like Alcatraz, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind for anyone travelling to San Francisco. I’m so glad you had a good time anyway, Ellie!

  5. Lenny

    Thanks for the tips. Haven’t been to San Fran for 10 years but I’ll be heading back in September – can’t wait!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      That’s great, Lenny! I’m sure it will have changed a lot in 10 years. I hope you have a great time on your visit 🙂

  6. Ella

    Great tips! I really would like to visit San Francisco someday, it seems like such a cool and interesting city 🙂

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Thanks Ella! San Fran is honestly one of the most interesting cities in the US – it’s cold and windy, but that doesn’t stop it being cultural and fun! You should definitely plan a trip there if you have the chance.

  7. Goegirl

    Hi Ashlea!

    You hit the nail on the head with this list. Your excitement for San Francisco is contagious!

    As a native NorCal girl, I think you might like to know that we never refer to San Francisco “San Fran”. It makes us cringe! The only thing worse is “Frisco”. We commonly called it “the city”, “the bay” or just good ol “San Francisco”.

    The next you visit the bay area, give a girl a call and let’s explore other eclectic, electric sites such as Japantown, the Embarcadero and AT&T Park. Your list can be endless in this wonderful city. Happy travels!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Thanks Geogirl! I’m happy to get the approval of a California native, though my post is aimed at people visiting the city from elsewhere in the US or abroad rather than locals 😉

  8. Debbie

    I and 5 girlfriends are headed to SF this coming June. I’m feeling a little overwhelmed trying to plan it all.

  9. Steve

    A great list. I’ve been to 2/3 of the places. Sadly it’s thousands of miles from where I live. You might as well add the old Ferry Terminal building and Chinatown. One jam packed weekend!

    Here’s a question for the natives. Do people who grew up there actually call it “San Fran”?

    • Tara Torres

      Steve- I can answer your question- no. 🙂 We call it San Francisco, that’s about it. Sometimes “The City”, but not really.

  10. Monica

    Thank you for the great post! I definitely missed out on the Missions burrito and the cable cars (they broke down when I went) and they are on my list for next time! There is just so much to do in that fun city!


    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Oh that sucks that the cable cars were broken on your visit – now you have a reason to go back! 😉


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