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10 top things to do in San Francisco

From big tourist sights to quirky cultural attractions, we discover 10 fun things to do on a trip to San Francisco.

If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair… and read our pick of the best things to see and do, from film-spotting to trainspotting. Claire Connachan reports.


1. Go to the movies

Orientate yourself on a three-hour journey trip around town in a luxury minibus showing 65 clips from over 50 movies. San Francisco Movie Tours show you a dozen areas of the city, taking in famous movie locations, including Vertigo, Bullitt, Dirty Harry… and Mrs Doubtfire. You’ll even visit Yoda.

Houses sloping down a hill in San Francisco

2. Train your taste buds

Couple a jaunt through idyllic countryside with top quality wines and you’re onto a winner. If you’re into grapes, trains or all of the above then the Napa Valley Wine Train is the ride for you, especially if you like antique trains. Take the train through One of the world’s best known wine regions, taking in views of view beautiful vineyards, lunch and dinner. An absolute must.

Napa Valley Vineyard

3. Put the pedal to the metal

Continuing with the theme of transport, two-wheeled touring is highly recommended in San Francisco, despite those famous hills. Forget the car – the only way to cross the Golden Gate Bridge is to cross it by bike. Jump on a Blazing Saddles guided bicycle tour and cycle the bridge’s full span of 1.7 miles. Stop to savour the views, marvel at the Art Deco architecture and have your breath whipped away by a combo of wind and awe. You’ll end up at Sausalito, where you can reward the exercise with an enormous ice cream.

Happy couple enjoying a bike ride to the backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge

More: Toursome – 10 tours with a twist

4. Eat out in a novel location

Fans of classic hard boiled detective novels shouldn’t miss Historic John’s Grill. Step through the door back to 1930s America: the restaurant was a setting for the famous 1930 Dalshiel Hammett novel The Maltese Falcon. Tuck into great seafood and steak, then visit the replica Maltese Falcon from the film version on the upstairs landing. Hard boiled eggs are an optional extra.

5. Hat-it-up at the theatre

Beach Blanket Babylon, the world’s longest running musical revue, resides in San Francisco and there’s no better place for it to call home. This over-the-top,outrageous 90-minute romp has San Francisco in its veins. Prepare to see celebs, politicians and historical figures lampooned in the funniest way imaginable. Oh, and did we mention the absolutely gigantic hats?

6. Get comfy with comics

What happens when you put couches and comics in the same place? You get Isotope, San Francisco’s coolest shop tor fans of graphic storytelling. The shop has a wide selection of comics, from international bestsellers to local artists’ offerings. Upstairs you’ll find illustrated toilet seats pinned on the walls, penned by famous and up-and-coming graphic artists. Browse the excellent selection (of comics, not toilet seats), have a chat with owner James and then settle into a comfy sofa to enjoy your purchases.

The Inside of the Isotope

7. Escape to Alcatraz

The prison island of Alcatraz is one of San Francisco’s most iconic landmarks and is a must see for just about everyone. Take the ferry to the island, enjoy an audio tour around the prisoners’ cell blocks and learn first hand about prison life from previous warders and jailbirds. Once you’ve experienced life locked up, take a wander around the grounds. You’ll discover that a seemingly barren hunk of rock in San Francisco Bay is host to immaculately tended and very beautiful gardens.

Alcatraz Prison

Find more famous lockups here: 10 hotels, hostels and tours behind bars

8. Draw from cartoon culture

For those into art and design, take an alternative look at the subject in the San Francisco Cartoon Art Museum. With over 6,000 pieces of art, from Sunday funnies to video games and digital illustration. The museum also puts on loads of events, lectures and book signings.

Cartoon Art Museum Watchmen Exhibition

9. Visit a San Francisco institution

The Castro Theatre is one of only a few 1920s movie palaces still in operation in the States. This beautiful cinema has an excellent line-up of cult classics, cinema rarities and generally fantastic films and events. Perhaps the theatre’s coolest feature is the Wurlitzer organ (complete with live organist) that magically appears from under the stage and plays a toe-tapping tune before the movie starts. It’s almost like being by the seaside in Blackpool.

Castro Theatre

10. Rock out in Haight-Ashbury

Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair for a trip to the historic Haight-Ashbury district. While the heady days of the 60s are long gone, they’re not forgotten. You can see the ex-homes of ex-resident rockers such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and The Grateful Dead, among others. Time your visit right and you might see the street poet, Lynn Gentry, complete with typewriter and muse in tow. Pick a subject and a price and he’ll write you a personalised piece. How rock n’ roll.

Haight-Ashbury intersection street signs

Find flights to San Francisco

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