Beloved San Francisco Sights and Activities

Via writers and editors share their favorite spots in San Francisco.

San Francisco Bay Golden Gate Bridge, photo
The San Francisco Bay stuns on a sunny day.
Kropic1 / Shutterstock

The San Francisco Bay

Marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols wrote a whole book about the benefits of water. Blue Mind argues that being near, in, on, or under it can make you "happier, healthier, more connected, and better at what you do." San Francisco Bay proves his point. The swoop of liquid beauty cradling our busy metropolis is the city's secret, soothing sauce. The famous hills provide myriad perspectives on our water wealth. But the best views are to be had on the bay itself, whether from a ferry, sailboat, kayak, or island. Wherever you choose to gaze at the bay, will it really make you happier, healthier, more connected, and better at what you do? I know it works for me.—Anne McSilver

San Francisco Lands End ocean at sunset, photo

San Francisco's Lands End offers a spiritual experience.

David H. Collier

Lands End

Like so much else in San Francisco, the labyrinth at Lands End has its own tale of rebirth. In 2015, the maze was nearly wiped out when vandals dumped almost every stone into the sea, leaving only a ghostly impression. A month later, volunteers formed a chain from the windy bluff to the beach below and, passing rocks hand to hand, rebuilt the winding path for all to circle again.—Karen Zuercher

Tartine Manufactory

To know Tartine is to love Tartine—and everyone in San Francisco knows Tartine. The bakery's Alabama Street venture gives fans even more to love. A massive oven greets guests to Tartine Manufactory, but there's a lot more to savor than bread and pastry. The space also has a coffee bar, a restaurant, and an ice cream shop offering soft serve in vivacious flavors such as fior di latte and Concord grape. Swoon.—Lauren Parvizi

Round geometric sculpture at Patricia's Green in Hayes Valley San Francisco, photo

A sculpture stands tall at Patricia's Green in Hayes Valley.

Trillian, by Hybycozo

Patricia's Green

For years following 1989’s Loma Prieta earthquake, Hayes Valley residents fought to relocate a damaged freeway off-ramp and in its place make room for a two-block parklet (named for the late Patricia Walkup, a neighborhood activist who helped lead that struggle). Bookended by an everchanging series of sculptures, the narrow strip along Octavia Boulevard welcomes a mix of locals and tourists. Get a lamb wrap to go from Souvla, then take in the scene from one of the green’s public tables. Follow it with a macchiato from Ritual Coffee Roasters. It’s one of the sweetest little urban oases in San Francisco.—Ethan Fletcher

View of San Francisco's Cliff House at sunset, Pacific Ocean, photo

The Cliff House is striking against the Pacific Ocean at sunset.

David H. Collier

Cliff House

The Cliff House is a microcosm of San Francisco: resilient, delicious, and perfectly situated. The restaurant has been rebuilt twice since its construction in 1863. Inside, the Zinc Bar serves Irish coffee (perfected in this town) with a side order of great Pacific views. On the deck outside, there’s the weirdly compelling Camera Obscura. And just up Point Lobos Avenue is the start to my favorite hike: past the ruins of Sutro Baths and out to the spectacle of Lands End, where the sea scents the air like no other place in the city.—K.Z.

Crowd of people viewing interactive exhibit at San Francisco Exploratorium, photo

Visitors watch an exhibit at the Exploratorium's After Dark event.

Gayle Laird / Exploratorium


The Exploratorium calls itself an "ongoing exploration of science, art, and human perception"; I call it a great place to take a date. Its new (since 2013) home at Pier 15 on the Embarcadero is three times bigger than the original location at the Palace of Fine Arts and houses more interactive exhibits than ever. Because the Exploratorium is so popular with school field trips and weekend visitors, my favorite time to go is Thursday night for After Dark: The museum goes kid free, alcohol is served, and you can take your time exploring. —Ashley Goldsmith

San Francisco SF Jazz Center exterior, photo

The SFJazz Center offers a swanky night out.

Courtesy SFJazz

SFJazz Center

Back in the '40s and '50s, San Francisco was a jazz town. Dozens of clubs hosted Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, and other giants of America’s greatest musical genre. But one by one those clubs winked out. Then in 2013, SFJazz Center opened. It quickly became one of the best places in the city to hear live music. The main room boasts state-of-the-art acoustics, and every seat makes you feel up close with the players. Those players have included a who’s who of contemporary jazz—Wayne Shorter, Joshua Redman, Vijay Iyer—along with a tasteful selection of acts in other styles. For one swanky night out, combine a show with dinner at one of the Hayes Valley restaurants near SFJazz.—Dan Miller

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art exterior, photo

The SFMOMA's seven floors house countless masterpieces.

John Gilbey / Alamy

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

With the opening of its 235,000-square-foot expansion in 2016, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art did more than triple its gallery space. It put the city itself on display. Wandering through seven floors of 20th- and 21st-century masterpieces by Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol, and others, visitors catch glimpses of the Bay Bridge and the neighborhood’s forest of high-rises. My favorite juxtaposition: the tiny outdoor terrace where I can gaze simultaneously upon Alexander Calder’s The Kite That Never Flew and the glass-and-steel facade of the Marriott Marquis, until a cool bay breeze chases me inside.—Rebecca Smith Hurd

Dish of fried chicken at San Francisco's Off the Grid, photo

Fried chicken is just one of many food offerings at Off the Grid.

Courtesy Off the Grid

Presidio Picnic

An outfit called Off the Grid organizes up to 50 delectable food-truck gatherings around the Bay Area each week. The Presidio Picnic could be the best. The trucks pull up around a big lawn, families spread out blankets, kids fly kites, software designers and soccer parents join in a yoga class, and dogs run around trying to steal bites of food; a stunning view of the Golden Gate Bridge provides the backdrop. The Sunday afternoons stretch on lazily for hours, and then, with bellies full of fried chicken and crème brûlée, everyone stocks up on farm-fresh produce and cold-press juice before journeying home.—LeeAnne Jones