Top 5 things to do as a first-time visitor to San Francisco

Photo: Rachel Shulman

There is SO much to do in San Francisco it would be impossible to fit it ALL into one trip, no matter the duration. Between the various hikes for all levels, the insane culinary scene and lists of restaurants to visit, and all the touristy spots, you can’t go wrong on your visit.

During my four-day trip to SF to visit a friend, as a first-timer, I wanted to make sure to get to see the main spots and get a good feel for the city and why people love San Francisco and this area of California in the United States! These are my top five recommendations for your first-time visit to San Francisco.

1. Walk Golden Gate Bridge

Photo: Rachel Shulman

Of course, this is the number one thing to do as a tourist when visiting San Francisco – you can’t miss the bridge. Even after all the pictures, TV shows, movies, I was still pretty stunned by how massive the Golden Gate Bridge was! Walking across it takes over a half-hour so plan some time – and plan for lots of tourists!

Also, the weather in San Francisco is entirely unpredictable. In the mornings it is usually cloudy, cold, misting and really unpleasant. But during the afternoons it could get up to 70-80 degrees and no clouds in the sky. And then later in the afternoon, there could be super low clouds going literally through the bridge and makes it impossible to see even 5 steps in front of you. It is insane. Be prepared!

2. Hike Land’s End

Photo: Rachel Shulman

This was one of my favorite things to do in San Francisco. It’s SO nice to get out of such a big city and have so many hiking options available to you directly in the city. Land’s End is the perfect hike for ANY person – it is totally flat and super easy and insanely beautiful! It walks along the water on the shoreline and you have views of the Golden Gate Bridge from so many different angles.

You can also walk down to the water where there are cool lookouts and even a labyrinth. You must see the famous Sutro Baths at the end of the hike. I highly recommend this hike in the middle of your city tours!

3. See Fisherman’s Wharf & Ghiradelli Square

Photo: Rachel Shulman

Fisherman’s Wharf has to be one of the most touristy things I have ever done in ANY city but you can’t miss it when visiting San Francisco. Fisherman’s Wharf is a dock area in the middle of San Francisco with a ton of touristy stores, restaurants and games on a boardwalk area. Any touristy gimmick you can think of is here.

One thing to see here that is different than other areas are the famous seals at Pier 39. Ghiradelli is an outdoor square with a ton of different stores right around the corner from Fisherman’s Wharf. It is named after the chocolate, of course, so get some ice cream here!

4. Walk up/down Lombard Street

Photo: Rachel Shulman

Lombard Street is another must-do tourist activity in SF and is right by Ghiradelli Square. Whether you go from the top or bottom – you must see it from both directions. This crooked street is one of a kind and so different to anything else – I went in July and the flowers were in bloom and it was insanely beautiful.

5. Day trip to Napa

Photo: Rachel Shulman

My last tip for a first-timer’s visit to San Francisco would be to take a day to Napa Valley! California’s famous wine region cannot be missed when visiting SF – it is less than an hour’s drive outside of the city and the contrast between the vineyards and nature compared to the city SO close to each other are amazing. And of course, the wine!

I went to three different wineries for a full day trip to Napa, each with different specialties and it was amazing. Napa’s wineries are world famous and should not be missed. You can easily take an Uber here from SF – no need to rent a car and stay over — and it will be less than $100.

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Rachel Shulman is a seasoned travel blogger specializing in planning in-depth guides for destinations around the world. She has lived in 4 major cities in her 27 years of life (New York, New Orleans, Prague and Tel Aviv) and has traveled to 30+ countries with no intention of stopping soon. She owns From East To West, a travel blog outlining her travels and writing detailed, efficient guides and itineraries for cities and countries as well as reviewing locations, accommodations, restaurants and tips and tricks for traveling.