The Best Things To Do In San Francisco, 2021
By The Smoking Chair Editors | 2021
San Francisco is flooded with incredible nightlife options. There are literally hundreds of great options in The City for that perfect spot to celebrate with a beverage. In fact, there are too many. We scoured Yelp to save you hours — you’re welcome — and here are fifteen of the best.
San Francisco is known for its cool summers, fog, steep rolling hills, eclectic mix of architecture, and landmarks, including the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, the former Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, Fisherman’s Wharf, and its Chinatown district. The city, and the surrounding Bay Area, is a global center of the sciences and arts and is home to a number of educational and cultural institutions, such as the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), the University of San Francisco (USF), San Francisco State University(SFSU), the de Young Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the SFJAZZ Center, the San Francisco Symphony and the California Academy of Sciences.
#1: Sonoma Canopy Tours
6250 Bohemian Hwy | Occidental, CA
We based ourselves for the wedding in Guerneville and were excited to see this high-flying adventure option just minutes away from our hotel. Sonoma Canopy Tours is located in Occidental, California, in the thick of the redwoods. We joined their tree tops tour — featuring their highest and longest ziplining courses above the trees.
The entire adventure takes about 2.5 hours to complete — where you’ll zip across lines reaching up to 40 miles per hour. It’s breathtaking and a little frightening all at once. But in a good way!
Tours run throughout the day, but we jumped in on one of their first tours beginning at 8:45 AM. Who needs coffee? There is nothing like fresh Sonoma air and high-flying adventures to wake you up in the morning. We personally loved the other elements along the way including a rope bridge and a controlled drop at the end where we jumped off the platform high in the trees. Clearly, we had good faith in our guides who cheered us on along the way.
In total, we rode across 7 ziplines and walked across 2 sky bridges, giving us a whole new perspective on the redwoods and their grand size. Advanced reservations are necessary and can be booked directly on the Sonoma Canopy Tours website. We suggest the Tree Top Zipline Tour, where you get the best and highest ziplines in the park.
— Review by Phillip Z.
#2: Hidden Garden Steps
The Hidden Garden Steps, also known as the Kirkham Steps, are something that’s worth visiting if you are already spending time in the Inner Sunset.
I went today for the second time as I was trying to spend time before I could repark my car during street cleaning back in the Castro. I don’t think I would come from another neighborhood to visit again, but would definitely go if I was staying in the Inner Sunset.
These steps are both a public art project to be admired for their beauty and also a good way to get exercise. It was raining today and the steps were wet when I visited, so I tried to take my time, but this would be an ideal place to practice going up and down steps, especially if you went early in the morning on a weekday before it gets more crowded with visitors.
The steps don’t take long to do, so I would definitely have other plans in mind for the Inner Sunset if you plan to visit.
— Review by Regina W.
#3: Cheaper Than Therapy
533 Sutter St Shelton Theater
Comedy Clubs, Performing Arts, Bars
Such a relief to be able to experience this after the pandemic! The check in was easy. The cocktails we ordered on their specials were delicious. The jokes were funny and the comedians were fun! Highly recommend this hole in the wall theatre and their stand up comedy!!
— Review by Emily S.
#4: Lands End
Seal Rock Dr & El Camino Del Mar
On the way from our visit to the Legion of Honor Museum and on our way to our next destination is the the beautiful Lands End beach/trail. I had a hard time driving this stretch of road and not wanting to stop and admire it all. Life is too short to always be in such a hurry. So we pulled over on 9/4/21 to take this area all in.
The panoramic views looking out towards the Golden Gate Bridge are breathtaking. There are picnic benches near the beginning of the trail facing these amazing views. The hiking trail disappears into tall Cypress Trees and curve around the cliffs overlooking the Bay. We didn’t get a chance to walk the hiking trail on this trip but this is on my list of things to do on a return trip.
— Review by Denis A.
#5: Fort Point
Landmarks & Historical Buildings
If you’re looking to get great photos of the bridge, THEN THIS IS THE PLACE TO GO!
Lots of parking, you can just pull up and enjoy the views. When I visited this spot with my mother we even got lucky enough to watch some surfers tear some waves right under the bridge.
Me & my Mother drove around many of different spots and this was by far our l favorite.
Safe Travels. Cheers
— Review by Robert R.
#6: Palace Games
3362 Palace Dr
Escape Games, Team Building Activities
Today, I and five friends did the new room, The Attraction. I’ve experienced (it’s the correct word) all four of the Palace Games rooms now, and they are 100% worth experiencing. Of all the games I’ve done up and down the Bay Area, they have the best tech/mech/electric stuff.
Parking: Normally, there is a lot of parking pretty close to the event door, which is this weird creepy side door near a dumpster. When the gate is closed, the neighborhood parking is free (although there was a warning about people smashing windows and stealing stuff, so be careful), or you could park a little further away and walk there.
Bathroom: They have gendered bathrooms there, with many stalls. They also have a water fountain if you need some water.
Staff: The staff are wonderful and lovely. Please plan to arrive early to save them some trouble. 🙂
If you’ve never done an escape room before, but have a lot of patience, I think The Attraction was actually a fairly good one for that. It’s a long experience, but the puzzles were a bit easier. In my personal opinion it was a little too meme-y, but I understand that as a personal opinion. (And as a note to the creator, is there a way to recline or add pillows to make the neck situation less strenuous? We were all programmers who already have back issues haha.) The technology in this one was amazing and I can see why it took so long to create.
I do think that one is much more of an “experience”, though, and our gamemaster did warn us about that. It’s worth going into that particular one knowing it’s not as escape room-y as the other three games.
The other three games are definitely much more like a normal escape room, where the puzzles are cryptic and plentiful and there’s a lot of work that requires parallelization. The theming is also very fun and excellent, and the best part of these rooms is definitely the physicality of it- that things are delightful to touch and play with! They can be a little difficult (I think in order of difficulty is Houdini, Roosevelt, Edison), so it might help if you have at least one person who is a little more experienced in escape rooms. Or… do a couple of escape rooms and then come here to blow the rest out of the water! 😀 (One thing to be careful of: Because the rooms are so technologically complicated, some things in them are occasionally fiddly. If you have very strong reason to believe what you’re doing is correct, be a little patient with it. 🙂 )
ALSO. If you’re not used to escape rooms, it’s worth knowing that this is both pricier than average (although the tech is well worth the cost, imo) and longer than average– the shortest game is at most 80 minutes. Plan accordingly! (Definitely use their bathroom!)
— Review by Julia Z.
#7: Marin Headlands
948 Fort Barry | Sausalito, CA
Can I give this place 10 stars? I give it 10 stars.
Every single time I find myself in the SF area I make it a point to go hiking at the Marin Headlands. It’s that gorgeous. This absolutely magnificent park is #1 gigantic and #2 one of the most beautiful coastal parks I’ve ever been to, and I’ve been to a lot of them.
The hills are covered in chaparral, the ocean breeze is clean and fresh, the views are spectacular, you can hike all day long and never run out of trails, there are old army ruins that are more than a hundred years old and then there’s the wildlife. Did I mention my wild life encounter yet? No? Oh it is epic!
Just last week I was quietly sauntering down a path and BAM! a bobcat popped out of the bushes in front of me, turned, looked me up and down, found me wanting (obviously) and calmly turned it’s back and walked down the path in front of me for a few seconds before disappearing into the bushes on the opposite side of the path. I was breathless! It is a gorgeous creature! It walks like it’s light as air, it fairly glides on it’s feet. And it’s a ghost! I swear it! We looked and looked in the bush (peering from the trail) but it literally vanished into the bushes like it was never there. It is perfectly camouflaged.
You know, sometimes I’m sitting at my desk up here in dank, dreary, damp Seattle and all I’ll be thinking of is hiking in the Marin Headlands. I truly love this place. If you go, please leave it as you found it, it’s a treasure.
— Review by Pamela G.
#8: Lyon Street Steps
Lyon Street & Green St
Landmarks & Historical Buildings
The views at the top and even middle of the Lyon Street Steps are nice. You can see the Palace of the Fine Arts and water, especially on a clear day sanz Karl the Fog. No wonder the steps are popular!!
Great stairs for a workout:
I have been working out here since my good ole high school cross country days in the city. The Lyon Street Steps are a great place to physically challenge yourself. Doing several sets of sprints along with squats leave you feeling tired but oh so great.
Free parking in surrounding Pacific Heights neighborhood:
I typically just run here from home. However, there is free parking for a few hours in the Pac Heights (unless you have a residential parking permit, in which case not limited to a few hours).
— Review by Mila E.
#9: Grandview Park
1705 14th Ave
After you climb the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps, would it kill you to climb more stairs to get to the top of this postage-stamp-size park? Yeah, probably, but it might be worth it for the panoramic views. I say ‘might’ because I was up there as the fog was rolling in quite thick. Still, you can see the immediate area below, and the one bench provides some relief. Of course, you have to call dibs on it before the nonagenarian jogger gets to it. Did I mention the freezing cold winds that comes with the fog?
There’s a complicated geological reason why this rocky hill is here that’s related to the prehistoric ocean floor, constant wind erosion, and other acts of a higher power that require a voiceover narration from Morgan Freeman. But do you care? Yeah I didn’t think so. Besides the one short circuit around the sandy trail on top, you have the steps down the hill to consider. But do it regardless of the weather because your FitBit and Instagram account will thank you. Not so much the triathletes who use the stairs as part of their training regimen.
— Review by Ed U.
#10: Battery Spencer
Conzelman Rd | Sausalito, CA
Landmarks & Historical Buildings
Highly recommend visiting this vista point at some point in your life! I love taking friends + family here when they come to visit. The views are absolutely stunning and you can see almost everything on a clear day.
The drive to go here has some winding, narrow roads and once you arrive there isn’t a ton of parking but I’ve never had an issue. Keep in mind this is a tourist stop, so make sure to secure your belongings in case someone decides to break into a car. This happens more than you’d think.
I’m planning on coming to see this spot at night next. I heard it’s just as beautiful!
— Review by AnnaJean P.
#11: Strawberry Hill
50 Stow Lake Dr
Great experience to get away from the city within the city at this superfluous urban park. The moat around Strawberry Hill is riveting with several species to gaze upon as you meander the pleasant trails. Several benches to rest as well as lawn areas to plant yourself to bask in the sun to picnic and ponder the SF life. Different layers of clothes is a must as the micro climate is real and shifts throughout the walk in this 6-mile park.
— Review by Nathan U.
#12: Legion of Honor
Lincoln Park 100 34th Avenue
Big shout out to SF Fun Cheaps for putting this on my radar as a fun thing to do on a holiday weekend. This review is for my visit on 9/4/21 during the Labor Day holiday.
Admission was free the first Saturday of the month with proof of Bay Area residency. I RSVP’s on the website and was sent a barcode. Glad I did that because I avoided the lines for people waiting to purchase a ticket.
We got there at about 2pm and spent the entire afternoon there, until closing time at 5:30pm. We were pretty tired from all the walking, but could’ve easily spent another hour taking in more of the museum- there are tons of galleries, two floors worth. The museum’s man exhibit on my visit was the art of Wangechi Mutu. Her art is full of feminism symbolism and you first encounter her art on display outside of the entrance in the form of statues. Inside the museum you see her paintings in the various galleries.
My favorite part of the museum was seeing the illustrated books on the first floor by Iliazd and contributions by Picasso. It was also interesting to see some of the pieces in the museum dating back to BC.
As you can imagine, security is roaming and keeping a watchful eye. If you’re bringing a backpack into the museum, they ask that you keep your backpack off your shoulders and carry it in your hands. Last thing you want to is bump into one of these priceless pieces of artwork and break off a finger from a Rodin sculpture.
Limited parking can be found just outside the entrance and there’s more parking surrounding the museum. Come spend the day at the museum and raise your pinky finger high in the air like I did.
— Review by Denis A.
#13: The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps
Moraga St. between 15th & 16th Ave
I knew these stairs existed but didn’t think I would be all that impressed by what I perceived to be a simple flight of steps decorated by mosaic tiles. I believe that would be my cue to pooh pooh them, but even before I uttered my first pooh, I decided to take a walk in the Golden Gate Heights neighborhood since I had never really been there before. When I came upon them walking up Moraga Street, I was startled by how tall and imposing it was, truly a standout piece of public art like a Gaudi masterwork that’s been around since only 2005.
There are 163 steps which means there are 163 separate mosaic tile panels. Local artists Aileen Barr and Colette Crutcher recruited the neighborhood to sponsor the creation of each tile, and the sum effect is quite dazzling, a colorful mural covering the transition from sea to sky as they make their way up to Grandview Park. Lush floral landscaping complements the visual splendor. There’s a similar staircase nearby, the Hidden Garden Steps, so do a twofer. Don’t make the erroneous presumption I made and just come here. No pooh pooh from me.
— Review by Ed U.
#14: San Francisco Botanical Gardens
1199 9th Ave
Museums, Botanical Gardens
Around the world in 55 acres.
Amazing to see so many unique flowers, trees and plants in the San Francisco Botanical Gardens. From the soaring Sequoia redwoods to the Andean and Mesoamerican Cloud Forest, the foggy climate of San Francisco is perfect for so many plants to thrive.
The Moon Viewing Garden with stone pagodas from Japan was so peaceful and tranquil. Loved visiting the bamboo forest and the beautiful magnolias.
The flowers in the sections dedicated to Chile, Australia and the Mediterranean were all so different. So lucky to be able to see so many blooming in the summer. The fragrance garden is such an immersive niche as well.
Parking was easy to find near the west entrance. Note there are different entrances. San Francisco residents can enter for free with a valid ID. Early entry is also free from 7:30-9. We used our local garden pass for reciprocal benefits. Otherwise it is $10 for adults on the weekday and $13 on weekends. A family pass is a great deal at $21.
Nice place to spend a couple of hours in Golden Gate Park.
— Review by Helene S.
#15: Seward Mini Park
70 Corwin St
Parks, Community Gardens
A hidden gem that is in a residential area. People are pretty respectful of their cardboard boxes by taking them back once they are done.
Initially it was hard to get going down the slide & I had to move myself down the slide with my feet so fortunately this slide is long enough so that I could actually experience the speed & catch a momentum.
I liked that it wasn’t too crowded & the neighbors really take care of their homes & gardens.
Would visit this place again in a heartbeat.
— Review by Sherri W.
#16: Sutro Baths
680 Point Lobos
How neat is this? I was walking uphill from Ocean Beach (~15-20 minutes) and saw this on the way. The first thing I thought was WOW, the view of the Pacific from here is gorgeous. There are a few trails down to the saltwater pools, some legal and some not *cough.* Anyway, it’s a great location to stop, take a breather, and immerse yourself in nature. You can even see seagulls enjoying the baths!
It’s also relatively scaleable for strollers and dogs.
One of my favorite pastimes is to journal + do devos at the beach during sunset. If I move to SF, I could see this being one of my go-to spots to do just that.
— Review by Blessie V.
#17: Film Night in the Park
Around The City
Watching a film outdoors under the stars.
Experiencing a wave of synerginistic feeling as the entire audience laughs, cries and cheers.
These are just a few things that make Film Night in the Park a unique and seriously fun experience in the City.
Tonight was the screening of “When Harry Met Sally” at Union Square. This evening was pleasantly balmy, not windy or very chilly at all.
There was a festive note in the air as a medley of pop, jazz and classic Frank Sinatra music played prior to the screening.
Thanks to Emerald Foods (a SF-headquartered food company) the audience enjoyed free bags of chips (cheese tortilla flavored or lightly salted potato chips). A wandering snack ambassador passed out Lara Bars (Apple Pie and Peanut Butter cookie flavors). SFTF had a concession for popcorn and hot beverages. How convenient!
For this screening, I lucked in by getting one of the folding chairs distributed about the center of the square. People around me were eating their snacks, dinner, drinking beverages.
I say this is a great event for creative gear to help keep your head warm. And it’s always fun to snuggle under a blanket.
— Review by Joanna T.
#18: Ferry Building Marketplace
1 Ferry Bldg
Public Markets, Farmers Market
LOVED this super cute area. Perfect place to hang out f you have tickets to the Exploratorium and need to kill time. They have breakfast options, coffee shops, and small eateries. There was a farmers market with all kinds of goodies. Different types of food vendors – just a great place to explore.
My favorites included the Blue Bottle Coffee, Hog Island Oysters, and the empanada spot that sold warm, flaky, goody filled empanadas.
Will be back for sure!!!
— Review by Tracy R.
#19: Urban Putt
1096 S Van Ness Ave
$$ • Mini Golf, American (New), Bars
This is a great place for date night. Excellent cocktails and food food. There are 14 holes that are very close together but very interesting. I would not Bring children as there is no room for them To run around. But for a date night it’s perfect. An adult pee wee golf For sure. Old Fashioned was
Excellent. Memorable experience with some
SF history tied I to it.
— Review by Ramona H.
#20: NightLife at CAS
55 Music Concourse Dr California Academy of Sciences
If you’re 21+ and need a night away from the children on a Thursday night, I highly recommend sliding through and checking out Nightlife at the California Academy of Sciences!
The tickets range between $19.75 to $22.50 depending on what time you decide to come and check things out. However, do keep in mind that you will need proof of a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours prior to entry or a COVID-19 vaccination card.
As always, you will have to pay for parking if you decide to park at the parking garage, but sometimes if you’re lucky, you might find some open street parking within walking distance and might not need to pay at all.
Overall, if you’re familiar with the layout of California Academy of Sciences this is a good steal and great to explore at a fairly low price without worrying about the children. There’s some alcoholic drinks and loud music blasting here and there, but for the most part, the crowd was pretty chill and everyone did their part social distancing and masking up indoors!
— Review by Aubrey D.