What Are Some of the Most Fun Things to Do if You're Visiting San Francisco?

San Francisco is a city of many nicknames. It's the City by the Bay, the Golden Gate City, and the Paris of the West. It's also known as the City that Knows How to Party.

And it's true -- San Francisco knows how to have a good time. Whether you're visiting for a few days or a few weeks, here are some of the most fun things to do in San Francisco.

1. Take a Cable Car Ride

If you're visiting San Francisco, you have to ride on one of its famous cable cars. They're an icon of the city and they make for a great photo opportunity. The cable cars run along three different routes: Powell-Hyde, Powell-Mason, and California Street. The California Street line is one of the most scenic routes because it runs through Nob Hill and past Coit Tower, which offers great views of Alcatraz Island and Angel Island [source: SFMTA].

2. Visit Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island is one of San Francisco's most popular tourist destinations because it's home to Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, which was once one of America's most notorious prisons [source: Alcatraz Cruises]. The prison was closed in 1963 after being in operation for more than three decades, but it remains an important part of American history because many famous prisoners were held there -- including Al Capone and Robert Stroud (the Birdman) [source: Alcatraz Cruises]. If you're interested in touring the prison, you can take a ferry from Pier 33 at Fisherman's Wharf to tour both sides of the island [source: SFMTA].

3. Explore Chinatown

Chinatown is one of San Francisco's oldest neighborhoods and it has been home to Chinese immigrants since 1849 when gold was discovered in California [source: ChinatownSF]. Today, Chinatown is filled with restaurants, shops and markets that offer authentic Chinese cuisine as well as traditional Asian goods that can't be found anywhere else in America [source: ChinatownSF].

4. Eat Dim Sum

If you want to eat like a local in Chinatown, then dim sum is your best bet. Dim sum literally means "to touch your heart" and it refers to small plates or baskets that are filled with steamed or fried dumplings or other small dishes like congee (a rice porridge) or buns filled with meat or vegetables [source: Chowhound]. You can find dim sum restaurants all over Chinatown, but Yank Sing has been named one of America's best by Gourmet Magazine because they serve dumplings that are handmade daily [source: Chowhound].

5. Walk Along Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman's Wharf is located on Pier 39 at Fisherman's Wharf where you can find shops selling everything from souvenirs to fresh seafood caught by local fishermen [source: SFMTA]. If you're looking for some fresh seafood for dinner, then check out Hog Island Oyster Company where they've been serving oysters since 1885 [source: Hog Island Oyster Company].

6. Visit Haight-Ashbury

The Haight-Ashbury neighborhood was once known as "the capital of hippie culture" because it was home to many famous musicians and artists who were part of the 1960s counterculture movement [source: Haight Ashbury]. Today, Haight-Ashbury is filled with shops and restaurants that cater to tourists and locals who are looking for a good time. If you're looking for a place to grab a bite to eat, then check out Magnolia Brewpub where you can enjoy a meal while watching the game at one of their many TVs [source: Magnolia Brewpub].

7. Explore Lombard Street

One of the most famous streets in San Francisco is Lombard Street. It's known as "the crookedest street in the world" because it's lined with eight sharp turns that make it look like it's going up and down like a roller coaster [source: SFGate]. The best time to visit Lombard Street is during the annual "Carnaval" celebration in late February or early March when there are parades, street performers and lots of food vendors [source: SFGate].

8. Visit Coit Tower

If you're looking for a great view of San Francisco, then head over to Coit Tower where you can ride an elevator up to the observation deck on the top floor. The tower was built in 1933 as part of a Depression-era program that provided jobs for unemployed artists [source: SFGate].

9. See Alcatraz Island Lighthouse

Located just offshore from Alcatraz Island is Alcatraz Island Lighthouse, which was built in 1854 after Congress approved its construction in 1852 [source: Alcatraz Lighthouse Tours]. The lighthouse was built as part of a program by President Franklin Pierce that provided lighthouses along America's west coast so that ships could navigate through San Francisco Bay safely [source: Alcatraz Lighthouse Tours].

10. Take an Evening Cruise

If you're looking for some great views of San Francisco at night, then consider taking an evening cruise on The Hornblower dinner cruise ship or dinner cruises on The Bay Princess dinner cruise ship, or dinner cruises on The Golden Gate Princess dinner cruise ship.

All three ships offer different dining options ranging from casual buffet-style dining to formal sit-down dinners with table service [sources: Hornblower Cruises; Bay Princess Cruises; Golden Gate Princess Cruises].

To see these things and more, everyone should visit San Francisco.

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