What to do in San Francisco

Along the path of each Detour, you’ll find some of the best things to do in San Francisco. Check out this list of popular San Francisco sights and our favorite hidden treasures, and then take Detour for the best way to experience them.

The Fillmore

Music hall that helped launch the likes of the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Santana. If the doors are open and there’s not a concert going, see if you can get up to the mezzanine level. There is a chronological display of every 60’s psychedelic rock show poster they ever printed.

The Painted Ladies

AKA “The Full House houses" or Postcard Row, these 4 vibrantly painted victorians have become the iconic image of San Francisco architecture. Best way to see them: lounging on the lush green hill of Alamo Square Park right across the street.

Coit Tower

Iconic art deco tower atop Telegraph Hill named for a cigar-smoking, pants-wearing, wild woman of gold rush San Francisco who left one third of her wealth to the city for civic beautification. You can see the entire city from the top and the ground level is a panoramic gallery of WPA murals. Picture perfect and picnic perfect any time of the day.

Portsmouth Square Plaza

Urban plaza that doubles as Chinatown’s living room. A living room packed with monuments, gamblers, pigeons, children, and tourists... Take the steps down to the lower level to observe some serious card playing.

Castro Theater

Grand rococo movie theater screening all the best indie films and cult classics. Catch one of their monthly sing-along shows if you can -- the building practically levitates from the exuberant collective joy. Even standard screenings are preluded by organ music played live on the Wurlitzer.

Saint Boniface Catholic Church

Grand serene cathedral full of glowing golden light in the tumult of the Tenderloin. Step inside the sanctuary (all are truly welcome) and find out why this space is sacred to so many -- including the scores of homeless people who are invited to sleep on the back pews everyday.

City Lights Books

A bookstore so integral to San Francisco history that it’s a registered historic landmark. 3 floors of paperbacks, magazines, chapbooks, and zines shelved into every nook and cranny. Take the stairs to the basement and find the painted door leftover from the building’s days as a Holy Roller meeting room.

Beat Museum

Cultural ephemera from the Beat Generation in a distinctly DIY exhibition space. It looks a bit like a bookshop when you walk in, but pay the eight bucks to push through the turnstile and the black velvet curtain in back to peruse their collection of letters, manuscripts, and artifacts -- including one of Kerouac’s coats. It’s all super homespun, but that’s part of the charm.

Aquatic Cove

Quiet little beach on the edge of Fisherman’s Wharf. Push past the tourist crowd at Pier 39 and keep going til you get to Aquatic Cove. There’s an art deco bathing pavilion turned tiny maritime museum, and a stretch of sandy shore for a stroll. Pretty peaceful for an urban beach!

Golden Gate Bridge

A bridge that needs no introduction. And if you think the bridge itself is beautiful, just wait til you see the views while standing on it. Just be ready for a crowd. There is always a crowd. Also wonderfully visible from The Presidio Park, The Marina District, and Baker Beach.

Cable Car

The most iconically San Francisco mode of travel -- and the last working system of its kind in the world! The San Francisco cable cars are equal parts roller coaster and public transportation. For the hilliest ride with the most dramatic views, take the Powell and Hyde car from Market Street all the way to Ghiradelli Square.

Corona Heights Park

If you want to see San Francisco, and you want to see it all at once, head up to Corona Heights Park. This little mountain is usually less windy and less touristy than Twin Peaks. Time your ascent with the sunset. It is absolutely breathtaking.

Musee Mechanique

One of most extensive collections of antique coin-operated fun machines in the world. Twenty-five cents will make a 4-foot mannequin lady laugh hysterically, set a toothpick ferris wheel atwirl, and gain you access to an opium den. “Arcade” doesn’t even begin to describe the magic of Musée Mécanique.


One of the most famous intersections in the world. These cross streets became the center of the counterculture universe in 60’s San Francisco. Wayward hippies still gather below them today. They also still offer to sell you LSD.