What to do in San Francisco: tips for every taste

If you're going to San Francisco, there's no need to wear a flower in your hair, but you do need to decide how to spend your time. San Francisco is diverse in every way, and the variety of options for a traveller can be a bit overwhelming. So what do you like to do? To help avoid being stumped in San Francisco, here is a list of activities for a broad range of interests:

If you like free shows...

  • Stern Grove Festival: Free concerts on Sundays through the Summer in San Francisco's natural tree-ringed amphitheater, from Afrobeat jazz to SF Opera.
  • Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival: Emmylou Harris, Willy Nelson, Elvis Costello, Gillian Welch and other headliners play for free on three stages at Golden Gate Park.
  • Shakespeare in the Park: Romeo, Juliet and company take over the Presidio to provide free outdoor performances.
  • Amoeba Music's free concerts: Rockers, DJs and hip-hop heroes give free concerts at the Bay Area's best record store.
  • Giants Baseball: Catch a glimpse of the action and join the party at the Embarcadero waterfront promenade behind left field.

If you like saloons...

  • Comstock Saloon: Vintage Victorian watering hole with lantern lighting, strong drink and dainty bar bites.
  • Elixir: Serving spur-shaking cocktails since the Gold Rush – only now they’re organic.
  • Homestead: Front-parlor dive bar complete with stamped-tin ceiling, Boddington’s on tap and peanuts in the shell.
  • Bloodhound: Antler chandeliers, cocktails in Mason jars and a murder of crows on the ceiling.
  • RickhouseBartenders in newsboy caps pour vicious punch bowls and whiskey straight from the barrel.

If you like local hangouts...

  • Trouble Coffee: Soggy wet-suited surfers sit outside, but everyone else keeps warm inside at the scavenged-wood coffee bar.
  • Cole Valley Cafe: Warm up when the fog rolls into Golden Gate Park at this upbeat, laid-back Haight coffeehouse.
  • Cafe Flore: Glassed-in Castro corner venue that serves coffee with a side of local eye candy.
  • Mission Dolores Park: Athletes, radical politicos, quasi-professional tanners, performance artists and toddlers: on sunny days, they all converge on this grassy hillside and queue up for ice cream at nearby Bi-Rite Creamery.

If you like offbeat shopping...

  • 826 Valencia: Get your tricorne hats, oyster-openers, lard recipes, tall tales and other essential pirate supplies at this den of literary quirkiness, with all proceeds going to support youth writing and literary arts programs.
  • Electric Works: Balls of fluff, Chinese Cultural Revolution–era toys, David Byrne’s diagrams explaining pop culture and fine-art prints of psychedelic cupcakes.
  • Loved to Death: Morbid glamour, from genuine Victorian hair lockets to the taxidermy art wall.
  • Hollow: Shelves laden with galvanized tin pails, driftwood candleholders, birdcages, Guinness cupcakes and tea - it’s Alice in Wonderland retail.
  • Park Life: Cool-hunting made simple: skateboard decks sporting SF Victorian row houses, Russian prison tattoo books and backroom collage art installations.

If you like hidden alleyways...

  • Balmy Alley: Hot topics and artistic talents have surfaced since the 1970s in this alley covered in art by SF muralistas.
  • Spofford Alley: Revolutions were plotted and bootlegger gun battles waged here – but peace has brought Chinese orchestras and mah-jongg games here.
  • Jack Kerouac Alley: This byway named after the Beat author is inscribed with his poetry, right on the road.
  • Ross Alley: Ladies who entered this notorious alley once risked their reputations, but now the most colorful characters are on the alleyway murals.
  • Macondray Lane: A shady, cottage-lined lane was the perfect setting for a mysterious landlady in Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City.

If you like getting naked (but not getting arrested)...

  • Baker Beach: When the fog rolls into the clothing-optional north end of the beach, you’ll get goose bumps in the most unusual places.
  • Pride Parade: A handful of rainbow glitter is all you need to get out there and show some pride.
  • Bay to Breakers: Racers streak across town, some wearing nothing but shoes and fanny packs to stash sunscreen.
  • Folsom Street Fair: As you’ll notice, it’s possible to get tattooed and pierced absolutely everywhere – but don’t stare unless you’re prepared to compare.
  • Jane Warner Plaza: You’ve arrived in the Castro when you spot nudists casually chatting at bistro tables at the F-line streetcar turnaround.

If you like movie locations...

  • Fort Point: Hitchcock was right: swirling noir-movie fog and giddy Golden Gate views make for a thrilling case of Vertigo.
  • Nob Hill: What a ride - Steve McQueen’s muscle car goes flying over the summit in Bullit and somehow it lands in SoMa.
  • Sutro Baths: San Francisco’s splendid, dandified ruin made a suitable setting for the May–December romance in Harold and Maude.
  • Human Rights Campaign Action Center & Store:  Harvey Milk’s camera shop in the movie Milk was the actual Castro location, now home to the GLBT civil rights organization.
  • Bay Bridge: Oops - when Dustin Hoffman sets out for Berkeley in The Graduate, he heads across the Bay Bridge - the wrong way (the top deck looks better on film).