10 Things to do in San Francisco in A Weekend (For First Time Visitors)

In June of 2015, I embarked on my first solo adventure. Although technically I wouldn’t be traveling alone, I still survived a 15 hour flight from Adelaide to Los Angeles on my own. After spending most of my life dreaming about visiting New York City, a couple of years ago I decided to do something about it. I found the perfect Contiki tour that would not only take me to New York City, I would also be able to finally visit San Francisco, too. I only knew a little bit about the things to do in San Francisco, but thankfully we already had a rough itinerary planned for us.

There’s only one thing that I was certain about at the time: I was very, very excited but at the same time, extremely I think I’m gonna vomit nervous.

10 Things to do in San Francisco in A Weekend (For First Time Visitors)

If you’re visiting San Francisco for the first time, and only have one weekend to explore as much as possible, you will more than likely only have the chance to visit the most popular attractions. That’s because they’re the easiest to access and don’t require many detours or extra planning. There are 10 things to do in San Francisco, that I believe all first time visitors should cross off their bucket list.


Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means, if you click on certain links within this post and make a purchase, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for continuing to support Rhiannon Travels, and keeping it a free travel guide and resource for everyone to use!

10 Things to do in San Francisco in A Weekend (For First Time Visitors)

The following list are 10 of my recommendations for things to do in San Francisco for first time visitors. The order in which you do them, is totally up to you – I’m not here to suggest a jam-packed itinerary that may not work for you. Some of the suggestions below can take a few hours, so take note of the activities that do so. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you what you may need to allow extra time for. 

Visit Alcatraz

Alcatraz is located in San Francisco Bay, and is one of America’s most famous former prisons. Although the prison isn’t active anymore, there are tours departing from Pier 33 to Alcatraz Island daily, other than Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Years Day. A couple of Contiki friends and myself decided to do the Early Bird tour, which is the first tour of the day and therefore much less busy. The Early Bird tour costs $37.95 for adults (ages 12+) and $23 for children aged 5 to 11. Kids aged four and under are free.

10 Things to do in San Francisco in A Weekend (For First Time Visitors)

We arrived at Pier 33 early in the morning, to make it in time for our 8:45am departure. If you choose to do the Early Bird tour, you’ll be glad to know there’s a cafe that sells light breakfasts, coffee, tea and souvenirs. We were then told to begin lining up, ready to board the ferry that would take us to and from Alcatraz Island. I can’t remember the journey itself too much, because I was too busy taking photos to concentrate on the fact that I get seasick. I didn’t vomit, so I guess my plan worked!


There’s a bit of a walk up some steep paved hills to get to the actual Alcatraz prison (it wouldn’t be San Francisco without some steep a** hills) so make sure you wear enclosed and comfortable shoes. Included in the entry ticket is your audio tour through Alcatraz prison. You’ll learn a lot of interesting history about the prison back when it was active, and be shown some awesome outdoor locations with incredible views of San Francisco Bay. The audio tour does have specific directions in order to follow along with what you’re hearing in your headset, but still explore at your own pace, and take as many great photos as possible.

10 Things to do in San Francisco in A Weekend (For First Time Visitors)

Once you’ve finished the audio tour and explored the rest of Alcatraz Island at your own pace, catch the ferry back to Pier 33, which departs every half an hour between 9:30am and 4:30pm.

Alcatraz Tour Option 1: Early Bird Tour

Cost: Adult $37.25 (ages 12+), Child $23 (ages 5-11)
Family Ticket Cost: Two adults & two children for $112.75
Departure Time: 8:45am from Pier 33
Approximate Duration: 2.5 hours
Includes: Round trip ferry to Alcatraz Island and audio tour

Alcatraz Tour Option 2: Day Tour

Cost: Adult $37.25 (ages 12+), Child $23 (ages 5-11)
Family Ticket Cost: $112.75 (two adults and two children)
Departure Times: Roughly every half an hour from 9:10am until 1:25pm
Approximate Duration: 2.5 hours
Includes: Round trip ferry to Alcatraz and audio tour

10 Things to do in San Francisco in A Weekend (For First Time Visitors)

Alcatraz Tour Option 3: Night Tour

Cost: Adult $44.25 (ages 18+), Junior $43.25 (ages 12-17), Child $26.50 (ages 5-11)
Departure Times: 3:50pm and 4:45pm
Duration: 2.5 hours
Includes: Round trip ferry to Alcatraz Island, audio tour, special tour activities, on-board narration and guided tour

Alcatraz Tour Option 4: Behind the Scenes Tour

Cost: Adult $89.25 (ages 18+), Junior $85.25 (ages 12-17)
Departure Times: 2:10pm and 2:40pm (Thursday to Monday)
Duration: 4.5 hours
Includes: Round trip ferry to Alcatraz Island, audio tour, special tour activities, on-board narration and guided tour
Please Note: Children under 12 years old are not allowed on the Behind the Scenes tour

10 Things to do in San Francisco in A Weekend (For First Time Visitors)

Alcatraz Tour Option 5: Alcatraz Island & Angel Island

Cost: Adult & Junior $71.50 (ages 12+), Child $48.25 (ages 5-11)
Departure Times: See tour schedule for departure times
Duration: 5.5 hours
Includes: Round trip ferry to Alcatraz Island, audio tour, Angel Island tram tour


Once you’ve picked the tour you’d like to do, it’s best to book in advance. The Day Tours can book out quickly, especially during peak times throughout the year. If you want to be gold star worthy prepared, Alcatraz Cruises allows tickets to be purchased up to 90 days in advance. This is the best way to ensure you don’t miss out, and gives you the chance to plan your day around visiting Alcatraz!

Walk or Ride Across the Golden Gate Bridge

Walking or riding across the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the best things to do in San Francisco. There are a few different ways to get from one side of the bridge to the other. It all depends on the experience you’d like to have, and how much money you’re willing to spend to do so.

Walk Across the Golden Gate Bridge

There’s one thing you should keep in mind before deciding to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge: it’s quite long at 2.7 kilometres (1.7 miles) and takes anywhere from half an hour to complete the journey. The east pedestrian sidewalk is open from 5am until 6:30pm, staying open until 9pm during Daylight Savings Time. There are a few modes of transportation not allowed on the Golden Gate Bridge. Personally I think this is a good thing, because being knocked over by some douche on a skateboard is not a great way to spend an afternoon in San Francisco.


The following are not allowed on the bridge: electric scooters and bikes, rollerblades, skateboards, roller skates, animals (other than service dogs), wheelbarrows and similar.

Ride Across the Golden Gate Bridge

If you’re lazy like I am, or just prefer a more adventurous way to ride across the Golden Gate Bridge, hire a bike and ride across in style! San Francisco is big on bike riding, and it seemed that almost every second person I saw, was riding a bike. Contiki organised a guided bike tour for us with Blazing Saddles, so just like the catamaran cruise, we didn’t actually have to book anything ourselves. But there are tons of stores throughout San Francisco that hire push bikes for an hourly or daily fee. If you choose to hire a bike, be aware that the Golden Gate Bridge is closed to pedestrians and bicycles during certain times throughout the day. Check out the prices for some of the most popular bikes available for hire, at very reasonable hourly and daily rates.

10 Things to do in San Francisco in A Weekend (For First Time Visitors)10 Things to do in San Francisco in A Weekend (For First Time Visitors)

Hourly Bike Hire Cost: Starts at $8 per hour
24 Hour Bike Hire Cost: Starts at $32 for hire over a 24 hour period
Golden Gate Bridge Guided Tour: $55 for adults, $35 for children. 3 hour duration. *More on this particular guided tour later in the post! 

Ride a Cable Car to Union Square for Shopping

San Francisco’s cable car system is the last operating manual cable car system in the world. Not surprisingly, it’s quite a tourist attraction for first time visitors to San Francisco. There are only a handful of routes available, one of the most popular being from Fisherman’s Wharf to Union Square in Downtown San Francisco. Union Square is the hub of shopping in San Francisco, and where a few Contiki friends and I shopped up a storm, a couple of days before heading to Las Vegas!


Union Square is an array of familiar clothing stores such as Forever 21, H&M, Urban Outfitters and more. If you’re in the mood for a snack, you’ll be glad to know there are a ton of restaurants and familiar places to grab a bite to eat. I remember eating some pretty incredible waffles before we started shopping. Once you’ve finished spending too much money and eating everything that you said ‘omg yum’ to, catch the cable car back to Fisherman’s Wharf for some evening shenanigans.

Shop & Dine in Fisherman’s Wharf

I’ll be honest, Fisherman’s Wharf surprised me. In the best possible way, of course! There is so much more to see and do in Fisherman’s Wharf than I expected, and I was very excited to start exploring! When it comes to shopping and dining, Fisherman’s Wharf is the place to be. There are so many options, especially for you sport fans reading this. Did your eyes just light up? I’ll bet!

10 Things to do in San Francisco in A Weekend (For First Time Visitors)

Shopping in Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf is souvenir and sporting merchandise heaven. San Francisco is home to one of the best and most successful NBA teams the Golden State Warriors, so you can bet that especially during basketball season, sport fans won’t leave home empty handed. I remember a ton of the guys in my Contiki group buying NBA caps and merchandise, to wear to the impromptu NBA final outdoor viewing party our Tour Manager hooked us up with.


Other than sporting goods heaven, Fisherman’s Wharf is also filled with stores ranging from apparel to shoes, electronics, beauty, hardware, jewellery and more. There are also a pretty good selection of liquor stores, to satisfy my fellow wine enthusiasts.

10 Things to do in San Francisco in A Weekend (For First Time Visitors)

Dining in Fisherman’s Wharf

The dining options in Fisherman’s Wharf are what surprised me the most. I’m not quire sure what I was expecting, but I walked into the bustling Fisherman’s Wharf with all sorts of familiar and delicious choices in front of me. From Applebee’s, where I have fond memories visiting with my family in California, to classic favourites such as McDonalds, Hard Rock Cafe, Chipotle, Starbucks, Subway, Denny’s, iHop and more.

Chinatown in San Francisco

If you love Chinese food or crave the feel of Asia, head to San Francisco’s very own Chinatown. One of the biggest, and filled with winding streets of delicious smells and quirky sights. Our Contiki group had dinner in one of the cute restaurants in Chinatown, and it was a lot of fun. The food was wonderful, even for my picky self, and the service was of course fantastic.


Whether you choose to eat or not, take some time walking the streets and exploring as much of San Francisco’s Chinatown as possible. There’s a lot to see, and tons of photo opportunities. Only 25 minutes on foot from Fisherman’s Wharf, it’s a great little detour from the Western world of San Francisco.

Sunset Catamaran Cruise Under the Golden Gate Bridge

It’s been two and a half years since I visited San Francisco, but this is still one of my favourite memories. If you’re looking for a unique and incredibly memorable way to see San Francisco in all its glory, I highly recommend splurging a little and doing a sunset catamaran cruise. You definitely won’t regret it! We were lucky enough to have this cruise organised for us by our wonderful Contiki Tour Manager, but it’s easy enough to book yourself.

10 Things to do in San Francisco in A Weekend (For First Time Visitors)

The Sunset Catamaran Cruise

There are a couple of different cruise options available, but we did the Sunset Cruise – thanks Contiki! The catamaran cruise departs from Pier 39 at Gate J, with departure times varying depending on the time of the year. The tour itself goes for 90 minutes, taking you around San Francisco Bay, under the Golden Gate Bridge and even past Alcatraz. There are light snacks available and two complimentary beverages with your choice of beer, wine or soft drink (soda for those non Australians reading this).


If you’re looking for a breathtaking (and very, very romantic) way to see San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, the Sunset Cruise is perfect. There are also day cruises available, but why not wait a few hours and cruise past San Francisco in all of its sunset glory?

10 Things to do in San Francisco in A Weekend (For First Time Visitors)

Catamaran Cruise Tickets

Cost: Adults $60 (ages 13+)
Departure Location: Pier 39, Gate J
Departure Times: Varies depending on time of year. Be sure to arrive 30 minutes before departure time to find a park and locate the pier.
Duration: 90 minutes
Includes: Sunset cruise, 2 complimentary alcoholic or non alcoholic beverages and light snacks.
Note: No outside food or drinks allowed on cruise
Buy Tickets: Head to Adventure Cat Sailing Charters to buy your Sunset Cruise catamaran tickets

Bike Tour around San Francisco

This is the bike tour I mentioned earlier, which was included in the cost of the Best of USA Contiki tour. Blazing Saddles offer a guided tour, taking visitors to many different areas around San Francisco, including the Golden Gate Bridge!

Where Does the Bike Tour Go?

The Golden Gate Bridge guided bike tour starts in Fisherman’s Wharf then continues onto Fort Mason, the Marina, Presidio National Park, then finally across the Golden Gate Bridge! Your tour guide will share all sorts of awesome facts and tips about San Francisco, the best places to visit and is of course open to any questions you may have. After crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, you’ll soar down an incredible 10 minute downhill ride, on the way to Sausalito, a nearby bayside town.

10 Things to do in San Francisco in A Weekend (For First Time Visitors)

Keep in mind: The streets of San Francisco are incredibly steep. I was relatively fit back when I visited in June 2015, but these days, I probably couldn’t do this tour without severe suffering and overly dramatic panting like a dog. There are a few challenging hills to climb up, and most people ended up walking their bikes up these hills. I do remember successfully riding up one of the most challenging, and I was quite proud of myself. Bring plenty of water, wear comfortable shoes and a hat, and don’t forget sunscreen!

10 Things to do in San Francisco in A Weekend (For First Time Visitors)10 Things to do in San Francisco in A Weekend (For First Time Visitors)

Bike Tour Tickets

Cost: Adult $55, Child $35
Departure Times: 10am and 1pm
Duration: Approximately 3 hours
Distance: 12 kilometres (8 miles)
Buy Tickets: Click here for more information about the Golden Gate Bridge Guided bike tour, or to purchase tickets.

Eat at Boudin Bakery & Cafe in Fisherman’s Wharf

When we first arrived in San Francisco, our Tour Manager (Steph) told us to make sure we visit Boudin Bakery and Cafe. Just like most of my group, I had no idea what Boudin was, or why we just had to pay a visit. Well, it turns out it’s a super popular and well-known bakery in San Francisco, specialising in sourdough bread.


We were told that it gets quite busy, but I didn’t believe that as much as I should have. Turned out, Steph was right. It was busy. A lot busier than I expected, given the fact that it’s technically just bread. Well that may be true, but this particular sourdough bread was extremely delicious. You can order all sorts of carb-licious menu items, including bread bowls, grilled cheese (I can personally attest to the fact that these are incredible), burgers, pizzas and more. For some comfort food in the heart of San Francisco, head to Boudin Bakery (and order the grilled cheese. You can thank me later).

Boudin Bakery Quick Facts

Location: 160 Jefferson Street, Lower Level, San Francisco
Available: Breakfast, lunch, dinner, kids menu, souvenir store, demonstration bakery, indoor & outdoor seating
Opening Hours: 8am until 10pm (open every day including holidays)

Golden Gate Bridge Views

There are a few different places to see the Golden Gate Bridge in all of its glory. Where you choose to go, depends on your location and the type of view you’d like to have. As I’ve mentioned, heading out on a catamaran cruise is, in my opinion, the best way to see the Golden Gate Bridge. But if you’re prone to seasickness, or don’t fancy the thought of rocking back and forth on a small boat, maybe stick to one of the land-based viewing spots.

10 Things to do in San Francisco in A Weekend (For First Time Visitors) 10 Things to do in San Francisco in A Weekend (For First Time Visitors)

Here is a list of the best places to get a fantastic view of the Golden Gate Bridge. On our way from the airport to our hotel in San Francisco, we were taken to this viewing spot in the Golden Gate National Recreational Area. We had a great view of the Bridge, although it was a little foggy. Viewing the Golden Gate Bridge was one of my favourite things to do in San Francisco. Definitely set some time aside during your weekend in San Francisco, and do a tour of the best places to view the Golden Gate Bridge!

Enjoy the Winding Streets of San Francisco

Remember when I mentioned earlier that the streets of San Francisco are super steep? Well they’re also pretty windy, too. You may have heard about the famous winding street in San Francisco called Lombard Street. Sadly I wasn’t able to snap a photo of it myself, and since I try to use 100% my own photos on Rhiannon Travels, you’ll have to visit San Francisco and see for yourself.


The best way to ensure you make the most of your adventures through the ever steep and winding streets of San Francisco, is by wearing comfortable shoes. You’ll hate yourself if you don’t. I also like to make sure I’ve got a good backpack with me, to store the essentials like water, snacks and a small bottle of wine. Okay, I’m kidding. Sort of.


There you have it: 10 of the best things to do in San Francisco for first time visitors. This list is perfect to complete in one weekend, if that’s all the time you have to explore. Remember to set aside enough time for some of the bigger activities such as Alcatraz, the Bike Tour and Catamaran cruise! Most important of all – don’t forget to bring your camera, with plenty of memory space! San Francisco is a very interesting and wonderful city, and I guarantee you’ll be snapping hundreds of Instagram photos.


What are some of your favourite things to do in San Francisco? If you haven’t visited yet, what are you most excited to see and do? Tell me in the comments below! 

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10 Things to do in San Francisco in A Weekend (For First Time Visitors) 10 Things to do in San Francisco in A Weekend (For First Time Visitors)

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means, if you click on certain links within this post and make a purchase, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for continuing to support Rhiannon Travels, and keeping it a free travel guide and resource for everyone to use!

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