Post Summary: 10 Adventurous things to do San Francisco, in and outside of the city.
Mountains, sunshine, coastline, and forest. Sounds like a dream, right?
What if I told you an area like this existed in real life, and it was incredibly accessible? There are several national and state parks around San Francisco, California for you to explore and take a break from the big city.
We’re sharing our favorite things to do in San Francisco, but this post may look different from other city guides you may have read. This is exclusively on the things to do outdoors because that’s what we’re passionate about! You can reach all of the places we’ve suggested in two hours or less from the city. Hope you enjoy!
By the way, head on over to our Instagram account (@themanagies) to see more photos from this day!
10 Things To Do In San Francisco: Adventure Edition
To begin, here are some things you should know about state parks in California. Most require a day pass, usually anywhere from $8-$10. If you plan to visit a lot, you might want to consider purchasing a California Explorer Pass.
It may seem a little pricey at first, but if you are planning to be outside a lot this year, this pass will pay for itself in no time.
1. Watch The Sunrise At The Golden Gate Bridge
Gotta begin with the iconic San Francisco choice, and that’s seeing the Golden Gate Bridge. We first saw it on our Pacific Coast Highway road trip, which was the perfect route to see iconic stops just like this one!
These photos are from our second time at this location, and there was a big difference between the two experiences. Our first time was in June, during the middle of the day. Hundreds of people were at the park, vying for a shot of the famous bridge. (You can see the photo from that day here)
Oppositely, this most recent trip was at the crack of dawn in the middle of January. We met only two other photographers at the viewpoint. The light was soft, and the colors of the sky were like a tropical ice cream cone! There are lots of great views of the Golden Gate Bridge to check out, on either side of the bridge too! Spend some time researching and finding your favorites to visit!
We felt like we could take our time, and spent the better part of sunrise playing with different poses and perspectives.
Lesson learned: time and date make a big difference. If you’ve had a bad experience at a location, give it a second chance and go at a different time! We definitely recommend coming here for sunrise rather than sunset.
These pictures were taken at Battery Spencer and the Vista Post Parking Lot. Other viewpoints to explore:
- Kirby Cove Swing – (Heads up though, we read sources stating this swing was cut down. We didn’t see it for ourselves so feel free to give this hike a shot!)
- Fort Point
- Baker Beach
- Land’s End
2. Cypress Tree Tunnel – Point Reyes National Seashore
You’ve probably seen this picturesque tree tunnel all over Instagram and our account is no exception.
This Monterey cypress tree-lined road is located inside the Point Reyes National Seashore -a 1-hour drive from San Francisco and about a 15-minute drive from the entrance of the park. Follow signs for the lighthouse and it will be an obvious stop along the way. You will see the trees from a far-off distance!
Pro Tip: There are actually several national parks near San Francisco to explore! If you’re looking for more ideas or ways to fill your days, consider hiking in the nearby Muir Woods National Monument, Golden Gate National Recreation area, or even farther north to Redwood National Park.
We suggest coming in the early morning to avoid crowds, and even better if you can come on a weekday. If you are lucky enough to come on a clear day, you will get the sun rays coming in through the trees for a magical scene! Click here to watch Berty’s hyperlapse of this tunnel from end to end!
Read More: Road Trip To Point Reyes In June
3. Explore Point Reyes Lighthouse Area / Leaning Tree / South Beach Overlook
Out of commission since 1975, the Point Reyes Lighthouse is now a historical landmark owned by Point Reyes National Seashore. You can climb down the 300 steps to explore the structure and, if you’re lucky, catch a glimpse of some whales!
If exercise isn’t your thing, you can choose to stay at the top and take photos of the iconic coastline at the South Beach Overlook. Make sure to also stop by the leaning tree, formed by the intense coastal winds in the area!
Read More: Road Trip To Point Reyes In June
*Note* – The lighthouse is only open certain times of the week but the coastal views and leaning tree are available to visit anytime!
4. Take a Drive Down Big Sur
Big Sur has nearly 100 miles of rugged, beautiful coastline waiting to be discovered on your next road trip!
There are plenty of stops along the way, and even some gorgeous Airbnbs to rent if you want to stay longer. Some of our favorite places along this route are McWay Falls, Pfeiffer Beach, and Bixby Creek Bridge. You can find our route and tons of pictures at this post here.
*Note* – As of February 2018, the full drive-through route is still closed due to the Mud Creek landslide. Read this post to find alternative routes and ways that you can still have the full Big Sur experience!
Read More: How To Pull Of A Day Trip To Big Sur
5. Play On The Beach In Davenport, California
This beautiful cove has it all – several viewpoints of the Pacific Ocean, a secret/secluded beach, and an iconic place to watch the sunset. Berty and I came here one late afternoon and pretty much got it all to ourselves!
Coming to the beach in the winter has its advantages. We’ve noticed fewer crowds because it’s too cold to swim. However, you don’t have to get in the water to enjoy the beach! Pack a picnic, have a bonfire (if the area permits), take photos, and watch the sunset during those cold winter months.
6. Hike Around Mount Tamalpais East Peak
Mount Tamalpais State Park has something to entice everyone to get outside and explore. The rolling hills, tall redwoods, and panoramic views are only the tip of the iceberg.
There are tons of things to do around the area like hiking, biking, camping, and even staying in cabins on the coast! Mount Tamalpais is also home to one of the hardest hill hikes in the San Francisco Bay Area – an 8.5-mile trek (and nearly 3,000 feet elevation gain!) through the Muir Woods will give you a fun escape from city life.
If you’re into sweeping city views, the East Peak Hike should be your first priority. Drive to the end of East Ridgecrest Boulevard and take a short hike (0.3 miles) up to the lookout to get a 360-degree view of the city and surrounding mountains. There is also a longer loop trail (0.7 miles) to get a closer view of the valleys below.
Thank goodness for this zoom lens! Find out all about the gear we bring with us while traveling at this post here!
7. Watch The Sunset on Bolinas Ridge
Also located in Mout Tamalpais State Park, this place is an ideal location for picnics (as seen on Gal Meets Glam!), long walks, and gorgeous sunset views. The rolling hills look like something out of a fairytale!
Make sure to be out of the park right after sunset – the park gate closes when the sun goes down and you could be locked in for the night if you stall. You can also opt to camp in the state park to spend longer on these hills and capture the night sky.
Read More: The Ultimate Packing List For San Francisco
Love Sunsets in California? Try checking out the amazing places to go in Orange County for a coastal sunset!
8. Twin Peaks
Located right in the middle of the city and a quick drive up the hill, Twin Peaks offers a stunning view of San Francisco and the San Francisco Bay.
Sitting at only 922 feet, it can hardly be called a mountain, but it feels like you’re on the top of the world in the middle of a big metropolis!
IMPORTANT – We heard from our friend in the city (and this article to back it up) that this place is notorious for camera gear theft. We were lucky, but stay safe and watch your gear and lock your car at ALL TIMES.
9. Walk The Fisherman’s Wharf
It’s safe to say that of all the things to do in San Francisco, Fisherman’s Wharf has to be one of the most “iconic” Bay Area attractions.
From sampling delicious chocolate at Ghirardelli Square to searching out the best pizza in San Francisco, to stepping into history on the USS Pampanito, you can easily spend an entire day at Fisherman’s Wharf and not get bored!
One of the coolest ways to spend the afternoon is taking a trip to Alcatraz Island. Alcatraz Prison was in commission from 1934 – 1963, hosting the worst of the worst prisoners from around the United States. You can come to visit this prison on a rock in the middle of San Francisco Bay to see what it was like to live like a felon, without actually having to BE one!
There is so much history on Alcatraz Island – if you are a history buff this is definitely one of the top things to do in San Francisco!
Things like boisterous seals, bustling crowds, trolley cars, and seafood restaurants around every corner invite you to take in the full SF experience. You can even board a ferry boat to take you around the bay right in this area!
10. Visit The Iconic Painted Ladies
What better way to end our San Francisco post than with a trip to it’s shining star, the Painted Ladies.
If you are unfamiliar, the term “painted ladies” is an architectural word that describes Victorian-style houses that are decorated colorfully to enhance the design and embellishment of the house.
There are several neighborhoods with painted ladies in San Francisco, but this particular set of houses on Steiner and Hayes street are the most popular. We came during sunrise when it just stopped raining, so the sky looked fresh and clean with the sun peeking out from the clouds!
Alamo Square Park was empty (a rare occurrence!) and we were able to soak in all the colors of the morning.
Here’s a video hyperlapse we took of the darling Painted Ladies!
Wanna go farther? Click on these posts to discover more extended adventures to take if you’re based in San Francisco!
- How To Pull Off A Day Trip To Big Sur
- 10 Coastal Views To See Along Highway 1 (coming soon)
- Black Sand Beach, California
- Driving Through The Redwoods National/State Park
What are some of your favorite things to do in San Francisco? Let us know if the comments below so we can share your favorite places with other readers!
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Want more ideas for things to do in San Francisco? Follow our San Francisco Pinterest Board for more inspiration!