Top 10 Things To Do in San Francisco, Downtown

Photo of Deanna Morgado
25 January 2019

Downtown San Francisco, or the Financial District, is known as the center of the city’s business industry. However, downtown isn’t just for the business savvy. In fact, downtown is far from it. There’s plenty of things to do in the heart of San Francisco for entertainment and pleasure.

Union Square | © Tony Fischer/Flickr

Cable Car Museum, San Francisco

Museum, Library
Map View
Bourbon and Branch
Bourbon and Branch | © star5112/ Flickr
As one of San Francisco’s most well known symbols, the cable car holds a special place in every San Franciscan’s heart. Founded in 1974, the Cable Car Museum began as an educational non-profit with free admission for all interested in the integral role the cable car played in San Francisco’s past and present. On display are various mechanical devices such as cable, grips, track, and brake mechanisms along with three antique cable cars. The museum sits directly on the modern cable car line, letting visitors have a hands-on experience with the brilliance of the cable car in San Francisco’s hilly landscape.

Metreon, San Francisco

Shopping Mall
Map View
Within the heart of the downtown San Francisco area, The Metreon, a four-story, 350,000-square-foot shopping center, can be found. The building was constructed over the corner of the underground Moscone Center and offers 20 diverse restaurants and other food stops. Not only is The Metreon home to AMC Theater, a theater with 16 screens and the largest IMAX in North America, but also City View at Metreon, which is San Francisco’s large-scale event space.

War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco

Memorial, Opera House, Theater
Map View
Opened in 1932, The War Memorial Opera House is part of the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center. Home to the infamous San Francisco Ballet and the unforgettable San Francisco Opera, the performing arts center is located along the western side of Van Ness Avenue across from the back portion of City Hall. The 3,146-seat venue is also available for concerts, lectures, and other performances, as well as dining. It is also possible to rent the opera house.

Lombard Street

Map View
War Memorial Opera House
War Memorial Opera House | © jwalsh/Flickr
San Francisco landmark Lombard Street is an east–west street, famous for its highly steep, one-block section with eight hairpin turns. With borders of blooming flowers and other greenery, it’s said Lombard Street resembles a playground slide. Whether taking a car down the windy red-bricked road or taking a cable car that stops at the top of the hill, visiting Lombard Street is a must when exploring downtown San Francisco.

Japan Center, San Francisco

Market, Shopping Mall
Map View
Not only does the Japan Center Mall feature a wide range of vibrant Japanese restaurants and shops but also a market and a theater. There are the East Mall and West Mall, both centered between the Japantown Peace Pagoda, a five-tiered concrete stupa. The Japan Center is one of the only places left in San Francisco where shopping for authentic Japanese exports and other goods can be found. With convenient parking located right along Geary Blvd., it’s too hard to pass up an experience at The Japan Center.

Lafayette Park

Dog Park, Park
Map View
Lafayette Park San Francisco
A view of the San Francisco Bay from Lafayette Park | © Vince Viloria / Flickr
Lafayette Park is an 11.49-acre park with grassy lawns and hills, tennis courts, a playground, picnic areas, and even an off-leash dog area. The park is also home to the first astronomical observatory on the West Coast. Since Lafayette Park is a full-block radius upon a hilltop, breathtaking views of the bay and San Francisco itself surround the park. Along with the scenic surroundings, the long hours of operation, from 5am until midnight, and reservable picnic areas make Lafayette Park a great destination for a day out.

Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco

Market, Park
Map View
Fisherman’s Wharf is one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of San Francisco. It covers the northern waterfront area of San Francisco from Ghirardelli Square or Van Ness Avenue to Pier 35. The wharf is rich in history and entertainment, plus air, land, and water excursions are offered. You can also catch a shark feeding, become a part of an interactive 3D film, or observe the infamous sea lion landing. A diverse number of restaurants are also available, offering some of the freshest seafood — most that are caught right beyond the docks.

Union Square

Map View
Union Square © Benson Kua/Flickr
Union Square | © Benson Kua/Flickr
While there are great options for shopping along the perimeter of Union Square, the little rectangle of concrete and grass is not worth stopping for. This tourist-ridden area is a good place to see tired fathers holding copious shopping bags of different sizes, kids screaming and running in circles, and homeless people trying to get some shut eye. The views are only of buildings, and yet for some reason you may experience many people with cameras, and bad physical awareness, stopping in the middle of the busy sidewalk to take a picture. If you want to experience Union Square without all the senses that it engages, one might consider going to the top floor of Macy’s and eating at the Cheesecake Factory. While the restaurant is still full of tourists year-round, there are beautiful views from the 8th floor of the square and surrounding buildings, as well as partitions separating you from the screaming kids.

San Francisco Public Library, Larkin Street

Map View
Looking down on the SFPL Main Branch
Looking down on the SFPL Main Branch | © Joe Mabel/Wikipedia
The San Francisco Public Library Main Branch is the most widely known library in San Francisco. Open to the public daily, the library is consistently filled with tourists and locals looking for shelter from the cold. The Main Library serves as the primary resource center for the entirety of the SFPL system, hosting a variety of collections like the San Francisco History Center, the African American Center, the Chinese Center, the James C. Hormel Gay & Lesbian Center, the Steve Silver Beach Blanket Babylon Music Center, the Wallace E. Stegner Environmental Center, and the Marjorie G. & Carl W. Stern Book Arts & Special Collections Center.

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