The San Francisco Bay Area is known as the home for America’s free spirits, alongside the thriving Silicon Valley. It’s comprised of a number of cities and counties, housing around 7.68 million people, and is also one of the most ecologically important habitats in California, boasting a diverse array of marine wildlife and birds.
San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge and Cityscape
The Bay Area is rich in culture (namely art, music and theatre), and also offers lots of opportunities to get involved in the local sports teams and enjoy delicious food in local eateries, so makes a perfect place to visit — no matter what you are there for.
Things to do in the San Francisco Bay Area
Haight Ashbury road signs.
Officially known as the City and County of San Francisco, it is known for being the counterculture capital of the US. The city is also the financial, commercial and cultural centre of Northern California, alongside being a centre of liberal activism in the United States.
Musée Mécanique, San Francisco. Picture credit: Allison Meier
Things to do in San Francisco
The city is a popular tourist destination, offering a wide range of things to do. We recommend trying some of the following mainstream and more alternative things in San Francisco:
- Go on a brewery tour of Anchor Brewing Company - seen as the first and oldest craft brewery in America
- Pay a visit to Musée Mécanique - the only museum where you’re actively encouraged to play with the exhibits — ranging from 20th century penny arcade games to 1980s and 1990s arcade games
- Roller skating at Church of 8 Wheels — a church on Fillmore Street (at Fell) converted into a roller rink
- Take a tour of Alcatraz
- Buy souvenirs, see the sea lions and enjoy the other attractions on Pier 39
- Shop (and even see some live music) at Amoeba Music on Haight Street
Where to eat in San Francisco
Tommy's Joynt, San Francisco. Picture credit: Flickr user binkle_28
- Boudin - the Boudin at the Wharf location offers the public the opportunity to see bakers at work, as well as having a shop and full-service waterfront restaurant
- Tommy’s Joynt - offering hot food and cold drink in a fun and kitsch location, Tommy’s Joynt is the most affordable bar in San Francisco — and let’s just say that their bartenders have heavy hands!
- Sam’s Grill - get a taste of the Gold Rush times at the fifth-oldest restaurant in the US, serving fresh local seafood and classic San Franciscan dishes
- Che Fico — enjoy delicious Italian food created with seasonal, local produce, meat and fish
- La Taqueria - you can find best tacos and burritos in San Francisco’s historic Mission District at La Taqueria
- Saison - known as one of the world’s best restaurants, 3 Michelin star Saison serves innovative French-American cuisine
Saison, San Francisco. Picture credit: City Foodsters
Taking up the majority of the East Bay area, Alameda County’s largest city is Oakland. It is also home to Berkeley, Fremont, and Livermore.
University of California, Berkeley. Picture credit: Charlie Nguyen
Things to do in Alameda County
- Hang out in Oakland’s Jack London District (we recommend drinks, bocce and bowling at Plank)
- Walk around the University of California at Berkeley
- Visit Redwood Regional Park
- Take a tour or Blue Bottle Coffee in Emeryville
Fentons Creamery, Oakland.
Where to eat in Alameda County
- Brown Sugar Kitchen
- Fentons Creamery (grab a cone and pretend you’re in Disney/Pixar’s “UP”)
- Top Dog (there’s two in Berkeley and one in Oakland)
- Saul’s Restaurant and Deli
- Cheese Board Pizza
- Nyum Bai
The beautiful Marin County can be found north of San Francisco and is known as one of the richest counties in the US. Despite this, there are lots of free and cheap activities to enjoy in the area.
Scoma's restaurant, Sausalito. Photo credit: Gary Stevens
Things to do in Marin County
- Take ‘the’ Golden Gate Bridge photo at Vista Point
- Visit Muir Woods
- Eat at Venice Gourmet and Scoma’s in Sausalito
- Wander around Sausalito’s shops, galleries and waterfront boutiques
- Take a walk around the houseboats and artist colonies
Santa Clara County
Home to Silicon Valley, Santa Clara County is one of the most affluent places in America. The largest city in Santa Clara County is San Jose, which itself is a tech lovers paradise and home to major global technology companies such as eBay, Paypal, Adobe Systems, Western Digital, and Cisco Systems.
Android building, Googleplex, Mountain View
Things to do in Santa Clara County and San Jose
- Visit the computer history museum and/or the Tech Museum of Innovation
- Catch a San Jose Sharks ice hockey game
- See the Google Android lawn statues at Google HQ in Mountain View
- Watch a 49ers game at the Levi’s Stadium
Jelly Belly Factory, Fairfield. Photo credit: Flickr user m01229
Other Bay Area Highlights
Apart from the main counties and cities of the Bay Area, there are lots of other things to do and enjoy, including:
- Visit the Jelly Belly Factory
- Go to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
- Walk the Bay Area Ridge Trail
- Drink wine in the Sonoma and Napa Valleys
- Visit the Charles M. Schulz Museum
- Whale watch at Bodega Head
Bodega Head Beach, Bodega Bay. Photo credit: Don DeBold
How to get to San Francisco and the Bay Area
There are a number of airports in the San Francisco Bay Area; the largest being San Francisco International (SFO), followed by Oakland International Airport (OAK).
The majority of the Bay Area is accessible from both airports by public transport, as the area is very well served, but there are also airports at San Jose Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport and Santa Rosa (Charles M. Schulz – Sonoma County Airport).
You can find domestic flights to the San Francisco Bay Area with Alaska Airlines, JetBlue, Sun Country Airlines, Allegiant Air, Southwest Airlines, Delta, United Airlines and more.
A wide range of international airlines fly to airports in the San Francisco Bay Area, including Norwegian, Volaris, KLM, Virgin Atlantic, Singapore Airlines, and Philippine Airlines.
TAP Air Portugal will be flying between Lisbon and San Francisco International Airport from June 2019.
Check out our other local’s guides