Best Things To Do in San Francisco

Tilden Insider’s Guide to San Francisco

Tilden Insider’s Guide To The Best Things To Do In San Francisco

The proud owner of the majestic Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco is one of the top destinations for travelers in California.  While it may measure less than 50 square miles/130 square kilometers, it attracts the third-highest number of tourists of any state in the U.S. More than 16.9 million travelers visit San Francisco each year which makes it the 33rd most visited city in the world. Many big financial organizations, multinational banks, corporate and venture capital firms are based in or have regional headquarters in the city. San Francisco is a city that is filled with culture and just about something for everyone. The people who live in San Francisco are very laid back and easy going and this is a place that you can enjoy yourself with your significant other, family or even for solo travel. We consulted with our friendly staff that live and work in the ‘City by the Bay’ to compile an insider’s guide to some of the best things to do in San Francisco.

Best San Francisco Tours

Free Walking Tours

The best way to explore San Francisco is by foot, even better to stroll through iconic neighborhoods with a guide.  San Francisco City Guides offers daily, free guided walking tours of San Francisco.

Visit Chinatown

Though it’s only three blocks wide and eight blocks long, San Francisco’s Chinatown is among the largest in the world (outside of China).

Wild SF Tours

These tours are so popular, even locals sign up to be guided around town by artists and historians with unique perspectives.

Holiday Painted Ladies Walk

The houses on Mission Hill are often called the “Painted Ladies” as they are painted in a variety of pastel colors and are an attraction for tourists. If you visit San Francisco during the holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, the houses are decorated with lights and you can enjoy a stroll to view these homes in full splendor. This is unlike any other type of Christmas walk that you will embark on.

San Francisco Bus Tours

Regularly scheduled bus tours are a great way to experience San Francisco, especially if you are short on time. Whether you choose a hop-on/hop off tour or traditional bus tour, chances are you will get some of the best views of sights and landmarks as well as knowledgeable and entertaining guides.

Big Bus Tours San Francisco

Enjoy Big Bus Tours’ open top double decker hop-on/hop-off tour, stopping at 20 major sites and attractions around the city, including crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. You have the option of listening to a live tour guide in English or recorded commentary offered in 10 different languages.  This is one of the most popular bus tours and it will pick up at Tilden Hotel.  Our friendly staff will be happy to help make arrangements for the tour during your stay.

Gray Line of San Francisco

Hop-on/hop-off Super Sights City Tour or Gray Line Hop-on/Hop-off tours are offered frequently; other options include the wonders of Muir Woods and Sausalito, Monterey and Carmel, and Yosemite.

Magic Bus San Francisco

Not just a sightseeing tour- it’s a trip! Step aboard Magic Bus San Francisco and transport back in time. A hippie host will takes visitors on an off-beat tour, stopping at cultural landmarks and secrets of San Francisco’s hippie movement for an immersive “Summer of Love” experience

San Francisco Boat Tours

As the ‘City By The Bay’, San Francisco is surrounded on three sides by water.  You would be remiss if you didn’t seize the opportunity to explore the city by boat. Touring by boat on the San Francisco Bay offer unparalleled natural beauty and urban inspiration, not to mention a great way to view the Golden Gate Bridge in all its glory.  Pier 39 is the best place to catch a boat tour and while there are many options here are a few to consider:

San Francisco Whale Tours (PIER 39)

Nature-lovers can also charter ships for private whale watching excursions. Both S.F. Bay Whale Watching and San Francisco Whale Tours offer private wildlife-viewing voyages beyond the Golden Gate, where you might find elephant seals, dolphins, porpoises and sea bird colonies in addition to sightings of blue, humpback and gray whales.

Blue & Gold Fleet (PIER 39)

There’s a lot to experience in San Francisco, so why not make the most of your time? To pack in as much a possible, use Blue & Gold Fleet. Their hour-long Bay Cruise Adventure will sail you past the shoreline, offering dramatic views of the city to one side and the rolling hills of Marin County to the other. Their longer Escape from Alcatraz tour gives you all that, as well as taking you under the Golden Gate Bridge and around “The Rock.” All tours feature narration from guides available in multiple languages.

Alcatraz Cruises (Pier 33)

Of course, where else but San Francisco can you cruise to a former prison and take a tour inside? It might be our most popular attraction, but there’s no denying that a cruise to Alcatraz is about as unique as it gets! With Alcatraz Cruises, you’ll combine a cruise with a walking tour of the legendary landmark. Park rangers lead you from the pier to a tour of the former jailhouse, with a supplementary audio guide (available in 11 languages).

For The Foodies… Best Places to Eat & Drink in San Francisco

The term ‘foodie’ has become part of our modern vernacular, and while we all love a good chow down, for some people food goes beyond fuel and enters the realm of high art. But there’s no need to get too carried away, and in San Francisco, you can enjoy a genuine ‘foodie’ experience with or without carrying a Michelin Star guide – the delicious choices are abundant. For a true foodie, exploring new cuisines and eating tasty food matters a lot. One goes to restaurants only because the food served at restaurants cannot be replicated at home. For example, you may try a hundred new ways of making Chinese at home – but it always tastes different and way better when eaten at an authentic Chinese restaurant. Some hot spots within walking distance from the Tilden Hotel:

Best Bars

Bourbon & Branch/Wilson and Wilson

Bourbon & Branch is one of the best places to drink in town in true speakeasy style. The golden-lit, gorgeously appointed bar remains one of the better drink date spots around, thanks to a stellar list of classic cocktails, brown spirits for sampling and overall “let’s misbehave in a classy way” vibe. Next door Wilson and Wilson takes the best that Bourbon & Branch has to offer and runs with it — the front is a detective agency! You enter through a bathroom! Plus, the no-exceptions, reservations-only space features the rarest of rare spirits, cocktail flights, and mixology classes through the aptly named Beverage Academy. Shark jumped or not, it will never not be fun to give a password to get a cocktail. Visit Website

The Douglas Room at Tilden Hotel

The Douglas Room springs from the mind of Mo Hodges and Brian Felley of Tenderloin bar Benjamin Cooper. This not-to-be missed lounge from Brian Felley and Mo Hodges (the duo behind the superb Benjamin Cooper) is masculine and moody, but warm and welcoming at the same time.


Why open a cocktail bar when you can open eight cocktail bars, all at once? That’s kind of the conceit behind Tradition, another Tenderloin drinkery from the Bourbon & Branch crew that opened in 2012 (no password required). Both the menu and the meticulously designed space make for a choose-your-own-adventure drinks session — whether you’re in the mood for tiki kitsch, turn-of-the-century glamour, or even dive bar style, there’s a drinks menu and a reservations-only private booth (or “snug”) to match.

Best Sushi in San Francisco

Ono Sushi

Just around the corner from Tilden Hotel, enjoy the creations of Master Sushi Chef  Tsuyoshi Nagano and 2nd Master Sushi Chef Yasufumi Kudo as Ono Sushi offers traditional and modern sushi with the pride of serving the very best.  The master chefs have been working as sushi chef’s at sushi Boat Restaurant and in Japan over 50 years, and 40 plus years, along with creative young sushi cooks. Website:

Mensho Tokyo SF

One of the newer additions to the neighborhood is this ramen spot, which comes directly to SF from Japan and specializes in the creamy, chicken-y tori paitan ramen. There’s a perpetual line outside, but it typically moves fairly fast, and in true Japanese fashion this is a get-in-get-out type of ramen shop with communal seating and limited options. The ramen options are all good, but if you’re in the mood for something rich and heartier, go for the spicy lamb ramen, which comes filled with ground lamb and garnished with chile oil.


Hashiri can be prohibitively expensive ($250 per person to start), but the price is worth the experience. An experience that includes incredibly attentive and informed service, down to details like presenting you with a tray of sake cup selections when you order a bottle. The amount of food is generous, with 12 pieces of sushi on top of the precious, subtle kaiseki menu. Don’t be intimidated by the serious sushi chefs — they are very friendly upon interaction. As for the decor, it’s as provocative as the food is traditional and service is warm, and that juxtaposition is delightful.

Best Restaurants Near Us

Mexican Food: Colibri Mexican Bistro

The Mexican food options around Union Square are slim (RIP Frontera Fresco in Macy’s basement), but Colibri has you covered if you don’t mind spending a bit more than you might expect. It’s neither the cheapest nor the best Mexican food around, but they do some solid made-to-order guacamole, and the chicken mole is good too. Keep it in mind especially if you need to satisfy a margarita fix after a day of traipsing. They’re open seven days a week for lunch, brunch, and dinner, and weekday happy hour starts at 3 p.m.

Indian Food: New Delhi Restaurant

PBS-famous chef Ranjan Dey opened this upscale Indian restaurant in 1988, and while the regal atmosphere might feel a bit dated after all these years, it still serves reliably good food within stumbling distance of Union Square. Prices are a bit higher than your average Indian restaurant, but you won’t go wrong with any of the curries or the tandoori options. There’s also a full bar, and they make a rarely seen mulled wine concoction, said to be the favorite drink of a 17th century Indian emperor, called Shah Jahani Madeera, that’s served with a splash of sparkling lemonade.

San Francisco’s Best Thai Food: Kin Khao

Food writer Pim Techamuanvivit’s love letter to the Thai food of her youth, Kin Khao, now boasts a well deserved Michelin star and is without a doubt one of the best food options anywhere near Union Square — and also arguably the best Thai food in town. The ultra-addictive Sriracha-spiced wings and spiced nuts are just the beginning of the must-haves here, as are the salads and the cocktails, which are always inventive and well suited to the food. Make sure not to miss some of the less commonly found (in the US) dishes, the top-notch khao mun gai (chicken fat rice with Pim’s “secret sauce”), or any of the rotating specials.

Best Ice Cream in San Francisco

The Baked Bear

Get as crazy as you can imagine at this Fisherman’s Wharf ice cream shop that pairs 11 cookie flavors with 12 flavors of ice cream and 11 types of toppings. Just take a look at the Baked Bear Instagram from some flavor inspiration.

Salt & Straw

The unexpected flavors at this Portland-founded ice cream shop will make more sense to your tongue than your brain. Green apple mayo sherbet and peach vinegar cobbler with toasted nutmeg, for example, don’t enjoy the same recognition as classic flavors like chocolate chip or strawberry. That’s what’s so intriguing about Salt & Straw, whose unique flavors are often churned with ingredients from local food producers like Sightglass Coffee and Berkeley olive oil.

Three Twins Ice Cream

Yes, you can grab a pint of Three Twins at the grocery store, but this ice cream shop got its start (and expanded) in nearby San Rafael. Now its SF location is scooping up flavors with inventive, cheeky names like Bear Bait (a Gay Pride special of vanilla with muffin top chunks) along with more staid options such as lemon cookie and cardamom.

Bi-Rite Creamery

Small-batch, seasonal, hand-made, local, etc. ice cream is the calling card at San Francisco’s arguably most popular scoop shop. Lines usually snake out the door and down the block with people waiting for tastes of salted caramel and balsamic strawberry, two of Bi-Rite’s most popular flavors, or the more unusual options like basil and honey lavender. Pro-tip: fans of soft-serve can usually forego some of the wait time at their soft-serve and baked goods window, just past the main scoop shop.

Best Beaches in San Francisco

China Beach

An under-the-radar beach for when you want the views of Baker Beach without the crowd. On a warm weekend day, Baker Beach can be very crowded for the picnic area and Instagram opportunities. And though Baker Beach has its perks, if you want to beat the crowds, head to China Beach, a tiny sheltered cove between Lands End and Baker Beach. The views of the Marin Headlands and Golden Gate Bridge are just as amazing as Baker Beach, and during low tide, you can even walk between the two. Above the beach, there’s a picnic area with grills and a monument to Chinese fisherman that’s worth checking out, but unlike Baker Beach, no pets are allowed.

Ocean Beach

This is the best beach for surfing, and the only one with fire pits. It is a popular place to watch the sunset and stay warm by a fire. This 3.5-mile-long beach favored by very experienced surfers spans from the zoo on the south to the Cliff House on the north — and is also SF’s widest beach by far. Ocean Beach also has 16 fire rings where you can have fires from 6am to 9:30pm from March 1 to October 31. They get snatched up quickly on the weekends, but if you get there by 6pm during the week, there are almost always a couple available.

Marshall’s Beach

Marshall’s Beach is one of the most secluded beaches around San Francisco and offers one of the best vistas.  It’s also a great spot for bird watching, probably because dogs aren’t allowed. Before you go check the tide times first, as the beach can be totally submerged during high tide.

Best Spas in San Francisco


The most Zen escape you’ll find on a former military base. Senspa is located in the Presidio. The spa is decorated with lush green plants, gurgling water elements, and Asian-inspired details like bamboo room dividers. Choose from a wide variety of treatments including acupuncture, infrared sauna, and seasonally-inspired experiences. There are 14 treatment rooms, three chic and inviting lounge spaces, and a 15-seat cafe that serves salads and entrees from the Plant Cafe.

Spa Nordstrom

Because there’s nothing more luxurious than capping off a day of shopping with an organic aromatherapy massage or Fountain of Youth facial. When you don’t have time for a lengthy treatment, this spa offers 30-minute mini-treatments.

Spa Radiance

This spa is for the client who wants serious luxury and serious anti-aging treatments. Spa Radiance has been serving loyal San Franciscans since 1976. More information:

Fine Arts & Museums of San Francisco

If one, by any chance, is interested in history, arts and culture then San Francisco is a paradise.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

SFMOMA is one of the best museums in the entire world. The museum mainly displays modern art, no later than 20th century. The most interesting thing about this museum is the wide collection of the artifacts. There are around 26,000 objects being show cased. These include the sculptures, paintings, photography and media art etc. This museum is owned by famous Mario Botta. The work of famous artists such as Ansel Adam and Jackson Pollocks is also displayed. Another amusing part of this museum that has to be visited is the Artists Gallery.

California Academy of Sciences

The famous California Academy of Sciences is a jewel of San Francisco. It is located near Golden Gate Bridge Park and it is one of the oldest museums of the world. It has one of the most researched items in world history and the research that is being carried out in different fields. Another astonishing thing about this museum is related to research which includes vast variety of fields. Research is being conducted on different subjects such as zoology or anthropology etc.

de Young Museum

that is situated in the center of Golden Gate Park, shows American, Pacific, and African art. When visiting San Francisco then this should definitely be your stop and as a special treat check out the events for Friday Nights at the de Young. Friday Nights feature free admission to the main-level galleries highlighted by a reinterpretation of contemporary art in our permanent collection. Through social-media moments and in-person dialogue, visitors can engage and commune with the art and with one another in a warm and welcoming setting. Enjoy specialty drinks and mocktails, coffees, teas, and snacks. Bring your friends. Strike a pose at the selfie wall. Listen to music. Make art. Activities take place from 6–8:30 pm.

The California Palace of Legion of Honor

This place is made for art lovers and due to its rich and humongous variety of arts from all across the world, tourists’ trip would not be completed without visiting this. This museum is mainly known for the European and ancient art form all across the globe. Few of the artifacts are around 5000 years old. European art is based on the popular French art. One of the most popular artists, Auguste RodinFind Article, created a magnificent sculpture. It has so much attraction in it that tourist cannot stop photographing and praising it. The ancient art is so inviting that it is known all around the world. There are 1400 objects that are specifically from ancient art. San Francisco is a garden of museums and missing out one would be leading to an incomplete trip.

Walt Disney Family Museum

Walt Disney’s daughter Diane founded The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco’s Presidio to explore the life, career, and times of her father—but it also offers a compelling look at the art of animation and how Disney’s work has shaped pop culture.

A few other popular tourist attractions not to be missed while in town:

  • Stroll along Fisherman’s Wharf
  • Take a ride on one of San Franciso’s Cable Cars
  • Visit Alcatraz
  • Bike across the Golden Gate Bridge
  • Drive down Lombard Street for a crooked experience
  • Catch a Giants game at AT&T park