”If you’re alive, you can’t be bored in San Francisco. If you’re not alive, San Francisco will bring you to life.” – William Saroyan
San Francisco is an amazing spot for female, solo travelers! It’s such a vibrant, lively place, with so much character, charm, and funkiness. It’s also very safe and fairly easy to navigate.
I visited for 5 days, and I’ve put together a list of my 10 favorite things to do in the city. Hopefully this list will inspire you on your next solo adventure!
This was hands down the most memorable thing I did in San Francisco. Biking across the Golden Gate Bridge was a bucket list item, and it was the highlight of my trip.
I booked a guided bike tour with Parkwide Bike Rental in Fisherman’s Wharf, which is another reason I recommend this area for first time visitors. I booked the tour through Viator, and it’s a great site for finding tour ideas in major cities.I chose the “Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito Guided Tour.” It lasted 3 hours and cost $55, but you can rent an electric bike for $85. Most people on my tour rented electric bikes, but I went with a regular bike to save money and for exercise. It was absolutely brutal biking from Sausalito back to San Francisco because of the hills, but there’s an option to pay extra and take a shuttle back to San Francisco. However, if you decide to bike back on your own, you can keep the bike rental for the entire day.
The tour had several stops along the way, including Ghirardelli Square, a view point of Alcatraz, Palace of Fine Arts, Vista Point, and downtown Sausalito. Sausalito is stunning and reminded me of something you’d see on the Italian coast. The tour really allowed me to see extra things that I wouldn’t have thought to visit on my own.
Guided tours are awesome because you can meet some new people, maximize time, and it’s a nice break from navigating when solo traveling. It’s also an opportunity to get photos, since it can be challenging (and awkward) to take pictures of yourself when solo traveling.
2. Baker Beach
This beach is a dog lover’s heaven with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. There’s lots of locals with their dogs and people working out or relaxing by the water. It was too cold in April to swim here, but it was nice with a light jacket. If you’re into photography, this is a great place to visit.
Alcatraz is probably the most iconic thing to do in San Francisco, so I was eager to check it out. I bought a ticket online, and the tour boat left from Pier 33, which is in Fisherman’s Wharf.
The tour was self guided, so you can download the tour app on your phone and listen as you go. I found the tour to be interesting, and I didn’t realize that Alcatraz was a fort and military prison, before becoming a federal prison. The history behind the place really captured my attention, especially the fact that Native Americans occupied the island for 19 months as a protest.
I think everyone should experience Alcatraz on their first trip to San Francisco. The whole tour will take a half day, but it’s totally worth adding to the itinerary. Even though April is chilly in SF, the boat has indoor seating and the tour is mostly inside too. My tour wasn’t very crowded, but I imagine it gets pretty packed in the summer.
There’s also an awesome view of the skyline from Alcatraz Island!
4. Chinatown + Fortune Cookie Factory
I’ve been to a lot of Chinatowns, but this one truly can’t be missed. As the largest Chinatown outside of Asia, it’s truly a cultural experience. It felt like a slice of China was planted in the middle of California. I was entertained just by walking around, browsing shops, and visiting the Fortune Cookie Factory.
The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory was my favorite part of Chinatown because I’ve never seen anything like it. The employees were very friendly and offered me some warm fortune cookie coins, before they were molded into their shape. The aroma of the fresh, warm cookies was amazing, and I bought a mixed bag of pistachio and classic flavored fortune cookies.
You could easily spend a whole afternoon in Chinatown, but I hung out here for a couple hours. If you’re interested in spending more time there, I’d recommend booking a food tour through AirBnb experiences.
The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps are perfect for anyone who appreciates art or enjoys city views. These mosaic stairs are decorated with a sea and star theme, with 163 total steps. It started as a community project, and it’s considered a hidden gem in San Francisco.
- The city view from the top of the steps is amazing and a good photo op.
- The mosaic design appears different, depending on where you’re standing.
- Grandview park is located at the top of the stairs, and the city and ocean views are nice from the park too.
- It’s in a residential area, so parking is free and available.
- It’s a perfect spot to take photos!
- It’s something unique to do in the city with an artsy, San Francisco vibe.
6. Haight Ashbury Painted Ladies
The Painted Ladies of Haight-Ashbury are not the most famous in SF, but they’re definitely my favorite.
The Painted Ladies by Alamo Square Park are more well known, but I’ve learned that more popular doesn’t always mean better. The houses in Haight-Ashbury are more vibrant and I was able to get a better view of them because I could walk right in front of them. I also love the Victorian style of the homes, and I took the most incredible photos.
There are many famous homes, parks, thrift shops, and local shops in Haight-Ashbury. So be sure to add this as a stop in your itinerary!
I try to visit an art museum in every city I visit. It’s always interesting to see how local artists paint their own city. I mainly stopped here to see the paintings by Mastisse and Frida Kahlo. Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo lived in SF for awhile, so their art can be found around the city.
The SFMOMA had mostly modern art, which isn’t my favorite. But I loved the sculptures and found a lot of beautiful paintings. Parts of the museum were closed, so I wasn’t able to see everything. I’m not sure if it was because of COVID, or because they were changing out exhibits.
Overall I enjoyed the museum, but parking in the garage was pricey. If I could do it over, I would have probably spent more time scouting out Diego Rivera’s murals throughout the city. Overall, this museum is ideal for modern art lovers.
8. The Painted Ladies
The best way to view the Painted Ladies is from Alamo Square Park. I sat on a park bench, people watching and eating my lunch. The park was great because it’s dog friendly, filled with locals, and the overall atmosphere is relaxed with city views. It’s the perfect spot for a picnic or a chill afternoon.
It can be difficult to get a “perfect” picture of the Painted Ladies because the street right in front of them is too busy to walk on. This means your best bet is viewing from the park, which overlooks the Painted Ladies. The parking in this area is also limited, so avoid driving if you can.
9. Famous Houses & Local Parks
San Francisco is known for its gorgeous, historic homes. Some are popular from TV show sets, and others were the homes of famous musicians or actors. Haight-Ashbury has lots of famous, historic houses, so I ended up checking some of those out.
Here’s some that are located in Haight-Ashbury:
- Grateful Dead House: 710 Ashbury St.
- Janis Joplin House: 122 Lyon St.
- Jimi Hendrix House: 1524A Haight St.
- That’s So Raven House: 461 Ashbury St.
The That’s So Raven House was my favorite because I used to watch that show religiously on Disney. It was cool to see the house in person, after seeing it on the TV show throughout my childhood.
Of course, there are lots of other famous houses throughout San Francisco. I didn’t go to the Full House home because it didn’t look any different from the homes I had already seen. The reviews also stated that it’s quite underwhelming because the TV show intro makes it look a lot easier to view than it actually is.
Thrifting is always on my itinerary when I’m traveling solo. I can shop for as long as I want, and it’s fun to see what styles I find in different cities. I also prefer thrifting because I end up buying pieces that I wear more than a touristy t-shirt.
San Francisco is the perfect city to thrift because there’s such a huge range of styles. It has a very funky, hippie vibe, but you can also find luxury items because there’s a lot of wealthy people that live there. Overall, it’s a super trendy city with unique fashion vibes.
First, I went thrifting in Haight-Ashbury, which has a very hippie vibe. There’s lots of shops on Haight Street, so it was easy to hop around. Surprisingly, the Goodwill was my absolute favorite. The selection was great and the prices were super low. I ended up buying a dress shirt for $6, and I’ve worn it to several interviews.
I also went into Buffalo Exchange, which is one of my favorite spots, even though it’s a chain. In general, Haight-Ashbury is perfect for vintage clothing and local boutiques. You’ll find a lot of unique pieces just walking through Haight Street, so check it out if you like thrifting in hipster areas.
The thrift shops on Polk Street are seriously amazing. I really wish I could go back and spend another afternoon thrifting there. Polk Street doesn’t have the hippie feel that Haight Street has, and it’s the kind of area where everyone can find something in their style.
My favorite consignment shop on Polk Street is called Fashion Exchange. It’s less curated, so you have to do some digging. But the selection is huge, and each rack is categorized by clothing type. When it comes to name brand items, I hardly ever buy them new. So I really hit the jackpot here when I found LuluLemon leggings for $40. I also bought some LuluLemon workout tops and a faux leather handbag.
You could seriously spend all day on Polk Street, so it’s important to note that I only scratched the surface. I think it’s the best area to thrift in because of the variety. I also recommend checking out Moody Goose Vintage, Jane Consignment, and the Buffalo Exchange.
11. North Beach + Italian District
North Beach is a lively area between Fisherman’s Wharf and Chinatown. It’s also home to Little Italy, which is brimming with restaurants with outdoor seating. I spent way too much time deciding where to eat because it felt like there were a million options.
I loved this area because it was buzzing with people eating dinner, enjoying a glass of wine, and it was more pedestrian-friendly than car-friendly. Something about walking through North Beach just put me in a good mood. Every corner had a picture-perfect feel, since it’s nestled in between all the hustle and bustle. I could tell that locals meet up here for dinner, and to unwind after a busy work day.
The best way to describe North Beach is charming, captivating, and cute. It wasn’t the best Italian food I’ve had (Little Italy in Boston just can’t be beat). But the overall experience is a must for your visit to San Francisco. There’s also a popular book store called City Lights, which reminded me of the iconic Powell’s Bookstore in Portland, Oregon.