Think of yourself as a culture vulture? Then San Francisco is definitely a city you’ll love to explore. From sites of huge historic importance, underground spots where ideas were born, to museums and world-leading institutions where new ways of thinking are being developed, there’s so much to keep you entertained.

Here’s our guide to San Francisco’s cultural highlights…


Want to see an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum and world-leading research institution all at the same time? Then the California Academy of Sciences is about the only place in the world where it’s all possible and is a must-visit in San Francisco. Discover a four-story living rainforest, a living coral reef system and interactive displays that will delight and inspire the whole family. There’s even a chance to feed penguins. What more could you want from a cultural day out?

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Despite only serving as a penitentiary for 29 years and closing back in 1963, few prisons have had the global impact of Alcatraz. Located on an island in the middle of a freezing and swirling bay, it was said to be impossible to escape. But rumors persist that three inmates once got away. Visit ‘the Rock’, as it came to be known, and just imagine what it must have been like to be locked up here with some of America’s most notorious criminals, including Al Capone. This a popular San Francisco attraction so book your tour around the island in advance with us to avoid disappointment.

Alcatraz Package Tickets

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Indulge your creative streak at the De Young Museum, located in the heart of the city’s colossal Golden Gate Park. Browse galleries of American art – dating from the 17th century right up to contemporary installations. There’s photography, global textiles and a 9th floor observation deck with 360˚ views across the whole city too, perfect for San Francisco sightseeing.

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One of the most culturally significant places in the city is not a museum or gallery, but a street corner. In the 1960s, thanks largely to a single photo of the Grateful Dead, a whole counterculture movement gravitated to this once neighborhood. The Hippie Dream called this neighborhood home and grew into a global phenomenon. Huge festivals were held in Golden Gate Park and some of the biggest names in music moved in, including Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. These days, Haight-Ashbury still proudly displays its alternative roots, with vintage stores, psychedelic artwork and health food shops in abundance. Definitely one of must-sees for anyone wondering what to do in San Francisco.

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The first West Coast museum dedicated to modern art opened back in 1935. At the SFMOMA, you can peruse more than 30,000 artworks including a whole floor dedicated to photography. It’s enough to inspire you to take plenty more holiday snaps during the rest of your visit. View works by modern masters, including Matisse, Koons, Braque and many more at this iconic San Francisco attraction.

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Before the hippies arrived, there was the Beat Generation. Driven by a new breed of writers and poets, the Beats laid the blueprint for counterculture rebellion way before long hair and flares became the norm. North Beach’s Beat Museum houses memorabilia from some of the movement’s most famous names, many of whom lived here, including Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Explore another fascinating era of the city’s cultural history here.

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Being America’s oldest and biggest Chinatown and the largest single Chinese community outside of Asia, makes this a cultural must-see in San Francisco. Pass under the Pagoda Gates on Grant Avenue and you’re suddenly transported to another world. The sights, sounds and smells of this densely populated district in the city center is a real stimulus for the senses. With the first migrants arriving here in 1850, there’s almost 170 years of history to discover. Don’t forget to stop for a bite to eat too, you’ll be feasting on some of the best Chinese food in San Francisco here.

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Muir Woods National Forest in San Francisco is over 800 years old and stands at an impressive and world record-breaking 258 feet (79 metres) tall. A protected National Monument since 1908, it serves as both a refuse to the wildlife it houses and a laboratory that reveals the relationship between human and landscape. Over 380 species of plants and animals thrive in its unique habitat. The redwoods provide the jaw-dropping backdrop to the flora and fauna.

Muir Woods Tour Tickets

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Known as the birthplace of literary movements, global lifestyle phenomena and political activism, San Fran packs a huge cultural punch. Choose any of the suggestions on our list and you’re guaranteed a good time. And if you still have a hankering for the city’s cultural highlights, be sure to explore all of San Francisco’s landmarks and attraction on board a Big Bus tour