The Ultimate San Francisco Bucket List: 49 Amazing Adventures To Do in 2016

Here, 49 options for adventure as quintessentially San Franciscan as the Golden Gate Bridge.
Here, 49 options for adventure as quintessentially San Franciscan as the Golden Gate Bridge. Evonne
Made Possible by
Curated by

When a year comes to a close, it’s almost inevitably accompanied by reflection: what you did, where you went, and which adventures you checked off your bucket list. At the same time, the arrival of a new year—hello, 2016!—comes with the delicious promise of a blank slate for new experiences.

Fortunately, if you’re lucky enough to live in the Bay Area, there’s an almost endless list of adventures to choose from, no matter what your preferred outdoor pursuit. But we whittled some of the best down to 49—in honor of San Francisco’s history—to provide plenty of inspiration for the year to come. From a few obvious must-do's (like riding a cable car) to more off-the-beaten-path experiences (like Yosemite in the offseason), this ultimate San Francisco bucket list should give you plenty of inspiration for your outdoorsy pursuits in 2016 and beyond.

Instead of setting New Year’s Resolutions, why not make it your mission to knock off as many of these as you can (if you haven’t already)? Happy trails, and Happy 2016.

1. Mountain bike at Mount Tam.

This iconic peak is a beloved spot among trail runners and hikers, but to fully appreciate the essence of Mt. Tam, you need to bomb down its slopes on a mountain bike. This is where the sport took shape, after all, when a passel of young daredevils raced down infamous Repack trail on specially rigged bikes. Not quite up for the challenge? Visit the Marin Museum of Bicycling and Mountain Bike Hall of Fame instead.

2. Surf at Fort Point.

If there's a break, Fort Point can be a fantastic spot to catch some waves.
If there's a break, Fort Point can be a fantastic spot to catch some waves. ClatieK

The break and conditions aren’t always ideal for this, but when they are, there’s a certain amount of smugness in surfing this spot, with the world’s most famous span stretching above and gawking tourists below.

3. Ride alongside a pro at a gran fondo.

If you haven’t yet experienced the glory and gastronomy of a gran fondo, make 2016 the year to do it. Part ride, part rolling party, all fun, these rides, which originated in Europe, have exploded in popularity in the United States as of late. There are plenty of world-class options to choose from in the Bay Area, including the Bottega Gran Fondo in April (but sign up fast, as they sell out quickly).

4. Charge up the trails in the country’s oldest trail race.

The famous Dipsea Trail offers plenty of stairs and views of the Pacific Ocean.
The famous Dipsea Trail offers plenty of stairs and views of the Pacific Ocean. Class V

The country’s oldest trail race , which runs from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach and includes climbs and descents brutal enough to be called Suicide and Insult Hill, also happens to be located right in our backyard. Another bonus for Bay Area locals: Registration is done through snail mail in order to give an edge to locals and help it maintain its quirky, Bay Area feel. This year’s race , the 106 th annual is set for June 12, and registration usually happens in March, so keep an eye on the calendar.

5. Bomb down San Francisco’s curviest street on a Big Wheel.

It’s one of San Francisco’s quirkiest events, and Bring Your Own Big Wheel could be one of the wildest ways you’ll ever spend Easter (see No. 28 for another). Join the costumed masses who race down the crazy-curvy Vermont Street in Potrero Hill on Big Wheels and every other manner of plastic wheeled contraption (no metal parts on bikes and trikes permitted).

6. Visit Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite and its myriad adventures are a must-do.
Yosemite and its myriad adventures are a must-do. Dawn Ellner

If you haven’t yet experienced the iconic granite rock formations, waterfalls, and astonishing beauty of one of America’s most beloved national parks, it’s time to pack up the car for a road trip. To avoid the crowds—the 748,000-acre park sees some 4 million annual visitors—plan your visit anytime except between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and consider going in the winter , when the park is least crowded and especially magical.

7. Soak up the views along Paradise Loop.

This approximately 35-miler is, well, paradise for both mid-level and intermediate cyclists, with glorious rollers, even more glorious views of San Francisco Bay, and smooth, recently paved stretches.

8. Swim in San Francisco Bay.

Take inspiration from Kim Chambers and take a dip in the Bay (but you might want to wear a wetsuit).
Take inspiration from Kim Chambers and take a dip in the Bay (but you might want to wear a wetsuit). Naotake Murayama

While not all of us mere mortals have a 30-mile swim in the Bay within reach (like superhuman long-distance swimmers Simon Dominguez and Kim Chambers , whose swims to/from the Farallon Islands made headlines in 2015), you can still earn bragging rights by swimming in the frigid waters of San Francisco Bay. Don a wetsuit (or not) for a few laps in Aquatic Park , or go hardcore with a race like Escape from Alcatraz or Escape from the Rock.

9. Watch the sunset from Twin Peaks.

Yes, you’ll have to battle with lots of other awed onlookers and probably a tour bus or two. But it’s still worth it to take in the sunset from one of San Francisco’s most well-known summits, with the sun setting on one side and the lights of the skyline twinkling below.

10. Run the Bay to Breakers.

A sampling of the costumes found at Bay to Breakers.
A sampling of the costumes found at Bay to Breakers. Blane Bachelor

In recent years, organizers have cracked down on booze and out-of-control revelry at Bay to Breakers , but that hasn’t sapped the fun out of one of the most quintessentially SF events on the calendar. And running in this hybrid of race/rolling party is way more fun than spectating: It’s a great way to take in the diversity of SF’s neighborhoods, while justifying the beer you drank (discreetly) along the way or are about to start swilling at the end.

11. Ride the cable cars.

Yes, it’s touristy. Yes, it’s ridiculously expensive ($6 for a one-way fare). But just try not to smile as you hang on for dear life aboard one for these historic beauties as it rattles and clacks up the city’s infamous hills.

12. Hike Big Sur.

With views like this, it's no wonder that Big Sur is so beloved.
With views like this, it's no wonder that Big Sur is so beloved. Franco Folini

This is some of the most glorious land on the planet, with rocky bluffs, the crashing Pacific, and towering coastal redwoods. primed for world-class hiking, biking, camping, and simply soaking up the Great Outdoors. You’ll have to book about six months in advance to snag one of two campsites at Julia Burns Pfeiffer State Park—and if you do, you’ll be spoiled for life from the views—but day adventures are easier to come by.

13. Watch for whales along the coast.

During the summer, catch a glimpse of the pods of humpback and blue whales that swim along the coast and to the Farallon Islands during their migration. Several companies offer whale watching tours, including the Oceanic Society, or keep an eye out for the gentle giants at coastal viewpoints like Point Reyes.

14. Eat clam chowder at Spud Point Crab company.

Be careful: The clam chowder at Spud Point Crab Company is indeed addictive.
Be careful: The clam chowder at Spud Point Crab Company is indeed addictive. Jake Wheeler

Clam chowder on a best-of adventure list? You bet: You can use it as a much-deserved award for ticking off a bunch of outdoorsy options in Bodega Bay, about two hours north of San Francisco. But trust us: The clam chowder alone at Spud Point Crab Company is worth the trip.

15. Ski from Tahoe City to Truckee.

If you need some inspiration to tackle your first ski race, consider this: Half of the participants in The Great Ski Race, a 30-kilometer Nordic ski race from Tahoe City to Truckee, are first-timers, wearing costumes is highly encouraged, and the race raises money for the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team.

16. Spend a weekend driving Highway 1.

When the itch for a road trip pops up, don’t worry about a plan: Just toss the tents and sleeping bags into the car, grab the map, and hit Highway 1, one of the most iconic and jaw-droppingly beautiful stretches of pavement in the country, if not the world. The rest will take care of itself.

17. Gawk at the tallest living beings on the planet.

Some of these coastal redwoods live up to 2,000 years old.
Some of these coastal redwoods live up to 2,000 years old. Blane Bachelor

Those would be the coastal redwoods, and while we love Muir Woods, sometimes it’s just too overrun with tourists to fully soak up the overwhelming beauty and longevity of these leviathan trees. So head instead to Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve in Guerneville, where, if you hike a bit into the woods, you’ll you’re likely to lose any crowds—as well as yourself.

18. Torch your quads on the infamous Sand Ladder.

Running from Baker Beach up to Lincoln Avenue, this torturous set of "stairs" is basically made up of logs and cables—and a boatload of sand—that form unevenly spaced steps. Unless you're in serious fighting shape, expect to be thoroughly winded at the top. It's a great spot for training, and if you're putting in more than one ascent, you just might get help counting your climbs from the contingent of naked sunbathers on Baker Beach below.

19. Conquer the Seven Sisters.

Also known among local cycling circles as the Seven Bitches, this grinder of a ride on the back end of a hardcore, 67-mile route called Alpine Dam will earn you bragging rights and plenty of well-deserved beer afterward. Just make sure you’re up for the challenge; this isn’t a ride for newbies.

20. Camp with an unbeatable view of the bay.

The views of the Golden Gate Bridge and a golden sunset are gorgeous from Angel Island.
The views of the Golden Gate Bridge and a golden sunset are gorgeous from Angel Island. Marcin Wichary

It’s an experience that sure to appeal to both city slickers and outdoor lovers: Camping on San Francisco Bay, with a twinkling backdrop of the SF and Oakland skylines and the Golden Gate and Bay bridges. Two campsites offer such an experience: those on Angel Island , which is smack in the middle of the Bay, and Kirby Cove , just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Not surprisingly, they’re both popular spots, so book early, or plan a mid-week trip.

21. Act like a kid again on the Seward slides.

With their own Yelp review, the Seward slides, located in a tucked-away residential area, are becoming less of a locals’ secret these days. But it’s still a thrill to bomb down these concrete—yes, concrete—slides, which were built in 1973, and relive the days when kids grew up without being swaddled in full-body armor to play outside. Grab a piece of cardboard for even more speed.

22. Have a bonfire at Ocean Beach.

Grab some friends and head to the sandy stretch of beach to enjoy a longtime San Francisco tradition (before a permit is required).

23. Catch a Giants Game from a kayak.

Join the floating party at McCovey Cove.
Join the floating party at McCovey Cove. Eric Molina

Forget the pricey cost of admission to see the World Champion Giants and enjoy the game from the water at McCovey Cove amongst a flotilla of kayakers. Bring a radio, a cooler, and a net just in case you get lucky enough to snag a “Splash Hit.”

24. Hike to the highest point in San Francisco.

At 938 feet, Mount Davidson is the highest point in San Francisco, but it’s blissfully free of the tourists hordes that crowd Twin Peaks. Run or hike via several trails to the summit, and pose for some Instagram-worthy shots of a giant dead tree with a backdrop of the skyline or savor the serenity of a 103-foot concrete cross at the very top that was erected in 1935.

25. Ride the Wiggle.

Love riding your bike in San Francisco, hate the hills? Then roll right over to the Wiggle, a stretch of established bikeways from Duboce Triangle to the Panhandle that avoids some of the city’s most wretched climbs.

26. Hike to the top of the highest peak in the Bay Area.

Reach the top of Mount Diablo, and you'll savor unparalleled views.
Reach the top of Mount Diablo, and you'll savor unparalleled views. John Morgan

That's  Mount Diablo , at 3,849 feet, and it’s a formidable summit to reach—13.2 miles roundtrip—but well worth it once you get there. On a clear day, you can take in sights from 40,000 square miles in total, including parts of 35 of California’s 58 counties. Bring binoculars, and you might even catch a glimpse of Half Dome in Yosemite.

27. Sip and cycle through wine country.

There’s no better way to truly soak up the essence of this glorious countryside than on two wheels. Feel the fresh air rushing past, get the blood flowing and calories burning between tastings, and truly earn your sips.

28. Swoon over hordes of hunky holy men.

If Bring Your Own Big Wheel isn’t an outrageous enough Easter activity for you, head to Golden Gate Park for the Hunky Jesus contest. (And hey, if you’ve been training diligently throughout the winter and had enough mimosas on Easter morning, maybe you’ll even sign up.) And lest the ladies not be left out, a Foxy Mary category was recently added to the lineup.

29. Appreciate art in the outdoor playground of the Presidio.

The sculpture is made from trunks of cypress trees.
The sculpture is made from trunks of cypress trees. Selena N. B. H.

Easily one of the most spectacular urban green spaces in the country, the Presidio offers not only stunning views of the Bay, Alcatraz, the city, and Golden Gate Bridge, it's also home to some unique and noteworthy artworks along the way: Spire and Wood Line by Andy Goldsworthy, both worthy of mid-run (or hike or ride) photos.

30. Soak up the history of West Coast surfing in Santa Cruz.

Even if you’re not a surfer, Santa Cruz is a must-do. Stop by the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum for a well-curated look at the history of the sport in this surfing mecca.

31. Practice your yoga poses on a stand-up paddleboard.

Take your downward dog to challenging new heights by with a yoga class on a SUP. One of the pioneers of this hybrid pursuit, Onboard SUP, is right here in the Bay Area and offers a regular schedule of classes.

32. Backpack the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail.

The 30-mile route is a great one to knock out over a long weekend.
The 30-mile route is a great one to knock out over a long weekend. Miguel Vieira

It's challenging enough to make you feel like you really accomplished something, but doable enough to knock out over a long weekend: the 30-mile route that winds through old-growth forests and waterfalls to the Pacific. The best part of the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail ? It gets easier, and the views just get sweeter, the farther you go.

33. Celebrate cycling at any number of Bay Area festivals.

Bikes have an especially strong following in the Bay Area, and there’s a festival to celebrate them at any number of awesome (and usually free) festivals: the Tour de Fat, the SF Bike Expo, or the Bicycle Music Festival.

34. Climb Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower.

Keep an eye out for the famous parrots at the top.
Keep an eye out for the famous parrots at the top. Don McCullough

One of San Francisco’s most iconic landmarks can also offer a serious workout, too. For a birds-eye—specifically, a parrot’s-eye—view of the surrounding city, climb the Filbert Street stairs or the Greenwich Street stairs, both of which offer a lung-busting trek to the base of Coit Tower .

35. Join the best rolling party in San Francisco.

San Francisco Bike Party, also known as Bike Party, is a guaranteed two-wheeled good time on the first Friday of every month. Each ride is carefully mapped out through various SF 'hoods, with several stops, music, and themed costumes.

36. Catch a symphony at the Wave Organ.

Located on a jetty opposite Marina Green, this quirky sculpture’s 25 “pipes”, which are nestled among granite and marble slabs, are activated by the motion of the tides. Trust us, you have to see it to believe it; high tide offers the best audio experience at the Wave Organ.

37. Soar above the city on a rope swing.

Soar above the skyline on a rope swing.
Soar above the skyline on a rope swing. John Tregoning

Like the Seward slides, the rope swing on Billy Goat Hill in the Glen Park neighborhood of the city also has its own Yelp review. You’ll have to climb some 230-odd stairs up Harry Street to reach the park where the swing calls home, but the chance to soar into the sky, with the city stretching out in all directions below, is more than worth the effort. That is, if the swing is there: Neighbors are reported to cut it down, wanting their peace and quiet. But that makes the experience all the more special when it is there (and you can even call yourself a swinger in San Francisco, to boot).

38. Enjoy Golden Gate Park on a traffic-free Sunday.

San Francisco’s most beloved green space is closed to vehicle traffic on Sundays, making it an even more amazing space to run, ride, or simply stroll through the serene landscape, which includes forests, waterfalls, windmills, and even a bison paddock.

39. Hang glide at Fort Funston.

Fort Funston is a hang gliding mecca.
Fort Funston is a hang gliding mecca. Eugene Kim

Take your adventures to unprecedented new heights at Fort Funston, which is known among hang-gliding enthusiasts as one of the world’s best spots for a flight. Newbies can find instructors through the Feather Fellows Hang Gliding Club , which is a partner of Golden Gate National Park.

40. Do some in-town bouldering at Glen Park Canyon.

For decades, rock hounds have been climbing and bouldering in Glen Park Canyon, a beautiful, rugged canyon located right inside city limits in the Glen Park neighborhood. Choose from several routes, many suited for beginners.

41. High five Hopper's Hands.

The small sign with a pair of golden hands on the chain link fence surrounding Fort Point, directly under the Golden Gate Bridge, is a sort of testament to Ken Hopper, a now-retired bridge iron worker who used to watch runners touch the rusty fence and wanted a more official way to commemorate their efforts. Touching the hands mid-run is a beloved local running tradition, and Hopper even installed a small two-pawed plaque below for four-legged companions, too.

42. Kayak (or do anything, really) at Point Reyes National Seashore.

Point Reyes is a popular place to see bioluminescence.
Point Reyes is a popular place to see bioluminescence. Kevin Lam

Point Reyes National Seashore is an outdoor lovers’ paradise, complete with endless kayaking, hiking, and biking options. Camping at Point Reyes is sublime, too, but book ahead of time if you can, as the four campsites are notoriously popular.

43. Flip for the acrobatic action at House of Air.

When the weather is nasty, this epic indoor trampoline park in the Marina fits the bill for some bouncy fun. It’s also a popular spot for hardcore skiers and snowboarders to practice their high-flying freestyle skills.

44. Spend the night in a 115-year-old lighthouse.

Views are unbeatable at this lighthouse-turned-hostel.
Views are unbeatable at this lighthouse-turned-hostel. Jonathan Gross

Sleep among the salty breezes and sounds of the ocean that ancient mariners did more than a century ago at the historic Pigeon Point Lighthouse , which has been transformed into a cozy hostel, complete with a hot tub boasting unforgettable views of the Pacific Ocean.

45. Run the Lyon Street steps.

Perhaps the most famous of San Francisco's many, many staircases, the nearly 250 steps that run from Green Street to the end of Billionaire's Row on Broadway in Pacific Heights are a perennial favorite among the city's fitness fanatics. The fantastic views—you've got Dianne Feinstein's mansion on one side, the Presidio on the other, and the bay stretching out in front of you on the way down (assuming you can handle more than one lap)—just might help take the focus off your screaming quads.

46. Get ready to ride the Napa Valley Vine Trail.

One of the most visionary projects in Napa Valley in recent years, the multi-use Napa Valley Vine Trail will eventually connect 47 miles of trail from Vallejo to Calistoga—virtually eliminating the need for a car to enjoy some of the most world-class wine country in the world. To this point, 11 miles have already been built and several more are under construction, despite some recent snags in the development process. Keep an eye on this one, folks.

47. Take a hike in Redwood Regional Park.

The park is full of running and hiking trails.
The park is full of running and hiking trails. Miguel Vieira

An East Bay gem, this 1,830-acre park offers 40 miles of trails that meander through 150-foot redwoods, eucalyptus, and evergreens, offering a lovely respite to the hustle and bustle of Oakland.

48. Climb to the South San Francisco sign.

The iconic "South San Francisco" sign, which was put in place in the 1920s to attract industry to town, can be reached within about a 2-mile hike on Sign Hill, on the aptly named Letters Trail. The homes and nearby hillsides stretch out below, but the real views are the up-close ones of those massive letters.

49. Do a stretch (or all) of the Bay Area Ridge Trail.

The Tk-mile Bay Area Ridge Trail features views like this.
The Tk-mile Bay Area Ridge Trail features views like this. Joel Henner

One of the Bay Area’s most prestigious outdoor projects, the Bay Area Ridge Trail currently has more than 360 miles of trails open for hiking and biking, with a plan to have a total of 550 that create a complete circuit throughout the Bay Area.

Last Updated:

Next Up

Previous

7 Days in the Land of Enchantment: The Ultimate New Mexico Road Trip

Next

Gym To Rock: Getting to Grip with Outdoor Climbing Etiquette