I am a Sunset girl; it is where I was born and raised and my family still lives there. Many people often overlook the Sunset District, referring to it as a suburb instead of actually being part of the city. Growing up, it always used to bother me when people would say the Sunset is too far away or doesn’t have anything exciting to do, because that simply is not the case. I think the Sunset District is a hidden gem of San Francisco.

I will admit, the Sunset tends to be foggier than the rest of San Francisco, so bring your warm layers. But it has natural beauty, a melting pot of ethnic restaurants, quirky local bars, museums, farmers markets, and boutique stores. Here's a look at what to do in the Sunset, one of San Francisco's most wonderful districts.

Quick Answer Guide: 12 Best Things to Do in the Sunset

‌Top Things to Do in the Sunset‌

‌Best Things to Do During the Day in the Sunset‌

‌Best Things to Do Outdoors in the Sunset‌

‌Best Things to Do at Night in the Sunset‌

‌Free Things to Do in the Sunset‌

Top Things to Do in the Sunset

The Sunset is divided into two sections: the Inner and Outer Sunset. Tourist hot spots such as the de Young Museum, San Francisco Botanical Gardens, the California Academy of Sciences and the Japanese Tea Garden are located in the Inner Sunset. Ocean Beach, Sutro Baths, Lands End, Stern Grove, and the San Francisco Zoo are located in the Outer Sunset.

Knowing where to start in this lovely district can be difficult, hopefully this guide can help you find the best things to do in the Sunset.

1. Golden Gate Park

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Visiting Golden Gate Park is a must do in the Sunset. Golden Gate Park is massive, covering 1,017 acres, and larger than New York’s Central Park. It is filled with fine art and natural history museums, gardens, lakes, playgrounds, walking and biking trails, windmills, and bison. It is a fantastic place to go with your family, on a date or by yourself. There is truly something for everyone, and you can spend several days there and still have not done everything the park has to offer.

My perfect day in Golden Gate Park consists of grabbing some freshly baked pizza or a corn and cherry scone from Arizmendi Bakery and walking to the San Francisco Botanical Gardens. Admission is $13 for adults, $7 for youth and seniors, and free for children ages five and under as well as for San Francisco residents. The garden is over 55 acres and has around 9,000 different kinds of plants from all over the world. My favorite area to visit is the bamboo forest. There is also a lake with ducks and geese and plenty of hidden places to relax in.

Next, I would cross the street to the Japanese Tea Garden (prices are about the same as the Botanical Gardens) and relax in the tranquil environment while admiring various pagodas, koi ponds and zen gardens, ending my time there drinking some tea of course. If you are visiting between March and April, check out the cherry blossoms.

Afterwards, I would walk five minutes down the road to visit Stow Lake. Stow Lake is a man-made lake with an island in the middle. I love to walk around the entire lake (which is about 1 mile and takes about 20 minutes) gazing at waterfalls, looking for turtles in the water and relaxing in the Chinese Pavilion. I enjoy hiking to the top of Strawberry Hill, grabbing some snacks at the Stow Lake Cafe, and renting a paddle boat or electric boat to see the area from a different vantage point.

2. Ocean Beach

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  • Perfect For:‌ Surfers and hikers
  • Website:https://www.parksconservancy.org/parks/ocean-beach
  • If You Go:‌ Unless you are an experienced surfer, do not go in the water because there are very strong rip tides and no lifeguards at the beach.

Located in the Outer Sunset is Ocean Beach. Visiting Ocean Beach is not like visiting a beach in Southern California. The majority of the year, the beach will be chilly and foggy, especially during the summer months. People do not come to Ocean Beach to work on their tan. People flock to ocean beach to go running with their dogs, have picnics and play in the sand with their kids, wander along the sand dunes, admire the beautiful ocean views, walk or bike along the Great Highway, explore Sutro Baths, and hike Lands End.

Sutro Baths was once a Victorian bathhouse, but now you can just see the crumbling foundation of what it once was with beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean. The Lands End hiking trail is a 3.5-mile, moderately difficult loop which will lead you to the Lands End Lookout, The Legion of Honor Art Museum, views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Lands End Labyrinth, and the USS San Francisco Memorial.

After an active day at the beach, grab some food at some of the highly rated local eateries. Some of my favorite restaurants in the area are brunch at Outerlands (try the Dutch pancake), Hook Fish Co. (try the fish tacos or burrito), Beach Chalet Brewery and Restaurant, Thanh Long (try the garlic noodles, tiger prawns and roast crab), and Devil’s Teeth Baking Company (try the breakfast sandwich and a donut muffin).

3. San Francisco Zoo

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  • Perfect For:‌ Families with children
  • Website:https://www.sfzoo.org/
  • If You Go‌: Try to park on the street before paying to park in their lot ($11 weekdays, $13 weekends).

I grew up going to the San Francisco Zoo and now I take my own son there. Located near Ocean Beach, the San Francisco Zoo is 100 acres is is home to over 2,000 animals. Entrance fees are $31 for adults, $22 for children, $26 for seniors and $18 for children ages 2-11.

Not only do children love seeing the exotic animals and visiting the petting zoo, it also has one of the best playgrounds in San Francisco, the Elinor Friend Playground, which is designed to be three different themes: a Polar Zone, River Play Area, and a Banyan Tree climbing structure. Bring your own lunch or dine at one of the zoo’s three restaurants. There is also a really nice gift shop your kids will undoubtedly want a souvenir from.

Best Things to Do During the Day in the Sunset

In my 20s, I lived right on 9th and Irving Street (which is right in the center of all of the action in the Inner Sunset) for eight years, and they were some of the best years of my life. Below are some of the best things to do in the Sunset during the day.

4. Shopping

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  • Perfect For:‌ Those with a little extra money to spend
  • Website:https://sfchamber.com/
  • If You Go:‌ Bring a larger bag to put all of your newly purchased items in.

If you want to dabble in some retail therapy, the Inner and Outer Sunset has plenty of local boutiques and stores that are worth checking out. I always enjoy checking out the clothing, home goods, and books at The General Store on Judah Street.

For clothing and accessories, visit Ambience on Irving Street. For jewelry and gifts, go to The Last Straw. For art supplies including house made watercolors and paper goods, check out Case for Making on Judah Street. For San Francisco-inspired clothing, visit San Franpsycho on 9th Avenue.

5. California Academy of Sciences

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  • Perfect For:‌ An indoor activity for the whole family
  • Website:https://www.calacademy.org
  • If You Go:‌ Make sure you have at least a few hours to see everything in the museum and in the area that surrounds it.

Visiting the California Academy of Sciences is one of the best indoor activities in the Sunset, located right in the heart of Golden Gate Park, next to the de Young Museum, Japanese Tea Garden, and the SkyStar Wheel. The Academy of Sciences is a natural history museum with an aquarium, planetarium, and rainforest.

Don’t forget to visit the Living Roof complete with weather stations and solar panels to keep the museum environmentally friendly. The Academy of Sciences offer themed sleepovers for children ages 4-14 (accompanied by an adult). Every Thursday evening, they have cocktails and music for adults over the age of 21.

Best Things to Do Outdoors in the Sunset

The Inner and Outer Sunset have many fun outdoor activities that can be enjoyed in the sunshine or the fog. Whether you walk, run, or bike, there are outdoor activities for all interests. San Francisco is one of the greatest American cities, and there is so much to do outdoors here.

6. Inner Sunset Farmers' Market

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  • Perfect For:‌ Fresh produce and delicious baked goods
  • Website:https://www.pcfma.org/innersunset
  • If You Go:‌ Remember the Farmers' Market is every Sunday, year-round from 9:00 am - 1:00 pm

Grab a cup of coffee from the Beanery or Snowbird Coffee and head to the Inner Sunset Farmers' Market (located in the parking lot between 8th and 9th Avenue off of Irving Street).

This market is one of my go-to places for fresh fruit, vegetables, cheese, seafood, homemade dips, cookies, flowers, and fresh pasta. Enjoy the free samples!

7. Conservatory of Flowers

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  • Perfect For:‌ Flowers and a gorgeous place to sit and relax
  • Website:https://conservatoryofflowers.org
  • If You Go:‌ Make sure to buy tickets to go inside the conservatory and bring your camera.

The Conservatory of Flowers is a picturesque spot in Golden Gate Park perfect for admiring the flowers, picnicking and learning about plants. Open Thursday-Tuesday 10:00 am - 4:00 pm, the Conservatory offers viewing experiences and audio tours of rare plants from all over the world.

Best Things to Do at Night in the Sunset

In terms of nightlife, the Sunset may be a bit more sleepy than the rest of San Francisco, but from delicious restaurants to dive bars, there is still plenty of fun to be had in the evening! Here are some of the best places to visit in the Sunset after the sun, well, sets.

8. The Riptide

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  • Perfect For:‌ Those who love live music
  • Website:https://www.riptidesf.com
  • If You Go:‌ Have your favorite song picked out so you can participate in karaoke!

The Riptide is a bar located down by Ocean Beach in the Outer Sunset, open Monday-Saturday. The Riptide offers happy hours, live music, open mic nights, and karaoke in a warm, inviting, and casual environment.

9. Woods Outbound

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Warm up after a visit to Ocean Beach at Woods Outbound, a quaint neighborhood spot offering craft beer, natural wine, empanadas, and tinned fish.

Free Things to Do in the Sunset

Though the city is certainly known for being one of the most expensive places to live in the country, that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of attractions that won't break your wallet. Here's some of the best things to do in the sunset that won't cost you a dime.

10. Sigmund Stern Recreation Grove

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  • Perfect For:‌ Free music festivals and dog walking
  • Website:https://www.sterngrove.org
  • If You Go:‌ Check the park’s summer calendar to see when various music festivals are — usually they are on Thursdays and Fridays.

I also used to live across the street from Stern Grove, and I would love walking through it, especially during the pandemic. It offered me respite from the rest of the world. Walking underneath eucalyptus, pine, and redwood trees, you feel as if you are far away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Stern Grove is a 33-acre park complete with tennis and pickleball courts, a dog-friendly play area, meadows, an inviting stone amphitheater, picnic tables, and a lake. Every summer, the Stern Grove Festival offers free various musical performances — just make sure to reserve a ticket beforehand.

11. 16th Avenue Tiled Steps and Grandview Park

The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps is a huge mosaic staircase with 163 steps surrounded by gardens. It is a great place to take photographs, admire local art, and to get some exercise.

The staircase leads to Grandview Park. Once there, go sightseeing along the 0.2 mile Grandview Trail to one of the best views in San Francisco where you can see Golden Gate Park, Downtown San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and beyond.

12. Koret Children’s Quarter

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This playground, originally named Sharon Quarters for Children, opened in 1888 and was considered the nation’s first public playground. In 2007, it underwent renovations and is now named the Koret Children's Quarter and is one of the best playgrounds in San Francisco.

Families will love the large rope climbing structure, zipping down the concrete slides, swings, dedicated areas for babies, toddlers, and bigger kids, and the carousel (which is only free for children ages 5 and under, it costs $2 for adults and $1 for children over the age of 5).

There are so many activities in the Sunset and this article only scratched the surface. When visiting, take a self-guided walking tour to see as many local sights as you can and reward yourself with amazing nature, shops, food, and drinks along the way. Enjoy!