23 San Francisco things to do in 2023
Catch a concert in a converted mortuary, tour a Painted Lady and ride the longest escalator west of the Mississippi
| Jan. 8, 2023 | Updated: Jan. 9, 2023 10:58 AM
Memorable adventures await you in San Francisco in 2023, whether it’s the city’s most underrated hike, a forbidden burrito in North Beach or a history tour with a 204-year-old member of San Francisco royalty.
Our list of
things to do in 2022
was influenced by the pandemic and heavy on outdoor destinations and things you can do alone. This year, we’re easing back into crowds, whether it’s crowds of moviegoers, basketball fans or holiday revelers.
Looking for more fun things to do? Heather Knight shared her choices on
the most recent Total SF podcast
. Or let us know what we missed tagging
Enjoy the city’s most underappreciated views
is the best San Francisco hike that almost no one talks about — ascending a quarter mile and then looping through a forest, interesting rock formations, Works Project Administration ruins and spectacular 360-degree views.
Parking at the Key Avenue “trailhead” is very limited and the peak of the hill can be cold (think Candlestick Park weather, except with no stadium windbreak) but everything else on this short but steep hike is mystic and beautiful. We especially like the blend of old and new San Francisco on display, from the latest progress in San Francisco’s forthcoming superpark (
India Basin Shoreline Park
in Bayview scheduled to finish in 2026) to owl’s-eye views looking down on the stalwart Hunters Point Crane and Cow Palace.
Watch a movie at the 4 Star Theater
The 4 Star Theater
is one of San Francisco’s pandemic success stories. Not only did the Richmond District theater survive, the building was bought
by an anonymous new owner
in 2021 who put money into its restoration and reopened it in December 2022 with a bigger screen, better sound and beer sales.
The new management Cinema SF, which also runs the Vogue and Balboa theaters, has pledged to shape the programming of classic movies, cult favorites and Asian cinema for the neighborhood. They’re already selling coffee in the mornings and fresh bagels. Check out the calendar —
there’s a movie for everyone
— and make a date to celebrate San Francisco’s great new community space.
Wander through peak magnolia at Golden Gate Park
Since the first
blossomed in 1940 to huge crowds, the San Francisco Botanical Garden has grown its magnolias collection like a compulsion, with more than 200 trees and 63 species of the ancient plant. Which makes “peak magnolia” — the blooming that usually starts in mid-January and hits a zenith in February — one of the great sights of Golden Gate Park.
The Botanical Garden site
tracks which magnolias are blooming
a magnolia map
for this year’s event and has volunteers and staffers to explain the history of the plants which thrive in the Himalayas … and also San Francisco’s biggest park.
Contemplate the future in the Bernal Heights swing
There are dozens of spectacular hilltop vistas in San Francisco. But only one allows hikers to sit in a giant tree swing, face the downtown skyline, and contemplate the past, present and future of San Francisco.
trail to Bernal Peak
is one of the steepest hikes in San Francisco, but worth the journey, with entrances from the Folsom and Cortland side of the park. Explore the entire area — there are staircases and wildlife to discover on all sides of the peak — but the swing on the northern side of the peak is the most photogenic spot in one of San Francisco’s most cinematic locations.
Eat at the city’s throwback neon-fabulous burger joint
Tired of rapid changes in San Francisco? Pining for the
good old days
? Head to the city’s
most frozen-in-time burger joint
and feel like it’s 1962 again.
Beep’s Burgers is iconic for its neon rocket sign, which welcomes locals and visitors to the Ingleside neighborhood. The food keeps getting better — milkshakes and fries are solid, but nothing beats the A+ cheeseburger that might feel fancy (brioche bun!) if you weren’t eating it on a steel countertop along Ocean Avenue.
Beep’s is also very transit accessible — take the K Ingleside or J Church Muni lines, or Balboa Park BART.
Take a bus tour of Treasure Island
The 25 Treasure Island is one of the best deals in public transportation, costing just $2.50 (using a Clipper Card) for a tour of Treasure Island and some of the best views in the Bay Area.
Pick up the bus on the
third deck of Salesforce Transit Center
, a destination worth its own things-to-do-in-2023 entry. Take the bus through the rapidly developing island and jump out at Mersea (corner of Avenue of the Palms and 9th Street) to enjoy the casual food, drink and spectacular city skyline, followed by a stroll along the shore.
Soak in more great views on the ride back. Consider taking
the new Treasure Island ferry
or hop the bus back to San Francisco and get an elevated Muni-eyed view of downtown, Rincon Hill and Sutro Tower in the distance.
See a concert in a converted mortuary
was built in the 1910s as a low-cost alternative to downtown mortuaries. “$105 including cremation or grave in any cemetery,” one Chronicle advertisement read. Now it’s an excellent alternative to the more corporate rock venues in San Francisco.
The Chapel is independently owned and booked, and the calendar keeps getting better — with a plethora of standout acts from Luna to Bob Mould to the Flamin’ Groovies to the Tom Petty tribute band Petty Theft. (All coming in early 2023.) It’s the best Litquake and SF Sketchfest venue and gets some of the most quirky-cool local events — the Red Room Orchestra
the music of “Twin Peaks” there, with series star Sherilyn Fenn in attendance.
It also has an A+ disco ball, which wards off any ghosts lingering in the building.
Grab a selfie with Kiri the fire truck
There are few humans who have seen more of San Francisco than
Kiri the tiny fire truck
, a Japan-born micro vehicle that was imported to S.F. in summer 2020 and has been spreading joy across the city since.
Finding Kiri is like looking for a rare Pokemon. The truck is based in Bernal Heights and is especially likely to appear at street festivals, fire stations, major landmarks, minor landmarks and on the road back and forth to Sonoma County. Kiri’s caretaker Todd Lappin is often nearby, and happy to tell her story.
Tour city history with Emperor Norton
There are few San Franciscans more beloved than Norton I., Emperor of the United States, who was born in 1818, lost a fortune in the rice trade and reinvented himself as a self-proclaimed ruler with his own currency and a series of predictions for the future.
But better to hear the tale from the Emperor himself, portrayed by local actor Joseph Amster, who offers paid downtown and waterfront tours in character as Emperor Norton. Amster is joyful and entertaining, but also takes great care with historical detail and accuracy.
Tours aren’t just for tourists — every San Franciscan should get acquainted with the
, Don Herron’s
Dashiell Hammett tour
and the good Emperor.
Browse the aisles in the city’s oldest comic book shop
San Francisco has some of the most welcoming comic book purveyors in the world, including
in Hayes Valley and Amazing Fantasy in the Inner Sunset.
But if we’re sending a first-timer to a comic book shop, Comix Experience is the easy pick — and not just because it’s celebrating
a third of a century in business
. The bright and clean Lower Haight store, founded in 1989 by Brian Hibbs when he was still a teen, has flourished by encouraging newcomers — with
a kids comic book club
, artist events and a focus on graphic novels that gives the space more of a fresh bookstore vibe than stores that sell a lot of back issues.
Located in the geographical center of the city, it’s walking distance from just about everywhere. (And transit friendly. No fewer than eight bus and streetcar lines stop within five blocks of Comix Experience.)
Strike warrior pose in a gothic cathedral
Grace Cathedral backs up its “You are welcome here” motto with a Tuesday night yoga class on the stone labyrinth, underneath the cathedral’s soaring stained glass windows and gothic columns.
The lessons, which start at $15 (
email the cathedral
if you’re unable to pay), are welcoming for newcomers and about as San Francisco as it gets. For the ultimate S.F. experience, you can ride the California cable car line to the cathedral, and have a drink at Top of the Mark afterward.
Eat North Beach’s most controversial burrito
Mexican food in North Beach? What sounds like an impossibility or sacrilege makes a lot more sense when you read The Chronicle’s coverage
of the El Farolito saga
, where the city’s best local burrito franchise was nearly blocked from the neighborhood after city leaders initially tried to enforce a ban on chain restaurants.
El Farolito triumphantly prevailed
, and it tastes like victory over bureaucracy. We recommend grabbing a carnitas or veggie burrito, taking the 39 Muni line up to Coit Tower and eating while enjoying the views and sounds of San Francisco.
Visit the oldest (captive) fish in the world
There’s a lot going on at the Cal Academy of Sciences, including a new baby penguin (not on display at press time) and the squirmy Bugs exhibit (open until January 22, 2023).
But one incredibly reliable Steinhart Aquarium exhibit is Methuselah, the Australian lungfish that was already a decade old upon arrival in the 1940s. Methuselah, at least 90 now, is spry, lives alone in the basement aquarium and likes belly rubs according to Steinhart biologists. Visit her while you can — although she may outlive all of us in the end.
Hear jazz in S.F.’s coziest and funkiest bookstore
Bird & Beckett Books & Records
has been delighting Glen Park with music for more than 20 years on Friday nights, cramming several jazz musicians onto a makeshift stage (there’s a permanent piano) while the bookstore transforms into a nightclub. The musicians, led by organizer and tenor sax player Chuck Peterson, continued to play during the pandemic as streaming entertainment.
Now, jazz is back — scheduled for most Fridays from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. There’s a $10 suggested donation per adult. Bird & Beckett also has a great hyper-local selection of new and used books to browse while you bop.
Ride the longest escalator west of the Mississippi
It’s hard to believe after more than four years of delays, but the Muni underground Central Subway is open, carrying riders from 4th and Brannan streets to Chinatown with daily service as of January 7.
as a place to explore
, at least, it was worth the wait.
The escalators in the Union Square Station, the longest in the Western United States, are particularly memorable. With Muni forced to bore beneath BART trains, the escalators descend 12 stories.
Pair those rides with
a public art tour
. The Union Square station is bathed in LED lights by the constantly morphing “Lucy in the Sky” display by Erwin Redi, while the Rose Pak Station in Chinatown features “Yangge: Dance of the Bride” by Yumei Hou, a striking red floor-to-ceiling piece inspired by Chinese paper cuts.
Watch legends play at Kezar Pavilion
Kezar Pavilion’s history includes boxing, University of San Francisco men’s basketball and home floor for
San Francisco Bay Bombers roller derby.
But the building’s greatest legacy is the San Francisco Bay Area Pro-Am summer basketball tournaments, legendary for the high-flying play and occasional appearances by NBA stars including Steph Curry, Jeremy Lin, Demian Lillard and Jason Kidd.
The tournament, which runs from June to August, is entering its 43rd year. Admission is free.
Take Tony Bravo’s tour of the Castro District
The Chronicle now has
three walking tours
of San Francisco on
the VoiceMap app
, including urban design critic John King’s architectural tour of the Financial District and a stroll through Golden Gate Park hosted by Total SF podcast’s Heather Knight and Peter Hartlaub.
Start with Tony Bravo’s 2022 tour,
Over the Rainbow in the Castro
, a historic, entertaining and personal story of the district and its people — with local secrets and the neighborhood’s history of activism that continues to resonate.
Visit the city’s most future-forward cocktail bar
The Interval in Fort Mason
is one of the city’s coolest bars, and also the clubhouse for the Long Now Foundation, a non-profit that promotes long-term thinking for the human race. (Among other things, they want to put a 10,000-year clock in the desert to get people thinking about the long now.)
The bar, cafe and museum has floor-to-ceiling books, ancient clocks and other mechanical devices and
one of San Francisco’s most creative drink menus
shaped by bartender Ty Caudil. (We recommend the “International Orange,” a mix of gin, Italian vermouth and bitter apéritif.)
Look for The Interval’s
regular salon talks
Party during the holidays with the Tree Twins
The Tree Twins
are one of the great San Francisco holiday traditions, up there with puppies in the windows at Macy’s and the lighting of Uncle John’s Tree at McLaren Lodge.
Jingle and Tingle (husbands Michael Morris and David Sweeney) don light-up homemade Christmas tree costumes and fill their calendar with trips to diverse San Francisco neighborhoods, taking to the streets and inviting everyone to join the party. Follow them
to find the fun.
Hike to the Presidio’s other great new park
The opening of Presidio’s
Tunnels Tops park
made national news, justifiably, with its tiered wonders, huge playground and stunning views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.
, a trailside park with new landscaping and exposed military batteries, is
arguably the more stunning draw
. Battery Bluff, about a half mile each way, feels more private and has a series of views that catch the hiker by surprise. If you’re feeling ambitious and the weather is right, start at Tunnel Tops, head west to Battery Bluff, then keep walking across the Golden Gate Bridge for a 5-mile round trip hike.
Tour the Blue Painted Lady
George Horsfall doesn’t resent the crowds of tourists who stare at his Painted Ladies house along Alamo Square every day. In fact, the charming and welcoming owner set up an Instagram page for his blue house and in 2021 began inviting people inside.
Horsfall has filled the house with San Francisco and Painted Ladies history and gives hour-long tours at 4 p.m. every day, asking for a $20 donation for house upkeep and charitable causes.
Make recycled art in the Bayview
The SCRAP creative reuse center is a gem in the Southeastern corner of San Francisco, filled with affordable paint, clothing, scrapbook material and other random arts and crafts supplies — all set up to provide equitable access to students, teachers and artists.
Go and browse
during SCRAP’s operating hours
, set up a field trip for your class or corporate group or check out one of the center’s
workshops and programs
Learn the history of the Tenderloin District
The Tenderloin District has been in the local and national news in recent years, used by San Francisco's detractors as a symbol of failure. But the district's story — which includes welcoming immigrants, spurring artistic innovation and hosting some of the city's greatest moments of activism — is
far more interesting
than the rhetoric.
The Tenderloin Museum makes a case for the neighborhood, and is an informative and enlightening place to visit — covering everything from Miles Davis and other jazz legends' contributions to the district, to the Tenderloin's role as a landing spot for Vietnamese and Laotian refugees and a 1917 revolt by sex workers who marched on a conservative church. Pair a visit with lunch at wonderful
a couple blocks away.