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18 Things to Do on a Rainy Day in San Francisco

While there’s lots of beauty to enjoy outside while visiting San Francisco, from the parks and the zoo to the beautiful beaches, if it’s raining out, you won’t have a hard time finding something fun to do. From fascinating cultural attractions to eerie haunts and delicious eats, you’d probably need more than one rainy day to cover it all. These are just some of the options to consider.

Take the Alcatraz Night Tour Alcatraz Island
Credit: Alcatraz Island by bigstock.com

Take the Alcatraz Night Tour

What Is It? One of San Francisco’s most popular attractions is also one of its most haunted. A formidable fortress in the middle of the bay, Alcatraz was the site of the first lighthouse in the Western U.S., but it became a federal penitentiary from 1934 to 1963 when it housed the likes of Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly. Today “The Rock” is part of the 80,000-acre Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Why Do It?  While it’s haunting at any time, the night tour adds an extra eerie feel, especially on a rainy or foggy night.

Good to Know: The audio cell house tour is narrated by former inmates and guards, recounting harrowing tales of prison life as well as the numerous tragic escape attempts.

Golden Gate Fortune Factory Golden Gate Fortune Factory
Credit: Golden Gate Fortune Factory by goldengatefortunecookie.squarespace.com

Golden Gate Fortune Factory

What Is It? Golden Gate Fortune Company is one of the country’s few remaining places that makes handmade fortune cookies.

Why Do It?  The aroma of freshly made fortune cookies that wafts down Chinatown’s Ross Alley is sure to draw you in. Take a tour and watch as they’re made, with two workers usually busy placing the fortunes in hot cookies and then folding them before they harden.

Good to Know: After the tour, you’ll enjoy a sample that will reveal the incredible difference between the fortune cookies you’ve probably enjoyed before these freshly made ones.

Eat Your Way Through the Ferry Building Ferry Building Marketplace, San Francisco
Credit: Ferry Building Marketplace, San Francisco by © James Kirkikis | Dreamstime.com

Eat Your Way Through the Ferry Building

What Is It? The ferry building lies on Embarcadero at the foot of Market Street, a magnificent structure that originally opened in 1898 before being renovated and reopened in 2003 as a foodies’ delight.

Why Do It?  The building itself is worth a visit just to marvel at it, but the main reason to come is for the food. There are multiple outstanding eateries and a fantastic farmers’ market.

Good to Know: The Slanted Door which serves nouveau Vietnamese fare is one of the must-try restaurants in the city, found here in the Ferry Building. It’s not easy to get a table, but you can dine at the no-reservations bar instead.

Take in a Show at the Castro Theater Castro Theater
Credit: Castro Theater by BWChicago via Flickr

Take in a Show at the Castro Theater

What Is It? A historic San Francisco landmark, the Castro Theater was built in 1922. It has a Spanish Colonial Baroque façade paying homage to the rebuilt basilica of Mission Delores with its grand arched central window surmounted by a scrolling pediment that frames a niche.

Why Do It?  It’s considered one of the city’s most magnificent theaters.

Good to Know: If a sing-a-long performance is scheduled while you’re visiting, don’t miss it. This is when attendees come dressed as their favorite characters and party favors are passed out at the start of the show to enhance the experience.

Laugh with Laffing Sal and Play Old Fashioned Games at Musee Mecanique Musee Mecanique
Credit: Musee Mecanique by Averain via Flickr

Laugh with Laffing Sal and Play Old Fashioned Games at Musee Mecanique

What Is It? The Musee Mecanique is located at Fisherman’s Wharf and features coin-operated fortune tellers, player pianos, love testers and many rare and historic pieces, like the large diorama of a traveling carnival with a Ferris wheel and other rides, along with the legendary Laffing Sal.

Why Do It? It holds one of the largest privately-owned collections of coin-operated mechanical machines in the world, with over 300 on display, offering a unique experience that would be hard to find anywhere else without going back in time.

Good to Know: Admission is free, it’s open 365 days a year and all of the coin-operated games can be played, with prices that range from a penny to $1.

Cable Car Museum The Cable Car Museum
Credit: The Cable Car Museum by Steve Parker via Flickr

Cable Car Museum

What Is It? Set within the Washington-Mason powerhouse and car barn on Nob Hill, the Cable Car Museum overlooks the huge engines and winding wheels that pull the city’s cables while providing an interesting look at the history of the cable car in the city.

Why Do It? If it’s too rainy out for a cable car ride, this is your next best option and it doesn’t cost a thing to visit. Even if you’ve ridden one, it’s worth visiting to learn more about them.

Good to Know: The museum features three antique cable cars that date back to the 1870s. You’ll be able to view mechanical displays and learn about the challenges the cars have faced over the years as well as purchase items in the gift shop.

Sample the Seafood at Swan Oyster Depot Swan Oyster Depot
Credit: Swan Oyster Depot by Lee Edwin Coursey via Flickr

Sample the Seafood at Swan Oyster Depot

What Is It? Swan Oyster Depot has become famous as the best place to enjoy seafood in the city. Opened over a century ago by four Danish brothers using a horse-drawn carriage, the siblings originally delivered their fresh seafood throughout San Francisco.

Why Do It? The tiny restaurant with just 12 bar stools and six cooks working behind the counter has been featured on the former TV series “Parts Unknown” starring the late Anthony Bourdain who called it his “happy zone,” adding, “If I read about myself dying at this counter, I’d say to myself that was one lucky guy.”

Good to Know: Enjoy everything from the famous clam chowder and shrimp cocktail to oysters and crab salads, but if you want to go without a very long wait, plan to visit just before it opens at 10:30 am.

Drive Down Lombard Street Lombard Street
Credit: Lombard Street by Bigstock.com

Drive Down Lombard Street

What Is It? Lombard is renowned as the “crookedest” street in the world. The winding road on Russian Hill features extremely tight turns that switchback down the one-way hill past grand Victorian mansions, beautiful gardens and spectacular views of the bay, Alcatraz, and Coit Tower.

Why Do It? This is a must experience as one of the most unique of the many vertically endowed roads here, rain or shine.

Good to Know: There are also a number of homes that have been featured on the big and small screen, like Scottie’s Apartment from the Alfred Hitchcock film, “Vertigo,” located at 900 Lombard Street and the “Real World” house at 949 Lombard.

Explore the de Young Museum de Young Museum
Credit: de Young Museum by Bigstock.com

Explore the de Young Museum

What Is It? The de Young Museum, open since 1895, is San Francisco’s oldest, located in the heart of Golden Gate Park. It has a focus on North American art and period interiors, but it also features exhibits from Egypt, Greece, Rome and the Near East along with British art, and folk art from Africa, America and the Pacific Islands.

Why Do It? This museum is a local favorite and one of the most popular attractions among San Francisco visitors.

Good to Know: Head to the 144-foot high tower and observation deck for 360 views of the city.

See Exhibits at the California Academy of Sciences California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco
Credit: California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco by obvio171 via Flickr

See Exhibits at the California Academy of Sciences

What Is It? The California Academy of Sciences includes an aquarium, the world’s largest planetarium, a four-story rainforest with an incredible coral reef ecosystem and a natural history museum.

Why Do It? The institution was called one of the “New Wonders of the World, ” housing nearly 40,000 live animals with everything from penguins to snakes and piranhas. The planetarium transports visitors through space and time for a whole new perspective on the planet we live on.

Good to Know: Don’t miss the Living Room. Shaped like the hills of San Francisco but entirely green with lush native plant life, it boasts magnificent views of the park.

Browse Through the World's Biggest Collection of CDs at Amoeba Music Amoeba Music
Credit: Amoeba Music by © James Kirkikis | Dreamstime.com

Browse Through the World's Biggest Collection of CDs at Amoeba Music

What Is It? Located in the Haight-Ashbury district, Amoeba Music is massive, set within a former bowling alley housing one of the world’s most extensive collections, with more than 100,000 new and used albums on record, CD and cassette.

Why Do It? The selection of music is second to none.

Good to Know: Artists often come here to sign albums and even play live shows, with upcoming events for all stores, including San Francisco.

Visit the Exploratorium Exploratorium
Credit: Exploratorium by Exploratorium

Visit the Exploratorium

What Is It? Located in the Presidio, the Exploratorium offers a fun education for all ages seeking fascinating answers to questions they wanted to ask in science class but never did.

Why Do It? This legendary science museum includes some 600 hands-on exhibits along with magnificent views of the city and the bay housed in a glass-and-steel Bay Observatory.

Good to Know: Highlights include a pitch-black maze that has to be navigated by touch, the tactile dome, the chance to dissect a cow’s eye and blow the world’s biggest soap bubble.

Admire the Windows at The Neptune Society Columbarium San Francisco Columbarium
Credit: San Francisco Columbarium by Michael Zanussi via Flickr

Admire the Windows at The Neptune Society Columbarium

What Is It? Neptune Society Columbarium (a repository for cremated remains) is an usual but surprisingly interesting gem in the Richmond District

Why Do It? It offers a link to an earlier era in the city’s history and is a mystery even to most locals. Finished in 1895, the building itself is stunning with its baroque and neoclassical elements while the interior boasts beautiful stained glass windows and other impressive details.

Good to Know: The remains of some rather prominent San Francisco residents are housed here like Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the state; Chet Helms, the founder and promoter of the 1967 Summer of Love; and muppeteer and writer for The Muppets, Jerry Juhl.

Have Brunch at the Cliff House The famous Cliff House Restaurant, San Francisco
Credit: The famous Cliff House Restaurant, San Francisco by © Tommy Song - Dreamstime.com

Have Brunch at the Cliff House

What Is It? Located at the north end of Ocean Beach, the Cliff House is a restaurant that was originally built in 1863, but it’s burned down twice over the years and has been remodeled in several styles since, going from a Victorian gingerbread to the modern/classical design it has today.

Why Do It? Not only does the restaurant boast endless ocean views, but its Sunday brunch is to-die-for. Frequently listed on or near the top of the best brunch in the city, it’s served buffet-style with a variety of seasonal fresh items enjoyed while listening to harp music and sipping fantastic bloody marys.

Good to Know: Ask the staff about the “brunch to-go kit” if you think you’ll find yourself craving a visit but live too far away – it includes a bottle of their classic Bloody Mary mix and the mix for their delicious popovers.

Get Up-Close to Marine Life at Aquarium of the Bay Glass tunnel San Francisco's Aquarium of the Bay
Credit: Glass tunnel San Francisco's Aquarium of the Bay by Ray_LAC via Flickr

Get Up-Close to Marine Life at Aquarium of the Bay

What Is It? Located at The Embarcadero and Beach Street at the edge of Pier 39, this aquarium is focused on local aquatic animals from the San Francisco Bay, nearby rivers and watersheds.

Why Do It? You can walk through 300 feet of clear tunnels to gaze at sharks, rays and over 20,000 other marine animals. Enjoy hands-on animal encounters, behind the scenes tours, feedings and more.

Good to Know: View the feeding schedule before you go and try to time your visit to watch the exciting shark feeding.

Shop at Union Square Union Square, San Francisco
Credit: Union Square, San Francisco by bigstock.com

Shop at Union Square

What Is It? One of San Francisco’s most famous shopping destinations, Union Square is home to the nine-story Westfield San Francisco Centre.

Why Do It? If you’re going to be indoors, you might as well enjoy the myriad of shopping and dining options, with more than 200 restaurants and shops found in Union Square’s mall.

Good to Know: There’s a lot of ground to cover so be sure and wear comfortable walking shoes.

Admire Artwork at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Credit: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art by Wikimedia Commons

Admire Artwork at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

What Is It? San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is a modern and contemporary art museum, one of the largest of its kind in the country.

Why Do It? The seven floors of over 33,000 works are guaranteed to make you forget about the dreary weather outside.

Good to Know: Some of the highlights include pieces from renowned artists like Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons, among many others.

Tour Boudin Bakery Boudin Bakery, San Francisco
Credit: Boudin Bakery, San Francisco by Wikimedia Commons

Tour Boudin Bakery

What Is It? The Boudin Bakery was first established in 1849, famous for its sourdough bread, started by Isidore Boudin, son of a family of master bakers from France who blended the sourdough prevalent among miners in the Gold Rush using French techniques.

Why Do It? Discover the history behind this famously delicious bread, including why it can’t be baked anywhere else on the planet. And, enjoy samples too.

Good to Know: A special tour will allow you to participate and roll bread with one of the actual bakers. Afterward, be sure to try the classic clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl.

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