From the glorious lack of (what many would call) “real” seasons to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and unique urban adventures, San Francisco is a small but spirited city after every visitor’s heart. After 13 years of Girl Scouting in San Francisco, I can easily say that being a Girl Scout in a bustling city may not provide as many close-to-home outdoor adventures, but urban settings still have a lot to offer!
With GSNorCal’s annual Golden Gate Bridging event just around the corner, there’s no better time for you and your girls to explore the renowned City by the Bay. So whether your girls are interested in hilly hikes, awesome art, or tasty treats, they’ll definitely find something to enjoy from San Francisco’s endless supply of awesomeness! To help you and your girls get started, here are 8 of our favorite things to do in the City:
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1. Wander through the many attractions at Golden Gate Park
Spanning over approximately 1,000 acres, Golden Gate Park is like a little city in itself. With its countless museums, gardens, lakes, and even buffalo, a stroll through Golden Gate Park can easily take all day. The park is home to a wide variety of iconic San Francisco gems, such as fine art at the de Young Museum, peaceful pagodas at the Japanese Tea Garden, paddleboat rides on Stow Lake, and the eco-friendly Living Roof at the California Academy of Sciences, so your girls will surely find something to enjoy.
Pro Tip: Parking can get a bit tricky, so if you don’t want to drive around the park, try renting a bike – or if you have a group of 4 or less, a surrey bike might be the way to go.
2. Visit one (or a few) of the many must-see museums throughout the city
Step into a whole new world and expand your knowledge as you admire San Francisco’s huge collection of museums. Whether your girls want to walk through Mr. Disney life at the Walt Disney Museum, take in some modern art at the SFMOMA, or interact with educational science and art exhibits at the Exploratorium, there’s a museum that fits everyone’s interest.
3. Explore San Francisco’s distinct districts and discover some unique street art
San Francisco is home to a melting pot of cultures, so it’s no surprise that our diverse community is full of colorful public art. No matter where you are in the City, you’ll see a local artist’s masterpiece on a nearby wall or sidewalk floor. Remind your girls to pack their cameras, because these unique art scenes provide some awesome, one-of-a-kind photo ops. Some of my favorites include, 163 mosaic tile steps at 16th Avenue and Moraga Street in the Sunset District, the complex graffiti murals at Balmy Alley in the Mission District, and the dozens of Hearts in San Francisco sculptures scattered throughout the city.
4. Stop by the Embarcadero, Pier 39, and Fisherman’s Wharf
The Embarcadero and Fisherman’s Wharf area is literally 2 miles of fun tourist attractions. With the Piers’ prime location on the waterfront and large warehouse-like buildings, your girls can easily spend the entire day exploring the various San Francisco classics between the Cupid’s Span sculpture at the base of Bay Bridge and the monstrous sundaes at Ghirardelli Square. While at the Piers, you can visit sea lions and other sea creatures at Pier 39’s Aquarium of the Bay, discover local artists and chefs at the Ferry Building, strike a pose with wax figures of your favorite celebrities at Madame Tussauds, catch a ferry to Alcatraz, indulge on clam chowder in Boudin’s original San Francisco sourdough bread bowl, play vintage “penny” arcade games at Musée Mécanique– I wasn’t joking when I said 2 miles of fun!
5. Take a hike at Lands End
If your troop is looking to get away from the bustling urban lifestyle for a bit, this breathtaking 3-mile out-and-back hike (it’s really more of a walk, if we’re being honest) from the Lands End Visitor Center to Seacliff’s China Beach is the way to go. On this trail, you’ll be able to experience some historic landmarks, like the Sutro Baths ruins, the Legion of Honor museum, the USS San Francisco Memorial, and more. This hike is also a great way to catch a full view of the one-and-only Golden Gate Bridge!
For a more panoramic view of the city, head for the high hills of the city. Some of the best lookouts include the highest points Twin Peaks or Mount Davidson both off of Portola Drive, Grandview Park at the top of the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps, or Bernal Heights Park – where you can also enjoy a frequently-changing painted rock and a rope swing.
6. Eat your way through San Francisco’s historic Chinatown
For those of us who don’t have the time to fly to the other side of the world, we’re lucky to have the largest Chinatown outside of Asia right in the city. The first Chinese immigrants came to San Francisco in the 1850s and the community has been growing ever since! This historic town has a variety of family-owned restaurants, shops, and buildings full of Chinese culture. In addition to the authentic businesses, there is also an abundance of food: traditional egg tarts, delicious dim sum, freshly brewed boba tea, and even handmade fortune cookies. You can really enjoy the culture and eat your day away in San Francisco’s Chinatown.
7. Host a bonfire and roast marshmallows at Ocean Beach
The water at Ocean Beach is usually too cold to dip your toes in, but with about 3.5 miles of sandy open space it’s perfect for hosting outdoor activities (and also one of the few places in San Francisco where beach fires are permitted). So if you’re looking for huge gusts of wind to launch your kites or regulation fire pits for some outdoor cooking, Ocean Beach is a great place for a group bonding day. Before you pack up the fire wood and beach blankets, make sure to check the weather before stepping foot on the sand because, when the fog rolls in, it rolls in thick!
8. Spend the Night at Camp Ida Smith
Did you know there’s GSNorCal camp in San Francisco? Just a few miles from Ocean Beach, Camp Ida Smith is located just off of Lake Merced Boulevard in San Francisco’s Outer Sunset district. Growing up as a Girl Scout in San Francisco, Camp Ida Smith was my troop’s home away from home where we could experience camping without leaving the city. This campsite is equipped with a full kitchen, large multi-purpose common room, flushing toilets, and outdoor picnic tables while still being conveniently located less than a mile away from a grocery store.
As you can tell, San Francisco is more than just a city – it’s an experience, where visitors enjoy art, culture, nature, food, and so much more. I’ve been living here my entire life and I’m still not tired of it! Trust me, no matter where you go, whether you’re visiting an acclaimed tourist attraction or walking through a local neighborhood, you’ll encounter something unique and special in the city of San Francisco. P.S. We know that there’s so much more to Northern California than just San Francisco, so stay tuned for more activity ideas for visiting other areas of our Council with your Girl Scout troop!
Leah Takahashi—Leah is the Digital Marketing Specialist for Girl Scouts of Northern California, where she creates content, plans blog posts, and promotes all things Girl Scouts in all formats digital. Leah joined Girl Scouts at the age of 5 and has been a part of the organization ever since (shout out to Troop 31213 – woot woot). During her younger Girl Scout days, Leah did everything from selling thousands of Girl Scout Cookies to serving as a National Delegate at the 2011 Convention and even earning her Gold Award in 2012. She may be young, but she’s got plenty of Girl Scout experience under her belt and is excited to share it with you!