City Guide: What to do in San Francisco as a student

San Francisco is a vibrant city with a lot to offer to students. The city has a little something for everyone, from museums and parks to restaurants and good nightlife. But with so many choices, it can take time to decide what to do and see. That’s why we’ve put together this student guide, that can help you explore San Francisco.

San Francisco is home to some of the best museums in the country, such as the Exploratorium and the California Academy of Sciences. Alcatraz Island is a must-see for students looking for interesting experiences. Once home to a federal prison, Alcatraz offers tours and exhibits to explore the island’s history. The Golden Gate Bridge is another iconic San Francisco landmark that makes for a nice place to spend an afternoon. You can explore Chinatown, visit Fisherman’s Wharf, the street art scene in the Mission district, or take a ferry ride out to Angel Island.

Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most famous landmarks in San Francisco.

Attractions in San Francisco

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the world’s most beautiful bridges and San Francisco’s most famous landmarks. It is 1.7 miles (2.7km) long and contains 80,000 miles of wire. The iconic orange bridge stretches across San Francisco Bay, connecting the city to Marin County. The sidewalks of the bridge are open to pedestrians during the day so you can soak in the beauty of this unique bridge, and the lovely view.

The place that carries plenty of America’s charged history is definitely Alcatraz. The notorious prison, which held inmates like Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and the “Birdman of Alcatraz”, is now a popular tourist attraction, where visitors can experience the atmosphere of the well-known prison, and the rather peaceful island, that held over 1,500 convicts in three decades. You can take an audio tour narrated by former inmates and guards, who share stories about famous escape plans and prison riots. On the island, you can also see a Civil War fortress, sites related to the Red Power movement, and more.

Pier 39 is the most visited destination in San Francisco. It offers dining, entertainment, shopping, and more. Pier 39 is located on Fisherman’s Wharf, giving a nice view of the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Angel Islands, and the city skyline. You can enjoy the famous seafood, an interactive shooting gallery, talented street performers, and unique shops.

Pier 39 at Fisherman's Wharf
Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf has lots of fun things to do.

At Golden Gate Park, you can see picnic spots, gardens, sports grounds, trails, playgrounds for kids, and more. It has 13 million visitors a year, making it one of the main attractions in San Francisco. Here you can see the Japanese Tea Garden, the Conservatory of Flowers, the Academy of Science, a vintage carousel, and more.

There is more to see and encounter in San Francisco, like the historic Ferry Building, old cable cars, Chinatown, Barbary Coast, the Coit Tower, and so on. It is surely one of the most memorable places you can choose for your studying experience.

A cable car with Alcatraz Island in the background
San Francisco is famous for its cable cars and hills. In the background is Alcatraz Island.

Student life in the city

Attractions such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, and the Chinatown district are all great experiences to students, while the nearby beach town of Santa Cruz and the wine country of Napa Valley are great for weekend getaways. When you’re not in class, you can also enjoy a variety of museums, such as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the de Young Museum. There are also plenty of hiking trails in the surrounding area, like the Bay Area Ridge Trail or Mount Tamalpais.

You can also attend one of the many music, theatre, or film events that take place in the city. You can enjoy live music at the Balboa Theater, or check out the street art along Clarion Alley.

Coit Tower and Twin Peaks are two well-known lookouts offering beautiful views of the city skyline and surrounding area. For a classic San Francisco experience, you can grab a cup of coffee at Joe’s Coffee Shop, and slices of sourdough from Boudin Bakery, the oldest continually operating business in San Francisco, founded in 1849.

Lombard Street is famous for its twisty turns
San Francisco is famous for its many hills. In the picture is Lombard Street in the Russian Hill neighbourhood.

Top universities in the Bay Area

The San Francisco Bay Area is home to some of the best universities in the world. With Silicon Valley close by, there are also lots of jobs in the area, especially in the IT sector.

Stanford University

Stanford University is one of the world’s most prestigious universities, being ranked as the 3rd best university in the world in the 2023 QS World University Rankings. Located near Palo Alto, south of San Francisco itself, Stanford occupies one of the largest campuses in the United States.

University of California, Berkeley

UC Berkeley is another Bay Area university that is listed among the best in the world. It’s ranked as the 27th best university in the world in the 2023 QS World University Rankings, making it the best public university in California and the second best in the United States. It’s a huge university with almost 50,000 students.

Other universities in the Bay Area

Along with Stanford and Cal, the Bay Area also has many other universities. The University of California, San Francisco, is a leading research university dedicated to health and life sciences. The University of San Francisco is a private Catholic university with a focus on social justice and service. San Francisco State University provides a comprehensive education, with a diverse student body and a commitment to the local community. The Academy of Art University has a long-standing reputation for excellence in arts.

With such a wide range of universities, no matter what you are interested in studying, you’ll likely find a suitable university for you in the San Francisco area.

Stanford University campus
Stanford University has one of the largest campuses in the country.

Student accommodation in the Bay Area

 Finding a place to stay is never easy when you decide on a new location. As in all big cities, houses and apartments a bit further away from the city centre tend to be cheaper. Shared housing can also be a good idea if you are on a budget, especially in the notoriously expensive San Francisco Bay Area. You can see all of our options for student accommodation in the San Francisco Bay Area or check some of our most popular options below.

Common Webster

Common Webster student housing in San Francisco

Common Webster offers student housing in a great location in the heart of San Francisco. It offers private rooms with shared bathrooms, with water and electricity bills, as well as Wi-Fi, included. If you’re on a budget, it’s hard to beat Common Webster on price, especially given the central location in the Civic Center neighbourhood.

NEMA San Francisco

NEMA offers fully private studio apartments in central San Francisco

Nema is another student housing option in San Francisco with an excellent location right in the heart of the city. It’s higher up on the price range, but you’ll get a fully self-contained studio apartment and won’t have to share any facilities.

The Courtyards at 65th Street Apartments

A balcony and a pool at The Courtyards at 65th Street Apartments in Berkeley

The Courtyards at 65th Street Apartments is located in the city of Berkeley. It offers fully private studio apartments within easy reach of the University of California, Berkeley. You can get from your home to the campus in about 25 minutes by public transportation and in just over 10 minutes by car.