Home to a dazzling wealth of postcard-worthy attractions, San Francisco also happens to harbor a huge range of lesser-known experiences that go way beyond tourist destinations (we’re looking at you, Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz).
Are you itching to uncover the nooks and crannies of the “City by the Bay“? Then have a look at the post to discover what are the 11 worth-visiting hidden gems in San Francisco!
San Francisco Off the Beaten Path: Unusual Things to Do In The City
A giant organ placed on the shore of San Francisco Bay creates a poetic and gentle symphony played by the ocean. Made of 25 pipes located at various elevations within the site, the instrument was built in 1986 with material taken from a demolished cemetery and is activated by the crashing of the waves. Tip: the music is best heard around high tide.
Moraga Steps On 16th Avenue
It’s not a secret that San Francisco is filled with a multitude of Instagrammable places, including big-name attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge and Pier 39. But the city is also home to some eye-popping photo spots that you won’t find in the travel guides. The whimsical Moraga Steps, for instance, is a precious hidden gem that almost only locals know about.
Located on 16th Avenue, in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Heights Neighborhood, the staircase features 163 steps artfully decorated with more than 2,000 handmade tiles that are made up of 75,000 fragments of tiles, mirrors, and stained glass.
When climbing the “16th Avenue tiled stairs”, be sure to have a closer look at the tiles, which are beautifully crafted in the shape of birds, stars, flowers, and other whimsical patterns.
The Mission District is the place where you can experience the whole breadth of San Francisco’s art and culture scene. Whenever you feel like getting your creative juices flowing, be sure to go for an unscheduled walk around this vibrant neighborhood, which is deeply influenced by the city’s Latino communities.
While snooping around “The Mission”, expect to come across lip-smacking Mexican eateries, trendy boutique shops, and quaint art galleries. If you’re an art-lover, be sure to go on a free walking tour to explore the area’s eye-popping patchwork of colorful street art murals that reflect a variety of artistic styles.
Wide-eyed travelers who want to see San Francisco from a new perspective must add the Giant Camera to their travel bucket list. Perched atop the cliffs located north of Ocean Beach, this large-scale camera obscura creates whimsical 360 live images of the Seal Rock Area.
Labyrinth at Lands End
Designed by San Francisco artist Eduardo Aguilera, this stone labyrinth is a beautiful gem located along the rocky shoreline of Land’s End park. The creation has been destroyed twice but restored by the artist, always in the same spot: a scenic outcropping with gorgeous views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Marin Headlands, and the Pacific Ocean.
After taking in the restoring and serene atmosphere at Land’s End Labyrinth, venture further out to the nearby Sutro Baths, which are placed just a short walk from Cliff House. Built in 1896 by Adolph Sutro, a self-made San Francisco millionaire, the baths were once the largest indoor swimming pool complex in the world, with a capacity of accommodating 10,000 people at one time.
Covering three acres and featuring seven salt-water swimming pools fed by the tides at the entrance to San Francisco Bay, the baths went on the decline and now all that is left is an eerie, yet beautiful, an assortment of ruined pools, and crumbling walls overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
A delectable collection of Italian restaurants makes Little Italy a favorite destination for travelers seeking to feast on some unbeatable food in San Francisco. Located between Fisherman’s Wharf and Chinatown, the neighborhood (originally called North Beach), has historically been home to a large community from Northern Italy and boasts some of the restaurants in the city.
While visiting Little Italy, be sure to try the lip-smacking focaccia at Liguria Bakery, the tiramisu at Trattoria Pinocchio, and the golden-crust pizza at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana.
Perched atop Telegraph Hill, Coit Tower has been a crown jewel in San Francisco’s skyline since 1933. Visit the observation deck of this 210-food slender building for a jaw-dropping 360º view of the city, including landmark attractions such as the Golden Gate and Bay bridges. During your visit, be sure to catch a glimpse of the tower’s murals, that depict life in California during the Great Depression.
Botanical Garden and Shakespeare’s Garden
Perfectly located in the Golden Gate Park, the San Francisco Botanical Garden and Shakespeare’s Garden are quiet pockets of greenery in the middle of the city.
In the Botanical Garden, expect to marvel at more than 8,000 different kinds of plants from around the world, including towering palm trees, and alluring flowers like camellias, magnolias, and rhododendrons.
After exploring San Francisco’s Botanical garden, head over to the dreamy Shakespeare’s Garden, which is dotted with more than 200 flowers and plants mentioned within the works of William Shakespeare!
Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory
Off all the unusual things to do in San Francisco, visiting the city’s Fortune Cookie Factory is for sure one of the most exciting. Founded in 1962, the factory makes up to 10,000 fortune cookies a day, which are baked fresh on a copper slow-release heat rotating griddle wheel.
During your visit, you can try a free sample of the cookies, or buy a bag to binge-eat them later!
Looking for a prime spot to indulge in some fantastic views of San Francisco? Then Treasure Island is definitely worth the trip. An artificial island in the San Francisco Bay, this area hosts some of the city’s most exciting events, including the San Francisco International Dragon Boat Festival, the Treasure Island Flea Market, and the annual two-day Treasure Island Music Festival.
Frequently Asked Questions About San Francisco
Where do locals go in San Francisco?
Locals don’t usually go sightseeing, but rather exploring the city’s diverse collection of neighborhoods. If you want to experience the city like a local, be sure to walk around areas like Hayes Valley, The Mission, and North Beach. This is an unparalleled way to absorb San Francisco’s energy and stumble across some world-class hidden gems!
What should I avoid in San Francisco?
If you want to go off the beaten path and uncover the lesser-known marvels of San Francisco, avoid the city’s most touristic attractions, such as Union Square, Alcatraz Island, and Fisherman’s Wharf.
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