10 hidden gems in San Francisco
San Francisco’s most famous landmark, the Golden Gate Bridge is known as one of the world’s most beautiful bridges. Watching the fog roll in as the fog horn blasts loudly is a quintessential San Fran scene.
But the heart of this quirky, colorful and wondrous city stretches way beyond the bridge. World class sunsets and parks, hidden staircases and graffiti covered alleyways, a rich history and inclusive atmosphere make San Francisco one of the coolest cities in the U.S – as long as you know where to go. Start by ticking these 10 hidden gems off your list.
1. The Wave Organ
The Wave Organ is a unique musical instrument that only has one player – the ocean. As the tide rolls in, the organ bubbles and gurgles, cries and sings, and on the wave out, it’s more of a loud belch! Head down at high tide to hear the Wave Organ at full volume. You can’t help but marvel at nature’s beauty.
2. Seward Street Slides
Grab a mate and race each other down these historic curved concrete slides. They’ve been enjoyed by kids and big kids at heart since the 1970s. Don’t forget to bring your own piece of cardboard to slide on, or you might end up with ripped jeans and a sore behind!
3. Free museum days
The first Tuesday of the month sees both the Legion of Honor museum and the de Young Museum opening their doors for free. The former houses an impressive collection of ancient and European art, the latter showcases American art from the 17th through the 21st centuries and textiles and costumes from the Americas, the Pacific and Africa. It also boasts fantastic views from the top floor.
Don’t miss first Thursdays at 49 Geary Art Galleries. This famed address hosts lively exhibition openings on the first Thursday of every month and stays open til late serving wine and nibbles.
4. Musee Mecanique
Step back in time at the Musee Mecanique on Fisherman’s Wharf, which boasts a collection of over 300 coin-operated games – all available to play for as little as a penny! Choose from pinball, fortune-tellers, love-testers, classic Pac-Man and many more.
5. Church of 8 wheels
Yes, it’s a church, but worshipers here have a different god: the rollerskate! The old church was reimagined as a lively and inclusive skate venue in 2004 by rollerskating fanatic David Miles Jr, and now welcomes skaters of all skill levels four days a week. With skates available to hire, disco music, and beginner lessons on Saturdays, there’s nothing stopping you joining in this super-fun sport!
6. Balmy Alley
The Mission district is the place to go to check out cool street art and trendy restaurants. Take a wander down Balmy Alley, one of the lesser known spots in San Francisco to check out the ever-changing murals adorned on the walls.
The area also hosts the annual Day of the Dead parade on November 2nd every year at the end of the alley. In this Mexican celebration, people dress up in wonderful costumes and make elaborate altars to honor their recently deceased loved ones.
7. Russian River float
Experience summer like a local by grabbing a few friends and floating down the Russian River.
Grab some inflatable rafts or donuts, tie everyone together with a rope, pack a cooler with snacks and drinks, and you’re set!
For a short float, Mother's Beach to Sunset Beach takes about an hour, while Steelhead Beach to Mother's Beach is a longer trip at around three hours!
8. Walk the Wood Line
Artist Andy Goldsworthy created this gigantic art installation knowing it will eventually decay over time, much like the life cycle of nature. The 365m long sculpture is made from felled eucalyptus logs snaking along the ground in Presidio park. Unlike most artworks, Wood Line is designed to be interacted with, so test your balance as you walk along it in this peaceful park.
Goldsworthy created three other pieces in this park, Spire, Tree Fall, and Earth Wall, and you can check them all out on a 5km hiking loop.
9. Cafe Royale
Mingle with locals at this Parisian-themed neighborhood bar in the trendy Nob Hill district. With free live jazz bands hitting the stage every weekend, art shows, delicious cocktails, a pool table, photo booth and resident cute pup, this place might just become your new favorite hang out spot.
10. Walk with a local
Learn more about San Francisco’s diverse neighborhoods by joining a walking tour offered by local volunteer historians. There are eighty tours to choose from covering Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, San Francisco’s gay rights movement, Golden Gate Park and everything in between. All tours are free, but donations are appreciated.