Looking for fun, off the beaten path things to do in San Francisco? Want to find out what local life is really like in the city? Do run-of-the-mill tourist spots like Fisherman’s Wharf make you want to gag just a little bit?
As a San Francisco resident for 4 years and counting, I’ve seen the ins and outs of the city. While I won’t say I’ve done it all—there’s always more to discover, after all—I can certainly offer a recommendation or two that you won’t find in your typical guide.
Without further ado, here are some of my favorite things to do for fun in San Francisco!
1. Hike Mount Davidson on a Foggy Day
Mount Davidson Park, the highest natural point in San Francisco, boasts panoramic views of the city, forested trails, and a massive, 103 foot tall cross—a monument honoring the victims of the Armenian Genocide.
On a clear day, you are rewarded with 360-degree views of the city. However, I recommend all visitors to check out Mount Davidson on a foggy afternoon. While you won’t necessarily catch San Francisco’s famous views, you’ll have an eerie, unique experience that feels right out of an Edgar Allan Poe novel.
2. Take a Street Art Walk in the Mission District
Since the 40s, the Mission has been home to San Francisco’s Mexican and Central American immigrants. In the last few years, it has experienced swift gentrification associated with the tech boom. Hello hipster coffee shops, high-end artisanal markets, and pricy restaurants.
Despite recent changes, Latin culture still thrives in the Mission, apparent through the wide variety of Latin restaurants as well as the vibrant street art throughout the neighborhood.
Mission’s famous murals depict Latin history and mythology, the community’s political activism, and more. Whenever I have visitors, I make it a point to spend at least half a day exploring everything the Mission has to offer.
Where to Find Street Art in the Mission
- Clarion Alley (Near Valencia and 16th BART station)
- Women’s Building (3543 18th St)
- 24th Street (explore side alleys)
- Balmy Alley
- Lilac Street
- Cypress Street
- Lucky Street
3. Walk the Barbary Coast Trail Through the Heart of San Francisco
The Barbary Coast Trail is a 4.3 mile walk that brings you through 20 historic sites and some of the most iconic neighborhoods in San Francisco.
“The historic sites of the Barbary Coast Trail relate primarily to the period from the California Gold Rush of 1849 to the Earthquake and Fire of 1906, a period when San Francisco grew from a small village to the busiest port on the West Coast.”— AllTrails
Check out skyscrapers in the Financial District, window shop in Union Square, grab cheap counter dim sum in Chinatown and pasta in North Beach, and get lost in the tourist crowds of Fisherman’s Wharf. And of course, enjoy the ocean views along the way.
4. Eat Authentic Chinese Food
The history of Chinese food in San Francisco goes back as far as there has been Chinese food in the US. Today, there are an abundance of authentic, affordable Chinese restaurants serving food from all regions of China. From Cantonese dim sum and the addicting numbing spice of Sichuan to the hand-pulled noodles and dumplings of Northern China and cumin- and lamb-forward flavors of Muslim Chinese cuisine, you’ll find a little bit of everything.
5. Lounge in Dolores Park on a Sunny Day
Dolores Park is the place to hang out on a sunny day in the city. Bring some snacks, alcoholic beverages, a set of speakers, and your friends, and you’re all set for a poppin’ Saturday.
As you soak up views of the city, you may find some entrepreneurial folk approaching you with mushrooms, rum in coconuts, pot brownies, and other edibles. You may even see a few fully naked people. All part of the experience!
6. Cross the Entire City on Foot
For the fit and highly ambitious traveler, this 17-mile trail starts at the southeast entrance of San Francisco and ends at Lands End, a beautiful park along the northwestern shoreline of the city. Parks, trails, cityscape, ocean—you’ll see a little bit of everything.
As you can guess, 17 miles takes all day on foot, so start early! You’ll be rewarded with a comprehensive glimpse at the best San Francisco has to offer.
7. Eat the Most Delicious Almond Croissant EVER at Arsicault Bakery
I realize that this is a bold statement. But seriously, I would not lead you astray. You want these almond croissants in your mouth.
Afterwards, head to Clement Street around the corner—a mini Chinatown in itself—and browse the Chinese grocery stores, casual restaurants, and the 6th Ave Aquarium. There’s even a cute farmers market if you end up there on a Sunday.
Arsicault Bakery is located at 397 Arguello Blvd, San Francisco, CA
8. Admire Classic Victorian & Edwardian Architecture in Haight-Ashbury
San Francisco is famous for it’s one-of-a-kind Victorian and Edwardian architecture, and Haight-Ashbury is home to many classic examples!
Where to Find the Coolest Houses
- Haight and its side streets
- Haight-Ashbury Painted Ladies (Central Street between Haight and Page Street)
- Page Street
- Painted Ladies on Waller Street between Masonic and Ashbury
- Jimi Hendrix “Red House” (1524-1528A Haight Street)
- Grateful Dead House (710 Ashbury Street)
- Janis Joplin House (635 Ashbury Street)
- Jefferson Airplane House (2400 Fulton Street)
9. Enjoy a Secluded Hike at Thornton State Beach
Thornton State Beach is a hidden gem for breathtaking views of the Pacific coastline. On more than one occasion, I’ve been one of <5 people down on the beach when visiting.
Once you arrive, take a left from the parking lot to access the trail. Landslides and coastal erosion over the years have buried original park facilities, making the walk an interesting, rugged experience. Paths in the cliffs are carved into a landscape of succulents, and you’ll feel like you landed directly onto the set of Lord of the Rings.
Thornton can be confusing for first-timers, but AllTrails has a great trail map that new visitors can follow.
I’ll let the photo speak for itself from here.
10. Ride a Bike from Golden Gate Park to Ocean Beach
Riding a bike is one of the best ways to get to know any city, and this hour-long, out-and-back route is safe, relatively flat, and takes you through the heart of Golden Gate Park and the beautiful shorelines of Ocean Beach.
Rent a bike from Avenue Cyclery on Stanyan Street, located right at the entrance of Golden Gate Park (or another bike shop in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood). From there, ride on John F Kennedy Drive until you hit Ocean Beach. Take a left onto the bike lanes along the Great Highway and soak up the ocean views and succulent-covered sand dunes. Go as far as the Great Highway and Sloat Blvd., intersection, then turn around and head back the way you came.
See the full out and back route on Google Maps below:
11. Picnic With Golden Gate Views at Baker Beach
On a sunny day, Baker Beach is perfect place to bring a picnic and take in views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Sit down and just chill, or go explore the batteries that defended San Francisco during WWII and take a hike up the cliffs.
Note: Baker Beach is “clothing optional.” You’ll see a few folk (usually older men) prancing around nude, minding their own business. Enjoy the eye candy!
12. Find the Labyrinth on the Lands End Trail
Lands End is a 3.4 mile out and back trail at the rugged northwestern coastline of San Francisco. The famous labyrinth, pictured above, is located on the edge of a cliff with beautiful views of the ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge.
To find the labyrinth, access the Land’s End trailhead from the parking lot at 600 Point Lobos Ave. Make sure you stay on the main path, as there are a few confusing forks along the way. If you aren’t sure that you are on the right path at any point, don’t be afraid to ask someone! Land’s End is one of the most popular trails in the city, and there are always people there.
Once you have walked on the trail for 0.8 miles—20 minutes, roughly—you’ll see a steep staircase through the trees on your left. Follow it down and you will find the labyrinth!
Did I Miss Anything?
What did you discover on your trip to San Francisco? Did you go to any of the spots I recommended above? Let me know in the comments below! I’d love to hear what you think.