20 quirky, fun and trendy places to explore in San Francisco
There are so many wonderful things to do in San Francisco for all age groups and interests covering everything imaginable: unlimited dining options, diverse ethnic neighborhoods and shopping, urban adventure and recreational pursuits, history and architectural walks, fine arts and culture – the list is endless. Along with the popular tourist venues and activities covering the gamut of attractions, there are many quirky, fun, trendy hangouts and unique places to explore in San Francisco – even fussy locals (or people in the know) like to enjoy and hang out in many of these cool places.
Following is my top 20 list of fun, quirky and cool things to do in the city
1) Walking on both bridges
Nothing like walking the entire distance of the Golden Gate Bridge and seeing beautiful vistas of the city and entire bay from both sides of the bridge. Just completed – the East Bay extension of the San Francisco Bay Bridge will include walking or bike paths all the way to Treasure Island. The new expansion is now open to bikers and walkers on marked paths from the East Bay extension, to find out more information visit their website here. I also love to walk the Golden Gate bridge and enjoy the details and history of the bridge, you can check out a recent post I did on the bridge here.
2) Off the Grid Friday food night
It’s a party every Friday night at Fort Mason from 5-10 pm in the Marina district and different areas around the city on certain days (mostly lunch time frames). Over 32 trendy food trucks participate and form a weekend party bash with music and entertainment along with some pretty tasty international food offerings done with creative bites or full meals. You get to sample everything from tasty pork buns, chocolate tacos to crème brulee carts along with on-site brewery and bar service serving the up a thirsty public. Check this site for more details.
3) Natural coastlines and trails
Miles of natural coastlines and trails are connected from Ocean beach through Lands End and continuing to the Golden Gate bridge. This extends all the way to Crissy fields in the Marina district. The entire coastal range of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area is open for hiking and exploring nature, the coastline and beaches within the city. Whether you walk around the Cliff House and Sutro Baths below, or hike through the trail head along Lands End, the views are pretty amazing and seeing nature in the city is a pretty cool experience in spite of being in a dense urban area. For more information about the area and places to visit check out the Golden Gate National Recreation Area website here. I love exploring this area every time I’m visiting San Francisco, You can check out a recent post I did of the Baker and China Beach areas here.
4) Visiting a trendy and delicious food and shopping neighborhood
Fashionistas, foodie and locavore people and the typical coffee crowd hang out in the every neighborhood in the city – one of the most popular and continually expanding is the Valencia street thoroughfare from 13th street to Caesar Chavez Blvd. Both sides of Valencia street are lined with the coolest fashion, design, food, café/coffee culture and mix of bizarre and cool shops catering to trendy and young audiences. You will find a lot of quirky shops including Paxton Gate at 824 Valencia – it’s an eclectic shop filled with taxidermy, carved bone, petrified wood and fossils and odd-looking and exotic plants for those who have a taste for the unusual and not boring. I recently took a food walking tour around the Mission/Valencia area and it was fantastic! You can check out the food highlights from the Mission food tour here.
5) Amazing views from many hilltops
Find a hilltop anywhere in the city and you will get some pretty far out views. This includes popular tourist spots like Twin Peaks and Diamond Heights. Also consider visiting local favorite spots like Corona Heights, Delores Park or Bernal Heights in the Mission district. Take a drive or walk up to any of these hilltops and bring a picnic and you’ll be amazed with the magnificent panoramic views of the entire city. Hint : come up during sunrise or sunset and you will rewarded with a colorful show during this timeframe. Check out this recent post I did on places to take pictures of the best views in San Francisco here.
6) New Exploratorium
The new location of the Exploratorium at the Embarcadero on Pier 15 has made this facility more accessible with easy public transportation. Amazing new exhibits and gorgeous views of the bay are worth making the visit with your children or even for adults. For more information take a look at their website here. This is definitely the play to go with children and enjoy the facility and the great bay views.
7) Weekly organic certified farmers markets at the Embarcadero Ferry Terminal
The weekly Wednesday and Saturday market are a big draw for locals to buy some of the best quality and ripe produce, finished goods and prepared foods. Make sure to also visit the Embarcadero Ferry Plaza for some more amazing foodie/locavore delights along with gourmet finds, amazing restaurants and gorgeous views of the waterfront and the Bay Bridge. I always love coming back to the Embarcadero when I’m in the city and enjoy a nice meal at one of the restaurants inside. Please check out my story on this wonderful and popular foodie spot in San Francisco here.
8) The Coolest Ball Park
The new downtown baseball stadium is pretty cool and a perfect place to enjoy a ball game with easy access to public transportation. Whether you are rooting for the local Giants or a competitive team, it’s fun to soak up the atmosphere in this colorful ballpark with pleasant views of the bay and Embarcadero. Try some of the food here, it’s definitely a level above regular ball park concessions. Hint – can’t get tickets, head out to the stadium anyway, there is a huge screen under the archway for viewing the games and hey it’s free!
9) Antique market and SF views
Once a month usually at the end of the month, the Treasure Island antique market occurs at Building one and the main grounds. You’ll find some interesting antiques, craft vendors and gift items. Also on site are a variety delicious ethnic food trucks – go grab some yummy grinds and sit anywhere along the grassy areas to enjoy the magnificent views of the entire city. For more information on the Antique market and schedule visit their website here.
10) Catch a gorgeous view
You can get some amazing views from many of the cities buildings open to the public, here are some of the favorites: The View bar at the Marriott, the Starlight room at the Sir Francis Drake, Sunday brunch or drinks at the Hilton on Union Square, the Cheesecake factory at Macy’s, Coit tower, Observation area at the De Young Museum, Top of the Mark at the Mark Hopkins Hotel. Mornings and sunsets are ideal, but check their hours for opening/closing times. To check some of the places you can see the city from above, check out my post on San Francisco views from above here
11) Cool murals and urban exploits
San Francisco hosts many areas with cool graffiti and urban murals. Some of the best are located in the Mission and Guerrero street, with easy walking tours to both areas. The two main ‘mural’ corridors are Clarion Alley off Valencia in between 17 & 18th streets. Also another cool spot are the Balmy Alley murals in the Mission off 25th street. The alley has a whole collection of murals from the 80’s to represent protests and human rights abuses world-wide happening during that timeframe to present. Check out my post on the Clarion alley street art scene here.
12) Free Museum days
First Tuesday of every month is free museum days in San Francisco and some of the other days during the week outside of First Tuesdays. Most of the major museums take part but some museum offer free days on separate schedules. You can visit this site to see free admission or reduced rates for every museum in San Francisco. Even if you cannot make the free days, go out and visit any of the cities museums – depending on what your interest is, the caliber of exhibits is first-rate at all these venues. On Thursday nights at the Academy of Sciences is Adult night and it is a fun scene just for Adults. You can check out a post I did on this cool event here.
13) Best Food court in the city
This is not just any food court, it is the best gourmet food court in the basement of the Westfield shopping center. There is a gamut of international cuisine available from well-known restaurants that are offering the same quality of food at better prices in this outstanding food court. Do yourself a favor and get there early because at lunch time the place is jam-packed with lines at every food venue. Walk around and try some of the free samples before you make a choice, there are so many good choices to available.
14) Regular free performance series at Stern Grove
San Francisco knows how to picnic and the free Sunday series running all summer is very popular at Stern Grove. Sunday is the place to be in the park to enjoy some great entertainment for free including: the SF ballet, the SF Opera, the SF Orchestra along with many special one of a kind performances. Best advise is to get to Stern grove early to find a picnic spot and enjoy the day – it gets extremely busy at the start time usually around 2pm so it’s always good to have a spot to sit on and get a nice view of the performance.
15) Brunch in the city
Brunch and breakfast eateries are big in the city. Whether you are in line for a Chinese dim sum meal, a breakfast dive or waiting to get called up for the champagne brunch at the Cliff House, you will be participating in one of the city’s favorite activities. San Francisco people love their breakfast food and there are many popular to trendy places catering for the early morning risers in this city.
16) Sundays in the park
All the streets are closed off in Golden Gate park so it’s a good time to skate, bike even Lindy/swing dance in the streets of Golden Gate Park. You’ll find a lot of activity and people exercising, people watching or just enjoying a day out on the park without noise and car traffic. If your looking for some wonderful gardens to explore in the park, check out my Golden Gate park gardens here.
17) Visit some of the coolest stairs and views of the city
There are so many cool stairs and hidden gardens to explore in the city that give you a different view and impression of living like a local. Some of my favorites include the 16th avenue stairs in the Richmond district, the Greenwich stairs in North beach, and the Filbert steps also in the North Beach district. These are all wonderful places to enjoy a quiet and backstreet view of these really cool neighborhoods in the city. For a comprehensive guide of the best stairs with gardens and views, check out my stairs of San Francisco post here.
18) Walk the Labyrinth at Grace Cathedral with music
One Friday evening each month a labyrinth walk with candle light, music and prayer, check here for more details about this unique experience.
19) Thursday nights at the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate par,
Thursday nights at the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate park is the place to be with adult only events including food/beverages, music with local bands, activities and live shows throughout the center. The adult only event venue hosts a new theme every week covering jazz, dance performances, film screenings and art demos. I wrote a post about visiting Thursday nights at the Academy of Sciences, you can check out my experience here. You can also just go visit the regular exhibits. Prices are really cheap at $12, you can check their website for a calendar of events and theme here.
20) Take a ride on a ferry to Alcatraz island and the prison
Cruising to Alcatraz is really a lot of fun and no wonder it’s the number one attraction in the city! A fun and easy ride to the island and lots of activities and tours that you can take. My advise would be to take an early ferry ride and bring a nice picnic to enjoy with those spectacular views of the city. You can check out a recent post I just did touring Alcatraz island here.
There’s so much to see in San Francisco, you can practically walk down any of its neighborhoods and be easily entertained. If you want even more fun tips of what to see and do in the city, check out my favorite San Francisco back streets and cool neighborhoods post here.
More information for a San Francisco visit
Hotels accommodations and deals for San Francisco
There are so many wonderful and one of a kind hotels worth staying at in San Francisco with unique features, here are some of my favorites
Fairmont San Francisco – perched on top of Nob Hill with spectacular views of the city and bay, the Fairmont is one of the cities classic and elegant hotels worth a nice splurge when visiting San Francisco
Loews Regency – for stunning views, service and central location, you should stay the Loews with huge bedrooms, amazing views in each room, impeccable service and all the modern conveniences and amenities you would want to a stay
Argonaut Hotel – located in the wharf hotel, this hotel does not disappoint in terms of comfort, elegance and details. Beautifully decorated rooms in this smaller boutique hotel
The Marker hotel – if your looking for quirky and colorful then this old and modern retrofit that is part of the Joie de Vivre chain is distinctive and the wine hours are fun and friendly. Centrally located in the city and d easy to walk around downtown
Check out some of the other cool and fun centrally located hotels from TripAdvisor in the city here for more details and current prices.
Touring activities for San Francisco
There are plenty of fun outdoor and tour activities you can participate around San Francisco if you want to join a tour that caters to exploring different activities, experiences and venues, check them out below
San Francisco City Pass – If your planning on checking out many museums, tourist destinations and admission to popular attractions then this might be a better deal for you while visiting the city.
San Francisco air tour – flying above iconic sites for 35 minutes, you will see all of the city and more on this private and comprehensive tour of the city.
A San Francisco bay cruise – there’s nothing like being out on the bay and sailing on a catamaran gives you a different perspective on the water while you see many of the iconic sites and monuments of the city
Walking tour of Chinatown and Dim sum upgrade – this is a fun and popular walking tour of the Chinatown area and you can also participate on a dim sum lunch which is a cheap and delicious upgrade
Check out these additional group tours you can join here to experience something unique and fun in the city.
If you enjoyed this post, check out my other San Francisco posts below
Thanks for checking out the blog today and finding out about the 20 quirky, fun and trendy places to explore in San Francisco, hopefully you will get to experience something more local to the typical tourist attractions in the city.
Have you done anything else cool or unusual in San Francisco? Please share it with us in the comments below.
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