20 quirky, fun and trendy places to explore in San Francisco

20 quirky, fun and trendy places to explore in San Francisco

San Francisco sunrise landscape, California

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

 

 

Golden Gate Bridge views in San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge views in San Francisco

 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.

 

A view of the Golden Gate bridge at Lands end.

A view of the Golden Gate bridge at Lands end.

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.

 

Valencia street - 20 quirky, fun and trendy places to explore in San Francisco

Valencia street in San Francisco

 

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.

 

San Francisco panorama

San Francisco panorama

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.

 

Ferry Plaza Farmers Market (13)

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!

 

 

Treasure Island antique and collectible market

Treasure Island antique and collectible market

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.

 

20 quirky, fun and trendy places to explore in San Francisco with views of San Francisco

Views of San Francisco from Alcatraz prison

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.

 

Cool street art in the city - 20 quirky, fun and trendy places to explore in San Francisco

Cool street art in the city at Clarion Alley in the Mission

 

 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.

 

Dim sum brunch in San Francisco

Dim sum brunch in San Francisco

 

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.

 

Stow lake in Golden Gate park

The stone bridge at Stow lake

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.

 

The cool stairs and backstreets of San Francisco

Filbert steps and the cool stairs and backstreets of San Francisco

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.

 

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.

 

Thursday night at the Academy of Sciences, 20 quirky, fun and trendy places to explore in San Francisco

Thursday night at the Academy of Sciences

 

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.

 

 

Visiting Alcatraz island - 20 quirky, fun and trendy places to explore in San Francisco

Visiting Alcatraz island in San Francisco

 

 

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.

 

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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25 Responses to 20 quirky, fun and trendy places to explore in San Francisco

  1. Deborah Hodgson September 2, 2016 at 12:14 am #

    Tour operators and travel writers always forget the Victorians, but they are one of the most famous sights of San Francisco that are a favorite for locals. They deserve to get World Heritage listing.

    Deborah Hodgson

    Investigative Writer and Art Historian

  2. Kaitlyn December 3, 2015 at 10:28 am #

    There is definately a lot to find out about this topic.

    I like all of the points you’ve made.

  3. find girls in London September 14, 2015 at 3:00 am #

    Superb blog you have here but I was curious about if you knew of any
    message boards that cover the same topics talked about in this article?
    I’d really love to be a part of group where I can get feed-back from other knowledgeable individuals
    that share the same interest. If you have any suggestions,
    please let me know. Thanks a lot!

  4. m.gold-hunters.in September 11, 2015 at 1:24 pm #

    This excellent website certainly has all the information and facts
    I needed about this subject and didn’t know who to ask.

  5. Brooke Henshall September 7, 2015 at 5:59 am #

    The Sutro Bath ruin are really cool and Corona Heights park has some sweet views to!

    • Gina September 14, 2015 at 8:40 am #

      We loved the ruins too! A great place that is off the beaten path!

  6. cleopatraescort.tumblr.com September 6, 2015 at 8:33 am #

    I must thank you for the efforts you’ve put in writing this site.
    I’m hoping to view the same high-grade blog posts by you in the future as well.
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  7. Travel by Blog June 7, 2015 at 6:49 pm #

    San Francisco is easily my favorite city. I can’t stop loving the place. Even after living in Oakland for a few years its allure as a happening spot has never faded. The list is great but Alcatraz I think is a miss. I didnt think it was very interesting to see an ugly prison.

    • Noel June 7, 2015 at 6:50 pm #

      Yes but the views and special exhibits they have are fantastic!

  8. Zorica January 29, 2015 at 10:26 am #

    San Francisco is one of the cities I’ve always wanted to visit. Thanks for this interesting article!

  9. Alisha July 22, 2014 at 8:46 pm #

    I’m sure you have never heard of but check out urban putt. Mini golf in a house, bar restaurant and I’ve cream machine inside. It’s always packed. Be sure to get their early- it’s first come first serve 18 mini holes and SO MUCH FUN! No other place like it! Check yelp out to see pictures or just head in and be surprised!

    • Alisha July 22, 2014 at 8:48 pm #

      Ice cream machine* wish I could edit my spelling errors…you guys will understand my post though.

  10. Anne @ Pretraveller September 28, 2013 at 6:20 pm #

    Thanks for a great article about how to get off the beaten track in San Francisco. SF is definitely on my list of places to explore – I went through SFO airport once but unfortunately did not have the opportunity to explore.

  11. Taylor @ USCityTraveler September 26, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

    Great post, it really makes me want to go!

  12. Noel September 15, 2013 at 6:47 am #

    Thanks for catching that Joanna, I appreciate it and thanks for connecting!

  13. Joanna Biddolph September 15, 2013 at 2:55 am #

    Lovely photos (especially) and good ideas overall.

  14. Harsha September 14, 2013 at 8:03 pm #

    Great List with great Information and lovely Images… 🙂

  15. Cathy Sweeney September 14, 2013 at 7:58 am #

    Great list! I’ve been living in this area and before that visiting for many, many years and haven’t done some of these things. Funny that you put the St. Francis elevators on the list — I’ve loved doing that since I was a kid. It’ll be very cool to walk the Bay Bridge to Treasure Island, too. Gorgeous pics, Noel.

    • Noel September 14, 2013 at 9:08 am #

      Hi Cathy,

      Happy anniversary and thanks for commenting….would love to do that Eastbay bike to Treasure Island maybe tie it into the Monthly antique flea markets…you know I also love the St. Francis elevators, it’s special!

  16. Amy September 14, 2013 at 6:02 am #

    Great information! Thank you so much, Noel.

  17. Christine September 14, 2013 at 5:49 am #

    Your photos are spectacular. I love San Francisco….Christine

  18. Mike September 14, 2013 at 2:58 am #

    My ex and I would walk the city for hours. Never needed a car. And, albeit I’m street smart, we never felt uncomfortable doing so at night. Though, don’t be naive.

  19. Irene September 13, 2013 at 8:50 am #

    Just shared this great list with my son who is headed there!

    • Noel September 13, 2013 at 9:00 am #

      Thanks Irene, there’s plenty to do as you can see.

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