Fun and unusual activities to do in San Francisco
You can easily keep yourself entertained with all the wonderful attractions, cool San Francisco landmarks and places worth visiting around the city. But if you are tired of the typical crowds of tourists in busy Fisherman’s Wharf or Union Square, why not try something different and truly unique for the city and maybe something only the locals do, wouldn’t that me more fun and adventurous?
If you are interested in doing something fun and unusual in San Francisco, then check out this list of places to see and activities that I have listed below, and hopefully you will find a few worth visiting when you come to explore this wonderful city.
Visit the up and coming Little Saigon area in the Tendernob district
This once seedy and fringe area of the city on the edge of City Hall is where many new immigrants have set up shop and established a variety of amazing food from around the world. Primarily a spot to find some delicious Vietnamese food and known affectionately as Little Saigon, the area also has an influx of Thai, Indian, Middle Eastern to Latin inspired venues that are all inexpensive mom and pop type establishments. For visitors that want to get a good sampling of different ethnic foods in the area with an expert then book a tour with Explore San Francisco, they have a variety of different locations but their Little Saigon tour is run by a local who has worked in both the Chinatown and Little Saigon neighborhoods. For details and tour information, you can check out their website here.
Tip: This is a little rough on different blocks in the neighborhood, so I would advise doing a walk or tour during the day time instead of the evening when the area is bustling. (all depends on your comfort level)
Check out the Illuminate SF installations around the city
For visitors in interested in the combination of cool light and art installations in the city, walking around at night to check out Illuminate SF is a different way to enjoy art and creative lighting around the city. Most of these public art displays can be found in busy tourist locations and if you are in the area, it would be worthwhile to check them out. Or you can also take docent lead tours of closely grouped exhibits, to do this check out the calendar of events and tours on their website here.
Tip: the revolving show is seasonal so check out the site to see what is currently being shown in the various parts of the city.
Visit the cities first and only Beer brewing distillery at Anchor Brewery
Located in a landmark building in the design district and tracing back all the way from the California Gold rush, Anchor Brewery is a fun visit to San Francisco’s past with a brewery tour and tasting in their cool tasting area. The relatively short tour (45 mins) around the brewery with the cool copper vats that the beers are distilled in offer fantastic photo ops inside the building along with the tasting room with its antique bar. After completing the brewery tour ,the bar is open with servers offer tastes of their recent brews and favorites and it’s a relaxed environment, like a fun pub where you can enjoy the company of friends with plenty of time to take in this unique experience. Reservations are necessary due to the popular tours, so to book a visit, you can check their website here.
Tip: the stunning tasting room bar is really beautiful and worth taking a few pictures in the room along with trying out some of the favorite brews on tap.
Take a catamaran sail around San Francisco bay
If you want to experience San Francisco in a different way then being on the water is a fantastic way to see the amazing skyline and magnificent landmarks of the city. Taking a catamaran sail on the bay is fun especially when you get to sail right under the Golden Gate bridge at sunset and enjoy the city lights at night time when you sail back to the main dock at Pier 39. I would recommend taking the sunset cruise with Adventure Cat Sailing so you can get some wonderful afternoon, sunset and evening views to photograph the city in different lighting conditions, plus there are nice appetizers and drinks included on the sunset cruise. For more information on catamaran sails on Adventure Cat Sailing Charters, you can check out their website here.
Tip: there are many cruise companies around the bay but this is a very cool way to sail on a catamaran where you really enjoy being on the water.
Happy hour with panoramic views of San Francisco and bay
There’s nothing like seeing San Francisco from above and one of the most stunning locations to see downtown and the entire bay area would be at the top of the Marriot at their View Lounge bar. Located on the 39th floor, the views from the View Lounge are truly magnificent and if you get there when they open at 4pm, you will be rewarded with gorgeous afternoon light into sunset (try to get to the View Lounge on a clear day). Of course trying out some of their appetizers or a cool cocktail will enhance the experience while you see the scene change slowly for sunset in the city. For more information on the View, menu and open hours, check out their website here.
Tip: there are many spots around the city with fantastic views from above, you can check out my link below of places that are open for the public to check out some amazing panoramas of the city.
Views of the city from above
It’s fun to explore the city and check out the many panoramic spots for amazing views of San Francisco. If you are interested in checking out some of the best views of San Francisco from above, take a look at a recent post I did here, it’s definitely worth the effort to get to some of these places when you visit the city. Although quite a few are from hotels that require a drink or meal, there are a few that are also free and just require you to walk up to that destination or better yet, just take public transportation.
A visit to the Exploratorium
A expanded Exploratorium along the waterfront is a fantastic place to bring children or the young at heart in San Francisco. It’s a fun place to explore the museum filled with a combination of science, art and interactive exhibits and displays that the museum specializes in. Education and fun is the main entertainment focus while the views outside on the bay and city are also a worthwhile draw to the Embarcadero. For more information about the museum, special exhibits and entry, check out their website here.
Interior and exhibits at the Exploratorium
Wake up at sunrise with city views
There’s nothing like starting the day off early in the city at sunrise and also have some stunning views of the city. The best place in my opinion to see a sunrise with the city skyline is at any of the observation areas around the Golden Gate Bridge or even on the bridge itself if you are brave enough for the early morning breeze. The best thing about this experience is that there are just a few people brave enough to get to the view areas in the morning to experience this once in a lifetime sunrise and view to the city. Another plus is seeing the Golden Gate bridge and adjoining cliffs lit up beautifully for more photo opportunities and exploring the coastal areas if you want to see the rugged parts of the San Francisco coastline and trails.
A Visit around Alamo Square
Yes the Painted ladies are located here at Alamo Square, but if you take the time to explore the park and perimeter, you will find some stunning architecture that spans the Victorian, Edwardian to more contemporary timeframes. The huge park is popular with dog owners but there are some wonderful views of downtown San Francisco and the many neighborhoods in view. If you take local transportation then you will probably be in the Divisadero district which I’m also describing below and worth checking out especially since it is now an uber trendy foodie area.
The famous painted ladies at Alamo Square
Check out some fun foodie spots in the Divisadero
One of the fastest growing foodie zones in the city, the Divisadero is home to many new and exciting eateries that span the gamut of international and local cuisine. Within the main street on Divisadero you can find trendy cafes, cool pastry and coffee shops, specialty food purveyors and galleries. It seems like every time an old shop closes on Divisadero, a new and exciting restaurant steps in and becomes the latest ‘it’ place. You can find every take of cuisine here including: Southern Style, trendy Latin Fusion, Pan Asian, cool BBQ joints to California style locavore dining. The area is definitely turning into the new In dining and bar scene of San Francisco, which is perfect for fussy locals that keep looking for the next new eating experience around the city.
Visiting the Conservatory of Flowers
You don’t have to be a garden enthusiast to visit this cool Victorian glass house in Golden Gate Park. The conservatory houses some exotic, tropical and revolving plant inspired exhibits and other unique treasures that are fun to explore. Broken down into different glass rooms, you can travel from the cloud forests to jungle forests and discover unique flora and fauna combined. This is also a great place to take children to any age group in discovering the unique plant world and environment. For current exhibits and tours of the Conservatory of Flowers, check out their website here.
Interior detail at the Conservatory of Flowers
I did a post with more pictures and details about visiting the Conservatory of Flowers, you can check out the link here.
San Francisco Botanical garden and arboretum
A short walk from the Conservatory of Flowers is the beautiful botanical garden of San Francisco which contains beautiful gardens in mostly Mediterranean climates that grow very well in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before you enter, make sure to pick up a trail map because the gardens are huge and easy to get lost in. Many of the favorite seasonal gardens include the Prehistoric garden, the bamboo grove, cloud forest, Evergreens and pines, South African and California natives section. For plant and flower lovers, this botanical garden is a year round favorite to explore and see some amazing specimens. For more details and images, check out a recent post I did here on the gardens of Golden Gate Park.
Check out the Ferry Plaza building at the Embarcadero
An Uber trendy foodie and tourist zone, the historic Ferry Plaza building is still a functioning ferry terminal, but the grand interiors are filled with well known food purveyors, foodie stores, cafes and galleries that caters to every food indulgence you might have and for you to discover even more delicious bites. On Tuesday, Thursdays and Saturdays are the popular and large farmers markets that are held around the entire terminal and host even more regional growers, finished goods retailers and specialty foods for you to explore – it’s a must visit event for any food devotee to check out all the specialty foods from the region. To get more information about the Ferry Plaza and the weekly markets, you can check out their website here.
Walk out to Pier 14 for a skyline view
Just off to the right side of the Ferry Plaza is the entrance to Pier 14 where you can get some fantastic shots of the Embarcadero and San Francisco skyline. You can visit anytime, but if you come at night, there are less crowds and the views are really spectacular with the skyline all lit up and perfect to photograph . Afterwards, go and grab a bite at the Ferry Plaza, there are a lot of great local restaurants and food venues to explore inside. Also, at the Pier 14, there are two installations of SF Illuminate worth checking out, one is right at the entrance of the pier and the other is the Bay Bridge lit up with a revolving light installation that is fun to watch along the entire span of the bridge.
Art inspired staircase on 16th Avenue
Just off the beaten path and out in the Sunset district is a magical staircase made completely of ceramic mosaics. Created by a combination of artists and support from the local community to beautify this long staircase, the end result is this fantastic showcase climbing to the top. The colorful and multi-themed display runs the gamut of underworld treasures, outer space and constellations, along with local San Francisco scenes and other outdoor recreational motifs. Over 300 neighbors helped to create beautiful tiles of handmade animals, tropical fish, birds and other animals with the help of the San Francisco Parks Trust – it was a full on neighborhood lead coalition of volunteers to create a stunning landmark for the community and visitors. To check out more images and the story behind this amazing staircase, check out my recent post here.
Touring Sutro Baths ruins and Lands End
Right below the iconic Cliff House facing the Pacific Ocean are the ruins of the Sutro Baths, and next to it is the Lands End trail. The bath ruins are part of San Francisco’s Victorian past when this was a recreational getaway with huge glasshouses, giant salt water swimming pools and other recreational activities that were a popular pastime for locals in the city. Now the bath foundations are all that is left along with some trails to tunneled areas which lead you to magnificent views of the rugged coastline and small rocky promontories close by. The Lands End trail are part of the Golden Gate Park Recreation area with trails that skirt the natural coastlines with hidden beaches, lush forest and stunning views of the cliffs and the Golden Gate Bridge. To check out more details and information about Sutro baths and Lands End, you can check out the National Park service website here.
Tip: check out the beautiful new visitors center with amazing views. The information guides are very helpful in giving historic information or places to hike in the Golden Gate Park Recreation area.
Sutro Baths ruins
Visit Chinatown with a local and a dim sum lunch
It’s easy enough to visit Chinatown on your own, but if you want to get more inside information about the history, businesses and people that lived in this large tract of land in downtown San Francisco then taking a tour with Wok Wiz Chinatown tours is a good option. Most of their guides have lived and grown up in the Chinatown district and have intimate knowledge about the history and fascinating stories of the early immigrants that settled in the area along with a visit to many unique and fascinating businesses that support the community and are also unusual to experience as an outsider. A fun add on after the tour is a lunch experience at a local Chinese restaurant which includes many local favorites and dim sum with your newly acquainted friends from the tour. To get more details and tour information, you can visit the Wok Wiz website here.
Tip: Dim Sum is a very popular thing to do in Chinatown with nice small tasty bites to try good or bad (all depends on you like). Make sure you get a chance to try some of the take away Dim Sum or drop into the many eateries you may find along the way.
Sutro Heights park
Outside of the Sutro Baths and Cliff House that entrepreneur, Adolph Sutro left as his legacy to the city, Sutro also donated his mansion and grounds to the city of San Francisco when he passed away. Even though all the buildings have deteriorated and were eventually torn down, the beautiful grounds were later converted into a park and open for the public to enjoy. Expansive views of Ocean Beach, the Cliff House and the Pacific ocean can be seen from the rear promenade areas and stone viewing stone parapet that is the only remaining structure of the original compound. If you are visiting the Cliff House or Sutro Bath ruins, go and explore Sutro Heights nearby, it’s worth visiting just for the views alone.
Tip: look out for the cool and interesting artifacts that are located around the grounds – they are perfect for photo ops.
If you enjoyed this post, please do check out these additional posts on visiting San Francisco
Thanks for visiting today and checking out this post on Fun and unusual activities to do in San Francisco, hopefully some of these places will inspire you to visit when you come to the city. If you enjoyed the images and post, could you please share it with any of the social media buttons located around the post. I have posted recently about visiting more cool and fun places to visit around the city, you can check out this post on San Francisco here.