10 Things to do in San Francisco off the Beaten Path


If this is your first time in the Golden Gate City, you’re going to want to visit Alcatraz and take a cable car ride. But if you have a little more time, you may find that the most fun activities in San Francisco are off the beaten path.

The best way to really get to know any city is to explore it like a local. No, that doesn’t mean you have to commute to work every day. But you can have fun like the locals do.

And in San Francisco, you can bet they know how to have fun.

Let’s explore 10 things you can do in San Francisco that are off the beaten path.

1. Climb the 16th Ave. Tilted Steps

If climbing a set of stairs doesn’t sound like your idea of a good time, well, you’re in good company. And in reality, you don’t actually have to climb the 163 steps to enjoy them. Although that does add little something to the experience.

The Tilted Steps contain beautiful astronomy and ocean-themed mosaics that weave a story from bottom to top.

You’ll find these steps in the Golden Gates Heights area of San Francisco. They were created as a community project by residents Jesse Audette and Alice Yee Xavier and completed in 2005.

It’s a great example of neighbors coming together to beautify their surroundings, and it perfectly embodies the SF spirit. Oh, and they also make a great backdrop for your vacation story on Instagram.

2. Hear the ocean’s music

We all have a story to tell and a song to sing. The ocean is no exception. And in San Francisco, there are no shortage of artists inspired to tell these stories.

At the Marina, you’ll find the creative work of artist Peter Richards.

It’s technically a sculpture, but this is more of an auditory experience than a visual one.

The sculpture captures the sounds of the waves as they bounce within its concrete pipes and deliver a beautiful humming sound.

Naturally, the best time to experience the Wave Organ is at high tide, so plan accordingly.

3. Celebrate Pride in the Castro District

If you missed your local pride parade, don’t worry. In the Castro District, we celebrate LBGTQ+ pride every day. This is an extremely inclusive community where you’ll find the freedom and courage to be yourself – regardless of sexual orientation.

For the most robust experience, visit during San Francisco Pride or the Castro Street Fair.

4. Visit the Magowan Mirror Maze

On San Francisco’s Pier 39, you’ll find Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze.

Now, you’re probably thinking you’ve seen it all. You’ve been to one house of mirrors, you’ve been to them all, right? Wrong.

This is an extreme experience that’s not for the faint of heart.

Expect to find your way through a maze of giant Corinthian columns and massive mirrors as neon lights flash and thumping EDM music rocks you to your core.

It’s a truly psychedelic experience, and it’s perfectly fine for the kids (as long as they aren’t likely to get scared of this sort of thing).

The best part is that admission is only $5 for the entire day, so you can explore the pier and go back for more later.

5. Run in your birthday suit

One of the areas most well-known races takes place in May, so if this sounds enticing, plan a spring trip.

The Bay to Breakers race is a 12k race that’s a lot more like a celebration. People who live along the path throw parties for the racers and friends, and participants either don their birthday suit or their favorite costume.

6. Visit Fort Mason’s Food Truck Festival

Regardless of when you visit San Francisco, Fort Mason should be on your list. This center of arts and culture is home to some of the best art, books, and food in all of San Francisco that takes place at the end of July. This is a great time to get to taste a little bit of everything in this culinary hub.

7. Spend the day at Treasure Fest

Treasure Fest is actually a flea market on Treasure Island, but it’s a unique experience worth traveling for. Tickets are under $5 if you buy them online, so it’s a really inexpensive way to spend the day. Here, you’ll find yourself bouncing from crafts, to vintage items to artwork. And before you know it, the entire day will have passed.

There’s a different theme every month, so you can return again and again.

8. Take a hot air balloon ride

Remember that Napa Valley is a short road trip away from San Francisco, and there’s a lot of opportunity for outdoor adventuring here. In fact, many travelers have put hot air ballooning in Napa at the top of their bucket list. It’s a beautiful and peaceful experience to float above the rolling hills of Napa Valley.

So while you’re in San Francisco, plan some time to take a hot air balloon nearby. You’ll be glad you did!

Oh, and while you’re in Napa, you may want to try a cab or two. They’re kind of a big deal.

9. Hike Land’s End

This is a 4-mile hike with breathtaking views of the ocean, Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands. You’ll find the entrance at the Northwest corner of San Francisco.

It’s a winding road, but it’s one that’s relatively flat, so it’s suitable for most skill levels.

10. Have a picnic at Dolores Park

If you really want to live like a local at this port, kick back and have a picnic at the popular Dolores Park. It’s a great place to get a view of the San Francisco skyline along with its stunning architecture.

San Francisco is a port filled with art, culture, and a ton of personality.

What’s your favorite thing to do here?

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell is a husband, father, martial artist, budget-master, Disney-addict, musician, and recovering foodie having spent over 2 decades as a leader for Whole Foods Market. Click to learn more about me

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