8 Hidden Gems in San Francisco (and where to find them)
My bucket list for San Francisco keeps growing and growing.
We’ve covered all the usual spots: Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz, Lombard Street. This time around, we were ready to dig a little deeper!
San Francisco is such a fun city and possibilities for things to do are seemingly endless! We’ve been lucky to spend lots of weekends here, which has given us a chance to really get to know the city more intimately and explore off-the-beaten path hidden gems that we might otherwise have missed!
If you’re ready to go a little deeper too, here are a few of our favorite hidden gems (that are actually not so hidden!) in beautiful San Francisco!
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may reward us with a small commission if you click them. Thanks for supporting the blog in this way!
1 | Lover’s Lane at the Presidio
“Lover’s Lane” is the name given to the paved trail that leads you from the southeast corner of the Presidio on in. But what you actually want to seek out is Andy Goldsworthy’s ‘Wood Line’: an art installation that runs adjacent to the paved path. Here you’ll walk among the giant grove, balancing on eucalyptus branches that zig zag back and forth to a seemingly unknown destination.
How to Get There: Starting near the corner of Pacific Avenue and Presidio Boulevard in the Presidio, Lover’s Lane is actually easy to find and clearly marked. Take a few steps to the east and you can’t miss the Wood Line. If you can, snag a parking spot at the tiny lot along Pacific Ave, or walk in from the neighboring area outside the park.
2 | Great Eastern Restaurant
So you want to eat in Chinatown, but you also want to have a meal that doesn’t suck and cater to tourists? Head to Great Eastern Restaurant. This restaurant is a favorite hidden gem among locals and even served President Obama once during his presidency. Their dim sum is totally authentic, which you’ll see when you find yourselves surrounded by Chinese families at nearly every other table. But they make things easy for first timer’s too, and you won’t leave disappointed.
How to Get There: Among the hundreds of restaurants in Chinatown, it can be hard to know which to pick. Instead of wandering, head straight to Great Eastern at 649 Jackson Street. Those using public transportation can reach Chinatown from the nearby California cable car line, or by walking in from either the Embarcadero or Union Square.[irp posts=”1677″ name=”How to Order Dim Sum in Chinatown San Francisco”]
3 | Stow Lake Boathouse
Feeling more Central Park than Golden Gate Park, Stow Lake is a not-so-hidden gem that offers a quiet escape from the big city. We loved renting a little rowboat for a trek around the lake that took us nearly the full hour’s rental time. Extra adventurous families could add in a spiraling hike to the top of Strawberry Hill, which sits at the center of the lake.
How to Get There: Stow Lake is located right in the middle of Golden Gate Park, with the boathouse being on the north end of the lake. There is a small parking lot at the boathouse, which also has a small cafe inside too.
4 | 16th Avenue Tiled Steps
I’ve written about the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps before, but they bear mentioning again because they’re so darn fun! This time we arrived on a gorgeous, sunny day, and Evelyn was determined to climb all 365 of the mosaic steps commissioned by neighborhood residents all by herself! For a fun photo op and great views of Ocean Beach and Outer Sunset, it’s a must.
How to Get There: Park in the neighborhood near the bottom of the steps near Moraga Street and Lomita Avenue. Be sure not to leave any valuable in your car, as car thefts are thick in this area. Once you reach the top, you can go up even further to Grandview Park for vast views over the city. Public transportation users can hop off the MUNI at 16th & Judah for a quick walk over to the steps.
5 | The Wave Organ
Developed by artists for the Exploratorium, the Wave Organ creates amplified ocean sounds using a series of pipes that vent out from the ocean. Coming at high tide is supposed to ensure the best sounds from the organ (check here for upcoming tide information).
Sadly all we heard was a few “gurgles” and “gluggs”, but what I really loved about the place was the location out on a jetty in the bay. We were surrounded on all sides by lovely San Francisco views: Alcatraz, the Marina, the downtown Skyline, and of course, the Golden Gate Bridge standing tall in the morning sun. If anything, it’s worth making the trip out for those views alone.
How to Get There: A car or Uber will make getting to the Wave Organ much easier. Park in the lot near the St. Francis Yacht Club and walk right along the jetty from there. For those taking public transportation, your best bet will be the #30 bus that stops near Crissy Field.[irp posts=”1582″ name=”The Best of San Francisco in 48 Hours”]
6 | Japanese Tea Garden
Another quiet respite in an otherwise always bustling city, the Japanese Tea Garden is a fun escape while visiting bigger giants in Golden Gate Park like the De Young Museum or California Academy of Sciences. The Japenese Tea Garden sits on 5 acres of carefully curated land, originally designed to showcase a “Japanese village” for the 1894 California Mid-Winter Exposition. Over time the village evolved to a full garden with koi ponds, a waterfall, Japanese pagodas, and even a small tea house.
How to Get There: Come early before the museums open and snag a free parking spot along Martin Luther King Drive. If that’s not an option, there is a parking garage under the California Academy of Sciences as well. Alternatively, take the Judah MUNI line to Outer Sunset, hop off at Irving and 9th, and walk into the park.
7 | Balmy Alley
The Mission neighborhood in San Francisco is bursting with street art, and many will make their way to Clarion Alley in the heart of the Mission. However, most miss it’s sister alley and hidden gem Balmy Alley, which is a little more off-the-beaten path but still just as impressive. Along Balmy Alley, street artists have used every canvas available to them, whether it be the sides of buildings, garage doors, or wooden fences that line the properties behind them. Take a guided tour with Precita Eyes Mural Arts, and you’ll learn even more about the stories the artists tell through their works of art.
How to Get There: Take the BART and exit at 24th & Mission. Then head east to Balmy Street between 24th and 25th Streets. Street parking can be tough in the Mission, but you might have some luck south of 25th street where the area becomes more residential.[irp posts=”13″ name=”Saturday in The Mission: A San Francisco Neighborhood Walking Tour”]
8 | Lands End Labyrinth
The trek to the Lands End Labyrinth is not for the faint at heart, so we learned after trudging my pregnant self along with Evelyn on Matt’s shoulders along the trail full of ups and downs. But I can easily say this has been my favorite “hike” in the Bay Area to date. With epic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and scenery I would never have imagined in San Francisco, making it out to the Lands End Labyrinth at the far northwest point of the San Francisco peninsula is an accomplishment you won’t soon forget!
How to Get There: Start your journey at Eagles Point near 32nd Avenue and El Camino del Mar. You can find parking along the golf course on Lincoln Highway. The #1 bus will get you close to the area if you’re relying on public transportation, but being on the far reaches of SF, this is a journey best left to a cab or Uber. Follow the Lands End Trail along the coast until you reach a right turn towards Mile Rock Beach. Keep going down that trail, and just before you hit the beach, turn right up a small dirt path that leads to the labyrinth.
I’m sure we have plenty more San Francisco hidden gems to uncover. Have you been? What are some of your favorites??