It’s no secret that often the best spots in a city can be those recommended to you by other people through word-of-mouth. Another great place to scout these spots is through online communities. But sometimes even these two sources are not enough because some of the best-kept secret spots stay within the locals.Venture out around the city and discover these hidden gems. On top of San Fran’s extraordinary events, there are numerous cool and unusual places to discover!
China Beach is located in the Sea Cliff neighborhood, known for its park-like pathways and grand properties with ocean views. It’s a peaceful alternative to the neighboring and often overcrowded Baker Beach. Here, you can indulge in the quiet atmosphere this beach offers with the scenic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands. It’s a perfect spot to see the sunset or sunbathe by sandy coves. The south side of the beach has picnic benches and restroom facilities, however, the pet policy is no dogs allowed.
A spectacular work of public art, the 163-step mosaic stairway is a community-led site. Find it off the beaten path in the Golden Gate Heights neighborhood. The steps portray sea to stars themed mosaics, with succulent cacti planted on either side. From below, the fish, crabs, stars, comets, moon and sun motifs climb upwards to the top of the steps – it’s been compared to a “stairway to heaven”. At the top, there are breathtaking views of the ocean from Grand View Park.
Unexpectedly located in the center of the busy Financial District, this garden-like terrace is a free public space. Sansome Roof Garden is located on the 15th floor at 343 Sansome St. Kept a secret by local workers, it’s largely unknown to everyone else. It’s a perfect place to picnic, with rooftop views of the business district and beyond. It also makes a great chill-out spot, where you can relax between seasonal flowers set against the skyscrapers.
Flora Grubb Garden is a contemporary open-air garden center that sells harder to find plants and horticultural decor. But you don’t have to have a green thumb to make the most of this serene spot. Visit for the simple pleasure of having a coffee on the stylish benches and seating areas. The on-site Ritual Roasters has a reputation for good coffee, and we hear there’s a great little pizza spot across the road. Loved by locals, at All Good Pizza you can enjoy brick-oven pizzas and impromptu live music.
Lands End itself is a park area with trails along the ocean to the bay. On this site, the artist Eduardo Aguilera has created The Labyrinth – a labyrinth made of stones. The labyrinth has been destroyed by the breaking waves and rebuilt more than once here at the edge of the continent. The artist’s intention was to create a symbol “peace, love and enlightenment” making it a much-loved spot for personal reflection by the Pacific Ocean.
Step back in time at Musée Mécanique where the games are mechanical, not digital – ideal for anyone who loves nostalgia. It owns one of the world’s largest collection of coin-operated mechanical antique arcade machines. They even have musical instruments in their original working condition that you can play. Entry is free, you only pay for the games that predate Pac-Man and pinball. This time-machine of entertainment is a lesser-known spot located by one of the city’s most popular attractions, Fisherman’s Wharf.
Golden Gate Park Vintage Carousel is a hidden gem to enjoy with the family in the middle of the city. Tucked away in Golden Gate Park, the vintage merry-go-round is an inexpensive attraction at $2 a ride. The beautifully restored 1914 carousel is open to all ages so you can connect to your inner child. The playground location makes a perfect picnic spot for families. Plus, if you want to make a day of it, there are bocce ball and tennis courts nearby.
Forget Instagram stories, at the Francis Ford Coppola owned Cafe Zoetrope the stories spit right out of a vending machine. The Distributeur d’Histoires Courtes Short Story Vending Machine spits out short stories from over 6,000 authors with the push of a button. There are free and unique stories ranging from fairy tales to horror – its potluck printed on eco-friendly paper.
Take a break from ordering food delivery to your home and try something new. The Old Clam House is a low-key restaurant serving classic seafood with a complimentary shot of warm clam juice. A time-worn gem, it’s San Francisco’s oldest restaurant. In the same location since 1861, it’s far away from the tourist path. It’s located in the residential Bernal Heights neighborhood. For a seafood spectacular, you can dine on clams and crabs, plus their signature cioppino – there really is nowhere else like it.
Wilson and Wilson bar is a detective agency themed speakeasy, complete with a password request on entry. If you’re a whiskey lover, this place is a must – they have an excellent selection of quality scotches. Plus a unique cocktail menu that comes designed in a case file. The intimate bar is hidden behind the Library Bar and Bourbon & Branch Bar – you only find out the exact location by email after your reservation is confirmed. Like most speakeasies, you have to follow the rules.
Now that you’ve got the insight into all these hidden gems, you’re probably extremely eager to check them out. Consider looking into furnished apartments, like those by Blueground, which are ideally located in the hottest spots in the city. Renting Blueground’s apartments means that you will have a beautifully decorated and fully equipped home and you can easily move between areas on the same rental agreement. All you need to do is pack your bags and settle into becoming a local.