Hidden Gems in San Francisco: Golden Activities in the Golden City


    Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on Redfin.com with contributions from SFBAM.

    San Francisco is a city known for its iconic landmarks, breathtaking locations, and delicious food  – The Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Painted Ladies, The Buena Vista, Zuni Cafe, and Lombard Street to name a few. But the more you get to know the city, the more there is a lot to uncover. If you’re looking to venture off the beaten path and try something new, we’ve got the list for you. We reached out to locals to share their favorite hidden gems in San Francisco. From hidden parks to local restaurants to secret locations, these are places you won’t want to miss. So whether you just bought a house in Russian Hill, renting an apartment in Marina District, or just visiting but really want to know what living in San Francisco is like, keep reading to find your next adventure.

    The Golden Gate Bridge facing Marin

    Hidden gem locations in San Francisco

    The Cannery

    The Cannery is a historic, beautifully remodeled brick building that was originally built in 1907, where it housed the canning operation for Del Monte for 30 years, the largest canning location in the US for most of that time.

    Cécile Grégoire, Communications Manager of Fisherman’s Wharf shares, “All of the outside walls except those in the central corridor are from the original cannery and packing plant, while the 75-foot-wide courtyard is dotted with 20-foot-high olive trees, some more than 130 years old. One of our favorite things to do here is to grab lunch in the courtyard, where you’ll find a lively setting with music and other performers that entertain visitors throughout the day.”

    V Boutique

    VenturaVie’s V Boutique is a non-profit boutique with unique pieces and great prices and has become a destination for locals and traveling visitors alike.

    “A key draw to this remodeled building is the shopping. Here you will find some unique shops and galleries. All sale profits directly support programs for women and youth, creating a safe gathering place. V Boutique also offers ongoing internships, community service programs for youth, and free live and virtual events.” continues Cécile Grégoire.

    Fisherman's Wharf

    Jackson Square Historic District

    Did you know that San Francisco has a well-preserved Gold Rush-era neighborhood downtown? The Haunt Ghost Tours, a local touring company breaks it down.

    “When you’re in Jackson Square, it feel like you’re time traveling, walking down cobblestone alleys amongst 1850’s brick buildings. I love Bix on quaint Gold Street for cocktails and jazz, and of course I love ghost hunting there on my nightly tour.”

    Musée Mécanique

    Musée Mécanique is the world’s largest privately owned collection of mechanically operated musical instruments and antique arcade machines.

    “My favorite hidden gem in San Francisco is Musée Mécanique,” notes Lisa Stone of Lisa Stone Photography. “It’s an arcade with antique coin-operated arcade games and antique mechanical instruments. It’s unique because it makes you feel like you went back in time. It’s easily overlooked because it’s close to Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf, which is where most tourists go to visit.”

    Walt Disney Family Museum and Presidio

    When visitors think of Walt Disney and California they instantly think of Disneyland, but tucked away in a historic building in Presidio is the Walt Disney Family Museum founded by Walt’s daughter Diane Disney Miller.

    “This museum brings you through six decades of Walt’s life through a wide variety of mediums and stories,” shares  Jason and Mandy Doolittle of Campfire Travelers, a blog that connects families through travel. “You don’t have to be a Disneyland fan to appreciate this museum. While you’re there spend a whole day in beautiful Presidio – look around the visitors center, check out the new Tunnel Tops, enjoy a nice walk along Presidio Promenade Trail, and have a picnic lunch on the Main Parade Lawn.”

    They also share a tip: buy your tickets online before you visit.

    Sutro Baths

    Sutro baths are ruins that sit at the edge of the Pacific Ocean in the outer Richmond district and were once a bathhouse for San Franciscans. At sunset, it’s one of Marissa HB Photography’s favorite hidden gems in San Francisco.

    “These ruins are now a beautiful place where people enjoy walking around and taking photos. Visit around sunset for the most beautiful views and be sure to bring a camera and a friend that can take a photo of you walking along the ruins as reflection in the water and the colors in the sky are breathtaking.”

    Photo courtesy of Marissa HB Photography

    Moraga Steps

    Inspired by the tiled steps of Rio De Janeiro, the tiled steps is a hidden gem tourist attraction in San Francisco that is sure to dazzle through its beautiful art.

    “Each set of a total of 163 steps is decked out with hand-painted tiles to make beautiful mosaics. The steps start on16th Avenue in the Sunset district and ascend to a scenic spot with a breathtaking view of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Bring your camera and walking shoes,” recommends San Francisco Bay Area Moms.

    Hidden gem parks, gardens, and beaches in San Francisco

    Point Bonita Lighthouse Trail

    Point Bonita Lighthouse was built in 1855 as a means to help ships cross the Golden Gate straits. It’s still an active lighthouse to this day.

    “One of my favorite trails that often gets overlooked is the Point Bonita Lighthouse Trail,” shares  Heather Scharf, a San Francisco family and wedding photographer. “It is just a half mile walk along a narrow pathway leading to sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, San Francisco, and the Golden Gate Bridge.”

    A Tendency to Travel, an international blog sharing travel experience and advice adds, “Located on the tip of the Marin Headlands, this working lighthouse offers stunning views out over the Golden Gate Bridge and Pacific Ocean. Enjoy the wild landscape on the 1-mile return walk and watch for seals, dolphins, and even whales off the coast. The trail is steep in parts but rewards you with unique features like a hand-carved tunnel through the rock face and a suspension bridge that takes you out to the lighthouse itself. Time your visit right and enjoy a spectacular sunset over the bay with the waves crashing onto the cliffs below.”

    A trail with a big rock

    Photo courtesy of Heather Scharf Photography

    Presidio Battery West

    Presidio Battery West is easy to access with coastal views of the ocean and views of the Bridge from a more interesting perspective.

    “This spot has incredible sunrises that light up the bridge and golden hour sunsets that can’t be beat. Even better views come from walking on the old war batteries for an aerial view.  A must see when visiting San Francisco,” raves Kaitlyn Rose Photography, a Bay Area family photographer.

    Mashall’s Beach

    Marshall’s Beach is a hidden gem just north of Baker Beach and the closest beach to the Golden Gate Bridge.

    “The trek down is steep, and few tend to make their way down, making it a great place to hold a photoshoot without crowds of people and struggling to find a good view, says Christian Alcazaren, San Francisco lifestyle photographer and owner of Christian Alcazaren Photography. “The beach offers spectacular views of the Marin Headlands, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Pacific Ocean.”

    “In San Francisco, I like to go for a little stroll and check out the Golden Gate bridge from Marshall’s Beach at sunset. It can only be accessed by foot from the Battery to Bluffs trail and offers stunning views on the bridge. The rock formations on this beach are absolutely stunning and they give a completely different feel to the iconic backdrop,” adds Lust in Her World, a travel blog.

    Andy Goldsworthy’s Wood Line

    Created by renowned artist Andy Goldsworthy, Wood Line is a public art piece located at the roots of the eucalyptus trees in the Presidio.

    “One of the best places to go for a peaceful walk in San Francisco is Andy Goldsworthy’s Woodline in the Presidio. This winding trail of eucalyptus trunks nestled among a gorgeous eucalyptus grove transports you from the city into an enchanting place in the woods,” recommends local photographer Alyse Panitz.

    Woodline sculpture
    Photo courtesy of Alyse Panitz Photography

    Lands End Trail Eagles Point

    Just a two-minute ride down the street from The Legion Of Honor Museum, Lands End Trail Eagles Point is a cliff-top viewpoint that treats people to the most incredible and unobstructed view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Pacific Ocean side.

    Rachel Levine, a San Francisco City Hall Photographer notes, “The Park Service has built a cement semi-circle so this is a great place for a sunset proposal or family pictures, and you don’t have to hike through the woods and can dress up a little if you’d like, and still stay clean. You can get a permit to have a small wedding in this spot as well. They’ve also installed a few benches, perfectly positioned to take in the view of the Golden Gate Bride and Marin headlands. This location is the very end of the Lands End Trail that starts over by Sutro Baths, so if you’re inclined, there’s a very nice walking trail that takes you all the way around the westernmost edge of San Francisco.”

    Grandview Park

    Grandview Park is a hilltop park located in the Sunset District offering stunning views of the city.

    “My favorite spot in San Francisco is Grandview Park. It has some of the amazing views of San Francisco.” SF Food Tour, a food tour company providing tastes of San Francisco.

    Fort Funston

    Featuring 200 high bluffs along the coast of San Francisco is Fort Funston. This location is a great place to go hiking, horseback riding, or hang-gliding. If you own a dog, this is the perfect place as dogs are allowed off leash.

    “If you’re looking for iconic views, San Francisco has got you covered. Fort Funston has stunning views of California cliffs meeting the Pacific. You might even see people paragliding off the cliffs,” shares Hannah Leigh, a San Francisco engagement and elopement photographer.

    Fort Funston
    Photo courtesy of Hannah Leigh Photography

    San Francisco Botanical Gardens 

    Right in the heart of Golden Gate Park, the San Francisco Botanical Gardens feature over 8,000 different types of plants from around the world.

    “This is an amazing place to bring a picnic and enjoy ultimate serenity in a surprising oasis that only San Francisco’s incredibly temperate climate can provide,” SF Bike Tours, a tour company offering electric bike tours around San Francisco shares. “The SF botanical even has a greater Japanese plant collection than the overly-crowded Japanese tea garden next door. And if you are in SF in the spring, it has one of the world’s great magnolia collections.”

    Cavallo Point

    Cavallo Point offers visitors with beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

    “This viewpoint is such a great place to capture the beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay, and the Marin Headlands in your photos while avoiding tourist crowds, shares Mini Anna Photography, a local photographer.

    A family holding hands

    Photo courtesy of Mini Anna Photography 

    Ina Coolbrith Park

    Located at the intersection of Vallejo and Taylor, is Ina Coolbrith Park, a small urban park that offers stunning views of the SF skylines.

    “There’s a small walking path and steps to go up and down but to enjoy this park, it’s best to come at sunset with a friend or someone you love, and take in the golden light shining behind the Transamerica and Salesforce towers. Truly a spectacular urban view,” raves Golden Shutter Portraits, a San Francisco newborn photographer.

    Hidden gem food places in San Francisco

    People eating food

    Basa Seafood Express

    Looking to grab delicious seafood to eat? Be sure to try Basa Seafood Express, a seafood market and restaurant serving fresh caught fish, savory chowder, and tasty sandwiches.

    Food is Why I’m Broke, a San Francisco-based food blogger shares, “Hidden in the heart of the Mission is this hole-in-the-wall seafood market that serves the most authentic Hawaiian style poke. Basa Seafood Express sells fresh seafood but it’s also a mini restaurant, the thing to pick up here is their spicy salmon poke that’s only $7.50, add a small order of rice and you’ve got yourself a great lunch.”

    Yo También Cantina

    Yo También Cantina is a small, casual restaurant in the Inner Sunset with exceptional tamales and a loyal following.

    “Open from 10 to 3 Wednesday through Sunday and 5 to 8 Thursday and Friday, this is a place you won’t want to miss. Must order –– the hugo street retreat and the breakfast cookie which is great for the next day, raves Kelly E. Powers, a San Francisco-based dietitian.


    Chie Tamada, creator of SF Bakery Ride, an illustrated guide that features the best bakeries in San Francisco for its cycling community, reveals, “This bakery specializes in Argentine-style empanadas and is based in Sunset. It’s a family-operated shop with 15 different types of empanada flavors, both baked and fried.”

    She also shares that you also don’t want to miss out on their churros with dulce de leche.

    Chalos Bakery in SF
    Photo courtesy of Chie Tamada

    Caffe Greco 

    Founded by Hannah and Sandy Suleiman, Caffe Greco offers authentic Italian caffe and delicious pastries.

    “Just as most major cities, San Francisco has thousands of coffee shops, however, we especially love and appreciate Caffe Greco located in the Italian district North Beach,” says Discount Tix SF, a ticket company providing discounts on San Francisco-based tours.

    “This is the most traditional Italian coffee shop we’ve ever seen in all the 50 states. All of the coffee drinks are made with the highest quality imported beans. Make sure not to miss the award-winning tiramisu, cannoli, and other spectacular Italian desserts.”

    Rolling Out Cafe

    Rolling Out Cafe specializes in delicious pastries, cakes, and comfort food.

    “A neighborhood bakery that rivals some of the best mega-popular bakeries in San Francisco, Rolling Out Cafe is known for their mochi croissants but also has a selection of other amazing pastries too. We love the black sesame croissants,” shares Susie Lacocque, a local San Francisco photographer.


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