Are you ready to ditch the crowds and uncover the true heart of San Francisco? Forget the cable cars and tourist traps – this is your insider’s guide to the city’s hidden gems, local hangouts, and unexpected adventures.

From vibrant neighborhoods bursting with flavor to secret gardens and unique artistic experiences, there’s a whole different side of San Francisco waiting to be explored.

Get ready to experience the city like a local and discover the authentic energy that makes San Francisco so unforgettable.

Discover the Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco #Travel #California #SanFrancisco #BayArea Click To Tweet
Pinterest Pin For Discover 80 Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Outdoor Adventures Locals Love

Trade in the tourist crowds for scenic hikes, hidden beaches, and unique viewpoints favored by San Francisco residents.

Cross the Golden Gate Bridge and Discover Sausalito

Discover the Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco, Travel Realizations
As the sun sets over Sausalito, the golden hues of the sky are reflected in the shimmering waters of the Bay, casting a warm glow on the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a sight that never fails to take your breath away!

Imagine the wind in your hair and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge stretching out before you. That’s just the start of your Sausalito adventure!

This charming waterfront town, just across the bay from San Francisco, is a local favorite for its stunning views, relaxed atmosphere, and a unique blend of art galleries and outdoor experiences.

Your Journey to Sausalito:

Walking: Feel the bridge vibrate beneath your feet and the fresh sea air on your face as you walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. Take in panoramic views of the city and bay, immersing yourself in this iconic landmark with every step.

Drive: Perfect for scenic road trippers, find a prime parking spot in town and start exploring.

Bike: A classic San Francisco experience! Rent a bike and feel the exhilaration of crossing the bridge on two wheels. The Golden Gate Bridge has a dedicated bike lane, and it’s a popular spot for cycling. You can rent a bike in San Francisco and ride across the bridge to Sausalito.

Take a ferry: Sit back, soak in the scenery, and arrive in Sausalito ready to explore.

What Makes Sausalito Special:

Once you arrive, stroll along the picturesque waterfront lined with shops and restaurants. Browse unique boutiques and galleries showcasing local artists’ works.

Feeling adventurous? Hike or bike the trails of the Marin Headlands, offering unforgettable views of the bridge and coastline or take a boat tour of the bay.

Alternatively, you can also take a guided bike tour from Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito and enjoy a 3-hour guided excursion.

Local Tip: For a quieter experience, go on a weekday or in the evening to watch the sunset paint the sky over the bridge. Savor fresh seafood at a waterfront restaurant and soak in that quintessential Sausalito charm.

Drive/Hike to the top of Twin Peaks

Discover the Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco, Travel Realizations
Experience the breathtaking views of San Francisco at Twin Peaks!

Get ready for a view that defines San Francisco! Twin Peaks, these iconic hills in the city’s heart, offer a 360-degree panorama.

Imagine seeing the downtown skyscrapers, both bridges, and the vast Pacific Ocean all from one spot.

Locals love escaping to Twin Peaks for a breath of fresh air and a dose of stunning scenery.

The views are mesmerizing at any time of day but reach a whole new level of magic at sunset. For a classic experience, take a scenic drive to the summit, or get your heart pumping with a hike to the top.

Local Tip: Bring layers! The wind can pick up at the top, even on warm days.

Capture Unique Photos of the Abandoned Buildings and the City Skyline at Treasure Island

Discover the Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco, Travel Realizations
Capturing the stunning skyline of San Francisco from Treasure Island at sunset!

Treasure Island: Where Urban Decay Meets Epic Skylines. This man-made island offers a photographer’s playground – abandoned buildings with a storied past, all framed by breathtaking views of the San Francisco skyline and Bay Bridge.

Capture a unique blend of history and iconic scenery, a combination you won’t find anywhere else. But hurry – the island’s transformation is underway, making these shots a fleeting moment in time.

Whether you’re interested in hiking, photography, or exploring, you’ll find something to love about Treasure Island.

Locals in San Francisco have several ways to enjoy Treasure Island. Some of the activities that locals enjoy doing on Treasure Island are:

Hiking at Treasure Island

Treasure Island is home to several miles of trails, which are perfect for hiking, biking, and running.

The trails offer stunning views of the San Francisco skyline and the Bay, and they are a great way to get some exercise and enjoy the outdoors.

Photography at Treasure Island

Treasure Island is a popular destination for photographers, and the abandoned buildings offer a unique and eerie setting that is perfect for capturing some striking images.

Many locals enjoy visiting Treasure Island to take photos, and there are plenty of opportunities to get some great shots.

Relaxing at Treasure Island

Treasure Island is a quiet and peaceful place, and it’s a great spot to relax and unwind.

You can bring a picnic lunch, sit on the beach, and enjoy the views, or you can find a quiet spot to read a book or just relax in the sun.

Exploring Treasure Island

Treasure Island is home to a number of abandoned buildings, and many locals enjoy exploring these structures and learning about their history.

You can take a guided tour of the abandoned buildings, or you can explore on your own and see what you can find.

8 Off-the-Beaten-Path Activities to Enjoy in Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park is a 1,017-acre park that is located in San Francisco and is home to a variety of attractions and activities.

Discover the Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco, Travel Realizations
Experience Art in Nature: The Sculpture Garden at De Young Museum, Golden Gate Park!

While many tourists visit the park to see popular landmarks like the California Academy of Sciences, the Japanese Tea Garden, and the Science Museum, there are also many non-touristy things that locals enjoy doing in the park:

  • Unwind at Spreckels Lake: Rent a rowboat at this lesser-known lake instead of crowded Stow Lake. Bonus: the boathouse has a refreshingly local selection of craft beers on tap.
  • Take an Art Detour: Wander the park’s free outdoor sculptures.
  • Get Lost in Greenery: Explore the park’s lesser-traveled gardens. Try the Redwood Grove, the Rose Garden, or for something truly unique, the AIDS Memorial Grove.
  • Say Hello to the Bison: Yes, there’s a bison paddock in the park! Find these majestic creatures grazing and learn a surprising bit of San Francisco history.
  • Visit the San Francisco Botanical Garden: Golden Gate Park has a botanical garden that is home to a variety of plants and flowers. You can take a leisurely stroll through the garden and enjoy the beauty of the plants.
  • Explore the California Academy of Sciences: Experience a rainforest, planetarium, and aquarium all under one living roof. Discover the wonders of our planet at the California Academy of Sciences.
  • Enjoy Art Installations: Explore Peacock Meadow’s vibrant art installations.
  • Explore the Conservatory of Flowers: A landmark Victorian greenhouse that showcases diverse plant life. It is home to a dazzling collection of rare and tropical plants.
  • Go to a concert: Golden Gate Park has a number of music venues, such as the Bandshell and the Polo Fields, which host concerts and other events throughout the year. You can check the calendar and see what’s happening during your visit.
  • Play a round of golf: Golden Gate Park has a golf course that is popular with locals. You can rent clubs and a cart and spend a leisurely afternoon on the course.
  • Check out the San Francisco Model Yacht Club: Golden Gate Park has a pond that is home to the San Francisco Model Yacht Club, which is a group of enthusiasts who sail miniature boats. You can watch the boats and learn more about the club.

13 Hidden Gems in San Francisco Where Locals Love to See the City’s Panoramic Views

Discover the Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco, Travel Realizations
A view from Presidio!

Here are some ways that locals enjoy the hidden gems in San Francisco for taking in the city’s panoramic views:

  • Enjoy a picnic on Mount Davidson: Mount Davidson is the highest point in San Francisco, and it offers panoramic views of the city from its summit. Locals love to pack a picnic and head up to the mountain to enjoy the views and the serene atmosphere.
  • Hike to Hawk Hill: Hawk Hill is a popular spot for locals to enjoy panoramic views of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge. The hill is located in the Marin Headlands, and you can reach it by hiking the trails through the headlands.
  • Take a bike ride through the Presidio: The Presidio is a former military base that is now a national park, and it offers panoramic views of the city from its many trails and paths. Locals love to take a bike ride through the Presidio to enjoy the views and the fresh air.
  • Visit the top of the de Young Museum: As mentioned earlier, the de Young Museum offers panoramic views of the city from its Hamon Observation Tower. Locals love to visit the tower to take in the views and learn about the city’s history and culture.
  • Relax on the beach at Baker Beach: Baker Beach is a beautiful beach that is located in the Presidio, and it offers panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay. Locals love to relax on the beach and take in the views, and the beach is also a popular spot for photography.
  • Have a drink at Top of the Mark: The Top of the Mark is a bar that is located in the InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel, and it offers panoramic views of the city from its rooftop location. Locals love to have a drink at the bar and enjoy the views, and the bar is also a popular spot for special occasions and events.
  • Take a boat tour of the Bay: There are many boat tour companies in San Francisco that offer panoramic views of the city from the water. Locals love to take a boat tour of the Bay to see the city from a different perspective and learn about its history and culture.
  • Take a walk along the Embarcadero: The Embarcadero is a waterfront promenade that stretches along the Bay, and it offers panoramic views of the Bay, the city skyline, and the Bay Bridge. Locals love to take a walk along the Embarcadero to enjoy the views and the fresh air.
  • Experience the rooftop at Salesforce Tower: Salesforce Tower is the tallest building in San Francisco, and it offers panoramic views of the city from its observation deck on the 61st floor. Locals love to visit the observation deck to see the city from above and learn about the tower’s history and design.
  • Take a trip to Twin Peaks: Twin Peaks is a pair of hills that are located in the center of San Francisco, and they offer panoramic views of the city from their summits. Locals love to take a hike or drive to the top of Twin Peaks to enjoy the views and the serene atmosphere.
  • Take a scenic drive along Lombard Street, the Crookedest Street in the World: Lombard Street is a famous street in San Francisco that is known for its winding turns and panoramic views. Locals love to take a drive along Lombard Street to see the city from a different perspective and enjoy the scenic route.
  • Bernal Heights Hill: Bernal Heights Hill is a popular spot for locals to enjoy panoramic views of the city and the Bay. You can reach the top of the hill by hiking the trails through the neighborhood or by driving to the top.
  • Take a ride on the historic cable cars: San Francisco’s iconic cable cars offer panoramic views of the city as they travel up and down the hills. Locals love to ride the cable cars and see the city from a different perspective.

Take a trip to Angel Island!

Discover the Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco, Travel Realizations
Experience the beauty of Angel Island, where the waves of the bay meet the rolling hills of this historic state park!

Angel Island is an island located in the San Francisco Bay that is known for its stunning views of the city and the Bay.

Locals love to take a ferry to the island and explore its trails, beaches, and historic sites.

You can also visit the island’s historic immigration station, which is a National Historic Landmark, and learn about the island’s role in the history of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Take a hike to Sutro Baths

Discover the Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco, Travel Realizations
Dive into history at Sutro Baths: Explore the ruins of a once-grand Victorian public bathhouse on the rugged coastline of San Francisco.

Sutro Baths is a historic site that was once a large public bathhouse and swimming complex. It was built in the late 1800s and operated until the 1960s.

Today, the baths are in ruins, but they have been preserved as a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

The baths are located in a beautiful and rugged area, and the hike to the site offers stunning views of the ocean, the cliffs, and the city.

Along the way, you can also see the remnants of the baths, including the foundations, the walls, and the tunnels that were used to heat the water.

Sutro Baths is a popular spot for locals to enjoy a hike, a picnic, or a photo shoot, and it is also a great place to learn about the history of San Francisco.

Travel Tip: The giant heart at the Lands End lookout is not to be missed. Recently, the famous Lands End Labyrinth has been replaced by the giant heart.

Walk along Ocean Beach

The cool sea breeze fills your lungs, and the sound of the waves soothes your soul. Let the peaceful energy of this beautiful place wash over you and transport you to a world of tranquility and serenity.

Ocean Beach is a long, wide beach located in the western part of San Francisco, and it is a popular spot for locals to take a walk, go jogging, or watch the sunset.

The beach offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, and you can also find a number of beach bonfires along the beach at night, where you can join in and hang out with friends.


Neighborhood Exploration: Live Like a Local

Immerse yourself in the vibrant culture of San Francisco’s distinct neighborhoods, venturing beyond the usual tourist stops.

Explore Mission District in San Francisco as locals do!

Discover the Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco, Travel Realizations
Brighten up your day with the colorful Dharma Mural in the Mission District!

One of the best free things to do in San Francisco is to explore the city’s many neighborhoods and discover some of the hidden gems and secret spots that are off the beaten path.

The Mission District, North Beach, and the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood are all great places to start.

Mission District in San Francisco is a vibrant and culturally diverse neighborhood that offers plenty of non-touristy things to do. Here are a few ideas:

If you’re craving an intimate, genuine exploration of San Francisco that transcends conventional tours, then the ‘San Francisco Like a Local: Customized Private Tour’ is your golden ticket.

Don’t just observe the city – engage with it, understand it, live it!

From hidden alleyways filled with breathtaking murals to cozy, off-the-beaten-path eateries loved by locals, you’ll experience the city in an unforgettable way.

See exhibitions in the Art galleries in the Mission District

The Mission District of San Francisco is home to a number of art galleries, ranging from contemporary art galleries to more experimental and alternative spaces. Here are a few examples:

  • Ratio 3: This contemporary art gallery showcases the work of emerging and established artists, with a focus on conceptual and experimental practices.
  • Southern Exposure: This non-profit gallery supports the development of emerging artists and curates exhibitions that engage with social and political issues.
  • Galeria de la Raza: This gallery and cultural center supports Chicano, Latino, and indigenous artists, and hosts exhibitions, performances, and other events that celebrate and explore these cultures.
  • Mission Comics & Art: This independent comic book store and art gallery features the work of local artists and hosts exhibitions and events related to comics and popular culture.
  • The Luggage Store Gallery: This non-profit gallery supports emerging artists and curates exhibitions that engage with social and political issues, with a focus on experimental and conceptual practices.

These are just a few examples, and there are many other great art galleries located in the Mission District of San Francisco.

Many of these galleries host regular exhibitions and events, so check their websites or social media pages for more information.

Take a food tour in the Mission District

Mission District is known for its delicious and diverse food scene. Consider taking a food tour to explore some of the neighborhood’s best restaurants and food markets.

The area is known for its taquerias, which serve up mouthwatering tacos and other Mexican specialties. You can also find many other types of cuisines here, including Salvadoran, Venezuelan, and Japanese.

Admire the street murals in the Mission District

Discover the Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco, Travel Realizations
The Women’s Building is home to one of San Francisco’s largest and best-known murals – The Maestra Peace Mural

The Mission District is home to many street murals, which are a testament to the neighborhood’s vibrant and creative spirit.

You can find murals on buildings, fences, and other surfaces throughout the neighborhood, and they depict a wide range of themes and styles.

Insider Tip: A Guide to 41 Top Places to See Street Art and Murals in San Francisco

Attend a live music or comedy show in the Mission District

The Mission District is home to several live music venues, which host local and touring bands. You can find shows in a variety of genres, including rock, jazz, and hip-hop.

Some popular music venues in the Mission District include The Chapel, The Bottom of the Hill, and The Independent.

These venues offer a diverse range of live music, and they’re a great place to experience the local music scene.

In addition to these venues, the Mission District is also home to several theater companies which produce plays, musicals, and other live performances.

Visit a local park or garden in the Mission District

Mission District has several beautiful parks and gardens to explore, including Dolores Park and the Mission Dolores Park Community Garden. Take a stroll and enjoy the greenery.

Go to a movie

The Mission District is home to the historic Roxie Theater, which shows a mix of independent, foreign, and classic films.

You can also find several other movie theaters in the neighborhood, which show a variety of new releases.

Take a Stroll Through North Beach

Discover the Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco, Travel Realizations
Experience the magic of North Beach at night with the Sentinel building as your shining beacon!

North Beach is a charming neighborhood in San Francisco that is known for its rich Italian heritage and its lively atmosphere.

Located just north of the Financial District, it is a great place to spend a leisurely afternoon exploring the winding streets and soaking up the local culture.

As you take a stroll through North Beach, you’ll encounter a mix of old-world charm and modern energy, and you’ll have the opportunity to sample some of the neighborhood’s delicious Italian cuisine and visit some of the city’s most famous landmarks.

No matter what interests you, you’re sure to find something fun and exciting things to do in this charming San Francisco neighborhood. Here are a few ideas:

Attend a comedy show in North Beach

North Beach is home to several comedy clubs, including Cobb’s Comedy Club. These venues feature local and touring comedians, and they’re a great way to spend a fun night out with friends.

Learn about the Beat Generation in North Beach

North Beach was a hub for the Beat Generation in the 1950s, and there are several sites and landmarks related to this cultural movement.

The Beat Museum is dedicated to the Beat Generation, and it features exhibits on writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, as well as other figures from the Beat movement.

You can visit the museum during the day or attend one of the evening events, such as poetry readings or lectures.

Browse City Lights Bookstore in North Beach

City Lights Bookstore is a San Francisco institution and a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. The store is open during the day and also hosts evening events, such as book signings and readings.

Take a stroll through Washington Square in North Beach

Located in North Beach, Washington Square is a beautiful park that is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike.

You can take a leisurely stroll through the park and enjoy the greenery or sit on a bench and people-watch.

Washington Square is home to events and activities throughout the year, so you might stumble upon something interesting while you’re there.

Overall, visiting Washington Square is a great way to relax and enjoy the local culture.

Visit Saints Peter and Paul Church in North Beach

Discover the Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco, Travel Realizations
Experience the beauty and history of Saints Peter and Paul Church in North Beach, San Francisco!

Located in the heart of North Beach, Saints Peter and Paul Church (also known as Peter and Paul Church) is a beautiful and historic place of worship that is well worth a visit.

The church was built in the early 20th century and has a beautiful architectural style that is a blend of Gothic and Romanesque elements.

Inside, you’ll find beautiful stained glass windows, intricate wood carvings, and other beautiful details. You can visit the church to attend mass, to pray, or simply to admire its beauty and learn about its history.

Whether you’re religious or not, a visit to Saints Peter and Paul Church is a great way to experience the local culture of North Beach.

Take a food tour in North Beach

North Beach is known for its delicious Italian cuisine, and you can sample some of the best food the neighborhood has to offer on a food tour.

These tours typically include stops at a variety of restaurants, markets, and other food-related businesses, and you’ll get to try a variety of dishes and learn about the local food culture.

You can find food tours that focus on specific cuisines, such as Italian or Chinese, or that cover a range of different types of food.

No matter what your taste buds are craving, you’re sure to find something that you’ll enjoy on a food tour in North Beach.

Enjoy Dim Sum in Chinatown

Discover the Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco, Travel Realizations

Chinatown is a vibrant and colorful neighborhood in San Francisco that is known for its delicious and authentic dim sum restaurants.

Locals love to visit Chinatown and try the various types of dim sum, which are small bite-sized dishes that are typically served in steamer baskets or on small plates.

You can find dim sum restaurants all over Chinatown, and many of them offer outdoor seating and a lively atmosphere.

Explore Grant Avenue

Discover the Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco, Travel Realizations

Grant Avenue is a street in San Francisco’s Chinatown that is known for its diverse range of shops, restaurants, and markets.

It is a popular spot for locals to explore and find unique souvenirs and gifts.

The street is home to a variety of souvenir shops where you can browse and find something special to take home as a reminder of your trip to San Francisco.

Take your time exploring the many storefronts and markets on Grant Avenue and discover something that catches your eye.

Whether you’re looking for souvenirs, gifts, or just something interesting, you’re sure to find it on Grant Avenue.

Haight-Ashbury: The Epicenter of San Francisco’s Counterculture

Discover the Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco, Travel Realizations
Dangling Legs at the Piedmont Boutique

Haight Ashbury is a vibrant and historic neighborhood in San Francisco that has something for everyone.

From its roots as a hub of the hippie movement in the 1960s to its present-day status as a melting pot of cultures and eras, Haight Ashbury has always been a destination for those seeking something different.

  • Visit the Haight-Ashbury Street Fair: One of the top things to do in Haight-Ashbury is to explore the Haight Street Fair, an annual event that celebrates the neighborhood’s bohemian roots. The fair features live music, art exhibits, food vendors, and various other activities, all set against the backdrop of Haight Street’s colorful storefronts and Victorian houses.
  • Discover the Colorful Murals of Haight Ashbury: If you’re looking for a colorful and creative way to experience the Haight Ashbury neighborhood, make sure to check out the many murals scattered throughout the area. These vibrant works of art are a testament to the community’s rich cultural history and creativity, and they provide a unique and eye-catching backdrop to your visit.
  • Admire Grateful Dead House: Another must-see destination in Haight-Ashbury is the Grateful Dead House, a famous residence that served as a gathering place for the legendary rock band and their fans during the 1960s.
  • Relax in Buena Vista Park: For outdoor enthusiasts, Haight-Ashbury is home to Buena Vista Park, a beautiful green space that offers panoramic views of the city and a variety of hiking and biking trails. The park is a great place to relax and take in the sights and sounds of the neighborhood.
  • Visit a famous Boutique: Piedmont Boutique is a must-see shop for locals and visitors alike in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood. Known for its famous legs hanging out the window, this boutique is a beloved fixture of the community. Inside, you’ll find a massive selection of colorful earrings and other accessories.
  • Take a walking tour of the neighborhood: There are several companies that offer walking tours of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, providing insight into the history and culture of the area.
  • Shop at the Haight-Ashbury Vintage Clothing Stores: The neighborhood is known for its abundance of vintage clothing stores, where you can find unique, one-of-a-kind pieces.

Insider Tip: After uncovering the hidden gems of San Francisco, expand your adventures with my Getaway Guide to Top Weekend Trips from the Bay Area. Keep exploring and make unforgettable memories!

Experience Telegraph Hill Like a True Local

Discover the Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco, Travel Realizations
The Crown of Telegraph Hill: Coit Tower!

Telegraph Hill is a historic neighborhood in San Francisco that is known for its stunning views of the city, its iconic Coit Tower, and its winding streets and stairways.

There are many non-touristy things that you can do in Telegraph Hill, including the following:

  • Take a hike or walk up to the top of Telegraph Hill to see the views from Coit Tower.
  • Take a stroll through Pioneer Park at the bottom of Coit Tower. This small park offers great views of the city and is a popular spot for locals to relax and enjoy the outdoors.
  • Visit the Filbert Street Steps, a popular spot for locals to go for a walk or run.
  • Check out the gardens at the Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Center, which are open to the public.
  • Take a walk along the Embarcadero to see the Bay Bridge and the Ferry Building.
  • Visit Levi’s Plaza, a popular spot for locals to relax and have a picnic.
  • Check out the murals and street art in the neighborhood, which are a testament to the area’s vibrant and creative spirit.

Go beyond the tourist traps in Union Square

Discover the Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco, Travel Realizations
Union Square glistens after the rain, a perfect evening for a stroll through the heart of San Francisco!

Union Square is a popular neighborhood in San Francisco that is known for its shopping, dining, and entertainment options. Here are some non-touristy things that locals enjoy doing in Union Square:

  • Take a stroll through the neighborhood: Union Square is a great place to go for a leisurely walk and explore the surrounding streets and alleys.
  • Shop at local boutiques: You can check out the local boutiques, art galleries, and street performers, and get a feel for the neighborhood’s vibrant and creative atmosphere.
  • Shop at Saks Fifth Avenue: Saks Fifth Avenue is a luxury department store that is located in Union Square, and it is a popular spot for locals to shop for designer clothing, accessories, and home goods. You can browse the store’s many departments and find something to suit your style.
  • Grab a bite to eat: Union Square is home to a variety of restaurants, cafes, and food trucks, and there is something to suit every taste and budget. You can try a local favorite or try something new and exotic, and enjoy the neighborhood’s diverse and cosmopolitan atmosphere.
  • Relax in a park: Union Square is home to a number of parks and green spaces, and locals love to relax and enjoy the outdoors. You can bring a book, a blanket, and some snacks and spend a peaceful afternoon in the park

Experience the Best of Fisherman’s Wharf: More Than Just Clam Chowder and Souvenir Shops

Discover the Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco, Travel Realizations
Feast your eyes on this unique alligator-shaped Sourdough bread, a Fisherman’s Wharf classic made by the famous Boudin family in
San Francisco.

Fisherman’s Wharf is a popular destination for both tourists and locals in San Francisco.

It is a popular spot for locals to grab a bite to eat or watch the boats coming and going in the harbor.

While it is known for its seafood restaurants, souvenir shops, and street performers, there is much more to explore beyond the typical tourist attractions.

Some suggestions include the following:

  • Take a walk along the pier: The pier at Fisherman’s Wharf is a great place to take a leisurely stroll and enjoy the views of the bay. You can also watch the boats coming and going and see the sea lions that often gather at the pier.
  • Visit the Musee Mecanique: The Musee Mecanique is a museum of antique mechanical games and music machines, boasting one of the world’s largest privately owned collections of mechanically operated musical instruments and antique arcade machines. It’s a fun and quirky place to visit, and it’s sure to delight both kids and adults.
  • Explore the Hyde Street Pier: A Floating Museum in Fisherman’s Wharf: The Hyde Street Pier is a historic pier that houses a floating museum. Five of the vessels on the pier are officially National Historic Landmarks. You can visit a number of historic ships, including the Eureka, a historic ferryboat, and the Balclutha, a 19th century sailing ship. It’s a unique and educational experience for locals and visitors alike.
  • Experience the excitement of people watching at Fisherman’s Wharf: This bustling waterfront district offers endless entertainment as you observe a diverse mix of people, from street performers and tourists to locals. Take a seat and watch the world go by, or join in the fun and mingle with the vibrant community. With so much to see and do, Fisherman’s Wharf is the perfect place to soak up the energy and diversity of San Francisco.
  • Go on a scenic walk: Fisherman’s Wharf is a great starting point for a scenic walk along the San Francisco waterfront. Head towards the Ferry Building or Crissy Field for stunning views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • Explore the nearby neighborhoods: Fisherman’s Wharf is surrounded by a number of interesting neighborhoods worth exploring, including North Beach, Chinatown, and Russian Hill. Take a walk or hop on a cable car and discover the charm and character of these areas.

Pro tip: Book a 2.5-hour Segway tour of San Francisco’s iconic wharf and waterfront! Explore the city’s vibrant history and breathtaking views on this unique and fun tour. Don’t miss out on this one-of-a-kind experience!


Unique Sights & Experiences: Quirky Encounters

Embrace the weird and wonderful side of San Francisco with one-of-a-kind experiences, quirky attractions, and unexpected encounters.

Experience the Wonders of the Exploratorium

Discover the Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco, Travel Realizations
Buckyball is animated by custom software programmed by Villareal to display over 16 million distinct colors.

The Exploratorium in San Francisco is one of the popular attractions for locals looking for unique experiences and satisfying their curiosity by learning something new.

It is considered one of the top 10 science museums in the United States and offers a platform to explore the various frontiers of knowledge.

With interactive exhibits and easy-to-understand explanations of abstract concepts in science, the Exploratorium encourages visitors to ask questions and think critically.

The exhibits also blur the boundaries between art and science, creating a space for creative thinking and inspiration.

Whether you’re a child or an adult, the Exploratorium is a must-visit for anyone looking to deepen their understanding of the world around them and discover new horizons.

Pro tip: Book your tickets in advance to skip the lines and fully immerse yourself in the world of science and art. Don’t miss out on the incredible interactive exhibits at the Exploratorium!

Go for a nighttime stroll at the Palace of Fine Arts

Discover the Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco, Travel Realizations
Golden hour at the Palace of Fine Arts: a stunning sunset view!

The Palace of Fine Arts, located in the Marina district, is one of the most beautiful places in San Francisco.

It is known for its stunning architecture and beautiful grounds. while the daytime offers plenty of opportunities to appreciate the Palace’s beauty, the nighttime is when it comes alive.

After the sun goes down, the Palace is illuminated by hundreds of twinkling lights, creating a magical atmosphere perfect for a stroll with your loved ones.

Inside the building, you will also find a theater. The theater has several shows throughout the year, ranging from drama to comedy. You may choose to watch a show here!

Visit Harvey Milk Plaza: A Tribute to a Civil Rights Leader and LGBTQ+ Icon

Harvey Milk Plaza is a public space located in the Castro District of San Francisco that pays tribute to Harvey Milk, a civil rights leader and LGBTQ+ icon who was one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States.

Visitors to the plaza can learn about Milk’s life and legacy, and can also visit the GLBT History Museum nearby.

The plaza is a popular destination for locals and offers a unique opportunity to honor Milk’s contributions to the LGBTQ+ community and the civil rights movement.

Explore the Unique and Intriguing San Francisco Columbarium

Discover the Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco, Travel Realizations
Unique and Intriguing San Francisco Columbarium

Nestled in the Richmond District, the San Francisco Columbarium is a hidden gem that offers a unique and intriguing way to memorialize loved ones.

This Neo-Classical copper-domed building was originally part of the Odd Fellows Cemetery and boasts stunning details such as mosaic tile floors, stained-glass windows, and a grand skylight dome.

The columbarium is home to four floors of niches, each containing the cremated remains of individuals and showcasing their personalities, hobbies, and passions.

Take a stroll off the beaten path and discover the architectural wonder that is the San Francisco Columbarium.

Its ornate balconies and 45-foot atrium provide a glimpse into the city’s history, making it a must-see for locals and visitors alike.

Discover the Art of Chocolate-Making

Discover the Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco, Travel Realizations
Discover the secrets behind crafting delectable chocolate treats!

Going on a chocolate factory tour in San Francisco can be a lot of fun for people of all ages.

One of the famous chocolate factories in the city is Dandelion Chocolate, which is a bean-to-bar chocolate factory known for its small batch, craft chocolate.

On a tour of the factory, you can learn about the chocolate-making process from start to finish, including sourcing the beans and packaging the finished product.

You can also sample some of the delicious chocolate and perhaps even pick up some unique souvenirs in the gift shop.

Overall, a chocolate factory tour is a fun and educational experience that allows you to discover the art of chocolate-making and taste some of the best chocolate in the city.

Dandelion Chocolate – Address: 2600 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103


Arts & Culture: San Francisco’s Offbeat Creative Side

Discover San Francisco’s quirky and innovative artistic spirit through unconventional museums, underground performances, and hidden artistic gems.

Go to the Wave Organ

Discover the Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco, Travel Realizations
Experience the Melodic Magic of the Wave Organ at Golden Hour

The Wave Organ is a sound sculpture located on a jetty in San Francisco Bay, and it is a popular spot for locals to listen to the sounds of the waves and the tide.

You can sit and relax and listen to the music of the sea. The Wave Organ sounds best at high tide.

Pro tip: Check the tides before planning a visit to this unique place in San Francisco.

Discover San Francisco’s Hidden Art Gems: The Mosaic Steps

Discover the Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco, Travel Realizations
Take a walk down the colorful mosaic steps of San Francisco and let your creativity be inspired by the vibrant tiles and intricate designs!

San Francisco is home to many hidden art gems in the form of colorful mosaic steps.

These staircases are not only beautiful, but also hold unique stories and were often constructed by neighborhood volunteers as a way to beautify their community.

Some of the most popular mosaic steps to discover in San Francisco include:

  • The 16th Avenue Stairs and the Hidden Garden Steps are two of the most popular mosaic steps in San Francisco
  • Other notable mosaic steps include the Lincoln Park Steps, the Miraloma Mosaic Steps, and the three sets in Cayuga Park
  • The Tompkins Stairway, the Athens-Avalon Green Space Tiled Steps, and the Kenney Alley Steps are lesser-known but still beautiful sets of mosaic steps to explore
  • Don’t miss the Flights of Fancy Steps, the Quesada Garden Tiled Steps, and the Unity Plaza Ocean Avenue History Staircase for even more hidden art gems in the city.

Many of these staircases lead to hidden alleys and narrow passages between buildings, making them off the beaten path and not as well-known as other tourist attractions in the city.

Exploring these mosaic steps is a great way to discover the hidden art and culture of San Francisco. Guided tours are also available for those who want to make sure they don’t miss any of these hidden gems.

Discover the Hidden Treasure of the Grace Cathedral Labyrinth Walk

Discover the Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco, Travel Realizations
Get lost in the beauty and tranquility of Grace Cathedral’s Labyrinth, a peaceful oasis in the heart of San Francisco

Grace Cathedral’s labyrinths are a popular and unique activity for San Francisco locals looking to experience something off the beaten path.

These intricate mazes provide an opportunity for walking meditation, spiritual practice, and peaceful reflection, and they have been a part of various cultures and Christian spirituality for centuries.

The cathedral offers both indoor and outdoor labyrinths that are available to the public during cathedral hours, as well as a candlelight labyrinth walk with live music on the second Friday of every month.

In addition, the indoor labyrinth is used regularly for yoga on Tuesdays and evening Eucharist on Sundays.

If you’re a local looking for something different to do in San Francisco, consider taking a walk through Grace Cathedral’s labyrinths.

Immerse yourself in Art: Explore San Francisco’s Art Museums

San Francisco is home to a number of world-class art museums that are popular with locals and tourists alike.

Whether you’re a seasoned art aficionado or just looking for a unique and engaging activity, the city’s museums offer something for everyone.

Some of the top museums to visit include the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), the De Young, and the Legion de Honor.

Each of these museums has a rich collection of artworks from a variety of periods and styles, and they offer a great opportunity to immerse yourself in the world of art and culture.

These museums offer a wide variety of artworks from different periods, styles, and cultures, and provide an immersive and educational experience for visitors.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

At SFMOMA, you can explore the works of artists such as Frida Kahlo, Vincent van Gogh, and Chuck Close, as well as contemporary artists like Ai Weiwei and Jenny Holzer.

One memorable exhibition that I still remember visiting was the Pop Art of Andy Warhol at SFMOMA .

This exhibition featured a wide range of Warhol’s iconic works, including his Campbell’s Soup Cans, and Marilyn Monroe portraits.

It was an incredible opportunity to see these iconic pieces in person and learn more about Warhol’s life and career.

The De Young Museum

Discover the Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco, Travel Realizations
Bouquets to Art: A Summertime Celebration of Art and Flowers at the De Young Museum

The De Young Museum features a diverse collection of art from the Americas, Africa, and the Pacific, as well as works by Impressionist masters such as Monet and Renoir.

The Legion of Honor

The Legion of Honor is a stunning Beaux-Arts building that houses a collection of European art from ancient Greece to the present day, including works by Rembrandt, Rodin, and Cézanne.

Take some time to explore these cultural institutions and immerse yourself in the world of art.

Asian Art Museum

Take a journey through the rich and diverse history of Asian art at the beautiful Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.

The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco is known for hosting innovative and immersive exhibitions that push the boundaries of traditional art displays.

One such exhibition that I personally enjoyed was an immersive art experience that explored the intersection of digital media and artificial intelligence.

With a wide range of exhibitions throughout the year, you’ll always find something new and interesting to explore

Experience the Magic of Music with the San Francisco Symphony

Discover the Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco, Travel Realizations
Experience the beauty of music at the San Francisco Symphony!

Immerse yourself in the city’s vibrant arts and culture scene with a visit to Davies Symphony Hall. Let the San Francisco Symphony transport you to new heights with its beautiful music.

Allow the energy of the music to envelop you, and let it take you on a journey. When the final notes fade away, take a moment to appreciate the transformative power of music.

Allow the power of music to fill you up and leave a lasting impact on your heart.

Find Your Rhythm with the San Francisco Ballet

Discover the Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco, Travel Realizations
Julia Rowe and Isabella DeVivo in Tomasson/Possokhov’s Don Quixote. (© Erik Tomasson)

Be transported by the beauty and grace of live dance performance.

From the skill of the dancers to the power of the music and rhythm, a show at the San Francisco Ballet is an unforgettable experience for all ages.

Whether you’re a seasoned dance fan or experiencing ballet for the first time, don’t miss the chance to witness the magic of this art form.

Relaxation & Hidden Gems: Find Your Zen in San Francisco’s Secret Spaces

Escape the hustle and bustle and find tranquility in San Francisco’s hidden gardens, peaceful parks, and calming escapes unknown to most visitors.

Find Your Zen in Presidio: Non-Touristy Activities for Relaxation and Reflection

Discover the Best Non-Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco, Travel Realizations
The Wood Line, an art installation by Andy Goldsworthy!

The Presidio is a beautiful, historic park in San Francisco that is filled with hiking and biking trails, scenic views, and a variety of attractions. Here are a few non-touristy things you can do in the Presidio:

  • Hike or bike through the park: The Presidio is home to a network of trails that offer stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay. You can explore the trails by foot or by bike, and you’ll have the chance to see a variety of wildlife and plant life along the way.
  • Visit the San Francisco National Cemetery: Located in the Presidio, the San Francisco National Cemetery is a peaceful, serene place that honors the men and women who have served in the military. You can take a self-guided tour or join a guided tour to learn more about the history of the cemetery and the people who are buried there.
  • Visit the Walt Disney Family Museum: This museum is dedicated to the life and legacy of Walt Disney, and it offers a unique, behind-the-scenes look at the man who revolutionized the entertainment industry. You can learn about Disney’s early life, see rare artifacts from his career, and see how his vision has impacted popular culture.
  • Take a tour of the Presidio’s historic buildings: The Presidio is home to a number of historic buildings, including the Presidio Chapel, the Letterman Digital Arts Center, and the Presidio Officers’ Club. You can take a tour of these buildings to learn more about the history of the Presidio and see some of the beautiful architecture that defines this park.
  • Play golf: The Presidio Golf Course is a beautiful course that is open to the public.
  • Have a picnic: The Presidio is home to a number of beautiful parks and open spaces, including the Main Parade Ground, Crissy Field, and the Presidio Promenade. You can have a picnic in any of these areas and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
  • Visit the Lover’s Lane trail: The Lover’s Lane trail is a beautiful, easy hike that takes you through the eucalyptus forest.
  • See the Wood Line art installation: The Wood Line, an art installation by Andy Goldsworthy, is located just east of the Lover’s Lane trail and is definitely worth a visit.

Explore Yerba Buena Gardens, a beautiful urban oasis in the heart of San Francisco

Take a walk through Yerba Buena Gardens

Nestled in the heart of the bustling city of San Francisco, Yerba Buena Gardens is a hidden oasis that offers visitors the chance to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.

The park is home to a number of gardens, numerous sculptures, and other artworks. Amidst colorful gardens filled with fragrant flowers and manicured lawns, you can listen to the gentle sound of trickling water as it flows through fountains.

Yerba Buena Gardens is an idyllic retreat where you can bask in the warm glow of sunshine and awaken all your senses to the beauty of nature.

Whether you’re looking for a peaceful place to reflect on life or just want to take a moment out of your busy day to savor some tranquility, this urban oasis is sure to delight your senses and lift your spirits.

So why not visit and experience it for yourself? After all, there’s nothing quite like hearing, seeing, feeling, smelling, and tasting the beauty of nature at Yerba Buena Gardens.

Similar Articles From Travel Realizations

Don't just stick to the tourist traps in San Francisco! This blog post has some amazing off-the-beaten-path activities to check out. #SanFrancisco #California Click To Tweet

Travel Realizations

San Francisco is a city with endless opportunities for exploration and adventure, and it’s easy to find non-touristy things to do that are off the beaten path.

Whether you’re interested in nature, history, art, or just relaxing and enjoying the city, there’s something for everyone.

So take a break from the crowds and discover the unique and authentic experiences that San Francisco has to offer.

The city is filled with hidden gems and local favorites waiting to be discovered. Whether you’re a local or visiting, don’t be afraid to venture off the beaten path and discover the city’s hidden treasures.

Newsletter

Sign up to get travel tips and advice for your next journey. 

Leave a comment below if you have any questions, or DM me on Instagram @travelrealizations

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading San Francisco for Locals: Your Guide to Non-Touristy Experiences and Attractions. You may enjoy these other Bay Area and San Francisco travel guides:

If you need San Francisco for Locals: Your Guide to Non-Touristy Experiences and Attractions, Pin It for later.

Chirasree Banerjee

Hello. My name is Chirasree. I have been traveling for almost 11 years to places all over the world. I enter into a separate reality during my travels and enjoy the allure of escape from the mundane. I seek beauty through nature and human-made creations. Because beauty is powerful. I seek knowledge. I observe, absorb, and write about the places I visit and the profound realizations and inspirations that each place has to offer.