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Underrated Things To Do In San Francisco | Jessie On A Journey


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Helyn Pulliam



San Francisco, the vibrant “City by the Bay,” is known for its iconic landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. However, there is so much more to this city than meets the eye. Beyond the tourist hotspots, San Francisco is a treasure trove of hidden gems and underrated attractions waiting to be explored. In this article, we will take you off the beaten path and share some of the lesser-known things to do in this captivating California city.


Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned traveler, immersing yourself in the local culture and experiencing the city like a true San Franciscan can be a rewarding and unforgettable experience. From discovering tucked-away rooftop gardens to indulging in the unique food scene and exploring secret stairways, San Francisco offers a plethora of hidden delights that often go unnoticed by the masses. So, grab your walking shoes, embark on a journey of undiscovered wonders, and let yourself be captivated by the lesser-known side of San Francisco.


Explore the Vibrant Neighborhoods

One of the best ways to experience the true essence of San Francisco is by exploring its diverse and vibrant neighborhoods. While famous districts like Chinatown and Fisherman’s Wharf attract tourists, there are several underrated neighborhoods that offer a more authentic and local experience.


Head to the Mission District, known for its vibrant street art, hipster hangouts, and thriving Latino culture. Explore the colorful murals that adorn the walls, browse the eclectic boutiques, and sample the delicious Mexican cuisine at local taquerias. Don’t miss a visit to Dolores Park, a popular gathering spot for locals to relax and enjoy stunning views of the city.


If you’re a lover of history and Victorian architecture, make your way to the Haight-Ashbury district. Step back in time to the 1960s and immerse yourself in the counterculture movement that once flourished here. Explore vintage shops, quirky bookstores, and soak up the bohemian vibes that still echo through the streets.


Another hidden gem is the Outer Sunset neighborhood. Located near Ocean Beach, this area offers a more laid-back and residential feel compared to the bustling city center. Spend a day exploring the local surf shops, cozy cafes, and enjoy a peaceful stroll along the beach. Don’t forget to grab a famous “Ice Cream Sandwich” from the acclaimed Garden Creamery.


For a taste of Korean culture, visit the Outer Richmond district, also known as “Koreatown.” Sample delicious Korean barbecue, browse the Korean markets, and relax in the serene Golden Gate Park nearby. This neighborhood is a true hidden gem, often overlooked by tourists but loved by locals.


Exploring these vibrant neighborhoods will give you a glimpse into the diverse tapestry of cultures and lifestyles that make San Francisco so unique. So be sure to veer off the well-trodden path and discover the undiscovered charms of these underrated areas.


Visit the Hidden Rooftop Gardens

When it comes to urban spaces, San Francisco is renowned for its innovative and creative use of rooftops. This city boasts a surprising number of hidden rooftop gardens, offering peaceful havens amidst the hustle and bustle.


One such hidden gem is the Rooftop at the San Francisco Public Library. Located in the heart of the city, this rooftop garden is a tranquil oasis with stunning views of the surrounding skyscrapers. Take a break from exploring the library’s extensive collection and enjoy the lush greenery, fragrant flowers, and even a charming reading nook. It’s the perfect spot to relax and escape the city’s hustle.


Another rooftop garden worth visiting is the Salesforce Park. Situated on top of the Salesforce Transit Center, this urban park boasts a variety of plants, trees, and even a playground for families to enjoy. Take a stroll along the elevated walkways, admire the vibrant blooms, and take in the panoramic views of the city skyline.


If you’re a wine lover, make your way to the Bluxome Street Winery’s rooftop garden. Located in the SoMa district, this hidden gem offers a unique wine tasting experience amidst a lush rooftop vineyard. Sip on locally produced wines while enjoying the sweeping views of the city. It’s the perfect blend of relaxation and indulgence.


For those seeking a more intimate and romantic setting, head to the Garden Terrace at The Battery. This exclusive members-only club features a beautiful rooftop garden where you can unwind in a luxurious setting. Take in the breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge, sip on handcrafted cocktails, and immerse yourself in the elegant ambiance of this hidden gem.


Visiting these hidden rooftop gardens allows you to discover a different side of San Francisco, where nature and urban spaces seamlessly blend together. So escape the crowds and elevate your city experience by exploring these serene and picturesque rooftop retreats.


Discover Local Street Art

San Francisco has long been a hub for artistic expression, and its streets are a canvas for talented local artists. Exploring the city’s vibrant street art scene is a must for anyone seeking to immerse themselves in the creative energy of San Francisco.


One neighborhood known for its impressive street art is the Mission District. Take a leisurely stroll down Clarion Alley, a narrow alleyway adorned with colorful murals that tell stories of social and political significance. The artworks are constantly evolving, so each visit offers a unique experience. Don’t forget to wander through Balmy Alley as well, known for its powerful murals that reflect the struggles and triumphs of the Latino community.


The Tenderloin district, often overlooked by tourists, is another hidden gem of street art. Explore the Tenderloin National Forest, an art-filled alley tucked away between buildings. Here, you’ll find stunning murals, sculptures, and installations that transform this urban space into an immersive art gallery. It’s a powerful display of creativity in an unexpected setting.


For a more alternative and underground art scene, head to Clarion Alley’s companion, 6th Street. This gritty neighborhood is home to a diverse range of street art, often dealing with social justice issues and themes of resilience. Marvel at the striking artwork while exploring the unique shops and cafes scattered throughout the area.


But the street art isn’t limited to specific neighborhoods. Throughout San Francisco, you’ll stumble upon hidden gems on random corners and alleyways. Keep your eyes open for colorful murals, intricate graffiti, and thought-provoking installations as you navigate the city streets. Many of these artworks are tucked away in unexpected places, waiting to be discovered.


Exploring San Francisco’s local street art scene is not only visually stimulating but also a way to connect with the city’s vibrant artistic voice. So venture off the beaten path and let the urban artworks captivate your imagination and showcase the countless talents of San Francisco’s artistic community.


Indulge in the Unique Food Scene

San Francisco is a culinary paradise, boasting a diverse and eclectic food scene that reflects the city’s multiculturalism and innovation. While the city is famous for its sourdough bread and seafood, there are many underrated culinary delights that shouldn’t be missed.


Start your culinary adventure in the Mission District, home to a wide array of international cuisines. Dive into the flavors of Mexico at La Taqueria, renowned for its mouthwatering Mission-style burritos. Explore the local food markets and try authentic pupusas from El Salvador or delicious empanadas from Argentina. The Mission District offers a gastronomic journey around the globe.


For a taste of San Francisco’s Asian culinary delicacies, head to the Richmond and Sunset districts. Devour delectable dim sum at one of the many hidden gems in the Richmond’s vibrant Chinatown. Indulge in the diverse flavors of Japan at the sushi bars and ramen joints in the Sunset district. Treat your taste buds to a fusion of cultures and flavors in these lesser-known culinary hotspots.


Another unique food experience in San Francisco is the abundance of food trucks and pop-up eateries. Explore the rotating schedule of Off the Grid, a gathering of food trucks that offers a wide variety of cuisines in different locations throughout the week. Sample gourmet burgers, exotic tacos, and artisanal desserts from these mobile culinary wonders.


For those seeking a refined dining experience, San Francisco offers a plethora of underrated Michelin-starred restaurants. From the inventive and artistic dishes at Al’s Place to the intimate and cozy ambiance of Rich Table, these underrated gems showcase the innovative and diverse culinary talent that thrives within the city.


Indulging in the unique food scene of San Francisco is like embarking on a culinary journey that takes you around the world without leaving the city. So be sure to explore the local eateries, food trucks, and hidden gems to uncover the true flavors and culinary treasures that make San Francisco a food lover’s paradise.


Take a Ferry to Angel Island

While most visitors flock to Alcatraz Island, there is another island gem in San Francisco Bay that often goes unnoticed – Angel Island. Taking a ferry to this underrated destination offers a unique perspective of the city and a chance to explore a scenic and historically significant island.


Known as the “Ellis Island of the West,” Angel Island served as an immigration station from 1910 to 1940, where millions of immigrants from Asia arrived seeking a new life in America. Today, the island stands as a testament to the diverse history of San Francisco and offers visitors an opportunity to learn about the experiences and stories of these immigrants.


Once you arrive on the island, embark on a guided tour or explore on your own. Hike through the lush trails that meander through the island’s hills, offering breathtaking panoramic views of the bay, the city skyline, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Pack a picnic and enjoy a leisurely lunch amidst the serene surroundings.


For history buffs, the Immigration Station Museum is a must-visit. Discover the hardships and triumphs of the immigrants who passed through Angel Island by exploring the exhibits and reading personal stories. The museum offers a glimpse into the immigration experience and the resilience of those who sought a better future.


Angel Island is also a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Rent a bike and cycle along the scenic paths, or go kayaking in the calm waters surrounding the island. You can even camp overnight and wake up to the serene beauty of the bay.


One of the highlights of visiting Angel Island is the opportunity to escape the bustling city and immerse yourself in nature and history. Whether you’re looking for a peaceful day trip or a deeper exploration of the island’s stories, Angel Island promises a unique and underrated experience that many overlook.


So hop on a ferry, leave the hustle and bustle behind, and discover the hidden charm and rich history of Angel Island.


Attend a Performance at a Historic Theater

In a city known for its arts and cultural scene, attending a performance at one of San Francisco’s historic theaters is a must-do experience. While the iconic theaters like the War Memorial Opera House and the Orpheum Theatre often steal the spotlight, there are lesser-known venues that offer equally captivating performances in a unique atmosphere.


One such hidden gem is the Castro Theatre, a stunning movie palace built in 1922 in the heart of the Castro District. Not only does this theater showcase a diverse array of films, but it also hosts special events and live performances. With its grandiose Spanish Colonial Revival architecture and intricately adorned interior, attending a screening or live show at the Castro Theatre is like stepping back in time and immersing yourself in the rich history of the city.


For a more intimate and community-oriented experience, head to the Brava Theater Center in the Mission District. This historic theater focuses on showcasing works by local artists, highlighting the vibrant and multicultural spirit of San Francisco. From thought-provoking plays to engaging musical performances, attending a show at the Brava Theater Center offers a unique glimpse into the city’s thriving arts community.


Another hidden gem is the Great American Music Hall, located in the Tenderloin district. Built in 1907, this ornate venue exudes old-world charm and has hosted countless renowned musicians and performers over the years. From jazz and blues to rock and indie acts, the Great American Music Hall offers an intimate and immersive concert experience you won’t soon forget.


Attending a performance at these historic theaters not only allows you to enjoy the arts but also gives you the opportunity to support local talent and be a part of San Francisco’s rich cultural heritage. So, whether you’re a theater enthusiast or simply looking for a unique night out, don’t overlook these underrated venues that offer a blend of history, artistry, and unforgettable performances.


Go for a Hike in the Presidio

Nestled within the heart of San Francisco lies the Presidio, a sprawling urban park that offers a tranquil escape from the city’s bustling streets. Going for a hike in the Presidio is a fantastic way to reconnect with nature, explore historic landmarks, and enjoy panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge.


The Presidio boasts a network of well-maintained hiking trails that cater to all fitness levels. Whether you’re looking for a leisurely stroll or a challenging hike, there’s a trail for you. Begin your adventure at the Main Post, the historic heart of the Presidio, and set out on one of the many scenic routes that wind through the park’s lush forests and rolling hills.


For a moderate hike that offers stunning vistas, embark on the Batteries to Bluffs Trail. This trail takes you along the rugged coastline, where you can admire dramatic ocean views and watch the waves crash against the rocky cliffs. Capture the perfect photo of the Golden Gate Bridge from Battery Crosby, a hidden viewpoint that offers a unique perspective of this iconic landmark.


Another popular hiking trail is the Ecology Trail, which winds through the Presidio’s diverse ecosystems. This peaceful trail takes you through serene forests, serene meadows, and beautiful groves of cypress trees. Keep an eye out for the diverse wildlife that calls the Presidio home, including birds, butterflies, and even the occasional deer.


As you explore the Presidio, you’ll also have the opportunity to visit historic sites and cultural landmarks. Explore the Presidio Officers’ Club, a former military barracks turned museum that showcases the rich history of the area. Visit the Walt Disney Family Museum, which honors the legacy of the legendary animator and entrepreneur. And don’t miss the National Cemetery, a solemn and poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by American service members.


Whether you’re a nature lover, history buff, or simply in search of a peaceful retreat, going for a hike in the Presidio offers a serene and immersive experience. So lace up your hiking boots, pack some water and snacks, and get ready to discover the natural beauty and hidden treasures of this urban oasis.


Explore the Secret Stairs of San Francisco

Hidden throughout the hilly streets of San Francisco are a series of secret stairs that offer a unique and adventurous way to explore the city. These hidden staircases provide not only a great workout but also an opportunity to discover hidden pockets of charm and breathtaking views.


One popular set of secret stairs is the Filbert Street Steps. Located in the Telegraph Hill neighborhood, these 284 steps lead you through lush gardens, beautiful homes, and scenic overlooks. As you climb, you’ll be rewarded with stunning panoramic views of the city and the Bay Bridge. Don’t forget to stop by the enchanting Macondray Lane, a hidden gem known for its picturesque cottages and vibrant flowers.


Another stairway worth exploring is the Lyon Street Steps in the Pacific Heights neighborhood. This grand staircase offers a beautiful ascent through manicured gardens and elegant homes. At the top, you’ll be treated to sweeping views of the city and the nearby Presidio. It’s the perfect spot for a quiet moment of reflection or a scenic picnic.


If you’re up for a challenge, tackle the hidden staircases of the Inner Sunset district. The Moraga Steps, also known as the “Avenue Tiled Steps,” feature a vibrant mosaic design that adds a touch of whimsy to your climb. As you ascend, admire the intricately crafted artwork and enjoy glimpses of the ocean and Golden Gate Park.


Exploring the secret stairs of San Francisco offers a chance to see the city from a different perspective. As you wind your way through these hidden gems, keep your eyes peeled for charming architectural details, colorful gardens, and local artwork adorning the stairwells. It’s like embarking on a treasure hunt, uncovering hidden beauty around every corner.


Remember to wear comfortable shoes, bring plenty of water, and take your time to soak in the surroundings. Whether you’re a fitness enthusiast, a photography lover, or simply seeking an off-the-beaten-path adventure, exploring the secret stairs of San Francisco is an unforgettable experience that reveals the city’s hidden charms one step at a time.


Visit the Quirky Museums

San Francisco is home to some of the most unique and offbeat museums in the world. While the city boasts renowned institutions like the de Young Museum and the SFMOMA, there are also a number of lesser-known museums that offer a fun and eclectic experience.


One such quirky museum is the Musée Mécanique, located near Fisherman’s Wharf. This vintage arcade museum houses an impressive collection of over 300 mechanical games and antique penny arcade machines. Take a nostalgic trip back in time as you try your hand at old-school pinball, fortune-telling machines, and photo booths. It’s a captivating journey into the history of amusement and entertainment.


Just a short walk away is the Cartoon Art Museum, a hidden gem dedicated to the art of animation and comic strips. Marvel at original artwork, explore interactive exhibits, and learn about the process of creating cartoons. From classic comic strips like Peanuts to modern animated films, this museum celebrates the art form in all its forms.


For a truly unique experience, visit The Exploratorium, a museum dedicated to the intersection of art, science, and human perception. With over 650 interactive exhibits, this hands-on museum encourages visitors to explore, play, and discover. From manipulating light and sound to uncovering the mysteries of the natural world, The Exploratorium offers a one-of-a-kind learning adventure for all ages.


Another offbeat gem is the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD), which explores the history, art, and culture of African peoples across the globe. Through thought-provoking exhibitions, educational programs, and community events, MoAD offers a comprehensive and immersive experience that fosters understanding and celebrates diversity.


Visiting these quirky museums not only provides entertainment and education but also supports the unique cultural fabric of San Francisco. So step off the well-trodden path, delve into the fascinating world of these unconventional institutions, and let your curiosity guide you through a truly memorable and offbeat museum experience.


Enjoy a Sunset Picnic in Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park, the iconic green oasis in the heart of San Francisco, offers a myriad of activities and attractions for visitors. One of the most memorable experiences you can have in the park is enjoying a sunset picnic amidst its stunning landscapes.


Begin your evening adventure by strolling through the park’s lush gardens and serene pathways. Explore the Japanese Tea Garden, a tranquil haven of cherry blossom trees, traditional pagodas, and serene koi ponds. As the sun starts to set, make your way to one of the park’s picturesque spots, such as the Shakespeare Garden or the Music Concourse.


Find a comfortable spot, spread out a blanket, and unpack your picnic. Whether you opt for a gourmet spread of local cheeses, bread, and charcuterie, or simply bring along some sandwiches and snacks, the beautiful surroundings will enhance your dining experience. Savor each bite as the colors of the sky change, casting a golden hue over the park.


As evening falls, the park takes on a magical ambiance. The sounds of nature blend with the distant hum of the city, creating a peaceful and soothing atmosphere. Take a moment to appreciate the beauty around you, as the setting sun bathes the trees and the meadows in a warm glow.


After your picnic, take a leisurely walk to catch the last glimpses of daylight. Golden Gate Park offers a plethora of hidden gems to discover, including the Dutch Windmill, the stunning Conservatory of Flowers, or the tranquil Stow Lake. Admire the city skyline from Strawberry Hill or wander through the serene pathways of the AIDS Memorial Grove.


As the stars begin to twinkle in the sky, your evening in Golden Gate Park will come to a close. But the memories of the peaceful sunset picnic and the enchanting ambiance of the park will stay with you forever, making it a highlight of your time in San Francisco.


So grab a picnic basket, your favorite snacks, and a loved one or a group of friends, and experience the magic of a sunset picnic in the incredible Golden Gate Park. It’s a perfect way to cap off your visit to this remarkable city.



San Francisco is a city that captivates with its iconic landmarks, diverse neighborhoods, and cultural vibrancy. However, beyond the well-known attractions lies a wealth of hidden gems and underrated experiences waiting to be discovered. Exploring the vibrant neighborhoods, visiting hidden rooftop gardens, discovering local street art, indulging in the unique food scene, taking a ferry to Angel Island, attending a performance at a historic theater, hiking in the Presidio, exploring the secret stairs, visiting quirky museums, and enjoying a sunset picnic in Golden Gate Park are just some of the incredible and often overlooked activities that make San Francisco truly special.


As you venture off the beaten path and immerse yourself in these underrated experiences, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the city’s rich history, cultural diversity, and natural beauty. Encounter the hidden art and creativity that flourish in San Francisco’s streets and galleries, taste the unique flavors and culinary innovations that define its food scene, and soak in the stunning vistas and tranquility offered by its parks and open spaces.


Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a long-time resident, exploring these underrated aspects of San Francisco will provide you with a fresh perspective and a newfound love for the city. So wander through the vibrant neighborhoods, climb hidden staircases, and embrace the unique and often quirky side of San Francisco that waits to be discovered.


With its combination of natural wonders, cultural treasures, and lesser-known delights, San Francisco has something to captivate every visitor. So go beyond the tourist attractions, follow your curiosity, and let the city reveal its hidden treasures to you. San Francisco is waiting to enchant you with its underrated charm and undeniable allure.