Everyone knows about Alcatraz, Chinatown, the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman's Wharf. But fewer know about the secret gems, the hidden San Francisco tourist attractions that are worth a little extra work to find. These are the things that most tourists never see, but that make the city fascinating.
Here, we unveil unique museums, parks, and landmarks that are worth seeking out on your SF getaway. Some are off the beaten path while others are "hiding" in plain sight.
Many visitors don't realize that San Francisco has had a thriving Jewish population dating back to the Gold Rush era, when many east coast Jews journeyed west to improve their lives. Levi Strauss, of blue jean fame, was one of them. The vast Contemporary Jewish Museum has many interesting temporary exhibits, currently an overview of Stanley Kubrick's film career.
Sure, you'll probably go to SFMOMA, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, but if you want to discover a hidden San Francisco tourist attraction, head to the funky Museum of Craft & Design. Open since 2004, the museum is a showcase for cutting-edge craft, often at at the fringes of society.
Everyone — visitors and residents alike — loves the iconic cable cars! Since you'll probably ride on one during your trip to San Francisco, why not also make time to go to the source and learn everything you can about the historic, romantic cable cars at a museum dedicated to its lore.
Located in the Aquatic Park Bathhouse building, this fabulous museum was built in 1939 during the Art Deco period and has the clean, bold lines of an ocean liner. It's open daily, so pop inside to see marvellous colorful murals by Sargent Johnson and Hilaire Hiler. It's one of the San Francisco tourist attractions most people don't seek out.
Built for the Panama-Pacific Exhibition of 1915, the haunting temple to the arts on the water features Greco-Roman colonnades. Walk around the perimeter and admire the swans as they float on the picturesque lagoon. For years it was home to the science museum and currently the building is an art and performance center. Definitely off the beaten tourist path.
This is a tru hidden attraction, located deep in Golden Gate Park. Visit here to see more than sixty rose beds! The Rose Garden is designed to bloom all year round, so don't worry if you're visiting during even the greyest day in January, you will see flowering roses. Since 1961 the SF chapter of the American Rose Society have grown roses in Golden Gate Park to invoke the spirit of love, forgiveness & friendship.
Many don't realize that SF has a vibrant Japanese community and that you can take part in a wonderful, traditional communal bath ceremony. Women are invited on Sunday, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Men on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Bathing suits are optional. Coed bathing is on Tuesdays where a bathing suit is required. It's advised to make a reservation before you arrive.
This three-block stretch starts on Broadway Street between Divisadero and Lyon Street. Here you will see a row of the most expensive homes in San Francisco…the country…the world. From Alta Vista Park, walk down Jackson and turn right at Divisadero.
The mini Notre Dame de Chartres. Not many locals know that the Grace Cathedral of Nob Hill was modeled after Notre Dame Cathedral of Chartres, France. The original church was founded during the Gold Rush of 1849. It's a lovely place to visit on your way to Fairmont Hotel for a drink in the Top of the Mark lounge. Check out their website and follow their list of 10 things to do and see at Grace, including a popular Tuesday night yoga class.
For years, the Exploratorium was located at the Palace of Fine Arts. Today you can visit the funky, hands-on science museum at its new location at Pier 15. If you are traveling with children, this is a must-see museum.
If you love gardens, you must visit the Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park. The 55 acres are a living museum with wild and landscaped gardens and open spaces with a melange of 8,000+ varieties of plants from around the globe. There are quite a number of themed gardens, and we particularly like the Garden of Fragrance, originally conceived for the blind. Free tours are given daily, check their website for current times.
Established in 1776, the oldest gravestone dates back to 1830 under the name of Don Luis Antonio Arguello. He was the first governor of California Alta when it was still part of Mexico. Wander through the pretty graveyard on a self-guided tour of the old Mission, the museum and the cemetery. There is a small fee to visit. Tickets are available from the gift shop.
Everything you ever wanted to know about the world of ophthalmology and then some. The fun, lively museum has some very interesting permanent and temporary exhibits all to do with sight. Admission is free but you must make an appointment to visit. All tours are guided by a staff member.
San Francisco is a melting pot with diverse cultures and peoples from around the world. One of these groups were Russians escaping the civil war (called the Russian Revolution) between 1917 and 1922. They somehow made their way to the west coast and established a museum dedicated to all things Russian. Hours are limited — Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10:30 to 2:30 pm.
Talk about a hidden landmark! From the top of the Merced Heights Park, you have one of the best 360 degree views of San Francisco. Access the park by going up any of these streets — Lakeview Avenue, Orizaba Avenue, or Shields Street.
For starters, it's easy to see how it got its great name. The park has rugged steep, hilltop paths made for nimble hikers or billy goats. Make the hike and be rewarded with a small patch of grass and a majestic 30-foot swing.
In 1913, they declared it to be the world's biggest sundial, with 1,500 people attending its inauguration. This obscure monument dominates a residential cul-de-sac in Ingleside Terraces. Found in southwestern part of San Francisco near Balboa Park.
Hidden Tourist Attractions
• 17 Hidden Attractions…
• Diego Rivera Frescos…
• Telegraph Hill & Coit Tower…
• WWII Ships at Pier 45…
• City Lights Bookstore…
• The Amazing SF Zoo…
• Lincoln Park…
• Haas-Lilienthal House…
• The Octagon House…
• Yerba Buena Gardens…
• San Francisco Library…
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