On my most recent trip to San Francisco, I thought long and hard on what to do and see considering I’ve done most of the tourist bucket lists after several visits to the city. Take a ferry to Alcatraz, check. Climb up the dizzying steps to Coit Tower, also check. Take the mandatory photo op at Alamo Square and drive down Lombard Street, check and check.
My challenge this time around was to find backdoor sights or non touristy things to do in San Francisco, those preferably away from downtown traffic (since I had a rental car) and ones I can thoroughly enjoy within a day’s time. It isn’t always easy to find travel guides about non touristy things to do in San Francisco, especially for someone like myself who has visited on multiple occasions; but diligent research and a couple of accidental findings led me to these three itineraries.
Non Touristy Things to Do in San Francisco: Repeat Visitor Guide
Real Estate Tour: Pacific Heights Over Nob Hill
It’s no secret that San Francisco is one of the most expensive places to live in the world. Mansions built at the turn of the 20th century line the streets of its elevated neighborhoods, most of which have splendid views of San Francisco Bay and of downtown. Most novice tourists wander in the neighborhood of Nob Hill, understandably so since cable car lines cut through it.
Some of San Francisco grand dame hotels such as The Fairmont and the InterContinental Mark Hopkins are also located in that area, but if you’ve already explored that part and would like to look for non touristy things to do in San Francisco, head further west into Pacific Heights to discover an equally stunning neighborhood and experience it without the crowds.
Enclosed by Van Ness Avenue to the east, Presidio Avenue to the west, and Green and California Streets to the north and south respectively, Pacific Heights has some of the most incredible pieces of real estate in San Francisco. Half of the homes on Zillow’s recent top 10 most expensive listings in the city are located in Pacific Heights. Almost every street is filled with mansions and if you walk northwards on Lyon Street, you’ll likely encounter a number of locals using the steep staircase as their personal Stairmaster. At the neighborhood’s highest point, you’ll get excellent views of Presidio, parts of downtown San Francisco, and of San Francisco Bay.
Food Sampling at Embarcadero Rather Than Fisherman’s Wharf
Sure you have to go to Pier 39 and see the sea lions, but that takes merely minutes. And who can resist the tempting smell of chocolate from the Ghirardelli factory or the freshly baked sourdough bread from Boudin Bakery. Once you’ve done these however, the novelty wears off. Fisherman’s Wharf might look exciting if you haven’t been there before but you’ll soon realize that a couple of hours is really quite enough. If you’re looking for non touristy things to do in San Francisco that still features a bayside attraction however, my suggestion will be to hit up Embarcadero instead. It has great views of the Financial District, the Bay Bridge, and is also a foodie favorite. The areas between the Ferry Building Marketplace and Pier 15 will be the place to go particularly on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays when the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market is ongoing. Even if you aren’t around during those days, there are still plenty of permanent stalls inside the Ferry Building that will satisfy your gourmet food cravings. If you’re traveling with kids or a kid at heart yourself, make sure to stop by the Exploratorium. This high-tech museum is full of interactive exhibits that explore the depths of all sciences, natural, physical, and psychological.
Lands End Lookout in Golden Gate National Recreational Area
A repeat visitor will likely look for a different and less crowded lookout to view the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge. You can find it by heading further west towards the Pacific Ocean into Lands End Lookout. Spend some time here to hear the intimidating and powerful waves or watch a spectacular sunset. You can also hike the connecting Lands End and Coastal trails until Eagles Point to get unobstructed views of Presidio and Marin County. Along the way, you’ll pass by Mile Rock Beach and its lighthouse, Dead Man’s Point, where you can read about the history of San Francisco’s most tragic shipwrecks, and a path that will lead you to the Legion of Honor, another one of San Francisco’s fine arts museum.
Finally, you can hike down towards the ruins of the Sutro Baths, an ambitious recreational facility built by Adolph Sutro in 1894. There aren’t many ruins left standing but images from the historical placards showed that the buildings were glamorous and were considered impressive feats of engineering.