I already talked about San Francisco – Top 5 Touristy Things To Do, now lets look at 5 less touristy things to do for a fulfilling visit.

Note:  All photos in this post were taken by me except the Angel Island map.

Take the Ferry to Angel Island and Bike Around

Angel Island sits in the middle of the San Francisco Bay and has a rich history.  It is great for hiking but to see the whole island as a day trip it is best to have a bicycle.  You may also choose to camp a night or two on the island (bring warm clothing if you camp regardless of what time of year).

angel island
View of Angel Island which rises in the background.  Alcatraz is the much smaller island more in the foreground to the left.  I took this picture through the smudged windows of Coit Tower so apologies for quality.

Highlights of Angel Island include:

  • The old US Immigration Station (like an Ellis Island west).
  • Fort McDowell which was used through World War 2.
  • A decommissioned Nike Missile Site and numerous other batteries.
  • Harbor seals and California sea lions, along with egrets,
    grebes, blue herons, brown pelicans, and many other birds.
  • Stunning views especially from Mt Livermore, the summit of the island at 788 ft/240 m).
angel island
Picture from California State Park brochure.

Take the Blue and Gold Ferry to Angel Island from Pier 41.  You are welcome to bring a bicycle on the ferry.  Be cognizant of the last returning ferry and your distance to the dock (unless you are camping).


sunset at golden gate
View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Angel Island

Explore Chinatown

San Francisco Chinatown is the largest Chinatown outside of Asia.  San Francisco Cityguides offers an excellent free walking tour of Chinatown exploring the alleys, temples, tongs, and history of Chinatown.

The famous Dragon’s Gate is at Grant and Bush, but the real action is on Stockton and Powell between Clay and Pacific.  The best time to explore Chinatown is Sunday morning because the markets are most active.

san francisco china town
Salt and Pepper Pork Chops – my favorite Chinatown dish


Bike the Golden Gate to Sausalito

Rent a bicycle, ride over the Golden Gate Bridge, ride (downhill) into Sausalito, CA. Explore or get some food/drink, then take the ferry back to San Francisco.

See a Show or a Sports Event

The music and theater scene in San Francisco is very hot.  San Francisco has rooms small and large, so why not live like a local and take in a show or two.  My favorite venues:

  • The Fillmore – historic with atmosphere; great sound; you can spend hours looking at the pictures on the wall.
  • Davies Symphony Hall if you enjoy classical music.
  • SFJAZZ Center – this room knows smooth!
  • Castro Theater – takes you back in time.
  • Bill Graham Civic Arena – probably one of the smallest major city arenas you will ever see a show at, and they manage to have decent sound.
  • Anything at one of the many small performing arts spaces throughout the city, because you never really know what you will get and that keeps it interesting.

Phish at the Bill Graham Civic Arena 2016

Giants stadium
San Francisco Giants Stadium – see a game if the team is in town or take a tour of the stadium if they are not.  The stadium tour is worth it.

Explore a Neighborhood

Pick a neighborhood, do a little homework (or not) and explore it on foot.  My favorites:

  1. Hayes Valley – craft stores, shopping, art, food, people, pop up shows and more.
  2. Noe Valley – Beautiful homes, lively streets, and make sure to go to the top of Billy Goat Hill and go on the swing.
  3. Haight Ashbury – By day, get off the main drag explore the side streets, especially walking up to Ashbury Heights and enjoy.  By night, do a little hopping around and enjoy.
  4. Protrero Hill – Beautiful houses and a nice strip of boutique, cafes, and coffee shops.
  5. Russian Hill – Walk up Vallejo Street and notice the amazing mansions.  Be sure to stroll up or down Hyde Street.
This is where I lived in lower pac heights It is s
Lower Pacific Heights.  Guess who used to live on the main floor of that salmon-colored house?  Hint:  I did.

So many more off the beaten path recommendations that I can list, but this is a good start.  Feel free to tell me your favorites.

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This San Francisco travel overview is broken into 10 parts:

San Francisco Part 1 – Overview (including getting there, weather, and where to stay)

San Francisco Part 2 – Top 5 Touristy Things To Do

San Francisco Part 3 – Best Walks in San Francisco

San Francisco Part 4 – Top 5 Off the Beaten Path Things To Do

San Francisco Part 5 – Where to Eat and Drink

San Francisco Part 6 – Avoiding the Bad Side

San Francisco Part 7 – Experiencing the Wild Side 

San Francisco Part 8 – Amazing Day Hikes Around San Francisco

San Francisco Part 9 – Amazing Day Trips Around San Francisco

San Francisco Part 10 – Further Afield from San Francisco (and Worth It)