Looking for the best San Francisco hidden gems? Look no further, I’m here to introduce you to 40 super secret spots in San Francisco – that even locals don’t know about!
One thing I absolutely loved about living in San Francisco was that the city was full of surprises – even after living there for over a decade, I always came across cool things to do, and kept finding so many hidden gems in San Francisco!
Sure, it isn’t hard to find world-class tourist spots (like the Golden Gate Bridge), amazing food, and incredible views (especially at sunset), but if you look beneath the surface, there are so many San Francisco hidden gems to be found as well.
I spent my 11 years living in the city trying to find as many secret spots in San Francisco, and now that I’ve moved away (to Orange County), I’m finally sharing 40 of them with you!
From hidden beaches, secluded forests, secret viewpoints, secret photo spots, mysterious labyrinths, and more, there are so many hidden gems in San Francisco waiting to be discovered. Here are all the best hidden gems in San Francisco that are waiting to be uncovered by you!
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40 Amazing Hidden Gems in San Francisco
If you are looking for a hidden beach that also happens to have one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge, then Marshall’s Beach is just the place for you! This is one of my absolute favorite spots in San Francisco, because it’s got such a secluded feel, and that view simply cannot be beat.
You’ll see some people at the main part of Marshall’s Beach right next to the stairs (but far less people than at nearby Baker Beach). For a truly secluded feel, keep walking on the sand towards the bridge.
You’ll eventually encounter a little cove and will have to climb through some rocks – but once you get to the other side, you’ll seriously feel like you’ve stumbled upon one of the truly secret spots in San Francisco!
The best time to come to Marshall’s Beach is for sunset – it is absolutely breathtaking here!
To get to Marshall’s Beach, look for a series of stairs just off the Batteries to Bluffs trail. Yes, they are kind of killer on the way back up – but trust me, it’s absolutely worth it for that incredible view and the fact that you’ve uncovered one of the best hidden gems in San Francisco.
You can also access Marshall’s Beach by getting onto the California Coastal Trail from Baker Beach, but you will have to climb up the sand ladder which is quite the workout!
For another secret beach with a beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge (but without a hike!), also check out China Beach. The tiny beach, which many people overlook making it one of the best hidden gems in San Francisco, is tucked into the Sea Cliff neighborhood, in between Lands End and Baker Beach.
You’ll find secret little coves here, as well as gorgeous views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands. At low tide, you’ll see tide pools form with creatures such as starfish, anemones, and mussels.
Legend says that the beach was named after Chinese fishermen who anchored their boats on the cove and camped out here long ago. There is a monument near the parking lot to commemorate the early inhabitants of the beach.
Corona Heights Park
Corona Heights Park not only boasts one of the best panoramic views in San Francisco, but hilly terrain and interesting red rock formations. While you can see the rocky crags from many points in the city, many people do not realize that the small park exists.
The park was formerly named Red Rock Hill, and was named after the distinctive red rock, which once formed on the ocean floor millions of years ago. At the turn of the 20th century, the site was once home to a quarry and brick factory that exposed much of the rock.
On the northeast side of the park is a giant rock face called the Beaver Street Wall, which was once a favorite of local climbers. While climbing freely was once allowed, you must now secure a permit to climb the rock today.
A one-mile network of trails will lead you up to the viewpoint, from which you can enjoy 360 degree views of downtown San Francisco, the surrounding neighborhoods, Twin Peaks, and the East Bay.
You can also spot various wildlife in the park, from native reptiles, red-tailed hawks, and various butterfly species. In the spring, the park is beautiful as many wildflowers bloom on the hillside.
Seward Street Slides
Nearby Corona Heights Park are the Seward Street slides, tucked into the tiny Seward Mini-Park.
Signs reading “no adults unless accompanied by a child” are posted in front of the two steep, slippery concrete slides. The slides originated as a community activism project in the 1960s – the area was slated to be developed into apartment units, and the neighborhood rallied to protest the development and change the zoning laws.
Some tips for going down the slides: it will be much easier to slide down if you sit on a piece of cardboard (there is usually some lying around in the area), and keep your arms in to avoid scraping your elbows!
The slides were designed by a local teenager, who won a design competition for the park. The slides are the main attraction of the park, but there is also a native plant garden and a little flat area at the bottom.
Standing at 928 feet high, Mount Davidson is the highest natural point in San Francisco. However, it is often overshadowed by Twin Peaks, which many mistakenly believe is the highest peak in the city. Therefore, you will find that Mount Davidson is one of the hidden gems in San Francisco.
While Twin Peaks may technically have a better view (the main caveat of Mount Davidson is that, well, Twin Peaks blocks part of the view), you’ll find far fewer people at Mount Davidson. You’ll also walk through a beautiful eucalyptus forest on the way up to the summit – this is especially beautiful in the fog (although you won’t get much of a view on a foggy day).
You’ll also find a 103 foot tall concrete cross at the summit. Many people don’t realize that it’s actually there, further making Mount Davidson one of San Francisco’s hidden gems. The cross commemorates the victims of the Armenian genocide, and is meant to symbolize peace, reflection, and rememberance.
Billy Goat Hill
The thing with San Francisco is that there are so many viewpoints tucked into all corners of the city, and many people have no idea they exist. Billy Goat Hill is a tiny green space and viewpoint tucked into a little hill in between the Noe Valley and Glen Park neighborhoods.
Many people, even locals, have no idea it exists, making Billy Goat Hill one of the true San Francisco hidden gems. I had no idea it existed, or that it had one of the best views in San Francisco, until a blogger friend suggested it as a location for a photo shoot.
The park has a bit of a rustic feel, with wooden fences and golden grass. You’ll get beautiful views of not only the downtown skyline, but also the surrounding hilltop neighrborhoods.
California Street Cable Car
While riding on a cable car is one of those iconic experiences that belongs on everybody’s San Francisco bucket list, most visitors flock to the Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason lines, which runs between the tourist hotspots of Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf.
Many people forget that there is a second cable car line – the California Street line, which starts in the Financial District just outside the Embarcadero BART station, and goes through Chinatown and Nob Hill, ending on Van Ness Street.
Not only is the California Street line much less crowded (meaning you’ll avoid those super long waits), the views are arguably better because you’ll be riding along one of the hilliest streets in the city.
My favorite view along the California Street line is when it goes up the hill in between Grant Ave. and Stockton St. – if you look in between the skyscrapers, you’ll find that they perfectly frame the Bay Bridge in the background!
And if you want to learn more about the history and technology behind cable cars, be sure to also check out the Cable Car Museum. The museum is one of the lesser-known ones in the city, and one of those San Francisco hidden gems. Here, you will find displays of several examples of old cable cars, as well as exhibits that provide a unique insight into how the cable cars work.
Hamon Observation Tower at the de Young Museum
While the de Young Museum is one of San Francisco’s premier museums, many people do not realize that there is an observation deck sitting on the top floor of the museum’s tower. Even many locals do not know that it exists (I certainly didn’t for a looooong time), making this one of the true hidden gems in San Francisco.
The Hamon Observation Tower has panoramic views of Golden Gate Park, Ocean Beach, the Presidio, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Marin Headlands, and the downtown skyline. There’s even a topographical map here so you know exactly what you’re looking at.
The best part? You do not have to pay museum admission to access the observation deck, making this one of the best free things to do in San Francisco! Simply make a right as you enter the museum to access the elevators and go up to the ninth floor.
Sitting on the cliffs near Lands End and the Sutro Baths ruins in the Outer Richmond neighborhood is the Camera Obscura, also known as the “Giant Camera.”
The large-scale installation and tiny museum features a working camera obscura, one of a few in the world. The device uses technology dating back to the Renaissance to reflect images of the beachfront outside.
The Camera Obscura was built in the 1940s as part of the Playland at the Beach amusement park which once stood on these grounds. It was almost shut down twice – once when the amusement park shut down, and again when the Cliff House restaurant was slated for renovations.
Public support has kept the Camera Obscura open, and in 2001, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places, saving it from destruction.
Ina Coolbrith Park
This tiny little park is tucked into the Russian Hill neighborhood, and boasts one of the best views of the San Francisco skyline and the bay. Because you have to make your way up one of the steepest streets in the city to get to Ina Coolbrith park, it is one of the best San Francisco hidden gems.
To get to Ina Coolbrith Park, make your way up the Vallejo Street steps. They are super steep and your thighs will burn, but the surrounding gardens are beautiful. Besides, once you get to the top, you will be rewarded with a stunning view that is also one of the most beautiful hidden gems in San Francisco!
From here, you get an epic view of the downtown skyscrapers, Coit Tower, the Bay Bridge, and beyond. My favorite time to come here is for sunset – seeing the twinkling lights of the skyline against the pink sky is such a magical sight.
You’ll never see very many people here, so you’ll really feel like you’ve uncovered one of the best San Francisco hidden gems!
Lands End Labyrinth
You may have already heard of the Lands End trail (after all, it is one of the best hikes in San Francisco), but did you know that there is a stone labyrinth tucked away on a side trail? Many locals don’t know that it exists either – I certainly didn’t until a few years ago.
The labyrinth was built by local artist Edward Aguilera, who was inspired to create it after learning about other historic labyrinths. He had hoped to keep it secret and anonymous, but the labyrinth was eventually discovered by hikers. His creation was destroyed twice, but he rebuilt it both times.
To reach one of the most secret spots in San Francisco, follow the signs for the trail leading to Mile Rock Beach. Once at the bottom of the stairs, do not turn left to get to Mile Rock Beach; instead, go right and follow the trail under the trees.
The stone labyrinth follows the design of a classic seven-circuit Chartres labyrinth. You’ll find it set against a view of the dramatic coastline and the Golden Gate Bridge. One of the most beautiful hidden gems in San Francisco!
The Mission district has no shortage of vibrant and interesting street art – just walk down the streets and you’ll be sure to find a mural that catches your eye.
There are several alleys in the Mission that have a collection of murals, with Clarion Alley being perhaps the most well-known. Further south in the neighborhood is Balmy Alley, which is less visited and one of the hidden gems of San Francisco.
The one-block long alley is located in between 24th and 25th streets, and contains the most concentrated collection of murals in San Francisco. A variety of styles and subject matter are represented here, but many of the pieces are an expression of outrage over human rights issues and political issues, such as local gentrification.
Mount Sutro Forest
Mount Sutro Forest is one of those San Francisco hidden gems where it feels like an escape from the city – it’s so peaceful and quiet here that you forget that you are right in the center of a major city.
Mount Sutro sits behind the UCSF Medical Center and School and it’s one of those places where you almost forget it exists in the city because it seems like worlds away, making it one of those perfect San Francisco hidden gems.
The 80 acre forest is located below the summit of Mount Sutro, one of the highest points in the city. It is what remains of the eucalyptus forest planted over 100 years ago by Alfred Sutro, a former mayor and one of the most eccentric characters in San Francisco’s history.
Personally, I think the best time to come here is on a super foggy day – the kind where it’s so foggy that you don’t even want to leave the house – because it gives the forest a mysterious, mythical vibe. You’ll have no problem finding fog here though, because it is located in one of the foggiest parts of the city!
Bernal Heights Park
While Bernal Heights Park is a favorite spot of locals, many visitors do not know of its existence, which is why I’ve included it on this list of hidden gems in San Francisco. Every time I take one of my out-of-town friends here, they end up thanking me for introducing me to this spot, which they otherwise would not have known about.
You absolutely cannot go wrong with the view here, where you can see 360 degrees around the city. You can see the downtown skyline, Bay Bridge, Golden Gate Bridge, and beyond here.
Bernal Heights Park is especially beautiful in the spring months, when the wildflowers are in bloom. It’s also a favorite spot of bird watches – over 40 species of birds can be spotted here.
What many people (locals and tourists alike) don’t know is that there is a wooden swing at the top – one of the best secret spots in San Francisco!
Sure, Musee Mechanique is located at Fisherman’s Wharf, which is by far one of the most touristy spots in the city. But many people do not realize that one of the best San Francisco hidden gems exists there.
Musee Mechanique houses one of the largest privately owned collections of coin-operated antique arcade games and musical instruments. You’ll see some unique (and sometimes downright creepy) finds here. Some of the games were brought over from the old Playland at the Beach amusement park.
You’ll also find the best old-school photo booth machines in the city here – not the crappy digitally-printed kind, but the real, vintage kind!
Salesforce Park is one of the newer additions to the city and many people have yet to catch on to its existence (yet), making it one of the best hidden gems in San Francisco (for now). The urban park spans four blocks and is attached to the Salesforce headquarters building and transit center.
Over 600 trees and 16,000 plants live within Salesforce Park, creating an oasis in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the Financial District. There are also fountains, green spaces, an amphitheater, and a walkable glass floor that is the largest of its kind in the United States.
To me, Salesforce Park seems like San Francisco’s answer to the Highline in New York City. Still, it is a beautiful park to hang out in, and has some of the best views of the downtown skyscrapers.
Lincoln Park Steps
San Francisco has no shortage of beautiful staircases, and the Lincoln Park Steps may just be my personal favorite. These steps have sat on the western edge of the city, near the Legion of Honor and Lands End, and date back to the early 1900s.
After years of neglect and decay, the stairs underwent a complete makeover in 2007. The result is a breathtaking mosaic design, built in the Beaux Arts style.
You can find them where California Street dead ends, near 32nd Avenue, next to the parking lot of the Katherine Delmar Burke School. They are kind of hidden unless you know to look for them (I’d definitely have not known of their existence by just passing through), making them one of the best hidden gems in San Francisco.
The 16th Avenue Steps
These steps in the Sunset District have become a popular Instagram spot in the last few years. But because they are tucked into a residential area (where most tourists never venture) and you wouldn’t know that they existed unless you were specifically looking for them, they are still one of the hidden gems of San Francisco.
The steps were a collaboration between local artists and the residents of the neighborhood. If you look closely at the tiles, you can see the names of the people who contributed to the project!
The project took two years to complete, and consists of 163 magnificent mosaic steps that portray a shimmering path from sea to sky.
At the top of the steps, keep going up the stairs across the street to reach Grandview Park, from where you can enjoy one of the best views in the city!
The Secret Garden Steps
Just a few streets over from the 16th Avenue Steps stands a second mosaic staircase. Hardly hardly anyone knows of the existence of the Secret Garden Steps, making it one of the most secret spots in San Francisco.
Like the 16th Avenue Steps, the Secret Garden Steps were the result of a community arts collaboration project. The colorful steps are adorned with butterflies, plants and flowers in a psychedelic design.
Sutro Baths Ruins and Cave
The ruins of what once used to be the world’s largest indoor swimming pool is now one of the most unique and fascinating hidden gems in San Francisco.
In 1894, self-made millionaire Adolph Sutro designed the lavish swimming complex, which housed six saltwater tanks (during high tide, the ocean could fill the 1.7 million gallons required in just one hour), 500 private dressing rooms, restaurants, and arcades that were enclosed with 100,000 feet of glass.
Unfortunately, the baths were not commercially successful in the long-term. After Sutro’s death, his family managed the complex, but they were shut down during the Great Depression, after which the facility was converted into an ice skating rink as an attempt to be profitable.
When that attempt failed, the Sutro Baths was sold to developers who, in 1964, started demolishing the complex to convert them into apartment buildings. The structure was destroyed in a big fire in 1966 – what remains of it is now one of the most fascinating and somewhat eerie hidden gems in San Francisco. It is also rumored to be haunted!
This has always been one of my favorite places in the city, and I always ended up taking out-of-town visitors here because it is such a unique place that they may not necessarily have known about.
Catching the sunset here is an absolutely magical experience – if you can actually happen to be here on a sunny day, since the area tends to be covered in fog most days. Still, I love the mysterious vibe that the fog adds to an already mysterious place that the Sutro Baths is.
Be sure to also check out the sea cave, which many people do not realize is there!
San Francisco POPOS (Privately Owned, Public Open Spaces)
Did you know that there are over 50 privately owned, public open spaces throughout the city? These are publicly accessible gardens, atriums, terraces, and plazas that are maintained by private developers and are some of the best hidden gems in San Francisco.
These POPOS are the result of the city’s 1% Art Program, which requires all new building projects over 25,000 square feet to provide public art equal to at least 1% of the total construction cost.
Many of the POPOS are within the office buildings in downtown San Francisco and SOMA, but you can find some in the Mission and Dogpatch as well.
Some of them, like this space in front of the 100 California building, change with the seasons – they dress this one up for the holidays! It’s one of my favorite places to see Christmas decorations in San Francisco.
You can see a list of all the POPOS in the city here.
Buena Vista Park
Buena Vista Park sits smack dab in the middle of the city, not far from the tourist hotspots of Haight-Ashbury and Golden Gate Park. While the park is a favorite of locals, very few visitors actually venture out there, making it one of the hidden gems in San Francisco.
This is San Francisco’s oldest park and features secluded walking paths that make you forget that you are right in the middle of a big city, and one of the city’s last remaining oak groves. It also has an incredible view from the top, which should be no surprise as the park is named Buena Vista after all.
If you are looking for another one of the San Francisco hidden gems within Buena Vista Park, the western trails on the park are lined with broken, unclaimed headstones from Victorian cemeteries in the past, but have found a new purpose within the park.
Treasure Island is just one of those places that even most locals overlook as that man-made island sitting in the middle of the bay. Few people make it out to Treasure Island unless it’s to go to the monthly flea market or the annual music festival, which is really too bad because it’s one of the best hidden gems in San Francisco!
The island boasts one of the best views of the Bay Bridge and San Francisco skyline, especially in the evening when all the lights come up on the skyscrapers.
For one of the most secret spots in San Francisco, check out the view from Blue Park – which actually has been made famous because it’s been used in several car commercials, but is actually one of the best hidden gems in San Francisco because hardly anyone (locals included) knows exactly where they were shot from.
Other fun things to do on Treasure Island include kayaking or stand-up paddling (or just sunbathing) at Clipper Cove; wine tasting at Treasure Island Wines or The Winery SF; or biking around the island on a rented beach cruiser from A Tran’s Bike Shop.
The Parrots of Telegraph Hill
You may not associate San Francisco as a city where you’d find wild parrots, but hey, the city is full of surprises. While you’ll find most of the parrots congregated in the Telegraph Hill neighborhood, around the Filbert Street Steps, they have been known to be spotted all around the city, and have even been seen as far south as Brisbane.
How did there end up being a flock of wild parrots in a major metropolis such as San Francisco? No one knows for sure, but a common theory says that the flock was started by wild-caught birds that were imported from South America.
The flock grew as other escaped birds joined the flock, and by 2005, there were over 200 of them flying over the city.
Would you believe that I lived just a few blocks away from the Urbano Sundial for YEARS without ever actually knowing that it existed? I guess that really does make it one of those secret spots in San Francisco, doesn’t it?
The massive sundial measures 28 feet tall and 26 feet high. While some theories suggest that it was built as a cosmic calendar built on a power spot (much like the Mayan and Egyptian pyramids), the most likely reason for its existence is as a decorative centerpiece of what used to be the Ingleside Racetrack (what is now the Urbano Drive circle).
Eventually, the racetrack was painted over and 750 houses were built around it, eventually becoming a middle-class neighborhood – all that remains of it is the massive sundial.
You can find this hidden gem in San Francisco at the end of Entrada Street, off Borica Street, off Urbano Drive.
Lovers’ Lane and Andy Goldsworthy’s Wood Line
The 0.6 mile Lovers’ Lane is the Presidio’s oldest footpath, originally used in the 18th century by Spanish soldiers and missionaries as a shortcut to get from the Main Post to Mission Dolores. What remains of the trail today connects the Presidio Gate to the Main Post.
Walking along the enchanting trail is one of the most romantic things to do in San Francisco, but you don’t necessarily need to be coupled up in order to enjoy it! The picturesque path leads you through a eucalyptus forest, a valley dotted with historic homes, and a charming footbridge.
What many who walk through Lovers’ Lane don’t realize is that the trail is also home to one of the most iconic works by one of the world’s most renowned artists, Andy Goldsworthy. As you walk through the eucalyptus forest, notice the curvy lines of branches snaking along the floor – this is Goldworthy’s iconic Wood Line installation.
The iconic work is quiet and subdued, inviting visitors to contemplate where the life of a tree begins – in the fertile earth. The Wood Line is meant to blend into the forest, making it easy to miss unless you were looking for it, making it one of the best hidden gems in San Francisco.
Andy Goldsworthy’s Spire
Did you know that the Presidio is home to not one, but two iconic works of the legendary artist Andy Goldsworthy?
Whereas the Wood Line subtly snakes along the forest floor, the Spire towers over 100 feet high on the Bay Area Ridge Trail. Goldsworthy was inspired to create the sculpture after visiting the Presidio in 2006. The piece uses 37 Monterey cypress trunks from trees felled at the site and meticulously fastened together.
While the Wood Line invites visitors to contemplate the origin of trees, the Spire encourages them to look up. The sculpture does a silent “call and respond” with other tall landmarks that are visible from the site – the Transamerica Pyramid and Sutro Tower, to name a few.
Psst…did you know that the Presidio is home to even more Goldsworthy pieces? In addition to the Spire and Woodline, you can also see the artist’s Tree Fall and Earth Wall installations in the Presidio, making the park home to the largest collection of Goldsworthy’s works on public view in North America.
San Francisco is full of interesting historic sites, many of which are some of the city’s best hidden gems. One of these is Fort Point, which was built in the Civil War era, and has defended the city through the Gold Rush and World War II.
Fort Point stands directly underneath the southern span of the Golden Gate Bridge, but is one of the best hidden gems in San Francisco because many people don’t realize it exists (or never actually make it all the way down the waterfront to pay it a visit). That’s too bad because there is so much history there – and one of the most unique views of the Golden Gate Bridge!
You’ll get such a unique perspective of the bridge here, because you’re basically standing right underneath it. You also get up close and personal to the bridge’s arch, which was designed in an effort to save the fort from being demolished when the bridge was constructed.
Fort Point has beautiful brickwork and arches, with three tiers of arched brick casemates to hold 126 cannons and seven-foot thick walls. The fort was revered for its strength and beauty, and was the only fort of its kind west of the Mississippi.
The fort has a series of exhibits about San Francisco’s military history, and also offers tours (including a candlelit evening one), cannon drills, Civil War reenactments, and more. It has limited hours (probably one of the reasons it remains one of the hidden gems in San Francisco), so check accordingly here!
Bison in Golden Gate Park
Did you know that Golden Gate Park is home to a herd of bison? Well, now you know. Many locals also don’t know they exist (it took me nearly a decade of living in SF to find out about them!), making them one of the true San Francisco hidden gems.
In 1890, a bison cow and a bison bull were transported to Golden Gate Park from the Great Plains. At first, the bison lived near where the Academy of Sciences is today, but were eventually moved to the Buffalo Paddock, where they currently live.
At one point, the herd grew to 30 bison, but eventually dwindled over the years because of a bout with bovine tuberculosis. Only a few bison live in the Buffalo Paddock today – these are actually a descendant of the bison given to then-mayor Diane Feinstein in 1984.
When the bison first arrived in Golden Gate Park, the species were on their way to extinction. Over the years, over 100 bison calves were produced from the calves residing in the Buffalo Paddock due to a captive breeding program that was put into place. Fortunately, the species in North America grew to over 200,000 as of 1998.
The Dutch Windmills and Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden
Situated on the far west end of Golden Gate Park sits an authentic Dutch windmill. You can see the 75-foot tall windmill from the street and Ocean Beach, but many people don’t realize that it is also home to a tulip garden, one of the most beautiful hidden gems in San Francisco.
The Dutch Windmill (formerly known as the North Windmill) was completed in 1902, and was originally built to serve as an irrigation system for the park. The windmill is inoperable today, but still stands surrounded by a vibrant garden named after the Dutch queen who originally gifted the structure to the city.
While you should definitely visit while the tulips are in bloom if you can (usually in March), there are still so many other flowers that are in bloom year-round, making any time a great time to visit!
Did you also know that there is a second windmill in Golden Gate Park? After the North Windmill was declared a success, the city decided to build a second one. The Murphy Windmill (or South Windmill) was once the largest of its kind in the world, but many people do not know its existence, making it one of the true secret spots in San Francisco.
You can find the Murphy Windmill also on the western edge of the park, towards its southern end bordering Lincoln Avenue.
Huntington Falls and Strawberry Hill
Standing on an island situated in the middle of Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park stands the 110-foot tall Huntingtown Falls, one of the prettiest hidden gems in San Francisco. The man-made waterfall is surrounded by lush greenery, which makes you feel like you’ve transported into the tropics.
You can also climb to a bridge at the top of the falls and watch the water cascade down by going up the trail on the side.
Following the trails leading to the top of the island will bring you to Strawberry Hill, which at 430 feet, is the highest point in the park. From here, you can enjoy sweeping views of the city, the Golden Gate Bridge, and on a clear day, as far as Mt. Tamalpais.
Some other San Francisco hidden gems that are nearby include the Golden Pavilion, a Chinese-style pavilion which was a gift from Taipei, San Francisco’s sister city; and Rainbow Falls, a second man-made waterfall, next to which there is a trail that leads up to a giant 64-foot Celtic cross.
This tiny but pretty little garden is one of the best San Francisco hidden gems located within Golden Gate Park.
The garden contains more than 200 plants and flowers that are mentioned within the works of William Shakespeare, transporting visitors to the pages of his sonnets, comedies, and tragedies.
An intricately designed gate and brick pathway welcome visitors to the garden. You’ll see a chart that identifies the plants contained within the garden, as well as some of the most famous passages about flowers inscripted on the wall.
Sitting on a jetty near Crissy Field, the Wave Organ is essentially a musical instrument that is played by the waves of the bay. This is one of the most unusual hidden gems in San Francisco. Built in 1986 in collaboration with the Exploratorium, the Wave Organ is an acoustic sculpture that amplifies the sound of the waves in the ocean.
The jetty that the Wave Organ sits on is constructed with granite and marble taken from a demolished cemetery, and the instrument itself is built from 20 PVC and concrete pipes that extend into the water at different lengths.
When the waves roll in, the pipes create sound. The effect is similar to the sound that is created within a conch shell, but the pitch and sound change based on the amount of air in the pipes. The sounds are only created when the tide is in, and you will hear the most “music” at high tide.
Transamerica Redwood Park
At the base of the iconic Transamerica Pyramid stands a small forest of about 50 redwood trees. The half-acre mini-park provides a serene space in the middle of the busy Financial District and is one of the hidden gems in San Francisco.
The redwoods were originally transplanted from the Santa Cruz Mountains. The park also contains ferns, boulders, sculptures, and a fountain honoring Mark Twain.
Grace Cathedral Labyrinth
The iconic Grace Cathedral stands tall in the Nob Hill neighborhood, and is one of the largest Episocpalian churches in the United States. At first glance, the ornate facade almost looks like the famed Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
The church contains a replica of the famed “Gates of Paradise” doors from Florence, numerous murals, as well as two labyrinths – one inside the church, and one outside. The labyrinths invite visitors to experience walking meditation, engage in spiritual practice, or simply calm the mind.
Grace Cathedral also hosts monthly candlelight labyrinth walks with live music, as well as weekly yoga classes on its indoor labyrinth. Check the events calendar here to see what’s coming up.
Neptune Society Columbarium
The Neptune Society Colombarium is one of the more offbeat hidden gems in San Francisco. It’s a mystery to even locals – the impressive baroque and neoclassical building is tucked away on a cul de sac in the Richmond District, but no one actually knows what the building is used for.
The structure was originally built as a complement to the existing crematorium, but was abandoned once the city banned cemetery burials and cremations in 1902-10. The building changed ownership several times over the year before the Neptune Society took ownership in 1980.
The interior features beautiful stained glass windows and other gorgeous details. Some of San Francisco’s most famous characters have their remains housed in the Columbarium, including Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California; Chet Helms, the founder of the Summer of Love movement; and Jerry Juhl, muppeteer and writer for The Muppets.
Stern Grove is well known for its annual concert festival series, but few people venture there aside from that, making it one of the hidden gems in San Francisco.
The beautiful park features a recreation area, picnic areas, eucalyptus and pine trees, as well as a beautiful redwood grove. At the western end of Stern Grove is Pine Lake, the second largest natural lake in the city.
It’s a great spot to soak in nature, and to go for a walk or run.
This tiny street hidden in the Pacific Heights neighborhood features a row of remarkably intact Victorian homes, dating between 1870 and about 1885. Cottage Row is easy to miss and hardly anyone knows that it’s there, making it one of the best secret spots in San Francisco.
A mini park stands in front of the Victorians, with a tiny green space and beautiful gardens.
You can find Cottage Row off Bush Street, surrounded by Bush, Webster, Fillmore, and Sutter Streets, just half a block from the bustling Fillmore Street commercial corridor.
This small pedestrian lane is tucked away in the Russian Hill neighborhood, and is the quintessential hidden garden. The beautiful cobblestone walkway is covered in flowering plants and trees, and is lined with beautiful Edwardian cottages.
A flight of stairs leads you to Taylor Street, from which you can enjoy some beautiful views of the city and bay!
Macondray was added to the National Register of Historical Places in 1988.
Seem vaguely familiar? Macondray Lane is said to have served as the inspiration for Barbary Lane in Armistead Maupin’s Tales of a City series.
While Hawk Hill is technically outside of the city (across the bridge in the Marin Headlands), it has such a unique view of the Golden Gate Bridge that it had to be included on this list of San Francisco hidden gems.
While hordes of tourists and photographers flock to the nearby Battery Spencer (for good reason – it’s got perhaps the best view of the Golden Gate Bridge), far fewer people make it further up the road to Hawk Hill.
That’s a shame because those who make it here are rewarded with a beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge, the bay, and the entire city of San Francisco. What makes the view unique here is that you’re higher up so it almost seems like you’re standing on top of the bridge.
You’ll only find a few other people here, and at times you almost feel like you have the view to yourself!
What to Pack for San Francisco
A jacket: San Francisco tends to have some schizo weather – one minute it will be warm, and then the fog will roll and it becomes freezing cold in a matter of minutes. Dressing in layers and keeping a jacket on you at all times is a must!
Consider a lightweight, packable jacket that you can roll it up and keep in your bag while you explore these free things to do in San Francisco. Weatherproofing is also handy as drizzle is common when it’s foggy, and it gets rainy in the winter. For the warmer months, pack a jacket like this one for women, and this one for men.
Comfortable shoes or boots: You will want to wear comfortable shoes because let’s face it – getting up those hills is a lot of work!). Definitely get a pair of comfortable flats like these or these – they are stylish but won’t slow you down as you explore the city to tackle this list of free things to do in San Francisco!
In the winter, you’ll want boots that keep you warm and dry. I wear these boots almost every day in the winter – they are comfy even when walking around the city all day, waterproof, and help me stay warm because they are tall boots!
A power bank + adapter: You’ll want to stay connected to help you get around the city, and this power bank will help ensure that your phone never runs out of juice! I never leave home without mine, and it is a MUST on every single trip that I take – both in the US and internationally! If you’re from abroad, you may also need a power adapter to charge your devices – I always travel with this one.
Reusable water bottle: Staying hydrated during all that walking and exploring is essential! Be nice to the environment and avoid buying plastic bottles of water – in fact, you won’t even be able to buy plastic bottles of water at the SFO airport. Be sure to carry a reusable water bottle – this is the one I carry with me at all times. I love that it is screw top but has a spot so it’s easy to take quick sips without spilling all over yourself. The great thing is that San Francisco has excellent tap water quality – our water comes from the Heth Hetchy Reservoir up in the Sierras, near Yosemite and doesn’t have that chemical aftertaste that is so common in tap water in other cities.
Where to Stay in San Francisco
Here are some choices for where to stay as you explore these hidden gems in San Francisco. I have personally stayed at all of these hotels and can vouch that they are all great places to stay on your San Francisco adventures.
Le Meridien San Francisco: This may be your standard chain hotel, but it’s definitely got everything you need for a comfortable stay as you tackle this San Francisco bucket list. It’s centrally located and has easy access to public transportation so you can get to all these San Francisco hidden gems. The hotel is located in the Financial District and is catered towards business people, so rates tend to be lower on the weekends, which is a plus!
Harbor Court Hotel: This boutique hotel is located on the waterfront and offers excellent views of the bay, and is also conveniently located with easy access to public transportation. The staff here is super friendly and always willing to go the extra mile to ensure that you have the best stay. They also have a nightly complimentary wine happy hour in the lobby, as a plus.
Yotel San Francisco: Yotel strips down the hotel experience to the essentials, and skips the rest. It is friendly on the wallet, but the rooms are still comfortable and super modern! Yotel is also centrally located on Market Street, with easy access to public transportation for exploring these secret spots in San Francisco.
Have you been to San Francisco? What are some of your favorite hidden gems in San Francisco?
You might also like:
The Ultimate San Francisco Bucket List
25 Incredible San Francisco Views
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120+ Free Things to Do in San Francisco
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