Beyond the popular thoroughfares best-known in town, San Francisco has a trove of hidden stretches perfect for getting off the beaten path.
Sure, on your next trip to San Francisco you could beeline for Valencia Street, the city’s own restaurant row, browse the upscale boutiques that line Hayes Street, or enter the fray in the up-and-coming nightlife scene pulsating on Polk Street.
Like any big city, San Francisco has plenty of attractive main arteries—go-to drags for which you need no guide. But if you stick solely to them you could miss out on charming hidden treasures that are fundamental to the city’s offbeat vibe. Here are four hidden stretches that take you off the beaten path in the City by the Bay—and into a farm more rewarding experience.
This hidden concrete stretch parallel to bustling Hayes Street can justifiably be crowned San Francisco’s trendiest alley. Murals by local street artist Zio Ziegler (who has been called the Banksy of SF) creates a glamorously gritty ambiance from which to consume third-wave coffee and high-end pastries at cult coffee company Blue Bottle’s to-go window. The nearby bench is a good place to chat it up with locals. At the intersection of Linden Street and Octavia there’s also Smitten Ice Cream, Biergarten, and a small urban park with art sculptures.
Grant Avenue’s East Side
Veer from the stream of tourists flowing down Columbus Avenue for North Beach’s authentic side, on the western section of Grant Avenue. Unlike the cartoonish tablecloths and souvenir shops that taint the main drag, this narrow and hidden street is strewn with a roof of lights, boutiques, specialty food shops, and galleries run by local artists. Start on Grant and Vallejo at the old-school coffee shop Caffe Trieste, a spot that legendary Beat Generation poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti still frequents. Cafe Jacqueline serves up sweet and savory soufflés, while hipster haven Public Barber Salon serves free beer. Later, watch the jewelry being made on-site at Mashka.
Lyon Street Steps
These wide concrete steps ascend one of San Francisco’s most view-worthy hills like a grand staircase. Set between the Presidio’s eucalyptus grove to the west and ornate mega-mansions to the east, this walk able section of Lyon Street (between Green and Broadway) is framed by manicured hedges and micro-size flower gardens. If you successfully dodge the locals using the stairs and railing as a gym on your way up, you’ll be rewarded with views of the Palace of Fine Arts, the bay, and Sausalito.
This historic walkway was made famous by Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City” and now serves as an ideal place to get a nature fix in the middle of it, at the top of Russian Hill. This discreet lane has arbors dripping in fuchsia bougainvillea, ivy, and palm trees, as well as thoughtfully tended private gardens, Buddhist statues, and peek-a-boo views of Coit Tower.