Our list of attractions that deserve more of your time in the City by the Bay.
Any well-traversed city like San Francisco has its over-rated attractions. But, seemingly by a natural law of balance, it also has plenty of lesser-known draws that deserve your attention. Sometimes, the difference between a tired tourist trap and a hidden gem is just a few steps away. Here, our favorite underrated things to do in the City by the Bay.
1. Explore China Town’s Alleys
While many travelers stick to China Town’s main drag, lantern-strewn Grant Street, over the years it has become riddled with florescent-lit stores full of knick-knacks (all souvenirs come with a “Made in China” sticker, of course). For more worthwhile finds, detour to the surrounding alleys, like Ross Alley, where you’ll find the Fortune Cookie Factory, or explore with neighborhood non-profit Chinatown Alleyway Tours, led by locals.
2. Hike the Presidio
You don’t need to brave Golden Gate Bridge traffic for a good hike. In fact, you don’t even need to leave the city limits. The Presidio, the city’s own national park, has more than 24 miles of trails that wind through towering eucalyptus groves, overlooks, and meadows. Along the way, you’ll pass period nature art installations by internationally renowned artist, Andy Goldsworthy.
3. Drink Beer (Not Wine)
Visitors tend to give wine all the love in this town, but locals know that San Francisco has a booming craft beer scene. Skip the trip to Napa for a citywide beer tasting at such sudsy temples as Monk’s Kettle, Toronado, and newcomers Hopwater Distribution and Liquid Gold, which does up to a 30-sample craft beer flight near Nob Hill.
4. Get Nerdy
San Francisco loves its nerd culture as much as it loves its craft beer, yet many of its best thought-leading discussions and events are filled with only locals. Venture out with the city’s culturati to Pop-Up Magazine, a quarterly (and very entertaining) live rendition of a magazine, or to a City Arts & Lectures event that features big names like Adam Gopnik, Jonathan Franzen, and Gloria Steinem. The Commonwealth Club also hosts regular conversations open to the public with politicos.
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5. Ride the Muni 1 Bus Line
Cabbing (or Ubering) throughout the city gets pricey, fast. Consider using the local buses as your own hop-on, hop-off tour. While they’re not known as the fastest way to travel, picking the right line can make for a cheap and easy night with plenty of stops. The California 1 line starts downtown and travels due west until it nearly hits the ocean. Paying cash ($2.25) gets you a transfer that is valid for at least a couple of hours, if not all night. Hop off at stroll-able streets like Polk (nightlife), Divisadero (restaurants), and Fillmore (shops). Take the same line to get back downtown.
6. Indulge in Bean-to-Bar Chocolate
It’s no secret San Francisco has great bakeries (Tartine, Craftsman & Wolves) but its specialty bean-to-bar chocolate movement has been rising among the ranks—and we’re not talking about Ghirardelli. While we’re still mourning the merge of Scharffen Berger and Hershey’s, in the Mission, Dandelion Chocolate makes highbrow bars and made-to-order chocolate s’mores. Other artisan chocolate shops include Recchiuti Chocolate, Charles Chocolates, and the high-tech chocolate from TCHO.
7. Discover Japantown
Japantown is one of San Francisco’s most overlooked gems. But since the boutique Buchanan hotel opened this summer, it’s slowly coming onto the radar. Waraku serves rich bowls of traditional Japanese ramen and Tenroku Sushi serves maki rolls and kobe beef nigiri without the FiDi price tag. Kabuki Springs & Spa serves as a refuge from the buzz of the city.