You won’t want to skip out on the mandatory San Francisco activities like going across the Golden Gate Bridge or driving down Lombard Street when visiting this fair city. But San Francisco is also full of one-of-a-kind, quirky and ridiculously fun adventures—and it's important not to miss out on those either. Here are our list of top 10 "Only in SF' activities.
Neighborhood: Lower Haight
A few years ago, some burners (local lingo for people who go to the Burning Man Festival every year) took over an abandoned church on Fillmore Street and transformed it into a 70s-throwback roller rink. Rent a pair of skates and ride around while watching some serious pros strut their stuff amid the flashing neon lights. Costumes are not required, but it’s definitely more fun when you get into character.
$10 entry fee, $5 skate rentals 554 Fillmore St. (at Fell St.), Fridays & Saturdays from 7-11 p.m.
There are escape rooms all across the country (and world), but this one involves all the newest technology coming out of Silicon Valley, from drones and virtual reality to holograms and 3D printing. The catch? You have to use these technologies in order to escape—it’s a great way to play with the newest gadgets and challenge yourself, too. Future Tech's smallest game requires a minimum of 10 players, so the venue's two individual escape rooms are best enjoyed with a large group of family and friends, or as a team-building exercise.
$50 per person with a minimum of 10 players, 701 Taraval St. (near 17th Ave.)
FREE. If you’ve got daredevils for children, this is your spot. Two slender concrete slides occupy Seward Mini Park in the Castro. They were designed by a 14-year-old and built for speed. It’s BYOC (bring your own cardboard) and sturdy pants are recommended. Want a little extra torque? Add sand and slide at your own risk.
Park closes at sunset; adults must be accompanied by children
It’s hard to find another museum quite like the Exploratorium. This science, art, and creativity wonderland boasts endless interactive exhibits that will make you appreciate the world's many wonders. Take the Tactile Dome, for example, a pitch-black maze in which you must only rely on your sense of touch to guide you through. There are also countless workshops that make science more accessible for all ages, and outdoor exhibits that bring the Embarcadero waterfront to life in entirely new ways.
Pier 15 (at Embarcadero and Green St.), 10a.m.–5p.m. Saturday–Thursday; After Dark Thursday 6-10 p.m.; Friday 10a.m.-10p.m.; 415-528-4444
FREE. Out at the end of the Marina neighborhood's jetty, just past the St. Francis Yacht Club, you’ll find art and nature working in tandem. Built in 1986 by Exploratorium artists-in-residence Peter Richards and George Gonzalez, it’s an instrument made of concrete and PVC piping that plays only when the tide is high and the waves are crashing against it. Give yourself some time to adjust to the sounds and enjoy the sweeping bay views while you listen.
Check tides here
Farallon Island Tour
Neighborhood: Departs from Marina
Twenty-seven miles off the coast of San Francisco is a group of islands that have earned the nickname Devil’s Teeth, as well as a reputation for its infamous Great White Shark population. This wild and forgotten place is filled to the brim with sea life, from seals and sharks to countless seabirds (it’s actually the largest seabird rookery in the United States), giving it almost a Galapagos Islands kind of feel. The Oceanic Society organizes boat tours to visit these Farallon Islands, one that is about the journey just as much as it is the destination. En route you’ll likely see humpback and grey whales as well as dolphins and other sea life. Go at the right time of year and you might even see orcas. Be prepared for 8 hours out on the open ocean. Dramamine and many extra warm, waterproof layers are recommended.
$128 per person; discounts for larger groups; departs from Marina Yacht Harbor; 415-256-9604
Neighborhood: The Mission
You can’t have an “Only in SF” list without mentioning at least one food item. Enter the Rebel Within from the Mission neighborhood's Craftsman & Wolves, a savory muffin packed with sausage, onions and—wait for it—an egg baked right in the middle. The result? An absolutely delicious, oozy, and eggy muffin that is a meal in and of itself. It also happens to be highly Instagrammable.
746 Valencia St. (near 18th St.), 415-913-7713
Neighborhood: Departs from Pier 33
Touring Alcatraz is a must-do for any San Francisco visitor (and residents, for that matter). But why not try it at night? The night tours are often much smaller and you’ll explore parts of the island that are off-limits during the day. The tour starts with the sun dipping behind the Golden Gate Bridge and stories of old inmates at the prison. Then visit the cell blocks in the dark, where you can listen to more stories of the penitentiary days.
$47.30 per adult; $28.00 per child
Admit it: you’ve wanted to belt along with Idina Menzel every time you’ve watched Frozen (and it doesn’t matter that you’re supposed to be an adult). Don’t worry, there’s a safe place for you to do so, along with a room full of other people: the Castro Theater. The historic theater schedules frequent sing alongs to your favorite Disney classics—from Beauty and the Beast to the Little Mermaid. Check the calendar while you’re in town to get your singing fix.
$16 general admission; $11 for kids; 429 Castro St. (near Market St.); 415-621-6120
Dance and Tropical Drinks at the Tonga Room
Neighborhood: Nob Hill
It's tough to imagine that tucked away on the bottom floor of Nob Hill's luxury Fairmont Hotel is one of the country's oldest and greatest tiki bars, but it's there: in all its kitschy glory. San Francisco's Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar first opened in 1945 and has been a landmark institution since, though one that's often on the chopping block. Thankfully, this Polynesian-themed bar and restaurant is still persevering, because its serves up some of the sugariest tropical drinks and incredibly reimagined island decor around. The Tonga Room has its own house band -- one that performs Top 40 hits from a floating barge in what was once the hotel's swimming pool. Occasional "thunder storms" rock the place (usually when the band is about to take a break), though things are continuously hopping with an atmosphere that's more in tune with a festive wedding reception then a laid-back bar scene.