You won’t 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 full of one-of-a-kind, quirky and ridiculously fun adventures—and you don’t want to miss out on those either. Here’s the top ten.
Neighborhood: Upper 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 skaters strut their stuff in 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.
$480 for groups of 5-10 people, 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. It has endless interactive exhibits that will make you appreciate the many wonders of science. 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. This summer, the museum is hosting Strandbeests, kinetic structures by Dutch artists Theo Jansen that move under their own power.
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 jetty 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 known as the Devil’s Teeth, made famous by its healthy Great White Shark population. It’s a wild, forgotten place filled to the brim with sea life, from seals and sharks to countless seabirds (it’s the largest seabird rookery in the United States). The Oceanic Society organizes boat tours to visit the island, but it’s about the journey just as much as it is the destination. On the way 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 Craftsman & Wolves, a savory muffin packed with sausage, onions and—wait for it—an egg baked in the middle of it. The result is 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
Alcatraz After Dark
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.
$47.99 per adult; $31.99 per child
Neighborhood: Fisherman’s Wharf
List off the details of Forbe Island’s dining room—roaring fireplace, low lighting, nautical artifacts—and it sounds like a pretty romantic spot to dine. But what takes it to another level is that it’s underwater. Portholes give a peek-a-boo look into the opaque bay waters where you might see fish and sea lions swimming past.
Sea Lion Harbor, Dock I (between Pier 39 & Pier 41); 415-951-4990
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