Things You Didn't Know You Wanted to Do in San Francisco

Experiences Unique to San Francisco

Angel Island, San Francisco

TripSavvy / Melissa Zink

Every city offers unique experiences that express the essence of the place. Often, they're not the ones you hear about in lists of top things to do. Instead, they're intimate glimpses of a city's unique character. When you experience them, they'll redefine your image of the place forever.

These are just a few things to do in San Francisco that you may not have known existed, things you didn't know you wanted to do (until now)

Dusk at Fort Point
Vanessa McCauley / Getty Images

World's Most Beautiful Urban Hike

Walk from Crissy Field to Fort Point. Westward, you face the Golden Gate Bridge and on the return, it's the San Francisco skyline. Share the pathway with local bicyclists, dog-walkers and joggers, or take a detour to dodge the waves along the water's edge.

East Meets West: Chinese Funerals

Starting from North Beach's Green Street Mortuary (Green at Columbus), Chinese funeral processions travel down Columbus Avenue and sometimes through Chinatown's streets. Led by a brass band playing Western religious music and a convertible carrying a larger-than-life picture of the departed, it's a cultural contradiction that typifies the city it happens in. Your best chance to see one is on Saturday morning.

Hillside Living

Walk down Telegraph Hill from Coit Tower, following the steps on the east side of the hill. You'll pass through a wooded area, houses accessible only via wooden steps and a flower-filled hillside garden.

Better Than the Cliff House

The Beach Chalet offers a glimpse at San Francisco history in its downstairs murals. Upstairs is a microbrewery with window tables custom-made for watching the breakers roll in or the sunset.

Ellis Island of the West

Also called the Ellis Island of the West, Angel Island is rich in history and a great place for a hike or a Segway tour. 

Camera Obscura and a Totem Pole

The small building behind the Cliff House says Giant Camera on the outside. Inside, it’s an odd optical device called a camera obscura with ancient origins that projects an oddly dreamy-looking image on a concave surface inside. The design is based on a fifteenth century design by Leonardo da Vinci. Here's more about it.

The totem pole stands next to the sidewalk near the Cliff House. It’s been there since 1849, carved by Chief Mathias Joe Capilano of the Squamish Indians of Western Canada.

Thomas H. Mitchell / Getty Images

Roaming Buffalo and Dutch Windmills in Golden Gate Park

You probably thought all the buffalo were on the prairie – or maybe you know about the herd on Catalina Island, but Golden Gate Park also has them. It’s the oddest thing as you drive through the park, but there they are – as big as life and twice as shaggy. Also in Golden Gate Park are two authentic Dutch windmills. They once pumped water - as much as 1.5 million gallons of it daily – but now they’re just there for looks.

Spiral Escalators

Even if you don't like to shop, the spiraling escalators at the San Francisco Shopping Center (865 Market Street) are really fun to see (and ride).

The Wave Organ, an acoustic sculpture in San Francisco, California
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The Wave Organ 

You probably didn't know about the Wave Organ because you didn't know such a thing existed anywhere. It's a a wave-activated acoustic sculpture - basically a musical instrument played by the ocean.

The Thinker

You know the sculpture I’m talking about – that naked guy with his elbow on his knee, resting his chin on his hand, thinking very hard about who knows what. He's thinking in the courtyard at the Legion of Honor Museum.

This one isn’t as unique as it seems: 28 full-sized castings were made during sculptor Auguste Rodin’s lifetime alone. This one was made in 1904. We don’t know what the other 27 are thinking about, but knowing how chilly it can get in front of the Legion of Honor, this one must be wondering where he can find a nice, warm blanket.

Giant Sundial

It's located in a neighborhood called Ingleside Terraces and was hyped as the world's largest sun-powered clock when it was built. Get its history and find out how to get there.


In plain English, a columbarium is a cemetery of sorts, but with niches for funeral urns containing ashes. The building is lovely and the ornaments in the tiny niches are fascinating. Find out more at their website.

Go the to the Museum at SFO

If you have time before a flight - or during a layover, take the Air Train to the international terminal. Besides airline checkin desks, the departures level is also home to a certified museum that displays a rotating series of fascinating exhibits. 


More Things You Can Do in San Francisco

There's a lot more to do in San Francisco that might be a little more mainstream. Take a look at the top things to do in San Francisco.

Do you want your kids to have fun in San Francisco? Here's where to take them.

San Francisco is one of California's best places to have fun without spending a penny. Just use the Guide to Things to Do for Free in San Francisco.

It might rain in the winter. Here's what to do in San Francisco when it's raining.  Or for that matter, find out what you can do at night in San Francisco anytime.


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