Unusual Things To Do In San Francisco That Are Not In Your Guidebook

By Linda Lee Who was born and raised in San Francisco and loves its quirks, Burmese tea leaf salads and inclusivity.

Edited by Holly Stark

The diverse and multicultural microcosm that is San Francisco is something different to everyone who encounters it. When so many different cultures - each with a set of enticing cuisine, customs and quirks - get together into one melting pot you can expect some wonderfully strange magic to happen. And boy, has it happened here, because above all San Francisco is strange. Between the weather, which has multiple-personality disorder, and the fact that being naked is legal (a right which is exercised quite liberally) this city is downright weird! From the leafy paradise of Strawberry Hill to hippy districts like Richmond and Castro, choices for unusual things to do in San Francisco are near endless. Between the hippies, housewives and tech nerds that scatter the hilly landscape, there is a world of San Francisco hidden gems crying out to be discovered by the adventurous traveler. Get ready, because I’m about to blow the top off of a mountain of quirky things to do in San Francisco, just so that you can get the tiniest taste of San Francisco off the beaten path.

Strawberry Hill

Underappreciated, hidden and enchanting, Strawberry Hill is a peaceful, leafy green paradise located in the eastern half of Golden Gate Park. With great views of downtown and the Marin Headlands, the park provides a surreal outdoors experience, with a lake which sits on top of a hill. Take the uphill walk to Stowe Lake and discover a home to turtles, ducks, blue herons, willows, rowboats and peddle boats. You can even rent your own boat from the Stow Lake Boathouse. A rowboat costs $22.50/hour and a pedal boat costs $28.50/hour. A great spot for relaxing and one of the top unusual things to do in San Francisco, Strawberry Hill has a waterfall with rockery, ferns and flowers. But for a spooky, surreal experience and one of the best quirky things to do in San Francisco, head to the park at night. Apparently a cop car haunts the hill. I’ve never seen it but just the thought of it and going there creeps me out - I’ve been a few times with friends, but we actually just ended up scaring each other. It’s a great place to spook your friends; walk in and then wait. Everything’s scarier at night. 

Lands End

Forget you’re within the city and take a hike at Lands End for an experience of San Francisco off the beaten path - literally this time. Explore a stunning rocky northwestern corner of the city; through woodlands which hug the ocean. Take the coastal trails through the historic ruins of Sutro Baths; which was the largest public indoor swimming pool complex in the world when it opened in the 1890’s. Walk among old shipwrecks, small rocky beaches, a war memorial, and see amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge. The best way to experience it is to go through the cave and down the rocks (over a small chain barrier) to the cliff side; discover worn out paths, then get to the rocks on the ground which resemble a mini labyrinth to reach the amazing viewpoint spot and one of my favourite San Francisco hidden gems. It’s way more exciting to go the cliff way, and there are no guards so you can just hop over the chain. There are two parking lots. The Fort Miley parking lot off 48th Avenue, where you will find the Coastal Trail at the observation deck. Then there is the Merrie Way parking lot on Point Lobos Ave, just above the Cliff House, where the Coastal Trail starts.

Richmond

Home to beautiful beaches, the Presidio walk, art museums, nightlife spots and a well-loved foodie scene, the Richmond District (which runs north of Golden Gate Park) is a great quirky neighborhood to explore in the city. With Russian restaurants, bakeries, tea rooms, Korean BBQ and Japanese shabu shabu, Geary Boulevard is not to be missed when looking for great places to eat in San Francisco. My parents were born in Burma so I am a big lover of Burmese food. One of my favorite restaurants in the city is Mandalay on 4344 California St. (between 5th Ave & 6th Ave). Think tea leaf salad, coconut noodles and crispy beans. For anyone not used to it, I would describe Burmese food as a bit of a cross between Thai and Indian - reference points which most people have. You can make reservations online for parties of five or more. There’s also Burma Superstar and Pagan; restaurants with fusion Burmese cuisine. With some of San Francisco must eat foods, the fascinating Richmond neighborhood is not to be missed for any foodie in the city.

Food Trucks

San Francisco is an exciting fusion of culinary culture. As well as finding some of the most authentic Burmese cuisine, you could just as easily score some of the best food from trucks and carts. The food truck scene offers that same variety, with accessible options in multiple neighborhoods. They pop up all over here and there, but if you’re looking for something specific, Google will definitely have an answer for you on the best must-try eats from food trucks. Eager to try as much street food as you can in one go? Check out Off the Grid at Fort Mason; a gathering of food trucks and other local vendors set up in Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture’s parking lot every Friday evening between March and October. It is free to get in but VIP Tasting tickets cost $25 and include four tasting items. My favorite food truck though is Señor Sisig. They serve up a mouth-watering fusion of Mexican and Filipino cuisine. Try burritos, bowls, tacos, or my all-time favorite; the California burrito; which is packed with your choice of meat or tofu, shredded cheese, sour cream, guacamole, pico de gallo - and they even put french fries in there.

Castro And Haight Ashbury

Like all things quirky? Check out the colorful Castro district – the heart of the historic center of the LGBT community – for one of the coolest non-touristy things to do in San Francisco. The vibrant neighborhood is popular with young families, tech workers, an artistic community and is filled with vintage shops, organic markets, nice bars and cool restaurants. Kitchen story; a cozy eatery with wooden tables serving Californian cuisine with Asian influences is really close to here; it’s cool to walk around and soak up the creative vibe. Be sure to visit Haight Ashbury, bordering the Golden Gate National Park; a dive into the psychedelic ‘Summer of Love’ circa 1967 – the neighborhood’s claim to fame and the reason why it is one of the best off the beaten path things to do in San Francisco. Resembling a counter-culture of hippies, messages of flower power, free love and a call for world peace, the neighborhood soaks up remnants of the psychedelic 60s, with rainbow tie-dyed T-shirts, vintage vinyl, brew pubs and clean, licensed tattoo parlors on offer. Look out for Cha Cha, a Caribbean restaurant on 1801 Haight St. Haight Ashbury is one of the most wonderful and weird things to do in San Francisco at night, Haight Ashbury is not to be missed.

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