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Hidden Gems in San Francisco

25 Unique & Fun Places to Explore

In a city as famous as San Francisco, it's hard to image that there are still a few hidden gems. But there still are some and I'm here to help you find them. Many are easy to find in the heart of the city and easy to find. However, a few are off the beaten path, but they are worth the time and effort to find them.

All attractions and activities on this list are open to the public.

1. City Hall

25 Hidden Gems in San FranciscoMany people stop by City Hall to admire its gorgeous golden dome, but they don't realize they are welcome to also take a look inside. During business hours, Monday through Friday, the public is welcome to visit.

After you enter, you can take a look at the interior of the dome (from the first floor), its beautiful marble staircase, and its small history museum.

Address: 1 Dr Carlton B Goodlett Place in the Civic Center District
Hours: 8am to 8pm, Monday - Friday
Cost: Free
Learn More: SF's City Hall

2. Botanical Garden

The Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park is an often overlooked attraction. This 55-acre gem houses thousands of plants from all around the world. Some of my favorite times to visit are during the winter months when the Magnolias are in bloom (December - March) and in the late spring when several flowers show their beautiful colors (April - May).

Address: 1199 9th Avenue in Golden Gate Park
Hours: Opens at 7:30am every day, closing time varies by season
Cost: $7 for adults, $5 for seniors & youth 12-17
Learn More: Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park

3. Mission Murals

The eclectic Mission District is home to the largest concentration of murals in San Francisco. You will find most of them on garage doors, on the walls of businesses, and all over buildings throughout the district. While there are hundreds in the area, you will find a large concentration of them on 24th Street (and in the alleys) just to the east of Mission Street.

Address: Various locations all around the Mission
Hours: All are outside, so they are always open. It's best to visit between 10am and 4pm when the sun is out.
Cost: Free
Learn More: Mission Murals

4. Diego Rivera Frescos

Diego Rivera was a controversial, yet talented artist, from Mexico. In the 1930s and 1940s, he created three detailed frescos in San Francisco that are still on display today. You will find one in the Financial District, one in North Beach, and one on the City College Campus in the Ingleside District. All three are open to the public a few hours each week.

diego fresco

Address: Three locations in SF
Hours: Varies
Cost: All three are free
Learn More: Diego Rivera frescos in SF

5. Octagon House

The Octagon House is an eight-sided beauty that sits in the Marina District. Built in 1861, this historic structure was saved from destruction in the 1950s. It is now a Colonial and Federal Periods Decorative Arts Museum that is open to the public a few days a month. A visit includes a guided tour of both the house and the pieces on display on the first and second floors.

exterior octagon house

Address: 2645 Gough Street in the Marina District
Hours: Second Sunday; second & fourth Thursdays of the month from noon to 3pm
Cost: Free, but they do request a donation
Learn More: Octagon House

6. Haas Lilienthal House

A visit to the Hass Lilienthal House offers you the rare chance to step inside a historic Victorian. Built in 1886 by William Haas, this house features many of its original details as well as furniture and art work from the Haas family. All visits include a guided tour of the house and the small museum on its lower level.

Address: 2007 Franklin Street in the Pacific Heights District
Hours: Wednesdays & Saturdays from noon to 3pm; Sundays from 11am to 4pm; Tours leave every 20 to 30 minutes
Cost: General admission is $8
Learn More: Haas Lilienthal House

7. Fire Museum

Discover the history of SF's Fire Department at the Fire Museum in Pacific Heights. This small gem features one of the first engines used in the city as well as artifacts damaged during the 1906 Earthquake and Fire. You can also learn more about Lillie Hitchcock Coit (the local woman that donated money to build Coit Tower) and see a historic bell that was used for decades to warn citizens of fires.

fire engine

Address: 655 Presidio in Pacific Heights
Hours: Thursday through Sunday from 1pm to 4pm (although its run by volunteers so call ahead to make sure they are open during these hours too: 415.563.4630)
Cost: Free
Learn More: Fire Museum

8. Columbarium

The Neptune Society Columbarium (a repository for cremated remains) is an unexpected gem in SF's Richmond District. The building, finished in 1895, features both baroque and neoclassical elements. Inside, you will find gorgeous stained glass windows and other noteworthy elements. It also houses memorials and the remains of thousands of SF residents. Some of the most famous people buried here include Harvey Milk (first openly gay elected official in California), Jerry Juhl (muppeteer and writer for The Muppets), and Chet Helms (founder and promoter of the 1967 Summer of Love).

Address: 1 Lorraine Ct,. at Anza in the Richmond District
Hours: 9am to 5pm, Monday - Friday; 10am to 3pm, Saturday & Sunday
Cost: Free
Learn More: Columbarium

9. Wells Fargo Museum

The Wells Fargo Museum is rare gem for history buffs. You will find this small museum in the Financial District. It features historical documents and displays related to the history of Wells Fargo and its important place in the banking business. You will also get the chance to see an original Abbot-Downing Concord Coach used on the Pony Express.

wells fargo

Address:420 Montgomery Street in the Financial District
Hours: Monday - Friday from 9am to 5pm
Cost: Free
Learn More: Wells Fargo History Museum

10. Wave Organ

The Wave Organ is a musical structure built to create sounds based on the waves and waters from the SF Bay. There are several different stations within the Wave Organ that create sounds such as hisses, gurgles, and sloshes. You will need to listen carefully as the sounds are subtle. It's best to visit during high tide.

Address: 83 Marina Green Drive in the Marina District
Hours: It's outdoors, so open all day long
Cost: Free
Learn More: Check out the tide predictions for the next few days

11. Musee Mechanique

This hidden gem in San Francisco is right in the heart of the Fisherman's Wharf district. It's a privately owned museum with coin-operated machines and games. It includes everything from hand-cranked games to Ms. Pacman. It's free to enter, but you must pay to play. You will find it on Pier 45 in Shed A.

thimble theater

Address: Pier 45, Shed A at the end of Taylor Street in Fisherman's Wharf
Hours: 10am to 7pm, Monday - Friday; 10am to 8pm, Saturday - Sunday; 10am to 8pm most holidays
Cost: Free

12. Beat Museum

The Beat Generation was a group of young artists, writers, and musicians from the 1950s. They were a radical group of thinkers that lived what was considered an alternative lifestyle. Many made their home in SF's North Beach district including some of its most famous members (Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti). This is where you will find the Beat Museum, which pays tribute to this group of individuals. Inside, you will find rare items on display as well as a detailed history on this generation.

Address: 540 Broadway Street
Hours: 10am to 7pm, Monday through Sunday
Cost: $8 for general admission
Learn More: Beat Museum

13. Temples in Chinatown

During your visit to Chinatown, make sure you stop by one of its colorful temples. My three favorites are the Kong Chow Temple, the Tin How Temple, and the Ma Tsu Temple. All offer a glimpse inside the world of Chinese religious culture. The first two are temples with rare historic artifacts. The third is a newer temple that is easy to access as its on the first floor of the building.

ma tsu temple

Address: Kong Chow Temple is at 855 Stockton Street; Tin How Temple is at 125 Waverly Place; and Ma Tsu Temple is at 30 Beckett Street
Hours: Varies by temple
Cost: Free
Learn More: SF's Chinese Temples

14. Hua Zang Si Buddhist Temple

The Hua Zang Si Buddhist Temple is a hidden gem in San Francisco's Mission District. The building that houses this temple was built in the early 1900s as a Lutheran Church. This temple officially opened in 2004 and houses several wonderful statues and religious relics. Some of the most noteworthy include the large statue of Shakyamuni Buddha (on the first floor in the main area) and a 21-foot-tall statue of Amitabha on the second floor of the temple.

Address: 3134 22nd Street in the Mission District
Hours: 11am to 5pm on Monday - Saturday; 10am to 5pm on Sunday
Cost: Free

15. 16th Avenue Stairs

Another one of my favorite hidden gems in San Francisco is the mosaic staircase at 16th Avenue and Moraga. The stairs were tiled by the local community as part of a neighborhood project. There are 163 steps and the pieces on each one create a beautiful piece of art. It's quite a ways off the beaten path, but worth a visit if you get the chance.

16th avenue

Address: 16th Avenue and Moraga in the Sunset District
Hours: Open all day long
Cost: Free

16. Anchor Steam Brewery Tours

If you love craft beers, then head over to the Anchor Stream Brewery for one of their weekday tours. They offer one in the morning at 10am and one in the afternoon at 1pm. Both tours last around an hour and 30 minutes with a sampling session of their beers at the end. The tour and tasting cost $15 per person.

Address: 1705 Mariposa Street in SF's Potrero Hill district
Hours: 10am and 1pm, Monday - Friday
Cost: $15 per person

17. Outdoor Exploratorium

The Outdoor Exploratorium is an extension of the larger Exploratorium Museum. It includes 21 exhibits throughout the grounds of the Fort Mason Center. One of my favorites is the Bridge Thermometer that focuses on the Golden Gate Bridge. It allows the user to see how much the structure moves up and down based on the temperature. It's perfect for anyone that loves science.

outdoor exploratorium

Address: 2 Marina Boulevard on the grounds of the Fort Mason Center
Hours: Open all day, but the best time is during daylight hours from 8am to 6pm
Cost: Free

18. Italian American & Mexican Museums in Fort Mason

After you finish with the Outdoor Exploratorium, head inside to visit two of Fort Mason's free museums. The first is the Italian American Museum (Museo Italo Americano) which features important works of art from Italian and Italian American artists. The second is the Mexican Museum which showcases thousands of works from Mexican artists. Both are free and open a few hours every week.

Address: 2 Marina Boulevard between the Marina and Fisherman's Wharf districts
Hours: Museo Italo Americano: 12pm - 4pm, Tuesday through Sunday; Mexican Museum: 12pm to 4pm, Wednesday - Sunday
Cost: Free
Learn More: Museo Italo Americano & Mexican Museum

19. San Francisco Wineries & Tasting Rooms

If you want to sample some great local wines, head out to one of SF's wineries. You will find more than a dozen. None of them grow their grapes on site, but all make their creations within the city limits. Options range from the lighter and fruitier Chardonnays all the way to the bold Cabernet Sauvignon.

wine tasting

Address: Various locations
Hours: Various hours
Cost: Cost varies by location and selection
Learn More: My 10 Favorite SF Wineries

20. Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts

The Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts is a space in SF's Dogpatch district dedicated to exhibiting the work of contemporary artists. It attracts exhibits from around the world that are typically shown for about six months at a time.

Address: 360 Kansas Street
Hours: Noon to 7pm, Tuesday - Friday; Noon to 5pm, Saturday
Cost: Free

21. Camera Obscura

The Camera Obscura is a large camera obscura, which is an optical device that preceded the camera and photography. It was originally built in 1946 as part of the Playland Amusement Park. The outside structure was redone in 1957 to resemble a camera, but the interior stayed the same. It's an interesting work of art and a must see for all photography or history buffs. It's the oldest camera obscura in the US and the only one that exists in a free standing building.

camera obscura

Address: 1096 Point Lobos Avenue right behind the Cliff House
Hours: 11am to 5pm daily
Cost: Free

22. Pier 24, Photography Gallery

Another little known find in San Francisco is the Pier 24 Photography Gallery and Museum. This gems sits along the SF waterfront just under the Bay Bridge. It's a non-collective gallery that attracts photography exhibits from around the world. It's free to visit, but you must make a reservation in advance.

Address: Pier 24 The Embarcadero
Hours: 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday by appointment only
Cost: Free
Learn More: Visiting Pier 24

23. Fort Point National Historic Site

The Fort Point National Historic Site is an old army building located under the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge. Inside, you will find a museum that explains more about the history of the military in the area. There are also two short films that play throughout the day. One focused on history of this site. The second is a film about the Golden Gate Bridge. Before you leave, make sure to head up to the top floor for some amazing photos of the Golden Gate Bridge.

interior fort point

Address: Marine Drive in the Presidio
Hours: 10am to 5pm, Friday through Sunday
Cost: Free
Learn More: Fort Point National Historic Site

24. Focaccia Bread at Liguria Bakery

We've covered many of SF's hidden gem attractions, so I thought it was the perfect time to slip in one of my favorite food finds. If you love focaccia bread, you must stop by Liguria Bakery in the North Beach district. This little bakery ONLY bakes focaccia bread. My favorite is the rosemary focaccia. They also only bake a certain amount each day, so you need to get there early to grab up a slice or two.

Address: 1700 Stockton Street in North Beach
Hours: 8am to 1pm, Monday - Saturday (or until the bread is gone)
Cost: Sampling of bread starts at $5

25. Rincon Center Murals

The Rincon Center near the Embarcadero features a series of 27 murals depicting California's history. Painted in the 1940s by Russian muralist Anton Refregier, these pieces feature everything from the early days during the building of the missions to the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. Each one has a small plaque describing its scene. You can also learn more during the free weekly walking tour offered by the SF Public Library.

rincon mural

Address: 75 Mission Street between Steuart and Spear in the SOMA district
Hours: 7am to 6pm, Monday - Friday; 9am to 2pm, Saturday
Cost: Free
Learn More: Rincon Center Murals


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