San Francisco like a local: 13 things to do that aren't Fisherman's Wharf
With ocean beaches, old-growth forests, and coastal mountains all only a short drive (or bike ride) away, it’s no wonder San Francisco ranks as one of the fittest cities in the U.S. Just step outside your front door and you're met with a wealth of things to do. To help you sort out all the options, we asked active locals for their favorite places to play by the Bay. Read on for the best hikes, runs, and, of course, craft beer.
1. Run through the city
San Francisco has great trails for all types of runners. The staff at A Runner’s Mind, a local independent running shop, suggests the following routes.
“Start at the Warming Hut at the west end of Crissy Field and run up to the Golden Gate Bridge via the stairs off Long Avenue. From there, explore the many trails the Presidio has to offer,” says staffer Jake Gateman.
Just west of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Presidio, a park and former military base, offers stunning views of the Pacific as you run. Cassie Cummings suggests taking the Batteries to Bluffs trail and ending with a visit to the Parisian-style bakery, b. Patisserie, on California Street for a chocolate filled kouign amann.
Kyle Ballard recommends starting on the eastern edge of the park at Flywheel Coffee on Stanyan Street, then running through Golden Gate Park using only trails. Circle back to Flywheel for a post-run latté and zucchini muffin.
For more options, check out ZOZI Guru Dean Karnazes' five favorite S.F. running routes.
2. Hike San Bruno Mountain
Hall Newbegin, self-described “nature freak” and founder of the all-natural wilderness fragrance distillery, Juniper Ridge, recommends hiking San Bruno Mountain. Located just south of San Francisco and east of Daly City, “it's an extraordinary and often overlooked mountain,” says Newbegin.
“Twin Peaks and Diamond Peak are great, but they're basically vacant lots overrun with weeds, he says. "San Bruno Mountain provides a glimpse into deep time—what San Francisco was before it was San Francisco, even before the Indians, stretching back into the pleistocene. Intact coastal chaparral ecosystems, riparian ecosystems, Mission Blue butterflies, an outlier population of hummingbird sage ... the reasons to visit this underappreciated gem goes on and on."
3. Eat at the CUESA Farmer’s Market
“My perfect San Francisco day includes a stroll through the CUESA Farmer’s Market at the Ferry Building,” says ZOZI Guru and chef Michael Mina. Open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, the market’s produce vendors and food trucks attract local shoppers as well as visitors. “We are incredibly lucky in the Bay Area to have access to quality ingredients from farms and purveyors like Brokaw Nursery and Devil’s Gulch Ranch,” says Mina. “Stop at Roli Roti for lunch, and get a porchetta sandwich and their to-die-for potatoes roasted in pork fat.”
For more of Mina’s favorites, check out his ideal S.F. itinerary.
4. Explore Roy’s Redwoods Preserve
Across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County’s San Geronimo Valley sits Roy’s Redwood Preserve, a 293-acre public park with some of the biggest redwood trees in the county without the tourist crowds of Muir Woods National Monument.
“It's only about 45 minutes from downtown San Francisco,” explains Cliff Hodges, founder and CEO of Adventure Out, which offers bow making and animal tracking courses through ZOZI. “But Roy’s Redwoods Preserve truly feels like a walk on the Forest Moon of Endor. In fact, parts of the “Star Wars” spinoff movie “The Ewok Adventure” were filmed here.
5. Scale Mount Tamalpais
“Mount Tam affords spectacular 360-degree views of the entire Bay Area, and nothing beats watching the sunset from the top,” says Karnazes. “Don’t worry, you don’t have to hike all the way from the base (though you can if you want). There’s a road that takes you near the summit. For a special bonus: take a bottle of Napa Valley wine and stay for a while.”
6. Sample the beer scene in Wine Country
Less than two hours north of San Francisco, a craft beer scene is brewing in wine country.
“There’s such a great variety of beer in the West Coast IPA country,” says Chrissi Clay, manager at Brew Brothers Brewery Tour, which offers beer tasting tours in Sonoma County.
Standouts among the current batch of beer makers include Woodfour Brewing Co., Stumptown Brewing Co., Dempsey’s Brewery & Restaurant, and Russian River Brewing Company which makes Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger, rated two of the best beers in the world by BeerAdvocate.
Among the stops on the Brew Brothers’ tour is Woodfour, a local brewpub and restaurant in the town of Sebastopol. “They serve great farm-to-table dishes and Seth Wood, the founder, makes great beer,” says Clay.
During the warmer months, try their Saison ale or Gold Ridge lager for a lighter, more refreshing drink. Looking for something bolder? Order the 1000LB Gorilla, an imperial stout brewed with cocoa nibs, date molasses, and toasted coconut.
7. Climb a staircase to a stellar view
“One of my favorite places to go in the city is Grand View Park, aka Turtle Hill. Climb the beautiful mosaic stairway and take in one of the most unique views of San Francisco,” says S.F. native and ZOZI team member Jonathan Bell.
Many parks may claim to offer the best view, but Grand View Park in the Inner Sunset is the only one where you can see both the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean at the same time. Off of 16th Avenue and Moraga Street, a colorful staircase will lead you up the hill. The front edge of each step is part of a mosaic depicting the sun, moon, and animal and plant life.
“It's one of the best spots to watch a sunset in the city and it’s off the beaten path enough to make it feel relatively untouched,” says Bell.
8. Get art schooled at Pier 24 Photography
“The best photo gallery in the city is Pier 24,” says Tara Guertin, photo director at AFAR magazine. “It’s like taking a photo 101 class at an art school. All the great American artists are a part of the main collection.”
The gallery is home to the Pilara Foundation's permanent collection, which includes more than 4,000 works by artists from around the world and throughout the medium’s history. Highlights include the complete portfolios by Diane Arbus, Larry Clark, Lee Friedlander, and Garry Winogrand.
Fair warning: the gallery is free, but it’s only open Monday through Friday by appointment. “It's enormous, but they only allow a certain number of people in at a time, so you need to make an appointment well in advance,” advises Guertin.
9. SUP in the San Francisco Bay
Gary Leong, founder of the Paddle Pub Club and Water Escapes Today, is an avid stand-up paddleboarder and has explored most, if not all, of San Francisco’s best spots.
“A nice place to paddle is inside the breakwater at Aquatic Park,” says Leong. Shielded by the Aquatic Park Pier and the Hyde Street Pier, it offers calm waters for beginners.
Leong also recommends Mission Creek, which leads to McCovey Cove, right next to the right field wall of AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. Paddlers and kayakers regularly gather there during games to try and catch wayward baseballs.
10. Rent boats at Stow Lake
San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park eclipses New York’s Central Park in both size—a whopping 1,017 acres—and awesomeness. Does Central Park have a herd of buffalo and the world-class de Young art museum? Didn’t think so. But, unfortunately, many San Franciscans take Golden Gate Park for granted. Maggie Mason, travel writer and founder of the popular blog Mighty Girl, thinks that needs to change.
“I always regret not visiting Stow Lake more,” she says. “It's easy to get to and to park. If you really want to do it up, get lunch from the snack bar at the Boat House and cross the footbridge to Strawberry Island. Eat at the picnic tables near the waterfall, then climb the stairs for a gorgeous view of the Golden Gate bridge. Hit the paddle boats afterward. They seat four and are $25 an hour.”
11. Visit Sightglass Coffee’s Secret Ice Cream Joint
Sightglass Coffee is one of San Francisco’s beloved third-wave roasters, but coffee and pastries aren’t all they serve at their SOMA location (the drip coffee geniuses also have a Mission location and a cafe on Divisadero is opening soon).
“Perhaps the best kept secret in SOMA is the upstairs Affogato Bar at Sightglass Coffee. Until recently a lowly espresso bar, the addition of Salt & Straw gourmet ice cream and very knowledgeable staff adds up to an amazing afternoon pick-me-up. Single Origin espresso from Rwanda over the blood orange and olive oil ice cream is a must,” says Matt Semmelhack, co-owner of TBD, AQ, and Bon Marché Brasserie & Bar.
For more great tips from Matt, check out his story on things to do in the Bay Area.
12. Wander around Sutro Baths and Lands End
“A choice outing is heading to Sutro Baths near Ocean Beach and walking the rugged Lands End coastal trail,” says Heather Marx, who runs the eponymous Heather Marx Art Advisory. The 3.5 mile trail features cypress groves, the remains of an old railroad roadbed, and sweeping views of the Golden Gate bridge and the Marin Headlands.
Marx recommends visiting the galleries at the nearby Legion of Honor next. Wander through the Beaux-Arts building to see work spanning 4,000 years of human history—from Egyptian antiquities to photographs by Ed Ruscha.
Finish off the day with a spicy Michelada and “the scrumptiously layered Huarache con Suadero y Chorizo” at Nopalito. “Simply heaven,” she says.
13. Golf, bowl, and drink in the Mission District
A longtime epicenter for restaurants and cocktail bars, the Mission district is fast becoming an evening playground for young professionals.
For a particularly fun night out, “head to Schmidt’s on 20th and Folsom Street for awesome bratwursts and kick-ass pretzels and German beer,” says Yi Yan, a local artist who teaches painting classes at Yi Yan Art Academy.
After you’ve had your fill of hearty German chow, head three blocks north to Mission Bowling Club on 17th Street for some friendly rivalry on the lanes. Or, if mini golf is more your thing, Yan recommends Urban Putt on 22nd Street. The 14-hole indoor course features locally-themed challenges, like shaking buildings at the 1906 earthquake hole and a Transamerica Pyramid with a rotating windmill. Sample the extensive beer menu and watch the course become even harder.
End the night at Trick Dog on 20th Street, for “some of the best cocktails in the city,” says Yan. The inventive drink menu (a current cocktail includes Tequila Ocho reposado, Amaro Meletti, El Maestro Sierra fino sherry, and malted milk ball) and decor change every six months. “Guaranteed good times,” says Yan.