When I travel, I like to get to know a city beyond its main sights and try to imagine what life would be like if I were a local. San Francisco has its fair share of alternative spots that rival the touristy ones, and will allow you to get a different view of this beautiful city. If you have already done the Fisherman’s Wharf/Chinatown/Alcatraz route, here are a few other options to put on your itinerary.
Island Day Trip
Swap the well-know prison island of Alcatraz for the more tranquil Angel Island.
Alcatraz is worth a visit, but once you see this former prison, take the ferry to the much more scenic Angel Island that boasts miles of hiking trails and even camping grounds where you can spend the night under the stairs. The views of the San Francisco skyline, Mount Tam and the Marin Headlines are well worth the trek out there. Despite the present beauty of the island, Angel Island has a dark past where immigrants from Asia were held against their will and prohibited from entering the U.S. The Immigration Station now holds a museum where you can learn more about the history of the island.
Swap touristy Fisherman’s Wharf for the quieter waterfront walking paths of Crissy Field.
Imagine dogs running off-leash and playing in the surf; joggers on their afternoon run, and families taking a weekend stroll all under the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s harder to get a better view of this bridge than here and bonus points if the fog starts to roll in for a truly San Francisco sight. If you do get hungry, there’s the Warming Hut, a café that provides snacks and warm beverages to help ward off the chill.
Swap the kitschy streets of Chinatown’s Grant Avenue for the more authentic Chinese restaurants in the Sunset District.
SF’s Chinatown is an important part of the city’s history, but unless you know where to go you run the risk of eating at a tourist-oriented restaurant. Instead make your way to the fog-filled neighborhoods of the Sunset District where some of the best Chinese food awaits. There is Dumpling Kitchen for solid xiaolong bao dumplings, and House of Pancakes for their savory beef-rolled pancakes to start.
Swap the well-trodden Filbert Steps for the lesser-known Lyon Street Steps.
One of the positive things about all those steep hills throughout the city are the hidden staircases that are tucked into neighborhoods. The Filbert Steps are worth the shortness of breath, but once you have checked those off your list make sure to head to the Lyon Street Steps. This staircase in Pacific Heights is surrounded by beautiful old homes and offers a stunning view of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. Just be careful to pace yourself, since those joggers make it look deceivingly easy. The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps are another great alternative for views of the Sunset district and the Pacific Ocean beyond.
Swap hip Mission bars for neighborhood watering holes in the Inner Richmond.
Let’s face it: the Mission neighborhood is where all the cool kids go at night due to the wide selection of hip bars. But if you want to break out of the Mission bubble for a night, the Inner Richmond is a great alternative. Local Irish bars are plentiful, including the Plough and the Stars, which has live music, pool tables and cold pints of Guinness. There is also the The Bitter End, which is exactly what a neighborhood bar should be: well worn, inviting and most importantly you can have a normal conversation without having to yell over all the noise.
Swap Alamo Square Victorians for Pacific Heights mansions.
Alamo Square is iconic for its row of Victorian homes, but these are not the only pretty homes in the city. Pacific Heights has plenty of century-old mansions that boast a view of the bay. Many of San Francisco’s wealthiest families have lived out their lives in these palaces, and you can hear some of their stories by joining a free walking tour from San Francisco City Guides.