As a San Francisco local, we have lots of recommendations of things to do that are a bit off-the-radar. After our guests have gone to the “must see” tourist places: Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz, Ghirardelli, and The Golden Gate Bridge, here are our favorite places to take them.
Free Wildlife Viewing. PIER 39 Watch mammoth sea lions cavort in the water, jump onto the docks and push each other off. They bark, growl and grunt to mark their territory and attract females. Pier 39 is a favorite haul out site, as well as one of the most popular spots in the city for shops and waterfront restaurants. The boisterous seals began camping out on the marina docks after the 1989 earthquake and have made it home ever since. Several years ago 1,701 were counted on a Thanksgiving weekend. They are not visible from the street. Walk to the end of the pier on the left side of the shops to the K Dock and enjoy the free show. It’s always a hit for visiting families and friends. CLICK on the photo below to watch a sea lion scratch his neck and listen to them bark.
Spend an Afternoon in the Park Where do locals go to jog, picnic, walk dogs, find culture, join a swing dance, hike or meditate? , with over 1,000 acres of gardens, picnic areas, lakes, museums and a carousel have something for everyone. Entrance to the park is free. My favorites free activity is to hike around Stow Lake, a man-made lake in the center of the park. Or rent a paddleboat and find the waterfall and Oriental gazebo along your way around the lake. There is an entrance fee, but well worth it, to visit the de Young Museum, (with the aquarium), and the Conservatory of Flowers or to ride the carousel. Rent paddle boats on Stowe Lake in the middle of The Park or hike to the butterfly garden at the top of the island.
Free in the Park You’ll hear the music before you see the dancers. Jazz and The Charleston attract lively locals to dance in the streets, closed off to traffic every Sunday, on John F Kennedy Drive between 8th and 10th Avenue. No one is shy. You’ll see dancers of all ages and levels just having fun. Beginners lessons are free at 12:30pm every Sunday, weather permitting.
Discover Magical Animal, bird and fish mosaics take everyone by surprise in a residential neighborhood. Inspired by the world famous steps in Rio de Janeiro, an Irish artist and over 300 community volunteers worked for over two and half years to install the handmade tiles. The designs, made of ceramic tiles, pieces of mirror and glass decorate 163 panels on each step. The stairway is located in Golden Gate Heights at 16th Street and Moraga. Be sure to walk both sets of stairs and take a break for spectacular city and ocean views from Grand View Park at the top. If this wasn’t enough of a work-out and you want more views, hike the Lyon Street steps in Presidio Heights, an area packed with multi-billion-dollar homes of the rich and famous. There’s usually parking available at both the top and bottom.
Nibble your way through the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market The variety of goods will wow even the most spoiled connoisseur. Shop for veggies, fruit, mushrooms, seafood, whatever and then leave your heavy shopping bags with the “Veggie Valet” and they’ll hold them for you while you continue perusing the market. The service is free and available on Saturdays during the operating hours of the Farmers market. It’s located at the front of the building.
Inside the Ferry Building we take visitors to slurp down Hog Island oysters, raw or grilled. We sample cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, taste fresh-baked bread from bread from Della Fattoria or Acme Bakery, gobble down charcuterie at Boccalone, enjoy almond bars or chocolate brownies from Downtown Bakery, and pork tamales from Pimavera. Located at One Ferry Building, along the waterfront. And yes, there are lots of ATM machines.
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