11 Hidden Gems in San Francisco We’re Pretty Sure You’ve Never Visited
A water-playing organ and a park in the sky are just some of the hidden gems we’re uncovering around San Francisco
You know when you feel like you’ve been there, done that? Us, too, which is why we dug super deep into the quirky, wonderful hidden gems around San Francisco that surprised and delighted us to uncover—some of which have been hiding in plain old sight! These are just the sort of places and experiences that confirms why we love living here (and for rainy day suggestions, check out our SF guide to some of our favorite kid-friendly museums). Certify your street cred. and see if you’ve ever been to these hidden gems in SF.
Cayuga Playground & Sculpture Garden: This tucked-away park is hiding one of the city’s most interesting outdoor art and sculpture gardens. The story goes that Demetrio Braceros, who maintained the park for over 20 years had transformed Cayuga Park’s naturalistic surroundings into whimsical woodcarvings. There are both small and large wood sculptures and makes for a great game of I spy.
301 Naglee Ave.
Salesforce Transit Center Park: You may have heard of this free-to-enter oasis in the sky but if you haven’t, cancel your plans and head up to the latest urban park that sits 70 feet above the street, is 4 blocks long and features a living roof, walking trails, dancing fountains, a children’s play area and an amphitheater.
Good to Know: In addition to just an awesome spot to hang, there are free events like jazz concerts, bird walks and talks, drum circles, dj lessons, a recess cart for kids and family fun on Sat.—to just name a few.
425 Mission St.
Hit up three hidden gems in one excursion all located at this super popular spot—thanks to the wow-factor of the historical landmark that is Sutro Baths, these unique finds tend to get overlooked.
Good to Know: It’s about a 30-minute walk from the Camera Obscura & Holograph to Land’s End point, with Heart Rock as a good stopping point in the middle.
Camera Obscura & Holograph: This real-working giant camera was built in 1946, based off of Leonardo Da Vinci’s work, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. When it’s open, you can go inside and walk around the projection table—observing the camera in action capturing live images from the surrounding Pacific Ocean, Ocean Beach, Seal Rocks, Marin and more. You can also see a small holograph collection that was added in 1979.
1096 Point Lobos Ave.
Heart Rock at Sutro Baths: Keep your eyes peeled on the rock—or bring your binoculars so you can spot the heart shape that formed in the middle of it. Best viewing is from the bottom of the trail where the pools will be on your left and a cave on the right. Walk to the right to stand in front of the concrete ledge and look to your left to see the heart.
Lands End Labyrinth turned Heart Installation: What used to be a 35-foot intricate rock maze created by an artist on the western end of San Francisco that is Land’s End park, has been re-imagined in the shape of a heart—rebuilt last year after the maze was destroyed by vandals. Hike your way over here to not only see the man-made formation, but take in the epic views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Lands End Trail
Seward Street Slides: Tap into you inner child at the Seward Street Slides. From 18th street walk west for four blocks to Douglass, then take a left onto Douglass and follow it until you find the Seward Mini Park. Two long, steep concrete slides are the main attraction, though they are not for tiny tots. Bring a piece of cardboard and wear sturdy pants. Closes at sunset.
70 Corwin St.
Huntington Falls in Golden Gate Park: The first man-made waterfall installed in Golden Gate Park, this artificial, albeit still impressive, water feature cascades the length of Strawberry Hill and spills into Stow Lake.
Insider Tip: To take this hidden gem up a level, climb the adjacent stairs past the surrounding sculpted rocks to look down over the top of Huntington Falls at Strawberry Hill. You can also explore the surrounding rock path and walk across the bridge in front of the falls.
50 Stowe Lake Dr.
Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden & Windmill: This Dutch Windmill is located on the western section of Golden Gate Park and is one of two historic icons dating back to 1902. Serving once as a water pump for the area, the Dutch Windmill is now home to the Queen Wilhelmina (late queen of the Netherlands) Tulip Garden. While the best time to visit is during tulip season (Feb. & Mar.), you can still take in the lovely sight of other blooms in the serene surroundings. Relax on a bench or on the inviting grass and listen to the crash of the waves near by. Want to see another windmill? Head to the souther edge of the park at Lincoln Blvd. & La Playa St. to visit the Murphy Windmill.
1690 John F. Kennedy Dr.
Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPOS): 68 POPOS exist in San Francisco and are compromised of “publicly accessible spaces in forms of plazas, terraces, atriums, small parks, and even snippets which are provided and maintained by private developers.” This handy map will help guide you to the (mostly) downtown spots but what we love about these hidden gems is that they are a priceless mix of urban development, art, culture and sometimes a handy cafe to offset those mid-day hangries.
Wooden Swing at Bernal Heights Park: This park checks all the boxes—360-degree epic view (on a clear day you can see the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge and all the way to East Bay hills), grassy spots for nosh-worthy picnics but our love for this spot is due to the wooden swing that makes you feel like you are touching the clouds.
Insider Tip: Explore this gem of a neighborhood with our guide to Bernal Heights and don’t miss the 40-foot metal slides that are fast and fun!
Good to Know: Park in the lot or on one of the side streets and follow the paths up to the top. It will take you about 20 minutes with tiny walkers so pack the jogging stroller if you think that will be an issue.
The Wave Organ: Built in 1986 using old cemetery stone, and located on a jetty in the San Francisco Bay, The Wave Organ is a “wave-activated acoustic sculpture.” Basically sound is created by the movement of the water in and out of the pipes and amplified. And while the sound may be subtle (it sounds the best at high tide), the end result is when you become attuned to the “music of the environment.”
83 Marina Green Dr.