If you’re the type of traveler who likes to go to new places so that you can get a better understanding of the people and the culture that makes the essence of a city, then you’re not likely to turn to oft-visited websites and guide books for suggestions of things to do and see. That’s why we’ve created our own little Bucket List – one that’s great for those who are returning to San Francisco and looking for new experiences and deeper exploration, as well as for first-time visitors who like to steer clear of tourist magnets. So, close those other tabs and check out this essential list for those who like to veer off the regular road while sticking to a backpacker’s budget.
Off The Beaten Path Bucket List
1. Listen to the music of the ocean at the Wave Organ
The perfect example of San Francisco’s quirky, inventive and organic character, the Wave Organ is made from PVC and concrete pipes that sit atop a jetty built from granite and marble from a demolished cemetery. The structure produces otherworldly groans, gurgles and rumbles created by the waves, and if you come at the right time, you can hear this natural music from the concrete slabs as life in the bay plays out on the panoramic view.
When: Your best chances of hearing some Wave Organ is during high tide.
Where: Visit the organ at the end of Yacht Road at the St. Francis Yacht Club not too far from HI San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf.
2. Cycle with San Franciscans at Critical Mass
Join swarms of San Francisco’s cyclists as they take over the city streets during this monthly event, which was created in 1992 by local activists and two-wheel commuters who wanted to reclaim public spaces. Somewhat of an institution now, Critical Mass has no leaders or organizers – riders just meet at the designated spot and anyone is free to suggest a route – and the only rules are to keep safe, be respectful of fellow cyclists and motorists and, mainly, to talk to strangers and make friends.
When: Critical Mass takes place on the last Friday of each month at 5:30 p.m.
Where: Riders meet at Justin Herman Plaza off Market Street. Ask the folks at HI San Francisco Downtown or HI San Francisco City Center for bike rental information.
3. Wolf down a banh mi sandwich from Saigon Sandwich
There’s not much to say about Saigon Sandwich because the line that usually winds its way out of the door says enough. All you need to know is that this is the place to go for seriously delicious and authentic Vietnamese sandwiches that also happen to be extremely affordable. Your only problem might be that the eatery is dangerously close to HI SF City Center and you’ll find yourself going here for every meal.
When: Breakfast, lunch and dinner – if that’s between 7:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.
Where: 560 Larkin Street, then enjoy your sandwich on the grass by the UN Plaza on a sunny day.
4. High five Hopper’s Hands
While you’re taking a leisurely bike or stroll along Crissy Field at the edge of the Presidio, you should walk all the way down the path (a favorite of San Francisco’s joggers) right to the chain link fence where you’ll find a pair of bronzed hands that are just itching for a high five. These are Hopper’s Hands, a mini monument erected especially for those who run, walk or bike the path to the tip of Fort Point and instinctively touch the fence before turning around. A bonus? You’ll be right under the Golden Gate Bridge.
When: The best time to walk here is during the early morning hours to avoid the wind.
Where: The path along Marine Drive at the tip of Fort Point.
5. Lose a few hours at the Musée Mécanique
The Musée Mécanique is a wonderland of arcade games, dioramas, antique slot machines, coin-operated musical instruments and photo booths rescued from old San Francisco attractions or shipped in from other parts of the world. Billed as the largest collection of privately owned working antique arcade machines and mechanical instruments, the unusual museum is a paradise for old-school gamers since you can actually play the games – some for as little as a penny!
When: The museum is open from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. seven days a week.
Where: Pier 45 (at the end of Taylor Street) at Fisherman’s Wharf.
6. Go for a drink and a show at Aunt Charlie’s
If you’re staying at the HI SF City Center hostel, you might know a bit about the neighborhood’s history as a major nightlife hub and the original home of San Francisco’s LGBT movement. Aunt Charlie’s bar is a remaining landmark of this era in the Tenderloin and is legendary because of the drag shows on select nights. Come for a cheap drink, and stay for a slice of the city’s history, culture and colorful character all in one spot.
When: Aunt Charlie’s is open from noon to 2:00 p.m. Visit the website for events listings.
Where: 133 Turk Street.
7. Get a food truck lunch/dinner from Off the Grid
Whether you’re in the heart of the city, or taking in the scenery at the edge of the bay, there’s a chance that one (or more) of the Off the Grid food trucks are nearby, giving you a chance to sample some of San Francisco’s yummiest eats for lunch. The community of mobile eateries also gathers for regular events in the summer, like Twilight at the Presidio, and weekly markets throughout the city. So, keep an eye (and a fork) out and make it a mission to try at least one new food from a food truck.
When: Find the schedule and special events listings on the Off the Grid website.
Where: Anywhere in the city!