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The Best Kept Secrets of San Francisco

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Finally, your vacation destination has been set! Maybe you’re just in the area on business, perhaps even seeing an old friend from high school. Either way, San Francisco is within reach and you’re eager to explore everything the city by the bay has to offer. By now you probably already have a general idea of your “must see” attractions. It’s San Francisco, of course the Golden Gate, Alcatraz and Pier 39 have crossed your mind! But what about those quiet spots that only locals know about? You know, the ones that aren’t flooded with tourists, rushing you to snap a selfie just to prove you’ve survived the crowd at the base of the bridge. This travel guide will focus on those places that give the most breathtaking views of the skyline without the crowds or tourist prices. Spots that’ll make your time here enjoyable and memorable.

Good for
  • History Buff
  • Thrill Seeker
  • Nature Lover
  • Peace and Quiet Seeker
  • Beach Goer
  • Thrifty Traveller
  • Trendsetter
  • Like a Local

11 Places

3 City Tips

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Map

11 Places

Marin Headlands

Nature & Wildlife Areas, State Parks

Rodeo Beach

Beaches

Mount Diablo State Park

Mountains, State Parks

Angel Island State Park

State Parks

Point Reyes Seashore National Park

Visitor Centres, Beaches, National Parks, Nature & Wildlife Areas

Muir Woods National Monument

Forests, National Parks, Nature & Wildlife Areas

China Beach

Beaches

Yerba Buena Gardens

Gardens, Parks

Treasure Island

Islands, Military Bases & Facilities

Union Street

Neighbourhoods, Points of Interest & Landmarks

Twin Peaks

Historic Walking Areas, Neighbourhoods, Mountains, Lookouts

amylfed's City Tips

  • Get a rental car. Even if only for a day or 2. There's a lot of things close by that a car is the best way to go. It'll be worth the money.
  • Don't count on it being hot. It's true of what you've heard, it's cool here, and you'll need layers. Pack a back pack for the day with all the extras.
  • Carry some cash for small shops, tips, etc.. And quarters (for parking and squish pennies)
  • Save
    Marin Headlands
    Nature & Wildlife Areas, State Parks
    See more photos
    amylfed Says:

    By far, my favorite spot in the Bay Area. If you have a car, go here. If you don't, get a rental for the day, it's worth it. The Marin Headlands in general is a large area of ground to cover. While it's all beautiful; above all, I recommend HAWK HILL. Most people stop at the first pull off on the way up, which can certainly be memorable, but you can get an even better view from Hawk Hill! There's a full panoramic view of the city, completely unobstructed. From the Oakland Bay Bridge all the way over to Ocean Beach on the other side of the city. You can literally see the entire city! A view of San Francisco unlike any other that'll keep you memorized. At the top, there's a nice short hiking trail. It'll take you through some old military tunnels which lead you to the other side of the headlands where you can fall in love with the valleys. The air is crisp, clean, an there's an abundance of wildlife. It's the closest, most peaceful spot within reach.

    Good for
    • Must See
    • Hidden Gems
    • Like a Local
    • History Buff
    • Nature Lover
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Beach Goer
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Senior
    • Family
    Tips
    • If you see fog on the Golden Gate, there's a good chance you won't be able to see the full city. Sometimes you'll be able to view from above the clouds, but be aware.
    • Like always, bring a sweater. And you're camera!
    • If any of the pull offs seems too crowded to park, be patient. Most tourists will only snap a few pictures to say they were there, and move on.
    Plan to stay:/
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #2 of 189 things to do in Marin County
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Beautiful trip 10/11/2017
    • Beach walk 09/11/2017
    • Marin Headlands
    Phone:
    +1 415-331-1540
    Other:
  • Save
    Rodeo Beach
    Beaches
    See more photos
    amylfed Says:

    In all honesty, this actually might tie for #1 on my list. But because it's technically in Marin, it placed #2. The views from this beach is why I love the California coastline and moved myself 3,500 miles across the country. It's seamless the way the waves melt into the cliffs in an instance. Stay for the sunset and watch the entire landscape transform into something remarkable. A short hike to the top of the cliff will ensure you'll have a 360º panoramic view of it all. Stay on the trails and enjoy the vegetation along them. There may be many cars parked at the entrance, but it's not crowed, and you'll find there's plenty of space and privacy to enjoy at your own pace.

    Good for
    • Must See
    • Hidden Gems
    • Like a Local
    • Thrill Seeker
    • Nature Lover
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Beach Goer
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Trendsetter
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Senior
    • Family
    Tips
    • Bring a blanket to sit on at the top of the cliffs or on the beach.
    • Hike to the top with a bottle of wine.
    • Be sure to feel how cold the Pacific Ocean actually is.
    Plan to stay:/
    2-3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #8 of 54 things to do in Sausalito
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Great place to start a hike 16/10/2017
    • Consistently a great place to visit 10/10/2017
    • Rodeo Beach
    Phone:
    +1 415-331-1540
    Other:
  • Save
    Mount Diablo State Park
    Mountains, State Parks
    See more photos
    amylfed Says:

    This is a little bit of a drive from the city, about 45-60min depending on traffic. But if you'd like to drive to the top of the mountain, or even hike/bike to the top, than I highly recommend. It's a $10 entrance fee by car (free on foot/bike) and the road will bring you directly to the summit. It's a fantastic place to see the sunset above the clouds, without the crowds. There's also plenty of hiking trails throughout the mountain and on a clear day you could see San Francisco, or even Yosemite! There's plenty of picnic pull offs, campgrounds, and tons of wildlife! From the summit you'll be able to see many of the waterways that branch off of the San Francisco Bay.

    Good for
    • Must See
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Hidden Gems
    • Like a Local
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Thrill Seeker
    • Senior
    • Family
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • If you're in this area for the day, consider driving a town or 2 over to Danville and check out all the little shops and wine bars.
    • Bring some water, snacks and hiking shoes.
    • Once you're about halfway there, you'll be able to see if there's fog on the mountain. There usually is during the early morning hours and clears around lunch.
    From the community
    Ranked #1 of 2 things to do in Clayton
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • You can almost see forever! 30/10/2017
    • Amazing Rock Formations and shapes 05/10/2017
    • Mount Diablo State Park
    Address:
    96 Mitchell Canyon Rd
    Clayton, CA 94517-1500
    Phone:
    +1 925-837-2525
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    08:00 - 16:00
    Other:
  • Save
    Angel Island State Park
    State Parks
    See more photos
    amylfed Says:

    This is a great side trip that's easily accessible from San Francisco. You can take the ferry over from either the pier in SF or from Tiburon across the bay. Tiburon also has many quaint shops and bistros to dine at along the water. On Angel Island, I highly recommend the tram tour. This is a very informative tour that'll educate you on the history of the island, while stopping at a view point to take photos of the city. If the tram isn't your thing, you're welcome to bike, hike, or simply walk around the island. Keep in mind, it's still a lot of ground to cover, but if you have the time and desire, it's a great alternative.

    Good for
    • Must See
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Hidden Gems
    • Like a Local
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • History Buff
    • Couples
    • Senior
    • Family
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • It can get cold, bring a sweater/light jacket.
    • Many of the workers are volunteers and are extremely helpful. Be sure to tip your guide and clean up after yourself.
    • Visit Tiburon and Sausalito and relax by the water.
    Plan to stay:/
    2-3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #36 of 561 things to do in San Francisco
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • A great escape 20/11/2017
    • Worth the visit. 18/11/2017
    • Angel Island State Park
    Address:
    Pier 41
    San Francisco, CA 94109
    Phone:
    +1 415-435-1915
    Price range:
    US$30 - US$30
    Hours:
    Mon - Fri
    10:00 - 15:00
    Sat - Sun
    10:00 - 16:00
    Other:
  • Save
    Point Reyes Seashore National Park
    Visitor Centres, Beaches, National Parks, Nature & Wildlife Areas
    See more photos
    amylfed Says:

    Point Reyes is worth the drive out to it. Even during the most foggy, cloudy times, you will not be disappointed. There's so many different trails and hikes to explore! The views all around are breathtaking to say the least. You'll find it to be a peaceful drive out to the lighthouse where you'll see plenty of farm animals and other wildlife further in.

    Good for
    • Must See
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Hidden Gems
    • Like a Local
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Thrill Seeker
    • Senior
    • Family
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • Stop at the visitor center to grab a map and see what hike or viewpoints fit your interests.
    • The weather can change very fast, go prepared.
    Plan to stay:/
    2-3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #2 of 14 things to do in Point Reyes Station
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Loved it! 18/11/2017
    • Can't get enough 12/11/2017
    • Point Reyes Seashore National Park
    Address:
    1 Bear Valley Rd
    Point Reyes Station, CA 94956-9799
    Phone:
    +1 415-464-5100
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    06:00 - 00:00
    Other:
  • Save
    Muir Woods National Monument
    Forests, National Parks, Nature & Wildlife Areas
    See more photos
    amylfed Says:

    Muir woods is a great location right over the Golden Gate where you can see redwood trees. You'll be able to choose from a handful of trails to hike on and even go inside one of the trees. If you don't want to do moderate hiking, you'll still see plenty from the wooden boardwalks.

    Good for
    • Must See
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Hidden Gems
    • Like a Local
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Thrill Seeker
    • Senior
    • Family
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • It's almost entirely shaded, bring a sweater/jacket.
    • Don't miss the gift shop to grab souvenirs.
    Plan to stay:/
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #1 of 30 things to do in Mill Valley
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • An Absolute MUST SEE! 21/11/2017
    • Majestic Trees 19/11/2017
    • Muir Woods National Monument
    Address:
    1 Muir Woods Rd
    Mill Valley, CA 94941-4205
    Phone:
    +1 415-561-2850
    Price range:
    US$10 - US$10
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    08:00 - 19:00
    Other:
  • Save
    China Beach
    Beaches
    See more photos
    amylfed Says:

    China Beach is a nice small beach with excellent views of the Golden Gate. It's a hidden beach in a nice neighborhood, so you won't find many (if any) tourists here. While the beach itself is fairly small, there's plenty of rocks you can climb on and coves to tuck yourself away in to enjoy the piece and quiet away from the city.

    Good for
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Beach Goer
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Hidden Gems
    • Like a Local
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Senior
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • Bring a sweater/jacket..
    • This is a great place to go to relax and unwind with a good book.
    Plan to stay:/
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #140 of 561 things to do in San Francisco
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Magnificent views of the Golden Gate Bridge from China Beach 15/10/2017
    • Low tide, looking for tide pools 03/07/2017
    • China Beach
    Address:
    End of Sea Cliff Ave. off 25th AVe.
    San Francisco, CA
    Phone:
    +1 415-561-4323
    Other:
  • Save
    Yerba Buena Gardens
    Gardens, Parks
    See more photos
    amylfed Says:

    If you find yourself tired of strolling up and down Market St, find this park tucked away to grab some lunch and sit by the ponds. There's plenty of space to find a seat or lay a blanket down and enjoy the sun in the middle of the city.

    Good for
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    • Hidden Gems
    • Like a Local
    Tips
    • Take a break from the FiDi, you'll need it.
    • People watch while you sit and relax.
    Plan to stay:/
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #80 of 561 things to do in San Francisco
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Sad 27/09/2017
    • Yerba Buena gardens a little gem!!! 22/09/2017
    • Yerba Buena Gardens
    Address:
    701 Mission St
    Third and Fourth Streets
    San Francisco, CA 94103-3138
    Phone:
    +1 415-541-0312
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    06:00 - 22:00
    Other:
  • Save
    Treasure Island
    Islands, Military Bases & Facilities
    See more photos
    amylfed Says:

    Another great location to view the city from afar. There's a few wineries on the island you can enjoy if Napa isn't on your list during your stay. Be sure to grab a hotdog at the stand on the boulevard before leaving the island.

    Good for
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Must See
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Hidden Gems
    • Like a Local
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Senior
    • Family
    Tips
    • Go during sunset, or nighttime to view the city. You might even see raccoons near the hotdogs.
    • Last weekend of every month is the Flea market, if you're there then, but sure to check it out and go early.
    • Don't wander too far into the island late at night, stick to the views on the water.
    From the community
    Ranked #94 of 561 things to do in San Francisco
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Views of San Francisco 01/11/2017
    • Beautiful Views of San Fransisco 07/10/2017
    • Treasure Island
    Other:
  • Save
    Union Street
    Neighbourhoods, Points of Interest & Landmarks
    See more photos
    amylfed Says:

    Union STREET (Not Union SQUARE), has many restaurants that are worth casually visiting. You'll get more for your money and find it much less crowded than downtown. If you're looking for a sweet treat, don't miss Pacific Puffs. Literally the best cream puffs I've ever had in my life. The place is so small and looks almost deserted, but I promise you will not be disappointed with a puff!

    Good for
    • Foodie
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Family
    • Trendsetter
    • Like a Local
    Tips
    • Easily accessible by Muni bus 47 or 49.
    • If you want really good local coffee (where the wifi actually works), try "Notes from the Underground", corner of Van Ness & Green. 5-10min walk from Union St.
    Plan to stay:/
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #105 of 561 things to do in San Francisco
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Lots of shops and restaurants 11/10/2017
    • Lot's of stuff to see 29/09/2017
    • Union Street
    Address:
    Union Street Association: 1686 Union St.
    Cow Hollow
    San Francisco, CA 94123
    Phone:
    +1 415-441-7055
    Other:
  • Save
    Twin Peaks
    Historic Walking Areas, Neighbourhoods, Mountains, Lookouts
    See more photos
    amylfed Says:

    Twin peaks is said to have the most amazing sunrises (on a clear day). You'll witness the sun coming up directly behind the city. There's not an abundance of parking, but there's plenty of spots along the side of the road to pull over and park for a little bit.

    Good for
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Hidden Gems
    • Like a Local
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • It's unreal how windy it is at the top, as always, bring a sweater/jacket.
    • Twin Peaks is located where you see the weird antenna's. Most often, they're covered in fog.
    Plan to stay:/
    Less than 1 hour
    From the community
    Ranked #9 of 561 things to do in San Francisco
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Breathtaking! 22/11/2017
    • The Views! 22/11/2017
    • Twin Peaks
    Address:
    501 Twin Peaks Blvd
    San Francisco, CA 94114
    Phone:
    +1 415-831-6331
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    05:00 - 00:00
    Other:
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