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5 Hidden Gems in San Francisco You Need to Visit

iStockphoto.com/alexsullivan
By AAA Travel Editor Frank Swanson
December 19, 2019
It should come as no surprise that the epicenter of 1960s counterculture has more than its fair share of offbeat things to see—many of which most visitors miss. In addition to this short list of San Francisco’s hidden gems, you can read about other non-touristy things to do in Off the Beaten Path San Francisco.
bell at Angel Island Immigration Station
flickr/Frank Fujimoto

Angel Island State Park

Tiburon, California
(415) 435-5390
You can’t get any more off the beaten path than Angel Island State Park since it’s on an island in the middle of San Francisco Bay. To get there you have to take a ferry from San Francisco or Tiburon—unless you happen to have your own boat. But the challenge to getting there is more than made up for by the magnificent views offered in every direction, which include the Golden Gate and Bay bridges and the San Francisco skyline. From 1910-1940 the Angel Island Immigration Station processed hundreds of thousands of immigrants, mostly from China, and is often called “the Ellis Island of the West.” It is now a museum you can tour. The hilly island is also a fantastic place to hike, bicycle and picnic, with every turn of a corner revealing incredible panoramas, particularly from its highest point: 788-foot-high Mount Livermore.
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Mile Rock Beach, reached by a path off the Coastal Trail at Lands End
AAA/Greg Weekes

Lands End

680 Point Lobos Ave.
(415) 561-3000
This hidden gem isn’t exactly hidden. If you were to arrive in San Francisco by ship, Lands End would be one of the first places you’d see, perched as it is on the western corner of the city, literally at the end of the land. Part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, this well-placed park is laced with trails through woods leading to interesting things to see like the ruins of Sutro Baths and a rock-bordered labyrinth on a picturesque point. Of course, the main reason to explore Lands End is for the spectacular views from high atop bluffs overlooking the Pacific and the entrance to San Francisco Bay.
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close up of mission with church in background
AAA/Greg Weekes

Mission San Francisco de Asis

3321 16th St.
(415) 621-8203
Of all the things to do in San Francisco, Mission San Francisco de Asis may be the city’s most important attraction—historically speaking—and its most overlooked. Established in 1776, the mission is the source the city’s name, and its thick adobe walls were built so well that it survived the 1906 earthquake while the parish church next door did not. The extravagant Mission Dolores Basilica, built in 1918, towers above its much older neighbor, and both buildings have ornate—but very different—interiors. Pause within the mission’s peaceful garden and cemetery to reflect on the incredible changes this dynamic city has experienced in the last two centuries.
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Mural art along Balmy Alley (off 24th Street in the Mission District)
AAA/Greg Weekes

Precita Eyes Mural Arts & Visitors Center

2981 24th St.
(415) 285-2287
Since 1977, the Precita Eyes Muralists Association has worked to transform the San Francisco cityscape with vibrantly painted murals while also serving as the hub of art and cultural education. The beautiful results of its efforts can be found throughout the city but especially in the Mission District, which is where the association’s visitor center is located. Take one of the center’s guided walking tours to experience the colorful artistry and history of muralism in the Mission District, which includes mural-packed Balmy Alley.
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Sutro Heights Park in San Francisco California
flickr / CC BY SA/Haydn Blackey

Sutro Heights Park

846 Point Lobos Ave.
(415) 426-5240
Across Point Lobos Avenue from the Lands End Lookout parking lot, Sutro Heights Park is one of those San Francisco attractions few tourists visit. Not only does this pretty green space on the edge of the city offer excellent views of Ocean Beach, Seal Rocks and the Pacific, but it has an interesting history, too. Once the private estate of millionaire Adolph Sutro, the 22 acres atop this bluff were once a very elaborate—and expensive—formal garden filled with statues, sculpted hedges, fountains and broad pathways that Sutro opened to the public in 1885. Unfortunately the gardens fell into ruin as the Sutro family fortune declined, and by the time the land was donated to San Francisco in 1938, most of the buildings had to be torn down. You can see remnants of the estate’s 19th-century splendor scattered about the park, including a statue of the goddess Diana and the lions that once framed the front gate.
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