Off the Beaten Path San Francisco

AAA/Greg Weekes
By AAA Travel Editors
September 21, 2018
Think San Francisco and certain iconic things come immediately to mind—the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, Alcatraz Island, Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown. These are all major tourist attractions, and they should all be on every visitor’s do-not-miss travel itinerary. But that doesn’t mean you should neglect the city’s lesser-known points of interest; here are some off-the-beaten-path destinations.
Filbert Steps
Filbert and Sansome streets
Two blocks off The Embarcadero, this stairway ascends the east side of Telegraph Hill to the base of Coit Tower. Wood steps lead to Montgomery Street, with a stone stairway the rest of the way up. The higher you climb, the better the views are of San Francisco Bay and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, although the vista is usually partially obscured by vegetation—trees, flowering shrubs and potted plants filling the backyard gardens of houses perched on either side of the steps. It’s a leafy enclave removed from the rest of the city, and a good workout to boot.
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This best-kept secret features an unobstructed 360-degree view that takes in the downtown skyline and Golden Gate Park.
AAA/Greg Weekes
Grandview Park
14th Avenue and Noriega Street
This windswept retreat in the Inner Sunset neighborhood is one of the city’s best-kept secrets, in part because it requires a strenuous effort to reach. You’ll need to climb two steep sets of stairs to reach the summit of a rocky hill, but your reward is an unobstructed 360-degree view that takes in the downtown skyline, Golden Gate Park, a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge, row upon row of houses to the west and, on clear days, the Pacific Ocean. Grab the lone bench if it’s unoccupied and enjoy the view. And in a city where there are many awesome spots to experience a sunset, this is one of the best.
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Colorful Hidden Garden Steps in  Inner Sunset neighborhood
AAA/Greg Weekes
Hidden Garden Steps
16th Avenue and Kirkham Street
This is a jewel of a stairway thanks to the mosaic tiles that depict flowers, geometric designs and an undulating salamander that extends a full 26 steps. It’s also an alternative way to get to the base of the hill otherwise known as Grandview Park. Looking up from Kirkham and 16th, the 148 step risers present a feast of color. From the top of the steps you can’t see the tiles, but there’s an impressive panoramic view of the Outer Sunset district, with the ocean in the distance. Landscaping in the form of California native plants further beautifies the Hidden Garden Steps.
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Murals and street art along Lilac Alley in the Mission District of San Francisco, California
AAA/Greg Weekes
Lilac Alley
24th to 26th streets between Mission and Capp streets
Balmy Alley is a well-known Mission District showcase for the talents of city artists, and a stroll along it is well worth your time. Few people, however, know about nearby Lilac Alley. Its primary purpose is to provide access to garages and the back doors of businesses, but a walk down the alley reveals walls and garage doors covered with graffiti and cool examples of street art—intricate geometric patterns, beastly faces, Mayan gods and cartoon characters, just to name a few.
Views of Marina District and San Francisco Bay at Lyon Street Steps
AAA/Greg Weekes
Lyon Street Steps
Lyon and Green streets
All urban stairways are first and foremost transport routes, and the Lyon Street Steps are no exception; connecting Cow Hollow to Pacific Heights, they’re very useful if you happen to be in either one of those neighborhoods. The steeper of the two sections runs from Green up to Vallejo Street, two narrow flights of 62 steps each. It’s a favorite workout circuit for fitness enthusiasts. The stairway from Vallejo up to Broadway—eight flights of 15 steps—is wider, less steep and landscaped. The impressive view from the top takes in the Palace of Fine Arts dome, the rooftops of the Marina District and San Francisco Bay.
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Waves and rocks at Mile Rock Beach in San Francisco, California
AAA/Greg Weekes
Mile Rock Beach
off Point Lobos Avenue
Plenty of people hike the Coastal Trail, but not many know about the stairway detour off the trail that leads down to this secluded little cove. The beach is narrow and pebble-strewn; find a spot on a log where you can perch and watch waves crash impressively against rocks at the shoreline, with the Marin Headlands as a scenic backdrop. A dirt trail winds up a steep hill to vantage points offering spectacular views looking out over San Francisco Bay. It’s a lovely spot on a sunny day, and suitably brooding when the weather is overcast or foggy.
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San Francisco Columbarium is a domed Beaux Arts structure in Richmond District of San Francisco, California
mcswin/iStockphoto.com
San Francisco Columbarium
One Loraine Court
(415) 771-0717
By definition a columbarium is a vault that provides a final resting place for urns holding the ashes of the deceased. Built in 1898 and restored in the early 1980s, this circular, domed Beaux Arts structure stands in a quiet Richmond District residential neighborhood. Inside there’s a feeling of musty antiquity, with stained-glass windows casting a soft glow. Three floors hold some 8,500 burial niches in orderly rows. Copper-covered cubbyholes are engraved with information about the occupant; glass-covered recesses display plastic flowers, faded photos and sentimental keepsakes. This isn’t something you’ll need to see more than once—unless you have a personal connection, of course—but it’s a fascinating part of San Francisco’s history.
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