22 Most Unusual Things To Do in San Francisco You Can't Miss

Last Updated on October 02, 2023 by Nikki Jain

Although San Francisco is only seven miles by seven miles, it has so many unique things to do throughout the city.

Most of these one-of-a-kind experiences can only be found in San Francisco, and you usually have to know someone who has lived there to really know what to look for.

From the historical significance to weird one-day events, there is something for everyone in The Golden City, like record shopping down the street of the Grateful Dead house or getting a cocktail in a pirate-themed speakeasy.

To help you find some of the most unique experiences in such a small city, here are the 22 most unusual things to do in San Francisco.

Unique Things To Do in San Francisco

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1: Drink at the Birthplace of the Beatniks

Drink at the Birthplace of the Beatniks
Dreamstime/Darryl Brooks

One reason why San Francisco is so unique is because of its rich history stemming back to the Gold Rush in 1848.

Since then, so much has happened in the city, including the birth of the Beat Generation.

These writers would often gather in cool places in San Francisco to share ideas with each other, often regarding the rejection of standard narrative values.

One place where this generation of writers would often be found was City Lights Bookstore in North Beach.

Once you find a book of your liking on one of the three floors of literature, be sure to check out the Kerouac Alley Mural outside, followed by the Vesuvio Cafe right next door.

This historical bar was founded in 1949 and has hosted several Beatniks, such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs.

Address: 261 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

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2: Explore the City’s Culture at The Mission

Explore the City’s Culture at The Mission
Dreamstime/Mathieu Le Mauff

Another area that is a must-see whenever visiting San Francisco is The Mission for several reasons.

First, it is the birthplace of the taqueria, where one of the best burritos in the country can be found at a restaurant called La Taqueria.

Another unique thing to do in San Francisco is to visit Dolores Park, where one will see all walks of life at any time of the day.

Whether you’re going to visit the playground or there to enjoy a delicious burrito, this spot will give you a breathtaking view of downtown.

This is also where various events take place every year, such as sloth Sundays and Thrasher Magazine’s annual hill bomb.

Finally, take a stroll down Clarion Alley between 17th and 18th Streets, where dozens of murals from the Clarion Alley Mural Project are found.

Address: Mission District, San Francisco, CA

3: Escape to Treasure Island

Escape to Treasure Island

Treasure Island is a small island off Interstate 80 between San Francisco and Oakland.

Whether you get there by car or by taking the ferry, it’s easy to spend an entire day at this cool place in San Francisco.

Every month thousands gather here for the Treasure Island Farmer’s Market.

In previous years the area has been used to host various music festivals, such as Day to Night Festival and Treasure Island Music Festival.

On a typical day, anyone can visit the island and visit either the Treecraft distillery, Treasure Island Wines, Woods Island Club, Aracely Cafe, or the Treasure Island Museum, where artifacts from the 1939 World's Far can be found.

No matter the reason for visiting Treasure Island, guests are guaranteed a spectacular view of San Francisco’s skyline.

Address: Treasure Island, San Francisco, CA

4: Check Out the Buffalo at Golden Gate Park

Check Out the Buffalo at Golden Gate Park
Dreamstime/Takako Hatayama Phillips

A large portion of San Francisco is covered by Golden Gate Park.

The west coast version of New York’s Central Park stretches 1.5 miles across the city and contains countless activities for everyone in the family.

The park features the Conservatory of Flowers, Hippie Hill, the Koret Children’s Playground, and Kezar Stadium, the former home of the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders.

There are also dozens of museums, lakes, and hiking trails throughout the area.

One of the more unusual things to do in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is the Bison Paddock, where anyone can see a grazing herd of American bison cared for by the city's zoo.

Address: 1237 John F Kennedy Dr, San Francisco, CA 94121

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Looking to visit other amazing places in California? Check out our lists of things to do in San Francisco & things to do in Los Angeles!

5: Hang with Hippies in Haight and Ashbury

Hang with Hippies in Haight and Ashbury
Dreamstime/Shengying Lin

Right next to Golden Gate Park is the notorious Haight and Ashbury neighborhood, where San Francisco’s counterculture movement was born.

While the area is nothing like it was back in the 1960s, there are still plenty of weird things to do and see in the area.

Today visitors can expect to see plenty of vintage clothing boutiques, record shops, bookstores, dive bars, and delicious restaurants.

Before the area became a tourist hotspot, it was home to several well-known musicians, such as Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and The Grateful Dead.

In fact, The Grateful Dead house is two blocks from Hight Street at 710 Ashbury.

The Hippie Hill is another great way to experience Haight and Ashbury, but be careful with what you buy there!

Address: 710 Ashbury St, San Francisco, CA 94117

6: Run through the City in a Santa Costume

Run through the City in a Santa Costume
Dreamstime/Sheila Fitzgerald

While most of these unique activities can be done any time of the year, San Francisco is home to a handful of one-time-a-year events not seen elsewhere.

Being of the healthiest cities in one of the healthiest states in the country, San Francisco takes pride in hosting countless themed runs throughout the city.

One of the more weird things to do in San Francisco is the annual bay-to-breakers event.

This annual event takes place on the third Sunday of May and attracts all types of people.

People often dress up for this 12k event, with some choosing to run almost 7.5 miles in the nude. This tradition has lived on since 1912.

Another well-known running event in San Francisco is the annual Santa run, where runners are dressed up in Santa costumes.

Address: Main Street & Howard Street, San Francisco, CA 94105

Also Read: Most Famous Streets of San Francisco

7: Get Freaky at the Folsom Street Fair

Get Freaky at the Folsom Street Fair
Flickr/Tom Hilton

Another unique thing to do in San Francisco is the annual Folsom Street Fair, the world's largest outdoor fetish festival.

This BDSM-focused fair takes place between 8th and 13th Streets in late September.

Here curious adults can discover the world of leather and bondage.

Expect a lot of nudity and adult-themed exhibitions that can only be described as eye-opening.

On top of attracting nearly half a million people yearly, this event also serves as a non-profit charity, with all donations at the gates going to charity groups.

Folsom Street Fair has been replicated in New York City and Berlin, Germany, but neither has ever materialized to the size of San Francisco’s annual event.

Address: Folsom Street, San Francisco, CA

8: Eat Naughty Cookies in the City’s LGBTQ Capital

Eat Naughty Cookies in the City’s LGBTQ Capital
Facebook/Hot Cookie San Francisco

Given San Francisco is an extremely sexualized city with a history of pushing the boundaries for what’s considered acceptable, one of the most iconic neighborhoods in the city is the Castro.

This is San Francisco’s LGBTQ capital, and it overflows with gay pride. From the Castro Theater to any of the many vibrant retailers in the area, it’s clear why the Castro is a safe place for the community.

One of the most unique things you can do at the Castro is visit Hot Cookie, a longtime bakery specializing in erotic-shaped treats.

Next time you’re in the area, grab a penis-shaped cookie and stroll through one of the most unique places to visit in San Francisco.

Fair warning, public nudity is not uncommon here.

Address: 407 Castro St, San Francisco, CA, United States, 94114

9: Have Fun at an Antique Coin-Operated Arcade

Have Fun at an Antique Coin-Operated Arcade
Facebook/Musee Mecanique

Everyone says one of the best things to do in San Francisco is to visit Fisherman’s Wharf.

This tourist trap attracts countless visitors annually with its dozens of attractions, including the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, Boudin Bakery, Ghiradelli Square, and the dozens of sea lions found at Pier 39.

While all these are fun, none are as unique as Musée Mécanique, located at the top of Fisherman's Wharf.

This 20th-century penny arcade has been around since 1933 and is one of the world’s largest privately owned collections of mechanically operated musical instruments and antique arcade machines.

Address: Pier 45, San Francisco, CA 94133

10: Find Swings and Slides Around San Francisco

Find Swings and Slides Around San Francisco
Flickr/Braden Kowitz

Enjoy the various slides and swings found throughout the city.

While some of these may be harder to find than others, almost all of them are worth the search and prove there are cool and unique things to do in San Francisco in every corner.

Some of the most well-known swing spots in the city are the Bernal Heights park swing and the Extreme Swing on Billy Goat Hill.

While you have to hike to both hikes, they will give visitors Instagram-worthy views of the city.

There are about a dozen different hidden swings found at parks throughout San Francisco.

As for slides, one of the more unique secrets in the city is the Seward Slides.

These concrete slides are beloved by both children and adults.

Be sure to bring some cardboard with you, as this is the only way to really slide down.

Address: 70 Corwin St, San Francisco, CA 94114

11: Find a Speakeasy, Tell No One

Find a Speakeasy, Tell No One
Facebook/Smuggler's Cove

While speakeasies can be found in almost every major metropolitan city, none of them are as vibrant and extravagant as San Francisco’s.

The unique city has at least 11 different speakeasies that require specific instructions for entry.

Each speakeasy has a different way of entry, and it’s important to know what they are before you go.

Some are as easy as walking to the back of a restaurant (Hideout at Dalva), while others require a reservation and a password (Bourbon & Branch and Wilson & Wilson).

One of the most unique speakeasies in the city is Smuggler’s Cove, a pirate-themed bar with over 700 types of rum.

No matter which speakeasy you stumble upon, try your best to keep it under the radar, so they don't become overpopulated and remain one of the more unique things to do in San Francisco.

12: Listen to the Ocean and See the Palace in the Marina

Listen to the Ocean and See the Palace in the Marina

Among the most unique things to do in San Francisco is to visit the city's wave organ in the Marina District.

This sculpture was constructed in 1986 by Exploratorium artist-in-residence Peter Richards and stonemason George Gonzales.

The installation includes 25 organ pipes made from PVC and concrete.

The sound is created by the waves crashing against the pipe ends, creating vibration and making a subtle sound.

Visitors are encouraged to see the sculpture during high tide when the sounds are most audible.

Another nearby structure worth the visit is the Palace of Fine Arts, initially constructed for the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition.

While it was completely rebuilt from 1964 to 1974, visitors can still see a magnificent Greco-Roman palace and 162-foot-high open rotunda.

Address: 83 Marina Green Dr, San Francisco, CA 94123

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13: Hunt for Secret Sculpture in Cayuga Park

Hunt for Secret Sculpture in Cayuga Park

Speaking of sculptures, one of the best places in San Francisco to see unique art pieces is at Cayuga Park, tucked under the 280 freeway in the Outer Mission.

What looks like an everyday park is filled with dozens of sculptures on almost every corner.

Everything from murals of San Francisco Giants players to a prince riding a broken bike, there are so many different themes, colors, and sizes.

These sculptures come from Demetrio Braceros, known as Demi, who has maintained and decorated the park for decades.

There’s even a mosaic stairway and mural just outside the entrance.

Address: 301 Naglee Ave, San Francisco, CA 94112

14: Take a Walk Up a Mosaic Masterpiece

Take a Walk Up a Mosaic Masterpiece

By now, You've probably realized San Francisco is packed with surprises and secrets around every corner, and the best way to find them is to walk around.

By doing this, you will likely run into one of many mosaic-tiled steps found throughout the city.

The most famous of these stairways are the 16th Avenue Tiled Staircase, completed in 2005 by Aileen Barr and Colette Crutcher.

The 163-step masterpiece connects Golden Gate Heights to the Inner Sunset.

While most of these stairs are easy to find, some are still a secret to most residents, such as the Hidden Garden Steps in the Outer Sunset, between Kirkham and Lawton Streets on 15th Ave.

Other notable stairs include the Tompkins Stairway in Bernal Heights, the Embarcadero Center Steps, and the Lincoln Park steps leading up to the golf course.

Address: 16th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94122

15: Explore the Embarcadero’s Random Art Installations

Explore the Embarcadero’s Random Art Installations

Anyone looking for a plethora of fun and unique sites has to try walking down San Francisco's Embarcadero, located at the Northeast corner of the city.

On top of the various plazas, piers, and well-known tourist attractions, the Embarcadero has some unique sculptures, such as Cupid's Span.

This 70-foot sculpture of Cupid’s bow and arrow is partially buried in the ground and can be found near Folsom Street.

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen designed the piece, which was installed in the newly built Rincon Park in 2002.

Another unique sculpture along the Embarcadero is the Vaillancourt Fountain in the Justin Herman Plaza, across from the Ferry Building.

This 40-foot concrete water fountain was designed by Armand Vaillancourt and has been unsuccessfully demolished several times.

U2 hosted a free concert here in 1987, where Bono spray-painted graffiti on the fountain.

Address: The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA

16: Walk through the Presidio and Find Yoda

Walk through the Presidio and Find Yoda
Flickr/Michael Fraley

If you still want to escape from the city but don't want to actually leave San Francisco, and avoid Golden Gate Park, the next best option for a unique experience is to visit The Presidio.

This 1,500-acre park sits on the former home of a military post and now serves as a multi-purpose facility with incredible views and trails, including the Wood Line.

There are a handful of unique things to do and see in this area, including the Walt Disney Family Museum, the Society of California Pioneers, the Korean War Memorial, and more.

One of the more strange things to see is the bronze statue of Jedi Master Yoda atop a water fountain.

The fountain stands in front of the Letterman center's Building B, which contains the Lucasfilm lobby with even more Star Wars memorabilia, including a life-size Darth Vader.

Address: 1 Letterman Dr, San Francisco, CA 94129

17: See What the Fuss was About at the Antique Sex Toy Museum

See What the Fuss was About at the Antique Sex Toy Museum

What is weird San Francisco without a bit of sexuality involved? One of the most unusual things you can do in the city is to visit the antique sex toy museum in Nob Hill.

The Good Vibrations Antique Vibrator Museum in San Francisco showcases all the different ways people would pleasure themselves through the decades, with sex toys dating back to the 1800s.

Therapist Joani Blank founded the museum in the 1970s, making it one of the earliest museums on this once-taboo subject.

Fifty years before the museum's opening, during the Victorian era, women would receive medically induced orgasms as a way to cure “female hysteria”.

Eventually, vibrators were invented but discouraged from advertisement, creating a negative stigma.

Now anyone interested in learning more about the history of sex toys can visit this museum.

Despite the acceptance, it is still a weird thing to do in San Francisco.

Address: 1620 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109

18: Look at the Golden Gate Bridge from the Kirby Cove Swing

Look at the Golden Gate Bridge from the Kirby Cove Swing
Flickr/David Hunkins

While this is another one that isn’t exactly within San Francisco County, it is close enough to have on your bucket list.

The Kirby Cove Swing is a unique hidden treasure that will give visitors one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

To get there, one must cross the bridge via US Highway 101 North and exit Alexander Avenue.

Park near Battery Spencer, walk down the trailhead to the beach and enjoy the view.

Sometimes the swing is removed by park service, but swing lovers seem to replace it, occasionally at the other end of the beach.

Camping is available near this beach, and it’s a perfect way to escape the city and stay nearby.

Address: Conzelman Rd, Mill Valley, CA 94941

19: See the Naked Beach, Where Burning Man Originated

See the Naked Beach, Where Burning Man Originated

One of the many things you can see from Kirby Cove Swing is Baker Beach, located on the Presidio's western shoreline.

Baker Beach is another perfect location to see Golden Gate Bridge.

One unique thing to see near the beach is the Battery Chamberlin, a massive 50-ton "disappearing" gun mounted by the U.S. Army in 1904 for the protection of the city and the coastline.

The beach was also the original home of the Burning Man Festival from 1986 to 1990 until it was moved to the Nevada Desert.

Fair warning, though, the northern part of the beach is clothing optional, so if you want a perfect photo of the golden gate bridge, it's best to go to the Golden Gate Overlook on Langdon Ct.

If you're not looking for a perfect picture and some weird things to do in San Francisco, check out Baker Beach.

Address: 1770 Gibson Rd. San Francisco, CA 94129

20: Change the Way you Experience Sound at Audium

Change the Way you Experience Sound at Audium

While most of the items on this list are free to do, this one you have to pay to experience them.

The Audium Theatre of Sound-Sculptured Space in Nob Hill uses 176 speakers to take guests on a journey through direction, speed, motion, and intensity.

Creators Doug McEachern, an equipment designer, and composer Stan Shaff have worked together to create a one-of-a-kind theater that consists of a foyer, the main performance space, and "a sound labyrinth".Listeners' seating is arranged in concentric circles surrounded by the speakers, positioned inside sloping walls, a floating floor, and a suspended ceiling.

Live compositions occur every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, where the performance is heard through a custom-designed console.

Tickets start at about $20, and the experience is about an hour long.

Address: 1616 Bush St, San Francisco, CA 94109

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21: Roller Skate in an Old Church

Roller Skate in an Old Church

Another great one for the whole family or a group of friends is the Church of 8 Wheels in San Francisco’s Lower Haight.

The building was initially completed at the end of the 19th century and served as The Sacred Hearth Catholic Church for 121 years.

Throughout its history, the church was home to ​​San Francisco’s only predominately African-American Catholic congregations, hosted several Vietnam War protests, and survived two earthquakes.

Founder David G. Miles Jr. renovated and opened the indoor roller rink in 2013.

Disco-themed clothes are encouraged, especially during Black Roller Disco on Saturday Nights.

Church of 8 Wheels also hosts a "family session" early in the day and reserves space for adults at night.

Address: 554 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94117

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22: Stand with Butterflies and Admire Albino Alligators

Stand with Butterflies and Admire Albino Alligators
Flickr/Caitlin Childs

As mentioned, San Francisco's Golden Gate park has some of the most unusual things to see, such as a herd of American bison.

Well, that's not the only cool animal-related experience in the park.

In the middle of the east side of the park is the California Academy of Sciences, one of the world's largest museums of natural history.

While the nonprofit organization houses over 46 million specimens, one of the most interesting is Claude, a 26-year-old albino alligator.

Another incredible exhibit is the Osher Rainforest, where visitors can wander through a four-story rainforest with various animals roaming about, including 250 free-flying birds and butterflies.

Whether you're going to stand with the butterflies or admire the alligators, the California Academy of Sciences is one of the most unique places in San Francisco.

Address: 55 Music Concourse Dr, San Francisco, CA 94118

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Wrapping up the Unusual Things To Do in San Francisco

Although San Francisco is only 49 square miles, it is packed with unique things to do.

Whether alone in the city, with a family, or with a big group of friends, there is always something to do in the Golden City that can’t be done anywhere else.

Hopefully, with the help of this list, you will find all the hidden treasures San Francisco has to offer.

These experiences will only enhance your visit and make your post-vacation stories even better.

We’ve given you only 11 unusual things to do in San Francisco.

What else can you find in this historically and culturally dense city?

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