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The SF Bucket List
San Francisco is full of hidden gems, small alleyways, and surprises. Below we pointed out several hints about cool places around the city
Have a peek into tiny Peephole Cinema (Free)
Hidden in an alley in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District there’s a hole-in-the-wall theater. Peeking inside the small peephole reveals a cinema that plays a constant stream of silent film vignettes.
Those willing to crouch down and crane their necks to peek into the small hole will be rewarded with an endless loop of short films. These short films and animations run all day and night, so come any time and enjoy this little gem the Mission District has to offer.
Peephole Cinema is easy to miss if you don’t know it’s there. A small sign with an eye on it dangles down from a red wall. Beneath it, you’ll find the peephole accompanied by a small list of the films being shown. There aren’t any other signposts, so most people stumble across the peephole by chance or find it via word of mouth.
The small theater is the work of Laurie O’Brien, who created the Peephole Cinema in 2013 as a novel way to showcase films. Find it on Google maps
Enjoy the view from Ina Coolbrith Park (Free)
Residing atop Russian Hill next to a street too steep for cars, Ina Coolbrith Park feels like a secret hideaway with twisting staircases and killer views!
It offers a sweet spot to take a rest after climbing those monster hills. The park is situated on what would be Vallejo Street, but the steep incline made it impassible for streetcars and – later – automobiles. Two staircases wind up the street surrounded by gardens, and at the top, a half-block is occupied by winding paths and benches. Lots of people do tai chi there in the morning.
Catch the PresidiGo bus to go to the Golden Gate Bridge for free!
Read carefully! This is something even Google Maps will not tell you!
The PresidiGo Shuttle system welcomes park visitors, residents, and employees to use their transportation services… for free! All shuttle vehicles are fully accessible and include bike racks. There are two PresidiGo Shuttle services, each with different policies and guidelines – Around the Park and Downtown. All publicly available PresidiGo Shuttle routes are integrated with the Google Maps – below the website menu click on TRANSPORTATION and you will get the PresidiGo shuttle routes. When you get to Presidio click back on PLACES and it will give you info for all the activities in the Presidio National Park! You can catch the bus every 30 minutes from Hyatt Hotel in Financial District (corner of Drumm and California).
Find the swing on Kirby Cove Beach with a view to Golden Gate Bridge (Free)
A surprise of a beach and a gem of a swing – a place to get very different views of the Golden Gate Bridge and – yes – photos. The swing is marvelous, repaired numerous times – with it your inner child is in for a treat. Unmissable! The beach is lovely for an afternoon picnic too.
Tip 1: These days campers with bookings are granted car access to Kirby Cove Campsite. Day-trippers need to leave cars at the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point next to Battery Spencer and hike down the dirt road. It’s an easy walk to the beach just keep in mind it’s all uphill on the way back.
Tip 2: Get there for the sunrise and have the Kirby Cove all to yourselves.
UPDATE: Check out all 12 secret swings in San Francisco here
Play tennis atop of Russian Hill (for free)
I’d be willing to bet my money that you will not find a better location for a tennis court – here you get it for free! The Alice Marble Courts sit at the very top of Russian Hill and are located within George Sterling Park. Looking North and West you have spectacular views of The Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay, Alcatraz and Fisherman’s Wharf. The decline to The Bay is dramatic, so you get quite a visual treat. (MAP)
Discover the POPOS on a workday (for free)
Due to some awesome law, all of the large, privately owned office buildings in Downtown SF need to provide a certain amount of space on their property that’s open to the public.
Privately Owned Publicly Open Spaces (POPOS) are hidden places in San Francisco that you can find only if you know about them. Otherwise you will never figure it out.
Here is the map check it out!
Go to Autodesk Gallery (for free)
If you know the name of the company than you don’t need to read any further! See one of the biggest shows for technology, architecture and design! Experience the world we live in through 3D rendering reality.
Visit the free Autodesk Gallery on 1st Market Street. Free entrance every Monday and Wednesday.
See the bizon in the Golden Gate Park (for free)
Within Golden Gate Park’s 1,017 acres you’ll discover gardens, playgrounds, lakes, picnic groves, trails, and monuments, plus an array of cultural venues, events, and activities. Make sure to visit the Conservatory of Flowers (closed Monday), which is the oldest Victorian greenhouse this side of the Thames, and the carousel on Kezar Drive, both on the eastern edge of the park. And don’t forget to make a stop to see park’s most famous resident – the bizon . (MAP)
Go to Legion of Honor (for free on certain days)
Built to commemorate Californian soldiers who died in World War I, the Legion of Honor displays a collection of more than 4,000 years of ancient European and Jewish art, and houses the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts in a neoclassic building overlooking Lincoln Park and the Golden Gate Bridge.
Multilingual tours available.
Free admission every first Tuesday of the month. (MAP)
Get In The Castro Movie Theater
The Castro Movie Theater located just off Castro and Market streets [MAP] is a great example of a movie palace built in 1922 and is usually listed among the best cinemas in the United States.
With a 1400-seat capacity featuring a roomy balcony, the Castro hosts over a dozen film festival of all kinds throughout the year, including the Silent Film Festival, Berlin and Beyond, Noir City, Jewish Film Festival, and Arab Film Festival. An old style neon sign beckons moviegoers to enter this magical place. (click for for info and photos)
Go on StreetPoetics on Thursday (for free)
Every Thursday from 8 pm on 16th & Mission streets (16th Street BART station) you will see people sitting down in a circle listening – that’s the Street Poetics! Go and see how street talent is performed on place. Lots of improvisations, music, poetry and friendly people gathered in one circle.
Explore the City Hall (for free)
City Hall in San Francisco opened in 1915. It replaced the old City Hall building destroyed by the 1906 earthquake. The building is massive and spans more than two city blocks. The architecture and interior design of the building impress with every glance made. Since it’s a public building, you are welcome to enter and roam around on your own. You could spend anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours checking out its beauty.
It is open Monday – Friday from 8 am to 8 pm.Try to get lost in the rooms. (MAP)
Visit the Cable Car Museum (for free)
Located in the Washington-Mason powerhouse and car barn on Nob Hill, the Cable Car Museum exhibits the huge engines and winding wheels that pull the cables for San Francisco’s famous trams. It also features three antique cable cars from the 1870s, photographs, mechanical displays and a fun gift shop. (MAP)
Go to Crissy Field (for free)
This northern waterfront park in the Presidio offers spectacular views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as unparalleled recreational opportunities including BBQs, picnics, and beach sports. Enjoy long walks along its scenic marshes and catch glimpses of rare birds and native plants. Once housing the first air coast defense station on the west coast, Crissy Field is also home to numerous historical buildings. (MAP)
Walk behind the waterfall at the Yerba Buena Gardens (for free)
An award-winning public facility at the heart of San Francisco’s downtown cultural district, Yerba Buena Gardens features a playground, public art, museums, a historic carousel, ice-skating and bowling centers. (MAP)
Visit the California Academy of Sciences
Home to an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum, and world-class research and education programs, the California Academy of Sciences is one of San Francisco’s must-see destinations. From the splashing penguins in African Hall to the wildflowers on the roof, the building is bursting with life. A four-story living rainforest and awe-inspiring coral reef ecosystem will delight visitors of all ages, while immersive planetarium shows will transport audiences through space and time for a new perspective on our planet. Dynamic daily programs — from penguin feeding to coral reef dives – offer a wealth of opportunities to dive deeper. Available for free with San Francisco CityPASS (MAP)
Get a selfie at the 16th Avenue Staircase (for free)
The 16th Avenue Staircase is 163 steps of mosaic tiles, a colorful staircase hidden in the quiet Sunset district of San Francisco. This neighborhood has few other tourist draws, but those who find the staircase will be rewarded with sweeping views of the city, and a beautiful succulent garden framing it. During the day, the tile steps look incredibly beautiful but once the night falls, something magical happens. Don’t miss it. (MAP)
Go to San Francisco Zoo and Gardens
The San Francisco Zoo and Gardens is a historic treasure with 1,000 endangered and rescued animals representing 250 species on view in 100 acres of lovely, peaceful gardens nestled against the Pacific Ocean. Their mission is to connect visitors with wildlife, inspire caring for nature and advance conservation action. The Zoo offers educational programs, keeper talks, fun rides and exciting events for children of all ages. (MAP)
Visit The Walt Disney Family Museum
Okay, admit it – no matter how old we grow, we will always love watching cartoons, and when it comes to animation everyone knows that Disney is a classic!
But how did everything started? Who made Mickey Mouse a star, and how did all began? Well, you can find the answers to all this and much more in the Walt Disney Family Museum. Open everyday from 10 am – 6pm (closed Tuesdays), the museum offers a great deal of entertainment and time well spend 🙂 (MAP)
Visit Asian Art Museum for Free (for free on certain days)
The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco is one of the largest museums in the Western world devoted exclusively to Asian Art, with a collection of over 18,000 artworks spanning 6,000 years of history.
In addition to Chinese art the collection includes pieces from many other cultures including India, Iran, Korea and much more.
The regular admission fee is $12, but every first Sunday of the month you can enter for FREE. (MAP)
San Francisco Botanical Garden or simply a piece of paradise! (Free on certain days)
The San Francisco Botanical Garden is one of the most diverse gardens in the world. A unique urban oasis, offering 55 acres of both landscaped gardens and open spaces, and showcasing over 8,000 different kinds of plants from around the world !
The garden is always free to San Francisco residents, but visitors can also enjoy this treasure for free on the second Tuesday of every month, plus free admission any day between 7:30 – 9 am!
Discover Levi’s Plaza and Filbert steps (for free)
Levi’s plaza is a small plaza right below Telegraph Hill. This small gem has fountains you can go through, cushy couches and Levi’s Shtraus Museum (for free). Head up west to Filbert steps. You’ll see tiny wooden steps with gorgeous views leading you through gardens and hidden alleys all the way up to Coit Tower! Great for walks, photos or impress someone 🙂 (MAP)
Cuddle with cute pugs on Pug Sunday (for free)
What is better than spending an afternoon cuddling with your dog? Well cuddling with more than 30 dogs, off course! Every first Sunday of the month, Alta Plaza Park turns into a playground for San Francisco’s pugs. While dog owners have a picnic in the park, their pugs run around playing and having the time of their lives. The gathering starts around 3 pm and lasts until all the dogs are completely exhausted.
3 pm – 6 pm
Alta Plaza Park, Jackson St & Steiner St., San Francisco, CA 94115
Enjoy the vista over SF and Golden Gate Park (for Free)
The Hamon Observatory on the 9th floor of the De Young Museum will offer one of the most spectacular views of San Francisco, Golden Gate Park and – on clear days – over the Marin headlands. The best thing is, it is completely free! Just , take the back entrance and the elevator will take you to the top of the tower. Snap those unique pictures only insiders and locals get!
Local tip: Every first Tuesday of every month is free admission at the De Young Museum!
Working hours: 9:30 am–4:30 pm (closed Mondays)
De Young Museum, San Francisco, CA
Take a walk around the Palace of Fine Arts (for FREE)
The Palace of Fine Arts is a monumental structure originally constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in order to exhibit works of art presented there. One of only a few surviving structures from the Exposition, it is still situated on its original site. It was rebuilt in 1965, and renovation of the lagoon, walkways, and a seismic retrofit were completed in early 2009. The architect took inspiration from Roman and Ancient Greek architecture. Take refuge between the huge columns of the Palace and take it all in. Take photos across the pond on sunset. It’s a gorgeous view!
Working time: Always open!
3301 Lyon St, San Francisco, CA 94123
Climb to San Francisco Art Institute’s rooftop (for free)
Head inside the SF Art Institute to see this breathtaking view of the Bay, North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf. Go past the fountain, walk through the corridor and take the stairs up to reach the rooftop! Enjoy the view 🙂
Address: 800 Chestnut St, San Francisco, CA 94133
Open: From Monday to Friday 9 pm – 6 pm
Discover Diego Rivera fresco at SF Art Institute (for Free)
Diego Rivera has three of his masterpieces (including the first one he finished in the United States) in San Francisco.
Even though they are often referred to as murals, they are actually frescoes. The difference is that frescoes take a special skillset and are difficult to create, but the vibrancy of their colors lasts forever.
One of Rivera’s frescoes is in the Diego Rivera Gallery inside the San Francisco Art Institute.
It is considered a fresco within a fresco. It shows the painters in the process of painting the fresco. You can see all of the artists, along with their scaffolding, layered on top of the masterpiece they are completing.
This work of art also features the back of Diego Rivera as he watches the artists work on the fresco below.
Address: 800 Chestnut St, San Francisco, CA 94133
Open: Monday to Friday 9 am – 6 pm It’s Free!
Visit the Redwoods! The tallest trees in the world! (Free on certain days)
The goal of Free Second Saturdays at Redwood State Parks is to reconnect the people of California with these magnificent natural legacies, to inspire visitors with the beauty and power of the redwoods, and to celebrate Save the Redwoods League’s 100-year conservation legacy.
When are new passes available?
Passes are available on a first-come, first-served basis at FreeRedwoodsDays.org 14 days prior. Some of the participating parks close by include Big Basin, Mount Tamalpais, Butano, Portola Redwoods, Sonoma Coast among others.
Working hours: 9 am – 5 am