10 Off-the-beaten-path Activities in San Francisco

For those who have read my previous posts about San Francisco, you know that I am no stranger to the Bay Area. My dad and aunt lived here for most of my childhood, and since they moved to Colorado, a steady stream of friends have trickled into the City, continuing my reluctant love affair with the over-sized-town covered in fog.

So it should be no surprise that I have no interest in doing the usual tourist activities in the City. Save for, perhaps, Alcatraz Island because I try to be an advocate for the mentally ill and social injustice. Plus an island penitentiary is a spooky motif. Despite my relative interest in Alcatraz, I’ve never been. But while I have done most of the other tourist traps in San Francisco, these options for things to do in the City are much more worth your time.

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My best friend, Keith, in front of City Lights.
  • City Lights Books

Famous for publishing beat poets such as Allen Ginsberg, Jack Spicer, and Jack Kerouac, City Lights Books is a historic center for San Francisco literature and art. Browse through the shops extensive poetry selection and pick up some books before catching a drink at Vesuvio’s Bar next store, which has hosted many authors including Kerouac himself.

  • North Beach for Italian Food

City Lights and Vesuvio’s are in the part of town called North Beach. The not-actually-a-beach Italian section of the city is perfect some great food and gelato. Whether or not you’re interested in books, you can catch some authentic Italian food at F’ior d’Italia for some fresh pastas made in-house. It has been around since the 19th century.

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The siphon bar at Blue Bottle.
  • Blue Bottle Coffee

One of my personal favorite things to do is catch a few cups of coffee at Blue Bottle in Mint Plaza. You’ve probably been traveling and running around the city, take a moment to enjoy the highest quality cup of coffee you’ve ever had where even the nerds are hip, where everything is beautiful and nothing hurts. This shop in particular is famous for their siphon bar, a brewing mechanism that uses a method for making coffee to suck the brew through a small opening in heated glass. If you don’t like black coffee, try the New Orleans iced coffee. It’s sweetly delicious and brewed with hickory.

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Work at MOMA.
  • Museum of Modern Art

Walking distance from Blue Bottle is the museum district. You can come here for the Museum of the African Diaspora and the Contemporary Jewish Museum, but I like the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). There are always tons of great exhibits. Last time I went I saw a sound exhibit that blew my mind. I definitely recommend it if you are interested in contemporary art.

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Andrew Zimmern cutting the line at Swan’s Oyster Depot.Swan’s Oyster Depot
  • Swan’s Oyster Depot

Whenever you bring up Swan’s Oyster Depot in the City, you get a similar response. Usually it’s “that place has been there forever” or “it’s an institution.” Let’s be upfront: you will wait in line. But when you get to the twelve-seat counter, you will have some terrific oysters and other seafood.

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Last time I was there, Andrew Zimmern decided to stop by. He made the line even longer, and I called him out for cutting on Twitter. Either way, if a Food Network star is there or not, come early and be prepared to wait.

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Beautiful John Muir Woods.

 

  • John Muir Woods

A short drive away across the bay is John Muir Woods, named for the famous California-enthusiast and conservationist. Drive over and see the forest covered by a canopy of towering redwoods. Hiking here is great. Bring some water and take in all the beauty.

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Tons of beers at Laughing Monk Brewery.
  • Laughing Monk Brewery

Wow. When I came to Laughing Monk for the first time I was blown away. These are some delicious beers. From the Coffee & Cream Cream Ale to a beer made with maple, everything is good here–traditional or experimental. Next door, there is another brewery that was closed by the time we got done at Laughing Monk. Being so close, it is also worth checking out.

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  • Amoeba Records (Skip Haight-Ashberry)

I was a kid raised on punk. I am a self-professed hippy. But I can tell you that you don’t need Haight-Ashberry in your life. Merely driving over to Amoeba Records to buy some music will give you everything you need to see about the intersection of streets that became infamous after the ’60s. Once you’re done at Amoeba, grab a piece of pizza across the street at Escape from New York. It is always awesome. Just skip the whole take-a-picture-at-Haight-Ashberry stuff. (This is off-the-beaten-path remember?)

  • Filipino Night Market

On Market Street not too far away from Mint Plaza is a Filipino night market that happens on Friday nights. If you are like me and get there too late after drinking to enjoy the awesome pork dishes from the Southeast Asian country, there is an awesome ramen place right around the corner where you can enjoy drunken noodles and sushi.

The room at Audium.
  • Attend an Audium Performance

If you are interested in art, music, sound, or the combination of the three known as sound art, definitely check out the sound sculpture performance called Audium. Passed down from father to son, the project began in the 1950’s. During the performance in the dark, 176 speakers make sound travel around the spectators in a wholly visceral and ethereal experience. I haven’t attended a performance yet, but is the first thing I plan on doing next time in the City on a Friday or Saturday.


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