The Hidden San Francisco Itinerary
Golden Gate Bridge – been there!
Alcatraz – done that!
Fisherman’s Wharf – shopped there!
Cable car – rode one!
Chinatown – ate there!
This article is for those who want to experience some of the “hidden gems” that make San Francisco one of the world’s most interesting and dynamic multicultural cities. If you want to delve beyond the typical touristy bucket list, then this list is for you!
There is so much more to see in this vibrant, dynamic city than its big red bridge and infamous prison. Come along on our adventures in the magnificent City by the Bay! While San Francisco has literally thousands of secret neighborhoods, restaurants and sights, this is my personal top five list. Please add your favorites in the comments below; that is, if you are willing to share your secrets.
Here are my top five cool and unique experiences for the repeat San Francisco tourist!
5 Unique Places to Visit in San Francisco
While many tourists visit the world famous Chinatown, few explore the bustling compact community of Japantown, one of only three remaining in the U.S. For a delicious introduction to this neighborhood, we joined Edible Excursions’ expertly-led Japantown Food Tour.
Over three hours of sampling a smorgasbord of Asian flavors, you will learn about this distinct neighborhood and the residents’ history, visit some mom-and-pop markets, and discover the Japantown way of life. Some of the culinary gems you will sample may include sushi, huge heaping bowls of ramen, sweet potato latte, onigiri (rice balls), authentic masala dosa with chutney, okonomiyaki (Japanese frittata) and mochi from Benkyodo Company, made by the same family since 1906!
Plan on spending an extra hour in Japantown just shopping in the cute and kitschy stores at the Japan Center Malls. Kids will particularly enjoy Pika Pika where they can have fun taking cute and wacky pictures in imported Japanese photo booths.
2. Hayes Valley
After visiting this vibrant city more than five times, I had never even heard of Hayes Valley. I couldn’t believe what I was missing! In addition to trendy shopping and a cheery family-friendly park, I fell in love with the Hayes Valley foodie scene.
To experience all it has to offer, take Gourmet Walk’s three-hour Hayes Valley Food Tour full of interesting stories and top rated food. Your taste buds will thank you for the the local cheeses and charcuterie, world-famous chocolate, the freshest ice cream, New Orleans style gumbo, and Vietnamese bahm mi sandwiches. Your family will fall in love with this often overlooked neighborhood. Yummy…my mouth is watering just thinking about those treats! And don’t forget the perfect sweet ending: Food Network’s Best Cupcake in America at Miette Patisserie.
3. Segway through the City
Want to see the city from a different perspective? Join an Electric Tour Company’s segways tour. Zipping through the marina and North Beach was amazing! We thrilled in riding up and down the famous hills of this city. (Yes, I was filled with nervous excitement as my daughter and I rode Segways up and down the steep hills!) We did not want this adventure to end.
Tips: Check the age and weight restrictions before signing up, and be sure your child is ready to navigate up and down the steep streets. Bring a jacket or windbreaker even in the summer; this city gets chilly!
4. Haight Ashbury Street
This neighborhood is a blast to explore with tweens and teenagers. You will see it all here: hippies, punks, trendy teens. While definitely gritty, Haight Ashbury is a distinctly eclectic and vibrant San Francisco neighborhood. In particular, my daughter and I enjoyed shopping at high end vintage clothing stores, the chic Clobba boutique, and Amoeba Music, which offers one of the biggest collections of CDs in the world.
Some other often-missed cool neighborhoods which we enjoyed exploring while shopping and dining included: Noe, Mission and Union Street. Parents may dig the fact that Haight Ashbury is the former home of the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane.
5. The Ferry Building
No visit to San Francisco would be complete without exploring the stalls and eateries in the landmark Ferry Building at the Embarcadero. The aromatic smells of gorgeous gourmet delights will intoxicate you! Our top picks include the highly addictive Blue Bottle Coffee, Humphrey Slocombe Ice Cream which combines unconventional flavors with ultra-premium ingredients, the Cowgirl Creamery’s Artisan Cheese Shop’s mac and cheese, and El Porteño’s empanadas.
Check out the wonderful bounty at the nationally renowned Farmer’s Market (check the website for days and times). Your kids will delight when they visit Far West Fungi where you can buy a mushroom log to bring home and grow on your own. Challenge your younger kids to find unique delicacies such as chocolate covered locusts. There are also plenty of sit-down restaurants to rest your feet and dine with views of the water.
Where to Stay in San Francisco
We split our time between two Hilton hotels. We adored the perfectly located Hilton San Francisco Union Square, which was smack in the middle of some of the very best shopping and dining in town. The recently renovated hotel is buzzing with activity and has a happening vibe. Perfect for families, its lobby includes an Herb n’ Kitchen Market that even delivers to your room. We particularly enjoyed our scrumptious buffet breakfast at the Urban Tavern.
We also thought it was great to be able to walk out the door of the modern Hilton San Francisco Financial District to explore the welcoming historical and delicious Chinatown. Be sure to check out this hotel’s new Cloud Lounge in the lobby with comfortable massage chairs and a huge screen to watch sporting events.
Where to Eat in San Francisco
So with thousands of restaurants available all within a few minutes ride from downtown, the choice can be daunting. Here are a few of our personal favorites. Please feel free to add your favorites in the comments below!
Tony’s Coal Fired Pizza and Slice House: We inhaled our slices of this world famous pizza (literally true – they won a competition in Naples). Out of this world!
54 Mint: Upscale authentic Italian food with a great bar for parents, too. Be sure to save room for their delectable pana cotta. We loved that this restaurant was in walking distance from Hilton San Francisco Union Square.
Fresca: Upscale Peruvian modern cuisine. Don’t miss the fabulous steak and tasty ceviche!
Lolo: Hip and eclectic decor invite you into this family-owned Jaliscan-Californian inspired restaurant, featuring locally sourced ingredients. Our highlights included fresh guacamole and crispy fish tacos.
Belden Place: Known as the French Quarter of San Francisco, this area is a quaint European inspired narrow alley bustling with a variety of cuisines and price-points. We delighted in the Catalan tapas at B44 and loved chowing down on elevated comfort food at Sauce.
What I love about San Francisco is that there is always something new to discover and experience. I can’t wait to return again to add to my growing list of off-the-beaten path gems.
You may also enjoy:
- 6 Fun Things to do in Berkeley, CA with Kids
- Visit the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco
- Exploring The Presidio in San Francisco with Kids
- Cross the Golden Gate Bridge for a Great San Francisco Day Trip
Hilton Mom Voyage writers receive free night certificates to use at Hilton Hotels & Resorts worldwide. To learn more, visit our About Us page.
Lisa was provided with discounted and/or complimentary tickets to few of the attractions and restaurants so that she could try them and review them for your information. Lisa chose the above restaurants and attractions based on their top-rated reviews.