Every city offers unique experiences that express the essence of the place. Often, they're not the most popular sights or the most often-mentioned activities. Instead, they're intimate glimpses of a city's unique character. When you experience them, they'll redefine your image of the place forever.
These are our favorite San Francisco experiences.
- World's Most Beautiful Urban Hike: Walk from Crissy Field to Fort Point. Westward, you face the Golden Gate Bridge and on the return, it's the San Francisco skyline. Share the pathway with local bicyclists, dog-walkers and joggers, or take a detour to dodge the waves along the water's edge.
- East Meets West: Starting from North Beach's Green Street Mortuary (Green at Columbus), Chinese funeral processions travel down Columbus Avenue and sometimes through Chinatown's streets. Led by a brass band playing western religious music and a convertible carrying a larger-than-life picture of the departed, it's a cultural contradiction that typifies the city it happens in. Your best chance to see one is on Saturday morning.
- Hillside Living: Walk down Telegraph Hill from Coit Tower, following the steps on the east side of the hill. You'll pass through a wooded area, houses accessible only via wooden steps and a flower-filled hillside garden.
- Walk the Golden Gate Bridge: It's beautiful to look at and fun to drive over, but a walk is the only way to fully experience the structure. At the center, you get its full scale, standing more than 200 feet above the water with the towers rising almost 300 feet above your head.
- Get Curious: City Guides' indomitable volunteer tour guides lead walking tours, rain or shine. Go behind the scenes in the Palace Hotel, visit rarely-seen upstairs murals at Coit Tower or explore dozens of other San Francisco locations. Tours are free, but donations are appreciated.
- Better Than the Cliff House: The Beach Chalet offers a glimpse at San Francisco history in its downstairs murals. Upstairs is a microbrewery with window tables custom-made for watching the breakers roll in or the sun set.
- Look East at Sunset, Not West: On clear days, the Marin Headlands are a great place for a romantic, twilight view of the bridge and the city behind it. To get there, drive north on US Hwy 101, exit at the first exit after the bridge, then turn left and drive uphill on Conzelman Road. Skip the first busy parking area and go halfway up the hill instead.
- Best Golden Gate Bridge View: Baker Beach boasts one of the best Golden Gate Bridge views in the city, but the vistas aren't its only attraction. Fishermen, tourists and dog-walkers roam the beach, ignoring nearby sunbathing nudists with typical San Francisco tolerance.
- Get Stern in the Summer: Stern Grove Concerts, held every summer Sunday, are a long-standing San Francisco tradition. Pick up a picnic lunch, and join the crowd for a free concert in the middle of a stately eucalyptus grove. Don't let the price tag fool you - some big-name performers have appeared on the state here.