Let's Get Weird in San Francisco
Food & Wine
When people think of San Francisco, landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz often steal the spotlight. For the many creatives and disruptors who flock to the area, though, there’s a parallel universe of quirky, inventive experiences waiting to be explored by those in the know.
Here, you'll encounter the creations of an eclectic community of artists, inventors, and free thinkers who relish in escaping the ordinary. From unique performances to thought-provoking art in alleyways, discover the peculiar and one-of-a-kind experiences that make this city a playground for the imaginative and the adventurous. Let’s do some strange stuff!
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Where to stay in San Francisco
Hotel Emblem San Francisco
Playful, literary-themed boutique stay just off busy Union Square.
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Palihotel Melrose Avenue
A stylish and eclectic urban retreat situated in the heart of San Francisco's vibrant Melrose Avenue, offering a fusion of contemporary design, comfort, and unparalleled city charm.
The LINE SF
Trendy boutique hotel with a rooftop bar and beautifully designed rooms.
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Things to do in San Francisco
The Church of 8 Wheels is a roller disco inside a converted church. Frequented by a colorful and friendly crew of skate enthusiasts with impressive moves, this space is open on Tuesdays and weekends and offers both all-ages and adults-only sessions. Never learned to skate? No problem - they also host beginners' skating lessons on Saturdays.
Audium is an immersive sound experience in complete darkness. Visitors are guided to a small theater with 176 speakers. Once everyone is seated, the lights dim, and the world becomes a surround-sound haven unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.
Fancy a yoga class in a historic cathedral? Yoga on the Labyrinth at Grace Cathedral (https://gracecathedral.org/yoga-2/) offers a uniquely beautiful and serene workout for the public in a stunning room with stained glass and soaring Gothic columns. When class is finished, roll up your mat and step outside to admire some absolutely incredible views of the city and Bay from the hilltop yard.
Musee Mechanique is frequently lauded by locals as the “only thing worth visiting” in the very touristy Fisherman’s Wharf area of the city. This hands-on museum is hidden in the corner of the plaza on Pier 45 and is host to over 200 coin-operated attractions, some over a century old. While there are some arcade games and pinball machines, the real treasures are the numerous automatons, music boxes and fortune-telling machines that type out your future with a typewriter. Admission is free, just bring a lot of quarters or cash for the change machine.
The Exploratorium is an all-ages museum of discovery that goes beyond the basic science exhibit and invites visitors to play in interactive galleries that explore everything from psychological and social behaviors to scientific phenomenon and physical textural sensations in the pitch-black tactile dome. On Thursday evenings, the museum hosts themed adults-only parties with drinks, DJs and special programming for more in-depth fun.
Equal parts Rube Goldberg machine, art installation and fever dream, Urban Putt is an indoor mini-golf course that was born out of a series of increasingly ambitious private “bring your own hole” mini-golf parties hosted at the owner’s home. Today, this refurbished historic Victorian building hosts 18 holes of high-tech mini golf, a restaurant, and party area. Golf is very popular and first-come, first served, so get here earlier than you think you need to in order to play. After 8pm, the venue is 21+ only.
The Gregangelo Museum is a psychedelic wonderland of nine different immersive art installations in an artist’s private home, studio and gardens. Local artist Gregangelo Herrerra lovingly built this collective over the span of 43 years, and guests who visit say it’s one of the weirdest and most delightful things to see in San Francisco. Visits to this dreamy palace are by appointment only.
The Clarion Alley Mural Project (CAMP), is a vibrant outdoor art gallery that spans a 560-foot alleyway, boasting over 700 thought-provoking murals. Since 1992, CAMP has championed social, economic, and environmental justice while showcasing local artists' work, creating an ever-evolving, free-to-enjoy open-air museum.
If you want some exercise to go with your exploration, take a trip to the hidden tiled steps of San Francisco! Lincoln Park Steps and 16th Avenue Tiled Steps are frequently visited by locals who want some beauty to go with their daily steps. These murals are created by local tile artists and are designed to show the art to folks as they approach the stairs.
Where to Shop
Loved to Death is a store for those who appreciate oddities and the macabre.. Shoppers here can purchase anything from articulated specimens to antiques and prints.
Paxton Gate is one of my must-visit stops whenever I’m in the city. Here, you can find ethically-sourced taxidermy items, interesting curios, jewelry, and even unusual plants! If you are looking for something extra special to take home, visit their potting station in the nursery; you can select your own plant and pot it in one of their many unique vessels, including ones that grow moss when watered.
826 Valencia Pirate Supply Store is much more than a store that sells eye patches, maps, puppets, and spy glasses. It’s also an interactive space where all sale proceeds benefit the 826 Valencia project, a non-profit organization that helps children develop their writing skills. The walls are lined with drawers that invite the visitor to dig in and explore, and the back of the store contains a classroom used by the non-profit organization as a workshop. In fact, several books sold by the store are written by students of the non-profit. There’s also a lovely interactive aquarium for children of all ages to marvel at.
Take a day trip to Marco Island for wildlife & bird watching, kayaking, fishing and shelling.
Places to eat & drink in San Francisco
Foreign Cinema is a romantic New American space with a lot of beautiful ambiance, especially in their heated courtyard. True to their name, diners watch a projected black-and-white film as they enjoy their meal, and the restaurant keeps the selection updated on their website.
Comstock Saloon is an old-school historical bar where you can get delicious cocktails and comfort food while you watch live jazz music in the evenings. Stop by on Friday afternoons for their famous free lunch (with a drink purchase, of course).
Asia SF is a sought-after spot for dining and dancing where a diverse cast of trans performers and servers deliver food, comedy, choreographed dance routines, and live singing performances.
After your meal, groove downstairs to the nightclub area with a house DJ and special visiting performances, completing the vibrant night at this establishment.
Old-Skool Cafe is a 1920’s speakeasy-style supper club run by youths! The restaurant was founded as a part of a violence-prevention program that provides job training and employment for at-risk, fostered, and formerly incarcerated youth in order to give them a second chance at life.
Merchant Roots is a meticulously-designed dining experience that follows a rotating seasonal central theme. Here, food is not just nourishment, but immersive art- think things like cauliflower meadows and fungi forests served on custom plateware paired with its own spotify playlist to accompany the meal.
The Pawn Shop is a tapas bar with an impressive wine list… but you have to haggle to get in. Housed inside a former pawn shop, the pawn master is your key to getting into this speakeasy. Make sure you bring something interesting and/or fun you’re willing to ‘pawn’ in order to enter the space.
Wilson & Wilson Private Detective Agency is a lesser-known speakeasy within a very popular speakeasy! This intimate space has limited reservations available, and there’s something extra special about giving a secret password and being whisked away to a hidden room with its own themed cocktail menu presented inside of a case file. If you can’t get reservations, don’t worry - just give the password “books” at the buzzer and you can visit the library area of Bourbon & Branch, the larger sister speakeasy housing the agency.
And if you like Tiki…
Smuggler’s Cove is one of those places you could completely miss if you walked by the smooth building facade. Once you get inside, you’re greeted with three levels of nautical decorations, fountains, and an enormous rum library served by bartenders with unbelievable speed and precision. Get here as close to opening as possible- the space fills up very quickly and seating is first-come, first-served.
Pagan Idols; a tiki haven with two themed rooms. In the front, you are inside the belly of a ship, complete with stained glass and intriguing port holes to view. In the back is a full tropical island with multiple tiki huts and an erupting volcano. Drinks here are inventive and appropriately kitschy with fresh ingredients, including a delicious homemade passion fruit whipped cream!
Zombie Village is a magical space where light projections transform the appearance of the walls and visitors can hide out in the numerous private tiki huts. In the back of the bar is a cave designed like an undersea palace! The drink menu contains numerous inventive cocktails- my favorite is the Coco Pandan, which features a submerged pandan popsicle to enjoy with your beverage.
Last Rites is an immersive space that gives off the vibe of crash-landing in a tropical jungle. The bar is fashioned from a decommissioned airplane fuselage. Several seats are made from airplane parts, and the walls are home to 9-feet tall fire-breathing skulls. Drinks here are dramatic and dark like the interior, with names like “Violet Vixen”, “Grifter’s Game” and “Permanent Midnight”.
Need to Know
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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to San Francisco.