Finding Cool “Off The Beaten Path” Destinations in San Francisco

Although I would recommend the more stereotypical tourist sights of SFMOMA, the Golden Gate Bridge, the DeYoung Museum, riding a cable car, Fisherman’s Wharf, etc., we wanted a trip that was off the beaten path.

Photo by Chris Leipelt

By Ryan Loughrey

Our weekend was spent in a common way – not enough time to do all the things we wanted to do, and too much time in traffic. Still, we were able to see new sights in a city that was saturated with tourists and that we’ve been to many times before.

Our time in San Francisco can best be described as periods of beauty, learning, and appreciation interspersed with frenetic driving and finding parking spots. Given the fact it was labor day, the usual tourist haunts were pretty busy.

Although I would recommend the more stereotypical tourist sights of SFMOMA, the Golden Gate Bridge, the DeYoung Museum, riding a cable car, Fisherman’s Wharf, etc., we wanted a trip that was off the beaten path. Here’s a breakdown of the sights we were able to catch:

Camera Obscura

Visiting this humble location near Cliff House is akin to stepping back in time. This strange shaped building has a rotating mirror on the roof, which projects the image through a series of lenses, until it is viewed on a parabolic screen located on the inner room. The inside of the building is is a dark room, where the circular parabolic screen sits in the center, almost like a brilliantly lit altar. The viewers stand around it, as the image rotates corresponding where the roof mirror is facing.

Initially, it just looked like we were watching a tv screen projecting the happenings outside. Perhaps in this day and age, where we can go to the cheapest movie at the theatre and see incredible vistas and locales, the Camera Obscura seems a quaint and unimpressive sight. However, when the technology was first being discovered over 500 years ago, the phenomena seemed unreal and was even “condemned as an invention of the devil” according to one of the fliers we found.

Labyrinth at Land’s End


This was a sight I’m glad we didn’t miss. Constructed in early 2004 by Eduardo Aguilera, this labyrinth is designed to be  a symbol of peace and tranquility; however, it has also been destroyed by vandals and has to be remade every time.

The hike from Land’s End parking area is relatively short, although very well-travelled. It is a nice location that is simple and serene, and a nice escape from the bustling metropolis a short hike away. It also is a great viewpoint for the Golden Gate Bridge. When we went, several groups followed the path to the center, and of course posed for photos.


The Beat Museum

Located near Chinatown, this hole-in-the-wall museum has been a place I’ve wanted to visit since I’ve heard of it. Attempting to detail the obscure and vivid history of the Beats, the crammed little location has the car used in the film “On the Road,” photos and memorabilia from the likes of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, and other influential characters the era.

Located near City Lights Books, which is a relatively famous independent bookstore renowned for its ties to the beatnik era, the museum was a place that held personal interest to me, and some of the friendliest staff of any location we visited over the weekend.


It would be remiss of me to not mention this one piece of nightlife we had to check out for ourselves. Located seemingly in the thriving nightlife heart of San Francisco, this bar has walls lined with books and drinks named after classic and contemporary literary characters.

It is priced like a popular place (meaning bring a little extra cash if you visit). We were there on Saturday night, we essentially found a small corner table to claim for our own. It was very busy and lively, which is good for nightlife, but not ideal for me walking around to peer at all the books and photos that lined the walls. Still an interesting location for anyone who likes the pairing of literature and alcohol.

We saw sights we didn’t even know existed and were a part of this thriving hub of California. I’m sure there are sights that I’m forgetting, and if you have any hidden gems of the Golden City, we’d love to hear them. Although sometimes you have to fight a little traffic, I’d take exploring a new location to staying home any day.

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California


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