Article •  San Francisco, California, USA

13 Unique Ways To Experience The Best Of San Francisco

Last Updated On: September 21, 2022


San Francisco has a special place in our hearts. This is the magical city where Nash & I met and where our love story began. After living in San Francisco for almost 10 years, this blog post is way overdue. We are so excited to have finally taken the time to put together our list of 13 Unique Ways to Experience the Best of San Francisco.

This city has so much more to offer than just a visit to the Golden Gate Bridge. San Francisco is one of the most diverse cities in California and in this blog post we are sharing with you just a sliver of its vibrant neighborhoods, fun hikes, favorite rooftop hangs, and unique dining experiences. If you keep reading you may notice that not everything we recommend is in San Fransisco. We’ve included a few activities outside of the city that will only enhance your visit. Don’t worry they are all an easy day trip away but if you have the luxury of time then why not turn them into a little weekend getaway?

Make sure to save this blog post for later and be so kind as to share it with anyone planning to visit San Francisco. This article is not only for visitors but also for locals who are looking for some inspiration and a few more bucket list items in their hometown.

Find below the only list of must-dos you need when visiting San Francisco!

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1. Embark On A Seaplane Adventure

Location: Mill Valley, CA (~30 min)

Price: starting from $179 per person

Duration: Starting from 20 minutes

Explore the splendor of the San Francisco Bay Area from the air. Get ready for an experience you will remember forever as you soar along the Northern California Coastline over the stunning Point Reyes National Seashore and around the breathtakingly scenic Point Reyes Lighthouse. While the Golden Gate Bridge is most people’s highlight of the seaplane tour, Crissy Fields, the Bay Bridge and the Financial District are just as stunning from the skies.

Simply drive across the Golden Gate Bridge to a small town called Mill Valley and embark on a scenic flight with Seaplane Adventures. Choose between a variety of tours ranging anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour.

2. Wine Tasting Tour On The Bay

Location: Departing from Pier 39, Gate I

Price: $70 per person

Duration: 1.5 hours

For a very unique way to experience the best of San Francisco, there really is no better place than aboard this adorable wooden boat.

This wine tasting tour should be on everyone’s bucket list, visitors and locals alike. The tour runs daily either during the day or for sunset right from Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf. Enjoy a glass of wine, get lost in conversation, and get up close and personal with the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s one thing to see the Golden Gate Bridge from all of the viewpoints, but driving below the massive red structure isn’t something you see every day.

The tour continues past Alcatraz and along the iconic San Francisco skyline right to the Bay Bridge. If you catch the sunset tour you will be able to watch the lights brighten up the Bay Bridge as the sky turns pink and purple behind it.

We had the most amazing evening cruise watching the sun set behind the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Plus the pelicans had just returned from their migration and were easily one of the highlights of the tour, gliding inches above the water.

Every sunset is different in San Francisco, so you never quite know what you are going to get. We had amazing weather so our experience was beyond magical. When the sunset is visible and Karl, the infamous cloud of fog, doesn’t roll into the bay then you are guaranteed one of the most breathtaking Californian sunsets.

Bryan the owner will be happy to spoil you with his great wine selection, a full bar, and non-alcoholic options for all ages.

QUICK TIP: This boat is also available for private charter. Nash and I actually celebrated our 10-year wedding anniversary on this boat with all our friends and it was a celebration we will remember forever. We can’t recommend this company enough.

13 Unique Ways To Experience The Best Of San Francisco | Bare Escape
13 Unique Ways To Experience The Best Of San Francisco | Bare Escape

3. Explore San Francisco Riding in a Classic VW Bus

Location: Departing from Union Square & Fisherman's Wharf

Price: starting from $85 per person

Duration: 2 Hours

We own an old 1978 VW Bus, so you can imagine how excited we were to join the Painted Ladies tour around the Bay. Bask in nostalgia, while cruising through the city streets in one of the 4 old VW buses or who they call the ladies: Pearl, Poppy, Skye & Buttercup. The tour hits all of the popular spots—Golden Gate Bridge, Palace of Fine Arts, Chinatown—as well as some viewpoints we didn’t even know about after living in the city for over 10 years. I know this tour is catered to tourists, but we highly recommended it for any locals looking for a fresh perspective of this magical city.

Along with their San Francisco City Tours, the Painted Ladies Tour Company also offers a Wine Country Tour as well as the option to charter these old ladies all for yourself.

13 Unique Ways To Experience The Best Of San Francisco | Bare Escape
13 Unique Ways To Experience The Best Of San Francisco | Bare Escape

4. Afternoon Tea At Villon, At Proper Hotel

Location: Downtown SF (Inside Proper Hotel)

Price: starting from $45 per person

Hours: Sat & Sun, 2PM-5PM

Situated in the stunning Proper Hotel in downtown San Francisco, Villon offers an elevated Afternoon Tea experience in their chic royal blue dining room. Enjoy a choice of black, green, white, or botanical tea paired with handmade sweets, treats, and bite-size sandwiches. When the rain or fog tries to ruin your day, head to Villon to bring a little sunshine to your taste buds.

5. Visit Muir Woods & Muir Beach Overlook

Location: Mill Valley (~25Min from SF)

Price: $15 per person + $9 parking fee

Park Hours: 8AM-Sunset (Every day)

If you are looking for one of the places California is known for, take a trip across the Golden Gate Bridge to Muir Woods National Monument. This coastal redwood preserve features a variety of great hiking trails for the whole family beneath the shade of the majestic redwoods. Follow along wooden walkways amongst old-growth redwoods, some of which are over 150 years old, or hike further into the thick of the forest and enjoy scenic views of the coast. After strolling through these massive trees, jump back on the road and head to Muir Beach Overlook to catch the sunset over the beautiful Pacific Ocean. These two sights are the perfect combo for those wanting to get out of the city for an afternoon and admire the true natural wonders California has to offer.

QUICK TIP: Check out our article How To Spend The Perfect Day In Mill Valley, where we talk in more detail about how to plan your visit to the Muir Woods, where to make your parking reservation (which is required), and how to purchase your day pass.

6. Bike Across The Golden Gate Bridge To Sausalito

Price: ~$20 per person for bike rental

Duration: ~2 Hours (One Way)

Favorite Restaurant: The Trident

This list wouldn’t be complete without probably one of the most iconic ways to experience San Francisco: biking across the Golden Gate Bridge. There are a number of bike rental companies in the city, but I would recommend Blazing Saddles down near Ghirardelli Square. This is a very convenient starting point that will take you on a nice ride through Fort Mason, the Marina, and Crissy Fields leading you right to the Golden Gate Bridge. Most people just stop and admire the view of the city once across the bridge, then head back to San Francisco without going any further. But just down the hill is a whole other city waiting to be discovered: Sausalito. Since you’ve already pedaled so far might as well continue down to experience the plethora of restaurants, cafes, ice cream shops, and boutiques shops this small waterfront community has to offer.

To get back to the city, you have two options: bike back or take the ferry. I have to be honest, the ride back up the hill from Sausalito to the bridge is steep, a real leg burner, but it is worth it to see the majestic view of downtown one last time. If there is absolutely no way you are going to get back up that hill, go online and grab a one-way ferry ticket back to Fisherman’s Wharf.

7. Visit The Tule Elk Preserve At Point Reyes

Location: Point Reyes (~1.5hr from SF)

Price: Free

Park Hours: 9AM-Sunset (every day)

This 9.4-mile round-trip hike starts right next to the historic Pierce Point Ranch and is a Bay Area favorite. Also known as the Tomales Point Trail, this moderate day hike leads along the Point Reyes Peninsula and offers breathtaking seaside views throughout the entire hike. I personally love this hike since you can walk as far as you like and turn around whenever you wish without having to worry about missing out on any major sights.

Spotting the Tule Elk is pretty much guaranteed since they live throughout the entire Peninsula. This is not just a day hike but an Elk Preserve, so be sure to stay on the trail at all times to keep the elk’s habitation pristine, and as always be respectful to mother nature and leave no trace. The Point Reyes National Seashore happens to be the only National Park where Tule Elk can be found, so if you are looking for an extra special experience, jump in your car and head north for a self-guided safari.

8. Hot Air Balloon Ride Over Napa Valley

Location: Yountville (~1hr from SF)

Price: Starting from $235 per person

Duration: ~1 Hour

About an hour drive north of San Francisco, take flight with Napa Valley Aloft on a hot air balloon experience you don’t want to miss. Take off during sunrise and slowly drift through the dawn above the rows and rows of vineyards. There is something so magical about floating through the skies in a hot air balloon. There is no set course, no set direction, just the wind to guide you to an unknown destination. This means that no two flights are ever really the same.

Once you land, be sure to explore the town of Yountville. We wrote a great guide about Where To Stay, Wine and Dine in Yountville, so be sure to bookmark it before you head out on your trip!

QUICK TIP: Since you have to get up very early for this experience, consider staying at the North Block Hotel the night before so you are well-rested and ready to fly.

9. Visit Montara State Beach

Location: Montara (~30min from SF)

Price: Free

Park Hours: 8am to Sunset (every day)

Located only around 30 minutes south of San Francisco, Montara State Beach is a great place to spend an afternoon with your partner in crime, friends, and family. The beach is stunning any time of the year, but if you are in search of a little bit of extra magic, make it a point to travel here either in the month of May or August. May is the time of the year when you will find the bluffs of Montara State Beach covered in a vibrant carpet of pink flowers (as seen in the pictures above). August is another great time to go when the whole area is dotted with stunning purple and white flowers.

On a map, you will find two Montara State Beach parking lots. Once you arrive you will see that there is an additional unofficial parking lot, so it is easy to get confused about where to park if you are looking to spot the wildflowers. The closest parking lot to reach the flowers is at the southern end of the beach. Here you will find a set of concrete stairs providing easy beach access. You will already be able to see the flowers blooming from afar, so simply walk down the steps and to the end of the beach, where you will find a well-worn trail that will lead you to the top of the bluff.

If you are interested in turning your day trip into a short weekend escape, check out the unique Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel. For a more elevated lodging experience, we recommend Seal Cove Inn. We also suggest stopping at Here Comes The Sun Coffee House for a charming little coffee break and snack.

QUICK TIP: There is no fee to enter Montara State Beach, and while camping & beach fires are not allowed, dogs are allowed so make sure to bring your fluffy companion along for the ride.

13 Unique Ways To Experience The Best Of San Francisco | Bare Escape
13 Unique Ways To Experience The Best Of San Francisco | Bare Escape
13 Unique Ways To Experience The Best Of San Francisco | Bare Escape

10. Enjoy A Luxury Pop-Up Picnic

Location: Wherever you want in the Bay Area

Price: Starting from $250

Duration: 2.5 Hours

Just when you think there is no better way to experience the best of San Francisco, we have a few more for you.

Dreaming of a romantic luxury picnic to celebrate your birthday, an anniversary, a bridal shower, or simply a unique way to enjoy each other’s company? Pop-up picnics have become especially popular over the last few years as they provide a one-of-a-kind experience in stunning settings.

Luxury Picnics Bay Area is a two-person operation run by Cory and Carina ready to provide you with an intimate pop-up luxury picnic experience you will cherish forever. It is no secret that they are passionate about what they do, their setups are by far one of the most beautiful picnics I have ever seen. Simply choose a package, pick your date and enjoy a carefully curated picnic experience at your favorite location in the Bay.

We had the most amazing and romantic sunset picnic overlooking the pacific ocean in Pacifica, and couldn’t have asked for a more perfect location and sunset. This spot was not only private but incredibly romantic. It was just what we were looking for.

There are multiple packages to choose from and the price will vary depending on the size of your picnic as well as the add-ons you choose. As of now, Luxury Picnics Bay Area only takes reservations over Instagram.

11. Merchant Roots: An Immersive Dining Experience

Location: Fillmore District (Lower Pacific Heights)

Price: Varies based on current menu, check website for more details

Hours: 2 seatings, 5:30PM & 8:00PM, Wednesday - Saturday and every other Sunday 

San Francisco is known for a lot of things, but divine dining experiences are one thing the city can pride itself on. Each and every neighborhood not only offers its unique charm, but also a variety of delicious dining options from casual grab-and-go to fine dining.

Merchant Roots, located in the Filmore district, brings fine dining to the next level. Enjoy an immersive dining experience curated by a team of 5 passionate cooks, led by Chef Ryan Shelton. Be ready for not only your taste buds but each of your senses to be transported to another place and time. Whether it is a feast fit for mermaids, all things chocolate, or wandering through a blooming garden, the decor, flatware, glassware, and table set up itself have been carefully curated to match the divine recipes. Pretty much everything served is edible, even sometimes the plate itself. The theme-driven menu changes every three months so expect a one-of-a-kind dining experience that can’t be replicated anywhere else.

The tables book out quickly so make sure to make a reservation well in advance.

13 Unique Ways To Experience The Best Of San Francisco | Bare Escape
13 Unique Ways To Experience The Best Of San Francisco | Bare Escape
13 Unique Ways To Experience The Best Of San Francisco | Bare Escape

12. Napa Valley Wine Train

Location: Napa Valley (~1 hour from SF)

Price: Varies based on experience, check website for more details

Hours: Open daily usually with 2 timeslots, midday & evening

Embark on a 36-mile round-trip aboard the enchanting Napa Valley Wine Train. The elegant 100-year-old railcars transport guests not only back in time but from Napa Valley to St. Helena and back while stopping at well-known wineries along the way.

Watch the vineyards of Napa Valley pass you by as you enjoy a multiple-course meal in a luxurious setting paired with the local wines of the valley. All of the ingredients are freshly sourced and prepared within the four onboard kitchens to create a one-of-a-kind culinary experience serving gourmet California cuisine.

To enhance your experience we recommend booking a night at Alila Napa Valley truly one of the most magical hotels in the area.

13. Take The Ferry To Tiburon

Location: Departs from Gate B at the SF Ferry Terminal

Price: $14 one way

Hours: 2 seatings, 5:30PM & 8:00PM, Wednesday - Saturday and every other Sunday 

Tiburon is a small affluent town just north of San Francisco within the beautiful Marin Country. It is accessible by taking highway 101 north over the Golden Gate Bridge or, our favorite way, by sea aboard the Golden Gate Ferry. We like to set sail on the midday ferry and then take the last ferry back home so we get a good 6 hours to eat, shop and explore.

There are a bunch of good restaurants around the area, but our favorite is Sam’s Anchor Cafe. They have a delicious brunch on the weekends from 10AM – 3PM, but they don’t accept reservations so make sure to get there early to snatch a spot. If it is a beautiful day in the bay, this is going to be your highlight of the weekend.

After some delicious food and boutique shopping, we recommend exploring Tiburons neighborhood. There is a nice overlook that can be found by following a set of stairs just off the Main Street. The trail leads to a nice area with beautiful houses perched on the edge overlooking the bay. This is a great way to work off brunch!

If you are up for a slightly further hike there is one more secret spot also known as Hippie Tree that we would highly recommend exploring if you have time. It is an overlook with a swing and views of the Golden Gate Bridge peaking up from behind Sausalito. It is absolutely breathtaking, especially during sunset. It isn’t marked on the map but we dropped a pin so you can find it easily.

For dinner, we recommend heading to Bungalow Kitchen Tiburon a newly opened restaurant by Award-winning Chef Michael Mina from San Francisco. The Bungalow Kitchen is located on the waterfront in Tiburon and offers the dreamiest sunset views. This restaurant not only serves divine food but also a good time. Should you decide to turn your day trip into an overnighter then make sure to book a night at the one and only Waters Edge.

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13 Unique Ways To Experience The Best Of San Francisco | Bare Escape
13 Unique Ways To Experience The Best Of San Francisco | Bare Escape13 Unique Ways To Experience The Best Of San Francisco | Bare Escape

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