9 INSTAGRAMMABLE HIDDEN GEMS IN SAN FRANCISCO
After living in San Francisco for almost three years, I've been lucky to see so much of what the city has to offer. But once you've seen and experienced all the top rated attractions and had your fair share of clam chowder bowls at Fisherman's Wharf, you realize there's so much more to learn and love about this city beyond its Golden Gate arches and Alcatraz Island. If you're like me and you love discovering hidden gems when you travel, then you must check out some of San Francisco's most picturesque spots off the beaten path.
Palace of Fine Arts
If there's any place in San Francisco that can make you feel like royalty, it's the Palace of Fine Arts. Made up of Greek-style colonnades and a breathtaking rotunda, it is one of the most recognizable (and Instagrammable) features of San Francisco's northern skyline.
An architectural landmark, the Palace of Fine arts was originally constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in order to exhibit works of art. Today, it is admired by visitors and is a popular wedding and performance venue.
Visit this historic monument early in the day to admire its beauty without any crowds, enjoy an afternoon picnic on the lawn or stroll around the lagoon populated with fish, turtles and swans.
Map It: 3301 Lyon St, San Francisco, CA 94123
Bernal Heights Swing
Perhaps one of San Francisco's best kept secrets, this dreamy hilltop swing is located in the Bernal Heights neighborhood of San Francisco. In addition to a super Instagrammable swing, you can also find sweeping views of the city skyline, with the Golden Gate Bridge to your left and the Bay Bridge on the right. And the best part? It's never too crowded with tourists! It can get a bit windy up here, so make sure to bring a light jacket.
How to Get There: This swing can be found by navigating to Bernal Heights Park. Once you park near the bottom of the hill, make your way up. The "hike" is not difficult at all (I've done it in a dress & sneakers multiple times). A 5-10 minute walk at a small incline will get you to the top, where you will find this beautiful tree with a swing attached.
* Note: I've heard the swing breaks from time to time, but thanks to the lovely people of San Francisco, another one almost always goes up in its place soon after! *
This lovely beach isn't exactly hidden, but it certainly is more remote than any of the others in San Francisco. You won't catch many tourists here, but you will snag an epic view of the Golden Gate Bridge surrounded by big beautiful rock formations. This is also one of the most beautiful places to catch the sunset in San Francisco! It's a bit of a trek on the way back up, but the views more than make up for it!
How to Get There: Route to Marshall's Beach and it will take you to the free overlook parking lot. Once parked, take the trail to the left of the overlook parking lot. You'll walk a couple hundred feet and reach a sign with directions. Marshall's Beach is 0.5 miles down (1 mile roundtrip). The path is completely well-paved with wooden stairs, but the hike back up is a bit more work. If you go for sunset, bring a flashlight or phone with you, as there's limited lighting after dark.
Lovers' Lane Trail & Andy Goldsworthy's Wood Line at the Presidio
The oldest foot trail in the Presidio neighborhood of San Francisco is sure to give any nature, history or art lover an enchanting experience. Lovers' Lane got its name because this route was established in the 18th century as a shortcut used by Spanish soldiers and missionaries to get from the Main Post to Mission Dolores to meet up with their sweethearts!
As you make your way along the trail, you'll find the iconic Wood Line, an art installation by Andy Goldsworthy located in the fragrant eucalyptus forest. This "art walk" is made up of trimmed branches, felled trees and eucalyptus trunks laid end-to-end to create a zigzagging line through the forest.
How to Get There: Walk the entire trail or start at the south end of the Lovers' Lane trail to easily find the Wood Line. You can even route straight to "Andy Goldsworthy's Wood Line" on Google Maps!
Lands End Labyrinth
Overlooking the Pacific Ocean with sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge, a secret labyrinth sits at the tip of Eagle's Point on the California Coastal Trail. I first discovered the Lands End Labyrinth when I moved to San Francisco a few years ago and its existence simply blew my mind. I think it's safe to say it is my favorite hidden treasure of them all!
Unlike a maze, a labyrinth has one single path leading to the center and back out again. Labyrinths represent a journey to our own center and back again out into the world. Though it is a bit of a trek to get to, since the trail leading up to the labyrinth is unmaintained, it is well worth the effort. When you get there, make sure to enjoy a quiet moment to reflect and take in the majestic views.
How to Get There: Park behind the Legion of Honor and follow the Coastal Trail until you reach the trail to Mile Rock Beach. Walk down the steps, and where the staircase turns left, continue going straight on the trail. It will take you right to the labyrinth! Make sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring a jacket since it can get windy!
After visiting the Labyrinth, you can continue exploring the Lands End area by visiting the historic ruins at Sutro Baths.
In 1896, Sutro Baths opened in San Francisco as the world's largest indoor swimming pool. This public saltwater pool burned down in 1966, but is now visited by many (like me!) for views of the scenic ruins that overlook the Pacific Ocean. Walk down the trail to the ruins and enjoy a bit of San Francisco's rich history. If you love chasing sunsets, join the crowds of people that gather here in the evening, as it is also one of the most popular spots for sunset in San Francisco.
How to Get There: Sutro Baths sits directly on the Pacific Ocean on the northwest edge of San Francisco, north of Ocean Beach and south of Land's End.
Map it: 1004 Point Lobos Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121
Kirby Cove Swing
Another well-kept San Francisco secret is this swing in Kirby Cove, which comes with a one-of-a-kind view of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. The steep, mile-long trail down to the cove begins at the parking area above Battery Spencer on Conzelman Road. Once you reach the bottom of Marin Headlands, turn left and walk along the beach until you see the tree that the swing hangs from.
How to Get There: Route to Battery Spencer on Google Maps. You can park at the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point on Conzelman Road, but the lookout point from the top is a popular tourist destination so parking may be tough during peak hours. With Battery Spencer to your left, continue slightly past it and you will see a trailhead sign with directions for Kirby Cove.
16th Avenue Tiled Steps
The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps Project is a beautiful gem in San Francisco's Sunset District that was built to foster a community within the city. Neighbors joined together to turn 163 steps into a work of art. Inspired by the world-famous steps in Rio de Janeiro, the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps were created from beautiful fragments of tile, mirror and stained glass and feature a colorful mosaic that begins in the sea and ends in the stars!
Got a little extra time to spare? Start nearby at Home Cafe for a colorful latte & toast, then walk 8 minutes towards the mosaic steps. Admire the artistic tiles as you make your way to the top and reward yourself with beautiful panoramic views of the city from Grandview Park.
Map it: Moraga St & 16th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94122
Lyon Street Steps
Almost double the amount of stairs than 16th Avenue Tiled Steps, Lyon Street Steps is the perfect place to enjoy an Instagrammable view of the San Francisco Bay or get in your workout for the day while surrounded by multi-million dollar homes. From the top of the steps you can see sweeping views of the Palace of Fine Arts, Billionare's Row and one of the "Hearts of San Francisco" sculptures.
PS: If you're a Princess Diaries fan, Grove High School is located at the bottom of the steps on Green Street!
Map It: Lyon St & Broadway St (top of the steps) OR Lyon St & Green St (bottom of the steps)
* Note: People do use these stairs to exercise, so be mindful as you are snapping your photo for the 'gram! *