This blog post was updated on July 16, 2019.
It’s the city that never stops giving. Known for the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, colorful cable cars, and a variety of delicious foods, it’s a top travel destination for many. From a vibrant LGBTQ community in the Castro to the fun-loving hippies of the Haight-Ashbury, there’s something for everyone. For those looking to go beyond the typical San Francisco tourist attractions, here’s a list of the strangest and most unique things you can do in San Francisco, and ONLY in San Francisco.
Gawk at the Parrots of Telegraph Hill
In 2003, after Judy Irving released her documentary, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, the nation became enchanted with these little cherry-headed conures. More than a decade later, the flock still thrives. Over 200 birds form the current flock, and though sometimes elusive to find, generally, visitors will have a good chance of seeing them in the north waterfront area. It’s rumored that the flock started in the late 1990s as individuals tried and failed to keep these little guys in captivity, and now, the birds are still flying free.
Ogle at the Painted Ladies of San Francisco
From 710 to 720 Steiner Street is a row of San Francisco’s most famous Victorian homes. The houses, dubbed “Postcard Row,” have not only been featured in the famous opening credits for Full House but have also starred in Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Robin William’s Bicentennial Man. This Victorian style is famous for its bright colors and embellished architectural details. On a sunny day, a stroll down Steiner Street is sure to transport you back to the 20th century.
Take a Lap Around Alcatraz Island
For history nuts, Harry Potter fans, and minions of the macabre, San Francisco’s Alcatraz Island is a must-see. The island has served as a Federal and military prison, a home for aboriginals, and even the oldest operating lighthouse on America’s West Coast. Today, the island is more museum-meets-park-meets-marine life. The island is open year-round, closing only for Federal holidays, and can be reached via ferry boat (aptly named Alcatraz Cruises) from San Francisco’s famous Pier 33. The weather and waits can sometimes be a bit intense, so be sure to plan well in advance.
Get Lost in Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze
Mirror Mazes feel like a blast from psychedelic past, and Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze manages to retain that old-school cool while still infusing some contemporary flavor. The whole set-up can be quite jazzy, with adults and kids alike having a good time. The maze is located in San Francisco’s famous Pier 39 and is only $5 for ages 5 and above. It has been described as the best legal trip someone can get within the city’s boundaries, and with LED lighting, blacklights, and infinite reflections, it’s easy to see why. The maze itself doesn’t take longer than 10 to 15 minutes to navigate — depending on how directionally challenged you might be — and considering the number of other fun things available to do around Pier 39, it ends up being the perfect amount of time. They even give visitors plastic gloves so little lost souls don’t dirty the mirrors with sticky fingerprints!
Listen to the Wave Organ
There are many who are all ears for nature. Be it the sounds of birds in the morning, the chirp of crickets, or the brush of grass on a window — nature’s call can easily become a symphony. But for artists Peter Richards and George Gonzalez, those sounds weren’t enough. So they created the Wave Organ. The sculpture is a wave-activated acoustic monument located on a jetty in San Francisco’s Marina District. The site has a number of benches where visitors are privy to not only the amplified gurgles, slurps, and hisses of the Pacific Ocean but a panoramic view of the city from across the narrow channel. The sculpture itself is composed of 25 PVC organ pipes, jutting out in various directions, collecting mollusks and other sea creatures, and every pipe produces a unique sound. The entire spot feels like a scene from one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Filled with nooks and crannies, this area has become known for hosting first dates to old-time lovers. But make sure you time your visit right — low tides generally don’t produce the same intense sounds that visitors expect!
Did we miss your favorite wackiest destination in San Francisco? Let us know what it is in the comments below!