So you think you’ve done everything there is to do in San Francisco, huh? You’ve seen the Golden Gate Bridge, shopped Ghirardelli Square and watched the seals lounge at Pier 39. Maybe you’ve even sipped a cocktail at the storied Bourbon and Branch, found the Yoda Fountain at Lucasfilm Headquarters and explored Presidio Pet Cemetery.
Well, we’re here to tell you it’s basically impossible to do everything in this city. To prove it, we rounded up fifteen of the strangest, one-of-a-kind, and unique things to do, see and hear. Check off everything on out list and maybe then you can say you’ve done everything.
Food + Drink
Photo courtesy of Nader Khouri via The Starlight Room
Most popular as an iconic nightclub and cocktail bar inside the Kimpton Sir Francis Drake Hotel, The Starlight Room is also a quirky, extravagant and entertaining brunch destination. Every Sunday morning, the curtains are drawn, the dining room goes dark and Sunday’s A Drag begins! For under $80, you can eat from the brunch buffet and enjoy one of San Francisco’s best drag shows complete with song-and-dance routines and elaborate costumes.
Located inside the Fairmont San Francisco hotel, the Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar is a historic tiki bar that every music, food and cocktail fan should see. The story begins in 1929 when the hotel added a 75-foot indoor swimming pool on its Terrace Level. In 1945 the pool was transformed into a lagoon complete with a floating stage for the orchestra. Today, you can enjoy live music from that stage, food from the Polynesian-inspired menu, artisan cocktails, and even the occasional tropical rainstorm complete with thunder and lightning.
Cafe Zoetrope is an iconic wine bar and restaurant brought to San Francisco by The Family Coppola and named after Francis Ford Coppola’s production company, American Zoetrope. Located inside the famous Sentinel Building, the cafe is also home to the United States’ first Short Story Dispenser. Already popular throughout France, the machine prints off short stories; simply choose your desired reading length (one, three or five minutes), push a button and start reading!
Hotaling & Co., formerly Anchor Distilling Company, was started in 1993 by Fritz Maytag, a craft beverage pioneer who is credited with creating the first American craft whiskey and gin after Prohibition. A tasting experience on the premises will take you on a journey from the rooftop garden through the distillery’s unique production process with plenty of samples along the way. For more information on tastings and the tasting room, click here.
Photo of Chris Richardson courtesy of Hiromi Yoshida via Gregangelo’s Velocity Arts & Entertainment
As the headquarters of Gregangelo’s Velocity Arts & Entertainment, the Gregangelo Museum is an immersive experience that can only be found right here in San Francisco. The renovation of this West Portal home began in 1980 and has been a work-in-progress art installation ever since. The building’s labyrinth of rooms offer 27 immersive environments, each of which tells its own story through psychedelic and otherworldly arts. There are two tour options available to the public and the longest will take visitors through all the rooms and into the crawl space labyrinth of the upper floor. Get more information here.
The Mechanics’ Institute is a cultural center founded in 1854 featuring a famous library, a world-renowned chess program and a full calendar of events. Originally developed to serve the city’s artisans, craftsmen and inventors, the institute has developed into a community of avid readers, writers, downtown employees, chess players and nomadic workers. The chess club is the oldest continuously operating chess club in the country! You can learn more about the history and the Financial District building on a free tour offered every Wednesday at noon or quarterly during the evening.
Letterform Archive is a nonprofit center, museum and special collections library serving to inspire, educate, publish and bring together a community of artists, makers and historians. Their facility — lined with books and decorated with colorful posters — offers hands-on access to a curated collection of over 40,000 items related to lettering, typography, calligraphy and graphic design, and spans thousands of years that date back to the invention of writing.
Musée Mécanique houses one of the world’s largest privately owned collection of coin-operated mechanical musical instruments and antique arcade machines in their original working condition. That means you can play on and interact with more than 200 antique games and machines! Located on Pier 45 in Fisherman’s Wharf, admission is free every day.
Photo courtesy of Paxton Gate
Paxton Gate opened for the first time in December of 1992 inside a 300-square-foot shop to showcase and sell eccentric gardening merchandise and curiosities inspired by the natural world. Today, they’ve moved to a much larger space in the Mission and offer items including taxidermied animals, furniture, vintage and antique architectural elements, jewelry, personal goods, books, and home décor. Their shop and backyard garden oasis are truly one-of-a-kind so we recommend stopping by or signing up for a workshop or event! Their event calendar includes things like a Scorpion Pinning Workshop, a DIY Taxidermy Jackalope Class, and educational mixers like Bourbon and Beetles.
The Circus Center story begins in 1974 when Peggy Snider and Larry Pisoni founded The Pickle Family Circus, the iconic Bay Area troupe that kicked off the country’s circus renaissance. Today, the organization operates out of the vacant West Gym of Polytechnic High School and offers classes for every experience level in flying trapeze, acrobatics, aerial arts, contortion, juggling and various other disciplines. To get started on your own circus journey, check out their lineup of entry-level classes here.
Photo courtesy of Free Gold Watch
Free Gold Watch is a San Francisco-based custom screen printing, photography and design firm — and they just so happen to house one of the city’s best pinball and video arcades! With over 50 machines, you can play pinball that dates from as far back as 1966 and as current as 2018.
A program of Antenna Theater in Sausalito, The Magic Bus is a one-of-a-kind tour that is uniquely San Franciscan. The Magic Bus Experience begins with their psychedelic bus which transforms into a traveling movie theater, light show and rocket ship while riders travel back in time to the Summer of Love. Over the course of about two hours, the bus takes off from Union Square, travels through Chinatown, North Beach, the Financial District, the Fillmore and, of course, Haight Ashbury. Get more details and buy your tickets here.
The only theatre of its kind in the world, Audium is a 49-seat theater featuring specially composed sound sculptures broadcast on more than 150 speakers. Through the course of one hour — broken up into two half hour sets — viewers are immersed in sounds that create a trance-like state through both sensory overstimulation and sensory deprivation. Find more information and tickets here.
Hidden in 280 Orange Alley in the heart of the Mission District, you’ll find the storied Peephole Cinema, a literal hole-in-the-wall movie theater that displays a constant stream of silent films for anyone willing to peer through. Each film is several minutes in length and you can see what’s playing now on the website.
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