Carol Guttery runs the Wayfaring Views travel website. She provides advice on independent travel and alternative itineraries designed to help people travel on their terms. If you want to visit SF, check out her list of totally cool, weird and unusual things to do in San Francisco.
Going Local in San Francisco with Carol Guttery
Take a self-guided walking tour of street art in the Mission.
San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood boasts an evolving immigrant history. It was once a Spanish settlement which evolved into a series of German, Irish and Italian communities before becoming a predominantly Latino neighborhood in the 1960’s.
There is a very proud Latino heritage on technicolor display in the Mission. Walk down 16th street between Mission and Hampshire, and you will see massive commissioned murals that tell the story of San Francisco’s Latino immigrant experience. Many of the murals are along the 16th street but be sure also to duck down Balmy Alley and other side streets. You’ve found some real treasures there.
Tips for visiting: Stop by Precita Eyes. They are a local nonprofit that supports Latino street art in the Mission. They will hook you up with a map and self-guided tour suggestions.
Visit Yoda, you will
George Lucas’ creative genius was spawned in the San Francisco Bay area. If you are one of the 500 zillion fans of Star Wars, you can be at one with the force by visiting the Yoda statue in San Francisco’s Presidio. Yoda presides over the parking lot of the LucasArts office building with his usual sharp eye, ever ready with a wise word.
You can also go into the LucasArts lobby where they have memorabilia displays including a full-size R3D2 and Darth Vader’s original costume!
If you are as big a nerd as I am, you will find it comforting to be there amidst the other geeks taking selfies with action figures and spouting movie trivia.
Tips for visiting: Parking is free for 15 minutes and go during regular business hours to access the LucasArts lobby area.
Visit Pier 24 Photography Gallery.
Pier 24 is best museum museum… that no one knows about. It was founded with the intent to provide a contemplative environment for viewing photography. They offer several shows a year which range from the exhibition of a single artist to collected works around a particular theme.
I have visited the gallery several times and am always impressed by how thoughtfully they have designed their space. They have an appointment-only reservation system specifically designed to meter the number of people who are in the gallery at any given time. And the studios themselves are very spacious, providing a lot a room to stand back and observe those pieces that are better seen from a remove.
Tips for visiting: They require reservations. But if you have a flexible schedule, you can often get the same day ticket on weekdays. Check the program on the website.
Eat street with Off the Grid.
Street food is famous all over the world, but San Francisco’s Off the Grid raises it to a whole other level. Off the Grid is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “bring people together through shared food.” They do that by organizing the food vendors and coordinating with the city to host food truck flash mobs all over SF.
Name a type of ethnicity, and they have it: Filipino, Mexican, Italian, Argentinian, Korean. American BBQ and on and on.
From March through October, there is a massive Friday evening food truck-a-rama in the Fort Mason Center. But you can find clusters of food trucks nearly every day somewhere in the city.
Tips for finding the trucks: Noontime on Wednesdays at 5th & Minna, Thursdays at the Ferry Building, Fridays at the Civic Center or check their schedule for other events.
Take a hike or bike on Angel Island.
Most people visiting SF will take the ferry and visit Alcatraz Island. The tours there do provide a fascinating look into SF’s penal history. But if you are keen on history, then you should also visit Angel Island.
Angel Island is located in the middle of the bay, just north of Alcatraz. It’s now a state park, but it’s past is layered with military history. It was an army post during the civil war, an immigration station, a WWII Japanese internment camp and cold war missile site. Most of the structures related to these military endeavors are abandoned. But the park itself is open for business. It’s a great way to get out of the city and get your exercise and a history lesson all in one.
In addition to the military sites, you can hike nature trails to get a 360’ view of the bay that’s perfect for getting great shots.
Tips for visiting: Take the ferry from pier 39 and rent bikes on site for a self-guided tour. Bring a lunch and plan to spend the better part of a day exploring the island.
San Francisco's Mission
Visit Yoda, you will
Pier 24 Photography Gallery
Off the Grid
Going Local is a series of interviews that we are doing with people that live and enjoy the city they live. You can read more interviews filled with tips here. And if you want to be featured here, this link will tell you how. We're always looking for more locals to share their favorite spots!