Offbeat San Francisco

1) Dolphin Club: Swim in the bay

Known amongst locals as the club whose members swim in the freezing SF bay without wetsuits, Dolphin Club is an old school San Francisco institution, dating back to 1877. It is home to a fleet of beautiful, hand-built, wooden rowboats. Every Tuesday night, a master boat builder leads a woodworking session for volunteers in the club’s boathouse, assisting them in the building of a boat. Dolphin Club is open to non-members on alternating days so check the site before you go. It has its own private pier, beach, and saunas for post-swim hangs!

 

2) Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory: Write your own fortune

This hole-in-the wall fortune cookie factory is a serious gem in the heart of Chinatown with three little old Chinese ladies along a conveyer belt cranking out delicious fortune cookies. They have a 'raunchy' bag of fortune cookies available for purchase with dirty Chinese translated to English that only sometimes makes sense. Pro tip: For 50c, you can write up your own fortune and embed into a fresh cookie! P.S. Free samples!

 

3) Wave Organ: High tide ocean music

On a tiny peninsula walkway in the bay is an acoustic sculpture activated by the ocean waves. Organ pipes (AKA listening tubes) run from the land into the water and rise from the surface of the jetty to release a symphony of swirling sounds. Sometimes described as listening to the “world’s largest seashell,” the melodies are at their peak during high tide, so come for sunrise, bring a blanket (and hot toddy), take in the panoramic views, listen to the fog horns and seagulls waking up, and start your day right.

 

4) Roller Skate Disco: Roller skating in a church

1970’s dance tunes meet roller skates meet 125 year old church with smooth hardwood skating floors. The Church of 8 Wheels is dope! Don’t be afraid to dress up for the occasion in argyle socks and a vintage jumpsuit to groove out to throwback jams - many folks are in costume so you will fit right in. Don’t be intimidated by the handful of roller skating pros that can do spins and hops and fly backwards on their skates. Thankfully, they aren’t aggro and will make way for your clumsy ass. Note 1: You can rent roller skates, but bring your own socks. Note 2: There's no booze, so have a drink before if you dare.

 

5) Alemany Farm: Volunteer for Produce!

Want organic produce to feed yourself for your entire week or experience working on an urban farm? Alemany Farm is a mission-driven, organic farm run by volunteers. You can get involved on the 1st and 3rd Sunday of every month, but check the website for the most up-to-date schedule before you go. A work day at the farm starts off with orientation at noon, and till 5 pm you will be busy doing things like planting seeds, pulling weeds, digging mud troughs, and other farm maintenance activities. Your day will culminate in the harvest and you'll leave tired but fulfilled, with a bag full of goods. Cherry tomatoes, kale, strawberries, carrots, are just a few offerings depending on the season.

 

6) SF Armory: tour the porn studios of Kink.com

Once a military training and artillery facility, the SF Armory is a foreboding architectural structure that is now home to Kink.com, the world’s largest producer of BDSM pornography. Take a tour to check out the fetish porno sets - everything from dungeons and padded cells, giant tubs of lube in the hallways, to sexy lounges with leather armchairs where dirty stuff goes down on camera. The Armory also offers educational workshops like BlowJobs 101 and Bondage for Beginners. Calm your nerves at the recently opened Armory Club, an upscale cocktail bar right off the main building before the tour. Then, get kinky!

 

7) Andy Goldsworthy's Spire: Hike in the Presidio

The Presidio is a magical part of San Francisco that is essentially country livin’ in the city. What was once a military establishment is now home to outdoorsy type San Franciscans that live in old army officer houses, leave their front doors unlocked, and have plenty of active gear (surfboards, mountain bikes, canoes). It feels like a national park, surrounded by cypress, eucalyptus and redwood trees, spectacular views and hiking trails. World renowned artist Andy Goldsworthy has a few pieces in the Presidio, but the Spire is iconic. It is a 100 foot long wooden sculpture that can be accessed by foot on the Bay Area Rge Trail.

 

8) Boom Boom Room: Late night funk spot

Quintessential SF late night spot that usually goes till 4am once most of the city has shut down. Be prepared to pay a $10-$20 cover, but it's worth it for the funky bands that take over this small New Orleans-style blues, soul and funk club. You're guaranteed at least one trumpet or saxophone in your face, a back-drop of red velvet curtains, black and white tile floors and very dim, sultry lighting. Authentic bayou vibes!
 


9) Biergarten: Clink steins

In Hayes Valley, one of the hippest upcoming neighbourhoods in SF is Biergarten, a small outdoor German beer garden with 6 rotating beers from breweries around the world. Try the Radler - a light lager with sparkling lemon soda! Snacks in the form of pretzels and bratwurst are also served, all out of a shipping container that make up the bar and kitchen. There are long classic German picnic tables to settle into with a group of friends. Bonus: Biergarten is equipped with warm wool blankets for when it’s foggy and chilly out.



10) Mission Dolores Park: Truffles and transvestites

This is a super special park in San Francisco with a super special vibe. On a sunny day, the park is packed with locals spread out on picnic mats, dogs, and boomboxes. Bring a 6 pack and your sunnies for some serious people watching. Steer clear (or don’t) of the 'chocolate' truffles that are too easy to come by here or buy piñacoladas off a friendly transvestite. Treat yourself to some of SF’s best hand-made, small-batch icecream at Bi-Rite Creamery just across the street. Salted Caramel is a winner!

 

11) Cal Academy of Sciences: Drink with jellyfish

On Thursday nights, this usually family-friendly, all-in-one planetarium, aquarium and natural history museum transforms into a party for intoxicated, giggling adults standing around jellyfish exhibits with wide eyes and gaping mouths. Every Thursday night has a different theme, but there is always a DJ and plenty of bars serving delicious cocktails. Buy tickets in advance, and arrive early to snag a ticket to the planetarium show - I recommend starting with the earthquake exhibit before you have had too many drinks as things can get a little shaky. 21+ only - they will ID.

 

12) Land's End Hike to Sutro Baths: Visit ruins

The Sutro Baths are the final treat at the end of a three mile hike on the Coastal Trail at Land’s End. Built in 1896, the Sutro Baths were once large indoor salt-water swimming pools but a fire burned the facility down in 1966 leaving it in ruins. The hike is fairly easy on exposed bluffs with the surf below and sweeping views of Golden Gate bridge. NB: There are no bathrooms on the trail so go before you go.

 

13) Beach Blanket Babylon: Get cultural 

This is the best kind of theatrical production. Unlike a large scale broadway production, Beach Blanket Babylon is the most intimate, hilarious, and current play in San Francisco. Bang in the middle of SF’s Italian neighbourhood, North Beach, BBB has nightly showings (Wed-Sun) at Club Fugazi, a tiny theatre with tons of character. The play itself is outrageous and is continually being refreshed with the latest in pop culture. Expect random characters like Obama or Nicki Minaj to make an appearance.

 

14) Buffalo Exchange: Go thrifting

The Haight in SF is full of colours, culture, Grateful Dead tunes and hippie feels. Although there are plenty of kooky thrift stores in the hood, Buffalo Exchanges rules the roost. You will definitely have to turn on your eagle eyes to wade through the sheer volume of sick items, to find your diamond in the rough. The perfect spot to spend $30 to put together your 6 piece, elaborate hipster outfit that no-one but yourself gets. They also purchase gently used items if you are looking to lighten your suitcase, but often stick their noses up at most of the items you bring to sell. Don’t take it personally - thrift stores have standards, people!

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Anoushka Mirchandani likes shitty sci-fi TV shows and dimsum. She works in music and festivals at Eventbrite and has been an SF local for five years. Follow her on instagram at @anoushka.  

RR is a graphic designer, illustrator and visual artist who lives mainly in Bangalore and travels often. She likes money plants, hula hoops, patterns and kombucha. Find her portfolio at rrad.in and follow her on instagram at @riafish.