From the gorgeous blue waters of the Pacific Ocean to the sparkling expanse of its namesake bay, the city of San Francisco offers visitors breathtaking scenery and an abundance of activities. Apart from the well-known attractions usually associated with the city such as the Golden Gate Bridge and Chinatown, this iconic place in Northern California features numerous eclectic, unknown treasures. Situated close to most San Francisco vacation rentals are wondrous sights and fascinating museums, as well as marvelous and unusual oddities. Here are the top hidden gems in the city of San Francisco.

1. Mount Sutro

Mount Sutro is a hill in central San Francisco just a few blocks south of Golden Gate Park. Much of the hillside is covered with a forest of tall eucalyptus trees that are well over 100 years old. Hiking trails take you through the breathtaking woodlands to Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve at the summit. On the way, watch for great horned owls, woodpeckers, and many other species of birds. Because Mount Sutro is within San Francisco’s fog belt, on a foggy day, the eucalyptus woodlands are transformed into an ethereal cloud forest.

2. Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura sits near Cliff House at Land’s End opposite Seal Rock at the northwestern edge of San Francisco. Housed in a building shaped like a camera, the device provides a 360 degree panoramic view of the Seal Rock area based on technology invented by Leonardo da Vinci during the Renaissance. As you stand in a darkened room, a small opening lets in light that a lens focuses. When you’re finished in the museum, enjoy the cool sea air, and observe the seal colony cavorting on the nearby rock and the breathtaking crags of the Northern California Coast.

3. Exploratorium

The Exploratorium is an amazing interactive museum located in the waterfront Embarcadero district in northeastern San Francisco. Numerous galleries house exhibits on light and sound, living systems, human behavior, and invention. The museum emphasizes learning through hands-on experience. For instance, in the tactile dome, visitors explore a completely dark environment only by touch. In the tinkering workshop area, visitors are able to build their own mechanical creations or make short films. The Outdoor Gallery is an extension that displays artwork and devices focusing on weather and environment.

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4. The Beat Museum

In the 1950s, a number of famous artists, writers, and musicians known as the Beats congregated in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood, including Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs. The Beat Museum in North Beach celebrates the legacy of the Beat Generation through displays of artwork, memorabilia, first editions, photographs, and videos. Within walking distance of the Beat Museum are other notable Beat Generation hangouts such as the City Lights Bookstore, the Vesuvio Cafe, and the Cafe Trieste.

5. 16th Avenue Mosaic Steps

The breathtakingly beautiful 16th Avenue Staircase is near vacation rentals in the Sunset District in northwest San Francisco. The 163 steps covered with an artistic pattern of colorful mosaic tiles depict a sun, a moon, fish, flowers, and gardens. They commence at 16th Avenue and Morgana and culminate near Grandview Park. Hike up the hillside to the summit of the park for an amazing panoramic view of Golden Gate Park, the downtown area, the Pacific Ocean, and San Francisco Bay.

6. Strawberry Hill

Strawberry Hill is a beautiful small island in the midst of Stow Lake in the center of Golden Gate Park. Two bridges take you over the lake to Strawberry Hill, where you find numerous walking and jogging trails. On the island, view lovely Huntington Falls and the pristine and colorful Chinese Pavilion. Stow Lake Boathouse rents rowboats and pedal boats to explore the peaceful lake. Other Golden Gate Park attractions near Strawberry Hill include the Japanese Tea Garden, the Shakespeare Garden, and the De Young Museum.

7. The Wave Organ

The Wave Organ is a unique acoustic sculpture that lies at the end of a jetty on the north side of San Francisco Bay in the Marina District. Created by artists Peter Richards and George Gonzales in 1986, the device consists of concrete ledges and organ pipes that resonate with musical melodies when water from waves and the tide flows in and out. The sounds are most noticeable at high tide. The jetty offers a spectacular view of Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge.

8. Garden of Fragrance

The Garden of Fragrance, a special garden created to appeal primarily to a visitor’s sense of smell, is a part of the San Francisco Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park. The garden has a small pond, some sculptures, and abundant birds and bees attracted by the wonderful aromas of the plants. A walk through this sweet-smelling haven provides a singularly invigorating experience. To provide a feast for your eyes, explore the rest of the Botanical Garden, which features collections of flowers and plants from all over the world.

9. Musee Mechanique

The Musee Mechanique is an amazing museum of vintage penny arcade games located on Pier 45 on Fisherman’s Wharf in northern San Francisco. The museum’s collection of mechanical games is among the world’s largest, and consists of pinball machines, fortune tellers, video games, dioramas, and many others. Admission to the museum is free, but you have to pay to play the coin operated games. Some of the games are extremely rare and unique to the museum.

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