San Francisco Revisited: Five Spots You Never Knew Existed

Written in cooperation with Hotel Planner.

The city of San Francisco is by no means undiscovered territory. One of the most loved and visited cities in the nation, the City by the Bay is a perennial favorite. Everyone is aware of major attractions like Alcatraz Island, Embarcadero Wharf, San Francisco’s sourdough, and Lombard Street’s famous curves, but here are five of my favorite little-known sites that you shouldn’t miss on your next visit.

Visit the South Pacific

Image via Flickr by Doug Letterman

Recreate the exoticism of the South Pacific with a visit to the Tonga Room. Fans of Jimmy Buffett will recognize the name, but others may have missed this explosion of bamboo, seashells, and tiki figurines. During World War II, tiki bars opened all across the country, with San Francisco jumping on the trend relatively early. While it’s now considered a bit kitschy, the Tonga Lounge, which opened in the luxurious Fairmont hotel in 1945, was once the place to be seen. Even today, the pool in the center of the restaurant, where the band plays, is a unique feature.

Sleep Like Royalty

When you visit the Tonga Room in the Fairmont Hotel, ask to take a peek at the hotel’s luxurious penthouse suite. Spanning a staggering 6,000 square feet and costing a whopping $18,000 per night, this suite has housed the likes of Prince Charles, Mick Jagger, and Alfred Hitchcock. It features a two-story library, a cornucopia of design styles, and a dining table that seats 60. One of its main claims to fame is the secret passageway that John F. Kennedy supposedly used to allow Marilyn Monroe to enter.

Step into the Sunset District

Image via Flickr by Ed Bierman

Located in the quiet and relatively undiscovered Sunset District, the 163 mosaic-tiled steps are worth the effort to climb. Completed over the course of two years, the gorgeous steps lead to beautiful views of the city. They also pave the way to the neighboring Green Hairstreak corridor, along with the beautiful succulents and native habitat designed to sustain the local butterfly population.

Slide in the Park

Image via Flickr by jdeeringdavis

The Seward Street Slides are a perfect example of community activism and protecting green spaces. In the 1960s, this area was slated for development, prompting local residents got together to protest with an epic bulldozer-defying sit-in. After nearly a decade of protests, the community won their lot back and turned it into a city park, which opened in the early 1970s. A local teenager designed the Seward Street Slides to encourage enjoyment of the park by young and old. Bring your own cardboard along for this unique experience.

Remember the Dearly Departed

In San Francisco, the most interesting cemetery revolves around furry family members. When military families resided at the Presidio, this cemetery was created as a final resting place for their beloved pets. Tombstones show that the array of species includes dogs, cats, goldfish, birds, and even lizards. Local development nearly caused the demise of the pet cemetery in 2009, but community activists managed to save it from complete destruction. It’s a fitting tribute to beloved pets.

San Francisco will always draw visitors to explore its most popular tourist attractions. Next time you visit, take a minute to head to these lesser-known gems.

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