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The Unexplorer’s Guide to Hidden San Francisco

There’s a reason cities like Venice, London, and New York City are filled with tourists. There’s a ton to see. And while I pride myself on being able to get off the beaten path and veer away from those over touristy cities, the fact is, I love some of them.

Like San Francisco.

It’s one of my favorite cities. And if it weren’t for that chilly weather and those hills, I might want to live there! There are, of course, tourist traps all over the city. But I’ve carved out a few places that tourists don’t go, and I want to share them with you.

1. Japantown


Most visitors are more familiar with Japantown’s cousin, Chinatown, but I much prefer this sedate option. Rather than crowded shops hawking the same cheap plastic crap, you have better quality and more diversity directly west of Union Square. I adore the book store Kinokuniya, which tastefully stocks a large variety of interesting art books, manga, and gifts. Then there’s Daiso Japan, a sort of dollar store with all kinds of innovative Japanese products you never knew you needed.  Like a back scratcher or tote bag with poor French on it.

You can’t go wrong with the food in Japantown. From my favorite taiyaki at May’s Coffee Shop (fish-shaped pancakes with sweet filling) to Chocolate Chair, with its fire-breathing ice cream, there’s plenty to snack on. But then there are also ample restaurants serving sushi, ramen, and other Japanese favorites. Take your pick.


2. Musée Mechanique


I am amazed that more people don’t know about this penny arcade located in Fisherman’s Wharf. Before kids zoned out on Pac Man — decades before, even — they spent their pennies on mechanical arcade games like the ones you can play here. It makes me laugh to see the themes: there’s an English execution (is it so different from any other type?), an opium den, a drunk you can buy a drink for, and a bellowing fat woman named Bertha. You could spend hours here chugging quarters into these machines (no longer a penny!) and admiring the fact that these machines, some nearly 100 years old, are in such pristine condition and still entertaining kids and adults alike.


3. Beard Papa


Steer clear of the churro stands in the tourist areas and go to the mall on Market Street for what I consider to be one of San Francisco’s best snacks. Beard Papa claims to have the World’s Best Cream Puffs, and I am inclined to agree. While there are always the staple vanilla and chocolate filling options available, I tend to go for the weekly special. This trip, it was pumpkin. In the past, I’ve tried green tea. The cream puffs sit enticing and empty, waiting for you to make your order. Then the employees pump them full of your choice of cream. Bring plenty of napkins!


4. Best Foot Reflexology & Acupuncture


I’ll have to write an entire post about my foot massage experience, because it was that amazing. After several days of walking in boots that maybe weren’t the best for the hilly environment, my feet practically cried out when I spied this foot massage joint on the edge of Fisherman’s Wharf. I like having massages or treatments on my trips, because a) they cater to locals, not tourists and b) a little self-care can go a long way when traveling. In this instance, it was more about the environment and the character I met than the foot massage, though that was rejuvenating and just what I needed.

San Francisco is filled with tourists, but that doesn’t mean you have to run into them. Even exploring the neighborhoods, admiring the architecture, and finding a local coffee spot can be so much more fulfilling than standing in line for an Alcatraz tour.

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