San Francisco is an undeniably, incontrovertibly beautiful city. When you're visiting, all the guide books are going to tell you to go straight for Fisherman's Wharf, hop the ferry to Alcatraz, photograph Lombard Street and explore the treasures of Golden Gate Park. But, perhaps you're the more adventurous type and want to travel off course. Perhaps you want to be off the beaten path. So if you're the curious sort, come with me, dear traveler, and let's explore the Bay City in style.
Mission District - The many neighborhoods of San Francisco all deserve your attention - and we'll get to that later on. For now, focus your sights on the stunning and culturally rich Mission District. Predominately of Latino heritage, the Mission District shows the many facets of the Latino-American culture with a kind of hipster vibe and authentic charm. You'll find the Mission Murals in the alleys and along the sides of buildings splashing added color into the surroundings, bringing art to the everyday. You will also let your taste buds rule in Mission as it's here that you can find the best Mexican food anywhere in the city as well as a number of thrift stores hawking cheap deals and some up and coming indie coffee shops.
Tiburon - You may have heard of Sausalito and you may have heard that it's pretty much overrun by tourists. This is true but you're in luck with its more laid back, village-esque town of Tiburon. The town's name means "shark" in Spanish and is traced to the toothy counterparts that swim the shores across the bay from San Francisco proper. The town itself is fairly devoid of touristy kitsch and crowds and is the perfect spot to go and relax, tour some lovely art galleries, visit the Railroad and Ferry Depot Museum, or bike/hike your way around the town's many scenic trails. You can get there by ferry or drive around the Bay Area for a nice afternoon journey.
Muir Woods - A national monument park in north San Francisco, Muir Woods is a short drive from the city into a paradise of thick green woods, natural beauty, and peaceful recreation. The park protects roughly 554 acres, 240 of which are covered in an old-growth coast redwood Sequoia forest that used to cover the entirety of California's coast. The tallest tree in Muir Woods reaches an astonishing 258 feet and the oldest dates back roughly 1,200 years though most in the park are between 600-800 years old. A trip to Muir Woods is fantastically soothing, eye-opening, and exercising of both mind and body.
Lands End Trail - People tend to underestimate how much San Francisco focuses on outdoor recreation, from the walkable neighborhoods to parks like the one at Golden Gate. There are many urban walking/biking trails, several of them start in Presidio. One of the most beautiful is the Lands End Trail, starting in stunning Ocean Beach and winding through to Baker Beach. While the whole trail is 11 miles long, you can take a piece of it for more condensed beauty. Some of the wildest areas are along a 3.5-mile stretch shaded with lovely cypress groves, crossing coastal cliffs with huge payoffs in views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay, and the Pacific Ocean as well as a plethora of marine wildlife in the water below.
Baker Beach - Stretching roughly a half-mile in length, Baker Beach is one of the best beaches in the entire Bay Area for vistas of the Marin Headlands and the Bridge. Porpoises often play in the waves off Baker Beach, making for interesting and fun picnicking sites. The area also has a deep history as a military Battery in the early 20th century, the evidence of which can still be seen by inquiring minds. The beach is sincerely beautiful and you've undoubtedly seen pictures of it on postcards and in guidebooks as it's fantastically scenic. (P.S. If you have young people in your student group, it'd be best to steer clear of the north end as it tends to be topless in the warm months.)
Historic Neighborhood Walking Tours - As mentioned earlier, San Francisco's neighborhoods are absolutely amazing. Although they are almost always set on steep hills, they are worth the climb and effort to tour the historic mansions of Nob Hill, see the fabulous villas in Pacific Heights, have an adventure in the Tenderloin district, or sample some culture in Chinatown. Each neighborhood has its own history, culture, and unique personality. Pick a few and make a day of walking through the sites and scenes for a truly off the beaten path vacation.
Walt Disney Family Museum - Dedicated to the legacy and work of Walt Disney and his family, this San Francisco based museum is a wonderful destination for anyone who has enjoyed the magic of Disney. Located in Presidio with amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Park, the Disney Museum spans 40,000 square feet of family artifacts, original prints and sketches, and a 12-foot model of Disneyland. Ten permanent galleries cover the animation genius's ancestral history through to his death in 1966. The museum also has a Fantasia themed theater which shows Disney classic movies every day.
Views from the "Hills" - San Francisco is a city made of hills and valleys so the views from up top are undeniably stunning, especially at sunset and sunrise (but who wants to get up that early?). Apparently, the view from atop Russian Hill (in the 1000 block of Vallejo Street) is not to be missed with views of the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, and beyond in a nice, residential neighborhood. You can climb Coit Tower to see awesome views but it'll cost you admission while the hills are free. Sutro Heights Park, above Ocean Beach, is one of the most beautiful and affords unique looks at the historic mansions in the area as well.