Explore San Francisco's top parks and beaches on a treasure hunt for these quirky gems hidden in plain sight.
Pet Cemetery at Crissy Field, Presidio
Surrounded by a quaint white picket fence, the Presidio’s Pet Cemetery is as touching as it is unsettling. Nestled under the new Presidio Parkway overpass next to Crissy Field, dozens of mostly homemade grave markers stand sentinel over the remains of beloved military family pets who frolicked San Francisco as far back as the 1950s. Keep an eye out for Willie, the beloved pet hamster, Heidi the Collie and Mr. Iguana, some of the cemetery’s first residents.
Andy Goldsworthy sculptures in the Presidio
Artist Andy Goldsworthy is known for his ephemeral, ecological sculptures constructed to continually change with the passage of time and the elements. The Presidio has the largest collection of Goldsworthy works in North America but you’ll only see all three if you are willing to explore on foot. Both “Spire” (near the Presidio Golf Club) and “Wood Line” (parallel to Lover’s Lane) are located along a 3 mile loop on the Bay Area Ridge Trail. His third piece, “Earth Wall,” can be found in the Hardie Courtyard at the historic Presidio Officer’s Club.
Cross at Mount Davidson
The 103-foot cross at the top of Mount Davidson has a storied history. First established as a place of worship in 1923, over the years the cross has been a victim of arson, honored by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the focus of a legal battle over the separation of church and state. Since 1997 it has been under the care and ownership of the Council of Armenian-American Organizations of Northern California and is lit up every year on Armenian Genocide Memorial Day (April 24).
Bison Paddock at Golden Gate Park
These lumbering beasts should be out of place in San Francisco but somehow, in their spacious paddock at Golden Gate Park, they look right at home. Bison have been living in the park since they were first imported from the Great Plains in 1899 and have since become an important part of revitalizing the national bison population—producing 100 calves over the last 30 years. The current herd are the descendants of a pair given to then mayor, now senator Dianne Feinstein in 1984.
Gold Rush Era Tombstones at Buena Vista Park
As San Francisco’s population swelled in the early 20th century, city officials made space for newcomers by digging up the graves of those who came before and moving them to nearby Colma (where the current population of the dead far outnumbers the living). In the removal process, many of the old tombstones, some dating back to the early Gold Rush days, were repurposed for building materials, including the construction of trails at the city’s oldest park, Buena Vista. See them there, still lining the steep, wooded hill with the memory of some of the first San Franciscans.
Cliff House steam rail at Lands End
Beginning in the 1880s, millionaire Adolph Sutro’s steam train carried passengers from California Street and Presidio Avenue all the way to Lands End to visit his famed baths. Tragically, after a landslide in 1925 covered the railroad, the entire train line was abandoned. The tracks, however, were never removed and sections still precariously line the hillside along Lands End.
Shakespeare’s Garden at Golden Gate Park
This garden oasis, sheltered from the bustling Golden Gate Park Museum Concourse by high walls and a sculpted wrought iron gate, has delighted Shakespeare fans since 1928. All of the plants and flowers here—more than 200 varieties, from poppies to daisies to mandrake—appear in the pages of Shakespeare’s works. You’ll find the bard, himself, behind locked bronze doors at the end of the garden’s long brick aisle.
The Buffalo Soldiers Exhibit at Fort Point, Presidio
Buffalo Soldiers, the name given to the African-American cavalry regiments in the late 19th century, were stationed at the Presidio following the Spanish-American War in 1898. This permanent exhibit at Fort Point (at the northern tip of the Presidio below the Golden Gate Bridge) pays homage to these brave, boundary-breaking men who lived and died in the city of San Francisco.
Nude beach at Baker Beach
The northern end of Baker Beach, a half-mile of windswept shore with one of the most beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge in the city, is also one of the city’s most tawdry sites. The original location of the Burning Man Festival (1986-1990), this section of Baker Beach carries on the Burner spirit by welcoming nude sunbathers. Join revelers on a warm day or stick to the south end where the beach is decidedly more family friendly.
Fairy hollow at Glen Canyon Park
One of the most enchanting places in San Francisco is hidden away in Glen Canyon Park at the southern end of the city. Lovingly constructed out of tree stumps, two fairy homes here give refuge to the park’s most magical creatures. At the larger home located on the Banana Slug Trail beneath the eucalyptus, local residents have plied the fairies with all sorts of toys and goodies to beautify their hollow. The smaller, carved fairy lair peaks out of the trees near Glen Canyon Preschool.