Hidden Gems in San Francisco for When You Need Peace and Tranquility
Escape the hustle and bustle of the city with these hidden and scenic spots that are sure to chill you out.
From our lively restaurant and bar scene to scores of popular tourist attractions and scenic vistas, there’s no shortage of cool spots to discover in San Francisco. But sometimes you need a break from the madness and when that happens, the city has plenty of options for carving out some peace and solitude. Whether you prefer your alone time in a park, a museum, a bookstore, or a bar (“alone wine” as it’s called), there’s a place on this list for you that’s perfect for reading a book, meditating, and noticing all of the small amazing moments that everyone staring at their phones is totally missing.
Golden Gate Park
This five-acre garden that is surrounded by tall greenery on all sides is home to winding paths, tranquil koi ponds, enchanting blooms, a five-story pagoda, a Zen garden, wooden bridges, stepping stones, bonsai trees, and a tea house, and though it is a popular tourist attraction, if you go during “off” hours, especially weekday mornings, you may have the space almost to yourself (and, even if you’re not alone, the landscape was designed to be calming and slow people down, so it will still feel that way). If you’re an SF resident, you no longer have to pay admission as of spring 2022, so if you get there and it’s a little too crowded for your liking, you can always take a quick stroll around and then wander back outside to Golden Gate Park which is a treasure trove of places one can find peace and quiet—a few obvious ones that didn’t make this list include Stow Lake, the Botanical Garden, the Rhododendron Dell, and, well… you get it.
You don’t have to be religious to appreciate this stunning French Gothic cathedral known for its mosaics and murals, reproduction of the “Gates of Paradise” doors, stained glass windows, two labyrinths, and awe-inspiring acoustics. Of course, if you do enjoy a religious or spiritual experience, the Episcopal Church does hold regular services, but it welcomes all people, regardless of faith, for yoga classes, sound baths, concerts, art exhibits, and more. You can also walk the indoor labyrinth during cathedral hours and the outdoor labyrinth anytime, day or night.
Golden Gate Park
It’s impossible to step foot inside of this 10-acre grove in eastern Golden Gate Park without thinking about all of the lives touched by AIDS, and that’s the point. It’s a place to “heal, hope, and remember.” But it’s also one of the best spots in the park for a moment of tranquility and reflection. The bowl-like valley was created so that people can find spots to be alone or gather in groups with tons of plants and trees, stone benches, and memorials throughout. There are plenty of places to lay down a blanket or sit on a bench and enjoy a picnic or a book. But when true solitude and quiet are in order, the Redwood Circle, a space surrounded by redwood trees, always does the trick.
Tank Hill is one of those SF spots that everyone pretends is some big secret, but a quick Google search will quickly dispel that myth. Still, for whatever reason, it just isn’t as possible with the masses as one might think it would be, considering the amazing views of downtown SF, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and beyond. Tank Hill is right below Twin Peaks and sits at about 650 feet (Twin Peaks is at 922 feet), so the views aren’t quite as stellar (and they aren’t 360 degrees), but you also get to avoid busses full of tourists, a relatively steep walk, or, even worse, potentially getting your car broken into because you decided to drive. The park is small, and there’s nothing much to it, but what more does one need to enjoy quality SF views than a log to sit on?
The Lands End Trail is one of SF’s best hikes, which means it's rarely very empty, but if you don’t mind a one-mile-ish hike followed by a short, but steep descent down to the ocean, you’ll be treated to one of SF’s most secluded beaches: Mile Rock, a small, rocky cove covered with driftwood, perfect for watching a magical California sunset.
It might be hard to imagine that there’s anything tranquil about what may very well be the country’s most well-known bookstore, but the good news about this shop which first gained notoriety for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, is that they have a poetry room upstairs, where shelves full of poetry line the wall, muted sunlight comes in through the windows, and chairs beckon you to sit and read. In the mood for a drink to go with your quiet contemplation? Head next door to the iconic Vesuvio and grab a seat in an upstairs nook next to a window.
This intimate wine bar and art gallery (that’s not actually a hotel) is tucked away on a little alley off of Gough Street and is an ideal spot for first dates and solo dates. Unlike so many bars in SF, you’re not going there to “see or be seen”; rather, you’re going there to enjoy an excellent glass of wine and maybe some cheese or charcuterie while cozied up on a comfy sofa in a dimly lit room with exposed brick walls and the dancing shadows of candlelight.
Golden Gate Park
Considering that the California Academy of Sciences is a museum beloved by children and adults alike, it’s hard to imagine the possibility of finding peace and quiet anywhere inside of the bustling museum. But, in fact, there are several places to find solitude. 1. Inside of the 75-foot domed Morrison Planetarium where the hyper-realistic virtual environments are so mesmerizing, one remains agog in silence. 2.) In the downstairs aquarium where the lights are dimmed so that the 40,000 colorful animals who live in the underwater and terrestrial habitats can take center stage. Wander among the exhibits—from the coral reef tank, which is one of the deepest and largest displays of living coral in the world, to the bioluminescent “twilight zone,” a recreation of mesophotic reefs located 100 to 500 feet beneath the ocean’s surface, to the California Coast where a giant window reveals eels, anemones, and a giant Pacific octopus—or just find a seat in a dark corner in front of the jellyfish and let their slow, mesmerizing movements lull you into a state of complete tranquility.
Just south of the center of San Francisco sits the city’s highest natural point, Mount Davidson (elevation 928 feet) where you’ll find a 30+ acre urban forest perfect for solitary hikes (dogs are allowed on-leash), wildlife-spotting, bird-watching (look for hawks, owls, hummingbirds, and more), views of downtown SF and across the Bay, and a 103-foot concrete cross that’s hidden from view by a thick grove of trees. If you’re really craving tranquility, the best time to wander Mount Davidson is on a foggy morning. You might have to sacrifice the sweeping views at the top, but the sense of overwhelming quiet and solitude is unparalleled.
Golden Gate Park
A ticket to go inside of the de Young is $15 but anyone can visit the 144-foot Hamon Observation Tower and the sculpture garden for free. The latter is where you’ll find the most peace and quiet as it’s full of alcoves, open spaces, trees, plants, and, of course, art. The most magnificent part of the garden is James Turrell’s “Three Gems” skyspace, a tunnel that leads to a concrete dome hidden under a grassy mound with a window to the sky, LED lighting effects, and a curved bench. For whatever reason, you can have this space to yourself for at least a little while, 9 times out of 10.