Offbeat Adventures in San Francisco


San Francisco feels like a city built specifically for oddballs after offbeat adventures. Starting with the Gold Rush waaaay back in 1849 through the counterculture and hippie movement of the ’60s, to the current tech-sector mass migration, SF has proved to be a hotspot for gung-ho weirdos. What follows is our list of suggestions for modern-day urban explorers with a taste for the left-of-center. They all serve as fantastic support for New Belgium’s wacky Tour de Fat, an annual celebration of “bikes, beer & bemusement,” that lands Saturday, September 13th at Golden Gate Park with headliner Reggie Watts and thousands of local cycling enthusiasts.

1. @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz

Just after Tour de Fat on September 27, Chinese artist and human rights activist Ai Weiwei debuts @Large, new works created specifically for display on Alcatraz. Positioned across four sites on the island are seven installations designed to provoke viewers into questioning the current state of human rights worldwide. Your regular ferry and tour ticket to the former prison grants you access to the exhibit, which sprawls over areas never before open to the public. Tickets are selling out fast, but if you can, try for a night tour for heightened adventure.

2. Loved to Death

San Francisco is an awesome shopping city. But get out of Union Square’s retail center, and venture further afield for true treasures, like those found at oddity emporium Loved to Death. The Haight storefront specializes in taxidermy, Victorian oddities, memento mori, and other antiques. Bone specimens, butterflies framed in glass, alligator heads, antique medical tools, absinthe fountains, and more await you.

3. Seward Street Slides

BYO cardboard and you’ll find ample proof that slides aren’t just for kids. The Seward Street Slides are way off the beaten path (and up a steep hill), but a fantastic find tucked into a small residential SF park. Designed by a neighborhood kid who won a “Design the Park” contest, the slides opened in 1973 and have been ripping jeans ever since. Serious pro tip: keep a hold of the aforementioned cardboard!

4. Musée Mécanique

Many locals will tell you that the Musée Mécanique is the only decent reason to go to Fisherman’s Wharf. We tend to agree (there are plenty of other spots to find a sourdough bread bowl of chowder in the city). The Musée is one of the world’s largest privately owned penny arcades, featuring games and amusements from as long as 100 year ago, and highlighting a bunch of archaic San Francisco leisure history. Find sometimes terrifying — looking at you, Laffing Sal — local treasures from long-gone establishments like Playland at the Beach and the Sutro Baths, plus other artifacts from around the world. Everything is in working condition, and the Musée Mécanique is free to enter — although some games are coin operated.

5. Audium

Probably the trippiest tip on our list, Audium is a “theatre of sound-sculptured space.” Composer Stan Shaff has been running hour-long shows out of his custom-built electro-acoustic theatre every Friday and Saturday night since the ’70s. Come with $20 cash, get led down a disorienting hallway and sat down in what a VICE reporter calls “a sound stage from 2001: A Space Odyssey,” and prepare for a journey. Surrounded by 169 speakers, you and your fellow sound explorers are then immersed in total darkness as sounds envelop you. Found sounds of childhood, like water splashing, jarring sounds, horns, flutes, birds… Since your sense of sight is completely blocked, you’re forced to truly examine the auditory elements of the production. Shaff says: “I ask listeners to see with their ears and feel with their bodies sounds as images, dreams and memories.”

6. St. John Will-I-Am Coltrane Church

A slightly more traditional musical experience can be had at the highly unorthodox services of the St. John Coltrane Church. Every Sunday, join jazz worshippers for “sound praise” featuring the Coltrane Liturgy — which combines the Divine Liturgy of the African Orthodox Church and Psalm 23 with the melodies and rhythms of Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.” The Ministers of Sound, incredibly skilled jazz musicians also known as Ohnedaruth, lead the service providing the rhythm section and horns. The Voices of Compassion choir takes vocals, and if you play an instrument, you’re invited to bring it to play and praise along. No religion required. Spirituality encouraged.

7. House of Air

If you think you’ve mastered the backyard trampolines and school gymnasium mats of your youth, head to House of Air in the Presidio for some next-level jumping. The indoor trampoline park is housed in an old airplane hangar, and presents workout classes, aerial and physical training, plus more carefree activities like trampoline dodgeball, and “open jump” time. Book a reservation in advance to make sure there’s space for you on the trampolines, and then get ready to bounce off the walls — literally. Made from 42 conjoined trampolines, the main structure features trampoline walls lining the floor, which itself is larger than a regulation basketball court.

8. Tour de Fat

This year’s Tour de Fat features another fashion-forward bike ride ending in Golden Gate Park’s Lindley Meadow, where adults can sample New Belgium’s best brews, and kids of all ages can enjoy live entertainment from The Handsome Little Devils, The Reals, Yo Yo People, and the amazing Reggie Watts headlining. Polish up your bike and your dance moves for the now-legendary Thousand Person Dance Contest, and leave room for noshes from local purveyors. Feel-good bonus: all proceeds will benefit the San Francisco Bike Coalition and Bay Area Ridge Trail Council. In other words, this is the perfect Saturday — don’t miss it!