6 of the Best Things to do in San Francisco
San Francisco has much to offer any and all visitors. In fact there are so many sites, even if you lived there for more than a year you might not see them all. This list should provide a great start.
San Francisco is one of the best places to visit in the United States. The variety of things to do and places to go are a result of the geographic location, colorful history and diverse population San Francisco has been host to since it’s founding.
Starting with the gold rush of 1849, San Francisco became one of the most important cities on the west coast. Not only is the architecture iconic, the views are one of a kind, but the experiences the city offers will be a source of great memories that last a lifetime.
People that visit San Francisco go home with a true understanding of what Tony Bennett meant in his Grammy Award winning song “I left my heart in San Francisco”.
Museums of San Francisco
There are a large number of museums in San Francisco including art, history, cultural, nature and science museums. Among the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco are the Legion of Honor and the de Young Museum. Both museums are housed in unique and iconic examples of the architecture of San Francisco.
The Asian Art Museum houses one of the most comprehensive collections of Asian art in the world. Past exhibits include Samurai Armor and Enter the Mandala: Cosmic Centers and Mental Maps of Himalayan Buddhism.
If science and natural history are your interests then a visit to the California Academy of Sciences is a must. Housing more than 26 million specimens of natural history making the California Academy of Sciences is one of largest natural history museums in the world.
Parks of San Francisco
San Francisco parks are a one of a kind as well. Golden Gate Park is one of the largest urban parks in the nation, even larger than New York City’s Central Park. With many attractions within the park itself, there are days of exploring for the visitor. From taking a paddle boat ride on Spreckels Lake, visiting the Bison Paddock to see the historic Buffalo Herd, and touring the Conservatory of Flowers, to taking an enchanted walk through the Japanese Tea Gardens, Golden Gate Park alone could be a vacation.
Located in the Mission District, Dolores Park is a nice break to touring the city. On a sunny day Dolores Park is full of locals and visitors alike soaking up the warmth of the sun. If you are into experiencing the local flavor of your vacations, Dolores Park is a must stop for a break in a busy day of site seeing.
One of the best kept secrets of San Francisco is Sutro Historic District. Sutro Historic District, named after Adolph Sutro former Mayor of San Francisco and Comstock Lode silver baron, is located at the very western edge of the Outer Richmond District and Lands End section of the California Coastal Trail. The district includes the remains of the Sutro Baths, a former massive public bath house and freshwater swimming pool, Sutro Heights Estate where the home and gardens of Adolph Sutro once stood, and the location of Cliff House, a onetime enormous Victorian palace style building that perched on the ocean side of the cliffs. All of this overlooking Seal Rocks just off the coast. For an unforgettable view of the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco Sutro Historic District is a must.
North Beach Neighborhood
There are a number of culturally unique neighborhoods and districts in San Francisco. North Beach is in northeast San Francisco, bordering Chinatown. Historically known as the “Italian” district, North Beach has a great deal to offer visitors. From fabulous food, historic locations, and amazing architecture, North Beach is a must for all visitors. The restaurants are amazing and range in price from reasonable for the traveler on a budget to fine dining. Many of the restaurants have sidewalk dining, a great way to enjoy a meal, people watch, and rest your bones after a long day of seeing the sites.
If you are a literary fan, the world-renowned City Lights Bookstore is located on Columbus Street in North Beach. Made famous during the beat movement, City Lights was founded by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti in the early 50’s. Famous writers, poets, and even musicians like Bob Dillon would spend time talking politics and current affairs when in town. The contributions City Lights Bookstore made to the literary world can be traced continuously through history to modern day.
If it's architecture you admire, the Columbus Tower (also known as the Sentinel Building) is one of the more distinctive structures in San Francisco. Construction of the building was completed in 1907, despite major damage occurring in the 1906 earthquake. The building is made distinctive from its Flatiron Style and the green hue of the copper used to frame the windows of the building. Today the building is owned by Francis Ford Coppola and houses his American Zoetrope studio and Café Zoetrope, featuring wine from Coppola’s winery.
Haight & Ashbury Streets
Haight Ashbury is not just a district, but also the intersection of Haight and Ashbury Streets. Locals often refer to this part of San Francisco simply as “the Haight.” Historically know as the origin of the hippie culture of the 1960’s, Haight Ashbury has embraced that part of its history ever since. There are many shops from that era that still exists today. At one time the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Jimmi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin were one time visitors or residents of this iconic neighborhood.
San Francisco offers some of the most well organized and city festivals there are. The Haight Ashbury Street Fair is likely one near the top of the list of the best to attend. In many ways the festival is like stepping back in time to the Summer of Love. From organic ice cream to tie dye anything, one thing is certain you will likely purchase a one of a kind bag to carry all of the great treasures you will find. Be ready to dance as well. The music from the festival is contagious; don’t be surprised if you find yourself dancing in the street with thousands of other people overcome by the moment.
Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge, known the world around as the symbol of San Francisco, should be at the top of your list of places to go and things to do. Construction of the three mile long and one mile wide bridge was opened in 1937 to much fan fare. Spanning the entrance to the San Francisco Bay at its narrowest point, the bright orange bridge is a lovely walk or bike ride on a sunny day.
The views from the bridge toward the ocean and toward the city are astonishing. If on the bridge during sunset, it is worth the moment to pause to watch the incredible show Mother Nature offers on a clear day. Be sure to dress in layers for your walk on the bridge, as the weather can vary from very cool and windy to bright and sunny.
While at the Golden Gate Bridge, it is also worth visiting Fort Point, a Civil War era fort located under the bridge on the San Francisco side. Experiencing the view of the bridge from the underside will give you a true appreciation of the construction of the bridge.
Alcatraz Island, once known as Pelican Island, has what is likely the most colorful history of any federal prison in United States history. The first structure planned for the island was a lighthouse, however with the imminent outbreak of the American Civil War the future of the island soon became a military garrison.
As a result of the fortifications made to the island and its location 1.5 miles from the nearest shore, it was a natural choice for a prison for Civil War prisoners. Functioning as a military prison or a number of years, the residents at times included Confederate soldiers found in the west, some Native Americans and even conscientious objectors from World War I.
In 1933, the military prison was turned over to the Federal Bureau of prisons, becoming Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. Alcatraz became the destination for prisoners that caused trouble in other federal prisons. Soon earning the nickname “the Rock,” Alcatraz was considered escape-proof. Prisoners once housed at “the Rock” include Al Capone, Michael “Machine Gun” Kelly, James “Whitey” Bulger, and Alvin “Creepy” Karpis”.
After the prison closed in 1963, there was yet another historic occurrence. In November of 1969 a group of Native Americans called the United Indians of All Tribes decided to occupy the island as a protest to the federal government’s policies toward the Native Americans. The occupation ended in 1971. But the history that was lost during the occupation will forever be a reminder of that period of history in the islands past.
Today Alcatraz Island is cared for, protected and preserved by the United States National Park Service. Not only does the park service care for the prison, but there is an extensive program to bring nature back to the island with indigenous flora and fauna. With daily ferry boat rides and tours of the prison, one can still experience a part of the most unique history San Francisco has to offer of a bygone era.
This is just a very shortlist of some of the places to go and things to see in San Francisco. This list will give you enough of San Francisco to have a wonderful visit, but also to want more. It is likely that while in pursuit of this list you will also make some discoveries of your own and have experiences that will be solely unique to your visit. It is almost a guarantee you will leave wanting more and planning a return trip.
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