San Francisco Sightseeing: 10 Unforgettable Places
If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair -- and check out these 10 places to get the best it has to offer!
One of the treasures of the western United States coast, San Francisco is home to great food, natural beauty, and interesting people. Feeling overwhelmed? Start here for 10 of the best places to make sure your trip is truly unforgettable -- and get some great pictures to share afterward.
One of the most celebrated and discussed aspects of San Francisco's history is its impact on hippie culture, best exemplified by the “Summer of Love” (1969), the height of hippie culture in mainstream popular culture. Psychedelic rock reached its popular peak here, with performers like Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, and Jefferson Airplane all living in or near the area, and Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” brought people from all over the country to San Francisco. The Haight-Ashbury (dubbed “Hashbury” by Hunter S. Thompson) was covered extensively by the mainstream media. Though the Summer of Love is long over, its echoes can still be found in this beautiful historic neighborhood, including the popular Red Victorian theme hotel; the neighborhood is still filled with used record stores and vintage clothing shops, and still retains something of that hippie feel. For those interested in this period of San Francisco’s history, this is a place that can’t be overlooked.
Haight-Ashbury encompasses the neighborhoods surrounding the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets, including Golden Gate Park and Ashbury Heights.
One of San Francisco’s great selling points as a destination is its place on the waterfront, making it a beacon for great seafood and all the entertainment to be found at the pier. Fisherman’s Wharf makes for a great place to spend the day, particularly for those traveling with kids. Fisherman’s Wharf is home to a Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum, which contains entertaining and amusing oddities for a bit of kitsch charm. You can also find the Musee Mecanique, an interactive museum with arcade games and San Francisco artifacts -- great for kids, or those adults who just enjoy an odd and goofy throwback. Whatever you’re looking for, Fisherman’s Wharf is full of fun, offbeat attractions, and a gorgeous view. And of course, it's a perfect place to catch the ferry to...
One of San Francisco’s most popular and enduring tourist attractions is actually located 1.5 miles offshore, in the San Francisco Bay. Alcatraz Island, home to the former Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary that functioned as a prison from 1934 to 1963, is now a historic landmark and part of the National Park Service. Tours of the prison are now a popular attraction, as the infamous prison once functioned as a military prison and later hosted some of the United States’ most notorious criminals. Landmarks on Alcatraz Island also include a water tower and lighthouse -- the first built on the U.S. west coast -- and contains natural features such as tide pools and cisterns. Pick up a ferry at Pier 33 and take a tour with Hornblower Cruises & Events and explore Alcatraz!
Hike up Twin Peaks
If you’re the outdoorsy type and up for a good hike, Twin Peaks gives you the most beautiful view of the city you can get if you’re not actually flying over it. Elevation at each summit is a little over 900 feet, making it the second-highest point in the city after Mount Davidson. The top of the peaks are undeveloped, giving visitors a view of the natural flora and fauna of Northern California before man-made interference. Scrub brush and grasslands fill the area, with the rare mission blue butterfly finding a home here. Beware of the fog, however, as it can block your view, and be sure to come up on a clear day!
Asian Art Museum
San Francisco weather can be fickle, and can often get cloudy and chilly. Fortunately, there are great things to do inside as well! Visit the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, which contains on display one of the most comprehensive collections of Asian art in the world. Spanning multiple cultures over 6,000 years of history, the Asian Art Museum offers both breadth and depth when it comes to taking in some of the most beautiful and significant artistic objects throughout Asian history. If you get hungry, Cafe Asia is also on the premises for some excellent Asian cuisine. There are also virtual tours offered online, in case you want to dig in more in-depth after your visit!
The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco is located at 200 Larkin Street, opposite San Francisco’s City Hall. It’s open Sunday through Wednesday from 10:00am to 5:00pm, with special hours on Thursday from 10:00am to 9:00pm.
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is one of its greatest and loveliest attractions. Open daily from 5:00am to midnight, there are many great places to explore here. If you want to hop indoors, visit the Conservatory of Flowers, the oldest building in Golden Gate Park and home to more than 1,700 plants, from tropical to aquatic. The beautiful Japanese Tea Garden is another highly-popular destination, containing beautifully lush Japanese greenery, a five-story pagoda, and koi ponds. There are numerous other attractions as well, from the AIDS Memorial Grove to botanical gardens to archery fields. When the weather permits, visit Golden Gate Park to take it all in!
Palace of Fine Arts
Originally constructed to exhibit presented works of art for the Panama-Pacific Exhibition in 1915, the Palace of Fine Arts was so beloved that it survived the end of the World’s Fair, and was even reconstructed on its original site in 1965, and its lagoons and walkways were renovated in 2009. Built as it is over a lagoon, meant to resemble classical Greco-Roman structures, the Palace of Fine Arts is beautiful not only in its architecture, but in how it showcases San Francisco’s bounty of natural beauty. Take a seat by the lagoon to relax and drink in some of the gorgeous flora and fauna that the San Francisco area supports. There are events held at the Palace of Fine Arts theater, too -- check online to see what’s happening during your visit!
http://www.lovethepalace.org/index.html or https://palaceoffinearts.org/
One of San Francisco’s most unique natural features is its unusual topography, filled with steep hills and sharp turns. Lombard Street, with its eight hairpin turns in a single block, is known as the most crooked street in the world, making it a frequent stop on San Francisco tours. Decorated with flower beds to emphasize this unusual street, Lombard Street has to be seen to be believed. Catch a cable car to really get the best view of it; the San Francisco cable car system is the last manually-operated in the world, making them a truly San Francisco-specific way of taking in the city. It’s a bumpy ride, so if you get carsick, beware!
Founded by physicist Frank Oppenheimer and originally located within the Palace of Fine Arts, the Exploratorium is an inventive and interactive science museum that can truly be enjoyed by children and adults alike. Galleries include an interactive tinkering gallery, a living systems gallery that allows visitors to observe DNA and the inner workings of ecosystems, and an observatory gallery that allows a closer look at Bay Area geology and ecology. The website also hosts interactive apps and videos for further learning, so if the Exploratorium piques your curiosity, be sure to take a closer look!
The Exploratorium is located at Pier 15 on Green Street. It’s open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00am to 5:00pm, with adult-only evening hours on Thursday from 6:00pm to 10:00pm.
San Francisco Zoo
Of course, no family fun is as foolproof as a trip to the zoo. While in San Francisco, visit the zoo for educational opportunities and a chance to see animals in their natural habitats. Visit Penguin Island for a look at Megellanic penguins, and be sure to tune in for their feeding at 10:30am and 3:30pm to best observe their behavior. The San Francisco Zoo is also the birthplace of Koko the gorilla, as well as Stephen Jr., the bald eagle named after comedian Stephen Colbert, who can still be found there.
The San Francisco Zoo is open daily and year-round from 10:00am to 4:00pm.
Explore Wine Country
So you’ve explored San Francisco extensively, and you’re looking to get out of the city and enjoy the gorgeous Northern California coastline. Well, you’re in luck, because wine country awaits! Rent a car or take a luxury tour to Napa and Sonoma, and explore the wineries these rustic towns have to offer. Enjoy a wine country tour or explore at your own leisure, as the Napa Valley has a lot to offer, with more than 400 wineries at your disposal. Try a great restaurant in Yountville, an up-and-comer in Napa Valley tourism and popular destination for discerning diners, or luxuriate with a spa package at the Calistoga Hot Springs if you’re looking to relax after your city adventures. You can also take a hot-air balloon ride, often conducted soon after dawn, which makes an amazing way to take in an aerial view of the valley. However you choose to unwind, there’s plenty to take in all throughout the Napa Valley.
Now that you've taken in some of San Francisco's best sights, explore on your own! You're sure to have some great stories to tell when you come home, and a yen to come back again and again...
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