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San Francisco

Take a cable car through a bayside city with quirky neighborhoods and gorgeous cityscapes

One of California’s most popular tourist destinations, San Francisco is a compact bayside city known for its hilly streets, historic streetcars, beautifully painted Edwardian and Victorian townhouses, and vibrant cultural scene. The city on San Francisco Bay is celebrated in literature and song, with artists ranging from writer Mark Twain to rock group Starship extolling its charms.

Founded in 1776 by Spanish colonists and later developed into a thriving trade and transportation hub during the Gold Rush, today’s San Francisco has something for everybody. Epicures could spend years exploring the restaurants that line the streets of its eclectic neighborhoods. Art lovers will find creative bliss in its museums, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the enormous Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and Golden Gate Park’s de Young Museum. Sports lovers will know it as the home of Major League Baseball’s Giants and the National Football League’s 49ers, while the neighboring city of Oakland has its own beloved teams, including the silver-and-black NFL Oakland Raiders.

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Charming Neighborhoods

One of the city’s top tourist attractions, Fisherman’s Wharf is best known for Pier 39, a popular seaside shopping area that’s frequented by street performers vying for tips from tourists. Sea lions often come to bask on the pier, though their appearances are erratic, so spotting one of the delightful mammals is really hit or miss.

The Fisherman’s Wharf area is also well-known for its seafood restaurants, and this is the spot to go if you want to try out local specialties such as Dungeness crab or clam chowder in San Francisco’s famous sourdough bread bowls. Other popular attractions in the area include Ghirardelli Square (the location of the city’s famous Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, which holds a chocolate festival here every year); Madame Tussauds San Francisco wax museum with a couple hundred wax figures; and a private museum full of 20th-century penny arcade games known as the Musée Mécanique (French for “mechanical museum”).

San Francisco was well-known in the late 1960s as a hippie hub, and former flower children along with their offspring won’t want to miss a visit to the Upper Haight neighborhood, commonly known as Haight-Ashbury, the name of its most famous cross streets. Though this bohemian stretch was once a major hangout for 1960s and 1970s counterculture movement—the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin lived in the neighborhood—it’s since been updated to suit modern youth culture, and you’ll have an easier time finding a tattoo parlor than a tie-dye maker. Still, the area is a fun spot to stroll around, check out little boutiques, pubs and ice cream parlors, or simply pass through on your way to Golden Gate Park, a few blocks from “the Haight.”

San Francisco has the largest Chinatown outside of Asia, as well as the oldest Chinatown in North America. Along with dozens of restaurants serving up delicious dim sum and other traditional fare, visitors will find shops selling ingredients for Chinese cooking and stalls hawking imported incense, chopsticks, housewares and tchotchkes. While the area is popular throughout the year, the best time to visit is during the annual Autumn Moon Festival, held in mid-September to honor the transition into the harvest season. This weekendlong community celebration includes parades, kids’ activities, and plenty of live entertainment options.

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Historic Attractions

Although the information technology industry has played an important role in the San Francisco Bay Area’s economy for decades, the cityscape is far from futuristic, with plenty of historic features. Riding on one of the city’s famous cable cars is a must-do for most visitors, and transportation history buffs will appreciate that San Francisco’s iconic trolleys are the world’s only remaining manually operated cable cars in permanent operation.

Architecture lovers will likely enjoy a stroll along one of the city’s many historic residential streets, many of which are lined with “painted ladies,” Victorian-era row houses with gorgeous multihued facades, intricate molding, and large windows and balconies. Don’t miss the world-famous “postcard row,” where several of the city’s most photogenic “ladies” overlook Alamo Square at Hayes and Steiner streets.

One of the city’s best-known and most-visited tourist attractions is the rocky island of Alcatraz, a mile and a half out into the bay. Now a National Park property, this notorious prison housed some of the world’s most dangerous convicts, from George “Machine Gun” Kelly to Al Capone. Travelers can take a boat tour out to the penitentiary, nicknamed “The Rock” by inmates, and walk the cellblocks that once housed infamous criminals.

No landmark in San Francisco is more easily recognizable than the Golden Gate Bridge, a 1.7-mile-long span that stretches across the channel between the bay and the Pacific Ocean, connecting the city to Marin County to the north. For drivers entering the city from the north, this iconic orange structure, opened in 1937, is their first glimpse of San Francisco, and many may be tempted to pull over and take a photo of the city’s skyline through the Golden Gate’s orange framework. While there’s no stopping allowed on the bridge, travelers can opt to walk or bicycle across it in either direction. Those looking for a more in-depth experience may want to go on one of the twice-weekly free bridge walks offered by City Guides, a nonprofit organization associated with the San Francisco Public Library. The walks focus on the design, politics, engineering and geology of what was once dubbed “the bridge that couldn’t be built,” because of the obstacles posed by the bay’s depths, currents and winds.

For More Information

San Francisco Travel

415-391-2000

www.sanfrancisco.travel

 

California Travel and Tourism Commission

877-225-4367

www.visitcalifornia.com