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San Francisco

With majestic skylines and storied history, the City by the Bay is a bit like the Big Apple, albeit a less buttoned-up version. Indeed, it must be difficult to maintain its reputation as one of the most stunning urban vistas on the planet, but San Francisco makes it look easy. Even the streets have attitude (and altitude, in many instances), as is the case with Lombard Street, which proudly bears the nickname of Crookedest Street in the World. From the Golden Gate to the Bay Bridge, this city has moxie. Hippies called Haight-Ashbury home and tech tycoons churn out apps and algorithms both in the city and from nearby Silicon Valley, proving that San Francisco puts out the welcome mat for anyone and everyone.

Locked Up

Founded as a military reservation in 1850, Alcatraz Island, located on the bay 1.25 miles offshore of the city, eventually became an army prison, then a federal penitentiary. The fact that it was surrounded by water and almost inescapable made Alcatraz fascinating subject matter, and today tours around and through “the Rock” will have visitors thankful they can break out at any time. Walk the notorious corridors that once held Doc Barker, Whitey Bulger and more.

The prison on Alcatraz Island housed notorious felons like Whitey Bulger

Visit California/Hub

Brilliant Bridge

The 1.7-mile Golden Gate Bridge is another must-see. The iconic span, which carries six lanes of U.S. Route 101 and connects San Francisco to Marin County, has become a dazzling symbol of the town’s promise. Completed in 1937 at the height of the Great Depression, the bridge’s 746-foot-high towers and graceful suspension cables seem to defy gravity. Visit the welcome center to learn the history of this connecting link between land and water.

California Swimmin’

Get acquainted with the sea creatures that make the Pacific coast such a compelling environment. Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39 gives guests a hands-on opportunity to deal with marine life. Man-made tidal pools house sea urchins, anemones and hermit crabs, all ready to shake hands with curious humans. While there, enter glass tunnels under the bay to enjoy sea life floating overhead. See shark, garibaldi and more.

Chocolate and Sealions

Visit iconic Fisherman’s Wharf on the north end of town for seafood on every corner, sea lions sunbathing on the docks and Madame Tussauds wax museum bringing luminaries to life. Don’t leave without a square-shaped chocolate treat and some great souvenirs at Ghirardelli Square. Catch a cable car toward the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for thought-provoking exhibitions of pop art, abstract paintings and sculpture, as well as photography and art installations.

Zig, Then Zag

No trip to San Francisco is complete without a visit to the Crookedest Street in the World. When driving down Lombard Street, expect to wait for your opportunity to make the eight zigzag turns down this steep, one-block road. Hiking down the sidewalk might be a better choice, as there is more time for selfies—and your car’s paint won’t be added to the concrete barriers around every turn!

Clothing Optional

Earth Day brings out folks who feel strongly about protecting our planet, usually through conservation or protest. San Francisco has found a unique way to combine the two with an annual World Naked Bike Ride, in which participants conserve their clothing by leaving it at home and ride through the city streets buck naked. The event is obviously a stripped-down version of an Earth Day parade.

Happy New Year!

In late February, the sight of a 28-foot-long golden dragon that requires 100 people to move it through the streets of China Town is the signal that Chinese New Year has arrived. What better way to celebrate the occasion than with a citywide parade? Created by the large Chinese community instrumental in the building of San Francisco, it is viewed by over 3 million people.

The Presidio: Window to the Past

Spaniards first explored the San Francisco Bay in 1769, and seven years later built The Presidio there. When Mexico won its freedom from Spain, land became privatized. After that, William Richardson built the first homestead and began laying out street plans for the settlement named Yerba Buena, renamed San Francisco in 1847. The U.S. Army later used the Presidio as a fortification, and today it’s part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Set aside time during your trip to check out the Presidio Visitor Center, with exhibits that illuminate the institution’s dynamic past.


In 1848 California became part of the United States, with statehood coming two years later. Soon after, a parade of miners entered the region near Sacramento, finding gold at Sutter’s Mill to the east. Prospectors gravitated to the City by the Bay and this rowdy town grew from 1,000 to 25,000 residents in one year. The word was out, and San Francisco enticed people from around the word to settle within its boundaries. Duck into the California History Museum for exhibits that chronicle the history of the region, from pioneers to today’s dynamic populace.

Psychedelic Realities

Feeling groovy? Folks who can hum along with Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape should make the pilgrimage to the Upper Haight (aka Haight-Ashbury, after its most famous intersection). The neighborhood was ground zero for the flower child subculture that peaked in the 1967 Summer of Love (the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin held court here). Today, the offbeat spirit thrives in unique boutiques, restaurants and galleries that carry on the area’s nonconformist traditions.

San Francisco Foodies

Gourmands gather every Saturday morning at the historic Ferry Plaza Farmers Market to partake of the city’s artisan food culture, with vendors ranging from local farmers to purveyors of gourmet items. Chinatown’s commitment to preserving its rich Asian heritage reaches its zenith with exuberant Chinese New Year celebrations at the beginning of February. Mid-August, the Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival in Golden Gate Park is one of the city’s most famous events, with live music, stand-up comedy shows, outsider art exhibits, specialty cuisine, beer tasting and libations.

Fine Festivals

The Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival in mid-April celebrates Japanese culture with tantalizing Japanese food, a Grand Parade with traditional Japanese music and dance, and the Cherry Blossom Queen Program. In September, the Sausalito Art Festival showcases more than 25,000 works of art along with an excellent musical lineup and wine tasting courtesy of some of Napa and Sonoma’s most prestigious producers.

The Bay Area has no shortage of pedestrial pathways along scenic waterfronts

Visit California/Max Whittaker

Hike the Bay

See the bay from a new perspective from some of the city’s favorite hiking haunts. There are more than 13 miles of hiking and biking trails at Angel Island, San Francisco Bay’s largest island (760 acres), located directly north of the city and accessed via a short ferry ride. The trail to Mount Livermore’s 788-foot summit delivers sweeping views of San Francisco and provides opportunities to encounter deer, lizards and birds, including hawks and owls. Back on the mainland, explore San Francisco’s largest stretch of sand, the 3-mile Ocean Beach, which draws experienced surfers (beware of dangerous rip currents) as well as families who stroll, skate, walk the dog, play volleyball or light bonfires.

Princely Palace

Architecture buffs should cruise to the Marina District for a tour of the Palace of the Fine Arts, a sprawling structure built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific Exposition. Highlighted by a central rotunda and built around a lagoon, the complex continues to serve as the setting for special events and weddings. Take the time to stroll the beautiful grounds.

Painted Ladies

Prepare to be dazzled as you walk along the city’s many historic residential streets, many of which are lined with “painted ladies.” These Victorian-era row houses have 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.

Big Disruptors

Although San Francisco is home to tech innovators, some things remain quaint. Riding on one of the city’s famous cable cars is a must for most visitors, and history buffs will appreciate that the trolleys are the world’s only remaining manually operated cable cars in operation.

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