San Francisco situated on the West Coast in the United States, has to be one of the best places to travel to if you are looking for somewhere with a real eclectic mix of things to do and places to see. This is the place that has hippies mixing with tech buffs and every neighbourhood has its own flavour and dances to its own tune. China town ( the largest outside of Asia) sits next to “Little Italy” and one of the most popular places to visit is a fearsome prison sitting on top of a rock! In short there is a lot going on in San Francisco and it is not always what you think. This vibrant city with amazing views is a place to enjoy exploring. Leave any pre-conceived ideas that you have about San Francisco behind because you are in for a real adventure when exploring this great American city.
San Francisco is well-known for its liberal attitudes. This is the place that was the home to the hippie counter-culture during the 1960’s and epitomised the “Summer of Love” and the backlash to the Vietnam war. It is also well-known for its hilly domain and amazing Victorian architecture as well as having one of the most famous bridges in the world and of course that prison. It is one of the most
visited cities in the world and is one of the three cities that make up the San Francisco Bay area, the other cities being Oakland, Berkeley and Marin County.
San Francisco is a 7 x 7 mile square of land that lies at the top of the peninsula between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Coast and in this relatively compact city there is plenty to see and do. Walking around you will discover hidden gems everywhere and this is a place to have fun San Francisco style! With so much to see and do, here is a selection of the best of what is on offer in San Francisco.
It has to be done, you can’t go to San Francisco and not visit Alcatraz or “The Rock” as it is more commonly known. This used to be a maximum high security federal prison, lying in cold waters with strong currents, 1.25 miles off the coast of San Francisco which was used between 1934 and 1963.
The prison took over from the original US Military prison that was built between 1910-1912. Because
of the cold waters surrounding the island and the prison’s location it was always thought to be inescapable though several attempts were made and there has always been some doubt as to whether a couple of people did actually get away. Famous names to have resided here are Robert Franklin Stroud aka the ” Birdman of Alcatraz” and Al Capone.
Nowadays Alcatraz is a major tourist attraction, with much to do on the Island. There are no charges to tour the Island itself but you do have to pay for the boat trip over . A good idea is to book your trip in advance as it sells out really quickly and come prepared for changes in the weather. Don’t forget you can tour the whole Island as well as the prison so you will be outside quite a bit. The guided tour which is told by inmates and prison guards is an illuminating insight into life on “The Rock” and all in all it is a tour well worth taking.
Golden Gate Bridge.
No doubt the most famous sight in San Francisco is the Golden Gate Bridge that spans the Golden Gate Strait, a 3 mile channel that goes between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. This huge suspension bridge has been taking people from San Francisco to Marin County since 1937 and when it was completed it was the longest and tallest suspension bridge in the world at the time. Some 110,000 vehicles use the toll bridge everyday as well as many cyclists and pedestrians.
Along with the sheer size of the bridge, it has 746 foot tall towers, the one thing that it is well-known for is its distinctive colour, international orange, selected for its ability to be seen through the fog that often sits around San Francisco. Well loved and admired by people all over America this is a piece of engineering art and a must do trip when in San Francisco is to walk across it. You can call into the visitors center that is located at the San Francisco side to get a full history and also some great pictures while you are there.
If you would rather stay on the ground and admire the Bridge then there are some great places to get the best views, South Vista Point, which is at the San Francisco end is the most popular place and North Vista Point at Marin County are two ideal spots. A really great time to see the bridge at its best is early in the morning when it will be often shrouded in mist or at night-time when it is lit up and you get a completely different image of it.
Ride a Cable Car.
San Francisco is a hilly city, more than 50 within the city limits and those hills afford some great views but can also be pretty steep to walk up and down and so a great way to get around when in the city is to take the Cable cars. They are one of the best ways to see all of the different neighbourhoods and they are fun! There are three routes in operation that go from Market Street and Powell Street and will take you around the main parts of the city.
Although at certain stops and at certain times of the day they can get really busy, you can’t go to San Francisco and not ride the cable cars, they are fun, exciting and it is what the city is known for.
Palace of Fine Arts.
Situated in the Marina District of San Francisco, the Palace of Fine Arts is a left over from the Panama-Pacific Exposition of 1915. This monumental building was originally for people to exhibit art work and is now one of the few remaining structures from the exposition 100 years ago. It still lies on the original site from 1915 but has been rebuilt and renovated over the intervening years.
Although a popular performance venue now and a great wedding location it is also a popular spot for locals and tourists alike to spend time in. The outdoor rotunda and the lagoon that surrounds it is one of the most photographed areas of the city and a pleasant way to spend some time while in San Francisco, is to take a walk around the roman style buildings. Take a picnic and have your lunch relaxing on the grass admiring this beautiful building. The whole area has a touch of romance about it and you have the feeling of stepping back in time, a place definitely worth taking some time out to go and visit.
A popular and touristy thing to do is to head down to Pier 39 and spend some time taking in the scenic views, watching the sea lions that hang out there and grabbing a bite to eat. Pier 39 is a great place to do some gift shopping and has more than 60 speciality shops selling everything from jewellery to salt water taffy.
A big draw of the pier are the famous sea lions that arrived after an earth quake in Loma Prieta in 1989 and have stayed ever since. As well as sea-lion watching its a great place to get the feel of San Francisco and to spend a bit of time just lazing around doing some people watching as well.
There are plenty of street performers to keep you entertained and of course the amazing views to take in also. Be prepared for the pier to be busy, it is a really popular spot for visitors but you can certainly spend an enjoyable few hours here during your time in San Francisco.
What to do in San Francisco – Final Words
San Francisco is the kind of place that can leave you breathless with all that you will want to do and see during your time there. From going out to Alcatraz, taking in the Bridge, strolling along the piers, riding the cable cars and absorbing the atmosphere and vibe of the place you will feel as if your feet haven’t touched the ground.
That said there will be plenty of opportunites to grab a bite to eat in some of the amazing restaurants that the city has or to spend an evening taking in some music in some one of the great bars. All in all your time in San Francisco will be spent having an amazing adventure with so much crammed into this small peninsula you will never be short of something to do or a new memory to make.