San Francisco is a great American city, with unique history, architecture and culture, from the Golden Gate Bridge to Chinatown, from the Fisherman’s Wharf to the great redwood trees.
Here are just a few of the sites everyone needs to see.
One of the most famous landmarks in the city, Alcatraz Island has a history that goes back long before the city was founded. The island has a long history with the native people who lived around the Bay area.
A little more than a mile offshore, the island was once used as a military prison but is most famous for being the federal prison that handled the worst of the worst criminals, including Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly and other gangsters, before it was shut down in 1963. Tourists can visit the National Park and learn about the history, even beyond the stories of prison fights, attempted escapes and the like.
Golden Gate Park
The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most iconic bridges in the world, and probably the most famous site in San Francisco. The one mile suspension bridge connects the city with Marin County, and has both pedestrian and vehicle access.
When construction of the bridge began, the city set aside 1,000 acres for a public space for the fast-growing community, and named it Golden Gate Park, even though the bridge is not visible from the park. Visitors can spend a peaceful afternoon in the park, enjoying lakes, botanical gardens, a conservatory of flowers, exhibits and museums, all in the midst of a great urban center.
One of the most unique aspects of the park is the bison paddock, which has been a part of the park since the 1890s. It is currently home to about a dozen bison, or buffalo, and the public are able to view the animals.
Fisherman’s Wharf is a neighborhood on the north end of San Francisco that is a popular tourist destination, with Ghiradelli Square, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, the Wax Museum, and plenty of seafood restaurants. It was established by Italian immigrants after the gold rush, some of whom became fish mongers and restaurant owners.
The Exploratorium is an educational museum that focuses on human behavior, physics and science, living systems and focuses on weather, environment and landscape.
It is incredibly hands-on and dynamic, providing new and interactive exhibits and activities all the time.
Exhibits from the Exploratorium are spread throughout the city, including the Wage Organ. The Wage Organ is a permanent exhibit built on the bay made of granite and marble, PVC and concrete. The musical instrument is played by the water, as the tide comes in it “plays” the organ, pushing air through the pipes and making unique sounds for the audience.
Muir Woods is a national monument, part of the National Park Service about ten miles north of the city. The park is full of old growth redwood trees, some of the oldest and largest living organisms on earth. The trees can be up to 1,800 years old, and grow to nearly 400 feet high. The area was set aside by President Theodore Roosevelt and named after John Muir, who helped to create the National Park system.
For decades in the early years, the only way to reach the city was by ferry, so the Ferry Building became the main transportation point for nearly all those entering the city. After increased bridge traffic reduced the need for ferries, the building has been adapted to other uses, including a large and popular marketplace on the first floor. The marketplace has produce, bread and pastries, restaurants and coffee shops, as well as arts and crafts stores. It’s a wonderful place for locals and tourists to spend a Saturday morning.
Presidio Park was originally a Spanish fort, and then Army base, until 1994, when it was turned into a National Park. It is a great natural space in the city, with dirt trails, wooded areas, educational centers and places for performing arts and historical preservation.
Lilian Hitchcock Coit was a benefactor of the city, donating a portion of her estate to beautify the city. Lilian Coit was a big personality in the early days of the city, including fighting fires before the city had a fire department, smoking cigars and wearing pants long before it was socially acceptable for women. The tower was constructed on the top of Telegraph Hill in Pioneer Park in her honor, in the Art Deco style, and includes a famous mural by the artist Diego Rivera. It has since become a local favorite landmark, providing a great view of Lombard Street, Nob Hill and other city sites.
Lombard Street is famous for its eight hairpin turns within one extremely steep block. The entire city is built on hills, and this hill was too steep for vehicle traffic, so it was designed with switchbacks to make it easier to traverse. Tourists love to see the hill, and drive down the one way street at the recommended 5 miles per hour.
These are just a few of the many fun, interesting and unique things to do and see in San Francisco. Anyone visiting the city won’t have time to see everything from Alcatraz to Ghiradelli Square, from Muir Woods to the Presidio, but that’s just an excuse to come back for a second visit, or a third…