What is there to see in San Francisco?
The most famous jail in the United States and, perhaps, in the whole world, Alcatraz is not only penitentiary (by the way, it has been serving only as a museum for more than 30 years) but also a small picturesque island 15 minutes away from the San Francisco Bay.
Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is the city’s most famous landmark and a symbol of San Francisco and the entire U.S. Pacific Coast. Hovering over the bay the beauty has appeared in hundreds of films and had its own website.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
The Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco can be called the main and most visited museum of the city. In addition to its vast collection of works of art from the 19th and 21st centuries, with more than 29,000 works, the museum is also notable for its ultra-modern building.
Coit Tower stands on Telegraph Hill, where in the 19th century there was a semaphore that provided information about ships entering the port. It’s named after Lilly Coyt, who bequeathed substantial funds to build a fire hydrant that overlooks the entire city.
San Francisco Zoo
The San Francisco Zoo was founded in 1929. It took 10 years to build, starting with an island of monkeys, a lion house, an elephant house, a sea lion pool, and bear grottos. They were the first enclosures in the country to keep animals in conditions as close to natural as possible.
San Francisco Ropeway Trams
An amazing means of transportation used with equal interest by San Francisco residents and visitors, the rope streetcars seem to have teleported into the ultramodern metropolis straight from the 19th century. The vintage streetcars have been running the streets of the “Fran” for the second century.
Eight steep turns on a 400-meter stretch of Russian Hill and a surface slope of almost 30 degrees made Lombard Street the most photographed street in San Fran.
Museum of Asian Art in San Francisco
The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco is the largest museum in the New World devoted exclusively to Asian art. Its vast collection includes more than 15 thousand pieces of art from India, China, Japan, Indonesia and other Asian regions.
California Academy of Sciences Museum
Covering an area of 4,000 square meters, the museum offers the most complete overview of the evolution of life on Earth since its creation, and encompasses all the diversity of ecosystems that exist today.
De Young Museum
Great collections of anthropological artifacts to trace the history of mankind, plus an excellent collection of 19th and 20th century American art are the main reasons why the de Young Museum is among the most visited museums in San Francisco.
Ripley Museum “Believe it or not!”
As the museum’s official slogan says, it’s the only place in San Francisco (and, one would think, in the entire United States) where you can see a dried female torso, a mummified leg of an Egyptian mummy, paintings made from tape recorder, and an elephant with two trunks.
Wells Fargo Museum
Much of the Wells Fargo Museum’s exhibit is dedicated to the glory years of the Gold Rush. Among the most interesting exhibits are samples of nuggets from various deposits, gold mining tools, clothing, shoes, and everyday objects of the gold miners.
The architectural dominant feature of downtown San Francisco is the Transamerica Pyramid, popularly nicknamed the steeple. The graceful 48-story skyscraper, standing out sharply against the traditional “boxy” architecture, was erected in 1972 by the insurance corporation Transamerica Corp.
The popular San Francisco neighborhood of Pier 39, as the name implies, is located in the bay, on the site of the former piers, directly across from Alcatraz Island. Pier 39 is home to many stores, restaurants and cafes, amusement rides and entertainment venues.
The Castro neighborhood is a section of the street of the same name from 19th Avenue to Market Street, famous all over the world as the center of the LGBT movement. Same-sex love advocates gradually flooded the area in the 1970s, before they lived here mostly Irish workers.
San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf
San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf is the city’s premier waterfront tourist district with plenty of entertainment. It has its own way of life, its own gastronomic traditions, and its own freaks that invariably bring a touch of creative madness to the wharf atmosphere.
San Francisco’s glorious Haight-Ashbury neighborhood made history in 1967 when a hundred thousand hippies gathered for the famed Summer of Love. Today Haight-Ashbury is still a vibrant, bustling, and lively San Francisco neighborhood.
Twin Peaks Hills.
Known primarily for the iconic Nineties TV series, the Twin Peaks hills rise above San Francisco and the harbor, hiding in a cloudy haze on foggy days. From the Twin Peaks Lookout you get a dizzying view of the city and the bay area.
Chinatown San Francisco
San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest place of compact residence for Chinese outside of the homeland. With a history spanning more than 150 years, Chinatown is home to nearly 200,000 citizens of the Chinese faithful living in 24 neighborhoods.
Non-boring science is the slogan of the Exploratorium Museum, located on Pier 15 of San Francisco Harbor. Created by the genius of the famous physicist Franz Oppenheimer and opened in 1969, the Exploratorium tells the story of the universe in a simple and fascinating way.
The reckless atmosphere of otherness and fun is what most people come to San Francisco for. But it would be wrong to say that there is nothing to see here. Let Frisco is far from such monsters of American “excursions” as New York or Los Angeles – careful and interested traveler can find something to occupy himself, apart from bars, night clubs and other dances in the laser lights.
Even public transportation in San Francisco is not only noteworthy as a means of getting around the city – the historic cable cars have been running the streets since 1873.
A general portrait of San Francisco’s landmarks in rough strokes are several popular ocean-related tourist spots: the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Prison, Angel Island and the old shipyards, turned into a center of cultural life; the magnificent Museum of Modern Art; a tribute to nature – the spacious and well-kept Union Park plus the Napa Valley wine-growing expanse on the way out (yes, the best American wines come from here); finally – the obligatory Chinatown (no less interesting than in Los Angeles) and a witness to the city’s turbulent modern history – the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, where the hippie movement originated. By the way even public transportation in San Francisco is worth seeing not only as a means of getting around the city – historic cable cars have been running the streets since 1873.
Excursion infrastructure in San Fran is developed “with gusto”: public transport stops are located right near the sights – so despite the long distances in the city and its not too convenient location on the hills, you can visit museums and see the buildings without too much physical effort.
10 things to do in San Francisco
San Francisco is all about hills, streetcars and hippie spirit. This city is not much like the typical American city: it’s much more laid back, relaxed, and artistic. Here even the hostel is housed in an Art Nouveau mansion with round windows and stucco on the ceiling. San Francisco has everything a perfect city should have: a neighborhood of skyscrapers, mirrors and crisp lines, a waterfront where life bustles, small coffee shops and large parks, Art Deco villas and Victorian houses. 34travel editor Masha Gulina was in the city and talks about 10 things you must do to feel the spirit of this place, if you are lucky enough to be here.
Let’s not be original and put the tourist classic at the very beginning: of course, the Golden Gate is the main symbol of San Francisco. And that’s no reason to turn our noses up at the tourist-traveled roads – the bridge is very beautiful indeed. They said it couldn’t be built, but in 1937 the bridge finally made it, after four years of struggling with winds, fog, and currents. At that point, it was taller than any building in San Francisco at the time. Since then, up to 30,000 gallons of red paint has been used each year to paint the bridge. And during the bridge’s existence, three babies have been born on it.
At the foot of the bridge there is an info center, cafe and souvenir store. Our choices are books about architecture, a replica of a real rivet from the bridge, quite weighty, and a glass balloon in which the bridge sinks into a silvery “fog” instead of white “snowflakes” – a hint of the famous San Francisco fogs when only the top of the bridge is visible.
You can walk or bike across the bridge (but you can’t rollerblade or skateboard). For pedestrians, the bridge is open from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. in the summer and until 6:30 p.m. in the winter. On the other side of the bay, a huge nature park, remnants of old fortifications, and beaches await you – enough activities for a whole day. And as a preparation, you can walk across the bridge virtually in the meantime and explore the best spots for breathtaking photos.
Note that parking near the bridge is very small, so it’s best to arrive by local bus.
Spend the day in the park.
Near the Pacific coast, stroll through one of the largest urban parks in the world, Golden Gate Park, which houses 7,000 plant species, some very cool museums, and dozens of hippies on a thousand acres.
Art lovers will love de Young Museum: it has American art from the 17th to the 21st century and a collection of art from Africa, Asia, and Oceania, photo exhibits, and an observation deck overlooking the city and the ocean. And if you’re more interested in how things work, welcome to the California Academy of Sciences: an aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum all under one roof. Everything, as it should be, is interactive and even has night tours. For meditative walks, the park has flower gardens: the Conservatory of Flowers is full of tropical flowers, and if you don’t have enough of them, check out the San Francisco Botanical Garden.
You have always wanted to visit the Netherlands? There’s a place for you, too: windmills with tulips all around, Dutch and Murphy Windmills.
The mills were built in 1902 and are located in the northwest and southwest corners of the park. The best time to see them is when the tulips are in bloom, February and March. If you’re here in August, make your way to Speedway Valley (Hellman Hollow) and Lindley Meadows for one of the biggest local music festivals, Outside Lands, and free Hardly Strictly Bluegrass on the first weekend in October.
It’s impractical to walk around the park in a day, so rent a bike, skateboard, or segway and make sure you have a map beforehand so you don’t get lost.
Eat a fish sandwich on the waterfront
Embarcadero , the street that runs along the harbor promenade is one of the nicest and most relaxed in the city. The closer you get to the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, the less touristy it is and the more regular city life: locals go jogging, walk their dogs, or just hang out on one of the piers. The closer you get to Fisherman’s Wharf, between Van Naess Avenue and Kearny street, the more tourists, noise, street food, and unassuming street entertainment there are. Food here is not cheap ($15 for a sandwich), but worth it: get a sandwich with fish or Dungeness crab, and if you go to one of the local restaurants – clam chowder, clam soup. Fisherman’s Wharf Pier 39 is the most famous: the largest concentration of fish restaurants and souvenir stores are here (get yourself some funny socks, candy, and Christmas decorations in the shape of San Francisco streetcars). Here you can immerse yourself in marine life at the Aquarium of the Bay – it stands right at the entrance to the pier, and inside there are fish, jellyfish, stingrays, starfish and sharks. And there are ferries to Alcatraz Island, the world-famous prison, from the Fisherman’s Wharf docks. Check the tour schedule here.
By the way, Pier 39 is celebrating its 39th birthday in 2017 – and for 39 weeks there will be performances, parties, muvi-nights and tastings. Check out the program!
Check out the sea lions
The cutest attraction of Pier 39 needs to be singled out as a separate item – the sea lion rookery. Sea lions have always inhabited the harbor, but in 1989 they were particularly attracted to the wooden docks of this particular pier. As the number of sea lions increased, and with it the number of tourists, the Center for Marine Mammals recommended that the animals be left alone and that yachts be moved off this part of the pier. Since then the sea lions settled here even more and officially became the most famous sea lions in the world: they arrange rookeries, funny jostle, throw each other into the water, loudly communicate. Watching the audience is just as much fun: parents turn into children, teenagers comment on the lions’ behavior like characters from their favorite TV shows – and everyone bursts into laughter at the same time during another showdown. It seems that this is how the interaction between humans and wildlife should ideally look like. If you want to brush up on your biology knowledge after your time with the lions, head up to the second level of the pier, where the Sea Lion Cener Science Center operates. And for those who are still too far from San Francisco, there’s a webcam and Instagram.
See the Pacific Ocean
To reach the Pacific Ocean means to reach the edge of the map. Farther out for miles is just the water through which the captains’ ships from your favorite childhood books sailed. The Pacific coast is an explosion of biodiversity: hummingbirds fly among the pine trees here. The ocean is mesmerizing: set aside a few hours to just sit quietly on the beach and watch the crashing waves. If you like surfing you’ll also have plenty to do here, but don’t forget that the coast is considered quite dangerous due to frequent fogs and strong underwater currents. Look out for the long Ocean Beach (surfing, volleyball, cafe) overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Baker Beach with a great view of the Golden Gate, and the small China beach, which you can even swim in – it is located in a small cove.
Walk down the world’s most winding street.
San Francisco is a city of hills, and when it was redesigned after a huge earthquake and fire in 1906, new streets were drawn without regard to topography. That means they don’t go around the hills, but stubbornly on top of them – and you’ll have to, too. Get ready to flex your muscles and explain to your friends that it’s not the horizon that’s piled up in the photos, it’s the city itself.
The most famous of these “hilly” streets is Lombard Street, with its eight steep turns that were designed to minimize the speed of cars on the steep slope. From the top of the street is a great view of the bay and the bridge, and from the bottom of the street itself. If you make it up this street, take a walk around Russian Hill with some beautiful Art Nouveau mansions.
Dine in Japantown.
San Francisco, like any port city, has many diasporas. Not only does it have Chinatown (one of the oldest and largest in the U.S.), but Japantown (between Geary Boulevard, Fillmore, Laguna street, Sutter street) is a neighborhood of Japanese natives. Stores, supermarkets and restaurants with Japanese food are another way to make it look like you’ve been or are visiting a new country. Go to Nijiya Market (1737 Post St.) for food and Japan Center Mall (between Fillmore St. and Laguna St.) for shopping . Don’t forget to check the schedule of local events – you might end up at some colorful festival!
And if you want more casual dining, explore North Beach, an Italian neighborhood (between Washington Square, Columbus avenue, and Grant avenue) with small, family-friendly restaurants and upscale bars with live music.
Take a ride on an old cable car
Cable cars appeared in San Francisco at the end of XIX century – it is a hybrid of streetcar, funicular and cable car: the car moves by means of a metal cable, which moves along the track, and the engine is in the depot. The streetcars have three lines: the California street line (runs from Van Ness Ave almost to the Embarcadero), the Powell-Hyde line, and the Powell-Mason line, both starting on Powell Street and running parallel to each other as far as Fisherman’s Harbor. Right now, the streetcars are mostly used by tourists only. A tip: If you don’t want to stand in line for the small car, don’t get on at Powell station – it’s always the busiest. The second tip – the best seats are not on the benches in the center, but on the foot of the streetcar. Even though this is probably the most touristy attraction in town, it is well worth it: A ride over the hills while standing on the streetcar steps, holding the handrail with one hand, and gazing around is priceless.
Ticket to the rope streetcar costs $ 7, but if you have a pass for public transport MUNI, you can safely ride with him as much as you can. If one ride wasn’t enough for you, you can stop by the Cable Car Museum (1201 Mason St.) to see the huge engines, wheels, and old cars from 1870.
Experience the hippie spirit.
In 1967 in San Francisco there was a festival “Summer of Love” – a hundred thousand hippies gathered in the area of Haight-Ashbury (the intersection of the same name streets) to live by their own laws and celebrate life and love. It didn’t spark a global revolution, but the neighborhood remains free and creative with vintage clothing and record stores, street fairs, street art, and a handful of Victorian homes, some of the few not destroyed by the 1906 earthquake.
Find your favorite museum
In addition to the museums in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco has some other great places to hang out for a day in case of rainy and foggy weather.
The SFMOMA (151 Third Street) San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is seven floors of contemporary and modernist art. You can appreciate live if Rothko and Pollock are so cool, look at paintings by Picasso and Frida Kahlo. An entire floor is dedicated just to photography (there’s a big Diane Arbus exhibit there now). Few people make it to the upper floors, and not for nothing: there are great installations. The museum is open until 5 pm (9 pm on Thursdays). It makes sense to buy tickets ($19-33) online so you don’t have to wait in line.
If you prefer exoticism – look at the Asian Art Museum (200 Larkin Street) with one of the largest collections in the world. 6,000 years of history and art from Turkey to India to China to the Philippines for $15.
Exploratorium (Pier 15, Embarcadero) is another spot for those who are more fascinated by science than colored paint on canvas. Interactive, experiments, and 600 exhibits that you can and should touch – this museum will explain to you how everything works. Ticket $ 17-30.
Text and photo by Masha Gulina, main photo by Adrian Sky