San Francisco is a bustling cosmopolitan city in California, the centerpiece of the Bay Area, well-known for its diverse ethnic and political communities, hilly and picturesque terrain, and history of earthquakes.
It is located on the tip of a peninsula by San Francisco Bay and the Pacific coast and has a population of around 800,000. It is 7 miles by 7 miles (11 km by 11 km) in size. The best times to visit are March through May and September and October because they are mostly fog free. But just in case, dress in layers. Nothing makes locals laugh more than a tourist wearing shorts, sandals and a brand-new parka.
San Francisco was founded in 1776 by the Spanish and has been a vibrant city ever since. Known today for its mixing of cultures, its liberal outlook, and its beautiful sights, it remains one of America's top tourist destinations.
A good book on the tumultuous early history of San Francisco is Herbert Asbury ("Gangs of New York") "Barbary Coast", which details the years from the gold rush in 1849 to the earthquake in 1906.
The name of the city used to be Yerba Buena.
San Francisco has much to see. Place to visit include:
- Golden Gate Bridge. The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most famous bridges in the United States, and has been called one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. The bridge spans the Golden Gate, a strait between San Francisco and Marin County to the north, and is one of the major road routes into and out of the city.
- Alamo Square. At Steiner and Hayes, it has the famous Painted Ladies row of Victorian houses on its east side, but many other pretty Victorians throughout its surroundings. The Hayes street Muni bus #21 goes along its south side. If you enjoy walking and don't mind modest grades you can get there by walking west from Hayes Valley or north from the Lower Haight.
- Fisherman's Wharf. Fisherman's Wharf is both a "tourist trap" and a place to see amazing street entertainers, eat excellent seafood, watch sea lions, and go to the, Aquarium Marine Museums and exhibits. Working fishing boats still come into the small harbor at Jones and Jefferson, the endpoint of the Muni Historic F-streetcar. There are also small day and party boats available. The fresh breeze from the bay can provide a bracing setting.
- Civic Center. The Civic Center has impressive Beaux Arts buildings and the celebrated Asian Art Museum, but the main reason for going there are its music and theater venues. On an historic note, the Charter for the United Nations was signed in the War Memorial Veteran's Building at the corner of Van Ness Avenue and McAllister Street. Nearby Hayes Valley along Hayes Street (West, past Van Ness Avenue) is a neighborhood known for its sophisticated yet funky shops, bars and restaurants.
- Moscone Center. The Yerba Buena Gardens, above the Moscone Center, at Mission and Third streets provide a nice urban oasis. There is a carousel, a museum, and play places for kids, movie houses, various exhibit spaces, and the Museum of Modern Art across the street. A big garage at Mission between Fifth and Fourth streets makes it quite accessible for drivers. The Moscone Center itself houses major exhibits and conventions. Half of all Muni lines come with a few blocks of the area. The conference center itself is home to a number of major (especially IDG) expos that occur each year, including Apple Computer-related expos such as Macworld and Apple's WWDC, and LinuxWorld.
- Chinatown. The original Chinatown, centered around Grant Street from Bush to Columbus is part tourist trap, part an exhibit of local life. Good eating places remain, and the side streets especially have stores one wouldn't find in a mall. Stockton Street, the street paralleling Grant to to west is the main street where most locals do their shopping for groceries. Be sure to sample some of the Dim Sum and other specialties offered in the many bustling shops. However, many local Chinese prefer to eat and shop in the new Chinatowns located in other neighborhoods such as the Inner Richmond neighborhood or on Clement Street between 2nd and 12th Avenues. The Muni #1 (California) and #2 (Clement, does not run at night) buses get people from one Chinatown to the other. Chinatown is easily accessible from the downtown area via the 30 Stockton or 45 Union-Stockton Muni bus routes. Expect frequent crowding during peak hours. The Cable Cars also run fairly close to Chinatown as well.
- Lincoln Park. Lincoln Park defines the extreme Northwestern corner of San Francisco. It provides majestic views of the Marin Headlands, the Golden Gate Bridge from the Ocean side, and the Pacific Ocean itself. At the extreme western end the well known Cliff House provides both semi-casual and a more formal eating and drinking place. The #18 Muni bus goes from the center of the park via the Cliff House to Golden Gate Park, while the very frequent #38 Geary buses terminate in between. Drivers will want to take the El Camino del Mar Drive through the small Seacliff area on the northwest side to view some fancy mansions between Lincoln Park and the Presidio.
- Palace of Fine Arts. Located in the Marina District the Palace of Fine Arts is a Beautiful building. It was designed by Bernard Maybeck and was completed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. The architecture is that of Roman and Greek. Beautiful woman sculptured into the building dramatically holding up the pillars. Although the Palace of Fine Arts has fallen slightly ill to lack of repair it is still a major site to behold.
- Lombard Street. The (nearly) twistiest street in America, between Hyde & Leavenworth (a similar street is located along Vermont Street, next to McKinley Square in the Potrero district). You can get a view from it on the Powell & Hyde cable car line.
- 22nd Street. Between Vicksburg and Church and Filbert Street. between Leavenworth and Hyde - At a 31.5% grade, these streets share the honor of steepest streets in San Francisco.
- Alcatraz Island. Decommissioned island prison in the bay. Take a tour and listen to an audio tape in English, Japanese, Chinese or other languages. The most interesting aspect of the tour is that you can go into the prison and see what it is like to be imprisoned. It might be more interesting if you've watched the movie "Escape from Alcatraz" and seen what happened in Alcatraz when it was operating as a prison. Tickets for the Ferry to Alcatraz are available at the Alcatraz Cruises website.
- Angel Island. Island in the bay that housed Asian immigration (exclusion) camp, becoming the "Ellis Island of the West". Ferry over and rent a bicycle or walk around this beautiful island that is now a park.
- Coit Tower. Built in 1933 on top of Telegraph Hill, a former signaling point for sailing ships, Coit Tower is dedicated to the San Francisco firefighters. Its shape is reminiscent of a fire nozzle. At 250' high, it is a healthy hike from the Embarcadero (steps at Greenwich and Montgomery) or from North Beach. Muni bus #39 goes from Washington Square to the top.
- Twin Peaks, Twin Peaks Boulevard (north of Portola Drive, just east of Laguna Honda). The small parking area at the northern tip of Twin Peaks Boulevard (875' above sea level) has the best view of San Francisco and the Bay Area that you can get within the city limits. Not many services, and the tour buses can get backed up here during the day, but it's a great place to really appreciate the City from above. Temperatures up there can be quite a bit lower than in the rest of the city, so bring a jacket. Muni bus #37, a scenic ride from the Haight-Ashbury or Castro and Market streets, gets you close, so you only have to climb about 120' up.
- Treasure Island. A human-made island half-way between San Francisco and Oakland connected to Yerba Buena Island which the Bay Bridge passes through (The widest tunnel in the world). Excellent views of San Francisco & Oakland skylines can be had from driving around this recently deactivated Navy station. Accessible by Muni bus line 108.
- Mission District. Containing one of the oldest structures in the City - the Mission Dolores Church - as well as superb City views from Dolores Park, the Mission is an offbeat tourist destination where Hispanic families mingle with Hipster night-owls, artists, lesbians and just about every one else in this eclectic neighborhood. The walls of many buildings are painted with a fantastic collection of murals about Mexican culture.
- Presidio. The Presidio was founded in 1776 and was the longest-running military post in the U.S. before closing as base in 1994. It is now a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, or Parks at the Golden Gate. At the end of 2005, about 2,500 people lived in the Presidio, a unique situation of housing in a national park. Part of their drinking water comes from Lobos Creek (Rio de los Lobos), the last free-flowing creek in San Francisco.
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