San Francisco – So Much to Do!

The ‘city by the bay’ is one of the most culturally diverse cities in America. The diversity is what lends to the overwhelming charm and beauty of this tiny six-mile square piece of land that sits nearly surrounded on all sides by water. A person could walk, drive or ride a bus, train or trolley all day and never run out of things to do. In fact if you walk you can entertain yourself for the day without spending a dime.
There are of course many landmarks not to be missed, The Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, Fishermans Warf, Union Square, Coit Tower, Lombard Street just to name a few. But what makes San Francisco so much fun and so exciting are the people. Street performers can be seen almost anywhere in the city. Some are extremely talented and some are just trying to make a buck. But in the end they all want your money so pace yourself.
Fisherman’s wharf alone could take up half your day. If you start at Pier 39 you’ll get some of the best performances of juggling, comedy, singing etc. and it might even be on a real stage. Pier 39 is a tourist shoppers paradise in a beautiful setting right on the water. There are a few decent restaurants here and some sweet shops with candy, ice cream and crepes, although they’ll set you back a bit.
Walking west along the sidewalk you’ll see sunbathing sea lions and views of Alcatraz the famous prison which housed such criminals as ‘the Birdman of Alcatraz’, Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly in the 30’s and 40’s. You can also get a view of Angel Island and the Golden Gate Bridge.
As you get into the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf you see open air cooking stations with fresh crab being tossed into huge boiling pots. It’s a bit disturbing if you don’t think of them as food. Other than that though the atmosphere is fun and energetic. Anyone who is going to San Francisco will end up here so expect large crowds at all times.
If you’re into architecture just walk the streets of the city and you will be amazed at the variety and styles of buildings. Many of the old Victorian mansions on Knob Hill were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake but some of the less expensive Victorians in the western and southern parts of the city survived. Haight-Ashbury still has many of the beautiful homes in a brilliant array of colors. At 710-720 Steiner Street, across from Alamo Square you can see one of the most photographed sets of Victorians known as ‘the painted ladies’. Although their colors are more subdued compared with their Haight counterparts, their location and stunning background views leave you in awe.
Lombard Street is most famous for its stretch between Hyde Street and Leavenworth Street. Back in the day of horse drawn carriages and early automobiles the steepness of the street made it impossible to go either up or down. So in the 1920’s the city had it paved in brick in a zigzag pattern to make the decent possible, it is one way only. It is a beautifully landscaped street lined with stunning homes. Known to most as the ‘crookedest street’.
A trip to San Francisco wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Chinatown, not too far from Union Square it’s like stepping into another country, like maybe China! It has an impressive Chinese styled arch that almost says ‘it’s official you have left San Francisco’ that leads you into the sights sounds and wonders of Chinatown.
As you would imagine there are a plethora of shops where you can buy the coolest, most unusual vacation trinkets. Unfortunately every shop will have the same thing just in a different color. But the whole scene is just fun. You can even buy Chinese weapons such as Ninja stars and swords. Be brave and pop into one of the authentic Chinese eateries and try something you’ve never heard of. Don’t miss the whole ducks hanging in the windows. Chinatown completely shuts down at night but you can get a different perspective of the countries oldest Chinese community by joining the SF Chinatown Ghost Tour.
The heart of San Francisco’s upscale shopping is in Union Square, where you will find Bulgari, Saks Fifth Avenue, Louis Vuitton, Gump’s, Marc Jacobs, Gucci and more. Amongst all the high-end retailers you can also find such favorites as Victoria’s Secret, Niketown, Lush, and William Sonoma.
If shopping isn’t your thing there are many great restaurants and bars (Lefty O’Douls is a favorite with great old fashion food in a cafeteria/piano bar setting), and there is something going on in the square at almost any time of the year. In the winter there is usually an ice skating rink and of course a beautifully decorated Christmas tree. Many of the stores decorate their windows at Christmas time, most notably is the Macy’s windows, which are adorned with scenes involving adoptable animals. The St. Francis hotel also has a giant gingerbread castle in its lobby along with a dozen uniquely decorated trees.
Golden Gate Park is 1,017 acres, 175 acres larger than Central Park in New York City. It is 3 miles long and 1/2 mile wide.
The park is home to a number of interesting attractions that would take more than a day to see them all. One is the Academy of Sciences which has an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum, 3D theater, lecture hall, two restaurants, gift shop, and relaxing adjacent garden and aviary.
The Conservatory of Flowers, is only $3.00 to get into with a student I.D. The white dome building itself is awe-inspiring but with 2,000 plants and many waterfalls within the Conservatory it’s well worth the $3.00. The de Young Museum is an interesting building to look at and houses thousands of artifacts and art from all over the globe.
The Botanical Garden is a symphony of plants, flowers, and trees from around the world stretching over 55 acres. This is a great way to spend a sunny day in San Francisco.
The Japanese Tea Garden, Buffalo Paddock, Beach and Park Chalet, or boating on Stow Lake can round out a great day at Golden Gate Park.
Golden Gate Bridge is 8,981ft long or 3 km, so crossing it on foot is quite a challenge, but there is a sidewalk that will take you from one side to the other. The bridge is designed to sway with the wind so on extremely windy days it’s quite an experience. The Golden Gate Bridge is located at the Presidio Park and can easily be reached by bus or car. The most pleasant way to reach the bridge however is by walking either from the Marina District to the east or from Baker Beach to the west of the bridge. Both routes will lead you through a park, and especially the route along the east is very popular. Mile-long Baker Beach lies at the foot of the rugged cliffs on the western shoreline of the Presidio.
It’s a clean beach with a gorgeous view of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s known as a nude beach but you rarely see any nudes there. It is also one of the places in San Francisco where you can have your dog off leash. Crissy Field is another great beach where dogs can run free. The two beaches are on either side of the bridge.
When the sun is out a day in San Francisco is gorgeous, although don’t expect temperatures to ever be very warm. Of course a lot of the time the city is under a beautiful layer of fog, which of course is part of its charm.

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