San Francisco is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States. It’s a mix of cultures from around the world – during the gold rush in the 1800s, Chinese migrated and stayed here. In recent years, many of the newest and brightest tech companies choose to reside their headquarters here. The city’s also heavily influenced by Mexican and Victorian culture, making San Francisco bits and pieces of everything and anything.
While the city’s not huge, it might be difficult for any first time travelers to navigate their way through the city. Here are some of the attractions that you should visit during your stay.
1. Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge is San Francisco. It isn’t just one of the many landmarks of San Francisco, but the first thing you would think of when talking about San Francisco, or even The United States.
Built during the 1930s, The Golden Gate Bridge is often recognized as one of the modern wonders of modern architecture. The bridge is famously colored with ‘international orange’, which allows the bridge to stand out in heavy fog. The bridge connects The San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean and is still heavy with traffic till this day.
You might want to start your journey at the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center, a location dedicated to providing information and relative merchandise to tourists. The observatory here is great for taking pictures of this picturesque bridge.
You can further explore Golden Gate Bridge in a few different ways. The Golden Gate Bridge has a pedestrian side lane opened for tourists, where you can enjoy the sceneries up there. While tourists can walk across the bridge, it will take roughly 2 hours to walk from one side to the other. Biking would take roughly half the time. For those with limited time, cruises around the Golden Gate Bridge and Oakland Bay Bridge are also available.
2. City Light Bookstore
Name one thing in common for these influential writers: Georges Bataille. Charles Bukowski. Frank O’Hara. Allen Ginsberg. The answer: They have all been published by City Light, a legendary book store and publisher operating in San Francisco.
While the bookstore was first opened by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin since 1953, it rose to fame by publishing Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl and Other poems’, a collection of poems that depicts a generation hooked with drugs and sex. Allen Ginsberg’s collection was so controversial that it had caused Lawrence Ferlinghetti to be jailed. Fortunately, the judgment was later revoked. Ferlinghetti was released, and City Light has then become a symbol not only for the beat generation but also for freedom of speech.
As the bookstore has been expanded several times, some remains. For instance, a room has always been dedicated to poetry. The bookstore is much bigger than it used to be, but it’s still dedicated to selling leftist critical theories, political theories and literature. They still sell books coming from small and indie publishers.
In the words of Philip Larkin: ‘in times when nothing stood but worsened, or grew strange’, City Light is one of those few good things that did not change.
3. Alcatraz Island
The only time you want to get inside a maximum security federal prison is a visit to Alcatraz Island.
While Alcatraz Island was once a military base (hence, structures of the Officers’ Club remains), Alcatraz Island was most known as a max security prison reserved for the nastiest and troubling criminals. Despite this, no one has successfully escaped—At least, that’s what the government claims.
Since the 1970s, Alcatraz Island has been turned into a tourist destination. Many of the cells remain as they were in the 1960s, while showing inmates personal items such as color paints, checkerboards, dominos, and libraries. Some of the more infamous prison breaks were also documented with exhibitions.
San Francisco’s Chinatown is not only the oldest Chinatown in North America but also the biggest Chinatown out of Asia.
Since the 1840s, many Chinese immigrants have immigrated to San Francisco because of the California Gold Rush. They then began to live here, opening businesses reflecting heritages of motherland. Hence, you can find many Chinese restaurants, Dim Sum Places or even Chinese Medicine shops here, with Chinese signs hanging all over the place.
While the restaurants here are well worth a visit, one of those shops where you shouldn’t miss is the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. As the name suggests, this is a place that made and sold fortune cookies here. If you are interested in how these crackers were made, definitely check this place out.
5. Lombard Street
Lombard Street is known for being the crookedest Street in the United States. It is a block filled with 8 hairpin turns, decorated with expensive flowers and bushes around each turn. The 5 mile speed limit is another testimony to the difficulty of this one-way course.
While many tourists drive here to test their driving skills, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit here even if you are not driving. The cityscape from the high above of the Lombard Street is stunning, making this a perfect place for sightseeing.
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6. Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts is in the Bay Area. While initially built for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915, the structure was built with plaster, wood and burlap that weren’t meant to withstand time. It was once torn apart due to safety reasons, but because of popular demand in the 1960s and donations from a philanthropist, the site was officially rebuilt with more formidable materials.
As for now, The Palace of Fine Art no longer expedites or showcases any arts, but the palace has then become one huge piece of art. The mixture of Greek and Roman styles is grandeur and stunning, with a central rotunda built in according to Roman temples. Next to the rotunda and structures is an artificial pond with sea birds chirping, with benches lying around the pond for any weary tourists to rest.
7. Union Square
Located in the heart of the city, the Union square is known for being the best location for shopping.
Many of the big international brands and luxury are in here, including Louis Vuitton, Michael Kors, Boss, Gucci, Tiffany’s, Levi’s or even H&Ms. Upscale shopping malls, such as Macy’s, Neiman Marcus and Westfield can also be found here.
Besides shopping, the area is also home to the American Conservatory Theatre, one of the most reputable theaters of San Francisco.
8. Fisherman’s Wharf
If you are a foodie or looking for souvenirs, Fisherman’s Wharf is one of those places you can’t afford to miss.
Located just next to the San Francisco Bay, the area is known for its restaurants, serving fresh Dungeness crabs and scallops that have just been caught from the sea by local fishermen. The Sourdough bread and clam chowder are also tasty.
Besides the food, Fisherman’s Wharf is also known for hosting a bunch of souvenir shops, selling postcards, candies, chocolates, toys with the Golden Gate Bridge printed on them. If you are seeking new ways to explore the city, you can also join the cruise rides hosted by some of the local companies here.
Right next to the Wharf is Pier39, where you can see sea lions lying around, bathing in the sun. ‘The Aquarium Of the Bay’ and the ‘San Francisco 7D experience’ are also here, which are both entertaining and educational for any family visitors.