Things to Do in San Francisco - page 2
Perched up on a hill looking over the San Francisco Bay, Pacific Heights is a historic neighborhood considered by many to be one of the city’s most beautiful. Aside from its location and views, the many Victorian homes of Pacific Heights are some of the most elegant and historic in San Francisco. One particularly notable home is that of author Danielle Steel, who lives in Speckles Mansion, an estate that once belonged to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. There’s also the Haas-Lilienthal House, a 19th-century Queen Anne-style Victorian home that is open to visitors and admired by passersby. The historic house has been preserved to represent the era in which it was built. High-end boutique shops and restaurants line Fillmore Street, the main pedestrian street in the mostly quiet, residential area. The neighborhood is also home to Lafayette Park and Alta Plaza Park, with its rolling grassy hills, dog walkers, playground, tennis courts and stellar city views.
Lying out in the middle of the San Franciscan Bay is a tiny man-made structure known as Treasure Island. Once made for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition, the island is now a California Historical Landmark and burgeoning trendy neighborhood. Development efforts in recent months have spurred local interest, and nowadays you’ll find this one-time naval training ground to be host of a variety of events and markets. A small stop, it’s still a great place to and picnic or take some photographs of the bay. Be sure not to miss the monthly Treasure Island Flea Market, or the annual Treasure Island Music Festival, held every October.
Perched on the top of Telegraph Hill in San Francisco's Pioneer Park, Coit Tower is one of the best panoramic views of the city. From the top of the art deco tower, you can spot the colorful flocks of parrots, which paint the treetops red and blue; further out, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Pier 39, Angel Island, and Lombard Street.
Before heading to the top, enter the lobby to admire the 1930s murals inside the tower's ground floor. The 26 murals tell the story of California history, with frescoes depicting the rise of the state's industry. Indeed, some of these left-leaning murals, many of which were painted by artists who studied under Diego Rivera, were considered controversial when the tower first opened.
In a select few blocks of San Francisco’s bustling downtown lies the beautiful Civic Center. Known for housing some of the city’s main governmental and cultural institutions, the Civic Center is a hub of activity and not just for municipal officials – there’s really a lot to do and see. Take a look and you’ll find the impressive City Hall and War Memorial Opera House built in the beautiful Beaux Arts style. The San Francisco Public Library houses millions(!) of books, and on Sunday mornings the UN Plaza Farmers’ Market has more fine nibbling you could hope to wish for. After touring the buildings, consider the adjacent Hayes Valley for wandering the antique shops, restaurants, art galleries, and book stores.
A lively hub of vibrant activity, thrift shopping, and some fantastic Mexican eateries, San Francisco’s Mission District is also home to some of the best weather and artwork San Francisco has to offer. Multicultural and honest, a stroll through Balmy Alley and Clarion Alley will have you pointing and snapping photos, while the sun breaking through the clouds will make a picnic in popular Dolores Park a treat. For as pleasurable a walk as you’re likely to find in San Francisco, consider Mission Street on a sunny day and watch out for roving mariachi bands playing in local restaurants. This oldest of San Francisco neighborhoods completes the image of San Francisco as a truly great multicultural American city.
If ever there was a heaven for foodies, the San Francisco Ferry Building is surely it. Since 1898, it has been a transit terminal, the second-busiest in the world until the Bay and Golden Gate bridges were completed in the 30s. For well-heeled gourmet food lovers however, it began serving a different purpose when it opened as an upscale food market in 2003. The beautiful building houses small shops that sell fancy mushrooms, olive oil, sourdough bread, wine, cheese, produce and cupcakes, as well as well-known Bay Area restaurants the Slanted Door, Gott’s Roadside and Hog Island Oyster Company. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, the outdoor plaza fills with farmer’s selling local, organic and seasonal produce, plus food merchants selling specialty cheeseburgers, tacos, pizzas and more. In other words, it’s mecca for the Bay Area’s sustainable food craze. The back wharf is a great spot to watch the boats passing under the Bay Bridge.
The finest restaurants in town can't provide views as spectacular as the picnic tables atop Alamo Square Park facing Steiner Street's Postcard Row, a row of pastel Victorian houses, known as the Painted Ladies. In fact, the lavish gingerbread detailing, look-at-me bay windows, and frosting flourishes that adorn the houses may leave you craving dessert.
This collection of candy-jar colored Victorian houses is one of San Francisco's most famous assets. Though many exist throughout the city, this is where you’ll find the greatest concentration of these restored gems. At the corner of Fulton and Steiner streets, in Alamo Square, you can see the crisp edges of the Financial District skyscrapers behind a row of Victorians - it's one of the most famous views of San Francisco. You can even see City Hall.
Imagine a botanical garden filled with the lush greenery of rare and exotic plants…in the middle of a major U.S. city. The Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is exactly that, housed in a Victorian greenhouse that is oldest public wood-and-glass conservatory in North America. It was originally commissioned by a wealthy businessman in the 19th century for his estate, though later bought by a group and presented to the public. After sustaining devastating damage from years of natural disasters it has since been strengthened and restored, becoming a central spot for San Franciscans seeking a place of beauty in the city.
Educational tours are given to connect people to the hundreds of rare plants. The conservatory is organized into sections based on plant type, including aquatic plants, highland tropics, lowland tropics, and potted plants — making the collection of brightly colored flowers and buds easy to navigate.
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Located at the base of San Francisco’s bustling and touristy Pier 39, Aquarium of the Bay takes you below the surface of San Francisco Bay. With 300 feet of clear acrylic tunnels holding 700,000 gallons of bay water, the view is as unique as the critters themselves. Aquarium of the Bay is home to approximately 20,000 animals, from sea stars to octopuses to native sharks.
There are three main exhibit areas to explore in the aquarium. Discover the Bay focuses on ecosystems. Touch the Bay puts critters like leopard sharks, big skates and juvenile bat rays at your fingertips. But what makes this city-sized aquarium truly unique is the Under the Bay tunnels exhibit. As you walk through the first tunnel you’ll see animals that live near shore including anchovies, sea bass and sea stars. Explore deeper water as you make your way through the second tunnel. Stop and stare as five species of local sharks and skates glides over top of your head.
One of San Francisco’s original “Seven Hills,” Nob Hill gets its name from old gold-rush times when, as the bawdy waterfront offered no escape for the wealthy, the wealthy looked to build their homes on higher ground. The “nob” of Nob Hill actually is a contraction of an old Hindu word meaning, roughly, someone who has made his fortune. Today, Nob Hill is still home to some of San Francisco’s towering mansions and luxury hotels, but it’s historic feel and the eclectic neighborhoods that surround it give the area, for lack of a better phrase, a distinctly San Francisco feel.
While visiting, consider seeing some of the areas historic roots like the Huntington Hotel, the Fairmont Hotel, and Flood Mansion, all of which share in the vintage feel instilled by the old barber shops and cocktail lounges that line the streets. Popular sites of the neighborhood include the Cable Car Museum, the Grace Cathedral Episcopal Church and the Lumiere Theatre.
San Francisco has one of the only remaining historic World War II Liberty ships docked in its bay, and it is open to visitors. Named for American Revolutionary War ship captain, the SS Jeremiah O’Brien is one of only two currently operational World War II Liberty ships afloat of the 2,700 built during the war. The ship survived the storming of Normandy on D-Day in 1944, and is now a National Historic Landmark visitors can tour near Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.
The preserved Liberty ship is completely unaltered, allowing for an authentic and accurate historical experience of exploring the ship just as it was made. Walking through the hallways and on deck, one can truly experience a time and place of being on the ocean in wartime decades ago. Everything from the engine room to the flying bridge is accessible to visitors, allowing a rare glimpse into life at sea and at war at that time.
Madame Tussauds around the world are famously home to wax recreations of famous figures, including celebrities, politicians, and athletes. Modeled after the original Madame Tussauds in London, the San Francisco Wax Museum was converted in the 17th Madame Tussauds worldwide in 2014. Life-size wax versions of Tiger Woods, Muhammed Ali, Abraham Lincoln, Michael Jackson, and Marilyn Monroe can be found here, among many others. Contemporary figures such as Barack Obama and Lady Gaga are also brought to life.
Madame Tussauds San Francisco is home in particular to an area called “The Spirit of San Francisco,” which celebrates local artists, politicians, and activists that have played a role in the city’s history. It is a chance to specifically see icons of the Bay Area in one place. The figures are set against realistic backdrops, making them all the more lifelike!
Welcome to Fisherman’s Wharf newest and spookiest attraction! Located in what formerly was the Wax Museum, the San Francisco Dungeon takes visitors on a frightening journey through the city’s gruesome past, from the Gold Rush era to Alcatraz. The experience consists of 36 enthusiastic and terrifying actors, 200 years of history, one dark boat ride and nine live shows—not to mention the screams! The Dungeon focuses on terror and ghastly stories, yet somehow manages to provoke genuine belly laughs even from those having just screamed bloody murder. Dark and claustrophobia-inducing spaces, working girls, murders, questionable surgical abilities and hair-raising stories await in company of San Francisco’s most sinister characters, like Miss Piggott, the Wild West saloon owner, and the infamous crimper, Shanghai Kelly.
The Dungeon features several attractions, including Gold Rush Greed, Lost Mines of Sutter’s Mill, the Court of San Francisco.
One of Nob Hill’s many stunning highlights, Grace Cathedral holds many interesting features. Its spectacular stained-glass windows include a series dedicated to human endeavor, depicting such modern figures as Thurgood Marshall, Robert Frost, and Albert Einstein, who is uplifted in a swirl of nuclear particles. Day and night you'll notice people absorbed in thought while walking the outdoor, inlaid stone labyrinth, meant to guide restless souls through three spiritual stages: releasing, receiving and returning.
Grace Cathedral also embodies a commitment to pressing social issues in its AIDS Memorial Chapel, which has a bronze altarpiece by artist-activist Keith Haring. Here his signature figures are angels taking flight – especially powerful imagery as this was his last work before death by AIDS in 1990. Alongside this magical ambience, Grace Cathedral also lifts spirits with Sunday services and musical performances.
At once both a place of peace and relaxation and a museum housing collections spanning more than 6,000 years of ancient and European Art, the California Palace of the Legion of Honor is a museum that always takes precedence on any visit to San Francisco. Easily identifiable by the classical façade, its grand fountain, and the statue of El Cid in front of the museum, the Legion of Honor is hailed as a great representation of some of the most iconic art of the early Renaissance. In addition, the Legion of Honor houses the Skinner Organ, an organ of such amazing capacity and diversity that its concerts routinely sell out to people who come to hear the colors of a full symphony, echoed by one magnificent instrument.
Once a large, privately owned indoor swimming pool complex in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Recreation Area, due to a fire in 1966, the ruins of this magnificent bath-house now sit seemingly forgotten by time save for a small museum and gift store atop the hill. The ruins themselves stand all-but-gone amidst the beauty of the rough Californian coast, and are a great stoic testament to the innovation of man and the humbling power of Mother Nature.
Easily accessible by the Sutro Baths Trail right off of the Lands End parking lot, this hallowed, beautiful, and eerie escape amongst the cypress-lined cliffs are a great stop for any day spent exploring the San Franciscan outdoors. And while often windy, the Sutro Baths Museum offers guests a chance to come in from the cold, sip some coffee or hot cocoa, and get a glimpse into a time when this landmark was once the largest indoor bath house in the world.
Running the western strip of San Francisco, Ocean Beach is a 3.5 mile strip of white beach and beautiful ocean. Adjacent to Golden Gate Park and so straight and flat you’ll think it was drawn by a ruler, Ocean Beach is great for joggers, Frisbee players, young love, and just coming to the beach and watching the tide come in. Though the water is cold, the views are spectacular, and you’ll often find it unoccupied – great for getting out of the city while remaining firmly within its borders.
Also known as the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, this fine arts museum is known for its creative offerings as well as its unusual exterior and prime location in Golden Gate Park. As many people in the community were unhappy with a large museum being constructed in the middle of the park, the architects covered the building -- which is made of natural materials like stone, wood and glass -- in 950,000 pounds of perforated copper in order for it to oxidize and eventually turn green, blending in with the landscape’s eucalyptus trees. Additionally, the textured copper helps the structure to imitate light shining in through a tree canopy. By doing this, the De Young Museum aims to act as a natural addition to the Golden Gate Park.
Upon first viewing the building, you’ll probably notice the striking copper exterior as well as the 144-foot twisting tower off to the side.
NOTE: THE MUSEUM WILL BE CLOSED FOR RENOVATIONS THROUGH EARLY 2016. CHECK BACK HERE FOR UPDATES!
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) has always strived to be an eclectic, unconventional museum, since it opened in 1935, and a visit here will surely be a unique experience. After all, this is a museum that took a chance on then-unknowns like Matthew Barney and his poetic videos involving industrial quantities of Vaseline, and Olafur Eliasson's outer-space installations.
The permanent collection includes work by all the great American and European artists but is particularly strong in American abstract expressionism, with major works by Clyfford Still, Jackson Pollock and Philip Guston. The permanent collection also contains several works by Mexican painters Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and by Bay Area artists Robert Arneson and Richard Diebenkorn. Willem de Kooning, Marcel Duchamp, and Andy Warhol are also represented.
Part of San Francisco’s Golden Gate National Recreation Center, Fort Mason is a historic landmark and arts center located on the city’s waterfront. It once served as the San Francisco Port of Embarkation for the US Army. Facing the San Francisco Bay, it is both a former military port and coastal defense site. It remains an example for excellent reuse of a military base, drawing more than 1 million annual visitors to its events and facilities.
Divided into upper and lower sections, Fort Mason dates back to 1864 when fortifications along the coast of the United States were built — as prompted by the Civil War. The area was also an important military base during World War II. Today it operates primarily as the home of the Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture, holding regular events, festivals, and performances. There is also a youth hostel, various galleries and schools, and a bar, restaurant, and coffee shop on site.
Located in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, the Japanese Tea Garden is the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States. Originally built as an exhibit for the 1894 California International Expo, it stands today as one of the cultural gems of San Francisco. Its caretaker, a Japanese immigrant to San Francisco, extended it to nearly five acres and keeps it meticulously maintained.
The garden embodies the harmony, peace, and tranquility of this exquisite Japanese tradition. It includes elements such as a zen garden and stepping stone paths, along with a five-story pagoda, a koi fish pond, stone lanterns, and an arch drummed bridge. It also contains native Japanese plants, including the famed cherry blossom trees that bloom during spring in the garden just as they do in Japan. Visitors can sit on a bench and contemplate in silence or wander the gardens while listening to the sounds of the stream. There is also a tea house and small gift shop.
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