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San Francisco Attractions

Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge © San Francisco CVB

Golden Gate Bridge

The rust-coloured towers, graceful suspension and supportive cables of the Golden Gate Bridge make this famous symbol of San Francisco the most photographed bridge in the world, and visible from almost any high point in the city, although it is often shrouded in rolling fog. Spanning the two-mile (3km) mouth of the bay, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time of its completion in 1937 and was built to withstand winds of more than 100 mph (161km per hour). During high winds it can sway up to 27ft (8m) in each direction. One of the great engineering accomplishments of the 20th century, the bridge claims to have used enough wire in its construction to stretch around the earth several times. Walking across the bridge, under the towers that loom 65 storeys above the water, is one of the best ways to experience the immensity of the structure and affords beautiful views of the San Francisco skyline, the bay and its islands. Golden Gate Bridge is also a favourite with the suicidal and the sidewalks are dotted with crisis-counselling phones.

Address: Highway 101 North; Website: www.goldengatebridge.org; Telephone: (415) 921 5858; Transport: Golden Gate Transit buses 10, 60, 70 or 80 depart daily for Marin County from the Transbay Terminal. Muni buses 28 and 29 also stop at the bridge toll plaza; Opening time: Access for pedestrians is on the east sidewalk during daylight hours only from sunrise to sunset (April to October from 5am to 9pm, November to March from 6am to 6pm). The bridge is open 24 hours for motorists; Admission: A $5 toll is collected from cars when driving south towards the city

San Francisco Attractions

Alcatraz island
Alcatraz island

Alcatraz

Out in the middle of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz Island, or ‘The Rock’, is one of Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s most popular destinations. The notorious escape-proof island with its dreaded maximum-security prison once held the likes of Al ‘Scarface’ Capone, George ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly and the ‘birdman of Alcatraz', Robert Stroud. With sheer cliffs surrounded by the icy waters of San Francisco Bay, known for its treacherous tides and currents, it was regarded as the perfect place to detain the country’s most-wanted and dangerous criminals who were isolated in dark solitary confinement cells. There have never been any successful escapes from The Rock. Visitors can explore the prison as well as learn about its history: from its discovery as a pelican nesting ground, its location as a military outpost, and the years between 1933 and 1963 as an off-limit federal penitentiary. It was also inhabited by Native Americans before being declared a Recreational Area and protected bird sanctuary. Thousands of tourists flock here each year and take the excellent self-guided audio tours that contain commentary from former guards and prisoners about life on the island. There is also a slide show and a tour of the island’s ecology and bird life led by a park ranger. The view from the island looking across to San Francisco is awesome.

E-mail: goga_alcatraz@nps.gov; Website: www.nps.gov/alcatraz; Telephone: (415) 773 1188 (ferry schedules and information), or (415) 705 1042 (park information); Transport: Blue & Gold Fleet boats depart throughout the day beginning at 9.30am, from Pier 41, Fisherman�s Wharf. Night tours in summer and combined Angel Island-Alcatraz Island trips are also available; Opening time: The last boat leaves the island at 6.30pm in summer (April to October) and 4.30pm in winter; Admission: Admission includes the ferry trip and is $26 (adults) or $16 (children). Night tours: $33. Other concessions are available. Advance reservations are strongly recommended, especially in peak season

San Francisco Attractions

Fishermans Wharf
Fishermans Wharf

Fisherman's Wharf

Some people love the bustle of Fisherman’s Wharf, while others make a conscious effort to steer well clear of it. But for better or worse it is massively popular, attracting more visitors than any other city sight, with Pier 39 the commercial tourist epicentre. The Wharf was once a fishing port with dozens of boats anchored here. Pier 45 is still used by fishermen in the early morning hours, and fish and seafood can be bought from the Fish Alley Market. There are shops galore, fast food stands and overpriced bay-view restaurants as well as bars, markets, street performers, and an endless variety of activities for the whole family. It is also the gateway for several top attractions: trips to Alcatraz and other bay cruises leave from here; numerous museums include the Historic Ships Pier; and the USS Pampanito submarine that can be boarded from Pier 45. The entertaining colony of sea lions that reside on the floating docks at Pier 39 are one of the best attractions on the quay.

Address: The Embarcadero; Transport: Bus 15, 30, 32, 42 or 82X goes to the wharf, or the Powell-Mason cable car line to the last stop

San Francisco Attractions

North Beach
North Beach

North Beach

Between Russian and Telegraph Hills, North Beach is San Francisco’s ‘Little Italy’, that has long been the central hub for anyone with alternative inclinations. During the 1950s the pleasure-seeking, non-conformist lifestyle of the Beat Generation and their rebellious literature contributed to the neighbourhood’s unconventional character and tourists poured into the district for 'Beatnik Tours'. Two of the Beat-era landmarks are the Vesuvio bar, and the first paperback bookstore in the US and hangout of Beat-era writers, the City Lights Bookstore. The steep stairways on Telegraph Hill lead to one of the city’s most distinctive landmarks, Coit Tower, a monument to the volunteer fire fighters of the city providing superb 360-degree views of the city and San Francisco Bay. Inside the round, stone-tower murals of the Great Depression depict different aspects of life in California during the 1930s. The 'Crookedest Street in the World' winds down the steep eastern side of Russian Hill, the angle so steep that Lombard Street has to zigzag down with eight sharp turns to make any descent possible. The affluent residents inside their mansions with well-tended flowerbeds that flank the street bemoan the frequent traffic jams as thousands of visitors queue at the top and wait their turn to drive slowly down the tight curves, gathering at the bottom for photographic opportunities.

Website: www.sfnorthbeach.org

San Francisco Attractions

Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park

Of the many open green spaces in San Francisco, Golden Gate Park is the biggest and the loveliest stretching from The Haight to the Pacific Ocean, featuring gardens, lakes, numerous sporting facilities, and museums. On Sundays the main drive is closed to traffic and becomes the playground for joggers, cyclists, roller-bladers and strollers. The California Academy of Sciences includes the Natural History Museum, aquarium and planetarium (temporarily relocated to 875 Howard Street until September 2008 due to renovations). The serenity of the Japanese Tea Garden with its bridges, bonsai and fortune cookies is a favourite with tour groups. Although filled with people, the park never seems crowded and there is always a secluded space somewhere on the lawns or in the gardens.

Address: John F Kennedy Drive; Telephone: Park information (415) 831 2700 or (415) 321 8000 (Academy of Sciences). Japanese Tea Garden (415) 752 4227; Opening time: The Academy of Sciences is open daily from 10am to 5pm. Japanese Tea Garden is open daily from 9am to 6.30pm; Admission: Park entrance is free. $10 (Academy of Sciences) plus $2.50 for the planetarium; $3.50 (Japanese Tea Garden)

San Francisco Attractions

Cable car, San Francisco
Cable car, San Francisco © San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau

Cable Cars

One of San Francisco’s most endearing attractions is its network of 130-year-old cable cars, the only mobile National Historic Landmark in the country, and the world’s only surviving system of cable cars. Many cities adopted the system, but all have since been replaced by more practical means of transport. The perpetuation of these clanking museum pieces was due to determination by the city’s residents and today they remain at the heart of the city’s character. It is an experience to ride up and down the steep gradients of the hills, hanging on while the brass bell clangs, the conductor jingles his coins and the familiar clanking of the cables pulls the car at a constant 9.5 miles (15km) per hour. Many people have difficulty believing that these six-tonne cars can work without engines and the San Francisco Cable Car Museum affords visitors a closer look at the cable-winding machinery, and the ‘home base’ where cars are reeled in and out on 11 miles (17km) of steel cable. The museum also houses some interesting sights, including the first cable car (1873) and scale models of different types of cable cars that were once in use in the city. The idea of the cable car system was conceived by engineer Andrew Hallidie. After watching the uphill struggle of laden horse-drawn carts, he was determined to find a kinder and more efficient means of transportation, which he produced four years later.

Address: 1201 Mason Street (Cable Car Barn and Powerhouse); E-mail: comments@sfcablecar.com; Website: www.sfcablecar.com; Opening time: The museum is open daily from 10am to 5pm (until 6pm from April to October); Admission: $3 per ride, each way. Day passports for the cable cars, buses and streetcars are also available. Entrance to the museum is free

San Francisco Attractions

The Exploratorium
The Exploratorium

Exploratorium

Located inside the Palace of Fine Arts, the Exploratorium is known as the museum of science, art and human perception, and is a leader in the movement to promote museums as educational centres. Named San Francisco's best museum, the Exploratorium is a fun, quirky museum of science, art, and human perception that features some 650 'please touch' exhibits. Many of its exhibits are created by visual and performing artists as well as scientists and educators. Exhibits such as the off-site Wave Organ, a unique sonic exhibit which is located on a nearby piece of land jutting out in the San Francisco Bay, can be found nowhere else in the world. It is one of San Francisco's most popular museums, drawing over 500,000 people each year and its three-dimensional pitch-black Tactile Dome inspire many visitors to approach challenges in a very different way.

Address: 3601 Lyon Street, San Francisco, CA 94123; E-mail: visit@exploratorium.edu; Website: www.exploratorium.edu; Telephone: (415) 561 0360; Transport: The Exploratorium has convenient access to public transportation, accessible by San Francisco Muni buses 30, 43, 28 and 29. Muni bus lines 22, 41 and 45 also stop in the vicinity. From Fisherman's Wharf take the 30 Stockton bus.; Opening time: Open Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 5pm. Closed Mondays, except Martin Luther King Day, President's Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.; Admission: Adult $14. Children $9. Concessions available

San Francisco Attractions

Bat Ray at the Aquarium of the Bay
Bat Ray at the Aquarium of the Bay

Aquarium of the Bay

The Aquarium of the Bay features 300 feet (91m) of crystal clear acrylic tunnels through which over 20,000 aquatic animals can be viewed. The aquarium offers visitors the opportunity to come face-to-face with the Bay's largest predator, the sevengill shark, as well as touch leopard sharks, skates, rays, and sea stars. The Aquarium hosts nearly 600,00 visitors every year and provides free classes and tours to more than 13,000 Bay Area school children annually making it a wonderful attraction to the city.

Address: The Embarcadero and Beach Street; E-mail: info@aquariumofthebay.com; Website: www.aquariumofthebay.com; Telephone: (415) 623 5300; Opening time: Open daily except 25 December. Hours may vary according to season.; Admission: Adults $14.95, Children $8. Concessions available.

San Francisco Attractions

The Painted ladies
The Painted ladies © Jason Langley www.reciprocityimages.com

Alamo Square

Anyone who has ever seen an episode of the 90s sitcom 'Full House' will know what Alamo Square looks like. It is a residential neighbourhood and park in San Francisco, frequented by tourists, neighbours and dog-owners. The park features a playground as well as a tennis court. A row of Victorian houses overlooks the park, known as the 'painted ladies' and this view is often shown in the foreground of panoramic pictures of the city. On a clear day, the Transamerica Pyramid building and the tops of the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge can be seen from the park's centre.

Transport: Alamo Square is served by several Muni Bus lines including the 5, 21, 22, and 24.

San Francisco Attractions

The entrance to San Francisco\'s Chinatown
The entrance to San Francisco's Chinatown © Don Danz www.DanzFamily.com

Chinatown

A dragon-draped archway at the intersection of Bush and Grant streets marks the entrance to Chinatown in San Francisco, the oldest Chinatown in the United States and the largest Chinatown outside of Asia. Chinatown draws more tourists than the Golden Gate Bridge with its streets teeming with fish and vegetable stalls, herbal shops, temples, and eateries. There are some fantastic restaurants such as Lichee Garden, Hunan Home's, and R&G. Museums include the Chinese Historical Society of America and Chinese Culture Center, making Chinatown an absolute must-see.

Address: Intersection of Bush and Grant Streets

San Francisco Attractions

Lombard Street
Lombard Street © Phillie Casablanca

Lombard Street

Known as the 'Crookedest Street in the world', Lombard Street features eight sharp hairpin turns. The road was designed in 1922 in order to reduce the 72 degree slope of the hill and make it more usable for cars as well as pedestrians. The speed limit is a mere 5mph (8 km/h) on the crooked section, which is about a quarter of a mile (400m) long. The crooked section of the street is reserved for one-way traffic travelling downhill and is paved with red bricks. Tourists are known to literally queue to drive down this famous road, making it a definite must-see when visiting San Francisco.

Address: Between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets