This electric neighborhood of 100,000 people is not to be missed, and
it's not hard to find: listen for the clack of mahjongg tiles and nose
out the salty spicy squid. It's a great place for casual wandering through
narrow alleys, where on quiet afternoons you can hear the clack of mahjong
tiles from behind screen doors. The most colourful time to visit Chinatown
is during the Chinese New Year in late January or early February, with
a parade and fireworks and other festivities.
San Francisco's densely populated downtown is squeezed into the hilly
northeastern corner of the peninsula. The often dramatic cityscape came
about because the streets were laid out as if their planners had never
so much as glanced at the city's topography. They simply dropped a grid
pattern onto the steeply undulating terrain, and the result is that streets
often climb or drop at ridiculously steep gradients. It makes parking
hazardous, breeds bicycle messengers of superhuman strength and provides
a hairy setting for car chase scenes in movies. Union Square is San Francisco's
downtown tourist centre. It's a mishmash of glitzy shops and hotels, flower
vendors and homeless people.
Open seafood markets, street performers, souvenir shops, restaurants and
sidewalk vendors are among the many attractions on this popular stretch
of wharf. The gateway for several top attractions (Alcatraz, the Maritime
Museum and the Historic Ships Pier), its focal point is Pier 39, which
is as popular with a sea lion colony as it is with tourists.
Golden Gate Park
The largest urban national park in the world, containing 74,000 acres
of land and water.
Stretching 4,200 feet and towering as high as a 65-story building, this
well-known bridge is the gateway to San Francisco. Before its completion
in 1937, the bridge was considered unbuildable because of foggy weather,
60-mile-per-hour winds and strong ocean currents sweeping through a deep
rugged canyon below. At a cost of $35 million, the 1.2-mile bridge took
more than four years to build. Eleven men lost their lives during construction.
Often shrouded in thick fog, the bridge sways 27 feet to withstand winds
of up to 100 miles per hour. The color of the bridge, known as International
Orange, was chosen because it blends well with the bridge's natural surroundings.
Center of the long-gone hippie culture of the 1960s, this trendy neighborhood
is now a whole new scene with upscale boutiques, Internet cafes and hip
Today, the Haight is still colourful, but its pretty Victorian houses
and proximity to Golden Gate Park have prompted increasing gentrification.
North Beach is an Italian veneer laid over a half-Chinese neighborhood,
and that's only the first of its many surprises and contradictions. This
is the place to go for authentic Italian food, people-watching in the
park and interesting neighborhood shops.
San Francisco Bay
San Francisco's bay is curiously shy. It always seems to be around the
corner, glimpsed in the distance, seen from afar. It is spanned by bridges,
surrounded by cities and suede hills, dotted with sails and crisscrossed
by fast-moving ferries. The bay is the largest inlet on the California
coast, stretching about 60mi (100km) in length and up to 12mi (20km) in
Park rangers conduct tours by recounting the prison's thrilling history
along with intriguing anecdotes about Al Capone and other legendary figures
that made a "home" here.
Just across San Francisco Bay, has some of the best views OF San Francisco
in the area. Take a ferry over, browse a few art galleries and have lunch
or dinner at Spinnaker, one of my favorite area restaurants.
Mission San Francisco de Asis
San Francisco's oldest building, and California's second-oldest Spanish
mission, Mission San Francisco preserves the city's oldest times.
One of the most diverse cities in the US, Oakland has done it hard in
recent decades, and still has a few pock marks on its cheeks. But these
days it seems to be feeling alive all over again, with a bustling, gussied-up
downtown and a thriving club and restaurant scene.
Northern California's glorious Wine Country is a feasible day trip from
San Francisco, but an overnight stay will give you a much better taste
of the vineyards and circumvent any 'who's gonna drive' conversations.
Only about 5% of Californian wine comes from the Wine Country, but it's
the quality stuff; plonk ordinaire is churned out by the barrel in the
Central Valley. The best time to visit is autumn harvest, when the grapes
are on the vine, or in spring, when the hills are brilliant green.
Above the West Ballooning - A unique way to see the Napa Valley is from
a hot air balloon. Sunrise flights with champagne breakfast. Transportation
from SF. (800) 627-2759
San Francisco Helicopter Tours - Picture perfect flight-seeing over the
city, bay, bridges. Try lunch in the wine country. Complimentary pick-up
from SF hotels. Reservations (800) 400-2404.
Adventure Cat - J Dock, PIER 39 (800) 498-4228
Blue & Gold Fleet - Spectacular 1-hour narrated tour of the San Francisco
Bay. Cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz. PIER 39
Red & White Fleet - Golden Gate Bridge cruise under the Bridge, along
the Wharf, Sausalito, Tiburon, Angel Island & Alcatraz. Narrated in
six languages. Pier 43 1/2 447-0597
Rendezvous Charters Fare - $22.50. Sail away aboard a classic 1935 vintage
Tall ship. Join in the fun! South Beach Harbor, Pier 40 543-7333
SF's Finest Limousines - Providing full-day Napa Wine Charters. Ride
in style and comfort in a stretch limousine. Private San Francisco tours
also available. (650) 588-4556
Enjoy Your Environment - Guided trips to Muir Woods, Marin Headlands,
Bolinas Lagoon, Point Reyes, more. Experience nature 30 minutes from San
Francisco! Customized group tours by reservation. 389-1327
Roger's Walking Tours - SF high points: cable car ride, Lombard St.,
Victorians, Chinatown, Nob Hill. Golden Gate Bridge tour. Victorian San
Franciscos tour. Wir sprechen Deutsch! 742-9611
San Francisco Ghost Hunt - This evening walking tour is an enchanting
excursion inside authentic hunted history presented with some light, spirit-lifting
entertainment. (415) 922-5590
Alcatraz - Spanish for pelican, was named Isla de los Alcatraces after
the birds that were the island's only inhabitants. The island served as
a military fortification in the 1850s and an incarceration facility for
war prisoners during the Spanish-American War. In 1934 Alcatraz became
the infamous maximum-security prison for Mafia criminals and high-risk
convicts. Famous island residents have included "Machine Gun"
Kelly, Al Capone and Robert "Birdman" Stroud.
Bay Bridge - The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge opened in 1936 and
links San Francisco with Contra Costa and Alameda counties by way of an
8.5-mile suspension / cantilever structure. Views of the City's skyline
are spectacular from the bridge, however no pedestrians are allowed on
the structure. A $2 toll is collected westbound.
Cable cars - operate seven days a week from 6:30 am until 12:30 am. The
fare is $2 (no transfers issued or accepted) or use your MUNI Passport.
Purchase your ticket from the conductor on board where exact change is
required. The cable car was introduced to San Francisco on August 2, 1873.
Wire-cable manufacturer Andrew Hallidie conceived the idea after witnessing
an accident in which a horse-drawn carriage faltered and rolled backward
downhill dragging the horses behind it. The first cable car to descend
down Clay Street on Nob Hill was an immediate success. Besides creating
a vital link in San Francisco's public transportation system, the cable
car opened the door for building on steep hills which until this time
was thought to be impossible. Throughout the 1890s, eight transit companies
operated 600 cars which covered 21 cable car routes and a total of 52.8
miles. Cable cars remained the primary mode of transportation until the
The Marina District - was built on lagoon and marshland filled for use
during the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exhibition which celebrated the opening
of the Panama Canal. Remaining from the Exhibition is the Palace of Fine
Arts designed by Berkeley architect Bernard Maybeck. Today, the Palace
houses the Exploratorium, a hands-on museum containing 650 interactive
exhibits. A flat, grassy park favored by sunbathers, picnickers, kite
flyers and people watchers, the Marina Green is a great spot to exercise
while enjoying a view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
PIER 39 - the second most-visited attraction in California, is located
at Beach Street and the Embarcadero just two blocks east of Fisherman's
Wharf. This renovated cargo pier hosts over 10.5 million visitors annually.
PIER 39 is San Francisco port to the Blue & Gold Fleet and offers
two-levels of waterfront restaurants and specialty shops, a 350-berth
marina, the Venetian Carousel, Turbo Ride (a simulation theatre) and the
Secret of San Francisco
Union Square - a shopper's paradise of designer boutiques and large department
stores, is bounded by Stockton, Powell, Post and Geary streets. Located
around the square are Macy's, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, FAO Schwarz,
Tiffany, Niketown, Gucci and many more. Also located nearby (closer to
Market Street) are Planet Hollywood, Virgin Megastore and the San Francisco
Shopping Center (San Francisco to Nordstrom).