Explore San Francisco, Usa
Explore San Francisco a major city in California, the centerpiece of the Bay Area, well-known for its liberal community, hilly terrain, Victorian architecture, scenic beauty, summer fog, and great ethnic and cultural diversity. These are only a few of the aspects of the city that make San Francisco one of the most visited cities in the world.
San Francisco’s districts
- Golden Gate. Fashionable and upscale neighborhoods, e.g., the Marina District, Cow Hollow, and Pacific Heights, with extensive views and historical landmarks — Fort Mason, The Presidio, and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.
- Fisherman’s Wharf. A touristy waterfront neighborhood which encompasses Ghirardelli Square, Pier 39, and the ferry launch to Alcatraz Island, as well as a plethora of seafood restaurants and souvenir stores.
- Nob Hill-Russian Hill. Two ritzy neighborhoods with upscale hotels, cable cars, panoramic views and steep inclines.
- Chinatown-North Beach. Two vibrant immigrant communities; the crowded and largest Chinatown outside of Asia next to the stylish laid back ‘Little Italy’, as well as Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower.
- Union Square-Financial District. Union Square is the center of shopping, theater and art in the city, next to the many skyscrapers of downtown and Market Street.
- Civic Center-Tenderloin. The neoclassical Civic Center next to the grit of the Tenderloin. The San Francisco Opera, the San Francisco Symphony and SFjazz are located there. While the ‘Loin’ is grittier compared to its ritzier neighbors downtown, there’s plenty of interesting architecture and attractions to see here.
- SoMa (South of Market). A rapidly changing neighborhood of downtown that is the center of a lot of new construction, including new skyscrapers, some of the city’s newest museums, and AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants.
- Western Addition. A historic neighborhood with many Victorian homes that was once a hotbed of African-American culture. Within the area is also Japantown, once the center of San Francisco’s Japanese population, still populated with many Japanese stores and restaurants, and hotels that cater to Japanese travelers.
- Famous for being the home of the Hippie movement, this once bohemian area is still an eclectic treasure.
- The Avenues. Includes the foggy Richmond. Sunset and Parkside Districts, separated by scenic Golden Gate Park, bounded on the west by Ocean Beach and on the south by Sloat Blvd. The Richmond District is north of Golden Gate Park and the Sunset is south of the park. Additionally you will often hear locals referring to the inner and outer Richmond and inner and outer Sunset. The demarcation in the Richmond is Park Presidio and in the Sunset 19th Avenue.
- Twin Peaks-Lake Merced. Covering most of southwestern San Francisco, this area is home to many of the taller hills of San Francisco and the large Lake Merced Park, which contains the San Francisco Zoo.
- Castro-Noe Valley. Colorful and cohesive, the Castro (Eureka Valley) is historically known for being the cultural center of the city’s LGBTQ community. Nearby Noe Valley offers excellent restaurants and shops along pleasantly walkable streets.
- Mission-Bernal Heights. This colorful area is home to a large Hispanic community as well as new urban artisans, and is a center of San Francisco night life. For visitors wishing to get off the beaten tourist paths and catch some local flavor, this is the place to go.
- Southeast San Francisco. A mostly lower income residential area, this district contains several bay-side neighborhoods, and many nice parks.
Prior to European settlement in the area, the peninsula that now contains San Francisco was home to the Yelamu tribe, who were part of the larger Ohlone language group which stretched south from the Bay Area to the Big Sur of California. Due to San Francisco’s characteristic foggy weather, the earliest European explorers completely bypassed the Golden Gate and the San Francisco Bay.
The first European settlement in the area was founded by the Spanish in 1776 as a mission community surrounding the Mission San Francisco de Asís, in what is today called the Mission Dolores in the Mission District. In addition to the mission, a military fort was built near the Golden Gate: El Presidio.
San Francisco has a mild climate, with cool, wet winters and dry summers.
San Francisco International airport is located about 16km south of the city is a major international airport, one of the largest in the world and has numerous passenger amenities including a wide range of food and drink establishments, shopping, baggage storage, public showers, a medical clinic, and assistance for lost or stranded travelers and military personnel.
- When the morning is foggy, you may want to spend a few hours in one of the city’s many world-class museums. Golden Gate Park is home to the copper-clad M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, which houses an impressive collection of contemporary and indigenous art. The de Young Museum’s former Asian collection is now permanently housed in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, located in the Civic Center. Across from the de Young Museum stands the California Academy of Sciences, which holds a huge array of science exhibits, including an aquarium, a planetarium, and a natural history museum.
- The California Palace of the Legion of Honor is in Lincoln Park in the northwest corner of the Richmond district. In Nob Hill, the Cable Car Museum offers exhibits on the famous moving landmarks of San Francisco. Near the Castro is the Randall Museum, a lovely little children’s museum. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Moscone Center, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Zeum, the Cartoon Art Museum, the Museum of the African Diaspora and the Museum of Craft and Folk Art are all located in SoMa, south of Union Square. The Contemporary Jewish Museum, which was designed by Daniel Libeskind and opened in June 2008, is the latest major addition to San Francisco’s museum scene.
- At the Hyde Street Pier in Fisherman’s Wharf you can go on board several historical ships, including the 1886 Balclutha clipper ship, a walking-beam ferry, a steam tug, and a coastal schooner. At Pier 45 just to the east, the World War II submarine USS Pampanito and the World War II Liberty Ship SS Jeremiah O’Brien can be visited. Nearby is the Aquarium of the Bay on Pier 39 and the newly opened Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. The Musee Mecanique on pier 45 contains hundreds of coin operated amusement machines, many from the 19th century. Most can be used for just a quarter.
- The newly relocated and bigger and better than ever Exploratorium on Pier 15 is walking distance from Embarcadero and will keep you busy for an entire day with their science and perception exhibits. In the Marina district is Fort Mason, home to a few cultural museums.
Many museums offer free admission on certain days during the first week of every month.
Parks and outdoors
- San Francisco has numerous parks, ranging from the tiny to the huge. The most famous of them is Golden Gate Park in The Avenues district, a massive (roughly 1/2 mile-by-four mile) urban oasis with windmills, bison, museums, a carousel and much more hidden among its charms. The park contains the antique palatial greenhouse of the Conservatory of Flowers, the modern and ethnic art focused de Young Museum, the large Japanese Tea Garden, the new California Academy of Sciences building designed by Renzo Piano and the Strybing Arboretum, a collection of plants from across the temperate world. Defining the extreme Northwestern corner of the city is Lincoln Park in Richmond, which provides majestic views of the Marin Headlands, the Golden Gate Bridge from the ocean side, and the Pacific Ocean itself. At the extreme western end the well-known Cliff House provides both semi-casual and a more formal eating and drinking place. The Legion of Honor museum at the center of the park houses many incredible artworks.
- Near the physical center of the city is Twin Peaks, one of San Francisco’s highest points (925′ above sea level); providing spectacular views in all directions. Tour buses can get backed up here during the day, but it’s a great place to really appreciate the city from above, especially at and after sunset. Temperatures up there can be quite a bit lower than in the rest of the city, so bring a jacket. Nearby in the Lake Merced area is the San Francisco Zoo, a large and well maintained zoo which is a great place to go if you are traveling with children or have a fondness for penguins, primates, lions or llamas.
- While not particularly well known for its beaches, San Francisco has a couple of good ones along the Pacific Ocean — but the water is brisk, the winds can be rough, and due to strong rip currents swimming at any of them is not recommended. Ocean Beach along the Sunset district is the largest and most famous beach, with plenty of sand and people enjoying themselves. China Beach in Richmond and Baker Beach in Golden Gate are smaller, rather secluded beaches with lovely views.
- On sunny days hipsters flock to Mission Dolores Park, so named due to its location across the street from the Mission Dolores Basilica. The park often comes to resemble a large party, with music, coolers of beer and medical marijuana treatment. Mission Dolores Park is situated on a slight slope in the Noe Valley neighborhood, just a few blocks from the many restaurants and bars in the Mission. The east side of the park is bounded by Dolores Street, a hilly and scenic drive lined with palm trees and Victorians. During the fire of 1906 that destroyed much of the city, one of the few working fire hydrants was located near the Southwest corner of the park. This fire hydrant provided water that helped stop the fire. The fire hydrant is still functioning and is repainted gold once a year on the anniversary of the 1906 earthquake.
- In the southern half of the city is the often overlooked but wonderful Bernal Heights Park, a small park on top of a hill overlooking the entire eastern half of the city, with excellent views of the skyscrapers in the Financial District, the Mission District, and the hills in the southeastern corner of the city. A wide trail runs around the base of the park below the peak which can be walked in ten to fifteen minutes. Bernal Heights Park is dog friendly, so much so that a coyote is often observed there.
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One of the best ways to see San Francisco is from the waters of San Francisco Bay. There are many companies offering harbor tours of varying durations and prices but they all provide marvelous views of the bay, the bridges, the island of Alcatraz, Angel Island and the city. Only specific island tours are allowed to land at Alcatraz, but the typical harbor tour will circle the island at a slow crawl, giving you plenty of opportunity to photograph the now-inactive prison from the water.
Also consider taking a ferry from San Francisco across the bay to Tiburon, Sausalito, or Alameda. Same views for a fraction of the price.
Most tours leave from docks at Fisherman’s Wharf near Pier 39 (Pier 33 for Alcatraz). Tickets can be purchased at kiosks along the waterfront walk. Buy tickets a day or two in advance during the summer high season. For Alcatraz island tour, you may need to book weeks in advance (but you can also buy waitlist tickets – if there’s spaces left you get on, if not you get a full refund). It’s well worth it though – you get an extensive audio tour of the prison, with stories of various escape attempts.
Boats usually leave roughly hourly starting around 10am and ending around 5pm. Multi-lingual guides are available on some tours. Prices range from $20-$40, more for sunset, dinner, or whale watching tours.
Even on a sunny day the bay can be chilly, so be sure to bring a sweater as well as sun screen.
Some boats have snack bars on board, but bring your own water and treats to avoid paying high costs or going without. There are now limited refreshments and a souvenirs shop on Alcatraz.
If you want it, chances are likely you can get it in San Francisco. There are a wide range of small and locally owned businesses throughout the city’s neighborhoods; in fact, San Francisco has for the most part repelled the development of large chain retailers and big box stores that are common across America.
If it’s tourist trinkets you’re looking for, Fisherman’s Wharf has the typical souvenir, T-shirt, and camera shops, along with plenty of specialty stores. However, San Francisco’s most popular shopping area is Union Square, which has all the big national department stores (Macy’s, Saks, Nordstrom, etc.) and plenty of fancy boutique stores, as well as a few shopping centers thrown in.
For small, upscale boutiques, Union Street, Hayes Street around Octavia, Fillmore Street around California Street, and Chestnut Street in the Golden Gate area are lined with unique and trendy places, and all these streets are among the best spots in the city to window shop and nash. Nob Hill is also full of specialty places.
But if you don’t have a luxury dollar to spend and still want to walk away with something unique, there are plenty of shops in Chinatown for you, selling Oriental handicrafts of all descriptions, and no chain stores in sight. Japantown also offers plenty of great shops selling authentic souvenirs, including the excellent Kinokuniya Stationery/Bookstore. The Haight is full of excellent independent record and book stores, with Amoeba Music dominating the scene.
For basic supplies, try the ubiquitous 7-Eleven convenience stores and Walgreens pharmacies. If you need groceries, Safeway is the dominant supermarket chain in the city. There are Safeway stores in SoMa, near Fisherman’s Wharf, and near the Financial District, but not near Union Square. The closest supermarket to Union Square is the upscale Bristol Farms supermarket at Westfield San Francisco Shopping Centre.
San Francisco prides itself on its openness to diversity in race, gender, sexual orientation and personal style. This trait is widely considered to be one of the defining features of the city, and it draws both visitors and transplants alike.
Smokers beware: as in the rest of California, smoking is illegal in bars, restaurants, and other public places. Bay Area people can be particularly vocal about your personal habits. Be aware of nonsmoking areas, and try to be courteous about smoking in other places. They will probably not bother you about standing and smoking outside a restaurant or bar.
Bikes can be rented from around the northern waterfront (Pier 41/Fisherman’s Wharf/Aquatic Park area) or near Golden Gate Park for trips to Marin County via the Golden Gate Bridge. Stanyan near Haight at the end of the park has several good shops. Golden Gate Transit also sporadically serves the North Bay from San Francisco, and has bike racks on most buses.