About This Place
At the mention of San Francisco, many immediately conjure up images of its famed Golden Gate Bridge. Traversing the narrow entrance from the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco Bay, the bridge’s Art Deco styling and brilliant orange tone stand out against the deep blue waters. Each year more than 10 million people visit the Golden Gate Bridge, which has become one of the most photographed attractions in the San Francisco area.
Three miles to the east is Alcatraz Island, infamous as a federal penitentiary from 1934 until 1963. Nicknamed “the Rock,” this tiny island boasts an enormous history. The Spanish charted and named the island in 1775, but it was not inhabited until the mid-19th century, when the U.S. Army built a fort to protect the harbor entrance. The fort morphed into a naval prison before becoming a penitentiary that housed such notorious gangsters as Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly. A decade after the prison closed, the island became front-page news again when Native Americans captured the island to stage a protest. Today it remains one of the city’s top attractions, drawing more than a million tourists each year.
San Francisco straddles more than 40 named hills, from upscale Nob Hill to Telegraph Hill with its renowned Art Deco Coit Tower. These steep mini-mountains bestow the city with a skyline like no other – and they make walking, driving and parking a challenge. The brave will drive down Lombard Street, affectionately known as the “Crookedest Street in the World.” This road is so steep that engineers built it with switchbacks, much like hiking trails on mountainous terrain.
One of the most fun things to do in San Francisco is hopping a cable car. Although some 600 cable cars operated in the city at the beginning of the 20th century, the city had dropped all but three routes by 1954, providing bus service instead. Only after citizens campaigned to save this key symbol of San Francisco identity did the city rebuild the entire remaining three lines in the early 1980s. One section was built again in 2011.
San Francisco’s Chinatown is the first and largest Chinatown in North America with restaurants and shops that ooze Chinese culture. Ornate and colorful tiered pagoda roofs stand as sentinels overseeing the activity on the street below. Animated exchanges between buyer and seller erupt as they negotiate their transaction. Passersby are assaulted by the smells and sights of butchered animals hanging in stalls, or pop-eyed fish staring from an icy bed. One of the best things to do in Chinatown is watching the parade that caps off two weeks of festivities associated with the Chinese New Year, generally around February.
Attracting more than 12 million visitors each year, Fisherman’s Wharf is the most popular San Francisco destination. Stretching from Ghiradelli Square (once home to a chocolate factory) to Pier 39, the wharf is a huge shopping and entertainment complex more than it is a working wharf. A draw nonetheless, travelers still catch ferries to Alcatraz, or harbor cruises from the wharf.