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Popular things to do
It could be the most interesting 47 square miles in the U.S., if not the world. With a glorious bay to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, San Francisco offers visitors a multitude of exceptional experiences. From iconic, world-famous sites, to trend-starting restaurants, to funky art and designed architecture, accented by spectacular views, San Francisco has it all.
As a matter of fact, it might have too much!
The trick is to pace yourself, never bite off more than you can chew, and plan ahead. Think about what you’ve always been curious about. Or, think about what things you might feel embarrassed about if you tell your friends you went to San Francisco and didn’t see. Here’s a list to get you started.
You’ve probably seen hundreds of photos capturing the beauty of this engineering marvel, but nothing can compare to seeing it up close, or being on it. You can easily walk across; pedestrians get the east side for 1.7 miles (3.4 round-trip), which can get chilly. Look up, the two support towers reach 80 stories above the water below. Look westward, if you can see the Farallon Islands clearly, the chance of fog rolling in is minimal. Then look down, if you dare, to catch boats in all shapes and sizes sailing in and out.
There are transportation options, too. Bicycles have access to the west side. Or, you can take a bus to the north side of the bridge near Sausalito, and walk back. For information, visit www.goldengatebridge.org.
Clakety-clak, they go up and down the steep hills of San Francisco. Hop on, if there’s room (a sign on front will tell you if there is), and grab hold of a strap and enjoy the ride. Don’t be surprised if you wind up on someone’s lap, the locals are used to it. It’s all part of the cable car experience.
The savviest way to land a seat is to board at one of the turnarounds. The Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason lines offer the best rides, so people gather there starting early. There are usually street performers entertaining you while you wait. Each car leaves with a few less than the 60-person max, leaving room for folks to hop on along the way. (The Powell-Hyde line offers better views.) For more details, visit: www.sfmta.com.
Not too far from the Powell Street Turnaround is the Cable Car Museum. You’ll see how the system actually works, gears and all, including three original models. For free, too. For hours go to www.cablecarmuseum.org.
You could spend an entire day walking up and down the waterfront, as do most visitors. But this is where the city really shines, so enjoy it. Begin on the south end with breakfast at the Ferry Building near Pier 1. The food options will floor you, especially on Saturdays, when the farmer’s market appears out front. It could be the world’s most innovative food hall.
The odd-numbered piers head north, with the Exploratorium at Piers 15-17, the ferry to Alcatraz at Pier 33, the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park at the Hyde Street Pier (where you can board tall ships), followed by Fisherman’s Wharf, the ultimate harbor experience for dining, photo-oping, and sea lions talking away.
A lot of people also enjoy the stroll southward from the Ferry Building (along the even-numbered piers) all the way to the Giants’ baseball stadium. If you get hungry, you’ll find food trucks near Pier 14.
There are so many unique neighborhoods in San Francisco, it’s tough to choose just one, or even two, to focus on. There’s also your athletic ability to consider; the streets can get pretty steep. Russian Hill offers the famous Lombard Street switchbacks (the crooked street) and the San Francisco Art Institute. Nob Hill (once called “Snob Hill”) has exclusive mansions.
Exploring North Beach will take you up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower for a spectacular view of the entire Bay Area. Then back down to ground level is the home of “beat poetry” at the City Lights Bookstore. Check their schedule for a reading or a slam at www.citylights.com. (For more neighborhood options, see below.)
Tired of walking? The SFMOMA will begin working another part of your body: your brain. Started in 1935, the museum has always positioned itself on the cutting edge of whatever art form was beginning to gel. Photography, Warhol, sculpture, German expressionism, Diego Rivera, media installations. Some people suggest starting off with the huge photography collection on the 3rd floor, then head up for abstract art on 4, pop art on 5, and German art on 6.
Keep going, SFMOMA has 7 floors!
— Chinatown, but stop for some dim sum and go all the way through and visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company
— Muir Woods, easily worth a car rental to surround yourself in the natural beauty of 1,000-year-old redwoods.
— Yerba Buena Gardens, 10 acres of gardens, butterflies and a waterfall in honor of MLK, right in the center of town
— Other neighborhood sites: over 500 murals in the Mission, rainbow streets in Castro, and the Fillmore in Western Addition (be smart about walking alone at night)
— Make reservations at restaurants run by world famous chefs. See lists of winners from Iron Chef, James Beard Awards, Michelin, including the inventor of California cuisine Alice Waters at her restaurant Chez Panise across the Bay in Berkeley.
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