At the top of a peninsula jutting into the Pacific Ocean, is San Francisco.
When people think of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge is usually the first thing that comes to mind and for good reason. An iconic structure connecting the city of San Francisco to Marin County, California. It spans almost two miles across the Golden Gate, the narrow strait where San Francisco Bay opens to meet the Pacific Ocean. The dream of connecting San Francisco to its northern neighbors became a reality when construction commenced in 1933.
Upon its completion in 1937, it was the tallest and longest suspension bridge in the world. The Golden Gate Bridge came to be recognized as a symbol of the power and progress of the U.S. and it set a precedent for suspension-bridge design around the world. Although other bridges have since surpassed it in size, it remains incomparable in the magnificence of its setting and is said to be the most photographed bridge in the world.
San Francisco averages 160 sunny days a year and the best time to visit is September to October for the most reliable pleasant weather and fewer crowds. Spring is also a great time to visit, but expect the fog to roll in with a cool ocean breeze in the afternoons.
The fog is so famous, in fact, that locals even gave it a name — Karl — and a couple of cheeky fan pages on social media. While it’s not exactly the sunny California weather visitors may expect, the cool fog does lend the city of San Francisco a mysterious and romantic atmosphere.
San Francisco is home to one of the most famous prison in the world, the rocky island Alcatraz was once home to well-known criminals like Al Capone, George ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly, Robert ‘The Birdman’ Stroud, and other convicts who were considered violent, dangerous, or escape risks. Converted from a lighthouse station to a military prison and then a federal prison in 1934, these days ‘The Rock’ is one of San Francisco’s most popular tourist attractions with tours frequently selling out weeks in advance.
In a city of hills, cable cars were once one of the most efficient ways to get around town. These days, the nation’s only moving national monument is still a classic with three remaining lines.
San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest Chinatown outside of Asia, as well as the oldest in North America, making it a worthwhile visit while you’re staying in this buzzing city. This neighborhood centered around Grant and Stockton Avenues and is home to a thriving community of shops, restaurants, and storied buildings rich in life and history.
One of the main draws to Chinatown is the food, and it’s fun to wander the cobbled streets and alleyways tasting as much dimsum and eggrolls you can find, where the more authentic life of the community goes on.
From the authentic Mexican food to the music to the unparallelled density of bars, home to cool kids, colorful cafes and cultural cuisine, The Mission is the best district to soak up some local flavor. One of San Francisco’s most vibrant—not to mention sunniest—neighborhoods. Valencia Street is lined with restaurants and boutiques, while Mission Street, running parallel, boasts the best tacos and burritos around. No visit would be complete without a Mission-style burrito!
Easy to find in the heart of the Russian Hill district, Lombard Street earns this nickname because of its eight sharp turns on a 27 percent grade slope. These sharp turns, known as switchbacks, were built in the 1920s as a solution to allow traffic to descend Lombard Street’s steep incline. It was never intended to become a tourist attraction nor a magnet for movie car chase scenes, although it’s been exceedingly successful as both.
In the center and western part of San Francisco is Golden Gate Park, 1,017 acres of natural beauty within the city. Along with miles of trails for running, biking, and walking, you’ll find lakes, botanical gardens, museums, windmills, and dozens of picnic areas within the park.
My favorite place so far is Hippie Hill, located between the Conservatory of Flowers and Haight Street. A popular meeting spot during the 1960s (hence the name), Hippie Hill is often full of people taking part in drum circles, smoking, and lazing around with friends, a book, or a frisbee. This unique, colorful community became known as the birthplace of the hippie counterculture movement, attracting revolutionaries, cult leaders, and psychedelic rockers.
One of the nicest things about visiting San Francisco is that, although the city is “big” in terms of attractions and amenities, it is geographically small – only 49 square miles, which makes it very easy to see and do a great many things in a short period of time.
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