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Aquarium of the Bay is a unique nature center and the only Aquarium dedicated to animals of the San Francisco Bay and neighboring waters. The Aquarium gives visitors the opportunity to feel like a skin diver without getting wet as they walk through the Aquarium's crystal clear tunnels, while more than 20,000 sharks, bat rays, skates, octopi and other aquatic animals swim around. With daily and special activities including behind the scenes tours, shark feeding presentations, a water discovery lab for underwater detectives and much more; there is truly something for everyone to see, touch, discover and learn at Aquarium of the Bay.
Wild sea lions have flocked to Pier 39 since the 1989 earthquake and the population has grown ever since. Every winter the number increases to almost 900, thanks to the availability of space and ample food. Although some of the sea lions choose to migrate seasonally, usually some still keep Pier 39 as their regular haunt. You can bring your kids over for free educational talks by the Marine Mammal Center, held on weekends year-round provided the weather is good. See these wild adorable creatures up close and personal at this family friendly spot.
This is a living museum in Golden Gate Park that is home to a wide array of rare and exotic plant life from around the world. Visit the 70-acre garden and explore seemingly endless trails with duck ponds, an arbor, herbs, flowers, blooming trees and redwoods, and smaller, specialized gardens with names like the Garden of Fragrance. Also on hand is an education center that provides different gardening, horticulture, botany, and environmental classes for adults and children, plus a horticulture library and bookstore. Admission is free for San Francisco residents and there is a small fee for non-residents.
The idea behind building this fort in 1861 was to fend off attacks by the Confederacy. It proved to be a non-issue, though. This place went on to achieve cinema immortality as the spot from which Kim Novak took her plunge into the San Francisco Bay in the Hitchcock classic Vertigo. There are spectacular views of the Marin Headlands from just beneath the soaring south anchorage of the Golden Gate Bridge. Tours are offered and the museum houses a collection of military memorabilia. Take note, it is usually very windy at Fort Point, so dress accordingly.
Sutro Baths was built in the late 19th Century. It was a large swimming pool owned privately by Adolp Sutro, who was a former mayor of San Francisco. It had seven different pools, one having fresh water and the others having salt water, but varying in temperatures. Below the Cliff House, a small beach inlet was filled almost hiding the vast iron, glass and concrete structure. The bath had a high operating cost, due to which it eventually closed and a fire in 1966 almost destroyed it leaving behind the ruins. The ruins of the Sutro Baths are open to the visitors as well as the cave where you can catch a glimpse of bats.
See more than 250 different species of wildlife from all over the globe, many of which are endangered, at the San Francisco Zoo. There are a variety of attractions, including a children's petting zoo and an insect zoo, an Australian Walk, Penguin Island, a Primate Discovery Center, and the Otter River. It also features a one of the world's largest gorilla exhibits, a lion house, a feline conservation center, a carousel, and a kiddie train. For those looking for a more in-depth and informative visit, try the Zoo Ranger, a hand held multimedia GPS device that gives video and informative background on the exhibits as you walk around. You are able to rent them for a day at the zoo's gift shop.
What Ellis Island was to the East Coast, Angel Island was to the West Coast. Graffiti left by immigrants who were awaiting admission or deportation can be seen on the walls of the holding areas. The wooded 740-acre (300 hectare) island sits peacefully in the middle of San Francisco Bay. In addition to the immigration facility, the island is also home to two now-abandoned military installations, Fort McDowell and Camp Reynolds. Hiking and biking trails circle the island and offer spectacular views of the poppy-colored peaks of the Golden Gate Bridge and the iconic San Francisco skyline. Volunteer guides lead informative tours of the island's historical sites and one can even catch a glimpse of the indigenous deer population. Camping is allowed with proper permits. Ferry service varies according to the season.
This place offers a unique opportunity to see many different species of marine wildlife first hand. On an eight-hour cruise you'll travel to the Farallon Islands, located 25 miles off the coast of San Francisco. The Farallon Islands and its surrounding water is rich with whales, dolphins and porpoises and sea birds. In fact, it is the home of the largest population of breeding seabirds in the contiguous United States. Thanks to an upswelling of nutrient-rich waters, it is a renowned place to view humpback and gray whales in the summer and fall.