A mere 1.25 miles (2.01 km) off the coast of San Francisco, Alcatraz Island boasts a fascinating history that extends far beyond its stint as a federal penitentiary from 1934 to 1963; it is also the site of the West Coast's oldest operating lighthouse, the remains of a historic military fortress, and a bird sanctuary. Although within sight of the city, Alcatraz is isolated from the outside world, surrounded by the frigid waters of the bay, the perilous currents making escape virtually impossible. This very fact made Alcatraz an apt choice for a prison meant to house some of the country's most notorious criminals, including the likes of Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud and Alvin Karpis. The year 1969 marked the beginning of another intriguing chapter in the history of Alcatraz when a group of Native American activists occupied the island for 19 months, signs of which are still visible to this day. Amid this turbulent narrative thrives a vibrant habitat for native flora and fauna, creating a miniature world of startling contrasts where the haunting remains of the prison stand amid a striking landscape of rock pools, rugged coasts and lush flora. The isle is now a tourist attraction, one of San Francisco's most popular, with self-guided and guided tours that delve into the past of the island as a whole and the prison in particular.
In the late 1800s, California's first state engineer, William Hammond Hall, and his assistant, a Scotsman named John McLaren, transformed more than 1000 acres (405 hectares) of sand dunes into a wondrous haven in the midst of the city, christened Golden Gate Park after the eponymous strait nearby. Stretching over 50 blocks from Stanyan Street to the Pacific Ocean, the lush landscape is etched with numerous trails for walking, jogging, biking and horseback riding, alongside a golf course, bowling greens, a lake with paddle boats, soccer fields and a baseball diamond. From the Japanese Tea Garden and the Conservatory of Flowers to the California Academy of Sciences and the De Young Museum, San Francisco's Golden Gate Park encompasses a wealth of scenic beauty and cultural intrigue within is expansive embrace. There are also several playgrounds, a quaint carousel, an aquarium, a buffalo reserve and an outdoor bandshell where open-air concerts are hosted each summer.
Named one of the Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Golden Gate Bridge spans the eponymous strait that links the San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean. Designed by Joseph Strauss, Irving Morrow, and Charles Ellis, the bridge opened in 1937 as the world's longest suspension bridge, its main span measuring at an impressive 4,200 feet (1,280 meters) in length. The bridge is not quite golden, but is instead a bright orange, its Art Deco towers looming through the dense fog that often mires the bay; a sight that has come to be emblematic of the city of San Francisco. The bridge ferries vehicular and pedestrian traffic between San Francisco and Marin City, the vista points on either side boasting awe-inspiring views of the Golden Gate, while the bridge itself promises unmatched views of the bay.
Located at the western end of Golden Gate Park is San Francisco's biggest beach. It extends from Fort Funston in the south, to the Cliff House in the north. Typically, the cold winds, fog and low San Francisco temperatures deter any regular beach activities (unless you're lucky enough to be there on a hot day) but visitors fly kites or just walk along and admire the views of Seal Rocks and Point Lobos. Adventure seekers love surfing here. There are also bonfire pits provided on the beach for the general public; to claim one, go early in the evening.
The San Francisco Cable Car is one of the most popular mode of transport for those visiting the city for the first time. The cable cars run across various routes throughout, offering passengers a spectacular option for touring the City by the Bay. One could also visit the cable car barn where you get to see how the machinery operates the cable cars. All in all, there is nothing like a ride on the cable cars to tour the city.
Dolores Park is one of the main hot spots in San Francisco and is the major meet-up place for many citizens. Though it is not very large, it attracts crowds of people and the beautiful views make it worth the visit. Recreational resources include a few tennis courts, basketball courts, two soccer fields and a children's playground, but most of all Dolores Park is often used as a venue for special events such as movies in the park. Its surrounding area is known for some of San Francisco's major culinary attractions: Delfina, Pizzeria Delfina and the Tartine Bakery. It is also a great place to chill with some ice cream from the Bi-Rite Creamery. Saturday hang-outs in the park are often events themselves and it's always packed on weekends. Given its location, it's almost always sunny; the famous fog knows better than to ruin the oasis that is Dolores Park. Whether you choose to sit in Dog Beach, Hipster Beach, Speedo Ridge or partake in actual activity at the playground or tennis courts you are sure to have an unforgettable time.
The verdant Jefferson Square Park occupies an area of 5.6 acres (2.26 hectares) and remains one of the finest recreational spots in Fillmore. The lush green landscape and dense plantations offer ample shade to strollers and visitors, thus making it a popular picnic spot. Jefferson Square Park is also home to a well-laid out off-leash space, where pets can roam about freely. Perched atop a small hill, it offers scenic views of Fillmore and Western Addition.
Located in the Tenderloin District, the Father Alfred E. Boeddeker Park is a green oasis. The park has a playground for kids as well as a clubhouse that holds events.
Nestled in the heart of the city, Yerba Buena Gardens is among the top urban parks in the nation. Located near local attractions such as the Yerba Buena Center For The Arts (YBCA), Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Children’s Creativity Museum, Contemporary Jewish Museum, Moscone Center and METREON, it is a great place to relax, play, shop and dine. It comprises of 10 gardens which includes the likes of The Esplanade, Children’s Learning Garden, Oche Wat Te Ou or Reflection Garden, East Garden and Sister City Gardens. Explore this massive green land at your leisure and enjoy the free annual festivals which are held here. There are about 150 events ranging from acrobatic, concerts, poetry, arts and magic shows, that will transport you to wonderland.