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 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.
The Ferry Building Marketplace is a must-see for San Francisco visitors. This multi-million dollar development has an abundance of activities for the entire family. This marvelous building was designed by renowned architect Arthur Page Brown in Beaux Arts Style. Similar to that of the iconic Giralda Bell Tower in Seville, the clock tower of this building is a popular landmark and call be seen from afar. Take a tour of the historic Ferry Building, browse through antique shops, enjoy a view by the bay and a bowl of chowder at Ferry Plaza Seafood or buy organic produce at the Farmer's Market. Enjoy the sights and sounds of what makes the Ferry Building one of the Bay's most popular destinations for entertainment, food, and fun.
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 startling 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.
This impressive structure crowning Nob Hill was built on the site of the Crocker Mansion after the 1906 earthquake and fire. One of the main attractions of the cathedral are the stained glass windows. These windows showcase over 1000 figures, with some of them dating back as far as the 1930s. The gilded bas-reliefs that adorn the doors of the main entrance are cast from Ghiberti's original molds for the Gates of Paradise that adorn the Baptistery in Florence. The cathedral also boasts two labyrinths. The outdoor one is made of Terrazzo stone and the indoor one from limestone.
Don't leave San Francisco without a stroll through this legendary square nearby Fisherman's Wharf, which is named after San Francisco's original chocolate-maker. There is a bakery and several restaurants and, of course, there's the Ghirardelli Ice Cream Shop where you can savor the deliciousness of the old-fashioned Ghirardelli sundae or buy some sweet goodies to bring back. Take some time and visit the art galleries, gift and specialty stores, and shoe and clothing shops.
The War Memorial & Performing Arts Center is a series of cultural venues that make up the bulk of the Civic Center's events. The center is comprised of such architectural gems as the Veterans Building, the War Memorial Opera House, Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall and Harold L. Zellerbach Rehearsal Hall. The Opera House is home to the San Francisco Ballet and the San Francisco Opera, whereas the Veterans Building houses both the Herbst Theatre and Green Room. Check the website for a list of each venue's upcoming events.
A charismatic metropolis hugging the Pacific coast, built on a series of hills, San Francisco is a major player in the world's growing technology markets. First inhabited by the Ohlone tribe, the land was soon explored by Don Gaspar de Portola. The Spanish constructed a fort at the Presidio and later a mission in the interior city dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi (the city's namesake), now commonly known as Mission Dolores. In 1906, a massive earthquake leveled three-quarters of the city and after major rebuilding it once again boomed as a strategic naval base and manufacturing hub. North Beach and Haight-Ashbury, once the hotbed of Beat culture in post-war era today pay homage to that time at vibrant spots like the City Lights bookstore. In the eye of the dot-com and social media storm, the city is still one of the densest populated in the country. The birthplace of counterculture movements and hi-tech innovation, San Francisco blends cutting edge modern life with West Coast charm.
The city hall building is the site of some of San Francisco's finest moments. In 1954 Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio were married here. In the early 21st Century, over 100 same-sex couples were married by Mayor Gavin Newsom in the foyer. The Renaissance architecture rivals some of the country's most historical structures. Two Parisian architects designed and constructed the building from 1913-1915, and the dome is based on the one crowning St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Visitors can pick up brochures and take a self-guided tour between 8a-5p, Monday through Friday. A small store, open during normal business hours, sells traditional San Francisco souvenirs including T-shirts, posters and postcards.
The United Nations Plaza of San Francisco can be found between Hyde Street and Market Street, and is the main access point for the historic Civic Center Buildings. Lined with columns that list the various countries that form a part of the United Nations and with floors that have been inscribed with the philosophies enshrined within the UN charter, the UN Plaza is a lovely memorial to the signing of the charter at the War Memorial Opera House in 1945. Today, the Plaza is best known as the location for the Heart of the City Farmers Market that is held here every Wednesday and Sunday. During lunch hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the Plaza once more comes to life when the Off the Grid food trucks offer up a variety of gourmet and exotic dishes. The Plaza also hosts a variety of craft markets, with stalls selling wares that are as diverse as the countries represented by the UN. Although the Plaza itself is a lovely sight, it is best to visit during market hours, as it remains rather secluded at all other times.
This imposing Moorish Revival structure was a United States National Guard armory and arsenal from 1914 to 1976. The San Francisco Armory, though listed in the National Register of Historic Places was left unused for three decades before it was renovated to its former glory in 2007. Since then this majestic building is a veritable events hub in the city. Comprising of spaces like the Drill Court, General's Quarters, Studios and Armory Club, this state-of-the-art beautiful facility hosts concerts, galas, corporate events, dance parties, movie screenings and film shoots.