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.
The Asian Art Museum is one of the largest museums in the Western world devoted exclusively to Asian art. Its holdings include nearly 15,000 treasures spanning 6000 years of history, representing cultures throughout Asia. Renowned architect Gae Aulenti oversaw the dramatic transformation of the building: it now features 40,000 square feet (3716 square meters) of gallery space, allowing the museum to better fulfill its mission of leading a diverse global audience in discovering the unique material, aesthetic and intellectual achievements of Asian art and culture.
Developed by physicist Frank Oppenheimer and opened in 1969, this innovative and interactive museum is dedicated to art, science and human perception. Relocated from the Palace of Fine Arts to Piers 15 and 17, the modern space features plenty of new green technologies including the largest solar panel roof in San Francisco and offers over 600 hands-on exhibits. These hands-on displays unveil the mysteries of science and language, and present these theories simply and succinctly. Webinars, special events and seminars occur throughout the year. This San Francisco gem is a must visit.
Built in 1922, The Castro Theatre is San Francisco's only remaining movie palace. When it's not hosting film festivals, this 1400-seat house runs a repertory calendar heavy on film classics; there is no better place to see The Wizard of Oz. The interior reflects the elegance of a bygone era with its red velvet seats and walls that feature molded plaster and fresco detailing. The fanciful ceiling, from which an imposing art deco chandelier hangs, is designed to evoke the interior of a Bedouin tent. A mighty Wurlitzer organ plays between evening shows and completes the antique feel of the theater.
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.
The African American Art and Culture Complex in San Francisco is a great place to learn and appreciate the history, culture and art of African Americans. The complex has an art gallery that has been host to various art exhibitions by Afro-American artists. There Buriel Clay Theater on the first floor of the complex holds various plays, concerts and dance performances.
Get tickets in advance for shows at the Great American Music Hall because even though it's a big venue, sell-outs are common. All ages can enjoy the music in this historic venue, with talent spanning the entire spectrum from punk to country, famous to unknown, local to international. Jonathan Richman, Nick Lowe, Boss Hogg, !!!, the Ponys, and the Dirtbombs are just a few of the acts to have graced this hallowed stage. Watch from rows, tables, balcony seats, or the stage-level dance floor. The ornate gold and red velvet curtains are a throwback to the Barbary Coast days. The venue serves food and drinks to the large crowds.
An architectural masterpiece, The Fillmore itself is as worth seeing as any band that plays here. Stand on the main floor next to the historic stage and look up at soaring ceilings, embellished with carvings and gold paint, while the booming speakers rattle your bones. If you choose the tranquility of the balcony instead, sink into velvet-covered seats, sip cocktails, and eat French fries. With posters representing almost every group that has ever played here, the history of American music is on full display.
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.
Founded in 1984, the Contemporary Jewish Museum presents scholarly and artistic programs that explore the Jewish spirit and imagination. The museum offers contemporary views and Jewish perspectives on culture, history and art, with programs reflecting global ideas that tie to the past and remain relevant to all people today. World-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind was commissioned for the project. The 63,000 square foot museum provides a welcoming space where people from all backgrounds may encounter, celebrate and debate artistic forms of all varieties.