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.
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.
Located in Downtown Oakland, this historic district was the city center for the city in the late 1800s. Beautiful Victorian buildings were scattered around the district and it was a popular spot until the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Today, this small area contains restored elegant Victorian buildings, trendy boutiques, and great restaurants.
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.
Away from the noisy streets and smog filled cities of California, Bolinas is a coastal community that has kept the area hidden away from tourists in fear of losing the peace and quiet. Paradise for artists, surfers and outdoor lovers, Bolinas is plenty in natural attractions. Explore the marine life abound in Agate Beach or surf through the waves on Bolinas beach. Point Reyes National Seashore- a protected park lies close to Bolinas and is perfect for all the nature lovers visiting town.
A thriving neighborhood, Commerce meets culture at Downtown Berkeley. Although having a reputation of a prime business district, it is also a cultural hub and has a plethora of options for entertainment and fun. Largely dominated by university students, this part of Berkeley has numerous dining establishments where you can have a sumptuous meal at a reasonable price and the happening nightlife scene attracts locals and tourists alike. Art lovers and culture buffs can attend numerous eclectic plays and concerts that are held across the theaters and music venues across the neighborhood.