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Nature & Wildlife

Top Rated Attractions in San Francisco

Search Radius (Miles)
Alcatraz Island

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.

Golden Gate Park

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.

Ocean Beach

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.

California Academy of Sciences

Located in Golden Gate Park, the California Academy of Sciences is one of the greenest buildings in the city and has a platinum certification from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). The museum features the renovated and expanded Steinhart Aquarium, complete with a hands-on tide pool and the well-known alligator swamp. Other exciting features are the Morrison Planetarium, the four-storey rainforest dome, and the Tusher African Hall. In addition to these educational gems, the museum features other natural history exhibits as well as exhibits about global warming. The Academy Café offers international cuisine, while the elegant Moss Room restaurant is the only dining option available in the park past museum closing time.

Dr. Aurelia Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park

Redwood Regional Park is located in the hills of Oakland. It boasts the largest remaining natural strand of coastal redwood in the East Bay. Early mariners used to use these tall redwood trees to help them navigate the San Francisco Bay. Many locals enjoy hiking and biking around the available trails, which offer gorgeous scenery. In addition to the deer, rabbits and squirrels that roam the park, it is also home to rare wildlife species such as the golden eagle and the striped racer snake. The Roberts Regional Recreation Area, a park within the park, features a swimming pool and playgrounds. Throughout the park, you will find access to a well-maintained system of restrooms, water fountains and picnic tables. The Chabot Observatory and Science Center is one of the park's most prominent attractions.

Lake Merritt

This shallow, 195-acre (7,89,137 meter) lake is considered by many to be the heart of Oakland. Once an arm of the San Francisco Bay, it actually served as a sewer for a time before Samuel Merritt proposed a dam in order to clean up the lake and have it become the focal point for civic pride and recreation that it is today. As the lake was also a common place to see many migratory birds and ducks, the lake was turned into the first wildlife refuge in North America in 1870. In 1925, the lake's "necklace of lights" was installed, and still stands today making the lake beautiful during day or night. The lake provides many recreational opportunities, including boating, playgrounds, picnic areas and the legendary Children's Fairyland storybook park.

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