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.
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 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. The 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 can 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.
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.
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.
Conventional wisdom holds that this iconic monument is shaped like a fire-hose nozzle. It is not, at least not by design. The tower is the gift of Lilly Hitchcock Coit, an eccentric heiress who managed to stand out in a city that teems with eccentricity. Lilly's particular passion was for the San Francisco Fire Department. The money she left in her will for the city's beautification was used to construct the Art Deco tower on Telegraph Hill in 1932. The view from here is one of the most impressive in San Francisco, offering unrestricted sights of the scenic Bay, the neighboring bridges, and the Marin Headlands. Inside, the first floor is ornamented with excellent murals, commissioned in 1933, that depict San Francisco's history. The tower's summit can be accessed by taking its elevator for a small fee.
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.
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.
The seat of the city of San Francisco, the Civic Center reflects true historic essence of the city. The center comprises of a group of various government institutions like the City Hall, the Civic Center Plaza, the United Nations Plaza and the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. These buildings of the grand neo-classical style serve as perfect venues for civic initiatives and public gatherings. The City Hall towers the center dome of the main building in the Civic Center, which is also home to the Exposition auditorium and the Main Library. Cultural events and extravaganzas are a regular happening at this grand municipal facility.
The term "Painted Ladies" refers to the row of impressive and beautiful Victorian houses that face the park on Steiner Street. Alamo Square Park, which is located at the top of a hill, provides a brilliant view of these architectural mansions. The Painted Ladies are depicted in many famous photographs and postcards of San Francisco and also features in the opening credits of the 90s TV series, Full House.
The interior of this ultra-modern Catholic church is sleek, spare and remarkably intimate, considering that it seats 2400 people in a semi-circle around the altar. The central dome of Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption soars 15 stories into the air and is supported by buttresses that have been incorporated into each of the four corners of the building's interior. The corner walls beyond them are floor-to-ceiling plate glass. This effect gives the building the feeling of somehow being lighter than air for all its masses.