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.
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.
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 newly 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-story rain-forest dome, and the Hall of African Mammals. In addition to these educational gems, the museum features other natural history exhibits as well as exhibits about global warming. The Academy Cafe offers international cuisine, while the elegant Moss Room restaurant is the only dining option available in the park past museum closing time.
The Paramount Theatre is the home of the Oakland Ballet and the Oakland East Bay Symphony. It is the area's foremost facility for performing arts and is known for its grand music concerts, variety shows and movies. Constructed in the post-Depression period of 1931, the Paramount Theatre is best remembered for fusing various disciplines of arts together into a harmonious whole. The Paramount frequently screens old movie classics complete with intermission with bar service.
The Oakland Zoo is home to more than 440 exotic and domestic birds, mammals, marsupials, and reptiles. Some of its attractions include a park with picnic facilities, an educational wildlife theater, a children's petting zoo, a carousel, a chair lift ride, and a miniature train. The zoo also offers group tours and a lecture series for adults in the spring.
The City Guides are sponsored by the San Francisco Public Library. Over 25 tours focus on different aspects of San Francisco culture, including the city's history and architecture. Recent tours have included a walking tour of the Mission District's murals and an Art Deco tour of the Marina. All tours are free, though donations to benefit the library are requested. Departure locations and times vary. Call or write the main library branch for information.
Located in the SoMa locality of San Francisco, this wondrous brewery believes in quality more than quantity, which is why the roaster at Cellarmaker Brewing Co. is often limited. But let that not deter you from ordering up, because these brews are refreshingly flavorful and distinct in taste. Innovation and experiment lies at the very base of the functioning here. The brewing space also features a taproom which is open from Tuesdays through Sundays, wherein you can also bring along your own food, for noshing while sipping on your refreshing pint. Check the website for more details.
Leaving from several downtown San Francisco hotels the Incredible Adventures gives visitors a stop in California's Central Valley for breakfast and enter Yosemite from the south. Orientation to the valley includes views, shopping and lunch. In the afternoon, you will have three hours to do whatever you want, and after further guided touring through the valley, you will return to San Francisco sometime evening. This one-day adventure is charged per person. The three-day adventure starts much the same way, but you will be camping for two nights in the valley. The emphasis on these trips is guided and unguided hikes.
San Francisco has had a riotous past, to put it mildly, and this 3.8-mile tour takes you to most of the famous spots where things happened, as well as many other points of historical and cultural interest. Eras of interest here range from the Gold Rush times to the present. Follow the brass medallions and arrows in the sidewalk from the Old Mint at Fifth and Mission to Aquatic Park for a great way to see the city. Printed guides, audio tours and guided tours are available. See website for further details on each.