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.
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.
The Legion of Honor houses more than 87,000 paintings, sculptures, decorative arts and tapestries. Some pieces date back 4000 years. The main floor is dedicated to the museum's permanent collection, much of which features the works of Rodin. European and ancient art are also on display at the Legion of Honor. The lower garden level features temporary exhibitions, ranging from Andy Warhol to Francis Bacon. Take a break in the museum cafe, which features light snacks and meals and has outdoor seating. The gift shop, though small, has a nice selection of postcards, books, posters, jewelry and some reproductions from this and other fine arts museums. Admission is free the first Tuesday of each month.
Constructed as a temporary attraction for the 1915 Pan-Pacific International Exhibition, Palace of Fine Arts continues to enchant the city. The original plaster, which made up the monument's exterior, has been gradually replaced, with funds raised by the Marina's residents who wanted to preserve a graceful part of their landscape. Swans in the adjoining lagoon glide by the soaring ocher-tinted colonnades and the imposing dome rigged with panels of centaurs and warriors. Stroll inside the dome and marvel at the uncanny acoustics, then enjoy a picnic lunch on one of the park benches to provide an unparalleled view of this gem.
This grand old movie house, located just a block from Oakland's Lake Merritt, has four screens for your viewing pleasure. Before select Friday and Saturday evening shows, guests are treated to the bombastic sounds of the theater's famous "Mighty Wurlitzer Organ." For a most enjoyable experience, sit back and relax with popcorn and a soda from the refreshment stand. Make sure to check the marquee for some of the owners now famous political commentary on the issues of the day.
University of California Botanical Garden is located within the campus of University of California Berkeley. Open to the public since 1890, this is no less than an outdoor living museum that boasts over 12,000 species of flora and fauna. The garden can be rented for private events, wedding receptions, twilight tours, summer walks and concerts.
This gleaming, mirror-walled, glass-enclosed cylinder seats 2,743 and the acoustics are phenomenal. If the minimalist look of the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall is somewhat disquieting, given the Beaux Arts look of the rest of the San Francisco War Memorial & Performing Arts Center, never mind. Like the symphony itself, the 9,000 pipes of the Ruffati organ that looms behind the stage makes quite a statement.
Since 1923, San Francisco Opera has debuted the performances of several well-respected artists including Marie Collier, conductor Silvio Varviso, and director Francis Ford Coppola. Founded by Gaetano Merolo, the War Memorial Opera House, housed in the War Memorial & Performing Arts Center, has been the home of the Opera since 1932. Tours are available only during the opera season. The concert is held on the Sunday following opening night of the Fall Season. San Francisco Opera is the second largest opera company in North America. The Opera's mission is to enrich, be creative and innovative, take leadership and present opera performances of the highest international quality.
Located in the historic Mission District, the Victoria Theater, a former vaudeville house, is a 480-seater place considered the oldest theater house in all of San Francisco. Built in 1908, this theater has been screening films for a long time right from locally made movies to film festivals and even concerts. Features include amazing Dolby quality sound and a 35mm video screen. Many international film-makers have used this venue while filming, making it an important landmark. Personalities like Whoopie Goldberg, Bill Irwin, Donald O'Connor and Micheal Moore have made appearances here. This venue can also be rented out for live stage productions and other events.
This cineplex, located right around the corner from the Fillmore, has eight screens for your viewing pleasure. For a more enjoyable experience, check out the bar and bistro or just sit back and relax with popcorn and a soda from the refreshment stand.
This club, perched on the 21st floor of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel is a glamorous place to enjoy top-shelf liquors and colorful cocktails with panoramic views of the city and beyond, as well as live music. Experience classic cocktail service in 1930s-inspired decadence, along with dripping-with-crystal chandeliers and voluptuous flower arrangements. The stand-up Biedermeier-style bar can accommodate the most expensive tastes, such as Dom Perignon Rosé. A light-fare menu is also available; it's gourmet, of course. Drop in on Sunday afternoons for brunch and the drag show called Sunday's a Drag.
Fine and performing arts are the focus of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, which includes art galleries, a movie theater, a theater for live performances and a beautifully landscaped garden with striking fountains. Take time to visit the section dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr., which invites strollers to walk behind a waterfall as they contemplate quotations from both him and other assassinated leaders of the Civil Rights movement. Music and theater groups perform within the five and a half acres (2.3 hectares) of rolling gardens during lunchtime from May through September. Concurrent with exhibits are informative lectures and seminars, poetry workshops and resident artist programs.