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Best Free Sites in San Francisco

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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.

The Marin Headlands offers breathtaking views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. The park also offers a variety of activities for history buffs and nature enthusiasts. Learn about Miwok Indian culture at the Visitor's Center, or military history at Forts Barry and Cronkite. Enjoy a hike to the still active, 150 year-old Point Bonita lighthouse, or view wildlife in nearby Tennessee Valley.

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.

This picturesque stretch of Lombard Street has eight tight turns on a single block. They twist at very acute angles, making for very slow going if you are in a car. Although, oddly enough, cars were the reason for designing the street this way back in 1922. The idea was that this design would make it easier for them to negotiate the steep 16% grade. The drive is usually bumper-to-bumper and in the summertime, there is almost always a line of cars waiting to take the drive down. That being said, going for a stroll along this landmark is a good option, especially when the hydrangeas along the sidewalk are in bloom.

Wild sea lions have flocked to Pier 39 since the 1989 earthquake and the population has grown ever since. Every winter the number increases to almost 900, thanks to the availability of space and ample food. Although some of the sea lions choose to migrate seasonally, usually some still keep Pier 39 as their regular haunt. You can bring your kids over for free educational talks by the Marine Mammal Center, held on weekends year-round provided the weather is good. See these wild adorable creatures up close and personal at this family friendly spot.

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.

Sutro Baths was built in the late 19th Century. It was a large swimming pool owned privately by Adolp Sutro, who was a former mayor of San Francisco. It had seven different pools, one having fresh water and the others having salt water, but varying in temperatures. Below the Cliff House, a small beach inlet was filled almost hiding the vast iron, glass and concrete structure. The bath had a high operating cost, due to which it eventually closed and a fire in 1966 almost destroyed it leaving behind the ruins. The ruins of the Sutro Baths are open to the visitors as well as the cave where you can catch a glimpse of bats.

Feel like taking a quick stroll along verdant pathways? Or want to relax on a patch of green as you indulge in people-watching? Visit Washington Square Park and have a relaxing time out with family and friends. Walk your dog, meet friends, hold small picnics or simply get drenched in the lively aura of this place. The whole park comes alive with music during the North Beach Jazz festival. An ideal hang out on a lazy day.

Dolores Park is one of the main hot spots in San Francisco and is the major meet-up place for many citizens. Though it is not very large, it attracts crowds of people and the beautiful views make it worth the visit. Recreational resources include a few tennis courts, basketball courts, two soccer fields and a children's playground, but most of all Dolores Park is often used as a venue for special events such as movies in the park. Its surrounding area is known for some of San Francisco's major culinary attractions: Delfina, Pizzeria Delfina and the Tartine Bakery. It is also a great place to chill with some ice cream from the Bi-Rite Creamery. Saturday hang-outs in the park are often events themselves and it's always packed on weekends. Given its location, it's almost always sunny; the famous fog knows better than to ruin the oasis that is Dolores Park. Whether you choose to sit in Dog Beach, Hipster Beach, Speedo Ridge or partake in actual activity at the playground or tennis courts you are sure to have an unforgettable time.

Maiden Lane is an upscale pedestrian shopping enclave just off Union Square and around the corner from Hermès. The name is not without irony. Back in San Francisco's rowdier days, this was Morton Street and the transactions that took place here involved women who were anything but maidens. There are a few upscale cafes among the art galleries and extravagant stores, but also a few shops that stock affordable items. Also of interest is the only building in San Francisco designed by Frank Lloyd Wright at 140 Maiden Lane. Its striking brick exterior houses a spare but harmonious interior that echoes Wright's spiral design of the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

San Francisco Japantown Center is a major attraction that reflects Japanese regalia and arts and crafts through a number of showrooms, galleries and bookstores. Its almost like a mini-Japan in the heart of San Francisco. Also known as Nihonmachi, the area serves as a rich treasure of Japanese culture and tradition in the form of clothes, literature and the like, perennially stacked in the several stores tucked inside the center. Japantown also has movie theaters and hotels.

This San Francisco landmark features some of Fisherman's Wharf's best shopping and attractions. Ride the carousel, people-watch, or take in the view of the bay. There are more than 25 one-of-a-kind gift stores that carry automobile, Hollywood, and rock 'n' roll memorabilia, as well as flags of the world, Russian dolls, collectible knives, hammocks, kites, and more. But that's not all. You will find over 30 more stores, including the famous Na Hoku to shop for clothing, jewelry and toys. It is a great place to pick up high-end San Francisco souvenirs. When you're done shopping and stuffing your face with seafood and mini donuts, visit the famous resident sea lions for a prime photo op. Pier 39 is a magnet for locals and tourists for many reasons, including their nearly year-round calendar of special attractions for the whole family like the Tulipmania tulip festival held in late February on both levels of Pier 39 or the Holiday Tree Lighting in November.

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