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Best Historic Locations in San Francisco

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The Presidio is one of San Francisco's best kept and oldest parks. The Presidio Trust along with the National Park Service seek to preserve the heritage and architecture of the area while providing both locals and tourists with a splendid recreational spot. The park itself consists of a number of restored military buildings. Attractions such as the "Spire," constructed by artist Andy Goldsworthy, and other unique additions have even helped the park be featured in a number of TV shows and movies. The Presidio is an excellent destination to discover with the entire family and the park provides a number of tours to help you through it all. The park is open all year round and its free entry is an added bonus.

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.

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.

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. This 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 call 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.

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.

Founded by Father Junipero Serra in 1779, Mission San Francisco de Asis, also known as Mission Dolores, is the oldest structure in San Francisco. The mission and the city that surrounds it was named after St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order. The Mission Dolores has gone through several repairs and renovations since its founding and the mission's original adobe structure still stands on-site, as well as a section of the original cemetery. The mission was the first location to be designated by the City of San Francisco as a protected historical landmark in 1968.

The first thing you will learn here is that the fanciful polychrome paint jobs on San Francisco's Victorians are a recent invention. This turreted-and-gabled gingerbread fantasy is a uniform and authentic shade of gray. Inside, this large house still feels like the family home that it was from 1886 to 1972, with rooms covered in expensive wood paneling, embossed wallpapers and featuring marble fireplaces. Guided tours leave every 20-30 minutes and last about an hour.

What Ellis Island was to the East Coast, Angel Island was to the West Coast. Graffiti left by immigrants who were awaiting admission or deportation can be seen on the walls of the holding areas. The wooded 740 acre (300 hectare) island sits peacefully in the middle of San Francisco Bay. In addition to the immigration facility, the island is also home to two now-abandoned military installations, Fort McDowell and Camp Reynolds. Hiking and biking trails circle the island and offer spectacular views of the poppy-colored peaks of the Golden Gate Bridge and the iconic San Francisco skyline. Volunteer guides lead informative tours of the island's historical sites and one can even catch a glimpse of the indigenous deer population. Camping is allowed with proper permits. Ferry service varies according to the season.

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.

Constructed as a temporary attraction for the 1915 Pan-Pacific International Exhibition, Palace of Fine Arts & Theatre 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.

Nob Hill is located between some of San Francisco's most popular tourist spots such as Union Square, the Cable Car Museum and Fisherman's Wharf. Historically, Nob Hill played a significant role in the city as powerful businessmen of the 19th Century like Leland Stanford built their mansions in the area due to its stunning views. Try to spot locations shown in classic films such as Vertigo and Dirty Harry, or spend your time sipping coffee in Cafe Mozart. Pace yourself though, the steep hills can be killer on your knees!

Haight-Ashbury is a district in San Francisco named after the intersections of Haight and Ashbury Streets, known to many as The Haight. It encompasses the area from Golden Gate Park and Oak Street to Baker Street and the Buena Vista Park. This district is famous for its role in the 1960s hippie movement, and remains a popular tourist attraction for its bohemian vibe. Many restored Victorian houses can still be found gracing the streets in the neighborhood.

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