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The Golden Gate Bridge
Voted America’s top city in numerous surveys, colorful and cosmopolitan San Francisco invariably charms visitors. Its 1.7-mile-long Golden Gate Bridge — one of America’s top ten construction marvels — is a must-see. Celebrating its 65th anniversary, this graceful span (which connects to Marin county) is an unforgettable icon to drive, walk, or cycle across.
Golden Gate Park
Contemplate your next move in Golden Gate Park. Within its thousand-plus acres are gardens, lakes and walking paths, and the Strybing Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. The Golden Gate Park is also home to the tranquil Japanese Tea Garden, originally part of the 1894 World’s Fair Exhibit. Tea drinkers overlook a waterfall and pond framed by fragrant wisteria.
The city’s most popular destination, the picturesque Fisherman’s Wharf overlooks San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. The historic waterfront still serves as a working fishing pier, so expect fresh seafood at area restaurants. Nearby San Francisco attractions include Pier 39, The Cannery, and Ghirardelli Square. These popular San Francisco attractions are touristy, but prove irresistible to many visitors.
Do some time on “The Rock:” A short ferry ride on the Blue and Gold Fleet deposits you on Alcatraz Island, and the self-guide brochure directs you from the former penitentiary’s dock to its cell house. Evening tours, led by park guides, are also available on his island-of-no-escape in the San Francisco Bay (Ferry departs from Pier 41).
Cable Cars, Street Cars, & Cable Car Museum
There’s probably not a soul who visits San Francisco without anticipating a cable car ride. Make sure to interrupt your ride to disembark at the Cable Car Barn and Museum. This is the control center that drives the entire cable car system. You’ll see the motors, cables, and sheaves used to propel the cars throughout San Francisco.
At sea level, along Market Street and the Embarcadero, is another breed of streetcar known as the F-Market Line. It can be near impossible to get on during high season (due to crowds). But, even from the outside, you can admire the fleet of historical streetcars imported from Australia, Milan and even Chicago.
Civic Center & City Hall
Civic Center is a dramatic contrast between its Beaux Arts splendor and the street-life born of an imperfect social system. The buildings at Civic Center are among the most majestic in the city. But the area has its share of homeless — which is sometimes a surprise to visitors, especially those who travel from countries where homelessness is not the issue it is here.
City Hall is the product of an almost million renovation. In 2008, it became the busy site of California’s first same-sex marriage ceremonies.
Also visit the Asian Art Museum, the Herbst Theater, the San Francisco Opera, Ballet, and Symphony buildings.
Nearby is the hip restaurant and shopping district of Hayes Valley.
Pacific Heights, Marina District & Cow Hollow
If you’re interested in seeing the Victorian mansions and architecture of Pacific Heights, one of the best ways to tour is through San Francisco City Guides. They offer free walking tours of the Pacific Heights and the Marina District — which includes Cow Hollow, the former pasture tucked in between the hill and the Marina flats below.
The Marina District and Cow Hollow are epicenters of food and shopping. A stroll along Union and Chestnut streets will render more than enough possibilities for restaurants, bars, and boutiques. (See an overview Map of the Marina District street grid.)
Other attractions in the area include the Haas-Lilienthal House, Octagon House, Palace of Fine Arts & Exploratorium, Marina Green & Fort Mason, Crissy Field.