- CITY BY THE BAY -
San Francisco was the first stop of my trip to California a few years ago. I admit, it had been a long time since I had put the laid down and seldom foggy Californian city on my bucket list. So, when the trip to California finally started materialising the decision to begin it from here was immediate.
San Francisco has been longly renowned for being home to hippies, techies and fashionistas for decades and always had that special mystique ever since the 60´s. It was the city of love and freedom, the cultural phenomenon that shook the World, a revolutionary place that changed the customs and shifted traditions.
Part of that magic is forever gone now ever since the Bay Area became America´s (and the World´s for that matter) greatest technological hub; as the city became a magnet for start-ups, flocks of tech geeks from all over the World started arriving to the city replacing the once dominant hippie culture.
That tech culture is now also a big part of the city´s DNA in the present. You can feel it in most of the people you come across in the streets and you cannot imagine San Francisco without associating it to the technological powerhouse that it is.
When you get to visit San Francisco it will stick to your heart forever. You cannot explain if it is the air from the Pacific ocean, if it is its either foggy or clear blue skies or if it is its easy life and people... but something special in this place touches you.
Now, with that in my mind I tried to put together my top 10 reasons why everyone should always include San Francisco on their travel bucket lists:
The “City by The Bay”´s weather unpredictability is also what some might call its biggest charm. It is true that a cloudy foggy day isn´t anyone´s cup of tea. But San Fran without its summer cold foggy days covering the bay wouldn’t´t be the same thing. Apart from that, San Francisco as well as most of California enjoy great weather all year round so the city is always a great choice for any travel you decide to plan;
San Francisco´s unique topography is perfect for almost anyone. The city is great for walking and is also one of the best in the World for bicycle lovers.
You can actually discover it in one day if you walk fast enough. The transportation network is near perfect and the best part of it is that the city is incredibly photogenic with countless of astounding views either from its hills, the sea promenade or even from one of its beautiful iconic bridges.
Like it was already mentioned, part of San Francisco´s magic is connected to its cultural diversity. You find people here from all parts of the World and the city is a gigantic melting pot rich in culture, traditions, different origins and influences. Enjoy it for being different.
Alcatraz, The Golden Gate Bridge and The Presidio National Park
It´s somehow awkward that one of a city´s major attraction is a former prison located in an island. But Alcatraz was no ordinary prison as it is claimed that during its 29 years of operation not a single prisoner was able to escape from its walls. Alcatraz history goes back to its construction date on the 19th century but it only became famous when it was tuned into an high security facility designed to contain prisoners who continuously caused problems in other federal prisons.
Most of its prisoners were notorious bank robbers and murderers which only increased its popularity. Even Al Capone was held within its walls. Most of the ones who tried to escape it eventually died in the cold waters of San Francisco Bay.
The former prison receives daily tours coming out of San Francisco city center piers all year long if you want to visit the facilities and learn more about its history.
Right in front of Alcatraz Island sits San Francisco´s most iconic landmark. The Golden Gate Bridge.
Stretching for about 3km it divides the San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean and connects the city to Marin County on the North.
The bridge opened in 1937 and still stands as the most photographed bridge in the World.
Haight-Ashbury District and The Painted Ladies
The most famous district in San Francisco stands as the birth place of the hippie culture back in the 1960´s. First seen as a relatively cheap place to live it became the perfect location for the counterculture bohemians of the Summer of Love generation. For some time this area became home to a new cultural utopia born out of a desire for freedom and where music, literature and also drugs played a pivotal role. Nowadays the area was invaded by affluent yuppies which occupied the beautiful Victorian style houses and most of the shops are now chic restaurants, fashionable cafes and high-end boutiques. Haight-Ashbury stands only as and the memory of a gone time.
One of the best examples of the Victorian age buildings that still populate parts of San Francisco are the Painted Ladies, a series of colourful houses near Alamos Square Park. They are known as “Postcard Row” since they are part of one of the most celebrated images of San Francisco.
The Golden Gate Park
This public urban park is one of the biggest ones in the States and is composed by a large number of gardens, museums and lakes. You can easily spend a full day exploring it. Some of its major highlights are the Botanical Garden, the Japanese Tea Garden, the De Young Museum and the Stow Lake. It is usually very crowded in weekends and it is easily accessible by bus or car.
San Francisco´s waterfront suffered a major renovation after 1989´s earthquake and is now one of the most enjoyable areas of the city. The seafront promenade stretches for almost 4km starting from the beautiful Bay Bridge all the way into the famous Pier 39.
It is perfect for long walks, jogging and cycling. Along the way you can step into the celebrated Ferry Building, have a look at the Coit Tower standing up above Telegraph Hill, the Embarcadero and when you finally get to Pier 39 you will be so hungry you will only want to delight yourself with the incredible sea food and fish served in the large number of the area´s restaurants.
Pier 39 claims itself to be the third most visited place in the States and from there you will find great views of the Bay, Alcatraz Island and have a look at the countless sea lions that live in the dock´s platforms. The Pier 39 Venetian Carousel is also a major attraction and it is a great place for souvenir shopping.
The Palace of Fine Arts
I don´t know how to explain it but this place became my favourite spot in San Francisco. I cannot explain if it was its peacefulness or if was its classical architectural features that are a photographer´s dream - specially at sunsettime - but truth is, everytime I think about San Francisco, I think about this place.
The building was built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific exposition to exhibit works of art.
It was designed by Bernard Maybeck and built to look like a ruin from a distant time. It was so beloved that it remained as the only structure from the exhibition to be preserved and still standing nowadays.
It's Perfect For Food Junkies
Due to its incredible cultural diversity San Francisco became a reference in terms of gastronomical influences. So you get to find the best restaurants all over town. From Thai to Chinese, Caribbean and even
Whatever you wish or crave for you will definitely find a great choice. There is a flavour for all and from all over the World.
The Largest and Oldest Chinatown
San Francisco is home to the largest Chinatown outside of Asia and it played a very important role in the city´s multiculturalism. Chinatown works as a city within a city, with its own customs, traditions, shops, worship places and it is one of the most visited areas in the city.
It is estimated that more than 100.000 people live in this neighbourhood which has steadily increased ever since the 19th century. If you want a taste of the diversity that represents the city be sure to spend some time walking its streets.
Well, and this is it. My major highlights for San Francisco and for a visit to the city. There is also much more to explore and it will always depend on how much time you have to spend here. But one thing is certain, San Francisco will surely have something for your taste and it will not disappoint you.