Monday, December 30, 2013

TRAVEL San Francisco: Touristy Things to do in San Francisco

It took me nearly 40 years to get myself some good, quality time in San Francisco.  When I finally got there, I really wanted to do some typical touristy things.  I wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge and the Ferry Building, I wanted to go to Coit Tower and Ghiridelli Square, and I wanted to see a Redwood tree.  I did all of those things and much, much more!  I still feel like I haven't scratched the surface in SF yet though, and even after a few solid trips to the Bay Area, I'm always thinking about the next visit.

So anyway, I decided to share my favorite tourist attractions in SF. 

Alcatraz - Definitely plan a visit to the notorious "Rock," where you can stand in the prison cells of notorious criminals like Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly.  Surrounded by the freezing water of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz was believed to be inescapable. Get a ferry from Pier 33 to the island, and visit for either self guided or formal guided tours.  You'll walk up to the prison buildings and tour the cell block, exercise yard and other locations.  Besides being a popular tourist attraction, the island is also a historic site, and is operated by the National Park Service. Tickets during peak season can be hard to get, so plan ahead!

Coit Tower -  to get a bird's-eye view of the city, you'll want to venture to the top of Telegraph Hill, to the Coit Tower.  Built in 1933, some say the 210-foot tower resembles a fire-hose nozzle that stands as a tribute to firefighters.  You can take an elevator all the way to the top, or if you're feeling it, challenge yourself to take the nearly 400 steep steps up and down.

Ferry Building - The Ferry Building marketplace is open all week, and everything you could possibly want to eat will be there.  Amazing coffee, cured meats, burgers, biscuits, fresh seafood galore!  Try some tasty crab at Slanted Door, anything at Boulette’s Larder — it’s hard to go wrong. If you happen to be there on a Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday, you’ll get to experience the famous farmer’s market, which is among the best in the U.S.

Fisherman's Wharf - if you're in search of food, shops, entertainment, and waterfront views, a visit to the Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39 is a no-brainer.  Clam chowder in a bread bowl is a must have, or just sit and people watch as street performers of all kinds do their thing, though I've heard people complain that the street performers haven't changed in years. Either way, it's still an entertaining experience.  This is also where you'll find hundreds of lively sea lions on the marina's western docks.

The Golden Gate Bridge - The Golden Gate Bridge is a suspension bridge spanning the strait between San Francisco and Marin County. The bridge has become an internationally recognized symbol of San Francisco and CA, and is one of the most photographed bridges in the world. Its famous red-orange color was chosen to make the bridge more easily visible through the thick fog that frequently shrouds the bridge.  You can drive, bike or walk over it, and you can pretty much catch a view of it from everywhere in the city.

Muir Woods - one of my very favorite tourist attractions, Muir Woods National Monument was established in 1908 to protect a redwood forest from destruction.  The trees' ages range from 400 to 800 years, their height up to 250 feet.  It is truly a spectacular, awe-inspiring sight.  Flat easy trails loop through the groves, you can make this stop for a quick scenic walk, or hike the numerous trails for a few hours.  Tour buses routinely visit Muir Woods, or you can take a drive and park at the entrance.

Cable Cars - the trolleys operate today as more of a tourist attraction, though many residents say that they actually use them daily.  They're definitely worth the experience. They're a fun, unique ride, running between Market Street and Fisherman's Wharf. A a nice day, prepare to wait for a ride, and to get the best experience, be sure to stand on the running boards!

Lombard Street - located between Hyde and Leavenworth streets, Lombard Street is what's known as the world's "crookedest" street, though it's actually neither the crookedest or steepest in SF.  With eight hairpin turns to reduce the hill's steepness, Lombard Street has a speed limit of 5 mph, and is lined with flowered walkways -- and throngs of picture-snapping tourists. Photo ops are best from the bottom looking up. 

Chinatown - the tourist section of Chinatown is mainly along Grant Avenue, from Bush to Broadway.  There are 24 blocks of crowds, packed densely with shops, markets and restaurants.  Be sure to make a pit stop for some authentic dim-sum.  And don't miss the Golden Gate Cookie Factory, where apparently, every day, two women make over 20,000 fortune cookies by hand. 

What's your favorite tourist attraction in San Francisco?  What have I missed?

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