San Francisco Highlights
Golden Gate Park
Larger than Central Park, the 1,000-acre Golden Gate Park’s treasure trove of attractions includes Stybing Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, a biodiversity hub where 6,000 plant species, including a towering display of California redwoods, thrive; the ethereal Japanese Tea Garden; a children’s playground; the Asian Art Museum; MH de Young Memorial Museum; and the California Academy of Sciences, with its aquarium, Morrison Planetarium and laserium. Even more, the open tennis courts, horse stables, baseball diamonds, polo grounds, croquet and lawn-bowling greens, an archery field, a golf course and a fly-fishing pool draw an outdoorsy crowd year-round. For a full experience, follow the green panhandle between Fell and Oak streets straight into the park.
1100 California St at Taylor, Phone: (415) 749.6300
The gothic landmark of the west coast, the ornate beauty of Grace Cathedral is home to hidden gardens, curling dragon statues, and a redwood pulpit that has seen the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the Dalai Lama. The Grace hosts glorious concerts year round and its Columbarium is the only sacred landmark in San Francisco where freshly cremated remains may be laid to rest.
Keep on driving southwest of downtown and you’ll hit Haight-Ashbury (‘the Haight’), the locus of San Francisco ‘s brief fling as the home of flower power in the late 1960s. Today, the Haight is still colorful, but its pretty Victorian houses and proximity to Golden Gate Park have prompted increasing gentrification. The compact Castro, to the southeast, is the gay center of San Francisco and one of the best neighborhoods for strolling and watching the street life. Haight-Ashbury was the center of ’60s psychedelia and despite gentrification and proliferation of stores like Ben & Jerry’s and The Gap, it still retains its hippie counterculture credentials and is dotted with Victorian houses, anarchist bookstores, piercing salons and clothing funky shops. This post is number three in a series of sites worth visiting in the City. Click here for post number one and here for number two.
Russian Hill: Between Hyde & Leavenworth Streets
A drive over any of San Francisco ‘s mind-blowing hills leaves the impression that building a city here took some guts. On world-famous Lombard Street, developers chose the easy way out by making a series of switchbacks to ease Russian Hill’s 40-degree grade. Half the delight of America ‘s Crookedest Street is the lush plantings that adorn each inner-curve, and the top-notch views of Coit Tower and the Bay. A traditional San Francisco vacation destination, the street can be prone to tourist gridlock; a good option is to park nearby and make use of the pedestrian staircases.
With more than 40 hills in seven square miles, no wonder San Francisco is home to some of the most scenic stairway hikes in the world. Climb the Lyon/Broadway stairway to heaven and see why the Pacific Heights neighborhood is so named. Reward yourself at the end of this five-story ascension with vim, vigor, and a bird’s eye view of prime real estate rooftops, the Palace of Fine Arts, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Bridge. See also this article about walking or biking the Golden Gate Bridge.
Mission Street between 16th and 24th Streets
Mission District is the center of San Francisco’s Latino population. The neighborhood heart is 24th Street where you will find an interesting and colorful collection of Mexican bakeries, authentic restaurants, produce markets, specialty shops, taquerias, and murals. The oldest structure in the City is Mission Dolores (16th & Dolores streets) and this is the site where many of the City’s Spanish pioneers were buried. on the site). Just a few blocks away (on Dolores & 18th Street), Dolores Park, with its beautiful palm trees, still has a phenomenal Spanish flavor.
Broadway & Columbus
The City’s North Beach is really San Francisco’s Red Light District. At night, the area is a bustling home to neon-lighted strip joints, cafes, bars, and restaurants. Take a stroll just off Broadway through the narrow streets and you can see why this part of San Francisco is nicknamed “Little Italy.” The area is proud of its Italian heritage and cherishes the City Lights Bookstore, its bohemian legacy of the 50s. You can find this legendary bookstore at the corner of Jack Kerouac Alley and Columbus Avenue. Also, don’t forget to check out Tai Chi on weekdays (located in nearby Washington Square) and when you visit the City in August, the annual North Beach Festival.
Pacific Bell Park
24 Willie Mays Plaza, Phone: (415) 972-1800
Anyone who has seen the Giants play at Pac Bell Park knows that Barry Bonds and other star players are not the only draws. Like a ship in a harbor, the three-year-old park is nestled against the bay. Zen moments can be had and baseball forgotten when dizzy seat-searchers realize that yes, the water is right down there. A waterfront promenade allows spendthrift oglers to catch glimpses of the games through a fence. Pac Bell Park, located in San Francisco ‘s SoMa district, is easily accessible by public transportation.
Palace of Fine Arts
3301 Lyon St, Phone: (415) 397-5673
If San Francisco had a palace, the beloved Palace of Fine Arts would be the place. Designed by Bay Area architect Bernard Maybeck to be a romanticized Roman ruin, San Francisco ‘s Palace of Fine Arts is surrounded by lush gardens and a lagoon and the whole dynamic has an otherworldly and transportive effect. Originally meant to be a temporary open-air art gallery for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exhibit, the Palace has been built and rebuilt, a testament to the love San Franciscans have for their ruddy masterpiece. While currently not a gallery, the Palace of Fine Arts ‘ theater does host film festivals, concerts and performing arts as well as being home to the Exploratorium. No wonder people who revisit the City, check out the SF Palace of Fine Arts time and again.
Union Square is truly the City’s Mecca for shopaholics from all corners of the world. The square is marked by a Corinthian column that’s surrounded by beautiful palm trees, and your visit to San Francisco is not complete if you don’t check this place out. Here you’ll find the best stores in a setting with colorful flower stands and numerous street performers. The square’s surrounding streets feature many superstores where all of the world’s big brand want to be present. Read more about Union Square here.