San Francisco Overview
With beautiful open spaces, a bridge that’s the envy of the world and charming harbour-side towns, The City by the Bay is a sight to behold.
Situated on the tip of a peninsula in northern California, surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, San Francisco is the cultural capital of the San Francisco Bay area. It is home to such landmarks as the Golden Gate Bridge, the hilly streets with their famous cable cars and Victorian houses, the infamous island prison of Alcatraz, and enough museums and intriguing neighbourhoods to keep a traveller exploring for days.
Things to see and do in San Francisco
Alcatraz Island, a craggy knuckle of rock just 2 km (1.25 miles) offshore, is synonymous with its former prison, which for nearly 30 years held captive some of the USA’s most notorious criminals.
The Golden Gate Bridge
Stretching across the 1.6 km (1 mile) wide Golden Gate Strait, the Golden Gate Bridge’s rust-red frame is visible from various points around the city.
From restaurants serving the day’s catch to aquariums, museums and sea lions, Fisherman’s Wharf is a hive of activity.
You can spend a morning strolling along the wharf and soaking up its atmosphere, enjoying fresh chowder for lunch and watching street performers entertain passers-by. The most popular spot with visitors, though, is Pier 39. While there are two tiers of restaurants, shops and entertainment venues, the main draw is its resident sea lion colony.
Pass through the traditionally styled Dragon Gate that marks the start of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Reds and yellows dominate shop fronts, which are marked by neon signs, and paper lanterns are strung across the road. The smell of dim sum and the hiss of wok-fried noodles fill the air as you pass by the many Chinese restaurants.
Around 15 minutes’ walk south of Fisherman’s Wharf, Lombard Street zigzags its way down one of the cities steep inclines. With a total of eight hairpin bends snaking through landscaped bushes and flowerbeds, the street draws in visitors who want to get a photograph or experience driving down the winding road.
San Francisco’s Cable Cars
Walking the hilly streets of San Francisco can get tiring, but the city offers a novel way of exploring its sights while resting your feet. Its historic cable car system — the last manually operated system in the world — has been in place since 1873, though just three lines remain.
Riding in traditional, open-sided cable cars driven by a skilled ‘gripman’, you can travel between attractions such as Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, Union Square (the city’s main shopping area) and Lombard Street.