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San Francisco Attractions

Things to See & Do

Myriad attractions await you in The City. Here are a few of the most outstanding places and activities available in and around San Francisco. For more, including beaches, hiking, and siteseeing outside the city, go to the Outdoors page.

Golden Gate Park

Visit Golden Gate Park

More than a thousand acres of lawn, trees, gardens and museums, this is one of the world's great urban parks, on a par with Central Park, Kew Gardens in London and Vancouver's Stanley Park. What used to be barren scrub land and sand dunes has been developed into a lush oasis containing arboreta, botanical gardens and rhododendron groves. Strybing Arboretum and Botanical Garden alone contains more than 6,000 plant species. The park's biological features also include the Conservatory of Flowers, the Japanese Tea Garden, and a small herd of bison which grazes near J.F. Kennedy Drive. Free guided walking tours of the park are provided on weekends, May through October.

Good news for visitors, five of the park's cultural attractions now have a single admission ticket, giving a 30 percent savings over regular prices. The Culture Pass will let you in to the Asian Art Museum, California Academy of Sciences, the Conservatory of Flowers, the new de Young Museum, and the Japanese Tea Garden. The park lies between Fulton and Lincoln streets and can be accessed via 19th Ave. (Hwy. 1), which runs through the park.

Tour Alcatraz

The island, first called Isla de los Alcatraces (Isle of the Pelicans), was a refuge for migrating wildlife before "The Rock" was developed as a fortification in 1858 and subsequently as a military prison and federal penitentiary. On March 21, 1963 the last of the prisoners left the island, and the jail was closed. The island is now part of the federal Golden Gate parks system and is operated by the National Park Service. Aside from the ferry fee, access to the island is free. The tour takes about two hours. Red & White Fleet boats leave at 45-minute intervals from Pier 41 on the Embarcadero. Cruises begin daily at 9:30 am (415-546-2896).

Riding Cable Cars

The three cable car lines (declared a national historic landmark) climb almost perpendicular hills, tear around sharp corners -- at 9.5 miles per hour, a constant speed for the underground cable which pulls the cars -- and bob like a roller coaster down the hills to the bay. Some riders hang from the outside rails; others seek greater security inside.

The beloved cable car system was invented by British engineer Andrew Hallidie and put into operation in 1873. The cable car staff will tell you when to "hang on tight" for a curve, and will tell you a lot more as they provide their spiels on passing city attractions. Fares are $2, $1 for seniors from 9 pm to midnight and 6 to 7 am. The system runs from 6:30 am to 12:30 am.

The California Street line begins at the foot of Market Street, runs through Chinatown and over Nob Hill, ending at Van Ness Avenue. The Powell&endash;Hyde line follows a wandering route from Powell & Market streets, over Nob and Russian hills to Victorian Square next to Aquatic Park. The Powell-Mason line also terminates at Powell & Market and climbs up Nob Hill and then descends to Bay Street near Fisherman's Wharf.

Go to a Zoo

The San Francisco Zoo, Sloat Boulevard at 47th Avenue, is a major zoo with many animal exhibits. Highlights include the Lion House, with feedings at 2 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; Meercat and prairie dog exhibits, The Lipman Family Lemur Forest; and a Latin American exhibit -- "Puente al Sur" -- featuring a tapir and giant anteaters. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For information, call 415-753-7080.

The Oakland Zoo, in Knowland Park, 9777 Golf Links Road, is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. More than 380 species of aninals are on exhibit, including African elephant and lion habitats, and rainforest islands. For information, call 510-632-9525.

Visiting Museums

SF Moma

The big attraction for contemporary art lovers is the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art at 151 Third Street, fondly dubbed SFMOMA.

This striking building houses a permanent collection of more than 4,000 paintings, drawings and sculptures&emdash;all from the 20th century, focusing on abstract expressionism and several other major schools. The museum's photography collection exceeds 8,000 photographs, the works of such renowned picture takers as Alfred Stieglitz, Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. The futuristic building is located two blocks south of Market Street in the area known as Yerba Buena Gardens, near the city's convention center with theaters, additional arts facilities and park areas making this formerly blighted downtown area one of the most appealing and promising parts of the city.

Still the most imposing museum in San Francisco is the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park, an exact replica of the Parisian palace of the same name. It has recently been renovated with seismic retrofitting. The shining white structure holds paintings, sculpture, tapestries, prints and drawings from Europe, including one of the great collections of Rodin works. Special exhibitions are regularly featured.


San Francisco is probably America's best city for walking. Two areas of town provide wonderful strolling. A walking tour of North Beach could start on the Italian community's main drag, Columbus Avenue, walking up the hill from Pacific Avenue toward the Coit Tower. The sellers and Publishers Bookstore is at 261 Columbus. Cafe Greco is one of North Beach's most popular restaurants. Turning onto Union Street and walking up-hill, turn onto Montgomery Street and climb Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower.

Another great walk leads through Chinatown, starting at the Chinatown Arch (on Grant near Bush). The eight blocks of Grant Street lead through the middle of this commercial area. A walk down California Street takes you to St. Mary's Square. Turning onto Sacramento and Commercial streets will lead you to other highlights. One of the oldest Buddhist temples in the city is the Kong Chow Temple, on the fourth floor at 855 Stockton Street.

Take a Ferry Cruise

One of the finest ways to spend a half day or even a full day's excursion is to take the ferry which sails between the ferry building on Embarcadero and the Marin side of San Francisco Bay. Our favorite ferry destination is Sausalito, a "Mediterranean" town just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. This little community has developed a collection of cafes, espresso bars and shops. However, the main attraction is the constantly-changing view of San Francisco from the ferry's decks.

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