An American city with an eccentric and liberal soul: that’s San Francisco, California’s capital city on the Pacific ocean. Once you’re here, it’s easy to be conquered by its steep roads running towards the sea, city life and beach relax. Below you find 10 things you cannot miss.
Read about my US roadtrip through West USA.
1. Visit Alcatraz Island
Our landind on the infamous Alcatraz Island was a disquieting experience: grey sky, strong wind, screaming seagulls flyng over our heads. The island is popular for the high-security Federal Penitentiary where from 30s’ till 60s’ dangerous criminals like Al Capone have been imprisoned, since it was considered impossible escape from there. The famous escape of 1962, planned and executed by Frank Morris, Clarence and John Anglin, is still an unsolved mystery, since their bodies were never found.
Today on the island you can visit the prisoners’ cell – including the terrible D-block with its soundproofed solitary confinement cells, called the “Hole”. It’s better to book in advance the Alcatraz Day Ticket: with 40 USD you have the transportation from San Francisco (by ferry, it’s about 15 minutes) and the audio-guided tour.
Visit the official website of Alcatraz Island
2. Admire the Golden Gate
Definitely the City’s symbol, the bridge is considered as one of the Wonders of the Modern World: it’s almost 3 kilometers long and 30 meters wide (6 lanes of 101 US Highway are passing on it), and when it was built in 1937 was one of the tallest and highest in the world. It connects the city of San Francisco to Marin County.
Why is it called “Golden Gate”? The bridge is actually named for the Golden Gate Strait, the narrow entrance between the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay.
There’s a lot of ways to visit it: you can cross it by car (in this case remember to pay the toll), walk by foot on the pedestrian walkaway, ride a bike on the bycicle path, or even fly over it on a seaplane with a special tour. You can also avoid traffic on it and simply take pictures while relaxing on the baeautiful Baker Beach, northwest of San Francisco.
3. Eat crab at Fisherman’s Wharf
The Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco is a popular touristic neighborhood on the Northern waterfront area: since 1800, Italian immigrants have been settling here, fishing and selling fresh seafood, and today here you can find a lost of seafood restaurants, together with shopping centers – like Pier 39 – a WWII submarine and the famous colony of sea lions.
The typical seafood here is the dungeness crab.
4. Visit Chinatown
SF’s Chinatown is the largest Chinatown in the world, ouside Asia. After crossing the Dragon Gate you enter an Oriental world with a strong character, full of restaurants, shops (almost all my US souvenirs have been bought here: much cheaper!), tea-rooms.
You can also enjoy and take pictures of the colourful street-art, the most famous of which is Bruce Lee mural.
5. Ride a cable car
Another icon of San Francisco: the vintage cable cars, invented here 150 years ago, are not only a touristic attraction but also an amazing public transportation through San Francisco’s famous steep roads.
You have 3 cable car lines: 2 start at Powell and Market and continue to the Fisherman’s Wharf area, the third one starts at California and Market and continues to Van Ness Avenue. Single ride ticket is 8 USD.
Visit the official website.
6. Visit Lombard Street
According to a legend, Lombard Street’s weird hairpin turns had been designed by the people living there, in order to avoid drunk people driving on the steep road to crash in their gardens. True or not, Lombard Street is nowadays considered as the “crookedest street in the world”, visited by thousand of tourists every year. It’s specially beautiful in spring and summer, when the bends are covered with colourful flowers.
7. Get lost in Haight Ashbury, the hippie quarter
It’s in Haight-Ashbury that the 60s’ counterculture was born: coffee shops, hippie communities, psychedelic rockstar were easily to be found here, and the quarter reached its peak during the Summer of Love in 1967.
Now you can spend your day in Haight-Ashbury taking pics of the amazing Victorian houses, shopping along Haight Street in the colourful shops (Amoeba Records is popular for music), eating in an ethnic restaurant, visiting the rockstars’ houses (here lived the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin; relaxing in Buena Vista Park on the hill.
8. Taste Californian wines
With its temperate climate and fertile soil, California – and on top Napa Valley – is popular worldwide for its good wines. The state’s viticultural history dates back to the 18th century when Spanish missionaries planted the first vineyards to produce wine for the Mass: nowadays, there are more than 1.200 wineries in the state.
In San Francisco you have a broad choice of places where to taste the Californian wine, together with the opportunity to organize a daily wine tour from the city.
Choose your winery according to your location.
9. Have a drink in a SF Speakeasy
Even during the Prohibitionism, Frisco’s liberal spirit often made the Government turn a blind eye to alcohol trade.
A must-go for vintage lovers, in San Francisco you have a lot of nice retro-bars to live again the antiprohibitionist spirit of 20s’ (here you can find some advice).
10. Visit Castro
The Castro has become a center and a haven for the LGBTQ community. Rainbows everywhere, sometimes eccentric people hanging out with pride, today in the quarter you can recall the struggle for civil rights of 70s’ (here there’s GLBT Historical Society Museum) and then enjoy its open-minded nightlife, between bars and clubs.