The 4 Best Things to Do in San Francisco
The U.S. is not exactly short on incredible holiday destinations. From the iconic urban bustle of New York and the hedonism of Las Vegas to the quaint charm and beauty of New England, every corner of America offers something unique and exciting for travellers of all ages. One place that is perhaps not talked about as often as it should be, though, is the eclectic, friendly and historic city of San Francisco – and we want to change that!
San Francisco holidays are guaranteed to be completely relaxing and totally memorable, with a whole range of amazing attractions and landmarks to discover. Below, we discuss the four which we believe are truly unmissable for those visiting the ‘City by the Bay’ soon.
Alcatraz Island was home to perhaps the most infamous prison the world has ever known, although anyone who has taken a trip to ‘The Rock’ will know there has been so much more to its history than Mafia inmates, brutally strict conditions and legendary escape attempts.
Long before it was designated as a federal prison in 1934, Alcatraz Island was used as a military garrison, with around 200 soldiers being stationed there as early as 1858. Seen as being a geographically suitable point from which to protect San Francisco from invasion, the island was fully fortified when the Civil War broke out and mounted with, at its peak, over 100 cannons.
Of course, there can be no denying that Alcatraz is most famous for its notorious prison, which housed some of the most violent and wanted men in American criminal history, including Alan ‘Creepy’ Karpis, Robert Stroud (the so-called ‘Birdman of Alcatraz’) and possibly the best-known gangster of all time, Al Capone. After you’ve taken the ferry to The Rock, you can step foot inside the bleak and foreboding cells and learn more about it via an informative audio tour, which includes contributions from former inmates.
A fantastic visitor experience is offered to anyone who wants to see Alcatraz Island for themselves - and, unlike the prisoners, you will be back on the mainland in time to dine at a local restaurant and get a good night’s sleep! Visit the website of the official vendor for tour tickets, Alcatraz Cruises, for more information and to choose your departure date.
Golden Gate Bridge
As well as its famous prison, San Francisco also has another landmark which can probably claim to be the most famous of its kind in the world – the Golden Gate Bridge. Instantly recognisable thanks to its distinctive colouring (which appears red but is called ‘International Orange’) and awesome, Art Deco-inspired architecture, this amazing feat of engineering must be seen up close to be truly appreciated.
Often shrouded in fog yet always beautiful, the Golden Gate Bridge connects the city of San Francisco to neighbouring Marin County over a 1.7-mile stretch of the Pacific Ocean. Although it is obviously popular with first-time visitors to the area, it’s important to remember that the bridge was built with a practical purpose in mind and is still crossed by around 110,000 cars (as well as many cyclists and pedestrians) every day.
In 2012, a new visitor centre was opened at the foot of the bridge (on the San Francisco side) to coincide with its 75th-anniversary celebrations. Well worth spending a few hours at if you find the time during your holiday, the centre allows you to learn all about the Golden Gate’s construction and its unique place in American culture – and, of course, there’s a well-stocked souvenir gift shop!
Frisco’s proud engineering heritage can be seen not just at the Golden Gate Bridge but across the city – in fact, one of the best examples is constantly moving through its streets! The San Francisco cable car network is officially the last manually-operated system of its kind in the world and has become synonymous with the area it serves.
A pioneering development in its day, the city’s first cable car made its inaugural journey in 1873, marking the start of a period that would see San Francisco’s public transport become a beacon of inspiration and source of envy for towns around the U.S. and beyond.
Today, the remaining cable car lines are used far more by tourists than commuters, allowing around seven million visitors annually to explore their destination with convenience whilst immersing themselves in part of San Francisco’s fascinating past. Having successfully resisted closure in the mid-20th century thanks to a huge outpouring of public support, the network has been extensively redeveloped and maintained in the last few decades, offering a memorable experience to all its passengers.
No trip to San Francisco is complete without at least one ride on its iconic cable car system so, even if you’ll have the use of a car during your holiday, be sure to get yourself a ticket and enjoy a real slice of history.
By some distance the most modern landmark on our list, Pier 39 is a world away from the seaside attractions that you may be used to back home in the UK! Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2018, the pier boasts over 100 top-quality restaurants, retail outlets and a diverse choice of family-friendly attractions so you can be confident of finding something everyone will enjoy during your day there.
Pier 39’s location was expertly chosen, offering guests unimpeded views of two of the San Franciscan icons we have already discussed (Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge), as well as the likes of Angel Island and the Bay Bridge. Visitors can also easily access the pier via one of the city’s historic streetcars, which will let you experience two local highlights in one go.
Once you’ve had your fill of the many exciting things to do on Pier 39 - from the aquarium to the beautiful, traditional carousel – you can head to the docks at the end of the pier, where you will often be able to watch dozens of sea lions lounging in the sun. These charming visitors first showed up at Pier 39 in 1989 and have been a constant feature of the landscape ever since!