They may not be wearing flowers in their hair in San Francisco any more, but the still has more than enough to recommend it to the visitor. Less flashy than Los Angeles and more laid-back than New York, San Francisco is a US city out on its own - almost literally, as it sits on a 49 square mile peninsula. As well as being a unique geographical feature of the region, the lay of the land creates its own unique range of micro-climates as you move from area to area.
Here are six “must-sees” to make your San Francisco trip complete.
If the US Navy had had their way back in the 1930s, the magnificent number one landmark of San Francisco would look very different. They originally wanted a huge concrete expanse but in the end good design sense won out, resulting in the beautiful art deco construction designed by Gertrude and Irving Murrow. Spanning 1.7 miles across the strait where San Francisco Bay meets the Pacific Ocean, this wonder of old-time engineering provides amazing views, though where best to see the bridge itself from is a matter of debate. Many think that driving to Fort Point and looking up at its towering size is best, while others believe that standing on Marin’s Vista Point is an unbeatable experience.
The name alone ought to be enough to strike fear into your heart. It’s the prison that was supposed to be impossible to escape from, though hundreds are said to have tried and some may well have made it. Also known as “The Rock”, said to be among some of its more notorious inmates were Al Capone and the Harlem gang leader “Bumpy” Johnson, sent there because of its near impregnable security.
Rising costs would see the prison closed in 1963, and today you can take an award-winning tour with a local cruise tour operator, which includes first-hand accounts of the hard life prisoners faced when locked up there.
To the north-east of the city and centred around Grant Avenue and Stockton Street, the oldest of San Francisco’s Chinatowns is also the oldest one in all the United States and the largest Chinese community outside of Asia.
Originally established by immigrants from the Guangdong province in the mid-19th century, the area continues to be a lively and exciting community with restaurants, markets and shops catering for a range of culinary and tourist tastes. Two of the very best times to visit are for September’s Autumn Moon Festival and in February for the Chinese New Year.
Enter the Golden Gate Park from Fulton Street and you’ll want to take a closer look inside the Conservatory of Flowers. This huge greenhouse, originally built in 1879, is a riot of colour thanks to the thousands of blooms that are cultivated within.
The conservatory is divided up into several zones which contain beautiful examples of flowers in bloom from tropical delights to aquatic treasures. The venue has held talks from gardening experts, guided tours for local children, and has even served as a beautiful backdrop for weddings.
The Exploratorium was founded in 1969 by Frank Oppenheimer, the physicist famous for his work in developing the atom bomb who in later years turned his attention to encouraging public interest in science. The resulting museum covers all aspects of science in a fun, interactive and accessible way. Since 2013 it has been located on Pier 15 in San Francisco harbour in a purpose built – and solar-powered – space.
Home of the San Francisco Giants baseball team, this where a home run can end up as a “splash hit” if the ball is hit into the adjoining bay. There are fantastic views of the Golden Gate Bridge from the ground and you can take a 90-minute tour most days when there’s no game.
Not only does the city offer a great scenic drive for everyone, but if you hire a car in San Francisco you’ll be able to get out and about and visit the surrounding area too. Stunning scenery’s only a short drive away and so are drives up the spectacular Pacific Coast Highway, both of which are sure to make your trip complete.