San Francisco Things to Do Tips by Dabs
San Francisco Things to Do: 3,251 reviews and 5,782 photos
Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts was built for the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition held in San Francisco just 9 years after the devastating 1906 earthquake. The structures here, as they were at many of the expositions and world's fairs, were not made to be permanent structures, only built to last until the end of the expo, so the original structure was made of "staff", a mixture of plaster and burlap fiber.
The movement to preserve this one building started in October 1915 and it was the only building left after the rest of the expo was dismantled. Over the years though weather and neglect made the building unusable but the preservation effort was taken back up in the 1950s and by the mid 70s it had been restored. Today it houses the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre and the Exploratorium.
Address: 3601 Lyon Street
Directions: (415) 561-0360
Phone: (415) 561-0360
Looking towards Sutro Baths
Ocean Beach is at the end of Golden Gate Park so after we walked through the Park, we crossed over the street to have a look at it, the weather wasn't cooperating though so we just had a glimpse and then walked up the hill to see the Cliff House and remains of the Sutro Baths before finding a bus to take us back to the center of the city.
The water here isn't very good for swimming, it's cold and there's a very strong current and big waves which makes it popular with surfers.
Address: west end of Golden Gate Park
After visiting Muir Woods, we continued north to Point Reyes National Seashore. It took us a bit more time to get up there than the mileage would suggest, Highway 1 was winding and slow but a pretty drive, unfortunately we were limited by time as we had to be back in San Francisco that night for the Alacatraz night tour. I had wanted to get to the Point Reyes Lighthouse but after chatting with a ranger at the Bear Valley Visitor Center, we changed our plans and drove to Limantour Beach instead.
Limantour Beach is a nice stretch of beach with just a few people enjoying the scenery including a bus load of school kids. We had a nice stroll on the beach before heading back to the car. I wish we had a bit more time to spend in the area, if I were to recommend a day trip to Muir Woods and Point Reyes, I'd suggest planning a full day and returning the car in the morning, maybe even overnighting in the area. To get back to San Francisco we took a road to connect us to Highway 101 which was faster than Highway 1.
Directions: North on Hwy 1
Corner of Haight and Ashbury
Haight-Ashbury, named for the major intersection in this neighborhood, was our destination for our last morning in San Francisco, we walked the length of Haight Street checking out all the funky shops with their colorful imaginative exteriors and then since it wasn't quite lunchtime yet, we grabbed a slice of pizza at Escape from New York pizzeria and then had a walk down some of the side streets to check out some of the painted ladies, those would be houses, not streetwalkers! Our final stop was at Cha Cha Cha for a Caribbean lunch and then back on the bus that brought us there.
In the 1960s this area was the center of the hippie movement and "the summer of love" in 1967. Back on my 2nd trip in the late 1980s I thought the area was a little more seedy and edgy than I did on this visit, I suspect that my reaction is due partially to not being a naive wide eyed college kid anymore but also a bit of gentrification in the area. While there are plenty of street people that you will find yourself stepping over or around as you walk Haight Street, I didn't find this neighborhood at all dangerous to walk around, certainly not in the daytime anyway.
Address: Haight Street from Stanyan to Lyons
Transamerica Pyramid from Chinatown
The 2nd most recognizable symbol of San Francisco behind the Golden Gate Bridge is the Transamerica Pyramid building which is still named after the Transamerica Corporation insurance company even though their headquarters are no longer in the building. The 48 story building was completed in 1972 and was for a short time the tallest building west of the Mississippi and still the tallest building in San Francisco. There is no observation deck here or at any other building in San Francisco that I'm aware of although we were able to go to the 32nd floor of the Westin St. Francis in Union Square for the view and I understand there's another good view from the Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill.
We never got close to the building but you can see it from lots of different places as you are wandering through the city.
Address: 600 Montgomery Street
Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church
We didn't spend a lot of time exploring North Beach, the neighborhood that was once all Italian is now a mixture of Italian, Chinese and other nationalities, instead we just seemed to pass through it on our way somewhere else. Many would say that the best Italian restaurants lie outside of this area but we found a perfectly good old world style Italian menu at Pinocchio's along North Beach's main drag, Columbus Street (named of course for Christopher Columbus, a rather well known Italian) after seeing "Beach Blanket Babylon", the long running show nearby.
The one photo I did take as we were wandering by was of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church where Joe DiMaggio married his 1st wife Dorothy Arnold. Since he was Catholic, when he married for the 2nd time to Marilyn Monroe, he couldn't get married in the church but after the civil ceremony, they swung by here to have photos taken
Address: Area Surrounding Columbus Street at Union Street
San Francisco's Chinatown lays claim to being the largest Chinatown outside of China, it goes on and on and on for many blocks. I had wanted to do a free guided walking tour here but it didn't work with our plans so I used a couple of printed Chinatown walking guides from SF Gate and Frommer's to get us around this area.
While some parts of Chinatown, like Grant Avenue, are extremely touristy, all you need to do is go a block or so off Grant Street and you will realize that this is a real Chinese community with grocery stores and shops catering to San Francisco's Chinese population. Checkout some of the Chinese grocery stores with their unique stock of live fish, Chinese vegetables, teas and Chinese speciality goods even HUGE bags of MSG! Stop and enjoy a dim sum lunch at one of the many restaurants, some will pack you a box to go, others you can sit and order from the ladies with the carts. Try a delicious egg tart from a Chinese bakery or the unique red bean ice cream drink. Wander down Ross Alley and see the ladies making fortune cookies, 50 cents if you want to take photos, grab a bag of fortune cookies to snack on later.
Photo 1-Chinatown gate, Grant Avenue at Bush Street
Photo 2-Portsmouth Square, my guidebook said these men were playing chess, but it looked a lot more like gambling to me and nary a rook, knight or queen was seen
Photo 3-Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, I dare you to pass by after a whiff of the delicious smelling fortune cookies and not stop for a peek, 56 Ross Alley
Photo 4-Washington Street
Photo 5-the painted balconies of Waverly Place
Address: Bordered by Broadway, Bush, Kearny, Stockton sts.
Directions: Ornamental gate at Grant and Bush intersection.
Frank Lloyd Wright
Since we were staying in the Union Square area, our 1st day we had a walk through the area to see the few things that our guidebook said were must sees, we weren't interested in any of the high end shopping but we did stop to see some of the architectural sights along the way. Someone likened Union Square to Chicago's Magnificent Mile (Michigan Avenue) but they didn't strike me as being similar at all, I didn't see anywhere near the volume of people in Union Square that you see on Chicago's main shopping stretch, perhaps we were a bit early for the "ladies who lunch" as we were there around 10 am.
Picture 1-140 Maiden Lane is the only Frank Lloyd Wright building in San Francisco, it now houses an art gallery, the interior curving ramp is said to be the model for the Guggenheim in NYC.
Picture 2-Lotta's Fountain, named for gold rush era performer Lotta Crabtree who was showered with gold and silver after she performed, she gave the city this fountain in 1875, at the intersection of 3rd, Market, Kearny and Geary Sts.
Picture 3-Halladie Building, named for cable car inventor William Halladie, notable for the glass curtain exterior wall, located at 130 Sutter Street between Kearny and Montgomery
Picture 4-Union Square, a nice open air spot with a cafe and on the day we were there, an art fair
Part of the Golden Gate Recreation Area (not to be confused with Golden Gate Park), the Fort Mason Historic District is a pleasant green area to take a stroll through and has great views of the bay and the Palace of Fine Arts. Fort Mason was established here in the 1860s, between 1910 and 1963 it was the San Francisco Port of Embarkation, sending men and cargo during WWII off to the Pacific. From atop the hill we could look down at the cream colored buildings with the red tiled roofs that compromise Lower Fort Mason, a large series of warehouses and piers built from 1910-1914 used to supply Army bases across the Pacific. Upper Fort Mason is a series of the same colored buildings that had various purposes, the Civil War era barracks now house the San Francisco International Youth Hostel where I stayed on my 1st trip to San Francisco back in the 1970s
I was really looking forward to spending a day in Golden Gate Park checking out the sights, I researched renting bicycles and all the things you could do there but the weather was rather dreary and I wasn't feeling great so we ended up skipping the bike rental and walking through the entire length of the park which is 3 miles across and a 1/2 mile wide, we zigged and zagged a lot so all told we probably walked quite a bit more than 3 miles.
We started from the east side of the park where they were setting up for an Opera in the Park performance, we passed through the National AIDS memorial garden, took a peek at the Japanese garden although we passed on going in (small admission charge, free admission on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9-10 am), through the botanic gardens (free) and then a long walk until we got to the bison paddock where we saw some lounging bison. The 1st bison were brought to the park in 1891 when they were practically extinct, now there's a thriving population in North America. Our final stop was at the Dutch windmill where they were having a wedding before heading on to see Ocean Beach and the Cliff House.
There's a ton more to see in the Park that we just didn't have time for, the De Young Museum, the California Academy of Sciences, the Conservatory of Flowers and an abundance of recreational activities plus some seaonsal flower displays that weren't in bloom while we were there. SF Gate has a great rundown of all the things to do and see in the park and how best to get around
Address: Area bounded by Lincoln, Fulton, Stanyan.
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