San Francisco Things to Do Tips by cruisingbug
San Francisco Things to Do: 3,249 reviews and 5,777 photos
Cellhouse, Alcatraz, San Francisco
We spent three hours on Alcatraz and found it very interesting. Be sure to get the self-guided audio tour ($16), as this greatly enhances what you actually see. Our first stop was the video presentation and exhibits in the Civil War-era munitions building. The island was first used as a fortress and military prison. Then it's a hike up to the penitentiary to pick up your headphones and wander around the cellhouse. Don't miss Al Capone's cell, and the cutoff where potential escapees met their fate (bullet holes in the walls, grenade explosion marks on the concrete floors).
The tour doesn't have you stop in the recreation yard - you have to walk back after you've turned in your headset. So pause right after the dining hall part of the tour and step outside to avoid backtracking. There is a door from the recreation yard (why did they have a door? They weren't allowed out...I don't know) that leads out to the other side of the island for a view of the demolished guards' houses. You can also walk around to this part of the island if you turn right after exiting the tour.
After its use as a penitentiary, Alcatraz became surplus property and was seized by American Indians. They lived on the island for 19 months in the 1970s. As a National Park, the island is now home to hundreds of protected seagulls (bring a hat). One man standing in line with us thought that the Park Service was doing the island a disservice by not restoring it (which in fact they have plans to do). I believe it's fitting that the island is returning to a more natural state. The name "Alcatraz" was actually given to honor the island's first inhabitants - the birds.
VERY IMPORTANT: Buy your tickets at least two weeks in advance. We went to Alcatraz in July. Those unlucky tourists who weren't in the know came to buy tickets that day and found none were available until August! Apparently some tour groups have same-day tickets but best not to take chances.
Address: In the middle of San Francisco Bay
Directions: Alcatraz is reached by ferries of the Blue and Gold fleet from Pier 41
Phone: Blue & Gold (415) 705-5555
Me & Laughing Sal, Musee Mecanique, San Francisco
This "museum" is actually a private collection of working coin-operated mechanical penny-arcade "games." For just a few dollars worth of change, you can spend some time looking at "moving" stereocards, wrestling the Strong Man, getting your fortune told or playing the old Wurlitzer.
Admission to the museum is free, but you'll need quarters to get the machines to work - or just wander around and look over someone's shoulder after they've put money in.
Address: Pier 45 at the end of Taylor St.
Directions: Pier 45 (temporarily - used to be at Cliff House on the coast).
Phone: (415) 346-2000
Coit Tower Mural, San Francisco
Coit Tower offers 360 degree views of San Francisco from the top of a memorial built for firemen. You can drive up and wait in line for the small number of parking spots, or walk up the many, many steps from various starting points on residential streets.
Inside the tower are WPA murals depicting life around California after WWI.
You are no longer allowed to climb the steps of the tower to peer out (through windows) at the view. An elevator ticket costs $3.75.
Address: 1 Telegraph Hill Blvd
Phone: (415) 362- 0808
Golden Gate Fortune Cookies, San Francisco
Fortune cookies were actually invented in San Francisco, not in China, and here in the heart of Chinatown you can watch them being made by hand. There's not really a tour with this - you just come upon an open doorway, where two ladies are folding fortunes into fresh-from-the-griddle cookies. We were handed a card from a man who seemed to speak little English, but was excited to talk to us. You can buy flat, round unfolded cookies for $2 a bag (they have a slight sesame taste) or apparently order custom made cookies.
Address: 56 Ross Alley
View of Lombard from the moving car
Driving into SF we intended to drop our bags at the hotel and turn in the rental car. We drove in, though, along Lombard and I saw a wiggly part on the map. That must be the crooked street! So we first parked (wheels to the curb) and got out to take a look down the Crookedest Street in America. To complete our initial SF experience, a cable car stopped at the top of the hill. Then it was back into the convertible to tackle the street ourselves. I took pictures while hubby drove. He said it wasn't that big a deal. Oh well. Nice pictures, though, and a nice way to end our week of driving.
Address: Lombard Street. Descent begins at Hyde Street.
Southbound on the Golden Gate Bridge, CA
We wanted to stop and put the top down at the vista point before we went over the Golden Gate, but unfortunately I read the map wrong - the vista point was for those going north. You can get off at the park in Marin County before you hit the bridge (if you don't assume there's another pull-off like we did) for views before heading south into San Francisco.
The toll for going into SF is $5 for cars. As with most cities, leaving is free.
Address: Northwestern Tip of San Francisco Peninsula
Directions: The bridge is Highway 101's link from San Francisco to the counties North.
Phone: (415) 921-5858
Cable Car Driving Sheaves, San Francisco
This was our first stop in SF - and it's free! More than a museum - this is a working powerhouse. The cables are actually turning inside the building, and you can watch workers at their jobs below. Around the perimeter are explanatory plaques and historical information. Above is the cable car barn where the cars are stored at night (you can't see this from the museum).
Displays also focus on the cable car system revitalization in 1982 and historic cars which are now out of service.
Address: 1201 Mason St. at Washington
Directions: On Nob Hill. There are 4 cable car lines (Hyde, California, Mason and Powell).
Six Sisters, Alamo Square, San Francisco
If you have time, plan a stop in Alamo Square for a shot of the "Six Sisters", the colorfully painted Victorian houses along its edge in front of a backdrop of the SF skyline. This is a view of San Francisco that many people have seen on TV (think "Full House"). In reality, the park is quite small, and for some reason the ground was pretty soggy. Also, very hard to get that typical shot without some other tourist stepping in the way.
A friend of ours who lives in SF was actually inside one of these houses, visiting a friend of his who lived there. So we're less than six degrees from the "Six Sisters."
Address: At the intersection of Steiner and Hayes streets.
Directions: The #21 bus goes right past Alamo Square
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