San Francisco’s many neighborhoods provide a rich diversity of culture and unique beauty that keeps this city among the top must-visit destinations in America. The City by the Bay can make for an exciting trip, but visitors should be forewarned that it is not easy to explore its complex geography by car; a knowledge of the public transportation system is helpful. Fortunately, the city’s Muni (short for municipal transportation) offers multiple ways to get around, including the iconic cable cars as well as buses and trains. It should also be noted that there is no shortage of taxis here. When it comes to fun, there are many options as each neighborhood offers its own ways for visitors to enjoy themselves.
Golden Gate Park – Exploring Nature and the Arts in the Bay Area
From its museum to its gardens, this park alone may be worth the trip. Golden Gate Park occupies more than 1,000 acres and offers a wide assortment of fun and interesting things to explore, including the California Academy of Sciences.
The Academy is housed in a 400,000 square foot facility and includes an aquarium and planetarium as well as a rainforest that is over four stories tall. The park also has the Conservatory of Flowers which provides exhibits of different types of plant life, ranging from aquatic varieties to various types of potted plants. The Conservatory of Flowers includes a 60-foot Victorian greenhouse and has almost 2,000 plant species. There is a Japanese Tea Garden that is a leftover from the late 19th century when the park was built and there is also a historic carousel that is open to both children and adults. For those interested in the arts, there is the De Young Museum which aims to provide a variety of high quality art exhibitions. The park is the perfect place to picnic, but visitors who want restaurant dining will have no trouble finding eating establishments in its vicinity that serve everything from Irish pub food to middle eastern dishes.
Touring Alcatraz – Sightseeing on “The Rock”
Alcatraz Island is home to what is possibly the most well-known abandoned prison in the world. Its notoriety is partly due to it having been the home of notorious criminals like Al Capone and Machinegun Kelly. It is interesting that despite its reputation as a place of desolation, its location in the bay is actually quite beautiful. Visitors can tour the interior of the facility day or night, with the day tour being the more popular option. While on the tour, they can choose to listen to an audio recording that will help them learn about the island and its history. Because the tour is so popular, it may be best to visit Alcatraz in the winter when the crowds are not quite as large.
Beauty at SFMOMA – Enjoying the Arts at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
The thriving arts scene is among the reasons that this city is such a popular destination. Visitors with an interest in art can follow up their visit to Golden Gate Park’s De Young Museum with one to SFMOMA. The museum started life as the first on the West Coast to be exclusively dedicated to modern art and continues that tradition today with four floors of works by notable modern artists like Jeff Koons and Piet Mondrian. There are more than 27,000 artworks housed in the building, so SFMOMA may take up a considerable amount of time for a serious art lover. The types of art range from paintings and photographs to a variety of design objects. Visitors may opt for an audio tour or use one of SFMOMA’s interactive kiosks to help them navigate. For those who want a souvenir of their time exploring the museum, there is a museum-store that sells a variety of art books; the store also sells furniture and products for children. There is a café on site that provides fine dining and which has both indoor and outdoor seating. Upcoming exhibitions in 2013 include ones by Garry Winogrand and Ben Kinmont.
An iconic destination, this waterfront neighborhood is the home base of San Francisco’s fishermen as well as the location of many of the Bay Area’s best seafood restaurants. In addition to the restaurants, the local sights include the sea lions at Pier 39 and the Maritime Museum. The museum has historic vessels and a research center. That this is one of the most popular Californian destinations for tourists can be seen in its many souvenir shops and wax museums. There is also the Ghirardelli Square chocolate factory and many events throughout the year at which visitors can enjoy themselves.
Rediscovering the 60s – Adventures in “The Haight”
The Haight is actually comprised of two communities: Haight-Fillmore and Haight-Ashbury. Considered the birthplace of the 1960’s American counter-culture movement, this neighborhood has changed considerably since then; in 2013 it features upscale shopping and trendy cafes. Despite the fact that the ’60s are long gone, it is still possible to find its remnants here in a few smoke-shops and hippie-influenced stores. However, the population these days is generally young and focused on fashion; the neighborhood is known for its thriving nightlife and music scene. The Haight’s atmosphere is relaxed, despite the proliferation of hipsters and vintage clothing boutiques; visitors may want to avoid touring on the weekends as it is usually crowded with tourists. Among the enjoyable places here are Buena Vista Park which offers 36 acres of forest with trails for hiking and jogging. There is also the Grateful Dead House, which is where the legendary band lived together in the 60s.
A Taste of the Exotic – Trekking Through Chinatown
Though many visitors may find it hard to believe, this relatively small neighborhood (geographically speaking) is actually the largest Chinese community outside of China. It has its own unique feel and energy and is a must-visit destination for those traveling to the Bay Area. Started by immigrant workers who came to America to help build railroads, this community of over 100,000 people provides a taste of Chinese culture with its pagoda-style roofs and delicious authentic food. The best course of action to experience Chinatown is to not have one at all; visitors should simply walk along randomly exploring the shops and soaking up the atmosphere.
San Francisco’s diversity is evident even in its climate as neighboring parts of the city can sometimes experience dramatic differences in weather. All of that diversity is packed into a relatively small space, measuring roughly six square miles; this means it is easier to take in than those cities that are spread out over a larger area. For those who seek a 2013 vacation trip that will provide a variety of different experiences for those with different tastes and interests, San Francisco is one of the best places to visit.
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