12 of the iconic things to see in San Francisco

When I think of the San Francisco Bay area, there are several images that immediately come to mind.  If you truly want to get an over-view of this beautiful city, here is a starting point:

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge – picture taken from the Marin Headlands area

No, the Golden Gate Bridge is not gold in color.  But do you know what the color is officially called?  Answer is at the end of this post.

Built in only four years it opened in 1937, coming in ahead of schedule and under budget at $35 million.  Connecting the San Francisco peninsula with Marin County, which until this time could only be accessed directly by ferry service.  A toll is collected in only one direction (when entering the city).  No toll booths are currently in operation and the $5 toll is collected via an automatic transponder (FasTrak) device in your car or a $6 bill is sent in the mail.

Often shrouded in fog, the twin towers reach 746 feet tall, and the bridge is 1.7 miles in length.   The cables that support the bridge are 36.5 inches in diameter and are made up of 27,572 wires the thickness of pencils.  Here is what a cross-section of the cable looks like:

Cross section of cable that holds up the Golden Gate Bridge

Cross section of cable that holds up the Golden Gate Bridge

Walking is allowed in designated walkways on the east side of the bridge, as well as bicycle riding.

Dragon Gate - entrance to China Town

Dragon Gate – entrance to China Town

This is the largest Chinatown outside of Asia and the oldest in North America.  To truly appreciate all the ins and outs, a walking tour is recommended.  You can get introduced to the streets and alleys, entry gate, Portsmouth Square, visit a fortune cookie factory, check out herb shops and have many tasty restaurants to choose from.

De Young Museum, Golden Gate Park

De Young Museum, Golden Gate Park

Similar in shape, but coming in at 1017 acres, Golden Gate Park is 20% larger than Central Park in New York City.  In the mid 1800’s, as San Francisco grew, the citizenry decided that a park would be a good addition.  Setting aside the land which consisted of sparse sand dunes, a plan was put in motion.

The first step was to plant trees, to stabilize the land.  Fertilizer load after load was hauled in from the streets provided by horse-drawn streetcars and nearby farms.  By 1879 over 155,000 trees had been planted over the park.  Now a thriving, lush environment that is host to plants from all over the globe.

Besides green areas, inside the park can be found the De Young Museum, Spreckels Temple of Music, California Academy of Sciences, Japanese Tea Garden, Conservatory of Flowers, Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum, a series of lakes, Steinhart Aquarium, Kezar Stadium, a polo field, windmills, and bison.

Cable Car

Cable Car

In 1869, Andrew Hallidie, a recent immigrant from Great Britain, witnessed a horrific accident where five horses that were pulling a streetcar up a steep slippery hill, slid backwards and were either killed or had to be put down due to the severity of their injuries. Having the know how and means to make a change, he and his partners moved forward.

“Hallidie had been born in England and moved to the U.S. in 1852.  His father filed the first patent in Great Britain for the manufacture of wire-rope.  As a young man, Hallidie found uses for this technology in California’s Gold Country.  He used the wire-rope when designing and building a suspension bridge across Sacramento’s American River. He also found another use for the wire-rope when pulling heavy ore cars out of the underground mines on tracks. The technology was in place for pulling cable cars.

The next step bringing Hallidie closer to his fate was moving his wire-rope manufacturing to San Francisco.  All that was now needed was seeing the accident  for the idea to become full blown-a cable car railway system to deal with San Francisco’s fearsome hills.” ~ SFcablecar.com

Lombard Street

Lombard Street

Known by most as the “crookedest street in the world”, in fact it is not, but still a fun and scenic place to check out.  To drive the one-way section, start out at 1099 Lombard.  The curves are tight, the road is steep and the view forward highlights Coit Tower.

If you are without a car and just want to see Lombard Street or walk down the crooked street, you can take the Powell-Hyde cable car.  It stops at the top of Lombard Street (see cable car picture above).

Union Square

Union Square

Shoppers paradise – Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys, Bloomingdales, Neiman Marcus. Nordstrom’s to name a few.  This is also the heart of the city where you can catch a cable car, walk to China Town or the Financial District or pop into excellent art galleries.

Pier 39 - Fisherman's Wharf

Pier 39 – Fisherman’s Wharf

Walk along the Embarcadero from Pier 39 until it turns into Jefferson St.  Take your time and stroll past fishing fleets, offers to tour the bay or cruise to or around Alcatraz.  Stop in at any of the outstanding seafood restaurants that line the streets for Dungeness crab.  Continue on to Hyde street where the cable cars turn around.

Palace of Fine Arts

Palace of Fine Arts

Playing host to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915, this beautiful structure was one of 10 palaces built for the event.  Only a few short years after the devastating earthquake and fires, it represented a rebirth for the city.  Today this is the only one of the ten that remains.  It is a favorite place for wedding photographers and well worth a visit.

Coit Tower - photo courtesy of Pinterest

Coit Tower – photo courtesy of Pinterest

Sitting on top of Telegraph Hill, Coit Tower is one of several symbols of the city.  Currently closed for renovations, it is scheduled to reopen in April 2014.  The views from the parking lot are beautiful.

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island

Once one on the most well-known prisons in the country.  Alcatraz island was a maximum security home for the likes of Al Capone and “The Birdman of Alcatraz” (Robert Stroud).  In operation from 1934 to 1963, it is now a major tourist attraction.  Sitting just a mile off the coast, it makes a good side excursion.  There are several companies that will take you via boat “around” the island.  I recommend taking the trip that actually goes “to”  the island.  It often sells out in advance, so booking a reservation is recommended.

Painted Ladies

Painted Ladies

Another image that comes to mind when I think of  San Francisco is the colorful Victorian homes.  Scattered throughout several neighborhoods, the ones most often photographed are across the street from the Alamo Square Park.  When the lighting and angle is just right, you can capture the row of houses and a beautiful view of down town San Francisco behind them.  The lighting was not right when we visited, but the “ladies” were still beautiful

Scoma's of Sausalito

Scoma’s of Sausalito

And if time permits, take a drive across the Golden Gate Bridge or catch the ferry to Sausalito.  A small picturesque town that offers up views of the bay.  One of my favorite restaurants on Fisherman’s Wharf is Scoma’s.  A little spendy and dated now, but the food is still delicious.  They have a sister restaurant now in Sausalito.  I have not eaten here, but if it is anywhere close to the original, you can’t go wrong.


And here is the answer to the trivia question:  The official color of the Golden Gate Bridge is International Orange.

Gratitude Moment:  Today I am grateful for my imagination and ability to see beyond the expected.

About Tim and Joanne Joseph

Hi and welcome! We are Tim and Joanne Joseph and we have just embarked on our latest adventure. We hope you will join us!
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2 Responses to 12 of the iconic things to see in San Francisco

  1. Maha says:

    Lovely round-up. My 12 iconic things would vary some and be a little more “honed in”, local, and quirky, but still Classic San Francisco.


    • Maha, I would love to know your recommendations. Favorite places, where to eat, things to see/do, or whatever. I was reliving and revisiting favorites from when I lived there in the 1970’s which was a trip down memory lane. I’m sure someone that lives there now could offer newer highlights and better insights.


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