No visit to San Francisco is complete without visiting some of the most popular San Francisco tourist destinations. Here is a sampling of seven must-see places you have to check out on your next visit:
1) California Palace of the Legion of Honor
Located at 34th Avenue & Clement Street, The California Palace of the Legion of Honor is an art experience you won’t want to miss. First off, there’s the building itself. Built in 1924, the Legion of Honor is a three-quarter scale replica of the Palais de La LÃ©gion d’Honneur in Paris, built to honor the 3,600 Californians who lost their lives on the battlefields of France during World War I.
After being wowed by the building, you will probably want to view the collection of Rodin sculptures, as well as some other notable acquisitions, including Claude Monet’s “The Grand Canal, Venice,” 1908 and El Greco’s “St. John the Baptist,” circa 1600.
Who knew touring a former prison could become so popular?
Alcatraz is a an island a few miles off the coast of San Francisco which had been used as a military prison in 1907, then as a Federal prison in the 1930s, housing the most hardened criminals. Some of its most famous prisoners include: George Kelly, bank robber and kidnapper, also known as “Machine Gun Kelly;” Floyd Hamilton, driver for Bonnie and Clyde; and Al Capone, Chicago Mob Boss, known as “Scarface.”
In 1973, Alcatraz was incorporated into the National Parks system and became a tourist attraction. Since then, over 14 million visitors have taken the 10-minute boat ride from Pier 41 in San Francisco to see ‘The Rock’. Tickets generally sell out, sometimes weeks in advance.
Chinatown is home to the largest Asian population outside China, and is located in an area near North Beach, bound roughly by Grant Avenue and Bush Street, Broadway and Larkin Street. Here you’ll find shopping and great food, including Mee Mee Bakery at 1328 Stockton between Broadway and Vallejo. Mee Mee’s is reputed to be the originator of the fortune cookie. For great seafood, one of your best bets would be Yuet Lee at 1300 Stockton Street, near where North Beach and Chinatown merge.
4) Golden Gate Park
You can easily spend an entire day at Golden Gate Park – and you should. It’s great to just go there and walk, or sit and enjoy the day. But, if you’re into exploring, there’s certainly enough for you to explore, such as:
The Strybing Arboretum – 70 acres of gardens with trails, blooming trees and redwoods, herbs, flowers and duck ponds.
Stow Lake – where you can rent paddleboats and bicycles.
Spreckels Lake – where you can watch the miniature radio-controlled boat races.
Bison Paddock – Located along John F. Kennedy Dr., the Bison Paddock is an exhibit of the San Francisco Zoo where you can see, what else, bison!
5) Union Square
Union Square is the place to go for serious shopping. Bound by Stockton, Powell, Post and Geary, several buses run to the area and it’s a short walk from many of the most commonly used hotels. There’s also a BART and Muni (subway) exit at Market Street.
Or, you can stay at the Grand Hyatt on Union Square and just walk from your room.
Everywhere you walk in the Union Square area you’ll find store after store after store, such as: Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Giorgiao Armani, H&M, Hermes, Baccarat and Gianni Versace.
6) Haight Ashbury (“The Haight”)
Well, it’s not Union Square, but it might not be what you’d expect either. While Haight Ashbury was the center of “hippiedom” in the 1960s, the Haight today is home to exclusive boutiques, high-end vintage-clothing shops, hip clubs and cafÃ©s. No matter what you’re into you’ll find something you like in the Haight, whether it’s a hemp bracelet, collectible kitchenware, punk t-shirts, skateboard gear, a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream or a vintage gown costing over $1,000.
While you’re in the neighborhood you can walk by former houses of 1960s musicians, including the former home of the members of the Grateful Dead at 710 Ashbury, the former home of Janis Joplin at 112 Lyon, and the former home of the Jefferson Airplane at 2400 Fulton.
7) Neighborhoods on the Muni Metro and Bus Lines
Of course, San Francisco is more than just popular tourist spots. People actually do live there. Why not go to some not-so-touristy areas located along the bus and Muni Metro line routes and check out some really fun and unique neighborhoods, most of which have their own shopping areas?
By Shari Hearn
Shari Hearn is a writer and creator of Top Vacation Spots, where you can learn about such things as things to do in San Francisco and tropical island vacations.