Pack your bags and head for the city by the bay — beautiful San Francisco. San Francisco was founded in 1776 by Spanish colonists, and has been home to a wide variety of people, from gold miners to grand Victorians, counterculture hippies to tech innovators. San Francisco encompasses more than 200 years of architecture, culture, and history, with something for everyone. San Francisco has an abundance of green space to be enjoyed. Golden Gate Park offers more than one thousand acres of land with free entry, and several inexpensive ticketed attractions including the de Young Museum, the Japanese Tea Garden, and the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Along San Francisco Bay, the Presidio is a former military installation offering miles of walking trails and scenic views from the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. Enjoy the finest of the West Coast’s Greco-Roman architecture while strolling around the Palace of Fine Arts. Built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific Exhibition, the rotunda and its extended colonnade is the perfect place to take pictures, enjoy music, or watch the birds. Or, visit vibrant Mission Dolores Park to see the city skyline before checking out the surrounding neighborhoods’ historic venues: Mission Dolores Basilica is an eighteenth-century church and the oldest surviving structure in the city; the Castro Theater is home to the only remaining leatherette ceiling in the United States and runs movies nightly; and the Haight-Ashbury district is widely regarded as the birthplace of psychedelic hippie culture and the Summer of Love of 1967.
Of course, you can’t miss out on several of the city’s most iconic and well-loved destinations. Enjoy sweeping views and watch the fog roll in from the top of blustery Twin Peaks, the second highest summit in the city. Drive up and down the steep streets of Pacific Heights and surrounding neighborhoods and enjoy the modern architecture of the multi-million dollar mansions, as well as the century-old Victorian houses — you may recognize the “Painted Ladies” on Steiner Street from the opening credits of Full House. Visit the Russian Hill neighborhood’s “crookedest street in the world”: Lombard Street. The eight hairpin switchbacks are surrounded by beautifully manicured gardens, and visitors can either walk along the street via two stairways, or drive from top to bottom. If you’re not so keen to test your luck (and your brakes) on San Francisco’s steepest hills, hop on a cable car and experience one of the most famous American transportation systems. Started in the 1870s, it is the only remaining manually operated cable car system in the world. To learn more about the history of the cars and see older models, visit the free Cable Car Museum in the Nob Hill neighborhood.
If you’re feeling hungry at the end of the day, head down to Fisherman’s Wharf. There are a number of restaurants and snack spots: test out California staple In-N-Out Burger, or grab an iconic sourdough from Boudin Bakery (San Francisco’s unique weather is critical to this bread’s slightly sour flavor and dense texture). Take your provisions and walk along the shoreline Embarcadero; follow the sounds of barking to Pier 39 and meet some of the city’s most famous residents: a pack of sea lions sunning on the docks!
For some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge, take a short drive across the bay to the Marin Headlands in Sausalito. The hilly, winding roads of this national recreation area are perfect for viewing the bridge up close. Head down to the shoreline to dip your toes in the chilly Pacific at Black Sands Beach, or trek out to Point Bonita lighthouse, one of the oldest on the West Coast, to watch the fog roll across the bay — you might even catch some seals resting on the rocks below.
Just an hour’s drive north of the city lies tranquil Muir Woods National Monument, a grove of giant redwoods at the base of Mount Tamalpais. Parking is by reservation only, so be sure to go online in advance. Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world and only found on the Pacific coast; not to be confused with the giant sequoias. Established in 1908, the 554 acre protected area is named for famed naturalist John Muir, one of the west’s pioneering explorers and a strong advocate for preservation. In 1945, members of the United Nations Conference on International Organization joined together in Muir Woods’ peaceful Cathedral Grove to honor the recently deceased Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the “chief architect of the United Nations, and apostle of lasting peace for all mankind.” Appreciate the quiet presence of the everlasting trees and reflect on the enduring natural wonders John Muir fought so hard to protect for future generations.