Learn about San Francisco, by reading San Francisco – The
Place to Lose Your Heart by Charlie Spence, WTA Member and
Travel Writer. It features a mini, but thorough tour of the
destination, plus all you'll need to know to plan your trip
including getting there, objective information on places to stay and
eat, and things to do. At the end of the article, we've provided a
summary of the contact information for your easy reference. Enjoy!
San Francisco—The Place to Lose Your Heart
by Charlie Spence, WTA Member and
I must confess. This is a love letter. I have
had an unabashed love affair with San Francisco before I ever went there to live
and for, lo, these many years that we have been separated. But this is not a
surprising revelation to anyone who has ever approached this charming beauty.
San Francisco—don’t ever call her ‘Frisco—covers
only 49 square miles but no place will you find so much for so many assembled
into so little space. Despite her limited size, there is no sense of crowding,
and large areas are devoted to pure pleasures, such as Golden Gate Park, the
Presidio, and Palace of Fine Arts.
Fisherman’s Wharf is the most popular tourist destination in
Still a working fishing pier, it receives thousands of tons of fresh fish and
The city has something for everybody. The number
one attraction for persons of all ages is Pier 39—Fisherman’s Wharf. Seafood
cannot get any fresher than directly from the boats to the kitchen of one of the
Wharf’s 13 bay-view restaurants or a steaming crab pot on the sidewalk. Street
performers spread their gaiety. Sea lions frolic near the shore. Arcades,
attractions for people of all ages, and a festive marketplace with 110 stores
make this a difficult place to leave. But leave we must because San Francisco
has so much more.
Market Street divides the city. North of this
divide, the streets are in a pattern that one can reach Market Street by making
only right hand turns. At the foot of Market is the old Ferry Building, where
connections were made with Oakland and the East Bay before construction of the
Bay Bridge, not to be confused with the Golden Gate Bridge that connects to
Marin County in the north.
Cable cars climb all the way to the stars.
If you want to look like a native, stand on the step instead of taking a seat.
Powell and Market may be just about the center
of the downtown area. Here, one route of the cable cars has a turntable to
reverse its course. Stick around and watch as the grip man swings the car
around. As you ride the cars or walk along the street on which they run listen
for the bells rung by the grip men. Each grip man has a unique ring.
Union Square isn’t far away and there you will
find additional stores and hotels. Find shops around the square and on nearby
Maiden Lane, a narrow, two-block-long lane that got its name from business
activities conducted there by ladies during the city’s raucous years. Stores in
SF are some of the finest you will find anywhere and the shopping districts
attract persons from all over northern California. Because of the many stores
with fine styles and the area’s weather that permits spending more on fewer
individual pieces instead of dividing the expense among clothing for four
different seasons, San Francisco has been said to have some of the
finest-dressed women in the country. This is particularly true along Montgomery
Street, the West’s financial district.
Nearby to Union Square is the Tenderloin
district and wary travelers are alert if they enter this section.
On many street corners in the downtown area
flower stands not only provide easy access to purchase of flowers but contribute
to the beauty of the city. These stands as well as the many retail flower shops
in the area get their goods from the flower mart. Started in the late 1800s when
local flower growers brought their products three days a week to Lotta’s
Fountain in the downtown city, the Flower Terminal has developed and grown with
the city. Today, the Terminal at Sixth and Brannan Streets in the South of
Market Street area is where 60 vendors provide their wares to local retailers
and where the public may shop during certain hours.
Of course, one of your stops will be at
Chinatown on Grant Street. Fascinating shops, delightful restaurants, Oriental
products, and interesting people make this a place to spend many delightful
hours. You’ll find a wide variety of colorful products—silk, jade, artifacts,
and antiques. Ross Alley between Grant and Stockton was once the site of opium
dens and brothels, but more recently has served as the backdrop in movies such
as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Karate Kid II. Along
Ross Alley drop in and see how fortune cookies are made. Grant Street is lined
with Chinese restaurants offering delicious dishes. If you are fortunate enough
to know someone who just happens to know someone who can get you to a restaurant
when the natives of Chinatown eat, you will find the Chinese menu without the
But don’t limit yourself to the beauty and
shopping of the downtown area. The Presidio is a park like no other. Once it was
the premiere west coast installation for the U.S. Army. Now it is an historic
landmark and part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area, the world’s
largest national park in an urban setting. In 1776, the Presidio was established
as a military post by a Spanish expedition that marched north from Senora,
Mexico. It became a frontier outpost after Mexico obtained its freedom from
Spain and during the Mexican-American War of 1846 the U.S. Army took control. As
a result of base closures, the Presidio was transferred to the National Park
Service in 1994.
Drive out to see Mission Delores, the oldest
building in San Francisco. The Franciscan Friars and the Ohlone Indians built it
in 1791. This was when the land was claimed by the Spaniards and called Alta
California. In back of the adobe structure the Mission Cemetery has many
Drop over to the Marina District and visit the
Palace of Fine Arts. This structure was built originally for the 1915
Panama-Pacific Exhibition. For years it was neglected even though the public
loved the romantic lagoon and Romanesque rotunda. In 1966 it was rebuilt and now
you will enjoy one of the most unusual museums in the world—the hands-on science
Take a cable car to the top of California Street
and Nob Hill. Here the gold rush and railroad nabobs (slang for wealthy men,
which gave Nob Hill its name) built their mansions. Here now are some of the
mansions of these millionaires and some of the city’s finest hotels. Enjoy a
great view of the area from the “Top o the Mark” room of the Mark Hopkins Hotel.
The famous Lombard Street is between Hyde and
Leavenworth. This “crookedest street in the world” winds through eight hairpin
turns in a single block.
Alcatraz in the middle of San Francisco Bay was the home of Al
Robert Stroud “The Birdman of Alcatraz” and others who found
this place a chilling destination for maximum-security convicts.
You will certainly want to take a boat of the
Blue and Gold Fleet from Pier 41at Beach Street and The Embarcadero out to
Alcatraz Island in the middle of San Francisco Bay. This visit to the historic
and infamous federal prison is one of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s
most popular destinations. Not only will you tour the prison but also see the
gardens, tide pools, and bird colonies that are being preserved. You will hear
recorded interviews with actual guards of this former home for such individuals
as Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly. In addition, there are some
spectacular views of “The City,” as natives call it, and of The Golden Gate
San Francisco rarely gets hot and rarely gets
cold. Should you time your visit during the summer months, bring something
besides your usual light colored and lightweight clothes. If you don’t the
natives will smile at you as they pass you on the street corner as you stand
there shivering. Being friendly, however, many might say “hello, tourist.”
And by the way, as you enjoy this unique city if
you happen to come across my heart don’t be surprised. That’s where I left it.
How to Get
Francisco International Airport is just down the peninsula from the
City. It is served by more than 40 regional, national, and
international airlines. Across the San Francisco Bay, the Oakland
International Airport is the facility used by about a dozen
airports, including many of the lower-cost carriers. Train service
comes in to San Francisco from the south or into Oakland. Driving
from the north takes you into the City over the Golden Gate Bridge.
From the east you cross the Bay Bridge and from the south you drive
up the peninsula.
Where to Stay
Francisco has a variety of places ranging from bed and breakfast’s
through economy motels and hotels to plush facilities like the Mark
Hopkins, Fairmont, or the Huntington on Nob Hill. Decide in what
part of town you want to stay and there will be good accommodations
there for you.
can check rates and book your room and rental car using WTA’s Online
Travel Booking Service,
savings on hotel rates may apply.
Where to Dine
will have a difficult time getting a bad meal in San Francisco.
Almost anyplace you go will serve food long to remember. Of course,
you will want to try several at Fisherman’s Wharf, some in
Chinatown, dishes in the various districts like North Beach, the
Mission District, the Embarcadero, and other diverse locations in
this magnetic city.
information is current as of November 2005. It is recommended that you contact
the numbers, and/or visit the web sites above to determine any changes to the