"The San Francisco Bay Area is so beautiful, I hesitate to preach about
heaven while I’m here,” said Evangelist Billy Graham, and his words sum
up the affection residents and visitors alike feel for this outstanding
San Francisco is a city where you will never get bored. Golden Gate
Park, for example, has attractions for everyone. Originally nothing more
than a bunch of sand dunes, the park is now over a thousand acres of
grass, trees, shrubbery and athletic facilities. It even has its own
bison, yacht lake, nine hole golf course and a few museums.
And whatever else you see in San Francisco, be sure you do not miss
the Academy of Sciences, located in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.
Originally founded in 1853 as the first science institution in the west,
the Academy moved to the park after the 1906 earthquake damaged its
original location downtown.
The building, which was designed by Pritzker Prize winning architect
Renzo Piano, has the aim of showing how humans can live and work in
environmentally-responsible methods. And it does from the minute you
walk in by having you enter into a large piazza and face an awesome
interior four stories high.
Here you’ll find the Rainforests of the World exhibit with 40 types
of birds on display, along with a variety of plants and trees. Note that
the visitor gets a sense of both transparency and connectedness between
the building and the outside park through the use of clear glass. You
feel that you’re actually outside IN the park, rather than inside
aconfined building. All this gives the institution an open, airy
Enjoy the Amazonian Flooded Rain Forest and see the piranhas on
display. You’ll be glad there’s a lot of tunnel between you and them!
On the lower floor there’s the Water Planet with over 100 tanks to
view. There’s even an albino alligator on display. But don’t worry --
he’s not too interested in the humans watching him, he’s much more
interested in staying snug on his heated rock.
Beautiful in its setting is the Coral Reef with 212,000 gallons of
water and over 2,000 fish. This is the world’s second biggest (and
world’s deepest) coral reef exhibit after the one in Townsville,
Huge is the coral reef exhibit and huge too is Buccalo, a giant sea
bass who’s been with the academy since 1980. Kids of all ages just love
Be sure to see the "Living Roof” with its native strawberries,
stonecrop and California poppies. These plants will all reduce storm
water runoff by up to 3.6 million gallons of water per year and will
even attract the endangered Bay Checkerspot Butterfly. The award-winning
San Francisco Academy cer-tainly deserves its title as the Leader of
Scientific Research on the Natural World. Don’t miss it!
Crowds are big, so go in the off-peak times for a chance to view
everything. Hours are Mon to Sat 9.30 to 5pm and Sunday 11 to 5.
Admission for adults is $24.95.
Across from the Academy is the de Young Museum, San Francisco’s
oldest museum. It has actually been an integral part of the city’s
cultural fabric since 1985. The collections include: American paintings;
international con-temporary art; decorative arts and crafts from the
17th-21st century; arts from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas; and
western and non-western textiles.
Another great museum is the Legion of Honor. It was built to
commemorate California’s soldiers who died during World War I, the
Legion of Honor is a beautiful neoclassical building located in San
Francisco’s Lincoln Park. Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the Gold Gate
Bridge and all of San Francisco, the Legion is noted for its
breathtaking setting. Its collections include European decorative arts
and painting, ancient art and one of the country’s largest and finest
collections of works on paper that includes sev-eral prints, drawings,
photographs and books. Don’t miss these two excellent museums!
One of the best ways to get a feel for everything that is available
in the city is to take a bus tour. The most popular is the Gray Line
which gives a narrated history of the city with plenty of stops for
photographs. Some of the sights you’ll see include the Transamerica
Pyramid, completed in 1972 amidst great controversy. These days the only
debate seems to be whether the man in the top office has a pointed head
The tour passes along Dolores Street and stops at Mission Dolores,
the oldest structure in the city dating back to 1791. It was built by
the first settlers who ensured it would be around a long time with four
feet thick walls. In 1987, the Pope visited San Francisco and celebrated
mass at the Basilica, next to the mission. While you’re here, it’s
worth spending time in the museum.
You’ll probably notice several small reservoirs throughout the city.
These are to safeguard against running out of water in the event of
another earthquake. In 1906 water was in short supply and dynamite had
to be used to blow up buildings in order to create a firebreak and
prevent the fire spreading.
Most visitors will want to see Fish-erman’s Wharf with all of its
seafood restaurants and colorful boats, but don’t miss the nearby Pier
39 which is a highly regarded attraction in its own right. The pier is
the second most visited attraction in California and the third most
visited in America. Many of the scores of boats that are docked there
sit all year round, although they are actually only used in January and
February when the herring are caught. One day’s catch alone can be worth
up to $20,000 and so valuable is this that boat captains will pay for a
year’s worth of rent just to use the berths for two months.
From Pier 39 you can take a worth-while bay cruise with narrated
history that lasts over an hour. (Blue and Gold Line offers several
tours during the day and takes you under both of the bay’s famous
bridges) The boat takes you past Fort Mason, a historic military fort
which is now home to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. You’ll
see the USS Pampanito docked on the quay, a retired submarine which sank
six enemy ships during World War II. And of course you’ll get a chance
to see the infamous Golden Gate Bridge up close.
Golden Gate Bridge has been named the most recognizable and most
beau-tiful American landmark (although it is not the best selling
postcard--an award that goes to Lombard Street, "the most crooked street
in the world”)
This is the bridge they said could not be built. Yet with a length of
a mile and three quarters and a depth of 100 feet buried in bedrock,
the bridge clearly proves the naysayers wrong. Its classic international
orange paint is the best for protecting the bridge against the wind and
elements. The name itself comes not from the color of the paint, but
from the Golden Gate straits which separate the city of San Francisco
from Marin County.
The wind in the bay has been known to cause the bridge to sway up to
21 feet at a time, all while the bridge contends with other elements
like the famous San Francisco fog which descends on the city twice a day
during the summer months. The fog adds an air of mystery to the bridge
and the city that stands to attention behind it. It was in fact because
of this fog that early explorers originally missed the entrance to the
Other sights you’ll see on the tour include Coit Tower, built as a
monument to the San Francisco firemen from funds donated by Lillie
Hitchcock Coit. The top of the monument is shaped like the nozzle of a
Across the bay you can see Sausilito, once a whaling town with its
colorful Mediterranean style houses. Angel Island is the largest and
most beautiful island in the area, inhabited 3,000 years ago by Indians
and in more recent times used by the military as a quarantine area--a
sort of "Ellis Island of the West”. Further on you’ll see the Bay bridge
which connects San Francisco to Oakland. This bridge contains more
concrete than the entire Empire State Building.
And no trip to San Francisco would be complete without seeing the
island of Alcatraz, so named after the peli-cans that were originally
discovered there (Portuguese for pelican = alca-traces). This is San
Francisco’s top tourist attraction and deservedly so. Originally an
army fortress, Alcatraz became a maximum security prison in 1934 housing
such famous inmates as Al Capone, Robert Stroud-the birdman of Alcatraz
and Machine Gun Kelly. It was also occupied by American Indians who
took over the fort in the 1970s for 19 months to campaign for American
Indian rights. Escape attempts were not unusual with the most
unbelievable being four men who forged the commander’s signature
authorizing their own release.
The most famous escape however was by two brothers and a third
prisoner who used spoons to escape out the ventilator shafts. They used
dummies in their beds (with real hair from the barber’s shop) and
fashioned life-vests from makeshift materials. Their bodies were never
found and it’s believed they perished in the treacherous undercurrents
in the bay.
A video is available showing a 12 minute history of the island and a
one hour self-guided audio tour is available (and highly recommended).
Prisoners and guards alike describe life on "the rock”. All prisoners
were offered food, shelter, clothing and medical care while everything
else was a privilege which had to be earned. Those who caused trouble
could find themselves in "the hole” the nickname for solitary
confinement. One prisoner passed his time here throwing a button into
the air, hunting for it in the darkness and once finding it, throwing it
"D” block was the isolation block and although the cells were larger
than elsewhere in the prison, they were cold and damp. Robert Stroud
spent six years here before being moved to the hospital area for another
11 years. Here he was confined to his cell 24 hours a day.
Prisoners who held jobs would spend 18 hours in their cells while
those without would spend 23 hours there (except those in solitary
confinement where it was 24 hours). Visitors can wander into the dining
room where the food was rated highly.
Once you see it, you’ll realize why San Francisco too is highly
rated. Visitors end up developing a lasting crush on this beautiful city
by the bay.
Sheila O’Connor is a freelance travel writer who
lives in San Francisco. Although Sheila has traveled all over the world,
she says there is nowhere quite like home—San Francisco.