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Photography - Ivan Andrejić


San Francisco It may measure less than 50 square miles/130 square kilometers, but San Francisco justly ranks as one of the greatest cities in the world. Famous for grand-dame Victorians, classic cable cars, dynamic diversity, a beautiful waterfront, and a soaring crimson bridge, the “City by the Bay” truly has it all. Trend-defining cuisine ranging from Michelin-starred dining to outrageous food trucks; world-renowned symphony, ballet, theater, and opera; plus almost boundless outdoor adventures, San Francisco justifiably stands out as one of the ultimate must-sees on any traveler’s wish list.

Golden Gate Bridge Golden Gate Bridge. You can’t visit San Francisco without getting an up-close look at the Golden Gate Bridge. Luckily, this attraction fits into any budget, because it’s free. You can walk or ride a bike across the 1.7-mile bridge. You can even participate in a free walking tour on Thursdays and Sundays so you can hear the history of this landmark as you explore. Crossing the strait of the Golden Gate from San Francisco’s Presidio to the Marin headlands for 1.7 miles is the world-renowned Golden Gate Bridge, easily identified by its International Orange color. Opened in 1937, the bridge was built at a cost of $35 million in principal and $39 million in interest and 11 workers’ lives. The single-suspension span is anchored by twin towers that reach skyward 746 feet, and was once taller than any building in San Francisco. To support the suspended roadway, two cables, each more than 7,000 feet in length and both containing 80,000 miles of wire stretch over the top of the towers and are rooted in concrete anchorages on shore. More than 10 years in planning due to formidable opposition, but only four years in actual construction, the Golden Gate Bridge brought the communities of San Francisco and Marin counties closer together.

With towers soaring 746 feet/227 meters into the sky, its span arcing across the mouth of San Francisco Bay, and all of it painted bright red-orange, the Golden Gate Bridge is, quite simply, amazing. It’s pretty easy (and free) to walk across the bridge itself, or to explore the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center, which offers a colorful look at the bridge’s history, as well as the original 12-foot stainless-steel “test tower” used in 1933. You’ll learn, for starters, why a bridge called “Golden Gate” is in fact orange. It’s generally accepted that the mouth of San Francisco Bay—the narrow strait that the bridge spans, was named Chrysopylae (Greek for “Golden Gate”) by early explorer John C. Fremont. (Captain Fremont thought the strait looked like a strait in Istanbul named Chrysoceras, or “Golden Horn.”) So it makes sense that the bridge is named after the expanse of water that it crosses. But what about that crimson color? Call it an unexpected surprise. When the steel for the bridge was first installed in place, it was only covered with red primer. A consulting engineer liked it, suggested the color be kept, and helped develop the bridge’s final paint color. Technically, that color is “International Orange,” but whatever it is, it’s an eye-grabber, whether you’re driving, walking, or pedaling across the 1.7-mile/2.7-kilometer span. Note that it can be a bit nippy and windy on the span, especially when the fog slips in (especially common in summer), so dress in layers, and bring a hat or flip up a hood to keep your head warm.

Alcatraz Island In 1854, the West Coast’s first lighthouse was built on San Francisco Bay’s Alcatraz Island to guide the ships coming and going through the Golden Gate. Government officials quickly decided that the tiny, 22-acre island aptly nicknamed “The Rock” was also an ideal location for a federal penitentiary—so close and yet so far from bustling San Francisco. The island’s sheer cliffs were surrounded by perilous currents, extreme tides, and hypothermic water temperatures, so escape from this prison seemed impossible. Alcatraz served as a military prison from the time of the Civil War until 1934, when it was converted to a civilian penitentiary. Although it operated for only three decades, The Rock remains fixed in the American psyche as the ultimate penal colony—thanks in part to Hollywood films such as the Clint Eastwood classic Escape from Alcatraz. The prison housed some of the country’s most notorious bad guys: Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and “Bird Man” Robert Stroud, a murderer who became an expert in ornithological diseases.

Presidio The southern anchor of the Golden Gate Bridge, the verdant, scenic Presidio, artfully reclaimed Crissy Field and the Civil War-era Fort Point are just a few of the attractions in the northwest corner of town. That’s not even counting the area’s Richmond District, which hosts a major arts museum, a major city park, the historic, recently reinvented Cliff House restaurant at the ocean’s edge and the city’s de facto second Chinatown, on Clement Street. The Presidio, with its towering, aromatic eucalyptus trees, is a 2.8 square-mile former military base reborn as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Refurbished red brick military buildings are now family housing, offices for 225 organizations and attractions such as the Walt Disney Family Museum, located at the Parade Ground. Yes, there is a golf course. There are also 300 bird species, a dozen hiking trails, multiple picnic areas, and a campground. The Inn at the Presidio, which opened in 2012, is a LEED-certified hotel right in the park. Incidentally, the most visually stunning way to reach the Golden Gate Bridge is the road less traveled: twisting, turning, hillside-hugging Lincoln Boulevard.

The Inner Richmond is rich in local favorites such as the toy-bedecked Toy Boat Dessert Cafe and the much-loved bookstore Green Apple Books. Its variety of dim sum, Korean and Thai restaurants are also home to some of the city’s best places for cheap and delicious eats. The Outer Richmond showcases the splendid Legion of Honor fine arts museum in Lincoln Park, with its fine city and water views, plus rugged Lands End and Eagle’s Point for hiking, golf and glorious views. On a sunny day, pack a picnic and spend some time relaxing near the remains of the Sutro Baths.

Fisherman’s Wharf More than 75 percent of San Francisco’s visitors include Fisherman’s Wharf on their itinerary. The Wharf ’s famous fishing fleet make for a terrific fish story, while souvenir shops in the waterfront marketplace and historic ships add to the atmosphere. Fishing boats, sea lions basking in the sun, seafood stalls and restaurants, steaming crab cauldrons, family entertainment and sourdough French bread bakeries … you know you’re in world-famous Fisherman’s Wharf. The historic F-Line streetcar and two cable car lines terminate in the area and sightseeing boats and boat charters link to Alcatraz («The Rock») , Angel Island and other points around San Francisco Bay.

Embarcadero Sea captains and captains of commerce, the old haunts of the Barbary Coast and an island with worldly airs yield a bounty of fun. Lined with deep-water piers, The Embarcadero is literally where one embarks. And, oh, “the places you’ll go!” At the foot of Market Street, is the Ferry Building, a vibrant public space housing a food hall, restaurants and a farmers market. The Ferry Building is also the terminal for ferries to Marin County, Vallejo, Oakland and Alameda. Piers 7 and 14 offer vistas of the skyscrapers of the Financial District and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. The Exploratorium, a “21st century learning laboratory”, engages all ages at its new home on Pier 15. Across the bay is Treasure Island, a man-made island that was the site of the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. Jackson Square, one of 11 historic districts, has many buildings dating from the mid-1800s some of which are supported by old ships masts.

Mission Dolores Park Mission Dolores Park. Many festivals, performances, and other cultural events are held here, and on sunny afternoons people flock to the park to play, picnic, lounge, walk their dogs, and enjoy spectacular views of the city’s skyline and beyond. Named for nearby Mission Dolores, the park is situated on land that was once a Jewish cemetery. The City bought the property in 1905 and established the park. In 1906 it served as a refugee camp for more than 1,600 residents made homeless by the earthquake and fire. Mission Dolores Park is bounded by Church, Dolores, 18th, and 20th streets. The Muni Metro J-Church Line runs along its western edge.

Alamo Square One of the most photographed locations in San Francisco, Alamo Square’s famous «postcard row» at Hayes and Steiner Streets is indeed a visual treat. A tight, escalating formation of Victorian houses is back-dropped by downtown skyscrapers, providing a stunning contrast. The grassy square itself is an ideal midday break. One of 11 historic districts designated by the Department of City Planning, the area includes several bed and breakfast inns. Many Victorian homes of the Queen Anne era have a few unique features: multiple balconies, large porches and are usually two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half stories tall. Take your time in admiring these homes in addition to taking a picture or two. For many people, the best shot is when the sun is setting in the west, casting a sunset glow over these houses and Alamo Square. Be sure to schedule time to take a tour inside one of the homes if you can.

Cable cars Hanging onto the outside (yes, the outside) of one of these clanging trolleys, chugging through Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, and other city neighborhoods—well, it doesn’t get much more San Francisco than this. Truth is the city’s cable cars aren’t just an entertaining way to get around this up-and-down city; they really function as public transit too—just count how many package- and computer-toting locals climb on and hop off as you ride. In summer, lines can get long at the turnaround at Powell and Market Streets especially for the Powell-Mason Cable Car line. Get just as good a ride on the quieter PowellHyde Cable Car line. For a fascinating look at how the historic cars have crisscrossed the city since 1873, visit the free Cable Car Museum, with inside peeks of how the cables that power the cars actually work.

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Profile for Ivan Andrejic

The best of San Francisco  

The best of San Francisco