Union Square is 'Downtown', the hotel, theater, restaurant, and shopping center of the city. This is the heart of The City. From here you can see cable cars, steep hills, chic cafes, grand hotels, fashionable departments stores, and throngs of shoppers taking advantage of it all. On the Square itself is the Tix Bay Area, where you can find half price theater tickets the day of the show, and Emporio Rulli Caffe, where you’ll find coffee, pastries and maybe someone to go to the show with you.
Everyone who comes to San Francisco wants to ride a cable car, and usually there is a long line in front of you. Try boarding a couple blocks up the road from the turnaround at the next stop, and just buy your ticket onboard. If you want to see how they work, visit the Cable Car Museum at the top of Nob Hill. Admission is free, but the cable car ride is $6.
It's just a 10-minute walk to Union Square's Maiden Lane, where before the 1906 earthquakes, maidens could be found offering their services. Now days you’ll find maidens of a different sort looking for the latest in art and fashion. This is where you'll find San Francisco's only Frank Lloyd Wright building, the Xanadu Gallery. While enjoying the stunning architecture, peruse the international folk-art collection they have to offer.
We have one of the world's largest Chinatowns, and the famous Chinatown Gate is just a 15 minute walk from our hotel. You can stroll along Grant St. for gifts and jewelry, wind down Clay and Jackson Streets for restaurants, and head up to Stockton St. for the herbal medicine stores and live food markets. If you visit the Fortune Cookie Factory at 56 Ross Alley, you can watch them make the famous cookies right in front of you.
This is the Departure Point for Alcatraz Ferries. Alcatraz is THE most popular tourist destination in town, and you MUST buy tickets in advance, sometimes a week or more during summer. Buy them online at alcatrazcruises.com, the only official vendor. They request that you arrive at the pier 20 minutes prior to departure, so plan ahead. If you miss the boat, it's a brisk swim to the island.
Get a split of champagne and come to the top of Telegraph Hill. The view from the parking lot here is spectacular, and the art deco murals on the inside of the tower are worth a look, too. Approach the hill via Filbert St., but try walking back down using the Sansome St steps, which will take you under trees favored by the famous parrots of Telegraph Hill.
Cotton candy, snow cones, and carousels are part of the Carnival atmosphere that make Pier 39 a top tourist destination. There’s the Aquarium by the Bay, Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, the Wax Museum, boat cruises of the bay, tall masted sailing ships, and even a submarine here along the wharf. Although you won't find any performing seals here, if you're lucky you'll find some Sea Lions basking in the afternoon fog at the end of the pier.
Alamo Square Park sits atop of a hill overlooking much of San Francisco, with a number of architecturally distinctive mansions along the perimeter. A row of Victorian houses facing the park on Steiner Street, known as the Painted Ladies, are often shown in the foreground of panoramic pictures of the city's downtown area. You'll find the best vantage from the top of Hayes and Pierce Streets on the South side of the park.
It's as if the new Academy brings the whole universe under one roof and a living roof at that! There’s an aquarium, a planetarium, a natural history museum and a rain forest! The deepest coral reef exhibit in the world, a towering T-Rex skeleton, a colony of African penguins, a fully-immersive digital screen by which to fly to the farthest reaches of the Universe. Come early, and be sure to grab a ticket for the planetarium when you enter, as they fill up quickly.
San Francisco's landmark art museum showcases priceless collections of American art from the 17th through the 20th centuries, and art of the native Americas, Africa, and the Pacific. More than just paintings and photographs, you’ll find chairs, evening gowns, and even Tribal New Guinea fetish dolls. They have a great café and patio attached to the sculpture garden, and an 8 story observation tower that enjoys a commanding view of the surrounding area. Who knew culture could be so fun?
The Exploratorium is a museum in San Francisco full of hundreds of hands-on exhibits, most of them made on-site, that mix science and art. Kids will have fun and learn something, too. Located right along the waterfront at Piers 15/17, they also have a cafe with an extensive menu as well as a gift shop with items not usually found in your local toy store. The young and the young at heart will enjoy a full day of adventure.
The Conservatory of Flowers is a large botanical greenhouse in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, constructed in 1878. It houses an important collection of exotic plants. They even have an above ground giant lily pad pond with a clear plastic wall so you can see underneath the plants. Wait until you see what grows there! It is the oldest building in Golden Gate Park and the oldest municipal wooden conservatory remaining in the United States.
Twin Peaks is the highest point in The City. The view from here is spectacular, and it's a good thing, too; you won't find much else up here except weeds and the occasional coyote. But on a clear day, your view is only limited by your eyesight. If you don’t have a car, ask your concierge how to take public transit. Be sure to bring a windbreaker with you, as you'll need it!
The Golden Gate Bridge was the longest suspension bridge span in the world when it was completed during the year 1937, and has become an internationally recognized symbol of San Francisco and California. If you visit on the weekend, take a tour of Fort Point, which lies at it’s base. It is estimated that about nine million people from around the world visit the Bridge each year. Yes, you can walk or bike across it, and many people do!