When you come to San Francisco, you will undoubtedly head to Fisherman’s Wharf on San Francisco Bay, the magnificent Harbor that is “The Bay” and even though you may never have been to San Francisco, you will no doubt know of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island and the infamous prison located there, and of San Francisco’s famous cable cars. You might also know about the San Francisco Giants too if you’re a sports fan.
People love San Francisco – not just for the beauty of the location but for its atmosphere too.
Welcome to San Francisco!
There is a lot to see in San Francisco – and if you have time read the History of San Francisco that we have on this website.
GETTING HERE –
San Francisco International Airport (SFO) – is the gateway to San Francisco, and there is also a second airport Oakland (OAK) and both are around 14 miles from the City center and both are connected to the City by the BART train system, about a 30 minute trip. There are also Hire cars, taxis and shuttle buses too. The best BART stations to head for in the City Center are Powell Street, 3 blocks from Union Square or Embarcadero which is the closest to the Bay and wharf area. Check to see how close your hotel is to a BART Station or the MUNI.
There are hotels to stay at throughout the City, with most of the big name hotels in the Union Square and Embarcadero areas. San Francisco is also quite hilly, and you will probably do a of walking too, so finding a hotel which is easy walking distance to the places you want to see is a good idea.
In the City itself, buses, streetcars and the cable cars are run by the MUNI, not BART. If staying in the City get a return BART ticket from the city back to the airport, and purchase a MUNI Passport (1, 3 or 7 day pass) OR a CityPass which also gives you a discount to some of the City’s main attractions. You can purchase a MUNI passport or CityPass from the Visitor Information desk at the airport.
Both airports are easy to get around and well organised and at SFO there is an Airtrain connecting the International Airport to the 3 Domestic Terminals.
Getting your bearings –
I always think that getting a printed Tourist map of a city is a good idea, or downloading one, as it gives you a snapshot of both the city and some of the highlights.
The central feature of San Francisco is the Bay with the Golden Gate Bridge spanning across the entrance to the Bay, with two long peninsulas pointing to each other, the City of San Francisco on the southern peninsula side and Marin County on the other. Just inside the entrance the Bay splits into two Bay wings – one to the north and one to the south which leads southwards past San Francisco all the way to Silicon Valley including Palo Alto and San Jose. On the North wing you will find Marin County and also the City of San Rafael and also Sausalito. On the southern wing of the Bay you will see San Francisco’s second big suspension bridge, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, which crosses the south wing of the Bay to Oakland and Berkeley, the bridge mostly called “Bay Bridge”. There are on fact 5 bridges crossing the Bay at different points but certainly the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate are the most famous.
The Bays are also big, varying in width from around 3 and 12 miles across, and around 50 to 60 miles long, depending on how much marsh or wetlands are included in these distances. The water in the Bay is mostly cold throughout the year, but there are plenty of private boat charters, yachts and of course Ferries and Cruises, fishing boats, Cruise liners and freighters using the Bay too. There are also some small beaches, on both the Bay and Pacific Ocean side but the water being cold means in most cases using a wetsuit if you wanted to swim.
Ferries and Cruises –
There are Ferry services for commuters and visitors that run to different points of the Bay – to Oakland, Alameda, Sausalito, Vallejo, Tiburon, Larkspur, Angel Island and Alcatraz and Cruises that will also take you to see different parts of the Bay. It is a great waterway, and definitely one way or another it is worth making one or more trips on the Bay when you are here. It can get cold on the water too, so bring some warm clothes too as the weather can change very quickly.
- FERRIES – these mostly leave from the Ferry Building – a distinctive building with a clock tower on top, first built in 1898, with a long ‘Nave’ light filled shopping precinct inside. Besides the Ferries you will also find lots of places to eat and drink with the Farmer’s Market operating too from 10am to 2pm on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Great produce, cheeses and stalls to browse around. The Line F Trolley Car/Buses are also just in front of the Ferry Building at the foot of Market Street.
- Hornblower Cruises – leave from Pier 3 Embarcadero Tel: (415) 788 7020 www.hornblower.com
- Blue and Gold Cruises – leave from Pier 39 Tel: (415) 773 1188 www.blueandgoldfleet.com
- Red and White Cruises – leave from Pier 43 ½ Taylor St and Embarcedero Tel (415) 673 2900 www.redandwhite.com
- CRUISE LINERS – mostly leave from Pier 35 and/or the James R. Herman Terminal at Pier 27 heading south to Mexico, or north to Canada and Alaska.
There are lots of ways to see San Francisco – walking, biking, Segway, using the MUNI and taking a tour bus or other transport. Here are some of the Tour companies that you could choose to see the City and some of the main sights. Some of these also have day tours out of SF too to other attractions –
BY BIKE – see
BY SEGWAY – See www.electrictourcompany.com Tel: (415) 474 3130 at 757 Beach Street.
ARCHITECTURE – see www.architecturesf.com Galleria Park Hotel 191 Sutter St Tel: (415) 264 8824
CHINATOWN – Chinatown Tours See www.allaboutchinatown.com Tel (415) 982 8839, 100 Waverly Place.
FUN TOUR – see www.sanfrancisco.ridetheducks.com Tel: 877 877 8225 Cnr. Taylor and Jefferson Sts. A tour on both land and water.
Guide you – tour organisers 2627 Taylor Street. Tel: (415) 775 1200 See www.guideyou.com
City Sightseeing – a ‘hop-on, hop-off’ tour leaving from 2800 Leavenworth St. Tel: (415) 440 8687 See www.city-sightseeing.us/san-francisco
Go Car Tours – your own special little yellow car with GPS navigation. 2715 Hyde St. Tel: (415) 441 5695 See www.gocarstours.com
Big Bus Tours – an open top bus. 99 Jefferson St. Tel: (415) 595 6787 See www.opentopsightseeing.com
Grayline – the big tour company 2627 Taylor St. Tel: (415) 353 5310 See www.sanfranciscoopencitytour.com
Extranomical Tours – 501 Bay Street. Tel: (415) 357 0700 See www.extranomical.com
Tower Tours – 288 Beach St. Tel: (415) 345 8687 See www.towertours.com
San Francisco Sight Seeing Company – Ferry Building, Pier 41, Marine Terminal box Office. Tel: (415) 434 86 87 See www.sanfranciscosightseeing.com ALSO they run day tours to Yosemite, Monterey, Carmel, Muir Woods to see Redwood forests, Napa and Sonoma Wine Tours. Also see www.sanfranshuttletours.com
Sf Tours – 388 Market St. Tel: (415) 513 5400 See www.sftours.com . They have a number of different tours both in SF and out of SF too.
The Real SF Tour Company – 50 Drumm Street. Tel: (1)888 973 8687 See www.therealsftour.com
FISHERMAN’S WHARF – right on the Bay is the hugely popular wharf area that was once the domain of just fisherman. There are still wooden fishing boats here and also off Pier 39 K. Dock look to see Sea Lions who rest here too. Fisherman’s Wharf can get very busy on weekends and during the day, as it is one of the most famous landmarks in San Francisco, but it is also fun too, with lots to see and do, eat some Chowder, have coffee or a full lunch or just shop in any or all of the clothing and tourist shops that are here too. There are often musicians, street artists and other amusements around the Wharf, which keeps it interesting.
Exploratorium – is the interactive Science, Art and Human Perception Museum located on Pier 15 (near Green St). See www.exploratorium.edu Tel: (415) 528 4444.
Musée Mécanique – is located on Pier 45, Shed A (foot of Taylor St) See www.museemecaniquesf.com Tel: (415) 346 2000. A great collection of mechanical toys and arcade games to see.
Ripley’s Believe it or not Museum – 175 Jefferson St (See www.ripleys.com/sanfrancisco Tel: (415) 202 9850) A weird and wonderful collection of bizarre and strange to see.
Aquarium of the Bay – is located next to pier 39 at 2 Beach Street. Here you can walk through 300 feet of glass tunnels surrounded by fish and other sealife, and see Otters, octopus, Sea Nettles, Moon Jellies, guitar fish, sturgeons, sharks and other fish. It is a great way to see what is happening in San Francisco Bay without getting wet. See www.aquariumofthebay.org Tel: (415) 623 5300.
Gigamon – is located at Pier 39 which offers a laser blasting game experience and roller coaster involving sound, film and action where you are immersed in the experience – what they call “7 D”. Great fun for action lovers. See www.7Dexperience.com Tel: (415) 445 0120.
Ghirardelli Square is located one block back from Fisherman’s Wharf at 900 North Point Street. This is where you will find San Francisco’s favorite chocolates, the brand starting in San Francisco in 1852. There are a number of shops here, including the Ghirardelli shop in the old chocolate factory building.
San Francisco Aquatic Park – is just along west from Fisherman’s Wharf (past Pier 45) at 499 Jefferson Street. Here you will be able to see the National Park Visitor Center, and moored at Hyde St Pier are a number of historic ships – from the 1886 Square rigger sailing ship, Balclutha, to a steam tug, schooners and Ferry Boat, with the Maritime Museum in the Art Deco Bathhouse Building housing photos, documents, murals and maritime memorabilia from the age of sail and steam to today. The Cable Car Turnaround is also right here too while further along (in the direction of the Golden Gate Bridge)are the St. Francis Yacht Club and the Palace of Fine Arts at 3301 Lyon St, (See www.palaceoffinearts.org Tel: (415) 563 6504). Here you will find a large park overlooking a lake with birds and fountain and what look like Roman Buildings including a rotunda from centuries ago, but actually built in 1915 for the Exhibition that celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal. Just along from the Palace is the Letterman Digital Arts Center where George Lucas Films animation studios are located. They don’t run tours, but in the park are you can take a photo of yourself next to the Yoda Fountain, Yoda being the character made famous in Star Wars movies.
This is all bordering the vast Presidio area – see below.
SPORT FISHING – As well as just seeing new places, what creates a real memory and story to tell is if you do something that others have not experienced, and here is San Francisco there is a great opportunity to go out fishing with a local fishing boat and crew. There are a number of boats offering the opportunity to do this –
- Bass-Tub Sport Fishing – Berth 4, Cnr. Jones and Jefferson St. Tel: (415) 456 9055 www.basstub.net
- Chucky’s Pride Sport Fishing – Berth 5, Cnr. Jones and Jefferson St. Tel: (415) 564 5515 www.chuckyspride.com
- Lovely Martha Sport Fishing – Berth 5 Cnr. Jones and Jefferson St. Tel: 415 509 5552 www.lovelymartha.com
- Wacky Jacky Sport Fishing – Berth 1, Cnr. Jones and Jefferson St. Tel: (415) 586 9800 www.wackyjackysportfishing.com
- Captain Joes Pacific Sport Fishing – 945 Taraval St. # 319 Tel: (415)752 5886 www.captainjoes.com
- Silver Fox Sport Fishing – Berth 2, Cnr. Jones and Jefferson St. Tel: 800 349 5775 www.silverfoxsportfishingandtours.com
Fishing is mostly in the Bay area, but Silver Fox also take people to the Farallon Islands just off the coast where between September and November a large number of Elephant Seals head to the islands to mate, which also attracts sharks too. The Farallon Islands are a group of sharp pinnacle cone shaped islands that rise from the ocean, about 27 miles off the coastline – sometimes called the “Devil’s Teeth” due to their shape. SF Bay Whale Watching run tours off the coast to the islands to see dolphins, sea lions, whales, seals, birds and sharks throughout the year. See www.sfbaywhalewatching.com Tel: (415) 349 5266 located at Pier 39, cnr Beach and Embarcadero Streets.
The Presidio – at the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge is a National Park area covering some 1480 acres of landscaped grounds, forests, wetlands, Pacific Ocean and Bayside views and beaches, walkways, bikeways, a golf course and some 500 historic buildings and military installations all within the Parklands. Free shuttle buses can take you to most areas of the park and there is a Visitor Center located in the Presidio on Montgomery Street. Things to see in the Presidio include
- Fort Point – built between 1853 and 1861 right at the tip where the Golden Gate Bridge crosses the Bay where the Bay and Pacific Ocean come together.
- Golden Gate Bridge Pavilion – to see and learn about the Bridge and its construction.
- Batteries – that are both on the Bay side and Ocean sides off Marine Drive and also Lincoln Boulevard. Also look for Torpedo Wharf.
- Military Parade grounds and buildings – check with the Visitor Center to see what is open.
- National Cemetery – off Lincoln Boulevard has graves dating back to the 1800’s.
- Ocean Beaches – Marshall beach, Baker Beach inside the Presidio on the Ocean side and just south of the Presidio on the ocean side, China Beach
- Views – there are many great views of the Bridge, Bay, City and Ocean from various points of the Presidio – almost wherever you go.
- Crissy Field and Golden Gate Promenade – there are a great cycleways/ walking/hiking trails throughout the Presidio – with picnic areas and other places to just enjoy nature, including the Crissy Field wetlands area. Other areas to see if you can are the Mountain Lake Park and the Lobos Dunes area.
- Walt Disney Family Museum – 108 Montgomery St – See www.waltdisney.org Tel: (415) 345 6800. Walt Disney (1901-1966) was the creator of Mickey Mouse, Snow White animation movies, Disneyland bringing to life some of the greatest children’s entertainment in the world. This is a great place to learn more about his amazing life and work.
- Walk or Cycle the Golden Gate Bridge – this is open to do in daylight hours, and something that can be one of the highlights to your time in San Francisco. Cyclists are on both sides of the Bridge, and walkers can walk the Bridge on the San Francisco side.
If you do drive, walk or cycle over the Golden Gate Bridge – stop and take a look at Fort Baker on the Marin County side, a former defense installation and Army Post covering 335 acres of grounds with 25 historic buildings located around the perimeter of the former Parade ground. It is located right on Horseshoe Bay, and the walking trails, historic buildings and gun emplacements, as well as the Bay Area Discovery Museum are all worth seeing. There are also great views from this side of San Francisco Bay too, and if you’re feeling energetic there are trails that lead you on to Sausalito, where you could take a Ferry back to San Francisco.
The Marin County Headland is also where the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is located – a green space with lots of walking trails to take in nature, and look back to San Francisco and to the Bay and Ocean depending on where you are. You could also go horse riding here too at the Miwok Livery Stables – located at 701 Tennessee Valley Rd, Mill Valley – See www.miwokstables.com Tel: (415) 383 8048. You would need to book. Muir Woods is located in Marin County – about 10 miles north from the end of the Bridge, covering around 520 acres of forest and walkways and one of the places that tour buses head to see the ancient Redwood forests located here.
BACK IN SAN FRANCISCO – look for
- Trips to Alcatraz – the old prison island – See San Francisco History section on this website. Also See tours above.
- Lombard Street – the road section between Hyde St and Leavenworth St – where the road descends this steep section as a series of sharp bends. See it on postcards, or take you own photo.
- Coit Tower – 1 Telegraph Hill Boulevard, was built in 1933 overlooking the City. You can climb the stairway the 210 feet to the top, or take an elevator lift to the top for great views.
- Chinatown , Russian Hill, Japantown – these are all neighborhoods that highlight the diversity of the city’s history and culture.
- San Francisco Zoo – Sloat Boulevard, Great Highway (See www.sfzoo.org Tel: (415) 753 7080) see pandas, penguins, kangaroos, frogs, Grizzly Bears, raptors and other animals.
- Union Square –in the center of the City – a good place to stay in one of the many hotels here and shop with cafes, bars, restaurants, theaters and other nightlife too.
- Apple Store – is also in Union Square, and the Apple Campus and Company Store, where you can only buy Apple merchandise is located at 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino Exit 11 De Anza off Highway 280 (Tel: (408) 974 5050). The Campus 1 building is a high security building and is not open for tours. Campus 2, dubbed “the i-spaceship“ designed like a flying saucer in a circular ring shape is under construction and due for take-off or completion in 2016.
- Yerba Buena Gardens – a revitalised part of the city, with shops and galleries between 3rd and 4th Streets. The Children’s Creativity Museum is almost next door and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (See www.ybca.org) at 700 Howard Street. The MOMA museum store is at 51 Yerba Buena Lane, with the MOMA art gallery itself in the process of being rebuilt at 151 Third Street. (due to open in 2016).
- Madame Tussauds Wax Museum – 145 Jefferson Street. See full size lifelike wax figures of stars from the movies, stage, music, sports and politics.
- GLBT History Museum – 4127 18th Street. This is the Gay, Lesbian, Bi and Transvestite Museum – a history of gay rights and other memorabilia.
- Painted Ladies and Alamo Square – cnr Hayes and Scott Sts, is where you can see the “Painted ladies” – the colorful Victorian Houses that adjoin the Square.
- Hans Lilienthal House – 2007 Franklin St – See inside this beautiful 1886 house with its furnishings and décor. Open 3 days a week on afternoons – Wed, Sat, Sun. Tel: (415) 441 3000.
- Alamo Square is in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood – famous for its connections to the Hippy times in the 1960’s. Today all along Haight Street from about #450 to #1700 you will find lots of interesting shops and restaurants. The house at 710 Ashbury Street is where the band, Grateful Dead once lived.
- Mission Dolores – see History of San Francisco section on this website. The Mission was founded in 1776, the oldest building in San Francisco from the time of the Spanish Empire days. See www.missiondolores.org located at 3321 16th Street.
- MOMA – the Museum of Modern Art is located at 151 Third Street, and in the process of re-building. The museum has a collection of over 6000 artworks and is due to open in 2016. See www.sfmoma.org Tel: (415) 441 4777.
- Trans America Pyramid Center Building – this is the big building in the shape of a high pyramid or spire shape that dominates the skyline of San Francisco. It was built in 1972 and is 853 feet high. It is located at 600 Montgomery Street and there is a visitor center there and gift shop located there.
- GREAT VIEWS of the city – head to the Twin Peaks (Mountains)– 501 Twin peaks Boulevard (Tel: (415) 831 6331)). The Twin Peaks rise to 922 feet above the city with panoramic views over the City and Bay.
- Asian Art Museum – 200 Larkin St (See www.asianart.org Tel: (415) 581 3500). Changing exhibitions and showcasing Asian art, paintings, sculptures and ceramics.
- Contemporary Jewish Museum – 736 Mission St (See www.thecjm.org Tel: (415) 655 7800. A celebration of Jewish culture, history and art.
- Legion of Honor Art Museum – (Must see) 100 34th Avenue (at Clement St) in Lincoln Park. This is a stunning building, built in 1924 showcases an amazingly diverse and valuable collection of 124,000 works of art. The building itself is a ¾ version of the ‘Palais de la Légion d’Honneur’ building in Paris. In 1915 the French built a temporary ‘Palais’ for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915, in celebration of the Panama Canal opening, and a lady, Alma de Brettville Spreckels was so impressed by the building, that she offered to construct it as a permanent building. The result is magnificent.
- Golden Gate Park – THIS IS A MUST SEE one of San Francisco’s great green spaces, spreading out over 1017 acres of grounds is off Great Highway, south of the Presidio running to Queens Beach and Lands End on the coast where there is the historic Cliff House, (See www.cliffhouse.com ) built right on the top of the cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Inside the Golden Gate Park you will find –
- A Japanese Tea House and Garden
- The Conservatory of Flowers in a stunning building
- Botanical Garden
- Dutch Windmill & tulips
- A pioneer cabin
- Music Concourse
- 9 Lakes and 2 waterfalls
- Real Bison roaming the Buffalo Field next to Spreckels Lake
- Beach and Park chalets
- National AIDS Memorial
- De Young Museum – of American Art from 17th to 21st century, plus much more with an observation deck that overlooks the Bay
- Californian Academy of Sciences – with its aquarium, planetarium and a 4 storey rainforest inside its amazing building.
HEADING OUT OF TOWN -
Sausalito – is a ferry ride away from San Francisco on the Marin County side of the Bay. This town has a history going back to the Miwok and early Spanish and Mexican times, but it is very much a town centered around boating – with the Ferry Wharf and yacht marina area being the center of town. There are said to be around 400 houseboats (floating homes) here too, and up until World War Two there was a shipyard here. From the 1850’s onwards a number of Portuguese from the Azores Islands came here to settle and work in the whaling, dairy, sardine and anchovy fishing industry that was here. The Spaulding Wooden Boat Center is still here teaching the craft, building and restoring wooden boats. (See www.spauldingcenter.org and you can tour the Center at Gate 5 Road Tel: (415) 332 3179.
There are small shops, boutiques, cafes, pubs and bistros and a bike and walkway along the Bayside, making Sausalito a good place to spend a few hours or stay overnight.
- Napa Valley wineries – are located about an hour or so north of San Francisco – and you will find lots of open door wineries to visit and do a tasting. The four main villages are Napa, Yountville, St Helena and Calistoga – and they are all surrounded by grape growing and wineries. In the villages you will find spas, places to stay, trendy shops, restaurants and cafes, with winery tours, hot-air ballooning and other ways to see and get to know the area. There is even a tourist train that heads through the Napa Valley (See www.napatrain.com Tel: 707 253 2111). In Calistoga there are also hot-spring spa resorts to enjoy, with it being close to the Mt St Helena which sometimes get snow on top in the winter. There are many wineries that you can visit in Calistoga – but for both the wine and also the architecture check out Castello di Amorosa Winery 4045 North Saint Helena H’wy. (See www.castellodiamorosa.com ) and Chateau Montelena Winery 1429 Tubbs Lane in Calitosa. (See www.montelena.com )
- Sonoma Valley wineries – This valley is also about 45 minutes to an hour north of San Francisco, but closer to the coastline. It too has lots of wineries and great food to discover, promoting the idea of ‘slow food’ rather than fast food. There are also many places to stay and wineries to visit, making this also a good place to spend time in Sonoma itself, which has lots of history The Sonoma Highway runs through the Valley with wineries along it and on roads that lead from it. Two wineries that stand out are Charles St Jean at 8555 Sonora H’wy and Ledson Winery at 7335 Sonora Highway. In the city of Santa Rosa you will also find the Charles M. Schultz Museum – the home of the cartoon characters, Snoopy, Charlie Brown and Peanuts fame. (See www.schultzmuseum.org 2301 Hardies Lane in Santa Rosa).
- Santa Clara Wineries – are located between San Francisco and San Jose. Native Americans once called this valley “The Valley of Heart’s delight”, with the first Mission grapes planted here around 1798. Here you will find more than a dozen wineries spread out around the Valley with the small towns of Gilroy and Morgan Hill at their center.
- Carmel-by-the-sea – This small beach-side town was made famous when Clint Eastwood became the Mayor of the town some years ago. Most often, just called Carmel, it lies on a beautiful part of the coastline and has the main white sand beach, and over 100 Art Galleries as well as spas, boutiques, trend setting restaurants, walkways and Pebble Beach Golf Links is here too. It is a 2 ½ hour drive south from San Francisco. See www.carmelcalifornia.com
SAN JOSE and SILICON VALLEY –
It is hard to imagine that grains of sand that you can find on beach, river banks and deserts could become Silicon Chips and power millions of computers around the world, and if you wanted to search and find the source of this creative genius – then you have come to the right place – Silicon Valley, a name coined in 1971 when the semi-conductor business was in its early development.
Silicon Valley is not a geographic place name as such, but it has come to symbolise the high tech industry in the area broadly encompassing much of the San Francisco peninsula, San Jose and the Santa Clara Valley where over 6000 high tech companies are located. Companies including Google, Apple, Cisco, Intel, Adobe, Yahoo, e-Bay, Hewlett-Packard all have their headquarters based here, with Stanford University here too. Many of these companies are leading global businesses, but there are also a few thousand others that are of medium size or start-ups, attracting some of the most creative technical people in the world to work here. A number of Venture Capital companies are also based here too.
All of the big and also small companies are naturally very secretive about their work and what they are developing, but to get a feel for Silicon Valley, take the time to come and see these Museums.
- Tech Museum of Innovation – 201 South Market Street, San Jose (see www.tech.com Tel: 408 294 8324) Discover the ideas, concepts, developments involving human thought, creativity and communication.
- Intel Museum – 2200 Mission College Boulevard (See www.intel.com Tel: 408 765 5050. From sands to circuits – showing you how a silicon chip is created.
- Computer History Museum – 1401 N. Shoreline Boulevard, San Jose, (See www.computerhistory.or Tel: 650 810 1010
- Stanford University – also has tours of the campus led by student guides – tours each day or the week at 11am and 3.15pm. The Visitor Center also has self-guided tours too, and it is located at 295 Galvez Street, Stanford. (See www.visitstanford.edu/tours Tel: 650 723 2560.
- San Jose was once California State Capital between 1849 and 1851, with the center of the city being around Market Street where the Circle of Palms is located. Market Street is a good place to head to in the City to get a feel for the City and its people.
- San Jose has a diverse cultural mix with people with Spanish, Mexican, Italian, Vietnamese, Japanese, Filipino, Portuguese, Chinese and other origins – and during the year there are festivals that celebrate a number of these cultures. This also means that there are great restaurants and food to be found in San Jose, along with fashionable boutiques and other shops.
- Japantown – (near Chinatown) is located on Jackson and Taylor Streets between 4th and 6th Streets. (See www.japantownsanjose.org ). On Sunday mornings there is a farmers market here, and you will also find Japanese restaurants, gift shops and stores. During World War Two the Japanese from San Jose and those people with Japanese heritage were interned to camps in Wyoming. The Japanese Friendship Garden is located at Senter Rd and East Alma Avenue – a great place to just wander and enjoy nature.
- San Jose Rose Garden - has 4000 perfumed and non-perfumed roses to see. It is located on Taylor Street.
- Happy Hollow Zoo – is located on Story Rd, Remillard (See www.hhpz.org ) . Lots of animals to get up close to.
- Cathedral Basilica of St Joseph – 80 South Market St (See www.stjosephscathedral.org Tel: 408 283 8100). The current cathedral dates back to 1885, with ones on the site first built in 1803. This is a beautiful Cathedral building from the outside, but even more beautiful inside where the ceiling in the cupola roof is magnificent.
- Raging Waters – Water Park – covers 23 acres of water slides and pools. It is located at 2333 South White Rd (Tel: 408 238 9900).
- New Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum – 21785 Almaden Rd. (See www.newalmaden.org Tel: 408 323 1107). The area around San Jose was once orchards and dairying country farms, but here in New Almaden, about 12 miles south of San Jose there was a Cinnabar mine, cinnabar being a red rock ore that contains sulphur and mercury – was is called quicksilver. The cinnabar was used by Ohlone Indians as face paint, and in 1845 the Mexican Cavalry officer, Captain Andres Castillero lay claim to it and began to mine it, with the mine taken over by an American, Captain Henry Halleck, who using some of the wealth from the mine’s operation to build a mansion, “Casa Grande” in 1854. This is now a museum. More than 100 miles of tunnels were dug into Mine Hill, with mine workers coming from all parts of the world including Chile, Spain, Mexico, Cornwall and China. The old mine has closed and it is now part of the 4147 acre Quicksilver County Park, a popular place for hikers.
- Alviso Neighborhood in San Jose – This historic neighborhood is located on the southern end of San Francisco Bay where the Guadalupe River and Coyote Creek enter the Bay. The area can trace its history back to 1775 when Juan Bautista de Anza and his party of 300 first came here to settle. (See History of San Francisco section on this website). In 1838 Ygnacio Alviso who was a child in de Anza’s party of 300 people, was given a land grant of 6353 acres here, and the then town of Alviso was born. In the years that followed Alviso became a port for steamboats heading to and from San Francisco, site of a flour mill, a fruit and vegetable cannery , saltworks using salt ponds. There are still some buildings here in Alviso dating back to the 1800’s around Hope, El Dorado, Taylor and Elizabeth Streets.
- Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum – 1660 Park Avenue (See www.egyptianmuseum.org Tel: 408 947 3635). In your travels you sometimes come across places that are completely unexpected, and these places can be the highlight in your travel experiences. This Museum and the building that houses it, is one of those places. Here in the museum you will be able to see over 4000 Egyptian artifacts – the biggest collection of genuine Egyptian antiquities in the United States.
The museum is owned by AMORC – which stands for the “Antiquus Mysticusque Ordo Rosae Crucis” (Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis) a Philosophical Organisation that dates back to 1915, when the AMORC Rosicrucian Order was formed to study the “elusive mysteries of life and the Universe”. Most people know of the Egyptian Pyramids and the time of the Pharaohs but have never studied what is revealed in ancient hieroglyphics. The Rosicrucian Order studies ancient teachings and wisdom, balancing this study and research against current knowledge and science. While this may sound all very mystical, the Museum and the exhibits that you see here let you delve into the world of antiquities and ancient wisdom. Definitely worth time seeing.
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK –
One of the very best things about the United States is the National Parks – where you can see what an amazing country the United States is. The very first National Park in the United States is Yellowstone, set aside as a National Park in 1872, but equally impressive is Yosemite that was established in 1890.
Yosemite is about 200 miles from San Francisco or about 4 hour’s driving away, so you need to leave very early in the morning if you want to see the National Park in a day trip, but it is better if you can spend more time and stay over or at least stay closer to the Park to cut down on travel time. For a 1 day or multi–day tour to Yosemite see Extranomical Tours in San Francisco (See www.extranomical.com Tel: 1-866 231 3752)
The Yosemite National Park covers an area of around 1200 square miles in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, much of it wilderness area, with massive Sequoia, Cypress Pine trees and forest, huge granite rock faces, cliffs and boulders, high mountain meadows and lakes, and rocky streams of water that plunge down or cascade over waterfalls from the high snow-capped mountain peaks flowing down though the valleys.
Every season brings its own sense of beauty and awe inspiring landscapes – from the colors of leaves changing in the fall, to the wildflowers in Spring, snow falls, wind squalls, flurries of snow in winter and in summer the smaller cascades of water and a landscape that plays with the sun and sky. Not only is Yosemite inspirational scenery, an artist’s and photographer’s dream, but it is also the clean mountain air that seems to breathe a freshness all its own.
There are lots of short as well as longer hiking trails, camping grounds, picnic and parking areas, and while there are different entrances to the Park, the main one is up through the Yosemite Valley beside the Merced River with Southside Drive, a one way road leading up the Yosemite Valley to Yosemite Village, Museum and Visitor Center and the Northside Drive leading down from it. From the Visitor Center and Parking areas a Free Hybrid Shuttle service operates to take passengers on a loop road at the top of the Valley to the different walking trails and camping locations that lead off from the Loop road.
Besides the overall picture perfect scenery on the drive up the Valley, stop to see the vertical 3000 feet high granite wall of rock called “El Capitan” that 2 American ‘free climbers’ Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson climbed up between December 27, 2014 and January 14, 2015. They even pitched their tents off the cliff face to sleep, eat and rest up, repair their red raw fingers and hope that the snow and wind wouldn’t blow them off the cliff face. Other spectacles that you will see, depending on where you trek or travel to are the Half Dome, Cathedral Rocks, the Three Brothers Rocks (Eagle Peak 7779 feet high, Middle Brother and Lower Brother), Yosemite Falls, Royal Arch Cascade, Mirror Lake, Happy Isles. There are many others places too. Glazier Point (7214 Feet high) is off Glazier Point Rd (a difference entrance to the Park which is closed in the winter months – November to May), and this is also where the Badger Pass Ski fields are too, with 5 lifts and 10 ski runs with names like Gray Owl, Chipmunk, Beaver, Red Fox and Wildcat, all located at between 7200 and 8000 feet elevation. (See www.badgerpass.com )
Staying inside the Park is great if you can book a camping spot in Curry Village or the High Sierra Camps or stay at Yosemite Lodge, White Wolf Lodge, Tuolumne Meadows Lodge or Ahwahnee but equally there are places outside the Park too in Mariposa, a small historic town about an hour from the Valley with a number of motels, B&B’s, Lodges and rental accommodation, as well as a museum and most spectacular of all – the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. These giant trees 1800 years old trees really do feel like giants towering over you as you walk beneath them, and they have great names like the Fallen Monarch, Grizzly Giant, Bachelor and Three Graces, Clothespin Tree and Faithful Couple. The forest grove also has a unique fresh but earthy pine type smell too which adds further to the experience.
If you like horse riding, check out Yosemite Trails – see www.yosemitetrails.com at 7910 Jackson Rd, Fish Camp Tel: (559) 683 7611.
Wawona, another small town, between Mariposa and the Yosemite Valley has been part of the Yosemite story since the 1850’s when Stage Coaches would stop over on their way travelling east or west passing by Yosemite. In Wawona you will find the National Historic Landmark Wawona Hotel, with 104 guest rooms (Tel : 801- 559 4884) and see some of the old buildings from that time nearby, including the 1857 Covered Bridge and the Pioneer Yosemite History Center. The Badger Pass ski fields are about 45 minutes from Wawona, and Wawona is just a few miles from the entrance to the Yosemite Valley.
Hetch Hetchy Valley – lies around 8 miles north-west of the Yosemite Valley, and this is where the O’Shaughnessy Dam (Built in 1923) and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is located which provides around 80% of San Francisco’s water supply via an Aquaduct that leads from the dam to San Francisco and nearby towns. The Valley itself is enjoyed by hikers who come here to climb and backpack along the trails. In the spring melting snow creates two spectacular waterfalls – Tueeulala Falls (840 feet drop) and Wapama Falls (1700 feet drop) making them two of the North America’s highest waterfalls. The valley has flora, fauna, lakes, streams and wildlife including bears, so bear canisters need to be carried by hikers too.
Sacramento is around 90 miles from San Francisco and it is the Capital of the State of California. Being north-east of San Francisco, it is about 3 hours south to the Yosemite Valley, but is it closer to Lake Tahoe and its ski resorts, which are 120 miles east of Sacramento.
The City is located at the confluence of the Sacramento River and American River in what is called the Central Valley of California which covers a vast area of around one and a half million acres of farmland supplying produce to restaurants, supermarkets and produce stores across the country.
The Valley itself has been occupied for thousands of years by Niseman Maidu, Miwok and Ochecame people, and was first seen by a Mexican explorer, Gabriel Moraga (1765-1823) in 1808 who named the river he found as the “Rio del Santissimo Sacramento” (River of the Most Blessed Sacrament). He also named the Merced and Mariposa Rivers too that flow from the Sierra Nevada mountains in Yosemite.
In 1839 a German born Swiss Army Officer, Johann Augustus Sutter (1803-1880) taking the name of John Sutter travelled here to establish a Fort and settlement, and he was able to gain a land grant from the Mexican Government on the basis of him becoming a Mexican Citizen, which he duly did on August 29, 1840. Fort Sutter, built as a compound using adobe bricks became the first settlement and trading post, which he named “New Helvetia” (New Switzerland). If you see old Swiss postage stamps you will see the “Helvetia” on them.
It was only two years later that the United States-Mexican War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hildalgo in February 1848, which resulted in Alta California and therefore New Helvetia becoming part of the United States. At the time John Sutter was in the process of building a water powered sawmill on the American River.
Sutter’s Mill became famous as the site of the first gold discovery in California, and the start of a massive ‘gold rush’ as prospectors, adventurers, frontiersmen, squatters and fortune hunters rushed to California to seek their fortune, and in the process the village, town, later to become City of Sacramento was born. Today you can visit the restored Sutter’s Fort at 2701 L. Street in the center of Sacramento (See www.suttersfort.org Tel: 916 445 4422).
John Sutter however never prospered from the gold find, and the validity of the land grant he received from the Mexican Government was challenged by a newly formed Squatter’s Association and then subsequently cancelled by the US Supreme Court in 1858.
Sacramento with the discovery of gold became a frontier boom town. Gold Fever took over and people became desperate to quickly get to the gold fields, make a claim and discover a fortune.
Those lucky enough to find gold, then needed to protect it too from outlaws.
In 1850 the American Express company was formed by two New Yorkers, Henry Wells (1805-1878) and William Fargo (1818-1881) and in 1852 they also formed Wells Fargo & Co.in the transport express business. Both companies have since flourished, and in 1854 Sacramento had become the Capital of California, and Wells Fargo stage coaches, which first arrived here in 1852 connected Sacramento to San Francisco and to cities all the way East to New York. In Sacramento, Wells Fargo has two museums at 400 Capitol Mall and at 1000 Second Street where you can see their old stage coaches, and learn about the company’s history, drivers and horses.
Six horses were used to pull the Wells Fargo stage coaches and in April 1860 another famous American legendary story was born – the Pony Express, where letters and telegrams could be carried by the Pony Express from New York to Sacramento and San Francisco in 10 days. The Pony Express only lasted until October 1861, but the image of its skilled riders and the ponies they rode on have become part of American folklore. The Pony Express was set up with 184 Pony Express stations located every 10 miles across the country from Missouri to California. When each Pony Express rider came close to the next station they would sound a horn to get the next pony ready for the rider and his Mochila backpack to ride on.
The arrival of the railroads and the Trans Continental Telegraph in 1861 however saw the end of the Pony Express but Wells Fargo continued to expand, its early passenger and gold carrying days moving from the use of stage coaches to rail when a number of USA Railroads including the Trans Continental Railroad, built in 1869 were built. By 1918 Wells Fargo was servicing 10,000 American cities and towns, and in that year following World War 1 its Express business was taken over by the US Government and Wells Fargo became a bank, a business that continues to this day.
In Sacramento you will see streets given numbers – as in 11th Street but also single letters too – as in K Street based on the original town plan for the City.
In Downtown Sacramento there is the Old Town and the Sacramento State Historic Park – located at 1002 2nd Street, where you can see a number of buildings and historic museums that relate back to the early days. In the early days flooding of the town was a major issue, and to overcome the problem, they ended up jacking up all the buildings near the river, and so the buildings that you see in the Historic Park are really on the first floor level, though you would never notice this unless told. It is still however possible to take a look downstairs in some to the old original ground level.
In Old Sacramento State Historic Park you can see the old Pony Express terminal, Wells Fargo Museum, the Californian State Railroad Museum at 125 I Street on corner with Second Street (See www.uprrmuseum.org Tel: 916 445 7387 and the Californian State Military Museum at 1119 2nd Street (See www.militarymuseum.org Tel: (916) 442 2883) A visit to Old Sacramento Historic Park is a great way to get a feel for what Sacramento would have looked like in the early days when gold was discovered.
Besides visiting the Historic Park, take a cruise on the River. See Hornblower Cruises (See www.hornblower.com Tel: 916 446 1185 located at 1206 Front Street) that leaves from the L Street Dock, and Delta River Cruises (See www.deltarivercruises.com Tel: 916 399 9342) that sometimes have cruises from Sacramento to San Francisco.
In Sacramento there are a number of museums that we have listed below, but probably the most notable architectural feature is the Tower Bridge – a vertical lift bridge that was built in 1934. At night time it lights up and a lot of people take photos of the bridge in both day and night.
There are many historic buildings in the Old Town, but the most beautiful one without doubt is the Californian Capitol Building built in 1869 with its double cupola dome roof structure and gold ball on top. While it looks pretty spectacular from outside, it is more magnificent inside, and there is a Museum and guided tours to show you some of the public areas – See www.capitolmuseum.org 1315 10th Street, Room B27 Tel: (916) 324 0333.
The other building that I think you should see is the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament – 1017 11th Street built in 1889 – See www.cathedralsacramento.org Tel: (916) 444 3071. It is also a stunning building both inside and outside too.
There are a number of other museums in Sacramento to see –
- The Californian Museum – in State Archives Building 1020 O Street – See www.californiamuseum.org Tel: (916) 653 7524
- Sacramento History Museum – 101 I Street – See www.historicoldsac.org Tel: (916) 808 7059
- Californian State Indian Museum – 2618 K Street. See www.indianmuseum.org Tel: (916) 324 0971
- Californian Automobile Museum – 2200 Front Street. See www.calautomuseum.org tel: (717) 566 7100
- Crocker Art Museum – 216 O Street. See www.crockerartmuseum.org Tel: (916) 324 0333
- Sacramento Zoo – 3930 West Land Park Drive – See www.saczoo.org Tel: (916) 808 5888 The Zoo is located in William Lamb Park and has over 600 animals in 14 ½ acres of grounds.
- Fairytown – (Must see) is next door to the Zoo at 3901 Land Park Drive. See www.fairytown.org Tel: (916) 808 7462. This is a great place for kids, but also adults too – with a garden and play equipment all modelled on children’s Nursery Rhymes and favorite characters – from “the Old Woman who lived in a shoe” to other favorites. There are also live animals too – including the Three Blind Mice, Little Red Hen, Eeyore the Donkey and Daisy the Cow. This is a highly imaginative garden, and a great tribute to those people who created it.
- Sleep Train Arena – One Sports Parkway. See www.sleeptrainarena.com Tel: (916) 928 6900. This is where the Sacramento Kings basketball team play, and there are also other big sporting and entertainment events that happen here too.
- Delta King Paddle Wheeler – 1000 Front Street on the river. See www.deltaking.com Tel: (916) 444 5464. This is a hotel and also restaurant. It is one of two 285 foot long Paddle Wheel Boats built in Glascow, Scotland that were used to ply the River between Sacramento and San Francisco from 1927 onwards. During World War II both the Delta King and Delta Queen were painted grey and used by the US Navy as accommodation until 1944 when they was de-commissioned. Different uses followed, but eventually the Delta King was abandoned and left to sink and deteriorate in San Francisco before being rescued in 1984 and 5 years of restoration undertaken to restore its fabulous woodwork and decore to what you see today. The Delta King’s sister Paddle Wheeler, the Delta Queen, continued life after the war as a Paddle Wheeler on the Mississippi, but it no longer sails and is also now a hotel and restaurant moored in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
- Midtown Market – 2020 J Street is a Farmer’s Market held each Saturday. See www.midtownfarmersmarketsac.com . Sacramento prides itself on its food culture, with the ‘food to fork’, ‘food Truck’ and ‘slow food’ movements reflected in its passion for good food and wine.
- Raging Waters Water Park – 1600 Exposition Boulevard See www.ragingwaters.com Tel: (916) 924 3747. A big water park with lots of slides, pools and other attractions.
Sacramento can be very hot in the middle of summer, and for spectacular scenery it is better to spend time seeing Yosemite or the Napa Valley wine areas than coming here, but it is the State Capital and has a lot of the Gold mining history that really is at the heart of what made California develop in the early days. It also has great food and good hotels to stay in. If you want to see a smaller town which also has a gold mining history, visit Murphys, about 85 miles south east of Sacramento.
San Francisco is certainly an extremely popular city to visit, and I hope that the information about the city and some of the places nearby has aroused your interest in this part of California.