Finally! I made it to San Francisco and I must say this is now one of my favorite cities to visit. We took the BART to the Powell Street stop from the airport and as soon as we walked up the stairs out of the station I was in love. The architecture in this city is amazing! We arrived at night and it all looked amazing with lights shining on each of the buildings. After checking into our hotel we went exploring for a bit, but could not wait to get out and about the city and really see all it had to offer the next day.
If great architecture is what you are looking for, this city has a lot, a lot of different styles as well. You can tell when you have wandered into another neighborhood just by the change in the buildings around you. In Union Square you can be amazed by great examples of Art Deco and Beaux Arts architecture, these styles can be found in the Nob Hill area as well. Wander a bit from Union Square to see the wonderful architecture in China Town. Head towards Haight-Ashbury and the landscape transforms into more Victorian Architecture. If you love it, you can probably find a shining example of it in this city. There is more to see than one possibly can in one trip. Whatever you choose to see, you can’t go wrong. It is all fantastic!
On my first official day in the city I had to hunt for a fabric store. I am an interior designer and am in love with fabric, so I managed to find THE fabric store to shop at in Union Square just a few blocks from where we were staying at the Sir Francis Drake (a great example of architecture and design itself). The place was Britex Fabrics and if you love fabric you must stop in on your next visit. The store opened its doors in San Francisco in 1952 and has been there ever since. It is four well organized stories of hundreds upon hundreds of gorgeous fabrics. You will no doubt find what you are looking for in this store. If you cannot find it, just ask or chances are someone (probably more than one person) will have already offered to help you. The staff at this store is by far some of the nicest and most helpful I have ever come across. An hour and a half later and we were on our way to see more of the city, fabric in hand.
I will not bore you with every last detail of our trip, but I will highlight a few of the favorites and more interesting things the city has to offer. Make sure you go to Nob Hill just to see the architecture in the area. The Fairmont is a gorgeous building that you cannot miss and if you have time, head to the Tonga Room which is located in the basement of The Fairmont. It is one of the last remaining original Tiki Bars and a great place to rest your feet after all the walking to get there. While you are en route there from Union Square wander through China Town at lunch time and pick one of many places to stop in and have some dim sum for lunch, you will be glad you did. My favorite part of China Town was Vital Tea Leaf where we did our tea tasting. It was an interesting afternoon of tea tasting and we got a lesson in tea while we tasted. If you like tea then this is a must. When else will I get to taste a tea that is $800 per pound? I know I won’t be buying that for my house, but it was delicious to taste.
After leaving China Town we just happen to come across the San Francisco Cable Car Museum. This is free to the public and fun to go look around. If you have the time it tells the history of the Cable Cars, the 1906 earthquake and fires. The cable Car system is the world’s last manually operated cable car system and it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. These cable cars are the only national historic landmark that you can ride. They started running in 1873 and are still running strong even after earthquakes and the fire. At the museum you can learn all about how the cable cars work and see the system that pulls the cables that make the cars run. It’s a really interesting site to see.
If you are looking for a relaxing way to spend a Saturday then head over to the Ferry Building Marketplace. It is located along the Embarcadero at the foot of Market Street. This is a bustling building filled with people and all kinds of local foods to try. The building itself it quite nice as well and if you wander outside you can get great views of the bay and the Bay Bridge. Visit on a Tuesday or Saturday and the farmers market will be in full swing on the Ferry Plaza. Do as we did and pick up some meats, cheeses, bread, and a nice bottle of wine. Then head on over to Alamo Square for a picnic in front of The Painted Ladies.
You know you are in the Victorian area of San Francisco when you get to Alamo Square. There were approximately 48,000 houses built in the Victorian and Edwardian styles in San Francisco between 1849 and 1915. While many were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake there are still many alive and well lining the streets in San Francisco. The Painted Ladies we were looking at while we picnicked are also commonly known as “Postcard Row”, or as many of my friends refer to them as, the “Full House” houses. They are located on Steiner Street across from Alamo Park. These particular housed were built between 1892 and 1896. These multicolored homes are kept up quite nicely and look just as great today as the day they were built. This is also one of the most photographed spots in the city. After you are finished admiring the architecture around the park take a walk. There is a lot more Victorian Architecture in this area that you can see while heading towards the corner of Haight and Ashbury.
Taking a walk down to Haight-Ashbury is truly like stepping back into the 60’s. It really did seem like some people came there in the 60’s, never changed and never left. It’s a must see area and the streets are lined with numerous vintage shops where you can find things for your home as well as clothing and music from just about any era you could possibly imagine. If you make it all the way to the end of Haight then you will run into Golden Gate Park. Head on into the park to see many museums, the Japanese Tea Garden, and the California Academy of Sciences among many other activities and sites. On a side note, if you are a lover of sustainable architecture then you must go into the park and see the California Academy of Sciences. The Academy is the largest public LEED Platinum rated building in the world. After 10 years and $500 million dollars it blends seamlessly into the natural setting of the park. The living roof really does help to disguise this massive building. Even if you do not go in, it is truly a site to see.
There are two more must see sites in the city and one is the Golden Gate Bridge. I love Art Deco Design and this is a great example of Art Deco Architecture. If you want to see the detail of the bridge up close you must take the walk across the bridge. If you are lucky the fog will roll in when you are half way across making for some pretty epic images. The bridge was opened in 1937 after just over 4 years of construction and more than $35 million in construction costs. However, it was completed under budget and ahead of schedule.
The last must see site is Alcatraz. Get your tickets early because they sell out fast, but it is a must do if you have never been. Alcatraz housed some of the most difficult and dangerous criminals during its operation from 1934 to 1963. No inmate ever escaped… as far as they know. There was an attempt and the inmates were never found or heard from again. Some think they drowned in the rough waters surrounding the island and others think they escaped and made their way to South America. Some of the buildings on Alcatraz are falling apart, but there is still a lot to see. They have a cell house audio tour that is given by some of the guards who worked there and inmates who were imprisoned there. It tells a great history of the island as well as tales of a few failed escape attempts. The prison was eventually shut down due to high operating costs in 1963. After that it was inhabited by Native-American activists for a couple years and now it is one of the most popular tourist destinations. It is a great place to explore and full of history. Bring a coat, most likely it will be foggy and incredibly windy when you visit.
This is just a small sampling of what there is to do in San Francisco. I know it is still at the top of my list of places to visit and I cannot wait to return. You could visit so many times and have a different experience on each trip. There is art and theater, wine country, day trips outside the city to see the redwoods, and many more museums, shops, and restaurants to explore within the city. I cannot wait to go back and hope many of you make a visit too. If you have been there, feel free to comment and share your favorite parts of the city below. If you have not been yet then let us know what is at the top of your list to see first. We would love to hear what everyone else loves the most about the city!