San Francisco City Guide

April 25, 2004

The 'golden gate' to the Golden State has much to offer explorers, sightseers, history buffs?and everyone else

From Alcatraz to the Zoo and everything in between, San Francisco hasabundant attractions that will suit every traveler. If you're up for a panoramicpeak at the city from Coit Tower or strolling and shopping along Fisherman'sWharf, take a look at this list and venture out to your favorites.

Alcatraz Island (415-705-5555) is the former maximum securityfederal penitentiary that once held such notorious criminals as Al Capone,"Creepy" Carpis, and Robert Stroud, better known as the "Birdmanof Alcatraz." It was a prison from 1934 to 1963 and was reopened in1972 as a recreation area with a self-guiding trail, cellblock tour, slideshow, and ranger programs. It is recommended that you wear warm clothesand comfortable shoes. Open daily in the spring, 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM. Ferriesdepart from Pier 41 at 9:30 and 10:15 AM, then every half-hour until 4:15PM.

Angel Island State Park (415-435-1915) is just a short ferry ridefrom Fisherman's Wharf's Pier 41. It is the largest island in the San FranciscoBay and has miles of hiking trails and bike paths, plus picnic areas. Historicmilitary structures from this West Coast internment camp still remain. Atram tour circles the island, and bike rentals are available at Ayala Cove.For kayak tours, call 415-488-1000, and for ferry information, call 415-705-5555.

Explore the San Francisco Bay as you walk through 300 feet of crystalclear tunnels at the Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39 (888-SEA-DIVE).See, touch, and learn the story of the living Bay. Open daily, 9 AM to 8PM (hours subject to change).

Barbary Coast Trail (415-775-1111) is a 3.8-mile meandering walkthrough the downtown area, which focuses on such scenes from the city'shistory as the Gold Rush, the 1906 earthquake and fire, and the 1950s beatnikmovement in North Beach. The route is marked by 150 brass plaques embeddedin the sidewalk.

Bay Area Discovery Museum (415-487-4398) is a family-fun museumthat has hands-on exhibits focusing on science, art, and multimedia. OpenTuesday through Sunday, 10 AM to 5 PM.

If you'd like to learn more about San Francisco's trolley system, takea firsthand look at the massive cables and machinery that power them atCable Car Barn & Powerhouse (415-474-1887). The onsite CableCar Museum has historic memorabilia and antique cable cars. Open daily,10 AM to 6 PM.

A world-famous center of research and education, California Academyof Sciences (415-750-7145) contains a popular museum complex featuringthe Natural History Museum; the interactive EARTHQUAKE exhibition; the SteinhartAquarium; and new Morrison Planetarium Star Shows. Open daily, 10 AM to5 PM.

Firemen saved the life of Lillie Coit as a child, and the heiress builtCoit Tower (415-362-0808) in their honor. Coit Tower is the bestway to see a panorama of the city from atop Telegraph Hill. You can climbthe stairs or take the 39 ("Coit") bus. Open daily, 10 AM to 7PM with tours on Tuesday and Thursday, 10:15 AM.

The historic Palace of Fine Arts is home to The Exploratorium(415-EXPLORE), referred to as "the best science museum in the world"with more than 650 hands-on exhibits. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 AM to 5PM.

Fisherman's Wharf contains blocks of souvenir shops with all theT-shirts, bumper stickers, and miniature cable cars your heart may desire.Although commercialized, it is also home to good seafood restaurants, sidewalkvendors selling fresh-boiled Dungeness crab and sourdough, museums, streetperformers, and barking sea lions in the boat harbor. Ferries to populardestinations, such as Alcatraz Island and Sausalito, start here at the piers.It's much easier to take a bus than to hunt for a parking space in thisarea.

Fort Mason Center (415-979-3010) is a World War II embarkationpoint that has been transformed into a cultural center. Former warehousesare now galleries, workshops, classrooms, studios, and even a vegetarianrestaurant. A variety of events are presented weekly. Open daily, 8 AM tomidnight.

The Civil War-era Fort Point (415-556-1693) sits beneath the southend of the Golden Gate Bridge. Take a guided tour, view videos, and visitthe military museum. Spectacular views abound. Open Thursday through Monday,10 AM to 5 PM.

The 49-Mile Scenic Drive auto route (415-283-0177) is marked witha heavy blue line painted on the roadway and distinctive road signs. Theroute offers car travelers a half-day drive (a minimum of 3 hours) pastthe city's most scenic and historic points, such as Ghirardelli Square,the Palace of the Legion of Honor, and Golden Gate Park. Maps are availableat the Visitor Information Center.

Golden Gate Bridge (415-556-0560) is the second-longest single-spansuspension bridge in the world. Walk or bike across its 3-mile arc connectingSan Francisco with Highway 101. Vista points and parking areas are locatedat the northeast and southeast ends of the bridge. Pedestrians can accessthe east sidewalk from 5 AM to 9 PM daily. It is a 50-minute walk over thebridge with views beyond compare. The historic "Roundhouse" atthe south end offers information and souvenirs.

Get inside Silicon Valley and explore the world of computer chipsat the Intel Museum-a high-tech museum. More than 30 entertaining,educational, hands-on exhibits show how computer chips are made and whatthey do. Open Monday through Friday, 9 AM to 6 PM; Saturday, 10 AM to 5PM.

Lombard Street is known as "The World's Most Crooked Street"since it was laid out in the 1920s. The hairpin turns in one block betweenHyde Street and Leavenworth descend a 40-degree slope faced with brick andflowers that make the street itself as spectacular as the view it providesof the city and the bay.

The Sony Entertainment Center "Metreon" (415-369-6000)is home to a collection of restaurants that provide diverse dining selections,family-friendly attractions, unique shopping, a 15-screen theater, and SanFrancisco's only IMAX theater. Don't miss Portal One and PlayStation forhands-on gaming; Sony Style and Digital Solutions for the latest technology;and Where the Wild Things Are for family fun. One-of-a-kind stores suchas Things From Another World and Games Workshop provide gifts and souvenirs.Open daily, 10 AM to 10 PM.

Pier 39 offers Aquarium of the Bay, Blue and Gold Fleet Bay Cruises,Turbo Ride action simulation films, and the new two-tiered Carousel withhand-painted with scenes of famous city landmarks. Visit the world-famoussea lions at K-Dock. Bay-view restaurants, specialty shops, and postcardviews add to the experience.

Inspired by the 1920s newspaper column, Ripley's Believe It or Not!Museum (415-771-6188) has 250 exhibits and interactive displays thatshowcase the unique, the odd, and the unusual. Open daily 10 AM to 10 PM;Friday and Saturday, open until midnight.

San Francisco Maritime Museum (415-561-7100) is adjacent to Hyde StreetPier and is housed in a historic art deco building resembling a cruise ship.The Museum features meticulously built ship models, beautifully carved andpainted figureheads, paintings, photographs, maps, scrimshaw, whaling gear,and samples of sailors' handicrafts. Open daily, 10 AM to 5 PM.

The only "floating" national park, the San Francisco MaritimeNational Historical Park (415-561-7100) includes Aquatic Park and HydeStreet Pier, home of the world's largest collection of historic ships. BoardNational Landmark vessels, including the 1886 square-rigger Balclutha, the1895 schooner C.A. Thayer, and more. Hyde Street Pier offers regular ranger-guidedtours, chantey sings, and hands-on demonstrations. Open daily, 9:30 AM to5 PM.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (415-357-4000) is open everyday except Wednesday, 11 AM to 6 PM; Thursdays until 9 PM.

Northern California's largest zoological park, San Francisco Zoo (415-753-7080),now features a new entrance village, Lemur Forest, with some of the world'smost endangered primates, Family Farm, Australian Walkabout, fully restoredCarousel, and new expanded gift shop and cafe. Open daily, 10 AM to 5 PM.

Six Flags Marine World (707-643-6722) is America's only combinationwildlife park, oceanarium, and theme park-home to wildlife and wild rides.Jump aboard world-class roller coasters, see amazing shows, and meet LooneyTunes pals. Open Friday through Sunday, May 2-25.

Self-guided tours of the restored WWII Liberty Ship "S.S. JeremiahO'Brien" (415-441-3101) includes the engine room, bridge, holds,gun tubs, crew and officers mess, and more. Open daily, 9 AM to 5 PM (lasttickets sold at 4 PM).

With 250 interactive exhibits, the Tech Museum of Innovation (408-294-TECH)puts you in touch with the latest technologies and inspires the innovatorin everyone. Open daily, 10 AM to 6 PM.

Experience the ultimate thrill ride with Turbo Ride at Pier 39 (415-392-8872),where the hydraulic seats move in synch with the action on the big screen.Discover why "seatbelts are positively required!"

The U.S.S. Hornet Museum (501-521-8448) is found in the historicaircraft carrier renowned for its WWII record and crucial role in the recoveryof Apollo 11 and 12. Explore this floating city, ride a flight simulator,and listen to tales from war-savvy docents. Open for self-guided or docenttours Wednesday through Monday, 10 AM to 5 PM.

Visitors can experience what life was like for the submariners duringWorld War II aboard the U.S.S. Pampanito (415-775-1943), now a NationalLandmark. Self-guided audio tour included as you explore the Pampanito'storpedo room, crew's quarters, control room, and fully operational galley.Open daily, 9 AM to 8 PM.

The Winchester Mystery House (888-SANJOSE) is the legacy of SarahWinchester, heiress to the Winchester Rifle fortune, who thought she woulddie if construction on her house stopped. The mansion has 160 rooms and2,000 doors-some opening to blank walls. Onsite historic firearms museumas well. Self-guided tour of Victorian Gardens. Open daily.