Article by Susan Backstrom
The US is packed with fascinating destinations and thanks to being married to a wonderful man I have gotten to see many. So wherever you choose to visit on your America tours, you will never be short of things to do and see. However, some places stand out to the extent that they become must-visit locations – and if you are planning to explore the West Coast, one of them is San Francisco.
Anyone who knows me knows I don’t drive. So for me to get away on a trip without having to drag my husband along, I have to rely on the help of others. In this case it was my two sisters treating me to a 60th birthday vacation. I got to choose where ever I wanted to go. I chose San Francisco. Of course traveling with my sisters leaves one drawback. The only time we are in the car is to the Airport. Once there it’s all tour buses, taxis, or some other form of public transportation. Where this has it’s benefits I do so miss the opportunity to just do as we like, pull over and photograph any of God’s gifts that we might pass along the way if we traveled by car or rv.
If you choose to travel through the west of the US on your adventure tours, you are certain to come across plenty of natural attractions that will live long in the memory. But make the time to include San Francisco on your schedule and you will also take home some fond memories of an urban area.
San Francisco is certainly a city with a difference. Ask anyone who has already visited and they will tell you it is unlike any other city in the US, thanks to its uniquely relaxed atmosphere and range of attractions.
One of the reasons it does not feel like any of the other major cities you will encounter as you travel across America is that parts of it still retain an old-fashioned feel. This is exemplified by San Francisco’s famous cable car system.
The trams first trundled up the city’s steep hills in 1873 and compared to modern transport systems, look like an anachronism. But there is a real charm about the cable cars that you are sure to enjoy as you rest your legs and take in the views over the city as you climb the inclines.
Much less charming than the quaint transport, but equally as interesting, is the fortress on Alcatraz Island. The imposing building was originally a military base, but is better known as the notorious high-security prison that no one could escape from – a reputation that meant the authorities chose to keep infamous gangsters such as Al Capone and Mickey Cohen there.
The prison has become part of popular culture after parts of movies such as The Rock, X-Men: The Last Stand and Escape From Alcatraz were set there. You will have the opportunity to see how much of it you recognise if you take a boat trip from San Francisco to Alcatraz Island and explore the prison – but don’t worry about encountering any fearsome inmates, as it is now a museum rather than a working jail.
There is also lots to see back in the city, including the range of attractions at Fisherman’s Wharf,where you can encounter everything from carousels to sea lions, together with museums and shops.
Animal lovers are sure to revel in the opportunity to see the California sea lions who live off Pier 39, while anyone interested in historic ships will find plenty to interest them at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. Fisherman’s Wharf is also home to a number of other museums, including one dedicated to penny arcade games and an exhibition of wax figures.
You will also want to visit Union Square, which is the central hub of San Francisco. The huge plaza is next to the city’s theatre district and forms a large part of its main shopping area. The shops range from lavish department stores selling designer clothes to boutiques offering jewellery and street fashions, so you are sure to find a good use for your credit cards. Just be sure to hide the receipts and monthly statement from the husband.
Before starting a busy day of sightseeing, you may want to find a good restaurant for a hearty breakfast – something that isn’t too difficult to do in San Francisco. I suggest heading over to “Mama”s” on Washington Square. You can meet the hostess and host, Debra & Michael Sanchez and enjoy a great full course breakfast.
There is also plenty to do after dark, as the streets are packed with bars, clubs and live entertainment venues. But before you crack open that first beer, it is a good idea to go and see Golden Gate Bridge.This feat of engineering is impressive at any time of day, but the suspension bridge is at its most spectacular when lit up for the night.
You are certain to enjoy spending a few days in San Francisco, even if it is shrouded in its famous fog for much of your visit. So why not include it alongside natural attractions such as the Grand Canyon and Yosemite National Park when you are planning your tour of the West Coast of America?