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San Francisco

Exploring the spectacular City by the Bay

What comes to mind of when you think of San Francisco? The Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, cable cars or Fisherman's Wharf? Well, San Francisco has all that and more.

Of course, San Francisco's undulating terrain isn't suitable for most RVs. However, many of the RV parks in and around the city are located near public transportation that will efficiently whisk you to some of the city's legendary attractions. Hop on a bus, ride the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART) or simply jump on a cable car for an unforgettable journey through iconic cityscapes.

Golden Gate Bridge
One of the best ways to get into San Francisco is across the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge was opened to traffic on May 28, 1937, and took a little over four years to build. The bridge crosses the Golden Gate Strait, named by Captain John C. Fremont, who years earlier said the area reminded him of a harbor in Istanbul named the Golden Horn.

Golden Gate National Park
Under the bridge and extending for 60 miles (about 30 miles north and south) is Golden Gate National Park. This park houses forts dating back to 1776, when the Spanish held the rights to San Francisco. There are also a number of smaller parks within the area, including Muir Woods, where the redwoods thrive. Check out the Nike Missile site to learn all you can about the Cold War and see the kind of hardware that protected our coastline.

Only 22 acres in size, Alcatraz boasts a big history that has inspired numerous Hollywood movies and occupies a permanent place in America's crime mythology. Originally built as a prison for soldiers convicted of crimes in the Philippines, the fortress began housing civilian criminals in 1934. Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly and the legendary Birdman of Alcatraz were just a few of the infamous criminals to occupy its now-empty cells.

Visitors can reach The Rock by Ferry that leaves the mainland at Fisherman's Wharf about every half hour. It would be wise to purchase your tickets well in advance on the National Park Service web site because tours often sell out, especially on weekends.

Fisherman's Wharf
If you're a fan of seafood, shopping or just sitting by the bay, then you're going to have a wonderful time at Fisherman's Wharf. Here you'll find outdoor food stands serving up steaming hot, fresh crab. Jugglers, clowns and mimes are among the street performers who will keep you entertained. You definitely don't want to miss strolling past pier 39 because that's where the sea lions hang out. On any given day you can find as many as 100 of these big ole lazy lions basking the midday sun.

Telegraph Hill
Now that you've seen some of the big attractions, it's time to do some exploring. You really do need to hop a cable car and head on up to Coit Tower. The tower sits atop Telegraph Hill and offers visitors a 360-degree view of the city. It was built in 1933 and houses murals on the ground floor as well as a history museum.

Are you wondering why they call it Telegraph Hill? Well, Telegraph Hill was the site of the very first telegraph line in San Francisco.

Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
On your way back to catch a cable car, you'll want to go down the Telegraph Hill Steps, where you'll see beautifully landscaped gardens, whimsically painted homes and—if you're really lucky—you'll catch a glimpse of the wild parrots that inhabit Telegraph Hill. At least two flocks of the colorful talkers nest and mate in the trees around the hill.

Cable Cars
Part of San Francisco's charm lies in its timeless cable cars. Nearly seven million people ride these iconic gems a year, tourists account for the majority of riders. The cars themselves don't have an engine for propulsion. They're actually pulled along by a series of cables beneath the streets that are in turn pulled from an engine house—similar in principle to a ski lift. This system makes these little cars climb the hills of San Francisco and never drop a bead of sweat. You can go just about anywhere you want to go in city on a cable car.

The rock band Starship once sang, "We built this city on rock and roll," and they did so from a pretty famous area of San Francisco—or at least it is now. The corner of Haight and Ashbury streets elicit visions of the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and, of course, "hippies." The area is located just off the Golden Gate Park, and although the '60s are long gone, the iconography is not, nor is the Bohemian ambiance that made the neighborhood so alluring to the flower children long ago. Today you can shop in unique boutiques, record shops and bookstores. It's a trip back to a time when the hippie culture reigned.

Angel Island
If you've had enough city for one day, then you should check out the only island remaining in the bay that hasn't been developed. Angel Island offers hiking, biking, fishing and photography, or you can just hang out on the beach. Visitors can reach Angel Island by ferry. The Angel Island Company offers tour packages that include a Segway jaunt around island.

Did you know?
Here are some fascinating facts about the City by the Bay:

• The cable car is the only moving National Historic Monument in the World. Built in 1873, the cable car system transports 9.7 million people around the city annually. For a detailed history of the SF Cable Cars, stop by the Cable Car Museum sometime. As a bonus, it's free.

• Marilyn Monroe married baseball star Joe Di Maggio in City Hall in 1954. Although they divorced just 274 days after they were married, the small, secret ceremony was leaked to the press hours before the wedding, turning it into quite a public skeptical. After their marriage, they lived in the Marina at 2150 Beach Street.

• The Chinese Fortune Cookie originated in San Francisco—Makoto Hagiwara, a Japanese immigrant and designer of Golden Gate Park's famous Japanese Tea Garden, created the first fortune cookie in 1914.

For More Information:
California Travel and Tourism Commission

San Francisco Travel