It’s the city by the bay. Where little cable cars climb half way to the stars. San Francisco has inspired some of the greatest lyrics of all time, but more than that, it’s become one of the must visit cities of the world.
It’s hardly surprising given the wealth of fascinating attractions on offer to the visitor. From Alcatraz Prison to The Golden Gate Bridge, and Coit Tower to Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco is sure to delight any pre or post cruise traveller.
Alcatraz is high on most people’s list of attractions to visit. The prison out in the middle of the bay was home to America’s most notorious felons, including the infamous Al Capone and the Birdman. Prisoners were sent to Alcatraz when no other jail could hold them; the combination of double strength bars and thick walls anchored into rock, surrounded by icy, swirling waters virtually ensured it was escape proof.
During its 29 years of operation 36 prisoners were involved in 14 separate escape attempts. Of those, 23 men were caught alive, 8 died and 5 were never seen again. The Authorities presumed the missing men drowned, though rumours persist of their successful evasion.
Ferry trips to Alcatraz Prison depart from Pier 33 (near Fisherman’s Wharf). Tickets can be purchased at the pier (photo ID is required). Those with limited mobility should note that the climb from the dock to Alcatraz prison is quite steep.
In San Francisco the temptation is always to go up – the hills beckon! Perhaps the most beautiful of all the hills to climb is Telegraph Hill. Tree lined and with stunning examples of local architecture the climb is worth the effort. At the top of Telegraph Hill is Coit Tower in the city’s Pioneer Park. The art deco tower, with frescos by 27 artists, was completed in 1933 with a bequest from Lillie Hitchcock Coit. Her simple instruction was to beautify the city of San Francisco. The view from the top is outstanding, indeed you’ll even see the cruise terminal near by!
Another of San Francisco’s famed hills is Russian Hill and the best way to reach it is by one of the city’s iconic cable cars. Jump abroad and you’ll be whisked upward at a constant speed of 9.5 miles per hour. The real excitement comes when the little car crests the hill and pitches nose-down for the step decent! At any moment it seems the antique car could careen of down the hill, but fear not, the grip man standing at the back of the car has 30,000 psi of pressure holding you secure.
Haight-Ashbury and the Castro
San Francisco is known the world over for it’s bohemian, alternative cultures. “Be sure to wear a flower in you hair”, said the famous song. This culture was in full bloom on the hippy lined streets of Haight-Ashbury and of course in the city’s gay district, the Castro. It was from the Castro that the gay rights movement in America grew thanks to people like local resident Harvey Milk, the first openly gay American politician. He won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, but was later assassinated by fellow board member, Dan White. You can still see Harvey Milk’s home at the south end of the Castro today.
Golden Gate Bridge
Perhaps one of the greatest joys of any visit to San Francisco lies in the simple pleasure of jumping in a car and driving across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. It spans the channel between the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula and Marin County. The travel guide Frommers considers the Golden Gate Bridge “possibly the most beautiful, certainly the most photographed, bridge in the world”. They may be right, but perhaps Judy Garland best summed up the Bridge and its city: “San Francisco, open your golden gate, I’m coming home again, I’m here!”