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Famous Places of Interest in San Francisco

Updated on April 22, 2014
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California | Source

San Francisco is one of the most exciting and cosmopolitan cities in the United States. Visitors cannot help but fall under the spell of the city's magnificent setting, with its white buildings sitting on the many hills that overlook the surrounding waters. With its historic buildings, beautiful parks, and wide range of cultural, recreational, and nighttime activities, San Francisco is one of the tourist's favorite cities.

Historical San Francisco

The two oldest of San Francisco's historic buildings are the Mission Dolores at 16th and Dolores streets and the former Commandant's House (now the Officers' Club) in the Presidio. Dating from 1776, they were the first houses built within the borders of the present city. Both were unpretentious structures, their thick walls made of adobe bricks and their tile roofs supported by hand-hewn timbers lashed together by thongs of cowhide and fastened with wooden pegs. They were permitted to fall into partial ruin during the Mexican regime but were subsequently restored.

Portsmouth Square
Portsmouth Square | Source

Adjoining the mission to the south is San Francisco's first cemetery, where many pioneers of the Mexican and early American period are buried. In front of the Officers' Club at the Presidio are three ancient cannons, part of the original defenses of the harbor. Two were cast in Madrid in the early 1500s, and the third bears the date 1679. Another historic building in the Presidio is Ft. Point, which long guarded the southern portal of the Golden Gate. Standing on the site of the original adobe fort put up by the Spanish in 1794, the present massive brick structure, which once mounted more than 100 cannons, was completed in 1857.

The old Spanish plaza, now called Portsmouth Square, was the center of the early city and is rich in historical associations. About it were grouped the trading posts and living quarters of the original settlers, and the hotels, theaters, and gambling casinos of gold rush days. In the northwest corner stood the small customhouse above which the American flag was first raised on July 9, 1846. At one corner of the square -beneath which a city-owned parking facility has been built- is a handsome monument to the author Robert Louis Stevenson, who frequented the spot during his stay in San Francisco in 1879.

Popular Attractions

Chinatown in San Francisco
Chinatown in San Francisco | Source

Adjoining Portsmouth Square on the west is San Francisco's colorful Chinatown, a veritable city within a city and the largest Chinese quarter outside the Orient. Grant Avenue from Bush Street to Columbus Avenue is the heart of Chinatown. Fronting on it and on neighboring streets and alleys are the bazaars, restaurants, markets, and temples that make the district a major attraction.

Fisherman's Wharf
Fisherman's Wharf | Source
San Francisco Zoo
San Francisco Zoo | Source
Presidio | Source
Union Square
Union Square | Source
Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park | Source
Twin Peaks Park
Twin Peaks Park | Source

Another picturesque spot is Fisherman's Wharf, at the foot of Taylor Street. There the boats of the fishing fleet tie up before a group of restaurants serving the many varieties of seafood found in Pacific Coast waters. A few blocks west of Fisherman's Wharf is the Maritime Museum, which displays interesting material relating to the city's history as a world seaport. Also near the wharf are the Cannery and Ghirardelli Square, each a picturesque complex of galleries, shops, and restaurants occupying respectively an old fruit-packing plant and a former chocolate factory.

Other points of interest are the Cliff House and Fleishhacker Zoo, both on the oceanfront; the Japanese Cultural and Trade Center; and Coit Tower, rising 210 feet (64 meters) atop Telegraph Hill. The Latin Quarter, where many artists reside, is near the base of Telegraph Hill. The old Barbary Coast in North Beach is much changed from the days when its dance halls and gambling resorts were known to sailors from all over the world.

Parks and Squares

The most celebrated of San Francisco's many open spaces is Golden Gate Park, which contains more than 1,000 acres (400 hectares) and extends inland from the beach for more than 4 miles (6 km). When the city acquired the property in 1870, it was a waste area of barren sand hills interspersed with clumps of stunted oaks. Over the years this unprepossessing spot was transformed into an attractively wooded area of lakes, gardens, and scenic driveways, together with tennis courts, bowling greens, and numerous other recreational facilities. Also within the park are an art museum, aquarium, planetarium, music concourse, and a charming and popular Japanese tea garden.

The Presidio, occupying more than 1,500 acres (600 hectares) at the northernmost tip of the peninsula, has been a military reservation since 1776 and now serves as headquarters of the U.S. Sixth Army. Today much of its surface is covered with thick stands of cypress and eucalyptus trees, with scenic drives along the ocean side. Overlooking the bay are numerous military installations, including parade grounds, an airstrip, a hospital, workshops, warehouses, and living quarters for officers and men.

Other open spaces include Union Square, center of the retail shopping district; Sigmund Stern Memorial Grove, scene of open-air summer concerts; Twin Peaks Park; and, in a district now given over to factories and warehouses, quaint, oval-shaped South Park, where in the 1850s and 1860s the city's elite made their homes.

Civic Center Plaza
Civic Center Plaza | Source
San Francisco Opera House
San Francisco Opera House | Source

Notable Buildings

A number of impressive public buildings are grouped about the Civic Center Plaza, including the two-blocks-square City Hall with its 309-foot (94-meter) dome, the Civic Auditorium, Public Library, and State Building. Across Van Ness Avenue from City Hall are the Municipal Opera House and the Veterans' Memorial Building. All are faced with California granite and form a harmonious unit architecturally. Nearby is the 20-story Federal Office and Courts Building, completed in 1963. The Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall, part of the Performing Arts Center, was completed in 1980. The George Moscone Convention Center, a major unit of the South of Market urban-renewal project, was opened on Dec. 2, 1981.

Sports and Festivals

During the 1960s and the 1970s a group of lofty new buildings sprang up in the downtown district. Among the tallest are the 52-story headquarters of the Bank of America, the 42-story Security Pacific National Bank Building in the Embarcadero Center development, and the headquarters building of the Transamerica Corporation, a pyramid-shaped structure of 48 stories topped by a 212-foot (65-meter) spire. Construction in the Union Square area has included several hotels of 30 stories or more and lofty additions to two existing hotels: the St. Francis and the San Francisco Hilton.

Always a pleasure-loving city, San Francisco lends support to numerous festivals, ranging from Chinese New Year and the annual Columbus Day celebrations to horse shows, rodeos, regattas, and the East-West football game. In the field of professional sports, the city has been represented in baseball since 1959 by the San Francisco Giants and in football since 1946 by the Forty-Niners. The Giants play at AT&T Park (opened 2000), and the Forty-Niners at Candlestick Park.


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