City Tour - San Francisco, California
San Francisco consistently dominates top travel lists, including those for best U.S. city, best dining city, best walking town, most creative, happiest, and … well, the accolades and honors go on and on. And that’s no small feat, considering how many great cities there are in the United States. But, then again, no other city’s personality quite compares to San Francisco’s fun-loving, freewheeling, dance-to-its-own-beat spirit.
The best way to get into the San Francisco groove is to hop aboard one of the city’s famous cable cars. These historic, picture-perfect cars are a fun way to explore different neighborhoods, including Chinatown, Nob Hill and Fisherman’s Wharf.
Plan to spend at least one, if not two days, exploring the city’s busy waterfront. Highlights include Pier 39, home to the Aquarium of the Bay. Here, you can see sharks, explore giant plexiglass tunnels that burrow through tanks filled with 20,000 marine animals, or relax while watching mesmerizing jellies.
The pier is also the place to catch a Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise. This fully narrated, one-hour tour sails past Pier 39’s resident sea lions, under the Golden Gate Bridge, and around Alcatraz Island, site of America’s most infamous prison. After a morning cruise, stop by the pier’s Boudin Bakery Café for a lunch of delicious fresh-baked sourdough bread and a bowl of clam chowder.
The newest addition to the waterfront is the Exploratorium. Recently relocated to a brand-new facility at Pier 15, the Exploratorium is an interactive museum dedicated to the excitement of experimentation and the power of play. You can explore more than 600 hands-on exhibits and enjoy breathtaking views from the spectacular Bay Observatory.
After spending a few days on the waterfront, head inland to Golden Gate Park. The park’s more than 1,000 acres (405 hectares) have a wealth of attractions, including the de Young Museum and the California Academy of Sciences. The Academy is the world’s only aquarium-planetarium-rainforest-living museum. Come face to face with penguins and piranhas, climb into the canopy of a four-story rainforest, and stop and smell the wildflowers on a 2.5-acre (1 hectare) living roof.
Situated just across from the Academy is the de Young Museum, showcasing international art from all continents. After perusing the exhibits, be sure to climb to the top of the museum’s Hamon Tower Observatory for a panoramic view of the park.
Money-saving Tip: San Francisco is one of 10 American destinations that offer the CityPASS program. Each San Francisco CityPASS ticket booklet includes a prepaid Muni & Cable Car 7-Day Passport, which allows a week’s worth of unlimited rides on all city buses, streetcars, and San Francisco’s world-famous cable cars. It also saves travelers more than 40 percent off combined admission to four attractions: the California Academy of Sciences, a Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise, a choice between the Aquarium of the Bay and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, located in Monterey, California; and a choice between the Exploratorium and the de Young and Legion of Honor museums.