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Learn about San Francisco, by reading San Francisco – The Place to Lose Your Heart by Charlie Spence, WTA Member and Travel Writer. It features a mini, but thorough tour of the destination, plus all you'll need to know to plan your trip including getting there, objective information on places to stay and eat, and things to do. At the end of the article, we've provided a summary of the contact information for your easy reference. Enjoy!

San Francisco—The Place to Lose Your Heart

by Charlie Spence, WTA Member and Aviation Writer

I must confess. This is a love letter. I have had an unabashed love affair with San Francisco before I ever went there to live and for, lo, these many years that we have been separated. But this is not a surprising revelation to anyone who has ever approached this charming beauty.

San Francisco—don’t ever call her ‘Frisco—covers only 49 square miles but no place will you find so much for so many assembled into so little space. Despite her limited size, there is no sense of crowding, and large areas are devoted to pure pleasures, such as Golden Gate Park, the Presidio, and Palace of Fine Arts.


Fisherman’s Wharf is the most popular tourist destination in San Francisco.
Still a working fishing pier, it receives thousands of tons of fresh fish and crabs annually.

The city has something for everybody. The number one attraction for persons of all ages is Pier 39—Fisherman’s Wharf. Seafood cannot get any fresher than directly from the boats to the kitchen of one of the Wharf’s 13 bay-view restaurants or a steaming crab pot on the sidewalk. Street performers spread their gaiety. Sea lions frolic near the shore. Arcades, attractions for people of all ages, and a festive marketplace with 110 stores make this a difficult place to leave. But leave we must because San Francisco has so much more.

Market Street divides the city. North of this divide, the streets are in a pattern that one can reach Market Street by making only right hand turns. At the foot of Market is the old Ferry Building, where connections were made with Oakland and the East Bay before construction of the Bay Bridge, not to be confused with the Golden Gate Bridge that connects to Marin County in the north.


Cable cars climb all the way to the stars.
If you want to look like a native, stand on the step instead of taking a seat.

Powell and Market may be just about the center of the downtown area. Here, one route of the cable cars has a turntable to reverse its course. Stick around and watch as the grip man swings the car around. As you ride the cars or walk along the street on which they run listen for the bells rung by the grip men. Each grip man has a unique ring.

Union Square isn’t far away and there you will find additional stores and hotels. Find shops around the square and on nearby Maiden Lane, a narrow, two-block-long lane that got its name from business activities conducted there by ladies during the city’s raucous years. Stores in SF are some of the finest you will find anywhere and the shopping districts attract persons from all over northern California. Because of the many stores with fine styles and the area’s weather that permits spending more on fewer individual pieces instead of dividing the expense among clothing for four different seasons, San Francisco has been said to have some of the finest-dressed women in the country. This is particularly true along Montgomery Street, the West’s financial district.

Nearby to Union Square is the Tenderloin district and wary travelers are alert if they enter this section.

On many street corners in the downtown area flower stands not only provide easy access to purchase of flowers but contribute to the beauty of the city. These stands as well as the many retail flower shops in the area get their goods from the flower mart. Started in the late 1800s when local flower growers brought their products three days a week to Lotta’s Fountain in the downtown city, the Flower Terminal has developed and grown with the city. Today, the Terminal at Sixth and Brannan Streets in the South of Market Street area is where 60 vendors provide their wares to local retailers and where the public may shop during certain hours.

Of course, one of your stops will be at Chinatown on Grant Street. Fascinating shops, delightful restaurants, Oriental products, and interesting people make this a place to spend many delightful hours. You’ll find a wide variety of colorful products—silk, jade, artifacts, and antiques. Ross Alley between Grant and Stockton was once the site of opium dens and brothels, but more recently has served as the backdrop in movies such as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Karate Kid II. Along Ross Alley drop in and see how fortune cookies are made. Grant Street is lined with Chinese restaurants offering delicious dishes. If you are fortunate enough to know someone who just happens to know someone who can get you to a restaurant when the natives of Chinatown eat, you will find the Chinese menu without the American influence.

But don’t limit yourself to the beauty and shopping of the downtown area. The Presidio is a park like no other. Once it was the premiere west coast installation for the U.S. Army. Now it is an historic landmark and part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area, the world’s largest national park in an urban setting. In 1776, the Presidio was established as a military post by a Spanish expedition that marched north from Senora, Mexico. It became a frontier outpost after Mexico obtained its freedom from Spain and during the Mexican-American War of 1846 the U.S. Army took control. As a result of base closures, the Presidio was transferred to the National Park Service in 1994.

Drive out to see Mission Delores, the oldest building in San Francisco. The Franciscan Friars and the Ohlone Indians built it in 1791. This was when the land was claimed by the Spaniards and called Alta California. In back of the adobe structure the Mission Cemetery has many historic headstones.

Drop over to the Marina District and visit the Palace of Fine Arts. This structure was built originally for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exhibition. For years it was neglected even though the public loved the romantic lagoon and Romanesque rotunda. In 1966 it was rebuilt and now you will enjoy one of the most unusual museums in the world—the hands-on science Exploratorium.

Take a cable car to the top of California Street and Nob Hill. Here the gold rush and railroad nabobs (slang for wealthy men, which gave Nob Hill its name) built their mansions. Here now are some of the mansions of these millionaires and some of the city’s finest hotels. Enjoy a great view of the area from the “Top o the Mark” room of the Mark Hopkins Hotel.

The famous Lombard Street is between Hyde and Leavenworth. This “crookedest street in the world” winds through eight hairpin turns in a single block.


Alcatraz in the middle of San Francisco Bay was the home of Al Capone,
Robert Stroud “The Birdman of Alcatraz” and others who found
this place a chilling destination for maximum-security convicts.

You will certainly want to take a boat of the Blue and Gold Fleet from Pier 41at Beach Street and The Embarcadero out to Alcatraz Island in the middle of San Francisco Bay. This visit to the historic and infamous federal prison is one of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s most popular destinations. Not only will you tour the prison but also see the gardens, tide pools, and bird colonies that are being preserved. You will hear recorded interviews with actual guards of this former home for such individuals as Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly. In addition, there are some spectacular views of “The City,” as natives call it, and of The Golden Gate Bridge.

San Francisco rarely gets hot and rarely gets cold. Should you time your visit during the summer months, bring something besides your usual light colored and lightweight clothes. If you don’t the natives will smile at you as they pass you on the street corner as you stand there shivering. Being friendly, however, many might say “hello, tourist.”

And by the way, as you enjoy this unique city if you happen to come across my heart don’t be surprised. That’s where I left it.

Details

How to Get There

San Francisco International Airport is just down the peninsula from the City. It is served by more than 40 regional, national, and international airlines. Across the San Francisco Bay, the Oakland International Airport is the facility used by about a dozen airports, including many of the lower-cost carriers. Train service comes in to San Francisco from the south or into Oakland. Driving from the north takes you into the City over the Golden Gate Bridge. From the east you cross the Bay Bridge and from the south you drive up the peninsula.

Where to Stay

San Francisco has a variety of places ranging from bed and breakfast’s through economy motels and hotels to plush facilities like the Mark Hopkins, Fairmont, or the Huntington on Nob Hill. Decide in what part of town you want to stay and there will be good accommodations there for you.

You can check rates and book your room and rental car using WTA’s Online Travel Booking Service, http://worldtravelers.org/travelservices.asp. Significant savings on hotel rates may apply.

Where to Dine

You will have a difficult time getting a bad meal in San Francisco. Almost anyplace you go will serve food long to remember. Of course, you will want to try several at Fisherman’s Wharf, some in Chinatown, dishes in the various districts like North Beach, the Mission District, the Embarcadero, and other diverse locations in this magnetic city.

Notice: This information is current as of November 2005. It is recommended that you contact the numbers, and/or visit the web sites above to determine any changes to the information.