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Who has never dreamed of living on the West Coast of the United States? I suggest a stopover in San Francisco. The sloping streets, the fog, the hippie neighborhoods, the California sun and the Pacific Ocean as far as the eye can see… San Francisco: Everything you need to know about the city, neighborhood by neighborhood! I take you to one of the most emblematic cities in the world.
The Golden Gate and the Presidio
To the west of the city, on the edge of the bay, is the Golden Gate Strait. It marks the point of entry to San Francisco Bay and connects it to the Pacific Ocean. The Golden Gate Bridge, an impressive suspension bridge, connects the two sides of the strait. Symbol of the Californian city, it was the highest and longest suspension bridge in the world at the time of its inauguration in 1937. Easily recognizable by its international orange color and its twin towers, the Golden Gate Bridge is the most famous monument in the city.
To the southeast of the bridge, the Presidio is a former military stronghold transformed into a park offering a multitude of bike paths and hiking trails, as well as many historic buildings. A little further down is Golden Gate Park, one of the largest urban parks in the world. This garden stretches from the shores of the Pacific to the center of the city. I recommend the beautiful Japanese Tea Garden with its lake and its Buddha of almost three meters!
This park includes many attractive places, such as the Shakespeare Garden and the Tropical Garden, or the Conservatory of Flowers with a huge greenhouse dating from the 19th century. The de Young Museum offers collections of art and paintings from around the world. A stop at the observation tower on the 9th floor of the museum offers a 360 degree view of the city!
Nob Hill, Russian Hill and Chinatown
The lively Nob Hill district is located in the heart of the Californian city. It’s one of the places to go to enjoy breathtaking views of the city’s hills and steep streets. Hotels, restaurants, stores mingle with historic Victorian architecture. Russian Hill, to the north of the neighborhood, will reveal Lombard Street, “the most winding street in the world. Cars zigzag carefully around the twists and turns lined with thick groves.
I invite you to join Russian Hill aboard a Cable Car, the famous cable cars that criss-cross the American city. There’s nothing like it to make you feel like a Franciscan, for whom this is the usual mode of transportation. The views of the streets and the Pacific are simply breathtaking! The Grace Cathedral on the Huntington Park side is worth a visit. East of Nob Hill, you must pass through the Dragon Gate opening on the famous Chinatown!
San Francisco is home to the largest Chinatown in North America and one of the largest Chinese communities outside Asia. Wandering through the typical Asian alleys mixed with a distinctly American atmosphere is a unique experience that I recommend.
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Civic Center and Pacific Heights
In the heart of San Francisco, Civic Center is an administrative district with Beaux-Arts style buildings from the early 20th century, such as the majestic City Hall with its baroque dome. This area is also home to the War Memorial Opera House, which houses the San Francisco Opera and the San Francisco Ballet.
Save money and get a San Francisco City Pass to enjoy many activities !
I suggest you wander through the stores and beautiful bookstores of Fillmore Street, the heart of the shopping district located between the Civic Center and Pacific Heights. Pacific Heights is an upscale residential area located on a hill with streets lined with elegant Victorian homes. The Alta Plaza offers a fantastic view of San Francisco. The Marina area is picturesque with its waterfront walkways, ocean dunes and fishing areas.
Around the Civic Center, Hayes Valley is a colorful neighborhood with many cafes, restaurants and folk stores. This area is known for its relaxed atmosphere and diverse house styles.
Fisherman’s Wharf and North Beach
This is the historic fishing district that has become one of the city’s most touristy areas. This lively oceanfront area offers plenty of entertainment. The Pier39, a refurbished wooden pier, a former cargo unloading dock, looks like a wooden fishing village. Restaurants, souvenir stores, the Bay Area Aquarium, or The Flyer, a flight simulation over San Francisco are among the many activities to explore in the area. Atmosphere guaranteed with brick buildings and steaming crabs for sale on the street! Sailing the bay on a water cab or tour is one of the activities I recommend.
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This area takes you to Alcatraz Island, home of the notorious former penitentiary. South of Fisherman’s Wharf is North Beach. This area is called “Little Italy” because of its large Italian community. It is the former bohemian literary district that gave rise to the Beat Generation. From my perspective, a stop at the City Light Bookstore at the corner of Columbus Avenue and Broadway is a must. The rest of the program is just as tempting: you can choose between a good slice of pizza or fresh pasta, stroll in Washington Square or enjoy the picturesque wooden houses of Telegraph Hill!
San Francisco Downtown
San Francisco’s downtown area is filled with buildings and attractions. The Financial District is worth a visit with the shops of Montgomery Street, the shopping district of Union Square or the SoMa (South of Market), a district of artists and avant-garde theater. Travel back in time by visiting the Wells Fargo History Museum where Wild West stagecoaches are on display. In the extension of the Financial District is the Embarcadero district.
Located near the waterfront, this area offers great views and is the departure point for ferries to the North and East Bay. The many cafes, restaurants and markets in the Ferry Building Marketplace are worth a visit.
Haight Ashbury, Castro and Mission District
A former hippie hangout, Haight Ashbury in South San Francisco has retained a folkloric edge. This neighborhood is full of vinyl record stores, cafes and quirky restaurants. The two famous Twin Peaks hills overlook the city at a height of nearly 280 meters. Pretty parks and colorful Victorian homes dot the area.
Between the Twin Peaks and the Mission District, the Castro, San Francisco’s gay neighborhood, has taken its place. In the eastern extension of the Castro, the Mission District is a trendy area with a wide variety of restaurants and stores. Mission Dolores, founded by Spanish monks in the 19th century, is one of the oldest buildings in the city. Nearby Mission Street, lined with Victorian homes, is a picturesque place to visit. Between Twin Peaks and Mission District, I recommend you to wander among the typical wooden houses of the quiet sector of Noe Valley.
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A change of scenery is guaranteed! Finally, east of the Mission District, close to the ocean, Bayview is a business district with the oldest opera house in San Francisco.