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Explore the San Francisco metropolitan area – including Marin County, Palo Alto, Santa Cruz, and more – for sites like Stanford, Alcatraz, Chinatown, Muir Woods, and Jack London's former stomping grounds.
Day 1: San Francisco / City Center
Visit SF Travel Association's Information Center, 900 Market Street, P.O. Box 429097, S. F., 94142-9097, (415) 391-2000, for a free “The San Francisco Book” and a city visitor’s map. While there, check out the fabulous Yerba Buena Gardens nearby at Third Street between Mission and HowaRoad It houses the Center for the Arts, SF Museum of Modern Art, SONY Metreon and the SF home of Target.
Best way to get bearings of the city is driving the 49-mile Scenic Drive around San Francisco, marked by blue-and-white-seagull signs on light poles. Start on Market Street downtown. The drive will take you through and by key historic and scenic places such as Japantown, Fillmore Street, Chinatown, Nob Hill, Fisheman's Wharf, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Zoo, Mission Dolores and back to the bayfront. Allow four hours drive time.
Stop in Japantown for the Nichi Bei Kai Cultural Center, 1759 Sutter Street, where monthly tea ceremonies are held. The Nihonmachi Mall, lined with shops, was designed to remind you of a traditional Japanese village. It is the location of the Cherry Blossom Festival and the Nihonmachi Street Fair. Here, and on nearby Fillmore Street, are excellent restaurants, cafes and upscale shops where locals hang out.
Make sure to include North Beach, Japantown, and Chinatown; for Mexican and Central American try the Mission District and for Asian, try Clement Street. Getting around downtown, leave your car in a Best Western parking garage and travel by MUNI (bus), Cable Car, BART, the "F-Line" or taxi. Discounted MUNI Passports for one, three, and seven days, are available at MUNI stations.
Day 2: San Francisco Bay
Cruise day, beginning with a cruise and tour of Alcatraz Island National Historic Landmark, Red & White Fleet, Pier 41, and Fisherman’s Wharf, (415) 546-2700 – tickets, (415) 546-2628 – schedule. Plan on at least three hours.
Once a notorious federal maximum security prison housing equally infamous prisoners, Alcatraz is now part of the National Park Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior. On returning, spend the afternoon touring the North Beach area that includes Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower.
For an unforgettable experience with great food and incredible scenery, take an evening dinner cruise aboard a Hornblower Dining Yacht, Pier 33, The Embarcadero, (415) 788-8866, ext. 7.
Day 3: Embarcadero / Pier 39 / Fisherman’s Wharf
From the BART/Muni Powell Street station on Market Street, take the Powell-Hyde line cable car or MUNI to Victorian Park. Spend the day sightseeing along the Northern Waterfront. This area includes Ft. Mason Center, Ghirardelli Square, Hyde Street Pier, Pier 45, the Cannery, The Anchorage, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Pier 39. Ft. Mason, (415) 979-3010, was the departure point for 1.5 million WWII soldiers heading to the Pacific.
Housed in the center today are galleries and performance centers of various San Francisco cultural groups: Craft and Folk Art Museum, Museo Italo-American, African American Cultural Society, and the Mexican Museum. At Pier 3 in the Center, the SS Jeremiah O’Brien is moored. The vessel, open for touring, is one of over 2,700 WWII Liberty ships built and used by the U.S. in the Pacific and European war zones. Take the Coastal Walk over to the Fort’s older section. The U. S. Army’s western headquarters was located here during the Native American conflicts of the late 1800s.
The SF Maritime Museum, Beach Street at Polk, (415) 447-5000, and built like an ocean liner is also located here. Inside are collections of model ships and historic pictures connected to the maritime industry. In addition, the SF Maritime Historical Park's Visitors Center tells a story of the maritime history of the West Coast. In the 10,000 square–foot facility, visitors can experience a slice of the area’s seafaring history and sample the park’s extensive collection through interactive exhibits, lectures and an auditorium for educational events. The new Visitor Center is a great starting point for those visiting this National Park and Fisherman’s Wharf.
Ghirardelli Square, which began as an 1864 woolen mill that later was bought by Domingo Ghirardelli and turned into a chocolate factory, is today a complex of seven buildings that is a premiere shopping and eating area for the waterfront. It is on the National Historic Register. Tour the five historic vessels moored at Hyde Street Pier and Pier 45. The Balclutha, is a three-mast merchant ship built in 1886 that sailed around Cape Horn on 18 trips.
The Eureka, a large passenger and car ferry was used in the north and east bays. The C.A. Thayer, an 1895 lumber schooner, frequented the “doghole ports” of northern California hauling timber to San Francisco. At Pier 45 is the 1943 USS Pampanito submarine, (415) 441-5819, with a colorful history of Pacific theater action during WWII. Admission fee. The Cannery, Beach, and Leavenworth, built as a fruit cannery in 1907 offers excellent shopping, along with outdoor performers. Additionally, the Museum of the City of San Francisco, (415) 928-0289, on the third floor shows some of the city’s exciting history, (call for hours of operation). The Anchorage Shopping Center is across the street with still more boutique and restaurant options.
Fisherman’s Wharf has been the center of the local fishing industry since 1900 when first Chinese and then Italian fishermen unloaded their catches to be bought by the local residents. Even though greatly reduced in number, you can still see some boats unload their catch during early morning hours. From open-air fresh fish stands to Italian named waterfront restaurants, the Wharf is part of the memory of San Francisco. Pier 39 is a turn-of-the-century fishing pier turned shopping complex and festival marketplace with more than 110 stores, 14 Bay-view restaurants, and a variety of fun-filled attractions for all ages including street performers and live daily entertainment.
From the pier, a natural fun experience is watching the antics of the sea lion population who feel they have a right to enjoy the scenery as well. Cap off the evening with a delightful dinner at Alioto’s on the Wharf. Walk straight up Taylor Street for three blocks to Bay and catch the Powell-Mason cable car back to Market and Powell.
Day 4: Marin County / North Bay
Take US 101 north across the Golden Gate Bridge. North of Marin City pick up Highway 1 through West Marin and Stinson Beach to Point Reyes National Seashore. Area information available from the Marin County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1013 Larkspur Landing Circle, Larkspur, 94939, (415) 499-5000.
Along the way you will pass Muir Woods National Monument, (415) 388-7059, where you can hike in its majestic redwoods, and Mt. Tamalpais State Park, (415) 388-2070, with scenic hiking trails that give you breathtaking views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. South of Olema stop at the park’s Bear Valley Visitor Center, (415) 464-5100, for maps and interesting exhibits and the Earthquake Trail. This short loop-trail shows results from the area’s seismic activity (Olema was the epicenter of the 1906 earthquake).
Continue north to the Pt. Reyes Station and take the Sir Francis Drake Blvd. out to the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse, (415) 669-1534, a popular place in December-February for whale watching. Sir Francis Drake reputedly put ashore here in 1579 to repair his ship and rest his men. The lighthouse itself is 308 steps down the cliff. No sweat going down, but coming up, it’s a different story! Return to Highway 1 and Olema by staying on Sir Francis Drake Blvd. until it branches to 4th Street to San Rafael. Visit the replica of the next to the last California Mission, 1104 5th Street. Go South to 2nd Street to Highway 101 South, to the towns of Corte Madera and Larkspur. (The latter was settled by Coastal Miwok Indians more than 2,000 years ago.)
Corte Madera offers superb shopping centers on either side of Highway 101 at the Tamalpais Exit. Downtown Larkspur, just west of Corte Madera is listed on the National Historic Register. Walking tour guides are available from the Larkspur Library. Take Paradise Drive in Corte Madera east to the villages of Tiburon and Belvedere, the “Gold Coast” of Marin County. The drive offers views of the north bay and Angel Island, the “Ellis Island of the West,” where 200,000 Chinese immigrants were processed at the turn of the century. Ft. McDowell, where soldiers from WWI & II were processed is also on the island. Ferries run regularly during the summer between the Island and Tiburon from the pier on Main Street, (415) 435-2131.
Continue on Paradise Drive through Belvedere under US 101 for a drive through Mill Valley. Return via Miller Avenue to US 101 and head into the bayside community of Sausalito. This town was inhabited by Miwok Indians when discovered by Spanish explorer, Juan Manual de Ayala in 1775. Liberty ships were built here during WWII. In the 1950s, this area was invaded by artists and writers and now is home to a community of house boaters. Wander the streets and visit the specialty shops. Or find a seat in the shade and people-watch. One stop to make is the Army Corps of Engineers’ San Francisco Bay Area Model, a 1.5-acre scaled model of the Bay and all of its tributaries, 2100 Bridgeway, (415) 332-3871. After dinner in one of Sausalito’s excellent restaurants, head back to the city via US 101 or stay over in Marin.
Day 5: Chinatown / Financial District
Sightseeing in Chinatown, home to at least 20,000 residents, can be self-guided or with a group. One of the most popular tours from Portsmouth Square is Wok Wiz Chinatown Adventure Tours & Cooking Company, 750 Kearny Street, Ste. 800, 94108, (650) 355-9657, offered with or without lunch and in evenings with dinner. For a self-guided tour, begin at the Chinatown Gate, Grant & Bush and walk north along Grant Avenue, the main tourist thoroughfare of the area.
You will pass the Ching Chung Temple, 532 Grant, (415) 433-2623, a Taoist Temple of worship. In the next block, ironically, is the Old Cathedral of St. Mary built in 1854 as the first cathedral for the city’s Roman Catholic Diocese. At Commercial, turn right to 650 and the Chinese Historical Society, (415) 391-1188, dedicated to Chinese- American history preservation. Go north on Kearny to the gathering place of Chinatown, Portsmouth Square. Here you will see traditional games and local neighborhood activities. The Chinese Culture Center, with exhibitions of Chinese art, is at 750 Kearny, 3rd floor, (415) 986-1822 (call for hours of operation). Head west on Washington and do a quick up-and down pass on Waverly Place, a two-block alley where colorful ornaments have been added to balconies giving them the distinctive Chinese appearance. Three temples are on Waverly. Take Ross Alley north to #56, Golden Gate Fortune Cookies Company and stop in to try out the product right from the oven.
Head to Stockton Street via Jackson. Authentic Chinese restaurants are in this area. Along Stockton is the where the traditional Chinese shop on Saturday afternoons. Continue on Stockton to California and catch the cable car to the Financial District getting off at Montgomery Street. Visit the Wells Fargo History Museum, 420 Montgomery, (415) 396-2619, with features such as gold nuggets and the restored Concord stagecoach, the corporation’s logo. At 600 Montgomery is the Transamerica Pyramid 48-floor office tower that gives uniqueness to the city’s skyline. The 24th floor observation level is open during business hours and provides superb views of the northern bays and beaches.
Go to historic Jackson Square, Montgomery, and Sansome streets, that once was the infamous “Barbary Coast” of the city. It was the first to become a historic district in 1971 and among the few to survive the 1906 earthquake and fire. Home to antique dealers and interior designers today. Heading back to Market Street, you will pass the Embarcadero Center. Visit the Federal Reserve Bank, 101 Market. Stop at 400 California and visit Bank of California’s grand banking hall and Museum of Money of the American West, (415) 765-0400. Complete the afternoon at the Bank of America building enjoying the awesome views from the Carnelian Room, atop the 52-story complex.
Day 6: Peninsula
Depart south on I-280 to Highway 1 and over Skyline down to Pacifica, claimed as the “fog capital” of the state. There are 20 state beaches along this highway that are part of the San Mateo State Beaches, meaning plenty of public access to the ocean front. As you drive through Montara and Half Moon Bay there are plenty of good local food spots. The Half Moon Bay Bakery, 514 Main, (650) 726-4841 is a favorite. The town was settled by Italians and Portuguese. Main street shops are fun to browse. The next group of beaches are between San Gregorio and Año Nuevo, site of the state’s reserve rookery and breeding ground for the northern elephant seals. Guided tours available during December-March, peak months when the animals are present. Call (800) 444-7275 for tickets.
Davenport cliffs are great for whale watching. The town was once known for its whaling industry, led by its namesake, Captain John Davenport. Pull into the Cash Store & Restaurant on the Highway, for their famous cinnamon buns. Close by are the Lundberg Glassmaking Studios and David Boye’s Knife-making Shop.
Santa Cruz is called the last of the real California beach towns since it has plenty of sand, sun and surf, plus a boardwalk with marvelous rides including a 1924 wooden roller coaster – Giant Dipper, a 1911 carousel and plenty of food. Check out the Santa Cruz Mission Adobe, Mission Plaza, and School Street, (831) 425-5849, one of the few remaining original adobe dwellings of Native Americans who lived and worked at the Mission. What’s left of the original Santa Cruz Mission, built here in 1794, is at 126 High Street.
Return to the city via 9 through the back road towns of Felton and Boulder Creek to the beautiful redwood and eucalyptus tree-enveloped Skyline Drive (Highway 35) to I-280. Over thirty wineries of the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association, P.O. Box 3000, Santa Cruz, 95063, (831) 685-8463, are located in the area; some have tasting rooms, but may require reservations. In Felton is the Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railway Company that takes passengers on a two-and-a-half hour round-trip excursion to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk along a route dating back to 1875.
Day 7: East & South Bays
Depart on I-80 east over the Bay Bridge to Oakland. Oakland Museum, 1000 Oak Street, (510) 318-8400, adjacent Kaiser Convention Center, is three museums in one celebrating the natural and cultural history of the state. Allow three hours for visit. Chinatown, with shops and restaurants, is close by on 10th Street. The Camron-Stanford House, 1418 Lakeside Drive, (510) 874-7802, built in 1876 and home to Josiah Stanford, brother of Leland Stanford of railroad fame, is just north.
Nearby Lake Merritt is a 155-acre man-made saltwater lake that is an urban phenomenon. Rides are available on the weekends on the Merritt Queen, Sailboat House, 568 Bellevue Ave., (510) 444-3807. Another must visit is Jack London’s Waterfront area, south end of Broadway and the waterfront, with Jack London’s Cabin, Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon. Nearby is Jack London Village, a great shopping and restaurant area including the Jack London Museum where the writer’s life unfolds through exhibits of his books, papers and possessions. Also here is Samuel’s Gallery, (510) 452-2059, offering extensive collections of African-American art and gifts. Free tours of the Port of Oakland, (510) 627-1188, depart from here in the summer. City Center, the Oakland Museum Sculpture Court, and Preservation Park, a collection of 19th-century Victorian houses relocated to prevent destruction, are in the area of 14th & Broadway and worth seeing.
Paramount Theatre, 2025 Broadway, (510) 465-6400, a National Landmark for its art deco design, is open during events and for guided tours on the first and third Saturdays of each month. Walking tours for period architecture of the city are available through Oakland Heritage Alliance, (510) 763-9218, and by calling (510) 273-3234. Go south on I-880 through San Leandro, Hayward, to Fremont to the 14th Spanish mission, San José de Guadalupe, off I-680 north on Mission Blvd., (510) 657-1797. It was founded in 1797. Take I-880 to Santa Clara University and the Santa Clara de Asís Mission, (408) 554-4023, established 8th in the chain, on the Guadalupe River in 1777.
Follow CA 82 north to Palo Alto and world famous Stanford University. Stop at the Memorial Church in the Main Quadrangle, the Hoover Tower and the Rodin Sculpture Garden. Continue on 82 to Menlo Park and visit the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, 22575 Sand Hill Road, an exceptional research facility dealing with the structure of matter. Guided tours are available. Take the Sunset Magazine Gardens Tour, 80 Willow Road, (650) 321-3600, gardens by noted landscape designer, Thomas Church.
In Woodside, off Canada Road, (650) 364-2880, is the 43-room Filoli Mansion of William Bourn, one of the gold rush barons. The name is based on his life’s philosophy – Fight, Love, Life – the mansion is fully furnished with treasures from around the world and was used in the television series, “Dynasty.” Off of 84 west of Woodside is historic Woodside Store, 3300 Tripp Road, (650) 851-7615, built in 1854 as the first store between San Jose and San Francisco. It is on the way to beautiful Huddat County Park where you can hike in 1,000 acres of second-growth redwood and cool canyons. Go north through Redwood City, so named for once being a major redwood lumber port, to San Mateo and the Bay Meadows Horse Racing Track. Returning to the city, take Highway 101 north.