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Things to Do in San Francisco

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De Young Museum
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26 Tours and Activities

Also known as the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, this fine arts museum is known for its creative offerings as well as its unusual exterior and prime location in Golden Gate Park. As many people in the community were unhappy with a large museum being constructed in the middle of the park, the architects covered the building -- which is made of natural materials like stone, wood and glass -- in 950,000 pounds of perforated copper in order for it to oxidize and eventually turn green, blending in with the landscape’s eucalyptus trees. Additionally, the textured copper helps the structure to imitate light shining in through a tree canopy. By doing this, the De Young Museum aims to act as a natural addition to the Golden Gate Park.

Upon first viewing the building, you’ll probably notice the striking copper exterior as well as the 144-foot twisting tower off to the side.

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Grace Cathedral
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One of Nob Hill’s many stunning highlights, Grace Cathedral holds many interesting features. Its spectacular stained-glass windows include a series dedicated to human endeavor, depicting such modern figures as Thurgood Marshall, Robert Frost, and Albert Einstein, who is uplifted in a swirl of nuclear particles. Day and night you'll notice people absorbed in thought while walking the outdoor, inlaid stone labyrinth, meant to guide restless souls through three spiritual stages: releasing, receiving and returning.

Grace Cathedral also embodies a commitment to pressing social issues in its AIDS Memorial Chapel, which has a bronze altarpiece by artist-activist Keith Haring. Here his signature figures are angels taking flight – especially powerful imagery as this was his last work before death by AIDS in 1990. Alongside this magical ambience, Grace Cathedral also lifts spirits with Sunday services and musical performances.

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SoMa (South of Market)
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SoMa or South of Market, as it is sometimes known, is one of the larger neighborhoods of San Francisco. Containing the smaller micro-hoods of Yerba Buena, South Beach, and Rincon Park, it is known for its industry feel — with many warehouses, loft apartments, and offices of major and startup tech companies. The area is also home to many of San Francisco’s best museums, including SFMOMA (Museum of Modern Art,) the California Historical Society and the Museum of the African Diaspora, as well as the Yerba Buena Arts District. The Yerba Buena Gardens, surrounded by the skyscrapers of downtown, is a scenic place to walk around and feel both the energy and peacefulness of the city.

Aside from the many museums and industries, SoMa is also home to AT&T Park and the San Francisco Giants, the annual Folsom Street Fair, and many of the city’s nightclubs. It is a vibrant, modern cultural hub of San Francisco that continues to evolve.

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Huntington Park
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Beautifully landscaped and cared for, Huntington Park is one of San Francisco’s most beloved neighborhood parks. It was formerly the site of a mansion destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire. After the land was donated to the city by the widow of rail tycoon Collis P. Huntington, the park has become a favorite area of the Nob Hill area.

With beautiful landscaping surrounding the historic Flood Fountain, there is also a playground area for children. The park sits in front of the landmark Grace Cathedral, and with its wide lawn and many benches is great for picnicking and relaxing outdoors. The Roman “Fountain of Tortoises” at the park’s center is its most famous structure, often beautifully lit at night. The bronze sculpture is a copy of a 400 year old original in Rome.

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Russian Hill
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Though it gets its name from a Russian cemetery dating back in the Gold Rush era, Russian Hill is one of the most desirable neighborhoods in contemporary San Francisco. It is most famous for “the crookedest street in the world,” the winding Lombard Street. Most of its streets curve up and down hills, with Russian Hill itself being one of the “Seven Hills” of San Francisco. Yet the many steep hills grant some the best views of the city, the bay, and the Golden Gate Bridge.

The famous Ghirardelli Square and Buena Vista Cafe, home of the original Irish coffee, are both on the outskirts of the neighborhood. Locals dine along Hyde Street or Polk Street, or stroll past the small French area of restaurants and boutiques near Green Street. Russian Hill is a pleasant part of the city to take a walk, pausing to rest in one of the many parks with views of the city below.

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Macondray Lane
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The two block pedestrian lane in San Francisco’s Russian Hill neighborhood is a charming and unique residential spot with extraordinary views of Alcatraz Island and the San Francisco Bay. Tucked away from the busyness of the main streets, Macondray Lane is known for its Edwardian style cottages with wooden exteriors, covered in flowers and greenery.

Its cobblestone walkways and overflowing gardens create a unique oasis in the middle of the city. Between ferns and flowers, look closely and you may even see the small pond. At one end of the lane lies a series of steps that offer up some of the best bay views. Fans of the Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City books may recognize the area (known as Barbary Lane in the books) — various scenes were set here and still come to life for many who visit.

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Japanese Tea Garden
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Located in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, the Japanese Tea Garden is the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States. Originally built as an exhibit for the 1894 California International Expo, it stands today as one of the cultural gems of San Francisco. Its caretaker, a Japanese immigrant to San Francisco, extended it to nearly five acres and keeps it meticulously maintained.

The garden embodies the harmony, peace, and tranquility of this exquisite Japanese tradition. It includes elements such as a zen garden and stepping stone paths, along with a five-story pagoda, a koi fish pond, stone lanterns, and an arch drummed bridge. It also contains native Japanese plants, including the famed cherry blossom trees that bloom during spring in the garden just as they do in Japan. Visitors can sit on a bench and contemplate in silence or wander the gardens while listening to the sounds of the stream. There is also a tea house and small gift shop.

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Cliff House
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Perched on rocks overlooking Ocean Beach, the Cliff House sits on the coast along on the western end of San Francisco. It is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, one of the largest urban national parks in the world, and was first built in 1863 before becoming a San Francisco landmark. Restored in 2004, it sits right next to the historic Sutro Baths with views of the ocean and rocky coastline that forms the Lands End trail.

Grab a bite at one of its two restaurants, enjoy views of the Pacific, or take a look at the room-sized Camera Obscura. Choose from the more casual Bistro Restaurant or get more formal at Sutro’s. On Sundays, it’s hard to beat the brunch served in the Terrace Room. Be sure to take a seat near the wide windows or walk out onto the large verandah and feel the proximity to the ocean, looking and listening for seals on the Seal Rocks below.

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More Things to Do in San Francisco

Vesuvio Cafe

Vesuvio Cafe

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One of San Francisco’s most famous and historic bars, Vesuvio Cafe is full of character and Bohemian culture. After being founded in 1948, it became a hot spot for many of the writers and poets of the Beat Generation, including Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Other famous figures to frequent Vesuvio such as Bob Dylan and Francis Ford Coppola have made this a popular stop for many while in San Francisco. The eclectic decorations and two stories of lights and color reflect the respect for the art and attitudes cultivated over the years here. The walls are covered in paintings and writer memorabilia, and classic drinks are served by friendly bartenders. Often bustling with activity, the bar is just as happening as it was 60 years ago, and it has become a symbol of the heart and culture of North Beach and of the city. It has an inviting atmosphere that may have you lingering for a while.
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Asian Art Museum

Asian Art Museum

8 Tours and Activities

From China to the Philippines, San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum displays an impressive mix of historical works, rare pieces and unique objects that celebrate the astounding diversity and range of artists from across all of Asia.

Whether it’s emerald statues of Buddha, images of Indian gods like Shiva and Parvati or ornate gold pendants and other pieces of handcrafted jewelry from Indonesia, the Asian Art Museum showcases the richness of a culture, variation of beliefs and a multitude of mediums that prove Asia is one of the premier destinations for art. Dozens of masterworks line the galleries of this popular museum, and traveling exhibits on calligraphy, painting and archaeology mean there’s something new to explore.

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San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA)

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA)

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NOTE: THE MUSEUM WILL BE CLOSED FOR RENOVATIONS THROUGH EARLY 2016. CHECK BACK HERE FOR UPDATES!

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) has always strived to be an eclectic, unconventional museum, since it opened in 1935, and a visit here will surely be a unique experience. After all, this is a museum that took a chance on then-unknowns like Matthew Barney and his poetic videos involving industrial quantities of Vaseline, and Olafur Eliasson's outer-space installations.

The permanent collection includes work by all the great American and European artists but is particularly strong in American abstract expressionism, with major works by Clyfford Still, Jackson Pollock and Philip Guston. The permanent collection also contains several works by Mexican painters Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and by Bay Area artists Robert Arneson and Richard Diebenkorn. Willem de Kooning, Marcel Duchamp, and Andy Warhol are also represented.

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Baker Beach

Baker Beach

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Few places offer more spectacular (and iconic) views of San Francisco’s most famous bridge than Baker Beach. Tucked below the raggedy cliffs of Presidio, this popular destination offers scenic picnic facilities, rugged beaches and a rare chance to spot harbor porpoises diving into Pacific surf.

Once the original home of Burning Man, an art and music festival that has gained a cult-like following since its inception in 1990, Baker Beach is now a quiet—if popular—destination for travelers to the San Francisco Bay. Geologically inclined globetrotters will find a rare opportunity to check out gray-green serpentine, California’s state rock, from the shores of Baker Beach. And since this rare rock produces mineral rich soil, hard to find species of plants, like Marin Dwarf Flax, also grow here.

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Cable Car Museum

Cable Car Museum

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Amongst its famous hills and winding streets, the cable cars of San Francisco have become perhaps the most iconic part of the famous city. Though they have a historic feel, the cable cars remain both a draw for visitors and a part of the city’s public transportation today.

The subtle sound of the cables running underneath the tracks is only the first clue as to how this classic transportation system works. The city’s Cable Car Museum goes into greater depth about functionality and history of the cars. You can learn about how and when they were first developed, as well as see three original cars from the 1870s. All of the system’s mechanical parts are on display, from the brake to the grips, as well as a large collection of historic photographs that take you back in time. There’s also the chance to go underground and view a subterranean cable in operation.

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Exploratorium

Exploratorium

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Ever wanted to investigate the living world beyond the pages of your science books? Ever wanted to see the world without color or have a bigger sense of yourself—upside down? Head to the Exploratorium to get fascinating scientific answers to all of the questions you wanted to raise in a science class but never did. It’s an educational fun house for people of all ages!

Now open at its new home at Pier 15, the Exploratorium is the global leader in informal learning, igniting curiosity and inspiring creativity in people of all ages. Explore nearly 600 hands-on exhibits, including 150 new experiences, and enjoy breathtaking views of the city and bay in the spectacular glass-and-steel Bay Observatory.

Wander through hundreds of exhibits and art installations, uncovering the mad magic of Einstein’s theory of relativity or the secret behind creating monstrous marshmallows. Safe, interactive exhibits abound, from food science to optical illusions to astronomy.

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The Cannery

The Cannery

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Angel Island Immigration Station

Angel Island Immigration Station

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Tens of thousands of immigrants to the United States came through Angel Island from 1910 to 1950. Though the exact amount of people who passed through is unknown, it served as a detention site and a records office for those entering and exiting the United States. With the start of the Gold Rush in Northern California, the majority of the immigrant influx came from China — though it estimated that citizens from more than 80 countries entered the United States here.

Angel Island has been called the Ellis Island of the West Coast. It serves as a reminder of the complicated history of immigration from the Pacific, where immigrants were more often detained or excluded rather than welcomed. The building was abandoned in the 1950s and remained in a state of deterioration until nearly demolished. The discovery of Chinese poetry carved into walls ignited an interest in restoring and preserving the site, which can be toured today.

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Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

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Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market is the place where San Francisco foodies and some of the best local chefs come to peruse stalls hawking the finest Northern California produce, breads, dairy, flowers, ready-made snacks, and complete meals by local restaurants.

Outside, you can tempt your taste buds with artisanal goat cheese, fresh-pressed California olive oil, pasture-raised beef, and organic vegetables. The gourmet action continues indoors, where select local gourmet shops sell wild-harvested mushrooms, gold-leafed chocolates, sustainably farmed oysters and caviar from Marin, and other temptations. The variety and quality is amazing, and the crowd scene itself is something to behold.

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Marrakech Magic Theater

Marrakech Magic Theater

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Right off Union Square lies the famous Marrakech Magic Theater. Regarded as something of a hidden gem of San Francisco, this small but intimate theatre is where Magician Peter Morrison performs his signature magic and comedy routines in a close and comfortable setting. Known for greeting his guests at the door and encouraging audience participation, Peter Morrison makes the Marrakech Magic Theater feel like a comfortable evening amongst friends. Not flashy or over-the-top, the comedy and magic are performed tastefully, and the lounge before the show offers guests a chance to try some fairly-priced wine, beer, or cocktails with some hors d’oeuvres should they please.

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San Francisco Japantown

San Francisco Japantown

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San Francisco’s Japantown may cover a small area, but it is big on authentic Japanese culture. It’s one of only three Japantowns remaining in the United States, and San Francisco’s is the country’s oldest and largest. From architecture and shopping to events and cuisine, a walk through Japantown truly feels as if you’ve been transported to Japan.

Strolling through the neighborhood it’s hard to miss the five-storied Peace Pagoda, which was a gift from San Francisco’s sister city Osaka. It’s at the heart of the Peace Plaza, where it is easy to discover unique pieces of Japanese culture. There are a number of authentic shops and restaurants — many of which are located in the Japan Center, a large indoor shopping mall. Taste a number of different Japanese foods, or pick up ingredients from a Japanese grocer. The sights, sounds, and smells of Japantown are a rare chance to experience Japan outside of the country itself.

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Hayes Valley

Hayes Valley

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Sandwiched between San Francisco’s Civic Center and Alamo Square, Hayes Valley has grown into one of the city’s trendiest neighborhoods. Both residential and commercial, with its main drag Hayes Street, the area is full of custom shops and gourmet restaurants. There are also several Victorian and Queen Anne style townhouses in the surrounds, as well as numerous playgrounds and art-filled parks.

Though the area has been historically neglected, it has emerged as one of the most desirable areas in the city. Recent openings of coffee shops, craft cocktail bars, upscale boutiques, and even a beer garden have made this a hot spot of local activity. It seems that the city’s best new restaurants are opening in Hayes Valley on a regular basis. Its proximity to nearby arts and culture means it is often a pre- or post-show spot for dinner and drinks. It is also home to the new SJ Jazz Center.

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Walt Disney® Family Museum

Walt Disney® Family Museum

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Celebrating the life and legacy of one of the most legendary of American lives, the Walt Disney Family Museum is an exploration of not only Walt Disney himself, but the forces behind the creation of one of the greatest treasures of childhood: the Disney machine. With stunning interactive displays, videos, and animations of your favorite Disney characters, the Walt Disney Museum has achieved artwork itself by combining elements of history, entertainment, and intrigue into a package that’s as much visual stimulation as it is mental. Entertaining for one and all, be sure to catch the special exhibits which feature the stories behind your favorite Disney creations like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Creation of a Classic.

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