San Francisco, California - Overview

San Francisco is on the coast of California about 400 miles north of Los
Angeles. It is situated along the shore of a large bay sheltered behind the
California Coastal Mountains. The city is renown for its steep streets with
panoramic views of beautiful San Francisco Bay and the surrounding mountains.
It has a very moderate climate with warm summers and chilly winters but without
extremes. Constant breezes off of the Pacific Ocean keep the summers from
becoming too hot and also prevent freezing winter weather. Take a sweater, as
the evening breezes can be quite brisk all year round!

San Francisco was built by forty niners with gold fever

Oakland and Berkeley, California lie just across the bay from San Francisco
and are easily accessible via the Bay Bridge. The more famous Golden Gate
Bridge spans the narrow inlet that extends from the Pacific Ocean into the bay.
The Golden Gate Bridge connects San Francisco with a mountainous peninsula
called the Marin headlands that is primarily known for beautiful scenery and
expensive homes with spectacular views. Sausalito, a small village on the bay
shore of the Marin headlands is famous as a local artist's community. Alcatraz
Island with its abandoned prison is situated in the middle of San Francisco
Bay. The city of San Jose lies about 30 miles south of San Francisco at the
southern tip of this extensive bay. The area near San Jose and Santa Clara is
known as Silicon Valley, home of the largest concentration of
electronics and computer firms in the USA.

San Francisco was founded in 1776 when father Junipero Serra constructed the
mission San Dolores to Christianize the local native Indian population. At the
same time, Spanish troops constructed a Presidio, or fort, to protect this
colony for the Queen of Spain. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the
village of Yerba Buena, consisting of whalers, traders, adventurers and
pirates, occupied the present site of San Francisco. In 1848, gold was
discovered in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains about 100 miles to
the east. By 1849, San Francisco was inundated with forty-niners as
the gold seekers were commonly called, and the population of the city exploded.
Ever since, it has remained the center of commerce, entertainment, culture and
tourism for Northern California.

Cable cars on steep streets overlook a turquoise San Francisco Bay

San Francisco is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the USA.
Steep streets lined with Victorian era houses, a great turquoise bay surrounded
by low mountains, and antique cable cars that still shuttle passengers up and
down the city slopes all make San Francisco one of the most picturesque cities
in the US.

The city has developed a unique character from its mixture of diverse
cultures including Native American Indians, Spanish colonials, gold seeking
adventurers and numerous European, African and Asian immigrants. This is
reflected in the great San Francisco cuisine found in the many fabulous
restaurants of the city.

Among the many attractions of San Francisco are the ethnic neighborhoods
like Chinatown and Japantown with their traditional shops and restaurants. Each
of these communities houses a large population of Asian immigrants and has a
unique oriental character. North Beach is renown as an Italian neighborhood,
the Mission District as a Hispanic community and Castro Street for its gay and
lesbian population.

Excursion boats from Fisherman's Wharf visit Alcatraz

The Embarcadero, a broad avenue along the bayfront, is now lined with shops,
restaurants and tourist
including several piers that have been converted to
specialty shopping malls. Most famous is the historic Fisherman's Wharf which
still hosts a fleet of working fishing vessels as well as fish markets, seafood
restaurants and gift shops. Excursion boats and ferries depart from piers near
Fisherman's Wharf. They are a great way to see the sights around the bay. The
Alcatraz tour takes
you to The Rock and allows you to visit its abandoned prison. This
trip usually fills up, so it is best to make your reservations at
least one day ahead. You can also take a ferry to visit the USS Hornet Aircraft
Carrier Museum in Oakland, or you can ride a ferry to Sausalito and Tiburon for
some sightseeing and shopping.

A cable car line terminates a few blocks from Fisherman's Wharf, and many
tourists congregate there to watch the motormen manually rotate the cars. This
is a good place to photograph the cable cars but not a good place to board one
as the wait can be long. It is easier to take a bus or taxi to the downtown
area where you can quickly board a passing cable car. Golden Gate Park and Seal
Rocks, along the Pacific side of the city are worth visiting.

Wine Country, Big Sur and Yosemite are not far away

Other California tourist attractions are located near San Francisco. Across
the Golden Gate Bridge, the first pullout on the right provides a nice view of
the city from across the bay. If you follow the small road under the highway
and climb the mountain behind the bridge, you will be rewarded to some
spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the bay area. From the top of
the mountain the road continues high above the Pacific Ocean with pullouts at
many scenic vistas and hiking trails. This road eventually leads to Stinson
Beach, a popular Pacific Ocean swimming and surfing area, and to Muir Woods, an
impressive reserve of Giant California Redwood trees.

Beautiful Monterey Bay is an hour-and-half drive south along the scenic
Pacific Coast Highway and Big Sur extends about 100 miles further. Napa and
Sonoma valleys, in the heart of California Wine Country, are just an hour drive
north of San Francisco. The Sierra Nevada Mountains and exquisite Yosemite
National Park are within a half-day drive to the east.

San Francisco Shopping Tips

The downtown area of San Francisco is the center of business, commerce and
shopping. There are a wide variety of large department stores and smaller shops
near Union Square and a big shopping mall on Market Street. The Embarcadero
especially in the Fisherman's Wharf area offers many small shops, specialty
stores and tourist attractions. Chinatown and Japantown have many small shops
specializing in oriental artifacts and Asian foods. Sausalito and Tiburon
across the bay have many boutiques, art galleries and specialty shops. For
serious shoppers, the immense Great Mall of the Bay Area in
Milpitas, near San Jose is a wonderland of factory outlet stores. There are
also a few outlet malls in Sonoma Valley near wine country and several in the
Monterey Bay area.