Being a Los Angeles native, I’ve made many trips to the Bay Area. And while Nor-Cal elites may hate Los Angeles, most Angelenos find the Bay Area to be a pretty cool place. Count me as one of them.
Again, I don’t know the Bay Area well enough for a top whatever, so like my So-Cal desert entry, I’ll simply post pictures of the places I’ve been. Lets start with the number one attraction in California:
The Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is beautiful, powerful, and humbling; it is an incredible feat of art, architecture, and engineering, an icon of the city and state and even the entire country. This bridge is estimated to be the most photographed bridge in the world, and when you see it, you’ll know why. It’s something you have to experience to fully understand. It is incredible.
I’ve been to the Golden Gate Bridge several times, and almost every time it was covered in fog. That’s part of the bridge’s majesticness: you rarely fully see it.
While I’ve driven across the bridge several times, I’ve only walked across it once. It’s something every Californian must do in their life.
Walking across the Golden Gate Bridge is intense! Most National Landmarks are calm and relaxing… not this! It is cold and windy, cars drive by super fast. The bridge is also way bigger/more intimidating when you’re on it compared to viewing it from a lookout point. Despite all this, walking the Golden Gate Bridge is an awesome experience.
Where’s the top? You can’t even see it when you’re on it.
Bay/ocean views from the bridge, looking east and west.
Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park is one of the largest and most visited urban parks in the US. But for some reason, I’ve never taken any pictures of it.
Pier 39 / Fisherman’s Wharf
San Francisco’s version of Hollywood and the Santa Monica Pier, these neighboring destinations are touristy, fun, eccentric places. Many street artists/musicians perform here, the people watching is excellent, and there’s tons of shopping and seafood; the shopping is mostly commercial but the seafood is delicious.
Pier 39 was developed in 1978 and minus the rides, it is much like the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles. Both piers are filled with shops and restaurants, entertainers and attractions, and the piers attract similar crowds: touristy, artsy, eccentric, and fun.
Pier 39 has a sea lion colony; they moved here for reasons unknown in 1989. Boat owners originally tried to share the docks, but when the sea lion population rose from less than 12 to over 150, the boats were forced to leave. Today the sea lion population is highly variable, with the record at these docks exceeding 1700.
View of the bay (and Alcatraz) from Pier 39.
There are lots of street performers at Fisherman’s Wharf, but my favorite is the Bushman. His schtick is to hide behind eucalyptus branches, then jump out and scare oblivious passerbys. Entire crowds wait to see him claim a victim, and this makes his scares even funnier, because the victim realizes not only was he so oblivious that he didn’t see the Bushman in his terrible hiding spot, but he also didn’t notice the entire crowd watching them.
Just west of Fisherman’s Wharf is Ghirardelli Square, home to (along with See’s Candies) the best gourmet chocolate in the US.
Ghirardelli Square is relaxing and pretty, a great place to go after crazy Fisherman’s Wharf. Also, the chocolate here is delicious!
So, I’ve actually never been to Alcatraz. Bad, I know. But here’s why: Ghirardelli Square, Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, Lombard Street, the Embarcadero, North Beach, Telegraph Hill, Russian Hill, Chinatown, and Union Square are all next to each other, ie, all one long walk. And for some reason, every time I do this walk, I start at the Union Square end, which means by the time I get to Alcatraz, it has closed (Alcatraz closes very early). It’s actually very frustrating, and next time I go up north, I plan to go straight to Alcatraz and get there before it closes (I say this every time I visit but for some reason I never do).
I’ve never been on Alcatraz Island, but this is what it looks like from the shore.
When I was a kid and I heard San Francisco had the windiest street in the world, I was so excited. How windy could it be? Why was it so windy? What would it look like? Turns out it was a gimmick; the street was made windy for no reason other than to make it a dumb tourist attraction.
There actually is a purpose (beyond novelty) to Lombard Street: the hill is too steep to drive straight up and down it. But I didn’t know that as a kid, and the disappointment I felt when I first saw this attraction still remains to this day.
Coit Tower is a 233 foot tower on Telegraph Hill, one of San Francisco’s original seven hills (a reference to Rome, the original city built on seven hills. San Francisco actually sits on more than forty hills). Accompanying Coit Tower are murals and statues that pay tribute to San Francisco’s fire department.
Coit Tower was paid for by Lilian Hitchcock Colt, a wealthy and eccentric socialite who bequeathed one-third of her estate to San Francisco civic beautification. Lilian was known for her relationship with the fire department, even becoming its mascot when she was only 15 years old.
Hey look! No fog! Too bad I’m way over at Coit Tower right now.
North Beach / Russian Hill
Another of San Francisco’s original seven hills, Russian Hill was named after a cemetery discovered at the top of the hill during the California Gold Rush (the cemetery was for early 1800s sailors who died on trips from Russia to San Francisco). Adjacent to Russian Hill is North Beach, San Francisco’s Little Italy and (according to the American Planning Association) one of the top ten neighborhoods in North America.
Russian Hill/North Beach is quinessential San Francisco, as you can see in this photograph. The church in this photograph is Saint Peters and Paul, where Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe where photographed after their marriage in 1954. The chase scene in Bullitt was also filmed in this area.
North Beach is also the historic center for the Beatniks. Most notable is the City Lights bookstore, founded in 1953 and made famous by the obscenity prosecution they faced after publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl in 1957. Today City Lights (the bookstore itself, not the building it is in) is an official historic landmark.
San Francisco’s Chinatown is the best in the US, possibly the best in the entire world. It is the oldest Chinatown in North America and has the largest Chinese community outside Asia. The restaurants, shops, and theming are impeccable, and visiting here is a lot of fun.
Southern entrance to the best Chinatown in America.
How is this the best Chinatown photograph I have? It doesn’t do this area justice at all.
The main shopping/tourist hub of downtown San Francisco, Union Square is a busy and happening place. In addition to shopping, Union Square offers hotels, dining, music, theater, and lots of street art and people watching. Union Square takes its name from the American Civil War, when the square held several rallies supporting the North.
The famous Saks Fifth Avenue bordering Union Square. Most of the shopping here is high-end like this.
At the east end of Union Square is the Westin St Francis Hotel. Even if you aren’t a guest, you can still ride the glass-walled elevator, where you’ll get spectacular views like this one of Union Square.
More views from Westin St Francis’s glass elevator.
One time, we visited Union Square during holiday season. It was incredible.
San Francisco’s cable car system, the last manually operating cable car system in the world and the US’s only moving national landmark, is the oldest of the many forms of public transportation in San Francisco. The cable cars are used mainly by tourists (locals use BART, buses, and trains) and are a novel way to get around downtown.
At its peak, San Francisco had twenty-three cable car lines, three of which remain (San Francisco also has several streetcar lines, but those are different). Due to its age and popularity, the San Francisco Cable Car system is one of the most accident prone mass transit systems in the US.
I say skyscrapers (plural) but really there is one: the Transamerica Pyramid. San Francisco does have other skyscrapers, including: the Chronicle Building, Central Tower, One Rincon Hill, and Salesforce Tower (the current tallest building in San Francisco), but the Transamerica Pyramid is the iconic one, the one San Francisco is known for, the one that leaves all the others in the dust.
The Transamerica Pyramid, the tallest building west of the Mississippi from 1972-1974, was designed to allow light to fill the streets below. The Transamerica Corporation is no longer the tenant, although they still own the building and feature it in their logo and marketing materials.
The Transamerica Pyramid with the rest of the San Francisco skyline.
This marks the end of San Francisco’s walkable downtown, but the Bay Area consists of much more. So keep reading, and see more of the goodies this area has to offer.
The Bay Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge may be the most iconic bridge in San Francisco, but it is not the biggest, longest, or oldest. All these are surpassed by the less iconic Bay Bridge, the bridge that connects San Francisco to Oakland in the east bay.
The western span of the Bay Bridge, as viewed from Telegraph Hill. The Bay Bridge consists of an east and west bridge that connect through Yerba Buena Island (pictured far left). Both east and west bridges are 2.5 times as long as the Golden Gate, making the Bay Bridge as a whole 5 times longer than San Francisco’s most famous bridge.
Opened in 1936 (six months before the Golden Gate), the Bay Bridge originally separated autos onto one level, with trucks and trains on another. Train access was later removed, at which point bridge was altered so that eastbound traffic would flow on one level and westbound traffic on the other. In 2013, the eastern bridge was replaced with a single deck bridge, currently the widest in the world. The western bridge, which was retrofitted instead of replaced, maintains its double decker design.
UC Berkeley is generally considered to be the best public university in the US. Additionally, Berkeley is often considered top five of all universities in the US and even the world. Berkeley faculty and alumni have received 72 Nobel prizes, 13 Fields medals, 22 Turing awards, 45 Mac Arthur fellowships, 20 Academy Awards, 14 Pulitzers, and 105 Olympic gold medals.
I visited Berkeley when I was in middle school and the place was so liberal, I didn’t have much desire to go here for college. Also, I’m pretty positive that based on my high school grades I wouldn’t have gotten in. So when it came time to apply, I didn’t bother and went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (a minor rival for engineering majors only) instead.
For being one of if not the greatest public universities in the world, Berkeley’s campus is relatively lackluster.
Did I say lackluster, because what I really meant was ugly.
According to my ex-girlfriend (she went here and was the reason I visited), this building was specifically designed to emphasize function over form. In other words, it was specifically designed to be ugly. You know Berkeley, it is possible for a building to be both functional and aesthetically pleasing. See almost every building ever built for examples.
While Napa is home to the best wine in the world, I haven’t spent much time here because I live closer to almost-as-good Santa Barbara wine country. Even so, I have visited Napa a couple times, and here are some pictures of it:
A vineyard just off the freeway. Vineyards are everywhere in this part of California.
One of Napa’s many Mediterranean style wineries. California wine is so good because they copied the best (the French), but when they achieved French quality they didn’t stop, they continued improving until they became the new top wine. Don’t believe me? Even the French admitted it.
The rest of the bay
The Bay Area doesn’t only consist of San Francisco, Berkeley, and Napa Valley; there’s also San Jose, Oakland, Marin County, Pleasanton, Silicon Valley. I’ve been all these places but I don’t have many pictures; here’s what I do have:
The largest windtunnel in the world, at the NASA Ames Research Center in Sunnyvale (Silicon Valley). One of my friends got a job here after college.
Riding BART by the Oakland Coliseum. Some people get nervous riding BART through Oakland; I thought it was fun.
That’s actually all the photographs I have from these other Bay Area destinations. I though I had more, but I guess not. Hope you enjoyed the ones I have!