Despite San Francisco's popularity as a tourist destination, some interesting aspects to the city escape most visitors’ radar. Though this could be said of nearly any city, of course, San Francisco is special because it's so compact and well-traveled, making its surprises the more surprising.
One of America’s great cities was once a small Spanish mission, first under Spain and later under Mexico. Unrest by an increasing number of Americans moving west during the late 1830s and early 1840s pressured the U.S. military to take the area by force in 1846.
Just a few years later, San Francisco had already become a major commercial center, as thousands of fortune-seekers arrived by land and sea following the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill. Within a year, the area’s population had exploded and the community once known as Yerba Buena was on its way to greatness that earthquakes, fires, fog and cool summer days were unable to halt.
San Franciso's famous "Painted Ladies" — Photo courtesy of David and Kay Scott
Fisherman’s Wharf, the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, cable cars, Alcatraz and the city’s scenic beauty continued to draw tourists to San Francisco long before 1962, when Tony Bennett recorded his signature song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”
One of the USA’s premiere tourist destinations, the city is compact yet offers excellent public transportation, fine restaurants, spectacular vistas, a wide range of hotels, diverse neighborhoods and a trove of activities, too.
The wide range of activities and places to visit means more than two or three days are required to gain a real feel for the city. Choosing to pursue nothing other than an exploration of the trails, gardens and cultural venues of 1,000-acre Golden Gate Park can easily consume over a full day!
Add in a trip to the Presidio, a visit to San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, a stroll through the honky-tonk of Fisherman’s Wharf and a trip north of the city to Muir Woods, and you’re talking about a stay of a week.
A longer stay? That's okay. San Francisco boasts upscale lodging like Nob Hill’s Mark Hopkins, as well as boutique lodging like Hotel G near Union Square.