The Treasure of San Francisco

The Treasure of San Francisco photo

Like a pirate's treasure chest laden with jewels, San Francisco, the City by the Bay, lies waiting to be discovered. Beginning as a Spanish colony in 1776, it wasn't until 1848 when gold was discovered in the American River that the city began to take shape.

Perhaps the city's smallest, yet best-known jewels, San Francisco's cable cars have been a part of the cityscape since 1873. When Andrew Hallidie realized that even work horses were having a difficult time pulling building materials up the city's steep hills, he invented a mode of transport that eventually became synonymous with the city's name. Today, these tireless work horses function as busily as ever, not only as San Francisco's biggest tourist attraction, but also as a major means of transportation for residents. Be sure to search out the Cable Car Museum to learn about their history.

Like a gigantic, flawless emerald hidden among the city's other gems, Golden Gate Park provides a cool, serene respite from the hustle and bustle of the city that surrounds it. At 1,017 acres, it's one of the world's largest manmade parks, yet it has been so masterfully created out of a wasteland of shifting sand as to make you believe that it's entirely the work of Mother Nature. Today, it offers miles of trails for walking, bicycling and horseback riding, plus a Japanese Tea Garden, a band shell, planetarium, aquarium, arboretum, museums, and an extraordinary Conservatory of Flowers. At the Children's Playground, a 1912 Hershel-Spillman carousel has been lovingly restored to delight children of all ages.

One of your more delightful dilemmas will be choosing a place to stay from a myriad of San Francisco hotels, ranging from Victorian bed-and-breakfast Victorian inns to world-renowned deluxe hotels.

The key to much of San Francisco's charm is its often fog-cloaked waterfront. From there, you can look out over the shimmering waters of the bay at the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz as you breathe in the heady fragrance of salt air over which wafts the sweet aroma of seafood.

You'll also find plenty of history on the waterfront. The National Maritime Museum, at the foot of Polk Street, offers dozens of exhibits, including ships' models, photographs, and documents pertaining to maritime history. Its most popular display is the S.V. Balclutha, the last sailing ship to round Cape Horn, permanently berthed at Pier 43.

Besides history, you'll also find plenty of restaurants and shops. At Pier39, more than 130 specialty shops and 15 restaurants add a rainbow of colors to the weathered gray timbers used to create this 45-acre waterfront village. In this enchanting scene from turn-of-20th-century San Francisco, you'll be enticed to dine on everything from popcorn to pasta, crabmeat to croissants. In a uniquely designed multi-media theater you can also enjoy "The San Francisco Experience," a multi- dimensional presentation depicting the history and flavor of the city and its people.

Overlooking the thicket of sailboat masts and outriggers along the waterfront are two more shopping complexes that feature a bit of history as an added attraction. Ghirardelli Square is an 1850s chocolate factory that now overflows with unique shops and restaurants, in addition to a still productive chocolate factory. The Cannery, the former site of the Del Monte Company's canning plant, now houses an upscale, three-level labyrinth of balconies, bridges and walkways leading to such treasures as rare foods and wines, designer fashions, handicrafts, and home accessories.

A visit to Fisherman's Wharf doesn't necessarily end at the water's edge. East of the fishing fleet docks and seafood grottos are piers that serve as jumping off points for sightseeing cruises and other bay attractions.

You should also plan visits to both Chinatown and Japantown, with their distinctive architecture, shopping, and dining. The former is internationally known and a great place for an authentic Chinese meal. Another neighborhood worth a visit is Pacific Heights where gingerbread- trimmed Victorian houses gracefully line the hillsides. Or perhaps a visit to Alcatraz, the mystery-shrouded island that once served as our nation's most notorious prison, is more to your liking. Across the bay, the fishing village of Sausalito awaits, as do the giant sequoias of Muir Woods. It's no wonder that volumes have been and continue to be written about San Francisco, for it offers an endless array of diversions to suit every taste. And you, too, may find yourself leaving your heart in this gem of a city.