San Francisco

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An amalgamation of culture and ethnicities from Japanese to Italian, San Francisco's offerings are as diverse as the people who comprise the city. Whether it's visiting Capone's old stomping grounds or aimlessly wandering through one of the many Asian neighborhoods (a recent census revealed that over one third of the city’s population is Asian), it's easy to find ways to fill your days.

Things to do in San Francisco

Alcatraz Island

From Pier 33, ride an Alcatraz Cruise ferry (www.alcatrazcruises.com) to the infamous U.S. fort turned federal penitentiary. Tours explain the island’s colorful (and scary!) history. Night tours offer the best views of the Bay and the city skyline. Book ahead as ferry tickets can sell out up to a month in advance during peak season.

CA, 415-561-4900, www.nps.gov/alca/
Tags: family | things to do | history | tour | boat tour

California Academy of Sciences

$500 million kid- and earth-friendly Cal Academy reopened in its new Renzo Piano-designed home in 2008 with a planetarium, aquarium, natural history museum, and rain forest, all under a living roof of plants. Enthusiastic youngsters enjoy the “Academy Sleepovers,” which let visitors stay in the museum overnight and interact with its exhibits, tide pools and penguin residents. The museum is free on the third Wednesday of each month, though be forewarned: The place is swarming with small children and families. 2010 Smart Luxury Award winner

Golden Gate Park, 55 Music Concourse Dr., CA, 415-379-8000, www.calacademy.org
Tags: family | smart luxury winner | things to do | culture | wildlife | museum | jim's pick

Contemporary Jewish Museum

The Daniel Libeskind-designed home of the Contemporary Jewish Museum has been introducing visitors to new aspects of Jewish culture since its opening in 1984. The museum offers art, film, and installations, such as an examination of Jewish music on the black community, or a retrospective on Curious George cartoons (whose authors had to escape Nazi Germany).

763 Mission St., CA, 415-655-7800, www.thecjm.org
Tags: historic | things to do | museum

Exploratorium

A delightful museum for the curious-minded, the Exploratorium allows visitors to feel and explore everything within its confines and caters to adults as much as it does to children. Learn about science at their many exhibits – be sure to test your sense of touch in the pitch-black tactile dome. The museum is free the first Wednesday of every month, though visitors should arrive early to avoid classes of schoolchildren on field trips.

3601 Lyon St., CA, 415-397-5673, www.exploratorium.edu
Tags: family | editor pick | things to do | museum | educational

Ferry Building Marketplace

The stately Ferry Building has been a magnet for visitors and locals alike since a major renovation in 2003, which introduced the popular MarketBar restaurant. The building holds a bustling farmers’ market Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings/early afternoons, and the gourmet food shops are great sources for a picnic lunch.

1 Ferry Building, CA, 415-983-8000, www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com
Tags: shopping | things to do | market

Golden Gate Park

See the park's Japanese Tea Garden, de Young Museum and Observation Tower (www.deyoungmuseum.org), the Dutch windmill, and rare, tropical plants at the Conservatory of Flowers (www.conservatoryofflowers.org). For the ultimate experience, visit on foot or bike, or take a guided segway tour of the entire park (www.electrictourcompany.com).

Golden Gate Park, CA, www.nps.gov/goga
Tags: family | editor pick | views | things to do | architecture | history | gardens | jim's pick

Legion of Honor

Immortalized in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, this Greco-Roman-style stone structure looks like something you would expect to find in an ancient Grecian town; inside you'll find collections of European artists, including work by Rodin, that span four centuries. The Legion of Honor occupies one of the highest points in the city: hike to its edge for a stunning view of the Golden Gate Bridge and Straights. 

Lincoln Park, 34th Ave. and Clement St., CA, 415-750-3600, legionofhonor.famsf.org
Tags: family | views | art | things to do | culture | museum

Maiden Lane

Set in a narrow alley with a European feel just off the Union Square plaza, by day, Maiden Lane is closed to traffic and filled with café tables, where one can refuel between shops. The pedestrian walkway is also home to many of San Francisco’s upscale retailers, including Marc Jacobs, Hermes, and Yves Saint Laurent.

Maiden Lane & Stockton, CA, 94108
Tags: shopping | expensive | things to do | outdoors | designer

Mission Dolores Park

Plenty of Latin flavor can still be found around Mission and 24th streets, but the hipsters have taken over Mission Dolores Park, sprawling on the grass to take in the downtown views on sunny days. Also look out for outdoor film screenings during balmy summer nights.

566 Dolores St., CA, www.missiondolorespark.com
Tags: things to do | outdoors | park | outdoor activity

Muir Woods

You needn’t go all the way to the far North Coast to be dwarfed by towering redwood trees. Just over the Golden Gate Bridge, Muir Woods has plenty; take a hike among its cool, shady groves. If you want an added challenge, start your trek at the steep Dipsea Stairs (a total of more than 670 steps) and continue on the Dipsea Trail. During summer months, there’s a hidden beer garden (www.touristclubsf.org) open on weekends to reward hikers for a job well done.

Muir Woods National Monument, CA, 415-388-2596, www.nps.gov/muwo
Tags: family | hiking | things to do | wildlife | jim's pick

Pier 39

Come for incredible scenic views, wacky street performers, and California sea lions, plus shopping at over 110 shops, dining, gaming in the arcade, or wildlife-spotting at the aquarium. Don’t leave without trying San Francisco’s iconic sourdough bread at Boudin Bakery or grabbing a bite of clam chowder in a bread bowl at the aptly-named Chowders.

Pier 39, CA, 415-705-5500, www.pier39.com
Tags: family | views | things to do | wildlife | aquarium

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Built in 1935, the modern art museum showcases pieces of everyday life – an Eames chair or a Rubik’s Cube – as design triumphs. Fittingly, the museum’s graphic, turreted structure (visible through much of the city) is a work of art itself. On the first Tuesday of each month admission is free, though the place gets crowded.

151 Third St., CA, 415-357-4000, www.sfmoma.org
Tags: arts and culture | things to do | museum | jim's pick

San Francisco Seaplane Tours

A Golden Gate tour is nice, but a Champagne Flight is spectacular. Flights float over the bridge, Alcatraz Island, Muir Woods, Angel Island, the Bay, and beyond. Passengers sip Champagne at sunset while soaring above the coastline – the most romantic 30 minutes of your life, guaranteed.

242 Redwood Hwy., CA, 415-332-4843, www.seaplane.com
Tags: romance | smart splurge | views | things to do | tour | airplane

Twin Peaks

It’s a bit of a hike – and usually packed with fellow tourists – but the sweeping city, bay, and ocean views are worth it. Miss the fog by heading up in the early morning – or late at night when the sun has set and the cityscape is lit up in a rainbow of lights.

By car: Turn right on Twin Peaks Boulevard off of Portola, Market St., CA,
Tags: family | views | things to do | outdoors

Union Square

Flagship locations for Macy’s, Levi’s, and Williams-Sonoma are just the beginning. Cross the great square and find high-end boutiques mingling with discount shops on every side street.

Union Square, CA, www.unionsquareshop.com
Tags: shopping | boutique | things to do | souvenirs | designer | clothing | department store

Walt Disney Family Museum

This is no amusement park. The Walt Disney Family Museum, which opened in 2009 in the historic Presidio, chronicles Walt’s life – from childhood through untimely death, noting both his successes and failures – through photographs, video footage, timelines, and other exhibits. Better suited for older kids, adults, or anyone who’s been a long-time Disney fan.

104 Montgomery St., CA, 415-345-6800, disney.go.com/disneyatoz/familymuseum
Tags: family | historic | things to do | museum

Yerba Buena Gardens

Yerba Buena Gardens creates a hidden little oasis with plush green grounds and flowing waterfalls smack in the center of SoMa’s industrial spaces. Most events at the gardens are free including jazz concerts, opera, spoken-word events and children’s programming. The children’s garden, public art museums and historic carousel are also worth visiting.

CA, 415-820-3550, www.yerbabuenagardens.com
Tags: family | great value | things to do | outdoors | history | gardens | free

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