San Francisco's Unique Character

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San Francisco's Unique Character
Locals celebrate their hometown of San Francisco loudly and proudly. Here are just a few things that make the City by the Bay so unique and beloved.
Photo by Kristen Fortier
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    Bridges and Water
    San Francisco is surrounded by water on three sides, which means endless eye candy and photo ops. No trip to the City by the Bay would be complete without an up-close view of the Golden Gate Bridge, whose full span is best viewed from Crissy Field. Walk or pedal your way across the bridge to look back over the skyline. Multiple ferries zip across the bay to places like Angel Island and Sausalito, providing great views en route and at the destination. Check out the Bridge 2 Bridge Cruise on the Red & White Fleet from Fisherman’s Wharf. You'll get a glimpse of Alcatraz on the tour as well as the Bay Bridge, whose western span sparkles at night thanks to 25,000 LED lights, best seen from the Embarcadero or the waterfront along the Ferry Building. A walk along Ocean Beach reveals the Pacific Ocean's power, and Baker Beach invites you to gaze at the Golden Gate from a different angle.
    Photo by Kristen Fortier
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    International Savors
    No passport is needed here to taste your way around the world. America's oldest Chinatown is the place to sample egg tarts from Golden Gate Bakery, visit a fortune cookie factory, marvel at the new China Live marketplace, and eat at Hang Ah Dim Sum Tea House, the country's first dim sum restaurant. Japantown has great options for slurping ramen and sipping tea, and North Beach, San Francisco's Italian neighborhood, is loaded with shops, cafés, and favorite restaurants such as Original Joe's. In the Outer Richmond, try Cinderella Bakery & Cafe or Moscow & Tbilisi Bakery Store for Russian specialties. Frena, San Francisco's first kosher bakery, makes fresh challah, sambusak, burekas, pita, and an assortment of Israeli sweet and savory goods. San Francisco's mad love for Mexican food is apparent everywhere, but in the Mission you can't fling a tortilla without hitting a place that can satisfy cravings for tacos, guacamole, and Mission-style burritos. California's abundant local bounty is on display in the shops and weekly market of the Ferry Building. Bite into fresh Dungeness crab, a San Francisco tradition, and definitely order cioppino at Tadich Grill, where more than 22,000 bowls are served each year.
    Photo courtesy of Scott Chernis/San Francisco Travel Association
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    Public Art
    Ever since artist Diego Rivera took his paintbrush to this city's walls and buildings, outdoor art has been as appreciated in San Francisco as the masterpieces found inside its impressive museums. The murals of the Mission District, including those found on Balmy Alley and Clarion Alley, are especially colorful, and the 163 steps of the 16th Avenue staircase are an astonishing work of mosaic art. In the heart of town, Cupid's Span, a sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, livens the Embarcadero. Head to the Presidio to experience history and nature, but don't miss Spire, Wood Line, Tree Fall, and Earth Wall—works created by Andy Goldsworthy. The ground-floor visitor center at the Beach Chalet features WPA murals created by Lucien Labaudt, depicting everyday life in Depression-era San Francisco.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    The Streets of San Francisco
    After you've hopped on and off the Powell-Hyde and California Street cable cars, lace up your walking shoes and hit the streets to dive deeper into San Francisco's patchwork of neighborhoods. For a good intro, sign up with San Francisco City Guides, a nonprofit organization run by volunteers who lead more than 200 walking tours on myriad themes. Avital Tours offers edible explorations of the city's Italian neighborhood, North Beach, and the Latin-flavored Mission District, while Local Tastes of the City Tours takes participants to the alleyways of Chinatown for dumplings, moon cakes, and tea. For a self-guided look at the colorful and bawdy history of the city, follow the Barbary Coast Trail (look for the bronze medallions embedded in the downtown sidewalks). Lombard Street, that famously curvy beauty, is easy to walk down, and the best pictures are from below. Test your credit card limit by shopping the upscale boutiques along Fillmore Street, Union Street, and Sacramento Street.
    Rachel McCord
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    Music Scene
    San Francisco is home to a diverse music and concert scene. The world-class San Francisco Symphony performs at the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall. Jazz lovers will appreciate the performances at the state-of-the-art SF Jazz in Hayes Valley. Ghosts of musical legends such as Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, and the Doors still haunt the hallowed halls of the Fillmore, but a new era of rock bands entertains there on a regular basis. For a whimsical and over-the-top musical tour around the world of pop culture through a San Francisco lens, take in a showing of Beach Blanket Babylon, held at Club Fugazi in North Beach.
    Photo courtesy of Scott Chernis/San Francisco Travel Association
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    Counterculture
    You can follow in the footsteps of beat generation poets and writers like Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Allen Ginsberg around North Beach, including stops at hangouts like City Lights Bookstore, Vesuvio, and Caffe Trieste. Learn all about the movement and the players at the Beat Museum, or sign up for one of its regularly scheduled walking tours of the neighborhood. Stroll along Castro Street, anchored by the gorgeous Castro Theatre, an ornate 1922 beauty with more than 1,400 seats. Harness your own flower power, reminisce about the Summer of Love, and walk the same Haight-Ashbury streets as Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and the Grateful Dead. On a sunny day, you can count on a crowd at Mission Dolores Park, where people-watching has been elevated to an art form.
    Photo courtesy of San Francisco Travel Association
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    Museums Galore
    San Francisco’s museums provide access to world-class collections of art, history, and natural history. The de Young in Golden Gate Park mounts some of the best exhibitions in the world, while the Legion of Honor is as beautiful outside as the artwork is inside. In the Presidio, the Walt Disney Family Museum offers a comprehensive history of the American legend. Curious kids and adults can see how the famous cable cars work at the free Cable Car Museum, and then head to the Exploratorium and the California Academy of Sciences. The Asian Art Museum is one of the largest museums in the Western world devoted exclusively to Asian art; its beauty makes it a popular venue for special events as well. Near Third and Mission streets, a burgeoning arts district is home to several museums within walking distance of one another: the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the Museum of the African Diaspora, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), which has seven floors of contemporary works, outdoor space, and a signature restaurant called In Situ.

    Photo courtesy of Tim Williamson/California Academy of Sciences