San Francisco

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Known for inspiring innovations, eccentric culinary eats and some of the most unique landscapes across America, San Francisco sat at the top of my travel list for a long time.

 

Fueled by pop culture references and consistently being in the media spotlight, I knew the City by the Bay was going to be a special experience, especially after driving through rural Oregon.

There’s an interesting vibe in the city. Where trendy and innovative businesses from around the globe are constantly influencing at one end, while there’s also a strong desire for historical preservation.

Of all the sights and activities I experienced, my favourite spots were also ones that fully embraced this sea-saw balance of old and new in this ever changing city.

Alcatraz

One of my favourite activity is visiting and learning the history of Alcatraz. I was first introduced, and quickly infatuated with the prison in 1996. What happened in 1996 that caused this excitment you ask? I saw the movie, The Rock for the first time!

The movie mesmerized me and I’m not even sure what captured my attention so intently. Maybe because it held some of the most dangerous Americans at the time, that it’s built on a secluded island for extra security, or because I lived in a household that idolized Sean Connery – who knows? All I know is that I needed to see Alcatraz with my very own eyes.

Not wanting to miss my chance at fulfilling my childhood dream of visiting Alcatraz, I secured my tour ticket right away. It’s not necessary to purchase tickets that far in advance, but it’s still highly recommended to pre-purchase them, as they often sell out.

Only National Park Service concessionaire Alcatraz Cruises offers official tours. There are other companies that offer tours, but they don’t actually bring you onto Alcatraz Island.

Once on the island, the only way to experience the attraction is with their award-winning audio guide. Already included in your ticket price, you can listen to this amazing audio tour in various different languages.

Assembled with a mishmash of narrations, interviews and reenactments, this audio-tour brings the penitentiary to life. Goosebumps ran along my arms and chills down my neck, as I got to experience the institution in such a realistic way.

Visitors can experience the penitentiary even more by going into the cells, closing the gates and seeing what it feels like to be locked in. Needless to say, that wasn’t on my agenda. I’ve seen The Rock. I wasn’t going to make that mistake.

Charm Tip: If possible, try to visit the island early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Even though tours are sectioned into time blocks, it can still get mighty crowded.

 

Golden Gate Bridge and Area

The structure that defines San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge is a must-see for any visitor. While I don’t find it particularly beautiful or astonishing, I did enjoy the atmosphere and views surrounding this area. Lively and fresh, this part of town certainly represents a newer and younger perspective of the city.

Golden Gate Bridge

Many visitors don’t actually cross the bridge over to Marin County, but I’d highly recommend it. Admittedly, I wasn’t going to cross it either. But having missed my highway exit, I had no choice but to venture across. And was I thankful for my mistake!

Much less crowded, Marin County is lush and elevated. There are several vista points available, and all of them offers exceptional outlooks. When compared to viewing the bridge from the Bay area, there’s one thing that proves Marin County more superior. A view with the city in the background!

Even though the weather might not always cooperate, with hazy skies or thick cloud coverage, a different angle of the bridge is well worth it.

Fort Point

Located near the base of the Golden Gate Bridge on the Bay side, Fort Point is an interesting spot. Once a seacoast fortification and now a historical site, visitors can tour its ruins and learn its history.

For those less interested in learning about the past, Fort Point also offers an up close and personal view of the Golden Gate. Almost under the bridge at certain points, it allows for a completely different angle of the structure.

Crissy Fields

A former army airfield, Crissy Fields is now a huge open recreational space. It’s a relaxing and well-maintained area that allows patrons to enjoy various leisure activities, such as cycling and windsurfing. There’s beaches and tidal marshes, as well as trails that wind throughout the area.

Charm tip: In between Fort Point and Crissy Fields, look for an unsuspecting building called the Warming Hut. Offering yummy snacks, drinks and unique San Francisco merchandise, this is a great place for a pit stop.

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