By Rita J. Egan
Recently, my fiance decided to share his love of San Francisco with me. I have to say the diversity of the various areas and the history didn’t disappoint.
The first stop was Fisherman’s Wharf. When traveling to San Francisco, this is a must. First of all, you can take in a beautiful view of San Francisco Bay by walking along Jefferson Street. And if you like to pick up souvenirs for yourself and your loved ones, this is the place. There is every type of souvenir store imaginable in this area filled with magnets, key rings, cups, T-shirts and more in various price ranges.
While checking out the goods though, don’t miss the historical significance of this area. Be sure you look out to the water to get a view of Alcatraz, the former federal prison. There are tours of the historic landmark for those who want to find out how infamous criminals such as "Scarface" Al Capone lived. But, since my time was short, I skipped the excursion. However, a few people who have taken the tour told me it is an interesting one.
Fisherman’s Wharf is filled with even more history than Alcatraz, though. The original Ghirardelli Chocolate and Del Monte factory buildings are still standing and now house restaurants, stores, and of course, a Ghirardelli shop. These factories were built in the ideal spot due to the nearby waterway where goods would come in on ships.
Wandering around Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood, it’s easy to get a sense of the history that once took place here. Factories had easy access to the water and fisherman navigated their vessels and returned to land to sell their daily catch. It was once a bustling area where lumber schooners would arrive at the pier, and a railroad line enabled workers to load the trains to deliver lumber to a growing city.
What I found interesting about the wharf is that it rests on land created from rubble. In 1906, buildings were destroyed in an earthquake and fire. The buildings that exist today may not have stood for centuries, but the area still harkens to the time when it was known as Meigg’s Wharf, the main port of entry to the city.
Exploring the streets south of Fisherman’s Wharf is a must, too, because you really can’t experience San Francisco to the fullest until you walk up and down its hills -- steep hills! Plus, when you head south from the wharf, you’ll find Lombard Street. On this road, between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets, you’ll discover a one-way block that is known as the most crooked street in the world. The winding thoroughfare at this point of Lombard Street is filled with beautiful gardens. As you walk down the steps on either side of the street, there are tons of photo opportunities. For the brave at heart, you can drive down the steep road with hairpin turns.
After Lombard Street, we drove over to the Palace of Fine Arts. The structure was constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition where works of art were exhibited. Rebuilt in 1965 on the original site, it is one of only a few structures that exist from the Exposition. The architecture is beautiful, and a park and lagoon surround it. The Palace of Fine Arts is a peaceful respite from the busyness of other San Francisco neighborhoods.
Take a drive to 1709 Broderick Street to find the home seen in the opening credits of the television show “Full House” and its Netflix reboot “Fuller House.” If you’re a fan of the iconic show, this is a fun, short pitstop. Believe me, you probably won’t be the only one taking photos outside of the house.
On our second day in San Francisco, we finally hopped on the cable cars. We started at Fisherman’s Wharf and took one to Chinatown. It may be the most touristy thing a person can do in San Francisco, but do it. The cable car system is intricate, and it’s interesting to watch the operators at work. Most of all, riding on the car while traveling the steep hills of San Francisco is exhilarating. You won’t regret it.
Just one thing with the cable cars, make sure you look up the routes and maps that can be found at San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency or download the MuniMobile app. We waited for almost an hour in Union Square. The area is busy with stores such as Nordstrom and The Gap. So, tons of people are drawn to this section. If you know the cable car system, you can walk a few blocks to another stop and get on there. Many cars left Union Square with room for more passengers when we were waiting.
From Union Square, you can hop on San Francisco’s subway system known as the BART, which stands for Bay Area Rapid Transit. We took the subway down to the Mission District to visit Mission Dolores. The church not only features gorgeous architecture but also is packed with history. I made sure to read the informative placards along the way. Pope John Paul II stopped at the church in September of 1897 to meet face-to-face with AIDS victims.
The churchyard has many interesting tombstones, and I learned that about 60% of the people buried there were Irish. The Brother working in the gift shop told me that after the potato famine in the mid-1800s, many people immigrated from Ireland to the United States and headed west due to the Gold Rush. During the era, Mission Dolores was the only Catholic church in the area.
We made a quick stop in the Haight-Ashbury district on this day, too. The area was the center of the counterculture in the 60s and still has a groovy hippie vibe. There are a couple of thrift stores along Ashbury Street.
Unfortunately, our time in San Francisco was limited, yet I left with an appreciation of all it has to offer. The city is a must-have to add to your bucket list if you appreciate a taste of history, shopping, and neighborhoods filled with personality.