San Francisco may have been more recently developed than the east coast, but this city has all the flavor of a great explorer–with trains and street cars to add to the experience. San Francisco has a unique flavor, particularly due to the diversity of her occupants. The gold rush began in 1848 and drove much of the city’s growth for the next several decades.
Start your trip in Union Square. Directly opposite the square is a Neiman Marcus that stands where the City of Paris department store once stood. Duck inside just to get a glimpse at the glass rotunda that was her crowning glory. While you’re at Union Square, sneak a peak at the French Quarter, but really you will want to catch one of the only three remaining cable cars to Fisherman’s Wharf. The Wharf is a brilliant day of exploration for the scientifically or nautically inclined. At the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park (say that three times fast), you can stand on the decks of dozens of ships that once sailed during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. If dieselpunk is your flavor, you can also check out the WWII floating museum the SS Jeremiah O’Brien. Make sure you duck over to Aquatic Park as well to view the American Freedom train.
After you wander the boats to your heart’s content, enjoy air conditioning and innovation of the modern variety at Exploratorium, which has just recently moved to Pier 15. This science museum has loads of hands-on exhibits to give you ideas for the past…
Back to our favorite walking tours, put on your best walking boots and explore the Barbary Coast Walking Trail, reported to cover the best aspects of the Gold Rush of 1848, including ship graveyards, cathedrals and temples, and more beautiful architecture. Separately, wander the “Western Addition” neighborhood to see lots of Victorian-style houses and mansions that survived the Great Earthquake of 1906. Make sure you also take the time to wander Chinatown, with a beautiful collection of historical Chinese-architecture buildings built and rebuilt around the time of the quake.
After you’ve finished that grueling walk, wet your whistle at St. Francis, reportedly the oldest ice cream parlor in San Francisco. They have old fashioned soda fountains too.
Make a stop at the Palace of Fine Arts, first built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition.
What trip to San Francisco would be complete without checking out the Golden Gate Bridge? When you’re in the neighborhood, stop at the San Francisco Ferry Building, which sports a 245-foot-tall clock tower that was completed in 1898. Also stop at the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park.
And to top it all off, here is a fun list of historic restaurants in the bay area.
If history is your style (and I hope that it is, if you’re into Steampunk), then certainly check the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society for any events that might be happening around your visit. If you can’t get to San Francisco, this website has lots of amazing photographs and information of San Francisco in eras gone by.