This page is roughly in chronological order over parts of 3 days while we were visiting San Francisco. Due to extremely erratic wanderings, there is absolutely no geographical order, but then San Francisco is relatively compact and a good city for erratic wandering. This is of course, Chinatown, which isn't really like a part of San Francisco at all but more like an enclave of China. Along the main streets are shops and restaurants that operate in an interesting mixture of Chinese and English, but the back streets are pretty much 100 percent Chinese. Also we have to recommend the House of Nanking as a restaurant even though it's clear that every other guidebook in the world already does so. We sat between some French travellers with a Lonely Planet book and some Australians with a Michelin Guide. (Yes, you're right that is inherently backwards).
Lombard Street. It's not just a street anymore, it's a tourist attraction. Our condolences to the people who actually live on this stretch. Originally the street was straight down but there were so many accidents the city engineers did this to it. It's an interesting hike up Russian Hill from the west side along Lombard St. You'll pass all the cars waiting in line to drive down this side. You'll probably see at least 2 minor accidents happen as well. So much for city engineering.
Here's the top view (and a nice view of the bay besides). This picture was carefully framed to shield out the other 300 people standing around taking pictures. Really. It's just a street. Of course, here we are propagating it's fame on the website. The top of the hill now features a cacophany of cars noises, engines, tires squealing and occassionally crashes as people try to navigate up a ridiculous incline 8 feet at a time.
At any given time, most of the tourists in San Francisco seem to congregate in the wharf area, particularly the area between the Cannery and Fisherman's Wharf. Chinatown and North Beach never seem very crowded compared to this area. In reality there are quite a lot of wharves. Something greater than 50, but a select few attract all the attention.
For instance, where there are harbors along Bay Street, the fishing boats tend to clean their fish in full view of the assembled masses which is yet another impromptu tourist attraction. Other views of daily life on display would be the nearby Boudin bakery (which is actually kind of an impressive thing to watch).
Alcatraz and the hills of Marin County as seen from the fishing wharves. If you wander between buildings away from the shopping-mall piers, there are normally functioning piers out there. During the day, many of them leave the gates open (or just follow someone else out). Once out there you have a great view of the city, the bay and relative peace and quiet.
We didn't actually go to Ghiardelli Square, although it was one of the few places we had been to before. Anyway here's a picture of it from the piers. It's mostly just a shopping center nowadays, as is the nearby restored Cannery area.
The financial district of San Francisco seen in the background here. The distance from here to the TransAmerica Pyramid actually encompasses the Fisherman's Wharf area, much of North Beach and part of Chinatown. It's probably a mile and half walking which can be done on a relatively level series of roads if you're careful. Or you can wait for a trolley at one of the end stops, but you wouldn't want to do it on a Saturday in August.
The TransAmerica pyramid is actually rather neat. Like most distinctive buildings in the world, everyone hated it originally, but now it's accepted as a symbol of the city. That's not an optical illusion at the top of this photo. It's actually a fascinating effect we spent about 15 minutes watching. The mist and fog coming across the city from the Pacific Ocean funnels up the west side of the pyramid, which causes the neat triangular vapor trails at the top. We're easily amused.
This is an optical illusion, and also the inside of the Museum of Modern Art. Like most museums of modern art there's a healthy mixture of jaw-dropping grand scale art work, talented but confusing exhibits, and of course displays that only a hard code artist could ever really call art. This is also the most accessible of San Francisco's major museums. Most of the others are out in Golden Gate Park which is a fair bit away from the center of town. MOMA is located in the financial district.
We can't have a San Francisco page withough a view of the Golden Gate Bridge, so here it is. This is seen from Russian Hill. As you can see, it's really only obviously red if you're much much closer, or maybe if it's actually sunny (rare). The first day we were here, it couldn't be seen at all because of the fog.
This is our San Francisco postcard picture. Two passing trolleys on Russian Hill with Alcatraz looming in the bay. We could probably say something about Alcatraz here, but let's face it, it's an abandonded prison on an island in the bay. Is it worth touring? Maybe. We didn't, so we'll leave that as an exercise to the reader. As for trolleys? They're neat, they make pleasant clanging noises, but as public transportation goes, they're crowded, expensive and quite limited in terms of coverage. The buses of San Francisco are cheaper and more efficient unless you're travelling very explicitly along a trolley route.
On the other side of town is the Bay Bridge heading off to Oakland. You can see Oakland there to the left of the support tower on the bridge. The other obvious landmark is the quirky looking Coit Tower which originated partly as a fire watch tower, and partly as just a weird obsession.
Yes, jackets in August. It doesn't ever seem to get very warm in the city, although you can drive inland for about 30 miles and find that the temperature has doubled.
Pier 39 was taken by a hostile invasion of sea lions somewhat unexpectedly after the 1989 earthquake. After initial confusion and a bit of damage to local boats, the city decided it was best to keep them, albeit segregated. So now they have their own set of rafts to lie about napping on, and occassionally making loud noises like 'ARQ ARQ'. There's also a specially expanded viewing area on the pier. They're rather interesting to watch and you can attempt to develop your own theories of Sea Lion colony social graces (have a beer first though). Below is a composite picture of the skyline of San Francisco as seen from our hotel window. We couldn't do a daytime version because it was always foggy in the mornings.