San Francisco is definitely a city worthy of stealing your heart, it has a little bit of something for everyone and it’s a great place for a family to explore and share everyone’s interests.
Alcatraz Island is best known as The Rock but this island actually has a history that goes beyond its years as a prison. Originally it was home to the first lighthouse and a U.S. fort. It was while the island was a military base that it first served as a prison for Civil War prisoners. Then it housed prisoners of the Spanish-American war. It was during the 1906 earthquake that civilian prisoners were transferred to Alcatraz and that was for their protection. The facility served its purpose so well that many noted inmates did time at Alcatraz. But as mentioned above the island is more than a prison. The Indians of All Tribes twice liberated the island in an effort to establish tribal rights in the United States and theirs is a fascinating story. There is also a slew of natural beauty on the island, some that can’t be found anywhere else.
The Golden Gate Bridge is considered one of the most beautiful suspension bridges in the world. Spanning the opening of the San Francisco Bay onto the Pacific Ocean the 1.7 miles draws an estimated 9 million people annually and visitors can either drive, bike, or walk across the famed span. Construction began on the bridge in 1933 and was finished in 1937. Visitors to the bridge can drive, walk, bike or roller blade across the bridge and if the weather is clear, catch spectacular views of the city beyond. On an entirely different note, the Golden Gate Bridge is the most popular place to commit suicide in the United States and one of the most popular in the world. No accurate number of suicides is known as many of these events aren’t witnessed but in 2005 it was estimated that there was one suicide or attempt every two weeks.
Think of San Francisco and images of cable cars winding up and down steep grades comes to mind. Learn more about San Francisco’s cable cars with a visit to the Cable Car Barn. The first cable car started in 1873 and rose in popularity until 1892 when the first electric streetcars started running. The earthquake of 1906 contributed to the downfall of the cable car and by 1944 only two lines existed. A few groups worked to restore and maintain the remaining lines and by 1984 several lines were running and restored. Now the cable cars serve mainly as a tourist experiences but some locals still use them in their regular commute. The Cable Car Barn lets you view an actual cable winding and watch the path as it enters the building and leaves underneath the street. The museum houses many great artifacts, including the first cable car from 1873.
Aquarium of the Bay in San Francisco has three different environments for visitors to explore; Discovery the Bay, Under the Bay and Touch the Bay. In Discovery the Bay you and your family will learn about the ecosystem of San Francisco Bay and the live within that ecosystem. Under the Bay takes you deeper into the water and through two crystal clear tunnels surrounded by 700,000 gallons of bay water and more than 20,000 critters. Touch the Bay is one of the favorite stops in the aquarium, especially for children. The interactive exhibits let visitors actually touch land and marine animals in addition to being involved in hands-on experiments and activities.
One trip that every family should take at least once is a whale watching tour. In San Francisco the whale tour is a day cruise to the Farallon Islands where grey whales and humpback whales migrate. The Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary is a very unique ecosystem and has more to offer than just whales, but whales are the goal.
The Winchester Mystery House is a fascinating house and the attached ghost story is sure to give your kids a little thrill and chill. The home once belonged to Sarah Winchester whose husband was the famous gun maker William Wirt Winchester. Mrs. Winchester believed her home was haunted by ghosts of people killed with Winchester rifles so she insisted that construction builders work round the clock from 1884 until her death in 1922. The house is a mess of nonsensical rooms, hallways and staircases. It was seven stories high until the 1906 earthquake which destroyed a large portion of the house. The home was then rebuilt at only four stories high and today includes about 160 rooms, 40 bedrooms, two ballrooms, 47 fireplaces and 17 chimneys, two basements and three elevators. Tours are open to the public daily but if you’ve got older kids who really like a scare try to schedule your visit to coincide with a Halloween or Friday the 13th flashlight tour.
Fort Point has what is perhaps the best view of the Golden Gate Bridge as it was originally positioned to protect the harbor from Confederate and foreign attack during and after the U.S. Civil War. But Fort Point’s history reaches back to the first Spanish settlement in San Francisco in 1776 when a mission and presidio was built and the area where Fort Point now stands was fortified for protection. As the San Francisco harbor has been safe for some time the importance of Fort Point has diminished. It is now most famous for its view which can be seen on numerous films and it’s also made an appearance in the wildly popular computer game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas which should be popular with the kids.