The Golden Gate Bridge is but one of the wonders San Francisco has to offer visitors. Photo by Can Balcioglu, courtesy San Francisco Travel Association.
The Golden Gate Bridge is but one of the wonders San Francisco has to offer visitors. Photo by Can Balcioglu, courtesy San Francisco Travel Association.

Every city assumes a characteristic and identity. Philadelphia is all for the underdog and industry. Paris is romantic. New York is for dreamers and the energy of endless possibility. San Francisco, however, is golden. There are those who say the City by the Bay is the American mainstay of colorful cuisine, culture and striking architecture. Yet, no matter how many times you’ve been to this jewel of central California’s coastline, there’s always more to discover beyond Haight-Ashbury, Victorian row houses and Chinatown. San Francisco is constantly changing – keeping the world guessing and coming back for more.

de Young Museum

San Francisco’s most unique museum is also its oldest: The de Young Museum’s history goes back to the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894. But the structures that housed exotic curiosities back then have long since given way to the copper-sheathed, eco-conscious facility that opened in 2005. Elements of the original Golden Gate Park institution, however, are still everywhere. At a distance and from a certain angle, the museum’s tower looks like a space age Mesoamerican pyramid shooting through forest canopy. Up close, it’s a metallic-webbed arrowhead pointing the way to spectacular collections of ancient to modern art.

The Exploratorium

A spirit of experimentation prevails to this day in San Francisco, and nothing proclaims it more literally than The Exploratorium. At its founding in 1969 by Frank Oppenheimer, the original center at the city’s Palace of Fine Arts was a science funhouse, but the Exploratorium was moved a few years ago to the dramatically renovated Pier 15 on the SF Embarcadero. There, The Exploratorium takes on a new dimension of hands-on learning through more than 150 exhibits, each designed to make the experience of discovery both engaging and personal for all ages.

Madam Tussauds San Francisco

The sixth Madam Tussauds gallery in the U.S. opened this summer in San Francisco. For most, the halls of life-like wax figures representing figures from history, sports champions and entertainment celebrities are as close as we’ll ever get to the real thing. Want to take a selfie with Rihanna, Muhammed Ali or Leonardo DiCaprio? Go for it – guests can get up close to all of them as well as Janis Joplin, Harvey Milk and others in the Spirit of San Francisco exhibit. Madam Tussauds San Francisco is located on Fisherman’s Wharf.

Alcatraz Island

For a good part of the time that it’s been known as Alcatraz Island, “The Rock” in San Francisco Bay has been fortified for the purposes of keeping others out (as a U.S. army installation) or keeping people in (as a famous prison). Today, Alcatraz Island is a National Historic Landmark, and the National Park Service has found other uses for the land and now-closed prison facilities, including as a center for local history, a bird sanctuary and space for inspired art exhibitions. The island’s history makes such exhibits as the multimedia @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz, scheduled to open Sept. 27, especially poignant – Ai Weiwei, the outspoken Chinese artist, human rights activist and critic of the Chinese government, is creating this art installation in Beijing because authorities forbid him to leave the country.


An old American music form found a new home in 2013 when SFJAZZ Center opened in the once-seedy Hayes Valley neighborhood. Innovation revived the district, now alive with restaurants and shops and an easy stroll from such music centers as Davies Symphony Hall and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. On stage, visitors will hear some of the hottest jazz artists today paying homage to the greats from Ethel Waters to Chet Baker. The third season at SFJAZZ opens this month with the Eliane Elias Trio. The rest of the season includes the Joshua Redman Trio, Caetano Velosa and Chris Botti.

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