Must-See, Must-Do

You could spend a lifetime in San Francisco and still not be able to enjoy everything the city has to offer. But if you have only a week, there are definitely a handful of must-see, must-do treats that should be on your family's list.

Traverse the Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world, and any trip to San Francisco should include at least a glimpse of the famous structure. When it was built in 1937, it was the world's largest suspension bridge. It's now the second-largest in the United States, after New York's Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

After you've taken your fill of photographs from afar, check out the Golden Gate Bridge up close and in person. You can drive across by paying a $5 toll, but if you really want to enjoy the scenic views, take the free route and walk along the sidewalk. It's a two-mile hike each way, and parking is available at both ends of the bridge. The sidewalks are open from 6 A.M. to 6 P.M.

FAST FACT

What color is the Golden Gate Bridge? If you said red — well, guess again. The bridge is actually a shade called “international orange,” which consulting architect Irving Morrow chose in part to make the bridge more visible in San Francisco's notorious fog. A team of close to forty painters work on periodic maintenance to ensure the bridge maintains its photogenic appeal.

Take a Cable Car Ride

If you've ever seen a Rice-A-Roni commercial, then you're familiar with San Francisco's famous cable car system. The buslike vehicles still make their way along train track–like rails that are built right into the hilly city streets. The infrastructure that makes cable cars work has itself become an icon, as it is the world's last remaining manually operated cable car system in permanent operation.

Cable cars actually date back to well before the 1906 earthquake, which, as you might imagine, decimated the public transportation system along with pretty much everything else. The system was rebuilt, but never with the same gusto it had in the early days, since electric and then gas-fueled cars soon overtook cable cars in terms of speed, cost, and comfort. Today, there are three cable car routes still in operation, with the main two ferrying tourists from the Union Square area to Fisherman's Wharf.

Cable car rides cost $5 per person, but if you plan to ride all day, consider getting the $10 daylong pass. If you're older than 65, you can ride for just $1 before 7 A.M. or after 9 p.m.

Visit the Coit Tower

Coit Tower is not as well known as, say, New York City's Empire State Building, Chicago's Sears Tower, or Seattle's Space Needle. But the principle is the same: This is where you go if you want a spectacular 360-degree view of San Francisco and all the land and water beyond the city limits.

The tower stands 210 feet and gets a bit more of a height bump from the fact that it is built atop Telegraph Hill in Pioneer Park. From the top on a clear day, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz prison, Pier 39, Treasure Island, and more.

Inside the Art Deco tower, there are some pretty terrific views, too — of murals by twenty-six different artists. You can see most of the murals free of charge. However, if you don't want to take the stairs up to the top of the tower, you'll have to pay the $3.75 elevator fee (kids between 6 and 12 pay $1.50).

TRAVEL TRIP

Because Coit Tower is at the top of a hill, parking can be limited, especially during peak tourism months like July and August. If you are in good health, leave the rental car at the hotel and use a good pair of sneakers to get up the hill.

Other Places to Visit

The Golden Gate Bridge, streetcars, and Coit Tower are just a few of the places you'll want to see during your family vacation to San Francisco.

Check out a few of the areas downtown, not to mention the Golden Gate Recreation Area, Alcatraz Island, and cultural spots like the Fillmore.

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