Japantown, San Francisco

Japantown, also known is Nihonmachi, is a neighbourhood in San Francisco.


It is one of three Japantowns remaining in the States, all of which are in California (other two are Los Angeles and San Jose).

The focal point is Japan Center, a shopping complex. The complex is made up of three buildings. They are the Kinokuniya Mall, Japan Center West (Kintetsu Mall ), and Japan Center East (Miyako Mall).

Located between the East and West Malls is the Peace Plaza with the Peace Bagoda, which is a five tiered concrete stupa. It was designed by Yoshiro Taniguchi and presented to San Francisco by its sister city Osaka, Japan in 1968.

Japantown is bordered roughly by Geary Boulevard between Laguna Street in the east, and Fillmore Street in the west.











Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco

Haight-Ashbury is a district in San Francisco that is famous for the origin of the 1960s hippie culture.


The district is named after the intersection of Haight and Ashbury Streets. The streets are named after early San Francisco residents – exchange banker Henry Haight and member of San Francisco Board of Supervisors Munroe Ashby.

The area has colourful Victorian homes, quirky boutiques, vintage clothing stores, music stores, chic cafes and restaurants. The famous Haight Ashbury legs are above the Piedmont Boutique (1452 Haight Street).

Haight-Ashbury was also home to bands and musicians, such as Janis Joplin (635 Ashbury Street) and The Gratetful Dead (710 Ashbury Street).

A fun fact the clock at Haight and Ashbury is set out 4:20.





‘Grateful Dead’ house – 710 Ashbury St

Castro District, San Francisco

The Castro District is a neigbourhood in San Francisco. It is recognised as one of the first gay neighbourhoods in the United States.


What is recognised as San Francisco’s gay village is located on Castro Street from Market Street to 19th Street. There are rainbow flags and murals dotted around the district.

To learn more about San Francisco’s LGBTQI+ history it is worth checking out the GLBT Historical Society Museum (4127 18th Street).

Also in the Castro is The Castro Theatre (429 Castro Street) an Art Deco movie palace built in 1922.

Castro Street is named after José Castro, who was a Californio politician and acting governor of Alta Californio.






Muir Woods National Monument

Muir Woods National Monument is a redwoods forest within the the Golden Gate Recreational Area.


Muir Woods is home to an ancient coastal redwood forest. The trees average in age from 400 to 800 years with heights of up to 250 feet. There are trees within the forest that are at least 1200 years old.

Congressman William Kent and his wife Elizabeth Thatcher Kent donated 295 acres of land to the Federal Government to protect the redwood forest. President Theodore Roosevelt established the land as a national monument in 1908.

The National Monument is named after John Muir, a writer and naturalist who founded the environmental organisation Sierra Club.

Muir Woods National Monument is is 19 kilometres (12 miles) north of San Francisco, so is a popular day trip from San Francisco. The park is open from 8am to sunset.








Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

The Golden Gate Bridge is a suspension bridge connecting San Francisco Bay with the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula.


The bridge has a main span of 1,280 metres (4,200 feet) and a total height of 227 metres (746 feet). At the time of its opening in 1937 it was the longest and tallest suspension bridge in the world. It held this honour until 1964.

Construction on the bridge begun in 1933. It was designed by engineer Joseph Strauss.

You can walk, cycle or drive across the famous bridge. I walked across the bridge. Pedestrian access is from the East Sidewalk (bay side). From November to early March it is open 5am to 6.30pm, and from early March to early November it is open 5am to 9pm.

There are many opportunities to view the bridge. Can you walk along the waterfront from Fisherman’s Wharf. The bridge is 5.5 kilometres (3.5 miles) west of Fisherman’s Wharf.

You can also view the bridge from below Fort Point where Jimmy Stewart saved Kim Novak in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

A popular photo opportunity is from Marin Headlands (Vista Point). I stopped here on a tour to Muir Woods National Monument.











Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island located in San Francisco Bay is one of the most popular and iconic attractions of San Francisco.


The island is approximately 2km (1.25 miles) off shore from San Francisco. Alcatraz Island has a long history with a past as a military fort, a site for a lighthouse, a military prison and a federal prison.

A federal prison from 1934 to 1963, is probably what it is most well known for. Some of the States’ most infamous and notorious criminals have been imprisoned here, including Al Capone, George ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly, and ‘Bird Man’ Robert Stroud.

From November 1969 the island was occupied by a group of Native Americans during a nineteenth month protest. There are still signs of the occupation.


Alcatraz Island is now managed by the National Park Service. Alcatraz Cruises is the official company providing transport to Alcatraz Island. Ferries to Alcatraz depart from Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing and the journey is approximately 15 minutes one way. Booking in advance is advised as they do sell out. Tickets can be reserved up to 90 days in advance.

There are a variety of tours to choose from – earlybird tour, day tour, night tour, an extended behind the scenes tour and a combined Alcatraz and Angel Island tour.

I did the night tour. The advantage of a night tour is that I was able to do other activities during the day, and there is definitely an atmosphere being there at night. A downside with a night tour is that you don’t have as long on the island as a day tour.

It was a misty, grey, rainy San Francisco early evening when our boat departed a little after six thirty. I can’t complain too much as I had 13 days of San Francisco sun up until that point.

The tour includes self-guided audio tour with narration from former guards and prison inmates. The audio tour is important because unlike a museum there is not a lot of written information.














Hyde Street Pier, San Francisco

Hyde Street Pier is a historic automobile ferry pier located on the west end of San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf.


The pier, which was built in 1922, was the main ferry terminal connecting San Francisco with Marin County prior to the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

Today the pier is part the San Francisco Marine National Historic Park and is home to many historic ships including the 1886 steel-hulled rigged sailing ship Balclutha, the 1890 side-wheel steamboat Eureka, the 1891 scow schooner Alma, the 1895 schooner C.A. Thayer, the 1907 steam tugboat Hercules, and the 1914 paddlewheel tugboat Eppleton Hall.

Hyde Street Pier is located at Fisherman’s Wharf at the end of Hyde Street.




Musée Mécanique, San Francisco

Musée Mécanique is a collection of penny arcade games located in a museum on Pier 45 at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.


‘Laughing Sal’ – one of San Francisco’s most nostalgic landmarks at Playland from from 1940 – 1972.

Ed Zelinksy begun collecting at age 11. Originally his collection was exhibited at Playland, an amusement park located next to Ocean Beach.

In 1972 Playland closed and the Musée Mécanique collection moved into the basement of the Cliff House (click here to read my blog post on the Cliff House).

In 2002 Musée Mécanique was moved to Fisherman’s Wharf. Today it is owned and managed by Ed’s son Dan Zelinsky.

There are over 200 coin-operated mechanical musical instruments and arcade games. It is free to enter the museum, but visitors pay to play the games. The games are priced from one cent to a dollar. There are change machines available.

Musée Mécanique is located at in Shed A, Pier 45, which is at the foot of Taylor Street.






Cliff House, San Francisco

The Cliff House is a San Francisco restaurant on a headland above the cliffs just north of Ocean Beach.


The Cliff House’s origins go back to 1858 when the house was built by Samuel Brannan, who founded San Francisco’s first newspaper the California Star. In 1863 the second Cliff House, a restaurant was built. In 1883, the building was brought by Adolph Sutro, who later opened the Sutro Baths.

In 1887 the building was partially damaged by a dynamite explosion when a ship run aground. Although the building was repaired it was destroyed by a fire on Christmas night 1894.

Sutro built a new seven-story Victorian Chateau in 1896, the same year he began work on the Sutro Baths. Sutro’s Cliff House survived the 1906 earthquake but was burnt to the ground a year later. Following the fire Sutro’s daughter commissioned architectural and engineering firm Reid & Reid to rebuilt in neo-classical style.

In 1937, George and Leo Whitney purchased the Cliff House and redeveloped in as a roadhouse to compliment an amusement park that the Whitleys had managed since 1926. On the terrace is a room size camera obscura. This was built in 1947 and today is the last remaining structure of the amusement park. 

The building was acquired by the National Park Service in 1977. In 2003 the building was renovated and restored to its 1909 appearance.

Today there is a casual walk-in bistro, an elegant restaurant, a Sunday champagne buffet brunch room, cafe, two bars, and a gift shop.






Sutro Baths, San Francisco

The crumbling concrete ruins of the former Sutro Baths are on the northwestern edge of San Francisco above the Pacific Ocean.


When the Sutro Baths opened in 1896 it was the world’s largest indoor swimming pool complex with seven pools. The baths were built by former San Francisco mayor Adolph Sutro.

An ice skating rink was added in the 1930s and in 1964 the complex was sold to property developers. A suspicious fire in 1966 destroyed the building before it was demolished.

Following the fire the condo development plans were abandoned. The ruins are now part of Golden Gate Recreational Area managed by the National Park Service.