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The Civic Center

The classic architecture of our center of city government lead to Civic Center being declared a national landmark in 1978. Landmarks include the great dome of our City Hall, at Van Ness Avenue between Grove and McAllister.

Learn about its fascinating history at exhibits on the main level and public tours offered weekdays from the south light court. The elegant Opera House, Van Ness Avenue at Grove, is home to the San Francisco Ballet and award-winning San Francisco Opera, and the site where the United Nations charter was originally signed. War Memorial Veteran?s Building, 401 Van Ness, houses Herbst Theatre and the Performing Arts Museum and Library, and the stunning Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall, Grove and Van Ness Avenue, is home of the San Francisco Symphony. The city?s Main Library at 100 Larkin Street features an ongoing schedule of special exhibits.


Enter Chinatown at Bush and Grant Streets, through the imposing Dragon Gate, a gift to San Francisco from the Republic of China in 1969. The characters above the gate proclaim, ?Everything in the world is in just proportions.? Home to one of North America?s largest Chinese communities, Chinatown is a bustling 18 square blocks centered along Grant and Stockton from Bush to Columbus.

The streets are lined with restaurants, shops and trading companies offering a variety of colorful merchandise - silk, jade, artifacts, and antiques. ROSS ALLEY, running between Grant and Stockton from Jackson to Washington, once lined with opium dens and brothels, has been the backdrop for movies like Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom, Karate Kid II, and Big Trouble in Little China.

North Beach

Centered along Columbus Avenue, North Beach is known for its Italian heritage and the bakeries, restaurants, and gelato parlors, which create its definitive Mediterranean flavor. Once a mecca for the Beat Generation of the ?60?s, this is now a favored residential area for young professionals.

You won?t turn a corner without enjoying the smell of freshly roasted coffee from the many quaint cafes and local roasteries dotting Columbus Avenue. Points of interest include Washington Square, the block between Powell, Stockton, Union, and Filbert Streets, named in honor of the first president of the United States. The square is overlooked by the majestic white towers of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul.

Two blocks away at 610 Vallejo Street @ Columbus is located the St. Francis of Assisi Church, dedicated as a shrine to St. Francis, the city?s namesake. Visit daily 11am-5pm to view historic murals; call 415-983-0405 for information. Stop into literary landmark CITY LIGHTS BOOKSTORE, founded by Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1953, at 261 Columbus Avenue.

Union Street & Pacific Heights

This historic area, originally called Cow Hollow for its origins as dairy meadows, includes picturesque Union Street, which runs for seven blocks from Van Ness westward, with upscale shops, galleries and restaurants in renovated 19th century Victorians.

This is a popular evening hotspot with pubs and after hour restaurants. The stately mansions of nearby Pacific Heights are fine examples of turn of the century Victorians. The Haas-Lilienthal House at 2007 Franklin Street is a landmark Queen Anne Victorian built in the 1880?s.

Mission District

This vibrant neighborhood, south of Market Street centered along 24th Street off Mission, reflects its Mexican and Latino heritage through the large colorful murals on building walls and an abundance of lively cantinas and Mexican restaurants.

Mission Street, the longest and one of the oldest streets in San Francisco, follows the original trail from the waterfront village of Yerba Buena (later renamed San Francisco) with Mission Dolores, built in 1776.

The Castro District

This section of Upper Market Street, renovated by its affluent, primarily gay residents, is a collection of clothing, gift, and specialty stores interspersed with colorful Victorians, restaurants, and pubs. The Castro Theater, 429 Castro Street, is a great old movie palace that screens classic and art films.


A bit of Japan on this side of the Pacific! Home to over 12,000 citizens of Japanese decent, this neighborhood has become a miniature ginza known as Nihonmachi. Japan Center, on Geary at Webster, stretching for 3 square blocks, is a complex with shops selling unique items from the Orient, restaurants, art galleries and a movie theater complex. Kabuki Spa offers great massages for the weary visitor and the majestic Peace Pagoda in the plaza is a photo favorite!

Nob Hill and Russian Hill

At the top of California Street is Nob Hill, the site on which San Francisco?s early millionaires ? Gold Rush and railroad nabobs (slang for wealthy men, which gave Nob Hill its name) ? built their mansions, now established as some of the city?s finest hotels: The Fairmont, the Huntington, and the Mark Hopkins. At 1100 California Street at Jones is Grace Cathedral, known for its treasured furnishings including doors, which are replicas of Ghiberti?s ?Gates of Paradise? and its restored stained glass windows. For information, call 415-749-6300.

The CABLE CAR POWERHOUSE AND MUSEUM, 1201 Mason Street at Washington, is the working center of the cable-car system, with on-site gallery and gift shop. Adjacent Russian Hill offers steep streets and remarkable views. On the east side of Russian Hill sits the SAN FRANCISCO ART INSTITUTE, 800 Chestnut Street, which has been educating artists since the 1800s. Stop into the Diego Rivera Gallery to view his 1931 mural "The Making of A Fresco Showing the Building of a City."

Our famous Lombard Street, dubbed ?crookedest street in the world,? winds in a series of eight hairpin turns in a single block between Hyde and Leavenworth. Built in the 1920s to accommodate the steep incline, this landscaped street has recently been redirecting traffic during peak times, so plan for possible delays.

The Haight

Famous for the intersection of Haight & Ashbury Streets, the ?Summer of Love,? and hippies, Haight Street, between Stanyan and Buena Vista Park, now includes vestiges of the 60s along with an interesting collection of cafes, unique shops, vintage clothing stores, chain stores, nightclubs, and colorful residents.

The most famous landmarks in this neighborhood include former homes of several counterculture icons. The house at 710 Ashbury was the home of the Grateful Dead when they were still the Warlocks. Across the street was the Hell?s Angels? house.

Check out the house Janis Joplin used to live in at 122 Lyon Street between Page & Oak. Then venture across the Panhandle to Fulton Street. At 2400 Fulton is the Charles Manson mansion where the Manson ?family? lived.

Fisherman's Wharf

The north end of Columbus Avenue marks the beginning of historic Fisherman?s Wharf.

The history of this area dates back to the Gold Rush era when Chinese immigrants in ?junks? fished offshore to supply hungry hordes with shrimp, oysters, and salmon. Later, Italian fishermen followed, setting up family stands along the beach, selling crab and other seafood delicacies.

South of Market

?SOMA? is the location of Moscone Convention Center, which hosts on ongoing schedule of conventions and meetings in both the north and south buildings. The Rooftop atop Moscone Convention Center includes ?ZEUM? learning museum for kids and teens, plus a full-size ice rink open year round, a bowling center, gardens, and a restored 1906 carousel that was originally located at Playland at the Beach, the legendary amusement park that used to entertain families at Ocean Beach.

The 12 square block area known as Yerba Buena gardens is site of CENTER FOR THE ARTS at 701 Mission Street with landscaped lawns, a sculpture court and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Waterfalls, plus exhibition galleries and theatres for film and video screenings. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, at 151 Third Street is the second largest single structure in the country devoted to modern art.

SOMA also boasts trendy nightclubs, restaurants, boutiques and factory outlet stores. Sony Metreon Center at 4th & Howard is a movie, restaurant, shopping, and kids? entertainment complex. Pacific Bell Park, Third and King Streets, is home to the San Francisco Giants.

Top 20 Things to See and Do in San Francisco TOP 20

Text Courtesy TravelSF Copyright 2004

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