By Randy Yagi
From crooked streets and Haight-Ashbury to a bridge that couldn’t be built and the Ellis island of the West, San Francisco has a wealth of easy choices to include on anyone’s bucket list. Of course, with some of the world’s most famous attractions located in the City by the Bay, a few selections don’t require a second guess. Yet, on the other hand, many residents of San Francisco haven’t even visited or even know where some bucket-worthy spots might be, such as Musée Mécanique, the Wave Organ, the pet cemetery and Albion Castle. But the following things to do are truly unique to the City and among the most important bucket list items to cross off in one’s lifetime.
Ride A Cable Car
San Francisco Muni
San Francisco, CA 94103
Instantly recognizable from all around the world, San Francisco’s famed cable cars are definitely an attraction that needs to be crossed off the city’s bucket list. A true cultural icon, the city’s manually operated cable car system is the last of its kind in the world, where cars run on an underground cable and are operated by a cable car conductor. Service began in 1878 and today, the San Francisco cable car system operates three routes, with two connecting the downtown area to Fisherman’s and serves up to 7.5 million riders annually. Although lines to get on board a cable car can be uncomfortably long, particularly at the Powell Street cable car turnaround at Market Street, visitors can avoid the lines by walking along the route a few blocks before getting on board at other stops along the way.
Related: Best Roadside Attractions In & Around San Francisco
Run The Bay To Breakers
Howard and Spear Streets
San Francisco, CA 94105
For a classic, albeit quirky San Francisco experience, there’s really nothing like participating in the Bay to Breakers. First held in 1912, the Bay to Breakers is the world’s oldest consecutively run annual footrace and at one time, was the second largest running event in the world by participation. The scenic course covers 12 kilometers from its start near the San Francisco Bay at Howard and Spear Streets in the downtown area and continues its way through city streets, one large Hayes Street Hill and then through Golden Gate Park, before it reaches the finish line at Ocean Beach (the breakers) along the Pacific Coast. Although attendance has been down in more recent years, this lively event still draws around 50,000 walkers, joggers and runners, many of which are dressed in costume, along with a few that aren’t dressed at all except for a pair a shoes, a hat and maybe a sash bag. Held the third Sunday of May, visitors will have plenty of time to train for the 2018 event and registration is already open online.
See Steve Silver’s Beach Blanket Babylon
678 Beach Blanket Babylon Blvd.
San Francisco, CA 94133
From the Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables to the Lion King and Hamilton, a live Broadway musical should be high on most anyone’s bucket list. But if just one musical could appear on a San Francisco bucket list, it has to be the city’s own Beach Blanket Babylon. First held in 1974, Beach Blanket Babylon is billed as the longest running musical in live theater history, with more than 16,000 performances already completed and enjoyed by more than six million people, including Queen Elizabeth II herself, who actually managed to crack a smile with her husband Prince Phillip in 1983. Loosely based upon the Disney character Snow White and her search around the world for her Prince Charming, the 90-minue show is world renowned for its dazzling costumes, extraordinarily large hats and its hilarious depiction of pop culture icons like Kim Kardashian, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. All shows are held at Club Fugazi in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood, with a full slate of shows throughout the holiday season.
Visit Alcatraz Island
National Park Service
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Fort Mason, B201
San Francisco, CA 94123
Located 1.25 miles offshore from San Francisco, Alcatraz Island has had an extensive history but is best known as the notorious federal prison that many of America’s most famous criminals called home. Named Isla de los Alcatraces (Island of the Pelicans) by Spanish explorer Juan Manual de Ayala in 1775, Alcatraz Island was the location for the first lighthouse on the West Coast, as well as the first US-built fort, before it also served as a military prison during the 1850s. However, Alcatraz far more broadly known when it served as a federal prison from 1934 and 1963 and housed a number of famous criminals, such as Al “Scarface” Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Mickey Cohen, Robert Stroud, the “Birdman of Alcatraz” and James “Whitey” Bulger. Today, Alcatraz Island is managed by the National Park Service, with easy access via ferryboat from Fisherman’s Wharf. Alcatraz Island is open daily except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Also available seasonally are evening and combined tours, which includes a visit to Angel Island, the largest island in the San Francisco Bay which once served as a U.S. immigration station and known as the “Ellis Island of the West”.
Related: 5 Things In The Bay Area That Exist Nowhere Else In The U.S.
Walk Across The Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco, CA
Often described as the world’s most famous, most beautiful and most photographed bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge is a vital connection for motorists between San Francisco, the North Bay and beyond. However, a better and certainly more breathtaking way to enjoy this San Francisco landmark is to walk across it. Spanning an estimated 1.7 miles with parking on either end, the East Sidewalk of the Golden Gate Bridge is open daily to both pedestrians and bicyclists, while the West Sidewalk is open to cyclists although bike rentals are not available onsite. Whether the preference is walking or cycling, the payoff, of course, is the luxury of traversing one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World while taking in the spectacular views of the San Francisco Bay on one side and the mighty Pacific Ocean on the other. Due to its popularity, finding a parking spot near the Golden Gate Bridge can be challenging, especially on weekends. One the other hand, taking public transportation or another form of alternative transportation like Uber or Lyft can be an option. One last tip – it’s practically mandatory to bring along a jacket or warm coat for the trek across the Bridge.