Twinkling cities, misty redwood forests, sun-kissed beaches, a creative local food scene and an adventurous attitude: California is instantly captivating.
Why you should drive California's scenic Highway 395
6 min read — Published Jan 29, 2021
California’s US Hwy 395 features the state’s highest, lowest, hottest, deepest, oldest... expect a whole host of superlatives on this varied road trip.
Discover some of the most unique and fulfilling experiences your next destination has to offer.
Tips & Travel trends to help you pick the perfect time to visit this destination.
Put these must-see destinations on your next travel wish list.
Browse the various transportation options to make your trip that much easier when you arrive.
Ways to maximize the fun without spending a dime on your next great adventure.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout California.
Yosemite means "killer" in the Indigenous Miwok language, and in today's parlance it's indeed an impressive, awesome site. Everywhere you look in Yosemite, there are lofty granite domes, sheer cliffs, turbulent rivers, glassy lakes, hypnotizing waterfalls and serene meadows – not to mention spectacular viewpoints to take in all of these and more in a panoramic vision. The third US national park, Yosemite perhaps best exemplifies the kind of place worth preserving for recreation and conservation, from the park's most recognizable natural features such as Half Dome, El Capitan, Mariposa Grove, and Yosemite Falls, to the summer paradises of Tuolumne Meadows and Glacier Point. It's no wonder that over 5 million visitors arrive every year to take in Yosemite's grandeur. Yosemite National Park Valley on a cloudy autumn morning from Tunnel View ©haveseen/Shutterstock It was here that conservationist John Muir fell hard for mother nature, penning rhapsodic dispatches on the beauty of the Sierra Nevada that contributed to its preservation as a national park. Yosemite not only stirred Muir, it has also captivated generations of rock climbers who continue to flock to the park's challenging routes and rock faces each year. And the park continues to inspire new ways of considering and experiencing the outdoors – for example, the relatively new sport of slacklining was born in Yosemite from tired climbers trying new tricks in between projects. Two rock climbers on portaledges on Triple Direct, a big wall climbing route at El Capitan © Getty Images/Image Source Activities in Yosemite There are over 800 miles of trails, from easy half-mile strolls along the valley floor to overnight backpacking expeditions and thru-hikes. There are 13 campgrounds as well as a number of backcountry sites, with Camp 4 and Tuolumne Meadows attracting close-knit communities of climbers in the summer months. Backpacks, tents and other equipment can be rented from the Yosemite Mountaineering School. Horseback riding, swimming, rafting and kayaking, skiing, fishing, and even golf and hang gliding can be found here, too. Plus there's Yosemite's after-dark entertainments – in addition to events at the Yosemite Theater, other activities scheduled year-round include campfire programs, children’s photo walks, twilight strolls, night-sky watching, and ranger talks and slide shows. The tavern at the Evergreen Lodge has live bands some weekends, too. Valley view in Yosemite National Park, California, USA, captured with Fisheye lens. © Allard Schager / Getty Images Best views of Yosemite Valley The park’s crown jewel, the spectacular, meadow-carpeted Yosemite Valley stretches 7 miles long, bisected by the rippling Merced River and hemmed in by some of the most majestic chunks of granite anywhere on earth. Ribbons of water, including some of the highest waterfalls in the US, fall dramatically before crashing in thunderous displays. The counterpoint to the sublime natural scene is bustling Yosemite Village. The best all-around photo op of the Valley can be had from Tunnel View, a large, busy parking lot and viewpoint at the east end of Wawona Tunnel, on Hwy 41. It’s just a short drive from the Valley floor. The vista encompasses most of the Valley’s icons: El Capitan on the left, Bridalveil Fall on the right, the green Valley floor below, and glorious Half Dome front and center. This viewpoint is often mistakenly called Inspiration Point. That point was on an old park road and is now reachable via a steep hike from the Tunnel View parking lot. The second view, known as Valley View, is a good one to hit on your way out. It offers a bottom-up (rather than top-down) view of the Valley and is a lovely spot to dip your toes in the Merced River and bid farewell to sights like Bridalveil Fall, Cathedral Rocks and El Capitan. Look carefully to spot the tip-top of Half Dome in the distance. As you head west out of the Valley on Northside Dr, look for the Valley View turnout (roadside marker V11), just over a mile past El Capitan Meadow. Near the base of Yosemite Falls, the collection of buildings known as Yosemite Valley Lodge includes modern, motel-like accommodations, restaurants, including the recently upgraded Base Camp eatery and Starbucks, shops, a bar, a bicycle-rental stand, a pool, a tour desk and other amenities. The amphitheater hosts regular evening programs, and the pool is open to the public. The Yosemite Valley shuttle bus stops right out front, as do Yosemite Area Regional Transport System (YARTS) buses. All guided tram tours, ski shuttles and hiker buses also leave from here; tickets are available from the tour desk in the lobby. El Capitan is one of the most iconic features of Yosemite National Park © Getty Images/Image Source Climbing El Capitan At nearly 3600ft from base to summit, El Capitan ranks as one of the world’s largest granite monoliths. Its sheer face makes it a world-class destination for experienced climbers, and one that wasn’t topped until 1958. Since then, it’s been inundated. Look closely and you’ll probably spot climbers reckoning with El Cap’s series of cracks and ledges, including the famous ‘Nose.’ At night, park along the road and dim your headlights; once your eyes adjust, you’ll easily make out the pinpricks of headlamps dotting the rock face. Listen, too, for voices. The meadow across from El Capitan is good for watching climbers dangle from granite (you need binoculars for a really good view). Look for the haul bags first – they’re bigger, more colorful and move around more than the climbers, making them easier to spot. As part of the excellent ‘Ask a Climber’ program, climbing rangers set up telescopes at El Capitan Bridge from 12:30pm to 4:30pm (mid-May through mid-October) and answer visitors’ questions. See the Yosemite Guide listing for a schedule. Half Dome with sunrise ©David Kiene/Getty Images Half Dome Rising 8842ft above sea level, and nearly a mile above the valley floor, Half Dome serves as the park’s spiritual centerpiece and stands as one of the most glorious and monumental (not to mention best-known) domes on earth. Its namesake shape is, in fact, an illusion. While from the valley the dome appears to have been neatly sliced in half, from Glacier or Washburn Points you’ll see that it’s actually a thin ridge with a back slope nearly as steep as its fabled facade. As you travel through the park, witness Half Dome’s many faces. For example, from Mirror Lake it presents a powerful form, while from the Panorama Trail it looks somewhat like a big toe poking out above the rocks and trees. A man stands on the end of the rocky overhang at Glacier point lookout. ©Erik Bouma/500px Glacier Point Constructed to replace an 1882 wagon road, the modern 16-mile stretch of Glacier Point Rd leads to what many people consider the finest viewpoint in Yosemite. A lofty 3200ft above the valley floor, 7214ft Glacier Point presents one of the park’s most eye-popping vistas and practically puts you at eye level with Half Dome. Lying directly below Glacier Point, Half Dome Village is home to Yosemite Valley’s second-biggest collection of restaurants, stores and overnight accommodations. Originally called Camp Curry, it was founded in 1899 by David and Jennie Curry as a place where everyday visitors could find ‘a good bed and a clean napkin at every meal.’ Starting with just a handful of tents, the camp quickly grew, thanks in large part to David Curry’s entrepreneurial drive and booming personality. One of his biggest promotional schemes was the Firefall, a nightly event and significant tourist draw. Yosemite Falls with Some Merced River Overflow in Foreground ©John Alves/Getty Images Yosemite Falls One of the world’s most dramatic natural spectacles, Yosemite Falls is a marvel to behold. Naturalist John Muir devoted entire pages to its changing personality, its myriad sounds, its movement with the wind and its transformations between the seasons. No matter where you are when you see it (and it regularly pops into view from all over the Valley), the falls will stop you in your tracks. In spring, when snowmelt gets Yosemite Creek really pumping, the sight is astounding. Another sign of springtime is 'frazil ice', the strange slurry – not exactly ice or snow – that moves like lava from the bottom of the falls under Yosemite Creek bridges. On nights when the falls are full and the moon is bright, especially in May and June, you might spot a ‘moonbow’ (aka lunar rainbow or spraybow). In winter, as the spray freezes midair, an ice or snow cone, depending on its density, forms at the base of the falls and can top out at several hundred feet. To get to the base of Lower Yosemite Fall, get off at shuttle stop 6 (or park in the lot just north of Yosemite Valley Lodge) and join the legions of visitors for the easy quarter-mile stroll. Note that in midsummer, when the snowmelt has dissipated, both the upper and lower falls usually dry up – sometimes to a trickle, other times stopping altogether. El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall, as seen from Tunnel View. ©13119/Shutterstock Bridalveil Fall In the southwest end of Yosemite Valley, Bridalveil Fall tumbles 620ft. The Ahwahneechee people call it Pohono (Spirit of the Puffing Wind), as gusts often blow the fall from side to side, even lifting water back up into the air. This waterfall usually runs year-round, though it’s reduced to a whisper by midsummer. Bring rain gear or expect to get wet when the fall is heavy. Take the seasonal El Capitan shuttle or park at the large lot where Wawona Rd (Hwy 41) meets Southside Dr. From the lot, it’s a quarter-mile walk to the base of the fall. The path is paved, but probably too rough for wheelchairs, and there’s a bit of an uphill at the very end. Avoid climbing on the slippery rocks at its base – no one likes a broken bone. The Yosemite Conservancy is planning to remodel the usually overflowing parking lot and trail access to make it more visitor friendly. If you’d rather walk from the Valley, a trail (part of the Loop Trails) follows Southside Dr, beginning near the Yosemite Heritage Conservation Center and running about 3.8 miles west to the falls. A young man walks past Cathedral Lake during a 27.3 mile backpacking trip from Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley, California. ©Keri Oberly/Getty Images Tuolumne Meadows About 55 miles from Yosemite Valley, 8600ft Tuolumne Meadows is the largest subalpine meadow in the Sierra. It provides a dazzling contrast to the valley, with its lush fields, clear blue lakes, ragged granite peaks and domes, and cooler temperatures. During July or August, you’ll find a painter’s palette of wildflowers decorating the meadows. Hikers and climbers will find a paradise of options. Satisfying burgers and hot dogs, not to mention a few salads, are served up at Tuolumne Meadows Grill. Grab a seat outside at a picnic table. Tuolumne Meadows Store has everything you need to pack a picnic lunch. Tuolumne Meadows sits along Tioga Rd (Hwy 120) west of the park’s Tioga Pass Entrance. The Tuolumne Meadows Hikers’ Bus makes the trip along Tioga Rd once daily in each direction, and can be used for one-way hikes. There’s also a free Tuolumne Meadows Shuttle, which travels between the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge and Olmsted Point, including a stop at Tenaya Lake. Historic Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley © Moment Editorial/Getty Images The Majestic Yosemite Hotel Almost as iconic as Half Dome itself, the elegant Majestic Yosemite Hotel has drawn well-heeled tourists through its towering doors since 1927. Of course, you needn’t be wealthy in the least to partake of its many charms. In fact, a visit to Yosemite Valley is hardly complete without a stroll through the Great Lounge (aka the lobby), which is handsomely decorated with leaded glass, sculpted tile, Native American rugs and Turkish kilims. You can relax on the plush but aging couches and stare out the 10 floor-to-ceiling windows, wander into the Solarium, or send the kids into the walk-in fireplace (no longer in use) for a photo. You can even sneak up the back stairs for a peek into the private Tudor Room, which has excellent views over the Great Lounge. The hotel was designed by American architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood, who also designed Zion Lodge, Bryce Canyon Lodge and Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge. If the hotel’s lobby looks familiar, perhaps it’s because it inspired the lobby of the Overlook Hotel, the ill-fated inn from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Badger Pass ski lodge in Yosemite National Park, California, USA 1950. Scanned film with grain. Getty Images Yosemite Ski Area The California ski industry essentially got its start in Yosemite Valley, and Badger Pass (now called the Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area) was California’s first alpine ski resort. After Yosemite’s All-Year Hwy (now Hwy 140) was completed in 1926 and the Ahwahnee Hotel (now called the Majestic Yosemite Hotel) opened its doors the following year, Yosemite Valley quickly became a popular winter destination. When Wawona Tunnel opened in 1933, skiers began congregating at Badger Pass. In 1935, a new lodge opened on Glacier Point Rd, and a newfangled device called ‘the upski’ was installed at the pass. The crude lift consisted of nothing more than two counterbalanced sleds, but it worked, and this place became California’s first alpine ski resort. In winter, a free shuttle bus runs between the Valley and the Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area. Also in winter, wilderness permits are available by self-registration at the A-frame building, where the first-aid station and ski patrol are also situated. Rangers usually staff the office from 8am to 5pm. Yosemite has been drawing visitors and residents for thousands of years, from the Ahwahneechee to modern tourists road tripping in early automobiles © Bettmann Archive via Getty Images The history of Yosemite National Park The Ahwahneechee, a group of Miwok and Paiute peoples, lived in the Yosemite area for around 4000 years before a group of pioneers, most likely led by explorer Joseph Rutherford Walker, came through in 1833. There were an estimated 3000 people living in 22 villages in the valley alone. During the gold-rush era, conflict between the miners and native tribes escalated to the point where a military expedition (the Mariposa Battalion) was dispatched in 1851 to punish the Ahwahneechee, eventually forcing the capitulation of Chief Tenaya and his tribe. Mother with infant on her back at the the base of giant Sequoia trees... ©My Good Images/Shutterstock Tales of thunderous waterfalls and towering stone columns followed the Mariposa Battalion out of Yosemite and soon spread into the public’s awareness. In 1855, San Francisco entrepreneur James Hutchings organized the first tourist party to the valley. Published accounts of his trip, in which he extolled the area’s untarnished beauty, prompted others to follow, and it wasn’t long before inns and roads began springing up. Alarmed by this development, conservationists petitioned Congress to protect the area – with success. In 1864 President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant, which eventually ceded Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias to California as a state park. This landmark decision, along with the pioneering efforts of conservationist John Muir, led to a congressional act in 1890 creating Yosemite National Park; this, in turn, helped pave the way for the national-park system that was established in 1916. Tourists board a free Yosemite shuttle service bus at Yosemite Valley. ©Michael Vi/Shutterstock Yosemite Tickets and Tours Admission to Yosemite costs $35 per car, $30 per motorcycle, $20 per person on foot or by bicycle. Guided tour packages are offered by a number of third-parties, including some based within the park and some outside its bounds: Yosemite Conservancy - Park-affiliated nonprofit offers multiday courses, custom trips and seminars that are great alternatives to tours. Sierra Club - The national environmental nonprofit has both paid trips and free activity outings sponsored by local chapters. Discover Yosemite Tours - Operates bus tours year-round from Oakhurst, Fish Camp and Bass Lake. Aramark/Yosemite Hospitality - The park’s main concessionaire runs bus and tram tours, including a very popular wheelchair-accessible two-hour Valley Floor Tour and day trips from the Valley to either Glacier Point or Tuolumne Meadows. Stop at the tour and activity desks at Yosemite Valley Lodge, Half Dome Village or Yosemite Village; call 209-372-4386; check www.travelyosemite.com; or the Yosemite Guide for information and pricing. Tenaya Lodge - Large family-friendly resort in Fish Camp operates full-day park tours in luxurious Mercedes Benz buses with retractable roofs that allow you to experience the natural sights a little more naturally. Guests of the lodge have priority. Green Tortoise - Runs backpacker-friendly two-day ($300) and three-day ($360) trips to Yosemite from San Francisco where travelers sleep in the converted bus or in campgrounds, cook collectively and choose from activities like hiking, swimming or just hanging out (and there’s always some great hanging out). Prices (which change annually) include most meals and the park entry fee. Incredible Adventures - This outfit uses biodiesel vans for its San Francisco–based tours to Yosemite, from one-day sightseeing tours ($159) to three-day camping tours ($489). Park entry fees and most meals are included, and it provides all cooking and camping gear except sleeping bags.
When Frederick Law Olmsted, architect of New York's Central Park, gazed in 1865 upon the plot of land San Francisco Mayor Frank McCoppin wanted to turn into a vast city park, he was understandably skeptical. Here was a swath of 1,013 acres of unlovely, dubious sand dunes on the outskirts of town, buffeted by powerful winds blowing in off the dark grey Pacific. The landscape architect turned down the job, despite the opportunity to create a park bigger than New York's before his first masterpiece was even finished. But Olmstead would have to chuckle, and change his tune, a century later to see what Golden Gate Park became – from bonsai, buffalo, and redwoods to Frisbees, free music, and free spirits, when in the 1960s San Francisco's back yard became the epicenter of the Summer of Love. Today it still seems to contain just about everything its denizens love about their city. You could wander the park for a week and still not see it all – but any given visit is a chance to walk through San Francisco history, from the park's oldest corners at its eastern end to where the park's borders give way to surf spots on the Pacific coast. The Spreckels Temple of Music in Golden Gate Park. ©V_E/Shutterstock Walk through history in Golden Gate Park The creation of Golden Gate Park Golden Gate Park was the brain child of several local politicians angling to flip a piece of former Mexican territory on the outskirts of San Francisco into a profitable expansion of the growing city. Not the least of these city schemers was then-mayor Frank McCoppin, who saw an opportunity to not only give San Franciscans more elbow room while lining his own pockets on construction grift, but also solve a problem that had lead to lengthy legal battles – namely, the presence of well-to-do and opportunistic squatters trying to lay claim to the Outside Lands now that San Francisco's fortunes looked rosy. Despite Olmsted's assertion a park larger than New York's Central would never succeed on the proposed site, tenacious young civil engineer William Hammond Hall and master gardener John McLaren got to work. They had a unique vision for the time that would banish commercial eyesores like casinos, resorts, racetracks and an igloo village and instead showcase mother nature. It was an unorthodox view in an era when Central Park wasn't even yet complete, ten years before even such majestic and one-of-a-kind landscapes as Yellowstone would be preserved from development as national parks. de young, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, California, USA. ©Checubus/Shutterstock What to do in Golden Gate Park Ultimately, McCoppin, Hall and McLaren had their ways, producing a green space that "feels wild....shaggy and labyrinthine and confusing," in the words of Gary Kimya, scholar of San Francisco history. Indeed, he wrote in Cool Grey City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco that "The paradox of Golden Gate Park is that its wildness is almost completely man-made. Every inch of the park had to be won. The loss of San Francisco's great sand dunes...is tragic...but [represents an] ultimately triumphant negotiation between man and the world." Several of Golden Gate Park's earliest features give teeth to that assessment. The Conservatory of Flowers, opened in 1879 and filled with rare specimens from South and Central America and aquatic Plants native to the Amazon. Stow Lake was created in 1893 with its picturesque Strawberry Hill, a favorite for families for over a hundred years. June 7, 2018: Japanese Tea Garden inside Golden Gate Park. ©Toms Auzins/Shutterstock The Japanese Tea Garden is another early success – the oldest such public Japanese garden in the United States, it's been here since the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894. The carefully tended garden is full of imported plants, birds, and fish that have flourished for over a century in the once-inhospitable Outside Lands far from their native Nippon. In 1906, nearly forty years after the dunes turned into a park larger than Olmstead's masterpiece, the devastating earthquake that shook San Francisco left thousands of refugees camping out in parks around the city, from Dolores Park in the Mission to Golden Gate Park. Some of the shacks built by the US Army to house earthquake victims were later moved to permanent lots, and are still in use today. As the city recovered, several new institutions found a home in Golden Gate Park, including the including the Kezar Stadium (former home to the Oakland Raiders), California Academy of Sciences and the de Young Museum. The park's beloved Windmills bookended the earthquake, one built in 1903 and the other in 1908. The spiky Dahlia Garden appeared in the mid-1920s, as did the Shakespeare Garden with its collection of 200 plants mentioned in the Bard's writings. The Beach Chalet is located above the Golden Gate Park Visitor's Center and features historic WPA frescoes created by Lucien Labaudt in the 1930's celebrating the history of Golden Gate Park ©LightRocket via Getty Images The WPA and the Summer of Love During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration was not only busy decorating Coit Tower with controversial murals, they were adding new features to Golden Gate Park, including the San Francisco Botanical Garden, the archery field, Anglers Lodge, and the Model Yacht Club. They also restored the 1926 art deco Horseshoe Pits, and built the Beach Chalet with its gorgeous frescos that tell the story of Golden Gate Park's construction. Most impressive, the Hoover Grove of giant sequoia were planted in 1930 to honor casualties from World War I, on the south edge of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Here you can peep these towering giants without driving out to the Marin Headlands and Muir Woods National Monument. So much for Olmstead's jab that "There is not a full-grown tree of beautiful proportions near San Francisco." The park's features and usages continued to evolve over the decades. Stow Lake's lovely boathouse was added in 1946. Twenty years later, in the Panhandle fringes of the park near Haight-Ashbury, the Human Be-In ushered in the Summer of Love, when thousands of youth were drawn to Hippie Hill by the promise of utopia fueled by free concerts from local bands and plentiful cannabis and LSD. Visit Golden Gate Park on April 20th of any given year (and, let's be honest, in certain pockets any day of the week) and you'll catch a whiff of the Hippie Hill scene from fifty years ago. The new Golden Gate Park ferris wheel, part of its 150 anniversary celebrations, arrived in 2020 and is one of the park's most sought-after new attractions © Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images Golden Gate Park today One of the most recent permanent additions to Golden Gate Park is the National AIDS Memorial Grove. Built in 1991, it's a touching tribute to the millions of lives lost during the plague years, which hit San Francisco's queer community hard and left the city shaken after the dark 1980s. That's not all, however. The park is still constantly evolving year to year. Today Golden Gate Park hosts events like the Bay to Breakers 12K race, as well as the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and Outside Lands music festivals which take place every October. In December, the Christmas lights are a draw for families and visitors. A festival takes place in Golden Gate Park in 2010 ©Eric Broder Van Dyke/Shutterstock In 2020, the city celebrated the park's 150th anniversary with temporary art installations like local artist Charles Gadeken's Entwined light show in Peacock Meadow (240 John F Kennedy Drive). Another new addition to mark the anniversary was the SkyStar Wheel, Golden Gate Park's own ferris wheel that will be in place until March of 2025. That same year, protestors marked Juneteenth by toppling some of the park's historic statues, including those of Francis Scott Key, Padre Junipero Serra, and Ulysses S. Grant. Other changes during the COVID-19 pandemic have included the Golden Gate Park Sunday Roller Disco Party, a free community-led party for roller skaters at " Skatin' Place," a spot near 6th Ave & Kennedy Drive, most Sundays from noon to 5PM that features live DJs. Keep your eyes pealed during the summer months for one of the 12 pianos hidden around the Botanical Garden for anyone to play, part of an event called Flower Piano that includes free piano lessons, community sing-alongs at sunset, and more. The M.H. de Young bus stop; Shutterstock ID 3554606; your: Meghan O'Dea; gl: 65050; netsuite: Digital Editorial; full: golden gate park POI Shutterstock / Rafael Ramirez Lee Getting to Golden Gate Park At over three miles long and half a mile long, there's a lot of ground to cover in Golden Gate Park, and a lot of entrances. The most popular entrance is in the Panhandle via Fell St, but coming in from 9th Avenue off Lincoln puts you right by some prime attractions. JFK serves as one of the main arteries in the park for cars, along with Transverse Drive, Chain of Lakes Drive, and 25 th Ave/Crossover Drive/19 th Ave/Park Presidio – these later streets are not part of the Slow Streets program the city has implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic to give San Franciscans more room to walk and bike away from crowds. Check the park website to see the latest on road closures for events and other initiatives. Golden Gate park, San-Francisco, California, USA ©Akropot/Getty Images Biking, walking, and skating are all popular here. Numerous bus and trolly routes serve Golden Gate Park, too, and you'll find entry points lining the side of the park all the way around its perimeter. The park is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are restrooms sprinkled throughout the park, Vehicle parking in Golden Gate Park There are over 4,700 street parking spots throughout the park. Accessible parking is available at the McLaren Lodge, Music Concourse (behind Bandshell), MLK Drive & Music Concourse and on JFK/Transverse Drive. The 800-space Music Concourse garage ($33 for the day) as well as over 4,700 street parking spots throughout the park. Music Concourse garage is the main parking lot for the SkyStar Observation Wheel, as well as the De Young Museum, several gardens, and Cal Academy. It can be reached via Fulton St. at 10th Avenue and is open every day of the week from 7AM to 7PM. The Golden Gate Park shuttle The Golden Gate Park free shuttle runs from 9AM to 6PM on a cadence of every 15 to 20 minutes on Saturdays and Sundays, as well as on city holidays.
With eyes on both the galaxy above and palm-flanked boulevards below, the Griffith Observatory hovers above LA like a hulking spacecraft. This is one of the city’s true icons, an art deco behemoth flaunted on both the small and silver screen. Yet the place is more than its architectural good looks and epic panoramas, with spectacular planetarium shows, intriguing exhibits and handsome murals. The 1935 observatory opens a window onto the universe from its perch on the southern slopes of Mt. Hollywood. Its planetarium claims the world's most advanced star projector, while its astronomical touch displays explore some mind-bending topics, from the evolution of the telescope and the ultraviolet and x-ray techniques used to map our solar system to the cosmo itself. There are gorgeous views from Griffith Observatory ©Sean Pavone/Shutterstock Griffith Observatory Views On clear days, the views at the Griffith Observatory take in the entire LA Basin, surrounding mountains and Pacific Ocean. From the building's rooftop viewing platform, you can see the city skyline, the Hollywood Hills and even the city's most famous sign. Head out on a clear day just before dark, you'll have gorgeous sunset views of the gleaming city below and spectacular star gazing. But if you're only interested in the daytime views, head up on a weekday before noon (when the observatory opens) for easier parking. Samuel Oschin Planetarium Grab a seat in the Planetarium – the aluminum-domed ceiling becomes a massive screen where lasers are projected to offer a tour of the cosmos or show the search for water, and life, beyond Earth. This planetarium is one of the finest in the world. The state-of-the-art Zeiss star projector, digital projection system make for impressively realistic shows. Three are on offer; Centered in the Universe, which takes visitors back to the Big Bang, Water is Life that will have you searching for H2O in the solar system and Light of the Valkyries which explores the phenomenon of the Northern Lights. All three shows are offered daily, though times vary. Check the website for specific screening times if you're set on seeing a particular show. Note that children under five are only permitted to attend the first showing of the day. The Zeiss Refractors from 1935 is open to public and free due to Griffiths will. ©travelview/Shutterstock Zeiss Telescope Over 7 million people have gazed at the heavens through Griffith Observatory's original 12-inch Zeiss refracting telescope. The telescope is designed so that light is collected and focused by a 12-inch diameter glass lens at the front of the 16-foot-long telescope tube. The main telescope tube carries a smaller 9-inch refracting telescope piggyback, which permits two different views of a single object. Housed in a recently updated copper dome, the 1935 telescope is in excellent condition. In addition to repairs to the dome, Griffith Observatory also added a new exhibit station in the Hall of the Eye exhibit hall that provides live video and audio feeds from the telescope in order to allow visitors unable to climb the stairs to have an observing experience. Most nights the telescope serves up to 600 visitors. It is free to the public every night the Observatory is open and the sky is clear. It can be especially busy and festive during major celestial events. An experienced guide will help you look through the eyepiece and there are additional telescopes wheeled onto the lawn most nights. Exhibitions Both the upper and lower levels house exhibits, delving into some mind-bending topics. If you ever wondered about the mechanics behind eclipses, moon phases, tides, seasons or the sun's fiery antics, this is a good place to get the lowdown. Learn about the evolution of the telescope and the ultraviolet x-rays used to map our solar system. While elsewhere see what happens when light is also broken into its technicolor spectrum courtesy of a sepectroscope. Downstairs, existentialist crises are likely at the interactive Gunther Depths of Space exhibit, whose 'Big Picture' focus includes a massive photo mural of the universe itself.... enough to shrink the biggest of earthly egos. Most nights telescopes are rolled out onto the lawn for those who can't or don't want to climb the stairs into the dome ©Joseph Broderick/EyeEm/Getty Images Griffith Observatory central rotunda and Foucault's Pendulum Tickets to the planetarium are sold in the main lobby, itself a highlight of the observatory. Look up to enjoy Hugo Ballin's striking murals. The eight rectangular murals just below the dome depict the 'Advancement of Science,' from time, geology and biology, mathematics and physics, to astronomy, aeronautics, navigation, civil engineering, and metallurgy and electricity. Upstaging them all is the dome's own mural, its protagonists including an athletic Atlas holding up the world, the four winds, the 12 constellations of the zodiac, and the planets depicted as classical gods. Although the murals were meticulously restored more than 10 years ago, workers left a small patch of the dome untouched (hint: look above the main entrance). Suspended from the dome is Foucault's Pendulum, its 240lb bronze ball demonstrating the Earth's rotation. What to eat near Griffith Observatory There is a little cafe at the observatory, but a better option is to follow the signposted 0.6 mile hike down to Fern Dell Dr for freshly baked goods at outdoor, counter service cafe Trails. Almost everything from its tiny timber-cabin kitchen is made from scratch, from the popular egg-salad sandwich to the quiche and chunky apple pie. Order at the counter then devour at one of its picnic benches, under the shade of sycamores, Chinese elms and carob trees. How to get to Griffith Observatory You can drive of course, but parking can be challenging, especially on weekends. Consider catching the DASH Observatory shuttle bus from Vermont/Sunset metro station (Red Line) to Griffith Park Observatory. Alternatively, hike up from Los Feliz below which is a great option.
Was it the fall of 1966 or the winter of ’67? As the Haight saying goes, if you can remember the Summer of Love, you probably weren’t here. The fog was laced with pot, sandalwood incense and burning military draft cards, entire days were spent contemplating trippy Grateful Dead posters, and the corner of Haight and Ashbury Streets became the turning point for an entire generation. The Haight's counterculture kids called themselves freaks and flower children; San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen dubbed them 'hippies.' The history of the Haight goes back over sixty years before the Summer of Love heated up, however. The neighborhood's beautiful Victorian Painted Ladies were spared by the 1906 earthquake that wrecked and burned so much of San Francisco. Over the decades that followed, however, these once-gleaming single family homes were weathered by the Great Depression, split up into apartments during World War II, and nearly flattened by a proposed freeway in the 1950s. But in the decline, the seeds of counterculture had already been sewn. The pretty pink house where Janis Joplin lived briefly in the 1960s © Meghan O'Dea / Lonely Planet The '60s in Haight-Ashbury As David Talbot notes in his San Francisco history Season of the Witch, by the time the Golden Gate Park 's Panhandle was threatened by the wheels of progress (and commuter's automobiles), the Haight was full of misfit residents used to providing one another support, and who were open to embracing new, diverse ideas. Here were Black homeowners sick of disenfranchisement, Beat poets priced out of gentrifying North Beach, members of the queer community spilling out of the Castro, and fired up students who had learned the art of activism on Freedom Rides in the southeast. City Hall didn't stand a chance against the Haight. It was a place to find your people, and soon a new generation of young artists started moving in to now-iconic homes that continue to draw rock 'n' roll pilgrims. The Grateful Dead House became a major hub at 710 Ashbury. The legendary Hells Angels bikers were posted up practically next door at 715, while Janis Joplin briefly stowed her feather boas a block down the street at 635. 1090 Page Street was home to Joplin's backing band, Big Brother and the Holding Company (though now it's a block of condos). Cult leader Charles Manson briefly brought his "family" to 636 Cole, while Jefferson Airplane filled up the sprawling mansion at 2400 Fulton with Grace Slick's big voice. Meanwhile, Jimmi Hendrix wrote "Red Door" about his apartment at 1524A Haight Street. Author Tom Wolfe talks with Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead and the band's manager Rock Scully under the street signs on the corner of Ashbury and Haight streets © Corbis via Getty Images Drugs poured in, including LSD, speed, and cannabis. So did plenty of youth from around the country eager to get away from mainstream America and experience the burgeoning counterculture first hand. The neighborhood's growing transient population would crash at rooming houses like the Red Victorian – a former hotel that was best known at the time as Jeffrey Haight – or at the apartments of acquaintances, or in Golden Gate Park. The Diggers, a radical anarchist and performance art collective, helped support the Haight's down-and-out with a network of free housing flops, health clinics, soup kitchens, clothing swaps, and artistic "happenings" thrown in collaboration with a carousel of hippie bands, dancers, and creatives, and especially the Grateful Dead. It was a creative, open scene many feel nostalgia for – though not without its dark side. Writer Joan Didion arrived in 1967 to report on the Haight-Ashbury scene for The Saturday Evening Post and observed not the hippie utopia so many young people were searching for, but a crumbling jumble of lost drug-users who included, harrowingly, a five year old under the influence of LSD. In many ways Didion's essay predicted the rough decline into hard drugs and dilapidation that even the well-intentioned social network of Diggers and community activists couldn't hold back. Modern Haight Ashbury blends a variety of architectural and cultural eras into a neighborhood still compelling for locals and visitors alike © Meghan O'Dea / Lonely Planet Haight-Ashbury today The neighborhood gentrified throughout the 1980s, and many of the stately homes were restored. Today, the Haight is a mix of businesses old and new that reflect both its hippie legacy and the changing flavor of tech-era San Francisco. Still, flashbacks of all sorts remain a given in the Haight, which still has its swinging-’60s tendencies. Spots like the indie Booksmith, Amoeba Music, and Magnolia Brewery, not to mention hazy outdoor hideaways like Hippie Hill, and Buena Vista Park, still hold a torch for the neighborhood's countercultural vibes. So do annual events like the Haight-Ashbury Street Fair. But you can also get a taste of how time has marched on at restaurants like Alembic, home to inventive fare like jerk-spiced duck hearts that you'd never find on The Diggers' menus. Or you can go even further back in time at Aub Zam Zam, a cash-only joint with jazz on the juke that's been pleasing the Haight since 1941. Visit Haight-Ashbury today and you'll find the fog remains fragrant downwind of neighborhood cannabis dispensaries, and that tie-dye and ideals have never entirely gone out of fashion here – hence the prized vintage rock tees on the wall at Wasteland, organic-farming manuals in their umpteenth printing at Bound Together Anarchist Book Collective, and judgment-free treatment for bad trips and unfortunate itches at the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic. At the corner of Haight and Cole, see you how far humanity has come in Joana Zegri's 1967 Evolution Rainbow mural, showing life forms evolving from the Pleistocene era to the Age of Aquarius. Who knows what the Haight will get into next.
If you look close today at the clinker-brick buildings lining these narrow backstreets, past the temple balconies jutting out over bakeries, acupuncture clinics, barbershops, and travel agencies, you'll see a microcosm of the the American dream. San Francisco's storied Chinatown is the oldest in North America, and the largest off the Asian continent. For almost two hundred years, the 41 historic alleyways packed into Chinatown's 22 blocks have welcomed newcomers from every province, and been the stage for sometimes improbable stories of tenacity and resilience. San Francisco's Chinatown history The first Chinese immigrants arrived in San Francisco in 1848, drawn largely from the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong by the promise of good jobs. In just five years, almost 5,000 Chinese immigrants arrived in San Francisco – a lot of names for the switchboard operators at the Chinese Telephone Exchange to keep track of as the largely male population called home to their families on the other side of the Pacific. By the 1880s, the city's Chinatown had begun to coalesce near Portsmouth Square, and was already drawing not only immigrants craving the familiar sights, sounds, and scents of home but also curious tourists. An early Chinese American telephone operator minds the switchboards at the telephone exchange in San Francisco circa 1900 © Photo by Library of Congress/Corbis/VC Corbis/VCG via Getty Images Still, the backlash was swift when the city's demographics and economic fortunes shifted at the end of the 19th century and San Francisco blamed its woes on its newest citizens. As editor and historian Gary Kimya explains in Cool Grey City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco, "The movement to get rid of Chinatown began as soon as there was a Chinatown." A 1900 outbreak of bubonic plague followed up by the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco very nearly did the job. Not only did Chinatown literally rise from the ashes, however, it returned more Chinese than ever as residents collaborated with white architects and landlords to create new architectural styles that reflected the neighborhood's unique heritage. Chinatown may have had to grow up rather than out thanks to the limitations imposed by the Chinese exclusion laws first passed in the 1880s. Nowhere is this more evident than Waverly Place, one of San Francisco's most treasured Chinatown alleys. It's home to the Tin How Temple – the oldest surviving Taoist temple in San Francisco, which has been welcoming worshipers since 1852. A banner on Grant Street, San Francisco, welcomes visitors to Chinatown in the 1950s © Photo by Orlando /Three Lions/Getty Images Contemporary Chinatown Still, San Franciscans had to admit Chinatown's alleyways offered something special that couldn't be found anywhere else, wether it was booze in Spofford Alley during Prohibition, nightlife at legendary clubs like Forbidden City, or brand-new "Chinese" dishes invented stateside in California kitchens like chop suey and moo goo gai pan. Indeed, some of San Francisco's most beloved haunts have been part of Chinatown for over a hundred years, including Mister Jiu's, which has been serving up mouth-watering banquets sine the 1880s; Hang Ah Tea Room, the oldest dim sum restaurant in the United States; and Sam Wo Restaurant, a late-night mainstay that's been open since 1912 and charmed Beat generation luminaries from neighboring North Beach like Allen Ginsberg and Charles Bukowski. Despite the huge cultural impact the Chinese community has made on San Francisco, there continue to be battles to fight. Activists and politicians like Rose Pak, Ed Lee, and Gordon Chin have fought hard since the 1970s against the steady tide of gentrification to keep the Chinatown district affordable. Indeed, Chin founded the Chinatown Community Development Center that's continued to build affordable housing and keep long-time residents in the neighborhood. Now many of those elders are experiencing a fresh wave of anti-Asian sentiment and violence in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, painfully recalling the last century's scapegoating of Chinese immigrants for the Barbary Plague. The Dragon Gate south entrance to Chinatown in San Francisco, California, USA. ©James Au/Alamy Stock Photo San Francisco Chinatown parking and what to do If you've got a yen to experience San Francisco's vibrant Chinatown for yourself, leave you vehicle at the Good Luck Parking Garage and be sure to snap a photo by the Dragon's Gate, which was gifted by Taiwan in 1970. One of the best ways to get oriented is setting off on one of the Chinatown Alleyway Tours and Chinatown Heritage Walking Tours that offer community-supporting, time-traveling strolls through defining moments in American history. The later are hosted by the Chinese Culture Center, which also offers everything from art classes to Mandarin lessons and genealogy services. Visitors can also take in the rotating exhibits at the Chinese Historical Society of America, which was founded in the 1960s as a new wave of Chinese immigrants arrived largely from Hong Kong. Don't miss the magical mosaic mural at Wentworth Place, either – it's one of the Chinatown alleyways most dazzling sights. For the full Chinatown experience, time your visit for the Lunar New Year, when the neighborhood's winding alleys are lit up by lanterns and firecrackers as crowds pack in to see the lion dances and parade floats go by. For a real treat, duck into the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory at 56 Ross Alley to see how the classic treats are made by hand – and even crunch into some hot off the cast iron griddle.
No one could have predicted the cultural force City Lights would become when it first opened in 1953. Sure, it had a proletarian ethos suggested by its founders decision to name the shop for a Charlie Chaplin film and sell only paperback books. And its initial owner, professor Peter Martin, certainly had an impeccable pedigree for the blend of publishing and progressive politics that would establish City Lights as an opponent of censorship and bastion of free speech. Martin was the son of Carlo Tresca, an Italian anarchist and publisher of socialist newspapers who married the sister of American Civil Liberties Union founder Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. But even after Martin was joined as co-owner by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and book-clerk-cum-manager Shigeyoshi Murao, the shop easily could have remained a quiet mainstay of the North Beach beat scene. City Lights and Allen Ginsberg That changed in 1955 when Martin sold his shares and moved back to New York City, where his father had been assassinated ten years earlier. Left to his own devices, Ferlinghetti decided to start a small press called City Lights Publishing that would produce the Pocket Poets Series, featuring some of Ferlinghetti's own work and that of other beatnicks who read at open mic nights hosted by venues like the now-defunct Six Gallery. One of those new voices was a twenty eight year old poet named Allen Ginsberg, whose epic poem Howl got both Ferlinghetti and Murao arrested for printing and selling obscene materials. American poet and activist Lawrence Ferlinghetti poses outside the bookstore he co-founded in September 1977. © Photo by Janet Fries/Getty Images The ensuing trial and landmark 1957 ruling in favor of free speech put the beats, and City Lights, on the national map – quite literally. Soon tourists began popping by, eager to experience San Francisco's burgeoning new counterculture movement for themselves. Over time, City Lights continued to published writers who pushed the envelope of political and philosophic thought and literary form, including titles by Angela Davis, Diane di Prima, Frank O'Hara, and Noam Chomsky, proving the point on one of Ferlinghetti's hand-lettered signs: 'Printer's Ink Is the Greater Explosive.' The North Beach beats City Lights also steadily took over space in its funny triangular building as neighboring businesses moved out, expanding into a cellar that was once the lair of the paper dragon used in Chinatown 's Lunar New Year celebrations, and where enigmatic slogans on the walls like 'I am the door' were left behind by a cult that worshipped here in the 1930s. That cellar became one of City Lights' themed rooms, and home to nonfiction tomes unconventionally organized by book buyer Paul Yamazaki according to counter-cultural themes like Stolen Continents, Muckraking, and Commodity Aesthetics. Feel free to enjoy some idle browsing, a past time highly encouraged at City Lights – indeed, another of Ferlinghetti's signs describes City Lights as 'A Kind of Library Where Books Are Sold.' A man reads a book at the City Lights Bookstore © Getty Images Visitors from around the world recognize the truth of this statement: City Lights remains a door to new ideas and continuing revelations. Though Ferlinghetti passed away in late February of 2021 at the age of 101, the publishing arm of the business he built continues to give paper and platform to writers often shut out of traditional publishing, including Latinx and Chicanx voices, LGBTQIA+ authors, and death row inmates. So come by, load up on zines on the mezzanine, entertain radical ideas downstairs in the new Pedagogies of Resistance section, and curl up in the designated Poet’s Chair upstairs overlooking Vesuvio Cafe, where Ferlinghetti and Murao once held court with contemporaries like Jack Kerouac, Dylan Thomas, and Bob Dylan. For almost seventy years now, this San Francisco treasure has truly been a place where, as Ferlinghetti put it, the public is "invited, in person and in books, to participate in that 'great conversation' between authors of all ages, ancient and modern." How to visit City Lights Booksellers City Lights is open seven days a week from 10 AM to midnight. It can be reached on the 8X or the 41 Union buses to Columbus & Broadway, or via the 30 Stockton or 45 Union/Stockton buses to Stockton & Broadway. The nearest Muni stop is Montgomery Station. Metered street parking is available nearby, while there are parking garages near Portsmouth Square and at 735 Valejo. Further across the border into Chinatown, Good Luck Parking Garage is a fun option to try. The bookshop also hosts weekly author readings – though the rotation has been taken online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. check City Light's social media accounts on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for regular updates as to what digital readings are happening and when in-person events are back on.
When the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art expanded in 2016, it was a mind-boggling feat that nearly tripled the institution's size to accommodate a sprawling collection of modern and contemporary masterworks over seven floors of galleries – but then, SFMOMA has defied limits ever since its 1935 founding. A Sorbonne-educated California native, founding museum director Grace McCann Morley was determined to shake up the San Francisco art scene, which she felt was a decade or more behind the times. Morley stood out not only for her avant guard taste, but also as a woman running the first modern art museum on the west coast. Under her leadership, the museum was a visionary early investor in then-emerging art forms including photography, installations, video, performance art, digital art and industrial design. Even during the Depression, SFMOMA envisioned a world of vivid possibilities, starting in San Francisco. Grace McCann Morley examines works for a juried art show in 1961 © Philip R Adams;Grace Corbis via Getty Images The SFMOMA championed works by artists San Franciscans already had an affinity for, such as Diego Rivera, as well as cutting edge abstract expressionists like Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell and Arshile Gorky who had never previously had a museum show. The museum also expanded the notions of what could be considered fine art, collecting and exhibiting works of photography, film, and architecture, as well as trying new methods of reaching art lovers like the successful Art in Your Life television program that ran in the 1950s. The collection has outgrown its home twice since, starting with its initial location within the War Memorial Building and again with the Mario Botta designed SoMa location that opened in 1995. Most recently the SFMOMA expanded in 2016, with the new portions of the museum designed by Norway's Snøhetta architectural firm. Exterior of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) near Yerba Buena Gardens ©EQRoy/Shutterstock Visiting SFMOMA If you're wondering where to start exploring the sprawling museum, perhaps the place is SFMOMA's art-filled ground-floor galleries. There are 45,000 square feet of public spaces that are free to visit and full of art, including work's staged in the museum's outdoor grounds. Buy a ticket and you might start to delve deeper on the 3rd floor with SFMOMA’s standout photography collection and special exhibitions. Meditate amid serene paintings in the Agnes Martin room surrounded by 4th-floor abstract art, then get an eyeful of Warhol's Pop Art on the 5th. Head to the 6th floor for an exhibition of German art after 1960, and then hit the 7th floor for a showcase of cutting-edge contemporary works and intriguing media arts installations. Head downstairs via the atrium to see how SFMOMA began, with colorful local characters admiring equally colorful characters by Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Henri Matisse on the 2nd floor. Start your own collection of original designs and art catalogs at the SFMOMA shop and make a meal of contemporary culinary masterpieces re-created by chef Corey Lee at the museum's Michelin-starred In Situ restaurant. A museum visitor admires a 1978 painting, titled 'Figures with Sunset', by Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997), at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art © Photo by Robert Alexander/G Getty Images SFMOMA is open Friday-Monday from 10AM – 5PM and Thursday from 1PM – 8PM. The museum is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Tickets for adults are $25, while seniors over 65 are $22, young adults between 19-24 are $19, and anyone under 18 is free. It can be a good idea to buy a ticket in advance as the museum does have capacity limits. Certain popular exhibitions such as Future Histories, Contemporary Optics, and Nam June Paik have a waiting list. Memberships for individuals are $120 and allow unlimited visits. Because the SFMOMA is located downtown in the SoMa district, it's easy to access on public transportation. Powell Street and Montgomery Street BART and SF Muni Light Rail stations are close by, as are bus stops at Mission Street, Howard Street, Third Street, and Second Street. A bike rack is available for visitors at the museum’s Howard Street entrance. Parking is available in the museum's own garage on Minna Street, and runs the gamut from $4 for 30 minutes to $35 for a full day. SFMOMA Accessibility The museum is designed to be accessible for visitors with mobility limitations and other disabilities. Portable gallery stools and manual wheelchairs can be borrowed from the coat check clerk. Free audio content, including foreign language translations and audio descriptions of artwork for the blind and visually impaired, can be accessed through the SFMOMA's smartphone app. ASL interpreters are also available for guided group tours. The museum has even created a thoughtful Sensory Guide to assist neuro-atypical visitors and those with sensory sensitivities in finding quiet, safe spaces within the SFMOMA galleries and public areas.
If you want to really see San Francisco, head to Coit Tower, a 1933 art deco beaut designed by Arthur Brown, Jr. and Henry Howard that sits high up on Telegraph Hill. San Fran scribe Gary Kamiya once described Coit Tower as "the best 60-second walk I know," noting that in the minute it takes to circumnavigate Coit's base from the southwest you will see "Chinatown, Nob Hill, Russian Hill, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and the Embarcadero, Berkeley, the Bay Bridge and Oakland, Mount Diablo, the South Bay, the Ferry Building, and the entire Financial District, with a piece of Mount San Bruno and Bernal Heights in the Distance." Phew. Of course, that depends on San Francisco's signature fog not obscuring the view. Coit Tower may look sleek and graceful from afar, but the truth is it's just as quirky as the rest of San Francisco. The tower was funded by, and named for, philanthropist Lillie Hitchcock Coit. A rich eccentric nicknamed 'Firebelle Lil', Coit had a deep fascination with and appreciation for firefighters ever since she was a teenager. In her will, she set aside funds to beautify San Francisco, which the city used to build a memorial to firefighters in Washington Square Park as well as Coit Tower. In a funny bit of serendipity, this detail of City Life by Victor Arnautoff includes a billboard for the Charlie Caplin film City Lights. 20 years after this mural was painted, beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti would co-found his famous bookstore, naming it for the same film. © Robert Holmes/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images The Coit Towers mural controversy A year after the tower was completed, the Public Works of Art Project (part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal) added a series of murals celebrating California workers. 25 local artists were selected, including Bernard Zakheim, Clifford Wight, Victor Arnautoff and John Langley Howard. The later four shared an admiration of Diego Rivera, whose Allegory of California Fresco in San Francisco was a point of hometown pride. Indeed, Rivera himself had trained Arnautoff – an intellectual and artistic affinity that perhaps makes what happened next less of a surprise. In a mixup that has since taken on a life of its own in local legend, several of the completed murals became lightening rods of controversy when the public noticed that communist party symbols, Marxist slogans, and IWW mottos appeared in their backgrounds. Throw in a strike of longshoresmen and Teamsters that coincidentally occurred around the same time, and a hefty dose of moral panic, the public became convinced that Coit Tower was awash in anti-capitalist propaganda. It caused such a stir that Coit Tower was closed down for several months and two of the murals were amended. Aerial of Coit Tower and downtown San Francisco during sunset. ©Matt Moldenhauer/Shutterstock The Tower's reputation did bounce back eventually and today it's one of best-beloved San Francisco landmarks. It's appeared in numerous movies and TV shows, including Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 love letter to San Francisco, Vertigo; 1971 Clint Eastwood film Dirty Harry; and Amazon Prime's prestige series The Man in the High Castle. Indeed, there's a bit of an urban legends that asserts Hitchcock insisted including the Coit Tower in Vertigo because he was a distant relation of Firebelle Lil – though it's ultimately just a myth. How to visit Coit Tower To reach Coit Tower take Muni bus 39 from Fisherman’s Wharf. Alternately, you can hike up the famous Filbert Street Steps and say hello to Telegraph Hill's resident parrots along the way. It's free to take Kamiya's advice and stroll around the tower's base, but to ride the elevator to the top will cost you a small fee. There are different rates for locals and visitors, with adult tickets varying between $7 and $9, respectively. Seniors over 62 and teens ages 12-17 are $4 and $6 depending on residency. Children from 5-11 are $2 and $3. Visitors may also book a docent-led mural tour which costs $8 and lasts thirty to forty minutes. You'll have a chance to learn more about the murals, as well as the Public Works of Art Project and the 25 local artists themselves.
Few cities boast a structure so iconic as the Golden Gate Bridge, commemorated in everything from films like The Maltese Falcon to not one but two emojis. Still, it's become so much a part of San Francisco's fabric and the popular imagination that it's easy to forget what an uphill battle it was to even break ground on the bridge. The decades long battle for the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge included nay-saying over logistical challenges presented by the depth of the bay, the hard winds that come in off the Pacific, and even protected sites like Fort Point. The project also had such fierce opponents as the Southern Pacific Railroad Company's ferry subsidiaries, the United States Navy, and even teamsters advocating for local labor, all who had a vested interest in prevent a bridge from ever crossing the San Francisco Bay. The Golden Gate Bridge's art deco design wasn't originally intended to be red – initially, this hue was just the primer coat on the steel ©RICOWde/Getty Images Golden Gate Bridge design Despite plenty of opposition, construction commenced early in 1933 and four years later the Golden Gate Bridge took its place amongst the foremost architectural wonders of the world. Still, San Franciscans have passionate perspectives on every subject, especially their signature landmark – though everyone agrees that it's a good thing that the Navy didn't get its way over the bridge's design. Naval officials preferred a hulking concrete span, painted with caution-yellow stripes, over the soaring art-deco design of architects Gertrude and Irving Murrow and engineer Joseph B Strauss, which, luckily, won the day. The iconic International Orange hue, however, is a concession to the military's concerns over visibility – it's the same color used in the aerospace industry, shared by NASA's flight suits and a few other major structures including the 25 de Abril Bridge in Lisbon and Tokyo Tower in Japan. Golden Gate Bridge at sunset as viewed from Fort Point. The arch in the foreground was designed to preserve this historic site. ©Andrey Popov/Getty Images Where to see the Golden Gate Bridge As far as best views go, cinema buffs believe Hitchcock had it right: seen from below at Fort Point, the 1937 bridge induces a thrilling case of Vertigo. Fog aficionados prefer the north-end lookout at Marin’s Vista Point, to watch gusts billow through bridge cables like dry ice at a Kiss concert. Other popular places for bridge photographers include Baker Beach, Crissy Field, and Lands End. You may notice while crossing or simply admiring the span from a nearby vantage point that the Golden Gate Bridge now "sings" – noises that result from very recent retrofits designed to help the bridge withstand intense winds off the ocean. Locals have been less than thrilled about the humming, which has been compared to everything from sound effects common to director David Lynch's eerie ouvre to "a giant wheezing kazoo." Over 110,000 people drive over the Golden Gate Bridge each day ©Oomka/Shutterstock To see both sides of the Golden Gate debate, hike or bike the 1.7-mile span. Muni bus 28 runs to the parking lot, and pedestrians and cyclists can cross the bridge on protected sidewalks. For drivers, bridge tolls are billed electronically to your vehicle's license plate. Tolls are collected only when you are driving southbound into San Francisco. Toll fees are $7.70 for those with a FasTrak account, $8.40 for one time payments by license plate, or $8.70 for a toll invoice. Bike, bus, boat and foot tours are available through various companies if you want to learn more about the bridge's history up close. Another popular option that kids love are San Francisco Fire Engine Tours in an open-air Big Red Shiny Mack Fire Engine, which not only crosses the Golden Gate Bridge, but also visits other popular sites like Fisherman's Wharf. Introducing San Francisco
Discover the surprising wonders of Joshua Tree National Park
Exploring California's hidden gem, Oceano Dunes
Three incredible hikes in Los Angeles
Take a magical road trip on California's Highway 1
Which US national park is right for you?
L.A.'s weirdest peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
The best US cities to explore with your dog
The world's most amazing scenic train journeys
Sci-fi movie locations you can actually visit