by Aaron Feigenbaum
Best known for the social upheaval of the late 1960‘s and early 1970‘s, San Francisco is now a charming bay-side metropolis that offers a relaxed atmosphere, mild weather, unique architecture, beautiful scenery, cultural diversity, and no shortage of interesting sights and experiences.
Like many other major Californian cities, San Francisco started out as a home to a Native American tribe, in this case the Yelamu tribe, and was later settled by the Spanish in the late 1700’s as a mission. After Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821 and took over the region, the land was privatized and many European settlers came in including the Englishman William Richardson who founded Yerba Buena, later to be called San Francisco.
San Francisco, along with the rest of California, became part of the U.S. after the Mexican-American war ended in 1848 and California was admitted to the Union in 1850. The Gold Rush of 1848 brought in vast numbers of immigrants including many from China who would settle in what’s now one of the country’s largest Chinatowns. Living conditions were deplorable for these immigrants due to lack of adequate infrastructure and poor city planning. What resulted was disease, crime, violence (particularly against immigrants), and corruption. Hopes for revitalizing the city were dashed in the devastating 1906 earthquake which killed around 3,000 people and leveled 80% of the city. San Francisco rebounded during World War II as a central supply point for the Pacific war and became synonymous with both the Beat movement of the 1950‘s and the Hippie/Counterculture movement of the 1960‘s and 70‘s. San Francisco is today a commercial, technological, and tourist hub boasting friendly people and a rich history to explore.
What to See and Do:
Alcatraz Island: One of San Francisco’s most well-known attraction, Alcatraz started out as a military installation and served as one of the world’s most famous prisons from 1933 to 1963 housing such infamous figures as Al Capone and Robert Stroud (the Birdman of Alcatraz). Alcatraz once again attracted headlines in 1969 when a group of Native Americans occupied the island in protest of government policies. Conditions on the island deteriorated the group left in 1973. While there is no cost to enter the prison museum itself as it is owned and operated by the federal government, getting to the island will cost around $40 in the daytime (around $50 at night).
Golden Gate Bridge: The most iconic part of San Francisco, the 1.7 mile-long Golden Gate Bridge is one of the wonders of civil engineering and is, perhaps, the most photographed bridge in the world. Completed in 1937, the bridge connects San Francisco city and peninsula with Marin County to the north. There are observation areas for pedestrians with incredible views of the bay strewn along the bridge and there are parking lots at both ends. Be aware that pedestrian and bike traffic is free but vehicles must pay a $6 toll.
Golden Gate Park: This gigantic park, even larger than New York’s Central Park, located in the northwest part of the city offers a relaxed, back-to-nature experience in the midst of a crowded city. Among its attractions are the gorgeous Japanese Tea Garden and Botanical Garden, the Conservatory of Flowers, the California Academy of Sciences, lakes with boat rentals, and Kezar Stadium for soccer and high school football games.
Fisherman’s Wharf: This tourist center on the city’s north coast is well worth braving the crowds in order to see, among other things, Pier 39 which features the Aquarium of the Bay with an underwater tunnel and petting opportunities. (Admission is $19.95 for adults and $11.95 for children 4-12). Pier 39’s K-Dock has a huge population of sea lions which is always a treat for the kids. At Pier 45 get a tour inside the USS Pampanito submarine and the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, the latter of which is the only survivor of the D-Day armada from WWII. On nearby Jefferson Street check out Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum and the Wax Museum.
Lombard Street: This street with eight zig-zag turns is one of the crookedest in the world and though it doesn’t take long to get from one end to the other, the drive is still very fun and unforgettable. (For an even twistier adventure go to Vermont Street on Potrero Hill.)
Coit Tower: Not too far from Lombard Street in the Telegraph Hill district is the beautiful art-deco style Coit Tower built in 1933 and funded by volunteer firefighter/socialite Lillie Coit. Non-resident fees for the elevator are $7 for adults, $5 for youth 12-17, and $2 for children 5-11. At the top enjoy spectacular views of the city.
The Presidio: Located in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Presidio was the longest-running U.S. military base from its founding in 1776 until its closing in 1994. Among many other things, the Presidio hosts Lucasworks (George Lucas’ film studio), the magnificent Palace of Fine Arts rotunda situated on a lake, the Walt Disney museum, the kid-friendly Exploratorium science museum, Fort Point which protected San Francisco during the Civil War, and plenty of hiking trails with rare flowers and excellent coastal views.
Cable Cars/Cable Car Museum: What trip to San Francisco would be complete without a ride on one of the city’s legendary cable cars? There are three main routes, all of which can be found at sfcablecar.com, and the price is $5 for adults and youth. You can also buy a one day passport which allows you to ride on cable cars, buses, and streetcars. Be sure to check out the Cable Car Museum on Nob Hill which features excellent working cable car displays, some dating back to the 1870‘s. Museum admission is free.
Contemporary Jewish Museum: Last but certainly not least is this striking cube-shaped museum located in the SoMa district of downtown San Francisco. There are no permanent exhibits so the ones currently on display as of this writing include an exhibit about Jewish midcentury modern architects, one dealing with the incredible art of Arthur Szyk’s famed hagaddah, and a fascinating display about the history of Israeli kibbutzim. Adults get in for $12 while ages 18 and aren’t charged.
Eat and Daven:
San Francisco has a fairly large selection of frum shuls. Among these are:
1. Congregation Adath Israel (Modern Orthodox) at 1851 Noriega St. (415) 564-5665, adathisraelsf.org
2. Chabad of SF at 830 28th Ave. (415) 668-6178, chabadsf.org
3. Keneseth Israel (one of San Francisco’s oldest) at 873 Sutter St. (415) 771-3420, kenesethisraelsf.org
4. Congregation Chevra Thilim (Modern Orthodox) at 751 25th Ave. (415) 752-2866, sfshul.org
For kosher restaurants check out:
1. The Middle Eastern place Sabra Grill at 419 Grant Ave. (415) 982-3656, adka.org/sabra/#.U5av7ihLInQ
2. Shangri-La Chinese/Vegetarian at 2026 Irving St., (415) 731-2548, shangrilavgrest.com
3. Israel Kosher Meat, Poultry, and Deli Market at 5621 Geary Blvd. (415) 752-3064
You can also contact Chabad of San Francisco for take-out/catering options. If you’re feeling adventurous, head up north to Napa Valley and visit Hagafen Wine Cellars (hagafen.com) or Covenant Wines (covenantwines.com)
-The U.N. Charter was created and signed in San Francisco in 1945.
-The bear featured on California’s flag was inspired by a grizzly named Monarch who was kept at Golden Gate Park.
-Vermont and Lombard may be San Francisco’s twistiest street but Filbert holds the title of the city’s steepest street with a maximum 31.5% (17.5 degree) gradient.
-Often called the “Ellis Island of the West,” Angel Island once saw almost 200,000 Chinese and Japanese immigrants waiting to enter the U.S. San Francisco is now home to the world’s largest Chinese population outside China.