Fall in San Francisco

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Okay, okay. Our leaves don’t turn.

The -ber months are here! Fall is in its early stages. Did you know that San Francisco is actually listed as one of the best fall destinations in the United States? Our leaves don’t change colors, there’s barely a change in temperature (except those token days where there’s some drizzling) and climate. We found out why and the answer is… events! There’s so much more than Oktoberfest, too! We compiled some of the best ones to go to for both tourists and locals. Click on the links to be directed to the event website and learn more.

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass  

This free festival is an annual staple in San Francisco.

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When: Fri Oct 3rd (Noon – 7pm, plus kids program 10:30am – Noon), Sat Oct 4th (11am – 7pm), and Sun Oct 5th, 2014 (11am – 7pm).

Where: Hellman Hollow (formerly Speedway Meadows), Lindley & Marx meadows in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA. Read below for a map.

Castro Street Fair 

The free annual event is always the first Sunday of October.

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When: Sun Oct 5

Where: Castro Street. Follow the rainbow… flag.

Fleet Week 

This annual Marina Green event features live music too!

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When: Oct 10 & 11

Where: The festival and fleets are at Marina Green but you can see the air show from any clear sky-view closeby.

Burning Man Decompression 

Because both Burning Man attendees and those who missed it need this event.

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When: Oct 12

Where: 19th and Minnesota

Treasure Island Music Festival 

And more music festivals. This one is outside the city.

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When: Oct 18 & 19

Where: Treasure Island

Stay tuned for the second part of this list. or you can make it YOUR list this Fall.

San Francisco Botanical Garden

San Francisco Botanical Garden, a living museum within Golden Gate Park, offering 55 acres of both landscaped gardens and open spaces, showcasing over 8,000 different kinds of plants from around the world.

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The San Francisco Advantage:

The Bay Area’s mild temperatures, wet winters and dry summers, coupled with San Francisco’s famous coastal fog, provide a range of climatic conditions that exist in few other botanical gardens in the world. With its unique microclimate, San Francisco Botanical Garden is able to recreate conditions of the high elevation tropical cloud forests. Largely due to these natural advantages, San Francisco Botanical Garden is known for its unique, diverse and significant botanical collections.

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San Francisco Botanical Garden Vision Statement
San Francisco Botanical Garden will be cherished locally and recognized internationally for beauty, diversity of plant collections, educational programs and dedication to conservation.

San Francisco Botanical Garden Society Mission Statement
San Francisco Botanical Garden Society builds communities of support for the Garden and cultivates the bond between people and plants.

In 1890, John McLaren selected the location for a future botanical garden, based on the presence of “a variety of soil and exposure, sloping, dry and sunny hillsides, sheltered spots and rich, low or marshy land.” The Garden finally became a reality in 1926 when Helene Strybing, the prosperous widow of a San Francisco merchant, funded the project.

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What To Explore:

The Botanical Garden’s beauty includes the California Native Garden and Redwood Grove; Succulent Garden; Garden of Fragrance; Andean Cloud Forest and Chilean Garden, Mesoamerican and Southeast Asian Cloud Forests; Rhododendron Garden; Ancient Plant Garden; Moon Viewing Garden, Conifer collection and, of course, our magnificent Magnolia collection.

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Rebecca’s Tip:

San Francisco Botanical Garden offers a place where visitors can experience nature, learn about plants and the environment in an ‘outdoor classroom,’ relax and seek respite from city life in an urban sanctuary, 365 days a year.

It also offers beautiful outdoor spaces for a wide range of events. The San Francisco County Fair Building can also be rented for indoor events with both small and large spaces available. Available spaces include County Fair Building, Demonstration Garden, Fountain Plaza, Garden of Fragrance, Great Meadow, Redwood Grove, Rhododendron Pavilion, Zellerbach Garden of Perennials

A Tale of Two Chinatowns

One Chinatown. Two realities and not one better that the other. One is the Chinatown we locals know and love. The one where our familiar and beloved privately-owned businesses passed down from generations of Chinese immigrants thrive. The other, a tourist attraction where one will enthusiastically walk up and down expecting to be dazzled and to find something they cannot find elsewhere- be it a small chachki, a silk robe or just the perfect golden lion statue.

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Chinatown the Tourist Attraction:

For something not very large in area, you will need to plan a whole afternoon to truly experience Chinatown. Just ask the over 75% of tourists (+- 2,000,000) who visit Chinatown annually.  People come not only for random finds from ethnic shops but also the Chinese-style architecture and good food!

Chinatown the Local Gem:

This 20-block neighborhood is remarkably packed not only with tourists but residents as well. As the densest part of the densest city in California, over 15,000 people call these 20 blocks home. Who can blame the residents? Inexpensive housing is preserved here. Well, inexpensive for San Francisco. It serves as a cultural “Capital City” where many maintain bonds with such institutions as Buddhist temples and regional family associations.

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There are of course times when both realities collide and it’s usually magic. Chinese festivals like Chinese New Year are an example of when both locals and tourists go out of their way in this packed neighborhood to be dazzled. Dragon-dances, parades, floats- you name it.

There’s also neighborhood darlings and tourist stops like The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company, Old St Mary’s Cathedral and the not-to-miss alleyways!

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Whichever Chinatown you know, there is no question that there’s something for mostly everyone here.

Aquarium of the Bay

Explore the magical wonders of San Francisco Bay at Aquarium of the Bay! There are three main exhibit areas that showcase what lies beneath the surface of the San Francisco Bay and surrounding waters.

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The aquarium opened in 1996 under the name UnderWater World at a cost of $38 million and about 3,000 fish with 100 unique species. UnderWater World had a 360-foot-long acrylic tunnel that cuts through tanks filled with 700,000 gallons of filtered water from the bay. The original aquarium was remodeled with around $2 million in 2001 and re-branded as Aquarium of the Bay in 2001. Since then, they added additional attractions and has 273 species and more than 60,000 fish.

The Aquarium has over 50 sharks from species such as sevengill sharks, leopard sharks, soupfins, spiny dogfish, brown smoothhounds and angel sharks. The Aquarium also has skates, bat rays and thousands of other animals including eels, flatfish, rockfish, Wrasse, Gobies, Kelpfish, Pricklebacks, Ronquil, Sculpin and Sturgeons.

Rebecca’s Tip:

Daily special events include animal feedings, naturalist presentations and behind-the-scenes tours. Admission is $22 for adults, $13 for seniors (65+) and children (3-11). Children under 3 are free. Families save with the Family Pack, priced at just $64 for two adults and two children. Upgrade your general admission ticket to an exciting Behind the Scenes Tour for an additional $10 for members and $12 for non-members.

Conservatory of Flowers

For more than a century,The Conservatory of Flowers has welcomed locals and tourists-alike. The Victorian architecture has quite the history and is the oldest public wood-and-glass conservatory in North America. Not only a San Francisco but also a California and United States landmark, the Conservatory remains one of the most photographed and beloved attractions in San Francisco.

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The Conservatory kit was bought by James Lick, an eccentric businessman, piano maker, and successful real estate investor who was a patron of the sciences. It was intended for the City of San Jose, where Lick had built a mansion surrounded by exotic plants imported from South America and around the world. Lick died in 1876 before constructing the conservatory on his estate, and it was put up for sale by his trustees. The kit was then purchased by Leland Stanford and Charles Crocker, who offered it as a gift to the City of San Francisco for use in Golden Gate Park. The Parks Commission accepted the gift and hired Lord & Burnham, a greenhouse manufacturing company from New York, to supervise the erection of the structure. Once open, it contained a large variety of rare and tropical plants, including a giant water lily, Victoria Regia, which at the time was the only known specimen in the United States.

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The greenhouse has a central dome rising nearly 60 feet high and arch-shaped wings extending from it for an overall length of 240 feet. The building sits atop a gentle slope overlooking Conservatory Valley. The structural members are articulated through a four-centered or Tudor arch. The conservatory consists of a wood structural skeleton with glass walls set on a raised masonry foundation. The entire structure has a shallow E-shaped plan that is oriented along an east-west axis. The central 60-foot high pavilion is entered through a one-story, glassed-in vestibule with a gable roof on the south side of the pavilion. Flanking the rotunda to the east and west are one-story, symmetrical wings framed by wood arches. Each wing is L-shaped in plan, with cupolas adorning the intersection of the two segments.

Like a fairytale scene, it is the colors, shapes, and presentation of the flowers that draw you closer to this awe-inspiring attraction. With the help of close to 2,000 plant species decorating the exhibits and displays, the Conservatory serves as a botanical beacon for both people of all ages.

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Rebecca’s Tip: 

First Tuesdays of every month is free admission day! Labor Day and Memorial Day are holidays and the conservatory is closed.

Muir Woods

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“This is the best tree-lovers monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world.” – John Muir

Muir Woods has a rich and varied history, from its use by the Coast Miwok people, to its early days of tourism and the Mount Tamalpais Mill Valley Scenic Railway, to an era of conservation, to modern preservation.

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Muir Woods, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, is also a park which caters to pedestrians. Parking of vehicles is only allowed at the very entrance. Hiking trails vary in the level of difficulty and distance. Picnicking, camping and pets are not permitted.

The county and the National Park Service plan to introduce a reservation system that by 2017 will restrict the number of vehicles allowed to enter and park in Muir Woods every day, with parking subsequently being reduced and ultimately eliminated altogether by 2022.

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Rebecca’s Tip:

Hiking peak times is from April to October. Whether you prefer crowds or the peace and quiet (might be chilly though), you can plan around the peak time.

Japanese Tea Garden

The Japanese Tea Garden provides visitors from around the world with an opportunity to experience the natural beauty, tranquility and harmony of a Japanese-style garden in the heart of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

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The oldest public Japanese garden in the United States, this complex of many paths, ponds and a teahouse features native Japanese and Chinese plants. The garden’s 5 acres (2.0 ha) contain many sculptures and bridges.

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Originally created as a “Japanese Village” exhibit for the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition, the site originally spanned about one acre and showcased a Japanese style garden.

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Today, the Japanese Tea Garden endures as one of the most popular attractions in San Francisco, featuring classic elements such as an arched drum bridge, pagodas, stone lanterns, stepping stone paths, native Japanese plants, serene koi ponds and a zen garden.

Rebecca’s Tip:

Cherry blossom trees bloom throughout the garden in March and April.

Ferry Building and the Marketplace

The San Francisco Ferry Building is a terminal for ferries that travel across the San Francisco Bay. A marketplace, food hall and also offices share this address. It is located at The Embarcadero.

On top of the building is a 245-foot tall clock tower, with four clock dials, each 22 feet in diameter, which can be seen from Market Street, a main thoroughfare of the city.

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Designed by American architect A. Page Brown in the Beaux Arts style in 1892, the ferry building was completed in 1898. At its opening, it was the largest project undertaken in the city up to that time. Brown designed the clock tower after the 12th-century Giralda bell tower in Seville, Spain, and the entire length of the building on both frontages is based on an arched arcade.

The Marketplace

The Ferry Building Marketplace is a people’s marketplace serving residents and travelers alike. Located within the historic Ferry Building at the foot of Market Street, shops large and small celebrate food in all its forms, offering everything from artisan cheeses to the freshest of local fish. Restaurants and cafés serve cuisine representing the quality and cultural diversity of San Francisco’s best chefs.

Rebecca’s Tip: 

You can view a list of merchants here.

Twin Peaks: Best Bay Area Views

At 922 feet in elevation, Twin Peaks offers amazing views of the Bay Area. It is a world-famous tourist attraction. Originally called “Los Pechos de la Choca” (Breasts of the Maiden) by early Spanish settlers, the two peaks provide postcard-worthy views!

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Why visit? The breathtaking views are free! Less crowded than popular Coit Tower, it’s SF’s 2nd highest peak! In addition, the peaks are located in the city’s geographical center so the tag “Best View of the Bay Area” rings true. You can identify the peaks from almost anywhere in they city by the TV Tower which sits at the very top.

Rebecca’s Quick Tip:

The parking lot near the top offers a great view, but for the absolute experience – climb to the top of one of the peaks for the full 360° view.

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Angel Island

Angel Island State Park, the largest natural island in the San Francisco Bay, offers some of the best views of the surrounding Bay Area. With great hiking trails and many other recreational opportunities readily available, Angel Island is truly a hidden gem in the midst of the urban life!

Old St. Hilary's Church at Dusk.

Earliest inhabitants Coast Miwok, used the land as a seasonal hunting and gathering location for the local native tribes, a safe refuge and supply stop for Spanish explorers like Juan Manuel de Ayala, one of the first to map the San Francisco Bay.

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From 1910 to 1940, the U.S. Immigration Station processed hundreds of thousands of immigrants, the majority from China. During World War II, Japanese, and German POWs were detained at the Station before being sent to facilities farther inland.

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The Island has been a cattle ranch and beginning with the Civil War, has over 100 years of military history. WWI and WWII troops both returning and embarking for conflicts around the world were processed through Angel Island.

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In 1954, park visitors had the first opportunities to enjoy the beauty of this amazing Island. In the early 60’s the final departure of the military allowed the rest of Angel Island to become park lands and the rest is history!

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Horseshoe bay and the Presidio Yacht club seen from the Golden Gate Bridge. Angel island appears in the background.