After a second day visiting with friends and working out our quads on San Francisco’s notoriously hilly streets and our credit cards in its charming neighborhood boutiques, day three of my recent visit to the City by the Bay was filled with more heritage tourist must-sees. We hopped a cable car (okay, hopped may be a generous description, we waited in an hour-long line to squeeze onto a cable car), an enduring symbol of the city and one of the only moving National Historic Landmarks in the country, and made our way to the popular Fisherman’s Wharf. There, we filled our cameras’ memory cards with shots of the adorable pack of lounging sea lions that has made Pier 39 its home before boarding a boat to tour the bay.
Captain Jim led us under the breathtaking 4,200 foot span of the Golden Gate Bridge, constructed over four years between 1933 and 1937. The icon, glowing in International Orange paint even on our foggy day, was the longest span in the world for many years. With the bridge at our backs, the boat brought us close enough to Alcatraz Island to read the faded sign warning of severe penalties for aiding prisoners at the once-infamous prison. “The Rock” has inspired imaginations and movie scripts for its years as a federal penitentiary, but as historian Erwin N. Thompson reported in his Historic Resource Study of Alcatraz Island in the early 1970s after the land was transferred to Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Alcatraz also served as a Civil War fortress, the first lighthouse on the West Coast, and the site of pivotal Native American occupation and protest in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
A hearty helping of soup from a signature sourdough bread bowl at the wharf’s storied Boudin Bakery is a satisfying way to wrap up an afternoon of history as the French shop has been serving up fresh-baked loaves of sourdough since it fed gold seekers when it opened in another section of the territory in 1849. On our way back to the hotel, we can’t resist a stroll through the crowded Ghirardelli Square, considered one of the earliest successful adaptive use projects in the country. When the original chocolate factory established by Domenico “Domingo” Ghirardelli shuttered in the 1960s, shops and restaurants popped up within the old factory walls, officially opening in 1964. Sea salted milk chocolate Ghirardelli square in hand, I took in the beautiful city around me. Gabby Douglas and Michael Phelps can hold onto their medals, after a trip like this, I was the one feeling victorious.