New York City offers great sensory stimuli and delivers a rich diversity of food, visual, noise or experiential activities for travelers of all budgets and preferences. And one can get around the city at all hours of the day or night with a subway that runs nonstop 24/7.
One won’t visit New York and be bored – it is a fascinating collection of cultures, including in some cases, the largest communities outside of their home countries, world-class restaurants, museums and home of the New York Stock Exchange and the United Nation’s headquarters.
San Francisco is much more compact and perhaps less intimidating. Home of Alcatraz, Cable Cars, the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf and the ‘crookedest’ street in the world. Despite all the hills (and some are quite steep), it is a city meant for walking especially on one of the San Francisco Tours. And perhaps somewhat surprising the best months to visit for warmer weather are not in the middle of summer but rather in September and October. While much of the rest of the country bakes in heat, San Francisco in mid July is often covered with blankets of fog and chilly winds blowing in straight off of the cold Pacific Ocean.
Here are four select highlights from each city:
Times Square – if there was ever a place to people watch, this is it! A sensory overload of traffic, pedestrians from all over the world, screaming sirens and bright lights. One of New York’s hubs for shopping, dining and entertainment (including the famous nearby Broadway District). And chocolate lovers take note, Hershey’s Chocolate World is located right in the heart of Times Square. Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory was never real but a visit here is surely as close as one can get to that fictionalized paradise.
Empire State Building – this iconic building was completed in 1931 and was the world’s tallest building for decades. Despite many other buildings in the city that are taller, the Empire State Building still towers above the skyline and is truly an inspirational site as one approaches its main entrance on 5th Avenue for the first time. One must take the elevator to two of the observation points (on the 86th floor and the 102nd floor) where on a clear day one has exceptional views of one of the most dramatic skylines on the planet including far up the Hudson River or the East River and north into Central Park and beyond and south into downtown.
Statue of Liberty – long a symbol of freedom to both residents of the country and to visitors, this must visit attraction should be on the list of every first time visitor to the city. One takes a ferry from Battery Park (when you see performers dressed up as fake statue of liberties, you know you are getting close to the ferry terminal!). The ferry circles part of Liberty Island for photos opportunities before pulling ashore. The ferry also stops at Ellis Island where a highlight is visiting the museum. One ferry ticket covers transportation to both islands.
Wall Street – is yet another New York City institution known worldwide. Famous as being home of the New York Stock Exchange. Despite being surrounded by much taller and bigger buildings, the NYSE is one you will not easily miss when you visit. Look for the giant USA flag draped in front and the New York Stock Exchange words in gold lettering. While not open to the general public, it is still a treat to stand in front of building that has wielded so much power over the world’s economic comings and goings over the decades. And in case you were not aware, New York City was actually the capital of the country for several years prior to Washington DC. The nearby Federal Hall building is where George Washington took the oath of office as the first President of the United States.
Alcatraz – was a maximum security federal penitentiary for decades until finally closing in the 1960s. Today the prison remains, but its doors are open to visitors who are free to roam with an audio guide (narrated by both former wardens and prisoners) through a number of the cells, including the solitary confinement cell and prison grounds. Access is via a ferry from Pier 33 with reservations strongly suggested for weekends and busy summer months. Dress warmly, the San Francisco Bay is not always a pleasant temperature. Famous for some of its prisoners including Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelley, and the Birdman of Alcatraz. Even more recognition came from several movies including Escape from Alcatraz with Clint Eastwood and The Rock starring Sean Connery and Nicholas Cage.
Pier 39/Fisherman’s Wharf – perhaps the most visited part of San Francisco by tourists, both Pier 39 and Fishermans Wharf (about a 10 minute walk from each other) are located along the bay. One of the most visited areas is the world famous Sea Lion resting area where one can look down on sea lions jostling with each other and barking while resting on floating docks. There are plenty of restaurants (crab and clam chowder are among the most popular culinary choices) and shops in both areas including Ghiradelli Square. Also a number of popular street performers congregate in both Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf.
Golden Gate Bridge – if there is only one attraction you must visit during your time in San Francisco, it is this iconic 1.7 mile long bridge that crosses the entrance to the San Francisco Bay. A pedestrian walkway connects both sides of the bridge offering exceptional views of the San Francisco Bay Area (when it is not foggy of course!). Bicyclists are also allowed with a one way trip taking about 10 to 30 minutes depending on your speed. Viewpoints are located at both ends of the bridge
Lombard Street – often dubbed as the ‘crookedest street in the world’ in reality this moniker only describes one very steep section of Lombard Street with its 40 degree slope broken up by a number of extreme S shaped turns. Worth both a drive down (one way only) and or a walk either up or down next to the street on the brick pedestrian walkway. Can be extremely crowded in the summer months and a early visit is highly recommended.
Have you been to any of these attractions in either New York or San Francisco? Any to add to this list? Leave your comments below.