I once read a quote from some famous author who was insistent that it was necessary to thoroughly travel one’s home country before going abroad. I can’t remember the author or the exact quote, but I do remember that I found him or her to be full of it.
For me, travel is about doing something you enjoy, but doing it in a place that makes you feel vulnerable and out of your comfort zone- new cultures, crazy cuisine, ways of living that challenge your sense of ethnocentrism. But after some consideration, I appreciated what the author was getting at. We do have the chance at these experiences within our own boarders, which inspired me to put San Francisco as my number seven destination on my Travel Bucket List.
7. San Francisco, California
One of my favorite and at the same time least favorite things about myself is that I have very few serious interest and many things of some interest. It’s great for meeting and getting along with a lot of various types of people, but the drawback is that I grow bored with subjects and topics quickly and feel the need to move on to something else for a while. San Francisco’s wide array of ‘must sees’ make it a perfect destination for people who are similar to myself.
The first stop in San Fran is indeed one of those things of some interest- ghost hunting!
The supernatural has always intrigued me. In fact, my favorite spot in my home city is Old Gray Cemetery, believed to be home to a ‘Dark Aggie’, a dark, shadowy figure that roams the graveyard by night. So of course the haunted island in San Francisco Bay is a must! First up, Alcatraz.
Alcatraz Island is home to the most notorious prison in the United States, and is on virtually every “Visit San Francisco” list imaginable. At first glance, I had absolutely no desire to visit Alcatraz. How much fun can you possibly have running around in an abandoned prison? Then I learned about the night tours…
Even without the stories of spirits haunting the prison, Alcatraz at night is already creep enough. You take a ferry after the sun sets, as the fog is starting to crawl toward you across the bay, to an abandoned, isolated prison. Add in the stories of people heading moaning, crying, and jingling, plus many unexpected sightings in the darkness of the cells, and you’ve found yourself one creepy, exciting night.
After ghost hunting, it’s time to go celebrate some history and party in the Castro District.
San Francisco is the soul of gay culture is the USA, and at the heart of the city’s gay scene is the Castro District. Today, same sex couples can walk down the street holding hands, seeing an overwhelming amount of rainbow flags to symbolize gay pride and gay friendly establishments.
The US military offloaded thousands of servicemen discharged for being gay in San Francisco. Many of them settled there, and later influxes of youth to the city during The Summer of Love cemented the Castro as the gay district. It was home to Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician elected to California office who was assassinated along with San Francisco mayor George Moscone in 1977, and has perhaps the country’s most tear jerking history with the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.
Whether you want to get a crash-course in gay culture, learn about the history of the gay rights movement and Harvey Milk, party with drag queens and cross dressers for a night, or just have a good time, the Castro District is one of the top destinations in the world. Don’t forget to take San Francisco’s famous trolley line to the district and avoid the big city traffic.
After getting in some photo ops at the Golden Gate Bridge and spending the afternoon in baseball’s most scenic location, AT&T park, to catch a Giants game, its time to change the way you think at the Exploratorium. Described by The New York Times as the most important science museum opened since the mid-20th century, this museum’s motto is to change the way the world learns.
Galleries include human behavior, allowing visitors to experiment with memory, emotion, and judgment, Fisher Bay Observatory which holds a seaglass restaurant, and an outdoor observatory where you can simulate your own storms which a massive rain machine.
The museum also has exhibits featuring music, art, and performance art and how it relates to science. The Exploratorium is not your usual museum, and its extremely high ratings from travelers of all types make it a must see location.
6. Sydney, Australia
Next I’m heading back out of the country to The Land Down Under. Australia is known for a lot- its millennia of native culture, a diverse ecosystem seen nowhere else in the world, amazing surfing, and giving us Outback Steakhouse’s Bloomin’ Onion (okay, that’s probably not true, but let’s pretend it is). It’s also known for hosting the 2000 Olympic Games in its cultural center of Sydney. First stop in Sydney is to a literal urban jungle at the Toranga Zoo.
Not only does the zoo offer the amazing mixture of seeing rare animals in a weird, jungle setting with city views in every direction, it also offers animal encounters which allow guests to feed giraffes, touch a koala, catch a bird on your wrist, or feed an African lion. Such a cool experience for animal lovers.
In addition to the up close experience with the animals, this zoo offers a Sky Safari that allows you to look in on animals from above without having to trap them in holes in the ground, and a Wild Africa Encounter through an ‘African Savannah’ where zebras and giraffes roam freely in a vast area. Toranaga Zoo is not your average zoo, and the up close experience with rare animals alone is worth a visit.
Next, take a day to learn about some new sporting events not as common stateside. Australian Rules Football (rugby) and cricket are Australia’s two most popular sports, so meet a fan and bring them along to the stadium to explain the game and the rules to you. What’s a vacation if you don’t learn something new or discover a new interest?
Speaking of learning something new, I’m dying to take some surfing lessons. Where better than Australia? Bondi Beach and Manly Beach in Sydney offer up awesome surf as well as awesome views (both of the shore and the scantily clad Aussies).
Even if you aren’t up for surfing, a nice day tanning at the beach is an amazing way to spend a day relaxing while traveling and to rejuvenate you for the rest of your trip.
Finally, who could go to Sydney and not take in the architectural wonders of the Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House and Botanical Gardens? Admittedly, opera really isn’t much for me. But this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and one could even be lucky enough to visit during a famous rock or pop star’s tour, which the Opera House is also know to hold. Either way, this is just a brilliant building, and seeing it is a must!
That concludes numbers six and seven on the list (and admittedly the least exciting to write about, which I think shows). Tomorrow it starts to get exciting in the build up to number one. Rio de Janeiro and Switzerland!