Historic San Francisco

Clang, Clang, Clang Went the Trolleys

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'San Francisco City Hall'

Hop a ride on America's first mobile National Historic Landmark -- San Francisco's cable cars. The 38-car fleet scales the city's corrugated surface from dawn to midnight, which, by the way, are the best times to ride; the California Street route is often the least crowded.

Located on the California Street line is California's oldest restaurant, the Tadich Grill, established in 1849. It's an unpretentious spot, despite that the waiters are dressed in white jackets, black ties and black trousers.

Survivors of the 1906 earthquake and fire gather at 5:12 a.m. at Lotta's Fountain every year on April 18 for a wreath-laying. The fountain dates from 1875, and is one of the oldest pieces in San Francisco's public art collection. Another lesser-known monument to the quake is the Golden Fireplug located at 20th and Church Streets -- one of the few sources of water (other than the Bay, of course) to survive the quake and help fight the fire.

Don't miss the free tour of San Fran's City Hall. Opened in 1915, it is one of the finest examples of municipal Beaux Art architecture in the country.

The famed prison Alcatraz has been accessible to visitors for more than 30 years, but a just-completed renovation brings "The Rock" to life. Visitors now follow in the footsteps of actual prisoners and correctional officers for a provocative look at what life was like at America's most notorious prison.

In 1910, the Immigration Station opened on Angel Island and became the "Ellis Island of the West." More than 175,000 Chinese passed through here, many of them posing as "paper sons and daughters," because records had been destroyed during the 1906 earthquake and fire. Grilled by immigration officials, they were detained for weeks and months. Their desperation is reflected in poems on the walls of the detention center.

San Francisco's Japantown (Nihonmachi) is one of only three in the United States, all of which are located in California. This one is the oldest, having celebrated its centennial in 2006. The Fillmore Jazz Preservation District is nearby.