The 49-Mile Scenic Drive provides a dazzling overview of San Francisco’s intriguing neighborhoods, spectacular scenery, and cultural attractions. It’s easy to follow; just look for blue-and-white road signs with seagulls. If time is short, a fun way to see this city in a nutshell is to go to Fisherman’s Wharf and hop into a vintage auto for Mr. Toad’s Vintage Car Tour, an 80-minute ride past some major attractions.
The century-old de Young Museum reopened in a new facility in 2005. Its holdings of American art from the 17th through the 20th centuries include important collections of textiles. The Legion of Honor displays an impressive collection of ancient and European art in a spectacular setting overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. Specialized museums include the Asian Art Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Cartoon Art Museum, Contemporary Jewish Museum, Mexican Museum, Museum of Craft and Folk Art, and the Museum of the African Diaspora.
Swiss immigrant John Sutter founded Sacramento’s earliest settlement in 1839. Today, visitors at Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park learn about the everyday life of settlers through living history programs. One of the finest examples of Victorian Italianate architecture in the United States, the circa 1885 Crocker Art Museum is the oldest public art museum west of the Mississippi River. The California Museum for History, Women and the Arts, which was formerly known as the California State History Museum, is undergoing a major overhaul during 2006. In addition to providing state of the art displays of the state’s artistic and cultural heritage, the renovated building will be the only place in California with permanent displays dedicated to telling the stories of California women. Other museums include Aerospace Museum of California, California Military Museum, California State Indian Museum, California State Railroad Museum, Discovery Museum’s Gold Rush History Center, Wells Fargo History Museum, Folsom Prison Museum and Towe Auto Museum.
Located in a flat basin surrounded by beaches, mountains and deserts, the 467-square-mile city of Los Angeles is a vibrant blend of cultures. The city’s oldest street, Olvera Street, goes through El Pueblo de Los Angeles, which spotlights the city’s Mexican heritage. Nearby, Little Tokyo and Chinatown preserve its Asian history. Wilshire Boulevard is the glitzy main thoroughfare, which runs west through Beverly Hills all the way to Santa Monica on the Pacific Coast. While the Los Angeles area has an abundance of cultural attractions, it is still Disneyland and Hollywood that attract the most visitors.
Griffith Park, which is in the Santa Monica Mountains north of downtown, is home to the famous “Hollywood” sign and the Autry National Center, formerly the Autry Museum of Western Heritage. A life-size bronze of museum founder Gene Autry greets visitors at the courtyard of the red-tiled buildings at this intercultural history center. Inside, seven galleries house over 85,000 objects that document the spirit of the West in fact and fiction. The Spirit of Discovery showcases centuries old artifacts while the Spirit of Opportunity emphasizes the areas rich mining history. The Spirit of Conquest explores the conquest and settlement of the west during the 19th century. Law and order in rapidly developing western towns is explored in Spirit of Community. No character is more associated with the West than the cowboy, the subject of Spirit of the Cowboy. Artists, performers, advertisers, and authors who helped glamorize the culture of the West are recognized in Spirit of Romance. Another part of the center, The Southwest Museum of the American Indian, is located in Mt. Washington, about 20 miles from the Griffith Park main site. It is currently operating on a limited schedule due to major renovations.
In 1884, Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune, began building her 160-room home that is literally one of a kind. This eccentric widow believed the spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles would not harm her if she kept her home under construction. For 38 years until her death in 1922, she had carpenters hammering nails every day around the clock. There was never a set of master blueprints. Mrs. Winchester just sketched out individual rooms on paper or even tablecloths. Known today as the Winchester Mystery House, this Victorian mansion is a combination of fine craftsmanship and architectural oddities. Visitors marvel at 40 staircases, many of which go just to the ceiling, 47 fireplaces, 52 skylights, hand-inlaid parquet floors, and Tiffany art-glass windows.
Located in the heart of the city, the 1,200-acre Balboa Park is America’s largest urban park. It’s home to more than a dozen museums, a zoo, spectacular gardens and renowned performing arts venues. Many of the museums are housed in magnificent Spanish Colonial Revival buildings originally constructed for the 1915-1916 Panama-California Exposition. They include San Diego Automotive Museum, San Diego Aerospace Museum, San Diego’s Museum of Man, Mengei International Museum, San Diego Museum of Art, Timken Museum of Art, Veteran’s Museum and Memorial Center, Museum of San Diego History and San Diego Model Railroad Museum.