There’s a 3.7-mile trek throughout the historic core of San Francisco that is essentially a real-time walk down memory lane. Known as the Barbary Coast Trail, it connects 20 landmarks that touch on more than 100 years of history along the way, from San Francisco’s last surviving Shanghaiing den to the first Asian temple in North America to a saloon built from a Gold Rush–era ship.
The Barbary Coast Trail starts off at one of the most important spots in historic downtown San Francisco: The Mint, a massive granite Greek-revival building erected in 1874 to service the gold mines of the California Gold Rush which, at one point, held about one-third of all of the gold in the nation. Today, “The Granite Lady,” as she is affectionately referred to, is a hotspot for weddings, galas, corporate events, and trade shows, complete with multiple ballrooms, a 4,000-square-foot courtyard, and gaslight chandeliers with color-changing bulbs. Not here for an event? You can still witness its beauty and browse the exhibits on display, which focus on the local history of San Francisco and show how a tiny town grew into a mecca one coin at a time.
Old Ship Saloon
Shipwrecked since 1849 and open for business since 1851, the Old Ship Saloon holds the title for the oldest bar in San Francisco and is still a hit with locals to this day. She first came to be when a Gold Rush–era ship blew ashore along the Barbary Coast, was dismantled, and the remnants used to build a saloon (then known as the Old Ship Ale House). While far beyond the days of 25-cent beers, the historic watering hole keeps customers coming back with aptly named cocktail like Bird Island, Gold Rush, and Pisco Punch. Come for brunch or a midnight snack (the kitchen is open until 1 a.m.) and mingle with locals and tourists over chili-cheese fries.
T’ien Hou Temple
As the first Asian temple built in America during the mid-1850s, this structure – named after the goddess of fishermen, seafarers, and travelers – is still standing strong in its original location, unlike many of the other temples you’ll find in Chinatown. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you start noticing the not-so-subtle smell of incense in the air and see the vibrant red and gold colors detailing the building. A walk up three flights of stairs takes you to the top floor of the building, where the temple resides. From here, you’ll have access to incredible views of San Francisco and Chinatown itself. Or, take part in the rituals by lighting an incense stick and reflecting quietly.
Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral
Another famous building saved from the fire of 1906 – and once the tallest building in San Francisco – this Victorian Gothic icon, erected in 1853, is one landmark you can’t pass up. While the fire stripped it almost completely bare, leaving nothing but brick walls behind, it was renovated to its original glory and is now a modern-day representation of the East and West – the commercial district and Chinatown – coming together at one point. Check out the blend of old and new inside this twentieth-century masterpiece: The updated interior is home to plenty of memorabilia from the church’s past and is carried on through the resilience of San Francisco.
Argonaut Hotel // Hotel Zoe