San Francisco is one of the most diverse and interesting cities in the United States. Whether you love fine dining and great wine, are an art lover, or want to explore the Chinese culture of the city's largest immigrant population, you'll never run out of things to do in San Francisco.
If eating is one of your pleasures, you can't go wrong with San Francisco restaurants. Condé Nast Traveler magazine recently rated San Francisco as the #1 city in the United States for cuisine.
And if your favourite sound is the ringing of cash registers, you'll love the shopping in San Francisco: everything from world famous chocolate to haute couture.
Getting in and around San Francisco
San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is the main hub for travellers flying into the city, though some people also use the nearby Oakland, California (OAK) airport. Dozens of national and international airlines, including Air New Zealand and Qantas, fly in and out of San Francisco International every day.
From San Francisco airport, you can rent a car or hop aboard one of the public trains and buses: the BART (the Bay Area Rapid Transit train service), Caltrain (between SF and San Jose) and SamTrans buses (throughout San Francisco and Sam Mateo Country).
San Francisco Transport
Walkers will love it here because downtown San Francisco and its many destinations are easily explored on foot.
For attractions further afield, in addition to the city's many trains and buses you can use San Francisco's hallmark cable cars to get around the city — hanging onto the side like a local if you're brave enough!
San Francisco Car Hire
Many visitors decide to take a day or two to visit Napa Valley or Sonoma, in which case you'll want to rent a car for the hour-long drive. If you're getting out of town, the Historic Route 101 connects through San Francisco, leading south over the Golden Gate Bridge down the west coast, and north up to Oregon and Washington.
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San Francisco accommodation
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- The San Francisco Marriot is a 39-story beauty in a prime downtown location. It includes a fitness centre and five restaurants and lounges.
- Clift in Union Square is a contemporary luxury hotel featuring incredible dining options, upscale gym facilities, and in-room spa services.
- Hotel Bijou in downtown San Francisco is a boutique hotel featuring 65 rooms, each named after a movie filmed in the city. It offers a free mini-theatre with a daily double feature.
- The Hilton San Francisco Financial District offers luxurious rooms, state-of-the-art fitness centre, and award-winning spa Tru.
- Chancellor Hotel in San Francisco's Union Square is a classic boutique hotel offering such amenities as an in-house spa program and Luques Restaurant & Bar.
- The Grant Hotel in Union Square offers a great location, continental breakfast, cable television, and other amenities that make it a terrific deal.
- The San Remo Hotel in Fisherman's Wharf is one of the best deals in the city, with charming Victorian-inspired rooms and bathrooms that recall the Old West.
- Adelaide Hostel & Hotel is everything you want in a San Francisco hostel: fabulous location in downtown Union Square, free linens, internet access, breakfast, and more. Private and dorm-style rooms.
- The San Francisco Green Tortoise Backpackers Hostel is well-located with a friendly vibe, and, as the start- and end-point to the Green Tortoise bus tours, is a handy base when in SF. Private bathroom space (not just a shower stall), free internet, and a fab dining room with old-style booth seating and a stage with live acts.
Things to do in San Francisco
Guided tours, wandering the streets with a map, or just hitting up the city's most popular destinations are all great options for sightseeing in San Francisco. These ideas should help you decide how best to spend your time.
Golden Gate Bridge Explore the city! Visit the Golden Gate Bridge, along with cable cars, this iconic bridge defines the city of San Francisco. The history of the Golden Gate Bridge is fascinating. For instance, it opened in 1937, 11 men died during its construction, and it's always been painted “international orange” because it was thought to complement the natural environment and it also increases visibility for passing ships. But most people are more interested in simply being able to say, “I was there!”
See Fisherman’s Wharf. The most popular San Francisco attraction, this historic waterfront is filled with restaurants and shops and a view of Alcatraz. At the Port of San Francisco, you can watch sea lions frolic in the bay, visit the Aquarium of the Bay (Pier 39) or one of the museums, or walk the deck of huge ships.
Hoof it on a walking tour. Hobnob tours takes you inside chic Nob Hill mansions and cathedrals, where you'll learn scandalous society secrets and scandals. Nearby, battle Lombard Street, “The Crookedest Street in the World”, with eight switchbacks in quick succession to test your endurance! Nature lovers will enjoy tours of the city's parklands and natural beauties, including hidden treasures you'll only find with help from your guide.
The Mission It's worthwhile to have a wander through the streets of The Mission for the fabulous street art decorating the sides of many buildings, especially on 24th Street east of Mission Street, in this Hispanic/counter-cultural neighbourhood. About 10 by 20 blocks, the district is easily traversed on foot. Finish up with a drink in a bar or cafe on the one-time alt-hipster, now more gentrified, Valencia Street.
Eat your way through the city on a “Local Tastes” tour, where you'll indulge in neighbourhood specialities from Chinatown and Little Italy.
Take in the art. The city is a world-class arts destination filled with museums, galleries, and performances of every kind. The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco is one of the largest museums worldwide devoted exclusively to Asian art. And music lovers might not be able to tear themselves away from the city's incredible year-round offerings at the San Francisco Opera, the second-largest opera in North America, and the leading San Francisco Symphony.
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Day trips in and around San Francisco
Alcatraz. Hop the boat to Alcatraz, the now-defunct prison on a rock that held famous American bad guys such as Al Capone and “Machine Gun” Kelly. Make reservations or be prepared to wait a few hours around the wharf waiting for a spot on the ferry; tours to this San Francisco hot spot fill up fast.
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