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From the outside, San Francisco is a little daunting. With so much to look at and so much going on, it’s hard to know where or who to start with. But if you play your cards right, you’ll end up feeling so trendy it hurts.

If it exists, you’ll find here. San Francisco is like a giant cocktail – you’re never really sure what the ingredients are, but you know you want to drink it for the rest of your life.

The mix starts at Fisherman’s Wharf for relaxing seafood snacking, then ferries over to The Rock for a tour of Alcatraz. Shake it up in San Fran’s Chinatown and then see the star of the show, the Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Point, Baker Beach or Marin Headlands – or get the true experience by walking straight across it.

There’s really no part of San Francisco where you won’t find action (whatever sort you may be looking for…). From the shopping at Union Square to the seedy and aptly named Tenderloin area, the city is a collection of wonderful discoveries to be made. Haight Ashbury is a case in point. The capital of counter-culture in the 1960s, it fell into decline as swiftly as it rose to prominence. Now, though, new money is restoring this Victorian neighbourhood with some real architectural gems to its former glory.

So if you’re going to San Francisco, you could, like the old song says, wear flowers in your hair. Or you could dress more conventionally and still be assured of a far-out time, man.

San Fransisco's Top 10

10. Lombard Street The world’s ‘crookedest street’. Recite the poem ‘There was a crooked man’ and try not to get hit by a car. 5.San Francisco Zoo Like every city, San Fran’s got a zoo. Lazy travellers can ride the train. Why not?
9. San Fran Museum of Modern Art You’ll be surprised how not boring this is. Is that wrong to say? Get cultured. 4. Fisherman’s Wharf Stunning views, great food, and great bars. BYO friend, you’ll want to stay a while.
8. Union Square We know the Sex and the City girls would never leave New York (underwhelming film sequels don’t count!). But if they did, they’d come here. Shoes. Bags. Leave the boyfriend at a ball game. 3. Cable Cars Everyone’s favourite thing to do – ride the cable cars. It’s just not San Fran without them. Then visit the free Cable Car Museum to discover the facts behind the fun.
7. Buena Vista Park The best views of the city. Get your mate to stay down the bottom and see if s/he can hear you shouting. Don’t worry – the locals won’t even bat an eyelid. 2. Alcatraz Take the tour of the world’s most famous prison and try not to feel guilty. It’s nigh-on impossible. Scaredy-cats are advised to take spare pants.
6. Chinatown If the best dumplings ever don’t do it for you, the random street performers and local dress-sense sure will. 1. Golden Gate Bridge It may seem obvious, but it really is worth spending some time to walk across and marvel at the sheer size and scale of the thing.

San Francisco, CA History

  • The Presidio - This military compound ended its 219 years of service in 1994, when Congress turned it into a scenic park area.
  • Mission San Francisco de Asis – Founded in 1776 by a Spanish officer and a priest, this mission is still active as a Catholic church.
  • Alcatraz – The Federal Bureau of Prisons closed the prison on this island in 1963, but it is still accessible to visitors by boat.
  • Golden Gate Bridge – The most photographed bridge in the world was completed in 1937.
  • Haight-Ashbury District – This famous locale was the centre of the counter-cultural revolution of the 1960s.

San Francisco, CA Art & Culture

  • The Museum of Modern Art – See numerous examples of 20th-century and contemporary art with rotating exhibits by famous artists.
  • War Memorial and Performing Arts Center – Catch opera, symphony, theatre and dance performances in this beautiful building.
  • California Academy of Sciences – Touch starfish and stroll through an indoor rainforest in this natural history museum.
  • The Exploratorium – Housed inside the Palace of Fine Arts, this interactive science museum is fun for both kids and adults.
  • Orpheum Theater – This ornate theatre features popular off-Broadway shows.

San Francisco, CA Shopping

  • Valencia Street – Plenty of thrift shops line this street from 14th through 23rd streets.
  • Hayes Valley – There are several small boutiques in this compact neighbourhood.
  • Fillmore Street – From Pine to Jackson streets, this stretch of Fillmore is filled with boutiques ranging from home furnishings to clothing.
  • Union Square – This popular shopping area located downtown features streets filled with department and boutique stores.
  • Westfield San Francisco Centre – This shopping mall houses Bloomingdale’s department store and a lively eating area downstairs.

San Francisco, CA Gay & Lesbian

  • Castro District – This neighbourhood is loaded with gay-centric pubs and nightclubs, notably around 18th and Castro streets.
  • San Francisco Pride – This gay pride festival takes place annually at the end of June and culminates in a parade that shuts down Market Street.
  • Dolores Park – This popular park in the Mission is a gathering place for gay and lesbian sun-worshippers.
  • Baker Beach – Clothing is optional at this gay-friendly beach.
  • Lexington Club – This Mission bar is geared toward lesbians.

San Francisco, CA Outdoor

  • Golden Gate Park – A landmark in San Francisco, this expansive park runs from the centre of the city to the ocean. It is closed to cars on Sundays.
  • Ocean Beach – This beach is home to a surfing community and provides areas for strolling and hiking.
  • Twin Peaks – Boasts some of the highest points in the city and a popular location from which to take in the urban panoramas.
  • Chrissy Fields – Bike, stroll, or simply take in the views along San Francisco’s northern marina.
  • Sutro Baths – See remains of old baths at this Ocean Beach landmark.

San Francisco, CA Sport

  • Watch the San Francisco 49ers football team play at Candlestick Stadium.
  • Catch a Giants baseball game at AT&T Park.
  • Sail, windsurf or yacht around the San Francisco Bay.
  • Take a GoCar tour of the entire city of San Francisco.
  • Harding Park Golf Course – A municipal golf course that is occasionally home to the PGA tour.

San Fransisco Local

The Castro District

It’s not so much about sights to see as it is people to watch. The heart of the gay and lesbian community of San Fran, this is best place to get your lippy on and strut your stuff. Hop from bar to bar or settle in a watch the crowds; all the best people come to this side of town.

Apart from excellent bars, clubs like Badlands and Metro Bar, the Castro District is home to The Castro Theatre, an art deco cinema showing independent films from across the globe.

If you don’t know where to start, you can always take the Castro: Tales of the Village walking tour, which takes in sights like the Metropolitan Community Church San Francisco and the gossip about all the fun that goes down during Pride Week.

And don’t forget to pay your respects to Harvey Milk. If you’re not sure who that is, ask Sean Penn.

Fisherman’s Wharf

Although a pretty popular spot for tourists, it really is the best of the waterfront districts. Check out the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory, Aquarium of the Bay or San Francisco Maritime Museum, or just sit back and have someone bring you seafood and beers all day.

The Wharf is home to some of the best restaurants in town, such as Mandarin or The Crab Cake Lounge. If you’re on a budget, it’s great to get some takeaway, sit down and take in the views.

A little bonus, the Wharf is close to Chinatown and Alcatraz, so you can take your time and then head off to your next destination.

Chinatown

Another of San Fran’s feasts for the senses. Take in the sights, the sounds, the smells and, of course, the dumplings.

In one of America’s oldest Chinatowns you’ll see paper lanterns hung everywhere, kites flying and, most importantly, the Dragon Gate. Pose under it to make sure everyone knows you’re a tourist.

While you’re there, make sure you hit the big time sensory overloads at the Red Blossom Tea Company, The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company and the House of Nanking.

North Beach

What would a trip to San Fran be without checking out its famous Red Light District?

If your two favourite things are naked bodies and pizza, you’re in luck. You’re a little odd and specific in your tastes, but you’re in luck.

Where else could you find strip clubs and Italian food in such close proximity. Wander through Broadway to discover San Fran’s Little Italy, stopping at Golden Boy Pizza for a slice and JUG of wine. Yes, a jug.

Or get sexy at the Bamboo Hut (with indoor waterfall) or The Dragon Bar.

And remember, don’t stare at people – it’s not nice.

San Fransisco Eat & Drink

Daily Grill Classic American like Meatloaf and Mash and grill specials. Good price and fun atmosphere. Barracuda Japanese Restaurant Trendy, hip and with babes to serve you, this is must-do in The Castro District
Catch Often described as the best seafood in San Fran, this is where locals and tourists unite. The Castro District Biscuits & Blues Exciting southern menu, full bar and live Blues. Set in the heart of the theatre district, you’ll lose yourself for hours if you’re not careful.
Gold Mountain Perfect for Dim Sum freaks, or try the fried chicken feet or a simple dumpling. Golden Gate PizzaHuge pizzas, great meals and jugs of wine or beer. Friendly place to lose yourself with your best mates.
Mel’s Drive In Get that authentic American Diner experience. You be Jerry, I’ll be George Alioto’s Great views, massive wine list and good, simple dishes. A bit pricey, so keep this for special.
Lotus An interesting experience to be had at this completely vegetarian eatery where everything is cooked in the Buddhist tradition. Giardino Bros Try the famous All In One Special – a huge sandwich with everything, including fries, inside. Open wide!

San Fransisco Events

Let’s be honest, with all the cocktails, frocks and partying, do you really need specific events to keep you occupied in San Fran?

Oh you do? OK, well here they are.

All year round there’s plenty of sporting action to see – most notably from the Giants (baseball) and the 49ers (NFL). Book in advance.

March sees the Street Performer’s Festival at Pier 39, which celebrates the best in busker talent from around the world. Put your hat down, you might make a quick buck.

Japantown wakes up in April with the Cherry Blossom Festival, a celebration of the culture, food and art of Japan. BYO chopsticks.

The San Francisco International Film Festival also rolls around in April. The festival attracts famous film-makers and independents from around the world.

June ushers in the Union Street Festival and Haight Street Fair, with craft and art vendors, food stalls and performers.

Held on the last Saturday in June and attracting over one million people, San Fran hosts what is probably the most important and influential Gay Pride Parade in the world. Get proud – it’s raining men!

The Fillmore Street Jazz Festival is one of the most important celebrations of jazz in the world. Get your scat on; this festival coincides with Independence Day (so 4 July). Did we mention it’s free?

When To Go

With water on three sides and a Mediterranean climate, the weather in San Francisco is quite moderate for most of the year. But beware – it can get quite cold unexpectedly, so pack a jacket in case the fog sets in.

A general guide to the seasons:

  • Winter (November to February): 8-17°C (46-63°F)
  • Spring (March to May): 9-17°C (48-63°F)
  • Summer (June to August) 11-18°C (52-64°F)
  • Autumn (September to October) 12-21°C (54-70°F)

Getting Around

BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) trains link the San Francisco and Oakland airports to the city.

Most San Franciscans don’t even own cars, as getting around is a cinch. Use the public transport of trams, trolley, and buses

If you’re feeling adventurous, hire some skates and roll your way across the city.

What To Go

Ripley’s Believe It Or Not – You can play this game wandering the streets and clubbing from bar to bar. Why pay the entry? Look up the records online and then get out and experience it.

Don’t call it Frisco. The locals hate it.

Be careful if you’re visiting the Tenderloin district. There are a lot of homeless people and the occasional drug dealer, so keep your smarts about you.

San Francisco Information

The Golden Gate City, a bastion of counterculture expression that gave rise to the Beat Generation and Summer of Love, is one of the most complete and avant-garde destinations in America.

With myriad famous landmarks, pretty ‘hoods, great restaurants and a progressive, cosmopolitan vibe, San Francisco is ahead of the pack. While just shy of 800,000 people, the city proper is a dense network of dynamic street life and architectural eye candy.

The action in San Francisco takes place in a variety of locations. From retail hub Union Square to Latino flair of The Mission, the affluence of Russian Hill and seedy Tenderloin area, the city is a motley collection of more than 100 districts.

Attractions

Fisherman’s Wharf is one of San Francisco’s most popular areas for new visitors. Other than the usual tourist traps, the waterfront district offers some of the best seafood in the city – try the Dungeness crab in season, world famous Ghirardelli chocolate factory and Aquarium of the Bay. The Wharf also provides close proximity to Chinatown and Alcatraz.

The island penal complex known as The Rock is accessible via ferry from Fisherman’s Wharf. The history of Alcatraz is extraordinary and almost implausible today. A tour of the former maximum security prison is worth the price of admission.

San Francisco’s Chinatown is more spacious and attractive than any other in North America. Home to numerous parks, points of interest and great food, a leisurely stroll around is a great way to kill a few hours.

The Golden Gate Bridge is the paramount icon of San Francisco. Although visible from various points around the city, notably Fort Point, Baker Beach and Marin Headlands, the most tactile way to enjoy the majestic span is to cross it as a pedestrian.

The Nob Hill area of the city was the traditional power base for industrialist tycoons and the elite. For scenery, grand hotels and iconic architecture, this San Francisco neighbourhood is hard to beat.

Events

A busy, vibrant cultural city like San Francisco has a full calendar of events all year long. Baseball and football fans will want to purchase tickets to the Giants and 49ers in advance. The teams engender fierce loyalty among Bay Area residents and play before capacity crowds.

The Ferry Building Marketplace, a colossal gourmet paradise along the Embarcadero at the foot of Market Street, hosts regular culinary events, demos and workshops.

Every March the Street Performer’s Festival at Pier 39 celebrates the best in busker talent from around the world.

Japantown comes to life in April with the Cherry Blossom Festival, a celebration of the culture, food and art of Japan.

The San Francisco International Film Festival, also held in April, is a vital stop for many producers and directors on the annual show-and-tell circuit.

June ushers in the Union Street Festival and Haight Street Fair, with throngs of craft and art vendors, food stalls and performers.

The Fillmore Street Jazz Festival is one of the most important celebrations of jazz in the world. The festival is free and coincides with Independence Day weekend.

A notable haven for gay and lesbian culture and activism, San Francisco hosts one of the most fundamental Gay Pride Parades in the world. Held on the last Sunday in June, the event typically draws in excess of 1 million people.

Climate

With water on three sides and a Mediterranean climate, the weather in San Francisco is quite moderate for most of the year.

  • Winter (November to February) 8-17°C
  • Spring (March to May) 9-17°C
  • Summer (June to August) 11-18°C
  • Fall (September to October) 12-21°C


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Recommended hotels

1 The Stanford Court

4 stars
3.7 / 5 7 reviews

905 California Street Map

Free, Fast and Reliable WIFI in your room!

Savvy travellers looking for a strategic starting point for exploring the bustling San Francisco, find fitting base at conveniently set The Stanford Court. The plush hotel is set close to transport... More

the location is in between the main street
Overall the hotel is so so. The hotel going to main road is too steep for old lady to walk up and down. Very inconvenience. Jus that the way hv cable car very near to the hotel,plus point.
27 Apr 2015

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Disappointing start to holiday
I booked this hotel on a recommendation from a friend and thought it would be a fun place to stay. It was ok, but not great. I did love the old world charm of the building and rooms. But it lacked...
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3 InterContinental SAN FRANCISCO

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Very friendly service
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What a wonderful hotel in San Francisco
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8 Hilton San Francisco Union Square

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Location of hotel
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Honeymoon
Excellent and fast service from check in and out to the restaurant and room service! Great job all round!
14 Sep 2014

10 Fairmont Heritage Place Ghirardelli Square

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Very enjoyable experience
Very happy with this hotel, atmosphere was one of total luxury and enjoyment. Would definitely recommend this hotel and would love to come back one day.
26 Dec 2013
Prices reflect the lowest "base rate" found over the next 30 days. Rates are subject to change and may not include taxes and fees, hotel service charges, extra person charges, or incidentals, such as room service. Converted rates are provided for your convenience. They are based on today's exchange rate, but the hotel will charge you in the local currency. Taxes may be payable in addition.
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