San Francisco is everybody’s favorite American city. It would be hard to find another with a more appealing combination of striking architecture, world-class cuisine, cultural attractions, vibrant communities and the laid-back, anything-goes lifestyle, gilded with a mild climate and a stunning setting on the northern California coast. This is a romantic city, and if you did nothing more than ride its antique cable cars, stroll along the waterfront, and watch the fog rolling in around the Golden Gate Bridge, you would come away happy.
There is, however, much more to this fascinating place. Since its meteoric rise during the 1849 Gold Rush, San Francisco has always been a free-thinking town. The rainbow slices of San Francisco’s city life are apparent in its more than 40 neighborhoods. Visit the Italian café-bars of North Beach, which were a hub for the Beat Generation writers of the 1950s, a legacy that still lingers. Get a nostalgic blast of flower power in the old hippie haven of Haight-Ashbury. Castro is the center of the city’s gay and lesbian community, and its lively bars and clubs welcome straight revelers too.
For every famous tourist-laden attraction, there’s an equally good spot for an authentic experience nearby. Tired of the crowds and commercialism at Fisherman’s Wharf? Stroll along to see the historic ships at Hyde Street Pier. Frustrated by lines at Coit Tower or Twin Peaks? A city with 43 named hills isn’t short of impressive views. Try the ocean vistas from the windswept hills of the Presidio or the quiet footpaths around the northwest coast.
Most visitors come to the city armed with film-fueled images of the Golden Gate Bridge rising out of the fog and boats bobbing alongside Fisherman’s Wharf. And who can resist a ride on the romantic cable cars?
Fisherman’s Wharf is a tourist trap, with overpriced food and shops. Trips to Alcatraz are often sold out. Parking is difficult at popular places and the streets to famous viewpoints can be clogged with traffic. There are only three cable car lines, so they are not a main mode of transportation in the city.
Getting There and Around
San Francisco International Airport is 15 miles (25 km) south of the city. Oakland International Airport across the bay is about 20 miles (33 km) from downtown. The city has good public transportation links, so you don’t need to rent a car.
Where to Eat
Combine the city’s diverse ethnic cuisines and top chefs with the Bay Area’s array of fresh produce, seafood, and fine wines, and you get a rich dining scene. Try Ella’s for an all-American breakfast; R&G Lounge for traditional Cantonese cuisine; or Farallon for a blow-the-budget seafood meal.
When to Go
Fall has the warmest temperatures. Summers can be chilly. Winter brings heavy showers, but the climate is mild year round. As the city is a popular convention destination, hotels can be busy year round.
You can also visit outstanding art museums, such as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Legion of Honor, the Asian Art Museum, and the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. But don’t miss the smaller museums dedicated to cable cars, cartoon art, Jewish heritage, African diaspora, Chinese history, and life in pioneer days. And after you’ve admired the incomparable Golden Gate Bridge from every angle, drive across it and look back across the bay for an unforgettable view of this splendid city.