FCUS GUIDES

San Francisco Alamo Square - SFCVB photo (c) Phil Koblentz 1967-2017: San Francisco
celebrates the Summer of Love

Events - Flights to San Francisco - Basics

San Francisco

San Francisco cablecar bound for waterfront (c) Seth Affoumado

San Francisco sailing by Golden Gate Bridge (c) Phil Koblentz


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Every city tells a story. This one is all about dreams ... dreams that come true. The dreams which built San Francisco – and which it lives by today – are of fortune, freedom and the good life. It all started with a gold rush, and in a sense, that quest has been going on ever since in this golden town.
  It also preserves a touch of golden age nostalgia. Not many cities are still using hundred-year-old wooden cable-cars as part of an integrated modern transport system. For that matter, not many cities have a colony of wild sea lions living almost downtown. But then, not many cities are ANYTHING like San Francisco. It's crazily unique, a wonderful, quirky, satisfying one-off, a place of extremes and paradoxes. With its eclectic architecture, precipitous hills and shimmering views across the Bay, San Francisco's greatest attraction of all is sheer visual charm.
  And for rainy days (there are plenty), the city offers a plethora of interesting, clever, child-friendly museums and galleries devoted to modern art, local history, cartoons, sciences, the sea and more. You'll have to pinch yourself to remember that San Francisco is no Paris, London or New York, but just a little place with a population of under one million.


 Get the feel

The West Coast’s most westerly big city has a hauntingly beautiful end-of-the-world setting, wrapped in swirling mists and surrounded by water. That mist, lying delicately over the Bay on summer mornings like great rolls of chiffon, forms an ethereal, mysterious backdrop, emphasising the city’s remoteness.
  For all that, the climate is deliciously pleasant and mild. It's a delight to walk and wander, exploring the extraordinary mosaic of neighbourhoods. There  are some striking contrasts, with an extensive Chinatown, a full-on gay district called Castro, and a historic upper-crust area called Nob Hill. The thriving downtown Financial District is surprisingly beautiful, sleek modern glass structures standing side by side with ornate pre-War skyscrapers.
  Many districts have streets of older houses locally known as “Victorians”. However, Queen Victoria wouldn’t recognise the style, a crazy individualistic jumble of American Gothic, American Tudor and American Renaissance, nicely embellished with one or two authentic Art Deco details. But she’d be amused – they look great.

 What, why, where

The Muwekma Ohlone people kept this land to themselves until 1776, when the Spanish set up a little mission to Saint Francis of Assisi. In 1849 the discovery of gold in the nearby hills brought tens of thousands of treasure-seekers (called Fortyniners), and a makeshift, lawless city sprang up. The boom years of the Gold Rush left a legacy of pleasure-seeking and a love of entertainment and the good life.
  San Franciscans famously have a spirit of independence, and there’s a touch of apocalyptic hedonism.
  But that could be due to the constant threat of an earthquake like that of 1906 which demolished the city centre. The city accords an almost mystical reverence to the San Andreas Fault which passes under the Bay and will one day destroy San Francisco. Minor tremors are common, and there was a more damaging one in 1989. Yet just ten years after the great quake of ’06, the city had been completely rebuilt and was raring to go again.
  The city became the capital of the hippy and radical left alternatives of the late 1960s and early 1970s, especially after the LSD-infused Summer of Love in 1967.
  Imagination and innovation are in the air. Maybe that’s why not just Zap Comics and Gay Pride have their roots in San Francisco, but also Silicon Valley (in the south-western suburbs).

 Getting started

The main visitor information center is at 900 Market Str, San Francisco, tel. 415/391-2000.

SanFrancisco CityPASS is a booklet of tickets giving discounted entry to top attractions, a Bay cruise and free cable car travel. It's valid 9 days and costs $94 ($69 aged 5–12). 

 Compass points

••Downtown is Powell/Market/Union Sq.

••Just north of downtown are Chinatown and Nob Hill.

••Continue further north to reach Fisherman's Wharf.

••The Financial District is a few minutes NE along Market.

••Cross Market for the Museum Quarter.

••South of downtown is "south of Market", known as SOMA.

 Getting around

Unless you love walking, use public transport to get from Downtown to Fisherman's Wharf and the other neighbourhoods. There's a fast, efficient and inexpensive bus service along the main streets, and taxis are reasonable too, but be sure to take at least one trip by cable car!
www.bart.gov

 Eating and drinking in SF

San Francisco loves good eating, with a liking for imagination, innovation, fusion and fashion. It offers some of the most interesting dining in America. The best places take advantage of the abundance of high-quality ingredients grown within California.
  Michelin's San Francisco
 guide 2017, which includes the whole Bay Area and Wine Country, lists 54 starred restaurants. More than a score within the city have one star, five others two stars, and the highest accolade of all, three Michelin stars, is awarded to three city restaurants - Benu and Saison, both in the SoMa area, and now Quince, near Telegraph Hill. Among starred restaurants outside the city, Napa Valley restaurants The French Laundry under chef Thomas Keller (at Yountville, 55 miles N), and The Restaurant at Meadowood, under chef Christopher Kostow (65 miles), are both awarded three stars.

 San Francisco hotels

••There's a big choice of hotels in San Francisco in all price brackets, especially around the Union Square district, with many unusual, charming, budget places.
••Several comfortable, larger, upscale hotels are a few minutes further away, including Nob Hill and SOMA.
Staying in a hotel in the popular
••Fisherman's Wharf area will mean taking a cab, bus or trolley to reach downtown and other parts of the city.
••The San Francisco tourism website features an extensive range of city accommodations, with online booking
www.sftravel.com/explore/hotels

 Flights to San Francisco

Forty-three airlines serve San Francisco airport. Large numbers of flights arrive daily from the world's major cities. Flight time from the UK is 10 hours. Airline details are on the airport's website: www.flysfo.com

TIP: Don't take a taxi from the airport to the city. The BART subway is faster and cheaper.

Remember you must register with ESTA before travelling to the US.
If you have EVER been arrested for ANY offence,
even if found NOT guilty, or even if charges were dropped, you MUST apply for a visa to travel to the US. There is a hefty fee to pay for a visa. Allow plenty of time as the process is also agonisingly slow.

 Basics

••Where is San Francisco?
  In California, on America's west coast. 
••International phone dialling code:
  1 + local number
••Time zone:
  Pacific = GMT/BST -8 hours
  (In 2017, Daylight Saving Time 12 Mar-5 Nov)
••Money:
  US Dollar
($)

 Must-see

 Fisherman's Wharf 
San Francisco's top visitor draw is this old harbour area. Pier 39 is the Wharf’s focal point, and the main attraction of this tourist quarter.
  The sea lions, who have probably lived around here since long before the pier itself was built, definitely deserve a visit. They loll around lazily, grunting at each other, lumbering around awkwardly or slipping into the water, where they suddenly become perfectly graceful.
  The rest of the former docks have become a busy, rather tacky area, though former trade warehouses like Ghirardelli Square and The Cannery have been converted into attractive, shopping and entertainment complexes. 
www.fishermanswharf.org
www.ghirardellisq.com

 Museums and Arts
From Asian Art to Cable Cars, there's a score of fascinating museums in the city.
  The spectacular California Academy of Sciences, next to Golden Gate Park, has stunning modern interiors, an aquarium, brilliant planetarium shows, a natural history museum, and a 4-storey rainforest under 2.5 acres of living roof, plus a garden, an aviary and some 40,000 animals. 'The world's greenest museum' is also a 159-year-old scientific research institute.
  The Exploratorium is an entertaining, imaginative, hands-on science museum in an impressive new building at Pier 15.
  The Fine Arts Museums (FAMSF), combining the de Young in Golden Gate (the city's oldest museum) and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park, brings together popular culture, ethnography arts and crafts, and fine art, and has an eye for imaginative popular exhibitions.
  San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) displays leading  collections and exhibitions of contemporary art, and stages innovative programmes, in newly expanded premises.
  For something really unusual, the Fire Department Museum tells the dramatic story of firefighting in the city from 1849 to the present.

 The Haight 
In the late Sixties and early Seventies, this was the undisputed hippy capital of the world. “If you’re going to San Francisco,” advised the hit song of 1967, “be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.” 
  More than four decades after the hippy era, there are few flowers in the hair and Peace and Love has become something of a marketing exercise as tourists are bussed in to see old hippy haunts around the Haight-Ashbury intersection.
  It's a lively area, with countless little stores and attractive streets of older houses. Maybe surprisingly, it remains a focal point for today's (somewhat less radical) youth culture.

 The bridges and the Bay 
San Francisco is almost enclosed by water, and its two main entry points are both on spectacular bridges. Views of San Francisco Bay are glimpsed everywhere in the city centre.
  At intersections, look down side turns to catch glimpses of the blue waters, the vistas cut across by the impressive ironwork of the Oakland Bay bridge. This is an exquisite marvel of engineering, 8½ miles of dazzling blue above and below as it steps clear across the Bay from San Francisco to Oakland and Berkeley on the other side.
  Even that does not quite outclass the Golden Gate Bridge, which crosses grandly from the city into Marin County, on the north side of the Bay. It's impressive by car, more exhilarating by bike, and it's also possible to cross the Golden Gate Bridge on foot, a breezy, invigorating two miles.

City dwellers pour over the Golden Gate at weekends to vanish into Marin’s wilderness, wine towns and bustling waterfronts. From here, the beautiful coast highway heads north through a string of small communities.
  For a trip inland, visit Sonoma wine country and Yosemite National Park.

 Alcatraz  A trip to a notorious offshore maximum security prison might not seem like much of a treat, but the ferry to Alcatraz has become one of the most popular San Francisco attractions.
  Guides take you through the island-prison's history, telling tales of some of its inmates, including Al Capone and Robert Stroud, "the Birdman of Alcatraz."
  The view alone, looking across the water towards the city skyline, is worth the journey - though inhabitants of the penitentiary presumably would not have agreed.
www.nps.gov/alca

 Cable cars  A fun, picturesque piece of city history, the biggest surprise about the rattling, open-sided cable cars is that they remain to this day an excellent way to get around on the steep roller-coaster hills, and give thrilling views.
  The cable cars are much used by locals, who step on and off them at will.

 Buy it

••Casualwear - Department stores around Union Square have a choice to beat anything you'll find back home. 

••Books - Great bookstores in the city and across the Bay in Berkeley will draw you in for hours of pleasant browsing and buying. The legendary City Lights Books is on Columbus Ave at Broadway.

••Music - One of several excellent music outlets, Amoeba, in Haight St, is one of the world's leading independent music stores - and claims to be the largest.

 Events

3rd Sun in May:
Bay to Breakers
May 21, 2017
Something between a genuine race and a zany piece of street theatre, this famous "footrace" covers 7.46 miles from the shore of San Francisco Bay, through the city, to the Pacific Ocean beach, ending with a party in Golden Gate Park.
www.baytobreakers.com 

San Francisco Jazz Festival
June 2017 (dates not confirmed)
One of the biggest and best jazz festivals in the world. The San Francisco Jazz Festival attracts big names in a wide spectrum of styles, played at venues throughout the city.
sfjazz.org/events/festival/2016

 In the Know

••Don't miss dinner ...Restaurants serve early and close early. Most finish for the night by 10pm.

••Best sunset ...
Try Ocean Beach.

••If you have a car ... Park it and forget it. San Francisco is difficult for driving and has excellent public transport.



 

 

 

 

 

 

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San Francisco
Revised and updated January 2017.
All rights reserved worldwide.
Text © Focus Guides and Andrew Sanger.
Pictures
©
SFCVB, Seth Affoumado, Phil Koblentz. Mouseover for individual credits.
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