Golden splendour, a vibrant waterfront and that iconic bridge – San Francisco holidays are near the top of the list when it comes to beautiful American city breaks
There are magical misty mornings in San Francisco. Not the kind of dreary fog you might be used to – more a steamy, enchanting haze that permeates the Golden Gate Bridge all the way down to the Bay. If it’s not this natural Pacific Ocean wonder you come to photograph, make it the dazzling views Twin Peaks edge or the surreal crookedy curves, stately mansions and hairpin turns of Lombard Street.
The ‘City of the Bay’s’ pretty, hilly neighbourhoods are candy-coloured Victorian houses but also Silicon Valley high-tech start-ups. You’ll find the golden era of mid century glamour in oyster bars but then modern glass and steel skyscrapers soaring 46 floors high. San Francisco holidays may be famous for Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge, but there’s also the French neoclassical Palace of the Legion Honor, City Hall’s Beaux architecture and the theatrical remains of the Palace of Fine Arts.
Whether you’re walking Postcard Row’s Painted Ladies or climbing Amazonian rainforest inside the greenest museum in the world, beauty filters through the sidewalks on holidays to San Francisco. Sail the Bay under the glow of the Golden Gate Bridge, soar down the hill on those iconic cable cars or get your fix of fuzzy feels visiting the legendary 300 or so Pier 39 sea lions who’ve lounged on the docks for nearly 30 years. The sea lions turn up for the herrings but the locals come for the clam chowder and Bubba Gump shrimp. You’ll soon realise there’s a big food scene in San Francisco experienced through a love of farm-to-table dining and top chef molecular restaurants. And if that’s not enough, you’re only an hour and half drive from Napa Valley Wine Country.
Whether you want beautiful Bay views and regal interiors or a hip hotel in the heart of the city’s shopping district, our Personal Travel Experts are on hand, in store or by phone, to help craft your San Francisco holiday.
- This is a great city to explore on foot once you have got used to the hills (or you can take one of the famous cable cars of course)
- One of the best ways to see the city is by helicopter – it is well worth treating yourself to a flight over the bay and the bridge
- The former prison island of Alcatraz offers a fascinating insight into the lives of some of America’s most notorious inmates – be sure to book in advance to secure your spot
- Just a short distance from the city you can find some beautifully rugged and often deserted beaches
- To the north of the city you will find the famous redwood trees for which the north California coast is famous.
Best time to visit San Francisco
• Autumn is one of the best times to visit the city with Indian summers a regular occurrence; spring is also a nice time to visit, although a little cooler
• The images of long hot Californian summers doesn't really apply to San Francisco with fog commonly bringing lower temperatures to the City by the Bay throughout the year (particularly in July and August). However if you can get a high vantage point on a foggy day the views of fog filling the bay can be beautiful.
San Francisco holiday highlights
Old meets new in the pretty city of San Francisco, whether you’re taking the boat over to Alcatraz Island for the haunting history of The Rock (book tickets in advance) or checking out the creative new gallery spaces in much heralded SFMOMA – San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Head to the Bay for a sunset cruise under the Golden Bridge, taste salt and pepper crab in the oldest Chinatown in the USA (don’t forget Japantown too) and make your way to the top of Twin Peaks for incredible city views. Buy fresh flowers for your hotel room from Ferry Building’s Farmer’s Market (or grab the ferry from here to Angel Island), cycle to Golden Gate Park and visit the copper-clad fashion and arts deYoung Museum. Expect giant ice creams, vintage bookstores and fantastic cocktails in Mexican-style Mission District area and Italian flavours, sidewalk cafes and literacy delights in North Beach. The beloved San Francisco waterfront is the best area to hang out in for laid-back atmosphere and crisp fresh air. There are Pier 39’s resident sea lions, a slew of independent boutiques and those picture-postcard views, and you’ve got African penguins, giant butterflies and a four-storey living rainforest to see in the lauded California Academy of Sciences.
Where is San Francisco?
On the west coast of the USA in northern California on a peninsula surrounded by water on three sides, San Fransicsco city is bordered by the Pacific Ocean, the Golden Gate strait and San Francisco Bay.
There are lots of pretty neighbourhoods and sights to explore in San Francisco but it’s also a very hilly city. It’s actually not that large, at only 49 square miles, and the best way to get around is by using the buses, cable cars and trolleys. You can buy a day, 3-day or 7-day Muni pass to use on public transport. The famous cable cars go to Union Square, Fisherman’s Wharf, China Town and Ghirardelli Square but the queues are generally quite long. The SF Muni buses will take you to nearly everywhere, including the Golden Gate Bridge and Park, and the historic ‘F’ Line Trolley travels along Market Street, Embarcadero and Fisherman’s Wharf.
If you’re looking for the big American department stores of Barneys and Macys, and high end international brands then head to Union Square, for vintage finds and independent boutiques it’s the eclectic Mission District or Hayes Valley and for European boutiques and beauty brands such as MAC, its all about the celebrity favourite suburbia of Pacific Heights.
Food & drink
A divine café culture (black percolated coffee is the favourite), beautiful seafood Bay side dining and artisanal churn-to-order ice cream – San Francisco loves its food! Expect old-school glamorous oyster bars with wallpaper worthy Instagram content, Champagne cocktails with rose-scented ice cubes, design-led tech cafeterias with gourmet treats and award winning dining in top chef restaurants. Signature cuisine spans many countries - expect gourmet Mexican, soulful Spanish and delicious Chinese dumplings. You’ll find plenty of pies, pizzas and meatballs to satisfy all the family but also swanky supper clubs and romantic waterfront dining made for two.