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.
GMT -8 hours
US Dollar ($)
English is the official language, although many other languages are widely spoken in certain cities and communities. America has its own written US English spellings.
• Brits must have a full 10-year British Passport that's valid for six months after you return to the UK.
• You'll also need a USA visa or waiver form/ESTA. Apply for your ESTA at least 72 hours before travelling (http://esta.cbp.dhs.gov).
The domestic electrical supply is 110V, 60 cycles AC. Sockets are for plugs with two flat pins.
An insight into San Francisco
Getting into the city from the airport can be achieved by taking a regular shuttle service – which are cost effective yet often time consuming with stops at multiple city hotels – by private transfer or by the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) network. Transfers are not included in the price of your holiday so we recommend having a transit plan prior to your arrival.
The city's most recognisable transportation system is the antique cable cars that run along a few of the famous streets and no stay is complete without at least one ride on one of these iconic cars. There are three main lines running through the city - the Powell & Hyde line, the Powell and Mason Line and the California Line. There are many bus routes that run throughout the city and taxis can be hailed from the street side. You can buy a Muni Passport which are valid for travel for one, three or seven consecutive days on the buses and light rail systems, the cable cars and the streetcars which run along the waterfront Embarcadero and up and down the iconic Market Street.
One of the things we love about San Francisco is that it's such a great city to walk around, despite its famous hilly terrain! Exploring on foot allows you to really get a sense of place and see some of the beautiful Victorian houses, and of course the beautiful bay views for almost every corner. One of the most popular walks is from Fisherman's Wharf along the waterfront which, if you wish, you can follow all the way to Fort Point, enjoying views of the Golden Gate Bridge along the way. This is also a very popular cycling route and there are plenty of places you can hire a bike from near Fisherman's Wharf.
The other truly iconic attraction of the city is the former prison island of Alcatraz which sits in the bay, across the water from the city. Here on you can learn about the island’s history and the penitentiary's notorious inmates during an audio tour which is included in your visit. We strongly recommend booking your cruise ticket for Alcatraz in advance as spaces fill up quickly, especially during the busier summer months.
A cruise on the bay – which departs at the famous Fisherman’s Wharf – allows you to view the city and the bay from a different perspective. There's a selection of different companies that operate cruises, some of which can be arranged before you travel. One of the most popular itineraries is a Golden Gate cruise during which you will pass underneath the red-hued bridge and cruise around Alcatraz.
Other attractions that draw a crowd and are unique to San Francisco include the Russian Hill section of Lombard Street which is a steep winding road that features eight switchbacks; the terminals and turning points of the cable cars; and the sea lion colony that call the floating decks of Pier 39's K-dock home.
Exploring San Francisco
This is a city that you can spend days exploring yet there is always more to see. There's the famous Fisherman’s Wharf waterfront neighbourhood, a favourite destination for visitors who wish to shop, dine and enjoy the lively atmosphere, live music and street performers. The visitor numbers build during the day so if you wish to experience it during a relatively calm moment then we recommend an early start! It is here you can enjoy a couple of staples of San Francisco cuisine - Dungeness crab and clam chowder. Open-fronted eateries line the northern end of Taylor Street serving local speciality street food while the restaurants of Pier 39 cater for international visitors.
Another popular city destination is Union Square, the Times Square of San Francisco and the commercial and cultural heart of the city. Lined with hotels, shops, restaurants and art galleries the square attracts a diverse range of visitors and is a great place for a spot of people spotting. Many large western cities have a vibrant China town however very few match the scale and history of San Francisco's Oriental neighbourhood - this is the largest China town outside Asia after all. It's well worth spending an hour or two wandering along the streets and soaking up the authentic atmosphere.
San Francisco is definitely an outdoor enthusiasts city and a favourite with visitors who wish to explore natural as well as urban landscapes. The waterfront area between Fisherman's Wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge is lined with parks and the Crissy Field Marsh. Once you cross the bridge you will find the trails and headlands of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. If you have a few days to spare and you wish to explore the city's surroundings it's worth hiring a car and exploring Marin County and the Northern Californian coastline. You can visit untouched coves and beaches and enjoy spectacular Pacific vistas, just half an hour from the centre of San Francisco. Alternatively, you can head to the USS San Francisco Memorial and Point Lobos on the north western coast of the San Francisco Peninsula. Continue on from here and you will join the coastal Great Highway which passes by the likes of Ocean Beach which stretches for three and a half miles. Reached from the docks at Fisherman's Wharf is Angel Island State Park, the largest natural island in the San Francisco Bay. The island has a rich and varied heritage from being a hunting ground for indigenous tribes to a processing post for immigrants and World War II prisoners of war. You can even combine a visit to Angel Island with a tour of Alcatraz.
Beyond San Francisco Bay
Few visits to California tend to be just a city stay and this is certainly the case with San Francisco. There are so many attractions within a four or five hour drive and the city is the ideal start or end point for a great American road trip.
Monterey Situated two hours south of San Francisco along the world famous Pacific Highway, or Route 1 as it is also known, the city Monterey boasts a world-famous aquarium and the historic Cannery Row. The town served as the Californian capital of both Spain and Mexico and it was here in 1846 that the American flag was raised over the Custom House as the United States of America claimed California as its own. Numerous historic monuments, such as the Custom House and the Royal Presido Chapel, can be witnessed as well as the famous Cannery Row.
Yosemite National Park One of the country’s oldest national parks and the inspiration behind the idea of founding public lands and national parks for the people of America, beautiful Yosemite sits in the High Sierra Nevada mountains. Known for its granite cliffs and domes, waterfalls, streams, giant Sequoia trees and meadows, the park is located approximately 4 hours east of San Francisco. In the spring and early summer months visitors flock to the Yosemite Valley to witness the roaring meltwater falls while hikers head here year round to walk the park’s 800 miles of trails.
Napa Valley Heralded as one of the world’s premier wine producing regions, a stay in beautiful Napa Valley is a perfect addition to a Northern California itinerary, and is reached in just under two hours from San Francisco. Wake to breathtaking valley views, spend your days visiting winery tasting rooms or enjoying the flourishing arts scene. In the evenings treat yourself to award winning culinary treats at any of the region's 120 restaurants, many of have a Michelin star or two. The three hour round trip on the Napa Valley Wine Train is also highly recommended.
Sonoma Located to the north of San Francisco Bay, the colonial town of Sonoma is steeped in history and boasts a beautiful town plaza lined by historic buildings, such as the Mission San Francisco Solano, the Presido of Sonoma, and the early 20th Century Sonoma City Hall. The surrounding Sonoma Valley is considered to be the birthplace of the California wine industry with the first vines being planted here in the early 19th Century. Today it is one of the state’s largest wine producers.
• No vaccinations are compulsory but it's recommended you have one for tetanus. • For more information, contact your GP or a specialist vaccination centre.
Tipping is an established and accepted custom in America. For good service, waiters and taxi drivers expect 15-20%, and counter and bar staff 10-15%. Porters can expect from $3-$5 per case, while tour guides can be given the equivalent of £2-£3 per day.
• 1 January: New Year's Day
• Third Monday in January: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
• Third Monday in February: Presidents Day
• Last Monday in May: Memorial Day
• 4 July: Independence Day
• First Monday in September: Labor Day
• Second Monday in October: Columbus Day
• 11 November: Veterans Day
• Fourth Thursday in November: Thanksgiving Day
• 25 December: Christmas Day