San Francisco is a delight to visit thanks to its colourful history and dramatic setting, its laid-back attitude and willingness to embrace the alternative.
The city’s famous cable cars and roller coaster streets offer intermittent glimpses of its inviting bay and of the iconic, unmistakable Golden Gate Bridge.
San Francisco Bay is dotted with sails and small islands, including the notorious Alcatraz. The bay is the largest inlet on the Californian coast and harbours Fisherman’s Wharf, whose restaurants offer panoramic views and gastronomic feasts.
Of course, it’s not all freewheeling and free-living fun in San Francisco. The city is also home to the broadest possible range of businesses new and old, a vibrant cultural community and an exciting digital economy.
Luxury holidays in San Francisco may not bring you the gold strike which triggered the growth of the city long ago, but any visit will surely reveal a jewel of a destination.
The diverse communities of the city add to its enduring appeal. There are the dragon-studded temples of colourful Chinatown, the austere dignity of Japantown, the stylish Italian cafes of North Beach, the romance and nightlife of the Spanish-speaking Mission District, the rainbow flags of Castro’s gay scene and the bohemian dropouts of the Haight.
Just over the waters lies the cultural curiosity of Alcatraz. Here you can hear the real-life stories of those who served life sentences, and enjoy fantastic views of the city. Whatever you do, though, don’t miss the last boat home!
For eating out, there are over 3,000 restaurants to choose from, many of them home to the highest-rated chefs and finest ingredients in the land.
For seafood, stick close to the bay; for Italian dishes head over to North Beach, and for Mexican stroll over to the Mission district. Unlike many other American cities, San Francisco’s health-conscious population also means that vegetarians and vegans are very well catered for.
Just as diverse and enticing as the food is the nightlife. Each neighbourhood’s bars, clubs and lounges have a unique atmosphere, but broadly speaking you can’t go far wrong at a bar or club in the SOMA area, or in the Mission and Marina districts.
The San Francisco Opera stages free performances of Opera in the Park, and you can catch ballet and modern dance at the Cowell Theatre. However, if there is one unmissable live performance to see, it has to be Beach Blanket Babylon, the longest-running musical revue in history. Outrageous costumes, hilarious spoofs, ever-increasing numbers of hats and show-stopping tunes all make for a great night out in North Beach.
You wouldn’t expect San Francisco to just offer traditional shops, now would you? Some of the city’s best shopping can be found in its museums: The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art store has an incredible selection of beautiful curios, the Exploratorium offers an irresistible range of interactive toys and the Asian Art Museum has fabrics, statues, bowls and jewellery from the East.
More Asian culture can be explored in the weird and wonderful shops of the Japan Centre on Geary Street, which meanders through several buildings on a second-storey skyway.
The prime shopping area, however, is Union Square, home to boutiques and designer labels.
The weather in San Francisco is cool to mild throughout the year, although fog descends in summer and rain is to be expected in winter. The famous fog is caused by the cold currents of the Pacific Ocean meeting mainland Californian summer’s heat.
The average temperature in the summer months of June to September is a steady 14 degrees Celsius (57 degrees Fahrenheit). The average only falls by 4 degrees in the coolest months of January and February, which underlines the city’s attraction as an all-year destination.
English is the most common language, but Spanish is also widely used.
Visitors entering the country under the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) must have a machine-readable passport (MRP) that includes their biometrics. They also need to register online three days before travel.
All visitors to the USA will have a photograph and two fingerprints taken by an inkless scanner on arrival.
Please check rules around visa requirements before you travel, as they may change regularly.
San Francisco enjoys a reputation as one of America’s safest cities to visit, though of course travellers are advised to remain vigilant at all times.
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