Colloquially known as the City by the Bay, San Francisco is one of the most-visited cities in America and offers a wealth of things to see and do. Even those who haven’t visited will be very familiar with its skyline and iconic landmarks, which have featured in many movies and TV shows over the years.
Once you’ve been, you really will lose your heart to San Francisco, too, as the song goes. From the Golden Gate Bridge, which often looms out of the fog that rolls into San Francisco Bay from the Pacific, and the notorious former federal prison, Alcatraz, lurking broodily on its offshore island, to the clanging cable cars that rumble up and down its rollercoaster streets, those icons come vividly to life as you explore the city.
There is plenty more to discover on your San Francisco holiday.
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Top 4 San Francisco Tailor Made Holidays
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Why should I visit San Francisco?
Get a taste of the Orient in North America’s largest and oldest Chinatown or Japatown, called J-town by locals. Make a pilgrimage to the birthplace of flower power and hippy culture, Haight-Ashbury. Or be a culture vulture and visit some of the world’s top museums and cultural institutions, among them The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and the California Academy of Sciences.
TIP The San Francisco CityPASS saves on admission to the city’s top five attractions and includes a seven-day Muni trolley, bus and cable car passport.
TIP San Francisco is a compact and walkable city, but with 43 hills plan your day so that you walk down the steep slopes to where you want to go and then get a cable car, bus, trolley or taxi back up.
Ethnic neighbourhoods - San Francisco has been a melting pot of cultures for over 150 years. Sample culture and cuisine from around the world in neighbourhoods including sprawling Chinatown, pizzas and pasta galore in neighbouring Italian enclave North Beach, and sushi, noodle shops and a pagoda in Japantown.
Alcatraz - A boat trip out to the former penitentiary island is a must. Tour the cellblocks that housed such infamous prisoners as Al Capone, see the first lighthouse built on America’s West Coast and explore its beautiful gardens and bird colonies.
Cable cars and trolleys - No trip to San Francisco would be complete without a ride on one of its famous cable cars as it trundles up or down the hilly streets. Originally numbering over 600 before the 1906 earthquake, now just 44 are in service. Fisherman’s Wharf is a terminus for the historic F-Line streetcars, actually heritage trolleys.
TIP Watch cars negotiate the “world’s crookedest street” – Russian Hill’s Lombard Street – which has featured in movies such as The Love Bug.
Golden Gate Bridge - The so-called “bridge that couldn’t be built” celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2012 and was the world’s longest suspension bridge until 1964. You can sail under it or walk, cycle or drive across it.
California Academy of Sciences - Enthralling for youngsters and adults alike, this encompasses an aquarium with a coral reef ecosystem, natural history museum, four-storey living rainforest and planetarium in a Renzo Piano-designed building under a roof planted with grass and wild flowers.
Haight-Ashbury - They say if you can remember the Sixties, you weren’t really there. But you can relive it on walking tours of this colourful district where it all began, taking in the Psychedelic History Museum and browsing vintage clothing stores.
TIP Take the legwork out of exploring the huge Golden Gate Park on a Segway tour, for ages 12 and up.
City Hall - Built in 1915 to replace an earlier one destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and reopened in 1999 after restoration following the 1989 earthquake, this Beaux Arts classical masterpiece has the tallest dome in America and retains many original features such as its “birdcage” elevators and pink marble rotunda floor.
Mission Dolores - One of the chain of missions built along the California coast by the Spanish, this beautiful example was founded in 1776 and is the city’s oldest building. Many of San Francisco’s early pioneers are buried in an adjacent cemetery.
Alamo Square - Take a Muni bus to visit this hill-top park and you will be rewarded with a panoramic cityscape view that adorns many postcards and guide books. On clear days, you can see beyond the brightly-coloured “Painted Ladies” facing the park on Steiner Street to the landmark Transamerica Pyramid and Golden Gate Bridge beyond.
TIP Among San Francisco’s weirdest museums is in Civic Centre store Good Vibrations. Not a tribute to the Beach Boys, its Antique Vibrator Museum charts the history of electric vibrators from the late 1800s to the 1970s with its bizarre collection.
Holiday Itineraries for San Francisco
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