The City by the Bay, Paris of the West
Here we are, at our last city on this tour across the USA coast to coast, San Francisco. And also at the time of writing this guide, September 2012, the farthest to the west I have ever been in the world and the very first time by the Pacific Ocean. One of the must visit places in the USA, beautifully elegant city with plenty of things to do and see. Don’t underestimate the time you will need here as it happened to us. Even with a rental car as we had, the time played against us the three days and a bit of the 4th we spent here. It was just too short. Basically, calculate that distances although not too big as some other cities, it takes really ages to reach from one place to another, specially if you count with public transportation. The whole of the city is up and down the hills. And if you plan to walk around you should better rethink about it and plan again something involving transportation. You can get exhausted of going up and down the hills, especially during the summer months. Quite a radical chance from Las Vegas where we came from our previous destination.
The city is well divided in clear areas, each of them having it’s own sights, therefore pretty simple to follow a route and know what to do. Although physically everywhere you go is nice. Unless of course, the fog. Chances to be foggy in the mornings and again towards afternoons are pretty high, this is a climate fact which cannot be avoided. What you can do in the other hand, is plan around to avoid going for example to the Golden Gate Bridge area when the chances of fog are high. Come in the afternoon instead of the morning or evening. The same applies to the famous hills over the city.
Also, even during summer, it’s pretty cold here coming the evening. You will need for sure long sleeve and jacket, not to mention when you go up Twin Peaks, where the temperature difference from the top respect the below one is steep. But it is from here and the Coit Tower where the views of the entire city will awe anyone. Lombard Hill is another great spot but in truth, any higher point will offer incredible views.
As for the city’s architecture, every style is mixed here. The predominant is the Victorian, which I’m pretty sure it will be impossible for you to avoid the temptation of making plenty of pictures to these cute houses everywhere, noteworthy the world famous Alamo Square. There are also colonial Spanish churches, and around the financial district, the shiny skyscrapers. One of the oldest and most extensive Chinatown in the world outside of China and lots of entertainment around the harbor and yes, including the lazy sea lions, part of the fun. Alcatraz, who has never heard of? It’s a short boat ride from the Embarcadero, although you are one in hundreds of thousands tourists with the same idea so expect everything to be packed.
However, what could be more authentic than taking the cable cars! This is one of the wonders of the city. Currently 3 lines remain, and talks are for the recreation and reopening of some more. 100 years ago there were many more lines, physically all over the city. The downside of them are the super long waiting queues. You can easily be waiting for 2 hours at the beginning of the Powell-Hyde line on Fisherman’s Wharf. Therefore plan with time, and don’t get frustrated. The wait will pay off!
Food wise talking, it is for any North American city, especially as big and important as San Francisco is. Absolutely every worldwide chain of restaurants is here, plus the hundreds North American ones and the beautiful diners with incredible burgers and great prices. Fair enough on average more expensive than the other cities we’ve been on this tour, but nothing to worry about. Only to be more cautious is around the Fisherman’s Wharf, one of the top tourist locations therefore the most expensive and not necessarily the best.
For more information about San Francisco check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. The United States of America currency is the Dollar (USD, $). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in San Francisco
- Golden Gate Bridge Perhaps the most recognisable bridge in the world, an art-deco masterpiece from the 1930s. The best way to reach it is by car, but you will get to see it from many parts of the city like the many hills, or from Alcatraz.
- Palace of Fine Arts Located on the east side of Golden Gate and on direction towards the wharfs. The peaceful park is a great sight together with the beautiful museum.
- Alcatraz From pier 33 you can get the tickets and boat. But it’s highly advisable to book tickets in advance and avoid the queue. You will still need to queue to get into the boat, so plan ahead and get here well before your ticket is valid. You might need to let 2 boats in front of you go before you can manage to board.
- Chinatown Centered around Grant Street from Bush to Columbus. It’s one of the largest in the USA.
- Twin Peaks The views from the top are with difference, the best you will get of the city and beyond. You can get here by the Muni bus 37 from the Haight-Ashbury or Castro and Market streets.
- Telegraph Hill Is one of the main tourist areas in the city, where you will find:
-Coit Tower There is really no need to pay to get to top, from its base you will get the same views. You need to circle it around and will see great viewing spots.
-Lombard Street On Russian Hill, is the world famous zigzag street. It’s regarded as the most crooked street in the world.
-Nob Hill Where Grace Cathedral is between California and Powell Streets.
-Fisherman’s Wharf Home to the world famous Pier 39 where you can see Sea Lions. There are restaurants, bars, discos, shops and plenty more for entertainment.
-Old Mason Street Offering nice views of the Golden Gate.
-Cable car museum Free admission, at intersection of Washington Street with Mason.
- Civic Centre This is the city centre itself, heart of administration and cultural isntitutions. Among the buildings are:
-City Hall and War Memorial One of the largest Beaux Arts buildings in the city.
-Asian Art Museum
-Symphony and Opera
- Union Square-Financial District
-Powell Street You get incredible views with the cable car, buildings, Bay Bridge and the sea. One of the cable cars turntable is located at the end, on Market Street.
-Ferry Building Embarcadero A nice picture is with an old F tram coach passing by the front.
-Transamerica Pyramid Pretty much the most iconic building representing the city itself. Seen in every movie shot in San Francisco.
- Western Addition
-Alamo Square Park This is the symbol of the city. It’s the square representing the city to everyone in the world, where the incredible Victorian houses and background skyline view combine together.
- Mission District and Castro One of the oldest part of San Francisco, near its original foundation. Nowadays very gentrified and mixed, a truly melting pot of nationalities.
-Mission Dolores Church In Spanish neo-colonnial style.
-Market Street The main thoroughfare in the city. Important transport node with the F tram line in all its length above.
-Castro Street This is the famous LGBT district, with many trendy bars and cafes.
- The Avenues One of the most desirable area for up-scale residential houses. All very beautiful and well cared for, parallel to each others with plenty of trees and gardens.
-Golden Gate Park It’s a huge park leading to the Pacific coast, home to the famous Japanese Tea Gardens and stunning trees, palms and flowers.
-Ocean Beach This is where the Golden Gate Park meets the ocean, and also all the avenues. A very nice and long sandy beach with great views, where unfortunately it is forbidden to swim. Beware that if you break the rule and go into the water, it is at your own risk. The currents are such that many people a year loose their lives only to think they are brave enough and nothing will happen.
-Baker Beach Where the most dramatic view of the sandy beach, the mountains and the Golden Gate is found.
From the San Francisco International Airport you can easily walk or take the free airport shuttle (AirTrain) to the BART station, adjacent to the G side of the International Terminal. The BART train ride to San Francisco costs about $8 one way.
Another option is by bus, SamTrans routes 292, 397, for $2 into San Francisco downtown.
The best way to explore the city is by getting a transport pass. This is a “Clipper” card. And it’s valid on all Muni services, including Cable Cars and costing $14 one day or $21 for 3 days. The following transit systems cover most of the city:
-Muni Metro Lines. J, K, L, M, N, S and T.
-Historic Streetcar F Line. From Castro and Fisherman’s Wharf all along Market Street.
-Cable Cars. Three lines, the Market Street and Fisherman’s Wharf; the north-south Powell-Mason and Powell-Hyde, and the east-west California Street line.
A city of such importance not only in tourism, but business, culture, education and plenty more, the choice of hotels is immense. Every world hotel chain and and American brands are scattered everywhere in the city and beyond across all neighborhoods, however it is one of the most expensive cities in the USA. As an initial idea, the best and most reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
Then if nothing suits your needs or budget, there are hundreds of thousands of apartments and rooms for rent through sites such as airb&b and the likes. Some of which in incredible Victoria houses with every kind of facility. This was our experience after all. Being 4 of us, that worked as the best option where we managed an entire 2 rooms apartment owned by a Spanish couple living at their flat upstairs. This was at 971 Alabama St #B, 94110. The nearest BART station Mission.