San Francisco Destination Guide
San Francisco was only transferred from Mexico to the USA in 1848. Coincidentally, the place boomed just after the treaty was signed – the California Gold Rush had begun. Today San Francisco is one of the most liberal cities in the US, known for its welcoming, anything-goes atmosphere. It's culturally diverse, and each neighbourhood has a distinct character. Despite previously being devastated by earthquakes, fire (and the bursting of the dot-com bubble) the city is an attractive one and tourism remains a strong industry with good reason. Grab a flight to San Francisco and come and see why.
Put Alcatraz at the top of your list of things to do in San Francisco. Sometimes it's easy to be wary of top-ten lists, depending on the source, but this island former prison is fascinating. A tour includes transfer across the bay, a video introduction and personal audio guide. Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge is another must, just be prepared for the temperature drop! Even in the height of summer, mists can shroud this icon. For attractive green spaces, nothing rivals Golden Gate Park and here you'll also find the beautifully-conceived Californian Academy of Sciences. Halloween in the Castro district is a very big party for the LGBT community.
San Francisco is an epicurean delight, with more restaurants per person than any other major North American city. Here you'll also find one of the USA's best selection of Asian food, and particularly several varieties of Chinese food, as San Fran has one of the largest Chinese communities in the West. Vegans and vegetarians are very well catered for too. Some favourite San Francisco restaurants, for travellers and locals alike, are Delifina (for Italian food, in the Mission district) Swan Oyster Depot (for seafood, on Polk Street) Bocadillos (for tapas in the Financial District) and where drinks are concerned, don't miss out on the cocktails at Incanto in Noe Valley.
There's always something fine at the top end of town and San Francisco isn't any exception. All the luxury brands are here, some perched atop the city's legendary hills. You do need good walking shoes here but you don't have to be well-heeled to enjoy your stay – San Francisco accommodation covers all budgets. Boutique hotels with twists on decor, architecture or ambience include Queen Anne, in Pacific Heights; Hotel Diva, in Union Square; and Hotel Vertigo on Sutter Street. If you've a more basic approach to lodgings because you don't plan to spend much time in them, try the Green Tortoise Hostel in the vibrant North Beach area.
San Francisco shopping is as flavour-filled as the city itself. Pier 39 is a colourful collection of shops and restaurants popular with tourists as a destination in itself. If you want more of a counter-culture flavour to your shopping, head to the Haight district for edgy fashion. No book/poetry/literature/Beat lover should go to San Francisco without stopping by City Lights in North Beach. Union Square is the central hub for flagship luxury shops, art galleries, cafes, theatres and night clubs. If you can't find what you need after exhausting Union Square, there's a Westfield (more prestigious than the Australian version) on that neighbourhood fringe, on Market Street.
San Francisco like a Local
Locals know this city is a cooler version of its Californian counterparts, so keep their winter clothes on hand year round. San Francisco weather can be fickle so landing in summer with only shorts and T-shirts, and LA-style visions of the place, won't serve you well. Though hilly, San Francisco is a great walking city, and has a comprehensive public transport system. Comprising a subway, streetcars, buses, trolley buses and cable cars. Ask a local on the ground which is which.