Popular Travel Cities: Sensational San Francisco

Why San Francisco?
 
SFO_bridge

This famous city by the bay is a true California gem! With its historical neighborhoods, thousands of restaurants, jazz clubs and cafes, temperate climate and relatively small size it is no wonder that this friendly city has opened its arms to over 16 million visitors last year.

San Fran offers diversions for everyone: Walking tours for the budget-minded, jazz clubs  or naughty strip clubs for night owls, cozy cafes for quiet contemplation, bargain markets and designer stores for the shopoholics, and art galleries and museums for the culture buffs.  There are enough sights, points of interest and festivals to cover several trips, making San Fran a popular return destination.

San Fran is a great walking city, and with some 39 hills, a great way to burn off calories from the sumptuous melted chocolate ice cream sundaes from Ghirardelli’s. Tired of walking? No worries as the city boasts one of the best public transportation systems in the world, which includes the famous cable cars which have been deemed the only National Historic Landmarks that move! San Fran is full of history. Visit North America’s oldest Chinatown for fabulous Asian food or to shop for cut rate souvenirs. Stroll through the boho neighborhood of Haight-Ashbury where the “Summer of Love” began. Have supper at historic John’s Grill of “The Maltese Falcon” fame. Or sip an original Irish Coffee at the café that developed this drink back in the 1950’s, the Buena Vista Café. San Fran is a city of visual beauty. Beautifully restored historic Victorian and Edwardian homes line most of the residential streets. Walk by Lombard Street and marvel at the ‘crookedest’ street in the city. Visit the Golden Gate bridge and surrounding area for those postcard perfect shots of the bay, surrounding mountains and cityscape in the background. Stop by the Japanese Tea Garden with its tranquil koi ponds, Japanese architecture and bamboo trees at Golden Gate Park.   If you are interested in city travel, San Francisco is tough to beat.
 

The Vibe
 
SFO_citySan Fran is diverse and eclectic. From the sleek hi-rises and upper-crust restaurants of the financial district, to the nautically whimsical Fisherman’s Wharf, the kitchy and touristy Pier 39, the bohemian hippy-culture Haight-Ashbury to the gay mecca of Castro, San Fran is a mosaic of cultures co-existing in harmony and happy acceptance. San Fran is tourist-friendly; tourism is important to the city’s economy and as such visitors are made to feel most welcome. Don’t be surprised if locals approach you offering assistance if it appears that you need it. The city is remarkably well organized, with numerous venues for visitors to explore its neighborhoods: independently on foot or using the efficient public transportation, or via organized sightseeing tours that utilize double-decker buses, talking electric cars, Segways and even antique cars!
 

Where to Hang Out and/or Book Accomodation
 
SFO_haightConsidering its size, San Fran has a huge selection of hotels to choose from to suit just about every budget. Compared to other popular cities, San Fran hotel prices seem very moderate in comparison. Since the city is not overly large and public transportation is almost always at your doorstep, just about any area of the city is a good place to stay. Some examples of popular neighborhoods are:    ·         Fisherman’s Wharf ·         Chinatown. ·         Nob Hill ·         Japantown ·         Union Square Financial District ·         SOMA (South of Market)  
 

San Fran in a Day or Longer
 
SFO_NapaDay visit: - If you have just one day, an organized city tour is the best way to see the most important sights. You can view available tours on line and book in advance (recommended) to maximize your time in the city 3 to 4 days (long weekend, for example): - Based on the number of days you have in San Fran decide what attractions are must-sees for you (i.e.: Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, museums or art galleries etc.). Once you decide what those are, simply arrange your sightseeing in the general area of the attraction. For example, want to see Chinatown? Then why not plan on spending half a day shopping and eating in this neighborhood and follow along to its neighbor North Beach (or Little Italy). Divide your days in sections (i.e.: morning, afternoon, evening) and spend each part of the day exploring one or more nearby areas. Maps of the city are readily available in most tourist magazines and brochures, or simply ask your hotel concierge for a copy.

5-7 days

Once you have decided you have seen all of San Fran, it’s time to head outside the city limits and visit the numerous attractions nearby.

 Some examples of where to go: The scenic valleys of Sonoma and Napa are right outside the city’s doorstep and for many people are destinations in themselves. Hundreds of wineries dot this area and most of them welcome visitors by providing tours and tastings, and of course the opportunity to purchase award winning wines. Monterey/Carmel located approximately 100 miles south of San Fran, these two scenic towns boast unique shops and restaurants and scenic beaches. Yosemite Park/Central Valley, four hours from San Fran, this scenic nature preserver of approximately 1,170 square miles is open year round and popular with hikers, climbers, fishermen and other outdoor enthusiasts of all ages. The park features valleys, waterfalls, mountain peaks, lakes, and wildlife.

 

 

Reccomended Travel Guides
 

Lots of helpful info is available online and in free brochures that you can obtain at your hotel. For starters, visit:  

http://www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com/

 

The Underbelly
 
San Fran is an extremely safe city.  But like most cities, it too has its share of beggars, ‘street performers’ and other ‘down on their luck’ types who will approach you for spare change. Most of these disturbed souls are harmless.  Be leery of participating in the 3 Card Monty games that are played on the streets, especially around the wharf area. You are sure to be fleeced of your cash. Don’t be fooled into exchanging money, buying cheap cigarettes or ‘knockoff’ merchandise
 

Special Tips
 
SFO_trolley- To avoid line-ups, order tickets online or via telephone ahead of your trip, especially for popular attractions such as Alcatraz, Wine Tours or city tours. This is also a good idea for very popular theater shows or museum exhibits. - If you are staying at least two days in the city, it is more economical to purchase multi-day passes for the transportation system. These passes will allow you to travel on regular buses, cable cars as well as the historical trolleys. - San Fran is full of beautiful vistas and charming architecture - take your camera everywhere. You never know when you will come across a ‘Kodak Moment’, like a whale breeching in the Bay! - For great cheap dining, head to Chinatown, the Mission District or Tenderloin.  Most restaurants post their menus outside so you can quickly decide if a particular restaurant suits your tastes and/or budget.  - If you’re travelling with kids, consider visiting the San Francisco Zoo which you can get to using public transportation. To visit Alcatraz, you can pre-purchase your tickets online, or get them from the tour operators at Fisherman’s wharf.

 

all photos courtesy R.Bradley