Welcome to San Francisco

Head to California’s golden city and enjoy blue skies, cool culture and stunning scenery

San Fran

by Zoe Bishop |

Why go?

Located in Northern California, overlooking the bay and the Pacific Ocean, San Francisco is home to the famous Golden Gate Bridge and an eclectic mix of neighbourhoods, from Chinatown to Silicon Valley, and, of course, the most famous prison in the world, Alcatraz. But one of the best things is the city’s size – large enough to be buzzing and vibrant, but small enough to be navigated easily. No wonder it’s often voted America’s top city.

See the sights!

In the centre of the city, you’ll find Chinatown, the oldest Chinese quarter in North America. The dim sum tea houses are great for a drink and a light lunch. And no visit is complete without stopping at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in Ross Alley, where you can watch the cookies being made.

Union Square is the turning point for San Francisco’s cable cars – the last manually operated cable car system in the world, built to navigate several of the city’s steep hills. There are two routes from downtown to the wharf, and a third along California Street. The views from the hills down to the bay are breathtaking. We’d also recommend a trip to the Cable Car Museum on Mason Street and, to the top of Lombard Street, known as “the crookedest street in the world”.

San Fran
Painted Ladies

Enjoy some time out in one of the fantastic green spaces, including Golden Gate Park, the Presidio and Alamo Square, which is overlooked by the Painted Ladies, a row of colourful Victorian homes. For a real escape, cross the Golden Gate Bridge to Muir Woods, where you can walk among the giant redwood trees, then head out to the vineyards of Napa Valley.

Shop and dine

San Fran
Ghirardelli Square

Back at the wharf, head to Ghirardelli Square, which began life as a chocolate factory, but is now an upscale shopping and dining area. The Ghirardelli Chocolate Manufactory is situated on the corner of the square where you can buy top-notch candy and truffles to take home. Finally, get in line at the ice-cream counter to order a hot fudge sundae, it really is a little taste of heaven. Another great shopping destination is Union Square, where you’ll find all the top retail brands, department stores like Macy’s and Saks, and a few designer boutiques, too. It’s also the centre of the city’s theatre district, with many restaurants, clubs and bars, including Brenda’s French Soul Food restaurant. With a buzzy New Orleans vibe, it has a delicious brunch menu, serving gumbo and amazing butter pecan French toast.

Explore the wharf

San Fran
Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf is a must-go. Take a walk around the working dock that spans the bay’s waterfront and see piles of crab pots and fishing boats, and taste some of the day’s catch from one of the stalls selling fish and clam chowder – a local speciality. While you’re here, pop in to the Musée Mécanique, which houses 300 coin-operated arcade games from the 1800s to the present day – Pac-Man included!

The wharf is also home to Pier 39 – as famous for the sea lions that chill out on the rocks as it is for its entertainment. Visit Aquarium of the Bay, where you can explore underwater tunnels and see 20,000 marine animals including sharks and jellyfish. For an over-water experience, join one of the daily boat tours that head into the bay looking for whales.

From the pier you can also catch the ferry to Alcatraz island and the world’s most famous prison (above right; book far in advance as the tours sell out quickly). Originally a fort, it became a military prison in 1861 and went on to hold some of America’s most notorious criminals, including Al Capone and George ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly. It closed as a prison in 1963, and it’s said no one ever escaped, though 36 prisoners made 14 attempts and five men are still listed as missing, presumed dead. The enthralling audio tour is voiced by ex-inmates and guards.

San Fran

Need to know

• Stay at Cavallo Point, north of the Golden Gate Bridge, from £352 per night including fees and taxes. Book online at Cavallopoint.com.

• Get a one-day pass to ride any of the cable cars, street cars and buses from $22 (around £17); you can hop on and off all day.

• Book Alcatraz tickets in advance from $25 (£18) for a child, to $41 (£29) for an adult with Cityexperiences.com

• Early-morning fog is a common weather occurrence across the bay. It usually clears as quickly as it arrives, so don’t panic that your day might be ruined.

Please check Gov.uk/guidance/travel-advice-novel-coronavirus for travelling advice during the coronavirus pandemic

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