Express Guide to: San Francisco, USABy Lallie Fraser
The eponymous ‘Sitting on the Dock of the Bay’ was written by Otis Redding inspired by San Francisco Bay, watching the ships roll in. On the far side of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge is a rainbow arched ‘Robin Williams Tunnel’ named after the city’s long-time much loved resident. Coit Tower, that perches on top of Telegraph Hill, was built from funds bequeathed by Lillie Coit, a fast and hard rebel woman of her time, wearing men’s pantaloons long before they were deemed appropriate for ladies, smoked cigars and would dress up as a man so she could gamble in the casinos.
Thankfully, we’ve progressed since those times. The point is that San Francisco is a city that is filled to the brim with eccentric stories and characters that define this quirky, fascinating, albeit gritty place. Each neighbourhood has its own personality and phoenix from the flames moment – for some, this is quite literal, as much of the city was rebuilt in 1906 after a shattering earthquake and subsequent fires that flattened much of the city. Today it’s a thriving, bonkers city with something to do for everyone.
San Francisco: What to Do
The Gold Gate Bridge is a beauty – whether you cycle, run, or get the bus up this glorious structure, it’s worth the effort. If you’re feeling active and want to beat the jet lag, get up early and run to Crissy Fields, the former aviation base, and check out all the cute dogs on the beach that lies adjacent to it. From here you can stroll up to Fort Worth and then the Golden Gate Bridge. Grab a bagel and a coffee at the charming Warming Hut on the way up.
Where: Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA, USA
These sweet machines are a compacted Storytelling car whose bright yellow exterior cause smiles wherever you may go as you will look like something out of Wacky Races. Perfect for zipping around the city in, this GPS guided, self-driven offers two tours either up to Fisherman’s Wharf or to Golden Gate Bridge (what hills?).
Where: Book online
Be warned: San Francisco is hilly, seriously hilly. Biking is fun but be advised to get an electric one to stop you huffing and puffing. Bay City Bikes makes bike hire easy, and there are two useful locations on either side of town on Bay St and Haight St to pick up/drop off your bikes.
Where: Book online
This aforementioned tower looks out to panoramic views of the city; a thing of beauty to the city which is exactly what Lillie Coit would have wanted.
Where: 1 Telegraph Hill Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94133, USA
Very touristy with lots of shops and restaurants, but definitely worth witnessing. Have a clam chowder in a bread bowl from one of the market sellers here for an inexpensive delicious lunch.
Where: Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco, CA, USA
San Francisco’s Museum of Science, Art and Human Interaction is mostly interactive and will play to the inner child to anyone that visits. Well worth checking out!
Where: Pier 15 The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94111, USA
SFMoma houses one of the most extensive modern art collections; explore the vast space and various collections encompassing all mediums – whether it a Matisse, Warhol or Duchamp that tickles your fancy. On Thursdays, it’s open until 9pm.
Where: 151 3rd St, San Francisco, CA 94103, USA
One of the world’s most famous independent bookshops long associated with the Beat movement and publishing Allan Ginsberg’s Howl. Make sure to take a stroll around the area it’s in North Beach and neighbours Little Italy.
Where: 4519, 261 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133, United States
The infamous former prison gets booked up weeks, if not months, in advance so if you’re keen to get a tour booked in here, make sure to plan ahead as I missed out.
Where: Book here
Photo Credit: Alcatraz Cruises
Wes and J.Jo head up some of the best and most memorable walking tours in town; from Food Crawls of culinary hotspots, Free Love Tours unearthing Summer of Love stories to Ghost Tours with drag queen guides, Wild SF Walking Tours are fun and led by passionate local San Fransicans showing the best parts of town.
Where: Book here
San Francisco: Where to Eat and Drink
A modern Italian trattoria and bar located centrally near Union Square; the food and cocktails are standout. Try the meatballs on a bed of polenta goo and the cannelloni.
Where: 501 Geary St, San Francisco, CA 94102, USA
Mission is the much-raved about new foodie district. Mission Chinese is leading the way with its self-proclaimed ‘drunk Chinese’ dishes
Where: 2234 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110, USA
Local’s secret favourite, this is an immersive adventure bar where you can expect to drink cocktails out of a skull’s head alongside a smoking giant cinnamon stick. Dangerously delicious cocktails.
Where: 718 14th St. San Francisco, CA, 94114
Located on the Embarcadero with view of SF’s ‘other bridge’, Palomino offers a most tempting Wine Wednesday (50% off all wines) and daily Happy Hour.
Where: 345 Spear St #100, San Francisco, CA 94105, USA
Nara is a sushi restaurant and sake bar. Make sure you check out the half price sushi rolls Wednesday for a real treat.
Where: 518 Haight Street, San Francisco, CA
San Francisco: Get out of Town
Although it is easy to just stay in the city, the surrounding areas are incredible and with a brilliantly organised Extranomical Tour, you will be so glad you did venture out. I took the Muir Woods and Wine Tour which went to the magical Muir Woods, a national park that preserves the tall redwood trees (look out for owls and deers). “You leave the forest with much more than you went in for” said John Muir, the naturist who gave the woods its name and it’s true – I left feeling cleansed à la Japanese forest bathing style (shinrin-yoku). From there, venture to three wineries across Sonoma and Napa Valley to see why this area of the world is deserving of the titles as one of the title world’s best wine producers.
Where: Book here
San Francisco: Where to stay
A Phillippe Starck masterpiece, this hotel is high spec, high design, centrally located, and 5 minutes from Union Square. Sit in the famous Big Chair in the lobby and have a drink in the impressively stocked Redwood Room. And delicious beds to sink into after a day on your feet. Nightly rates from £235.
Where: 495 Geary St, San Francisco, CA 94102, USA
Don’t be put off by the fact this is a hostel, HI SF City Centre is set in a 1920’s boutique hotel and still very much has that vibe. It’s a kookily designed, warm space with spacious private rooms as well as dorms if you’re happy to share. Also, they provide a free breakfast, and if you want eggs and pancakes, it’s only an extra $1! Great launchpad to explore the city. Nightly rates from £120 for a private room.
Where: 685 Ellis St, San Francisco, CA 94109, USA
San Francisco: Getting Around
MUNI – San Francisco’s network of fuel-efficient Muni buses, light rail Metro trains, historic streetcars and iconic cable cars covers all corners of the city. Day passes start from $5.San Francisco CityPASS ticket booklet. Valid nine days, starting with the first day of use (Retail price is $89 for adults and value is $152, a 42% savings).
For more info, see here