San Francisco, is Located in Northern California on the West Coast of the United States. It is a city on the tip of a peninsula surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay. It is known for its hilly landscape, year-round fog, iconic Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars and colourful Victorian houses. The Financial District’s Trans-America Pyramid is its most distinctive skyscraper. In the bay rests Alcatraz Island, site of the notorious former prison.
San Francisco remains one of my all time favourite cities in the USA, and, indeed the World. The city is a 12 hour flight from The UK. I find the city extremely relaxed, modern, and in love with its own offerings. Based on the Pacific coastline it additionally offers some great little coves and beaches. The city’s transportation links and pedestrian friendly manner makes this city idea for exploring on foot.
What I enjoy doing most when I visit a city is explore on foot. Just strolling around the streets of San Francisco is a one of my ‘top things to do’, with the steep hills rewarding the slog up them with fine views of beautiful architecture and the wonderful bay. Nonetheless, there are plenty of specific attractions to include on your must-see list too. Union Square and its shopping district, China Town and its mouth-watering food. The Golden Gate Park with its museums and landscaped gardens. And, of course, the Golden Gate Bridge – walk, cycle or drive over this magnificent structure for an unforgettable view of an unforgettable city.
There is so much to see and do in San Francisco that it would take me all my time to write about it when one needs to explore the sights for oneself. With that in mind I will note what was important to me and the sights I had most enjoyment from.
Some Useful Information
ℹ️ Travel: Flying to San Francisco is fairly easy. There are numerous direct services from The UK. As with all major airports there is a line of taxis readily available to transfer you to the city. Most will cost somewhere between US$45-55 (GB£35-45). Journey times dependent on traffic will take around 25 minutes.
For Non-US citizens you must apply for an ESTA before travel. This is a visa waiver form that allows certain citizens 90 days without a visa. This is done electronically on the internet.
ℹ️ Currency: The US Dollar ($)
ℹ️ Credit Cards and Banks: ATMs are common place in almost every shopping street around the city centre, with almost every retailer accepting Mastercard and Visa. There is no fear of an establishment declining card payments. Of course, common sense prevails when purchasing goods/food at market stalls.
ℹ️ Accommodation: San Francisco is not a cheap city to stay in. Hotels are often expensive for what they offer. Expect to pay with little in return. I stayed at the 2* Grant Hotel close to Union Square. Prices are roughly US$85 excluding breakfast.
ℹ️ Weather: San Francisco enjoys a northern Californian climate. Summer months can be warm and pleasant. During the Winter months it can often be very cold, wet with fog.
What Can San Francisco Offer?
Over the decades, it’s been the nation’s first military prison, a forbidding maximum-security penitentiary and disputed territory between Native American activists and the FBI.
It all started innocently enough back in 1775, A Spanish lieutenant sailed the San Carlos past the 22-acre island he called Isla de Alcatraces (Isle of the Pelicans). In 1859 a new post on Alcatraz became the first US West Coast fort, and soon proved handy as a holding pen for Civil War deserters, insubordinates and those who had been court-martialed. Among the prisoners were Native American scouts.
When the 18th Amendment to the Constitution declared selling liquor a crime in 1922. In 1934 the Federal Bureau of Prisons took over Alcatraz as a prominent showcase for its crime-fighting efforts. ‘The Rock’ averaged only 264 inmates, but its roster read like an America’s Most Wanted list. A-list criminals doing time on Alcatraz included Chicago crime boss Al Capone, dapper kidnapper George Kelly, hot-headed Harlem mafioso and sometime poet ‘Bumpy’ Johnson, and Morton Sobell, the military contractor found guilty of Soviet espionage along with Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.
Today you can hear accounts of daily life in the Alcatraz lockup are included on the award-winning audio tour. During the audio tour take off your headphones for just a moment, and notice the sound of carefree city life travelling across the water: this is the torment that made perilous escapes into rip tides worth the risk. Though Alcatraz was considered escape-proof, in 1962 the Anglin brothers and Frank Morris floated away on a makeshift raft and were never seen again. Security and upkeep proved prohibitively expensive, and finally the island prison was abandoned to the birds in 1963.
Native Americans claimed sovereignty over the island in the ’60s, noting that Alcatraz had long been used as a spiritual retreat. On the eve of Thanksgiving 1969, 79 Native American activists swam to the island and took it over. During the next 19 months, some 5600 Native Americans would visit the occupied island. Public support eventually pressured President Richard Nixon to restore Native territory and strengthen self-rule for Native nations in 1970. Today the cell blocks, ‘This Is Indian Land’ water-tower graffiti and rare wildlife are all part of the attraction.
has dubbed this ‘the world’s crookedest street, ’ which makes me smile as tourists clearly have not been to Europe! Possibly the most crookedest street in North America? Lombard Street has a scenic red-brick pavement and lovingly tended flowerbeds. Apparently the street was straight and did not alter until the introduction of cars.
Golden Gate Bridge
This has to be San Francisco’s signature landmark. When I arrived from Santa Monica in a convertible car the first thing I did was to drive across the entire length of the bridge and back again before I has to retire back to the hire company. As far as best views go San Franciscan’s prefer the north-end lookout at Marin’s Vista Point , to watch fog billow through bridge cables.
Golden Gate Park and Crissy Field Park
was a military airstrip turned waterfront nature preserve with knockout Golden Gate views. Where military aircraft once zoomed in for landings, bird-watchers now huddle in the silent rushes of a reclaimed tidal marsh.
Joggers pound the beach side trails and the only security alerts are raised by puppies suspiciously sniffing surfers. On foggy days, stop by the certified green Warming Hut to browse regional-nature books and warm up with coffee.
Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39
The focal point of Fisherman’s Wharf are carnival-like attractions, shops and restaurants of Pier 39 – and, of course, the famous sea lions. Developed in the 1970s, the pier draws thousands of tourists daily, but it’s really just a big outdoor shopping mall.
The sea lions took over this coveted waterfront real estate in 1989 and these squatters have been making a public display ever since – canoodling, belching, scratching their backsides and gleefully shoving one another off the docks – becoming San Francisco’s favourite mascots. And because California law requires boats to make way for marine mammals, yacht owners have had to relinquish valuable slips to accommodate the as many as 1300 sea lions that ‘haul out’ onto the docks between January and July.
High end stores ring Union Square now, but this people-watching plaza was once a hotbed of protest. One thing you must do is dine at ‘The Cheesecake Factory’ at the top of Macy’s. Be warned it becomes extremely busy so if you are in the city for a few days book a table in advance to not disappoint. If available, and weather permitting, request a table with a view over Union Square.
Powell Street Cable Car
Stand a while at Powell and Market Streets and spot arriving cable car operators leaping out, gripping the trolleys’ chassis and slowly turning the car atop a revolving wooden platform. Cable cars cannot go in reverse, so they need to be turned around by hand here at the terminus of Powell St lines. Riders queue up mid-morning to early evening here to secure a seat, with raucous street performers and doomsday preachers on the sidelines as entertainment.
Cable cars depart every five to 10 minutes at peak times. Powell-Mason cars are quickest to the Wharf, but Powell-Hyde cars traverse more terrain and hills.
The Castro District
A short hop on the underground and you will find yourself at The Castro. For decades, the City by the Bay has been a global focus for gay nightlife, culture and politics. Visitors today can explore the Castro, where it all began, and then see how the scene has spread well beyond its roots to locations across San Francisco.
Shops, bars, restaurants, hotels and clubs all cater to the pink dollar, ensuring a gay old time for any traveller to the city. I spent around 2 hours in a bar which happened to be having a ‘pub’ quiz. A friend and I were the only 2 Brit’s present in this bar that allowed us to become the brunt of some unoffensive banter by the ‘Drag Queen’ quiz master.