San Francisco

Destination Location

Overview

Some cities are known for great food, some for beautiful scenery and others for high culture at every turn. San Francisco is blessed with all three. In one day, you can surf below the Golden Gate Bridge, browse a dozen bookstores and sample the local, organic cuisine that drives culinary conversations nationwide.

In the heart of San Francisco is an ultramodern city with skyscrapers, a symphony (San Francisco Symphony), a ballet (San Francisco Ballet) and a museum scene with posh restaurants to match.

Venture beyond the city centre and you'll find vibrant ethnic enclaves like Chinatown, Japantown, the old Italian neighbourhood of North Beach and the Latin quarter known as the Mission District.

Move further out of the city and you'll encounter ancient redwood forests and the lush vineyards of Napa Valley. All the while, you are never far from the sparkling Pacific Ocean.

Maybe it's the natural beauty, the lovingly restored Victorian houses or the way every meal becomes a culinary event, but somehow San Francisco doesn't feel like a workaday city.

Some vacation spots nourish the mind while others focus on relaxing the body. San Francisco allows you to accomplish both. Mountain bike in the morning, discover a funky shopping district in the afternoon and spend the evening taking in a foreign film while indulging in small-batch wine and chocolate.

In San Francisco, come for the food and stay for the nightlife. Or come for the nightlife and stay for the surfing. Better yet, forget about what you thought you’d find and just stay in San Francisco. There's a new sight over every hill and a new taste behind every storefront.

San Francisco is a fantastic destination for:

  • outdoor adventure
  • shopping and dining
  • culture and history

Destination basics

San Francisco's climate is controlled by the massive bay which keeps the weather from going to extremes. You can count on morning fog almost every day, though the sun burns it off by the afternoon. Temperatures rarely rise above 27 C and never sink below freezing.

Rain is intermittent throughout the winter. Between June and September it's usually dry. Travellers are often surprised by the quick changes in temperature here, even in summertime. Dress in light layers when you visit, no matter what the forecast says.

San Francisco's beaches are ideal for strolling, tide-pooling, meditating and picnicking. If you want to get in the water, you'll need a wetsuit and solid post-swim hot toddy plans. Members of the landmark Dolphin Club (a swimming and boating club) have been taking daily dips in the 12 C bay every day since the club opened in 1877.

Average monthly temperature and average monthly rainfall diagrams for San Francisco

If there's one phrase that defines the San Francisco mentality, it's "What’s next?" Ask a San Franciscan what he or she does and you're likely to get a long answer. He or she could be a competitive kite-boarder, a gourmet smoothie aficionado, a mural painter and the CEO of a tech startup that just went public.

San Franciscans are always looking for the next great thing, whether it's in business or recreation. When Levi Strauss came here in 1853, it was to sell dry goods. He quickly realized what miners really needed wasn't canned beans but a tougher pair of work pants. So with a handful of rivets and some dyed denim, Strauss invented blue jeans and struck it richer than any gold miner ever could.

And while gold didn't make many people rich, it did leave a legacy of hard workers, risk-takers and folks who refuse to be told what they can't do. In the late 1800s somebody got the bright idea of going further north to the Napa Valley and starting a wine industry. The global wine industry laughed then, but today, Napa has 450 different vineyards producing wines that regularly win top international awards.

A Napa Valley trip is an easy and essential part of any San Francisco itinerary. If you just can't spare the time, bring Napa Valley to you. Try Press Club SF, where individual wineries showcase their top tastes alongside expertly paired goodies like local Humboldt Fog chèvre and Cowgirl Creamery triple-cream brie.

Locals in San Francisco like to play hard, too – whether it's surfing the 25-metre waves at Maverick's Beach, in-line skating in Golden Gate Park or participating in the monthly mass bicycle event known as Critical Mass.

San Francisco's over-achiever culture is balanced by how laid back and friendly the city is. Venture capitalists dress like bike messengers and you can find both at the same art opening, comparing notes on their favourite after-hours cocktail bar. In San Francisco, you can get into just about any restaurant wearing sneakers and a hoodie. Ask nicely and most locals will share their favourite "secret" spot with you.

There is one absolute rule of protocol, however. Call San Francisco by its name, or call it The City – most locals do – but under no circumstance should you ever call it "San Fran" or "Frisco." Stick to that one guideline and you’ll find much to discover in this beautiful city.

It is advisable to carry some U.S. cash with you for general expenses. For entertainment and shopping, your credit card will give you the exchange rate at the time of purchase. There are also numerous ATMs inside banks and public spaces where you can withdraw funds at your convenience. Just be aware that transaction fees vary by ATM.

San Francisco is quite small, yet its hilly terrain and patchwork demographic profile gives it more distinctly defined neighborhoods than a city five times its size. As a result, the sights, sounds and flavors of this community—and even its climate—can change within a single block.

Castro Street & Noe Valley
The center of San Francisco's gay community and a landmark for gay culture everywhere, the Castro is full of bars, dance clubs, restaurants, and one-of-a-kind shops, located in the commercial area around 18th and Castro Street. There's arguably more street life in the Castro than anywhere else in the city, especially on weekends. The gleaming neon sign of the Castro Theater greets visitors as they make their way down the street, with its Spanish colonial architecture and various blockbuster and independent film screenings. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence sometimes make an appearance at special events (they're really men in nun drag) such as the Castro Street Fair, and take it from us—this is the place to be on Halloween. Trek up Castro to Liberty Street to see exceptional Victorian homes. Over the hill lies Noe Valley and its main shopping strip, 24th Street. Cute and relatively quiet, Noe Valley has enough great restaurants and gourmet food shops to make it sophisticated, but not enough chromed-up bars and Italian clothing boutiques to make it stuffy.

Chinatown
The greatest single concentration of Chinese people outside of Asia—a population of roughly 80,000—live in the approximately 24 square blocks of Chinatown, making it the most densely populated area of San Francisco. As you walk around, you'll be richly rewarded by the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of this vibrant community. Grant Avenue is the decorative showpiece of Chinatown, each year hosting the Autumn Moon Festival Street Fair and ever popular Chinese New Year Festival & Parade. The neighborhood is also known for its excellent Chinese dishes including freshly-prepared poultry, seafood, and the staple, Dim Sum.

Civic Center & Hayes Valley
Stately Beaux Arts buildings like the War Memorial Opera House and the domed, renovated City Hall are situated near the modern Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall and the Public Library's graceful Main Branch. The Asian Art Museum is also in the area, housed in the former Main Library building. Nearby Hayes Valley offers fine dining and apres-symphony toddies for concert-goers, as well as tastefully creative stores for clothing and gifts.

Cow Hollow & Union Street
The grand, imposing homes of Cow Hollow (so named for its original bovine residents) are nestled against the Presidio where Pacific Heights dives to the Marina. Spectacular views are the norm. Straight, single yuppies pack the Balboa Cafe, Sushi Chardonnay, and other bars and restaurants on Fillmore and Union Streets. Clothes hounds can easily fritter the day away in Union Street's many upscale and tasteful boutiques.

Downtown & Union Square
Union Square is the heart of San Francisco's bustling and stylish downtown shopping district. Posh department stores such as Neiman Marcus and Macy's ring the one-block square park. Hundreds of other exclusive stores, boutiques and shopping centers, such as the Westfield San Francisco Shopping Centre, lie within a three-block radius of the square. If you've shopped till you've dropped, pick yourself up at an outdoor cafe in tiny Maiden Lane, and restore the soul at one of the many art galleries on Sutter and Geary Streets. This is also the home of San Francisco's modest Theater District.

Financial District & The Embarcadero
"The Wall Street of the West": Bank of America, Charles Schwab, and the Transamerica Corporation (in its landmark, 48-floor Pyramid) are among the many banks and corporations headquartered here. The Embarcadero Center features dining, shopping, a fine art cinema, and a health club, while Justin Herman Plaza is the site of many New Year's Eve bashes. The Embarcadero itself fronts the Bay for miles on either side of the imposing Ferry Building Marketplace, modeled on the cathedral tower in Seville, Spain.

Fisherman's Wharf, Ghirardelli Square & Aquatic Park
This area was once the thriving center of San Francisco's fishing industry. Many fishing boats still dock at the Wharf, but Fisherman's Wharf today is more of an extended tourist trap. Pier 39 is a great place to catch a view of the bay thanks to the delightful colony of sea lions. Aquatic Park features a beach of sorts, and a long pier spiraling out into the Bay. Old sea-dogs will enjoy adjacent Hyde Street Pier, where several historic ships are docked, along with the Maritime Museum. Ghirardelli Square, a chocolate factory turned shopping and restaurant complex, features some of the city's better dining and views. This area is nice for an evening stroll.

Golden Gate Park
With 1000 acres of gardens, meadows, lakes, golf, archery, and internationally recognized art and science museums, Golden Gate Park offers endless recreational possibilities for visitors and locals. The DeYoung Museum and the Japanese Tea Garden are some of the main attractions of the famous park, drawing millions of visitors each year. At the western edge of the park, Ocean Beach, although unappealing for swimming, attracts hard-core surfers with its rough, frigid and unpredictable waves.

Lower Haight
At once, the area around Haight and Fillmore feels more bohemian and less unsavory than the Haight Ashbury to the west. The streets are usually packed with college-age inhabitants who tote guitars and well-worn paperbacks. Ethnic restaurants like Persian Aub Zam Zam, unpretentious cafes, and independent bookstores are mushrooming in this neighborhood. The street life is lively on nights and weekends at popular haunts like Nickie's and Toronado.

Nob Hill & Russian Hill
On impossibly steep Nob Hill, California's early industrialists built fabulous mansions that looked down upon the rest of San Francisco. While only the imposing Flood Mansion remains—now the Pacific Union Club—the area's five-star hotels bear the names of other Nob Hill denizens: the Mark Hopkins, the Renaissance Stanford Court Hotel, and the Huntington. Facing Huntington Park is Grace Cathedral, a 3/4 replica of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. Adjoining Nob Hill is Russian Hill, where San Francisco's old money has a great view of the Bay. The "Crookedest Street in the World" resides here and snakes down Russian Hill for the 1000 block of Lombard Street. The traffic is generally impossible—walk it!

North Beach & Telegraph Hill
Originally settled by Italians, North Beach became a magnet for Beat Generation writers and poets in the 1950s. City Lights Bookstore and the cafes and shops on upper Grant Avenue still exude Beatnik funk. A new wave of entrepreneurial Italians has brought a sense of Roman style to exciting new restaurants along Columbus Avenue. On Broadway, barkers still pull tourists and sailors into charmingly seedy strip joints. Clapboard sea captains' cottages and mossy flower gardens seem to dangle in space from the cliffs of Telegraph Hill. Coit Tower, at 210 feet, commands a stunning panorama from the hilltop. The boardwalk Filbert Steps leads from the Tower down through the Grace Marchand Gardens to Levi's Plaza Park at the base of the hill.

Fillmore Street & Japantown
Fillmore Street, Pacific Heights' commercial spur, features noteworthy restaurants, epicurean food, and antique shops, all attended by a lively trade from young professionals. Fillmore and Geary has become a popular nightlife destination, thanks to John Lee Hooker's Boom Boom Room and the Fillmore Auditorium. Be advised that the neighborhood gets a bit sketchy to the south and west of Geary and Fillmore. The Kabuki Cinema and neighboring Kabuki Springs & Spa are part of the Japan Center, the commercial heart of Japantown. A sort of miniature Ginza, the Japan Center features a 100-foot pagoda, bonsai gardens, sushi bars and other businesses. Each spring it holds the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival.

Pacific Heights & Presidio Heights
Stately homes and high-rent apartment buildings line the ridge high above Cow Hollow in old-money Pacific Heights. Genteel, renovated Victorians ring the peaceful Alta Plaza Park. Washington Street between Presidio and Arguello features exceptionally palatial residences. Those fortunate enough to live here shop for antiques and dine in quiet refinement on a few understated blocks of nearby Sacramento Street. San Francisco's largest synagogue, Temple Emanu-el, can be found on Arguello Street.

SoMa
Once an unglamorous stretch of warehouses with a seedy undercurrent, an exciting modern San Francisco has emerged in the area South of Market Street—SoMa. Conventions, art, and entertainment possibilities abound in the Moscone/YerbaBuena Center area. Locals can be seen at leisure at the South Park Cafe, Brain Wash (a cafe/performance space/laundromat), or other fashion-forward restaurants and watering holes.

South Beach/China Basin
One of the city's most popular residential areas for young professionals, South Beach arose from a virtual wasteland at the southern end of the Embarcadero and the western edge of SoMa. Apartment complexes and boat marinas squeeze together between the foot of the Oakland Bay Bridge and the San Francisco Giants' waterfront baseball stadium, AT&T Park. Warehouses and factories have either been converted into stylish lofts or are being razed in a swath of development extending down Third Street to the Mission Bay development.

Haight-Ashbury & the Panhandle
This small but densely concentrated cradle of the hippie movement has tried to retain much of its flower-power, peace and love appeal. While real Summer-of-Love generation hippies may be hard to find, young people, dreadlocked, skinheaded, or skateboard-crazy have continued to come to the Haight to break boundaries. The colorful bars and restaurants of upper Haight Street, however, are always packed with professional twenty-somethings. The annual Haight-Ashbury Street Fair is quite a scene. Architecture buffs will want to take a look at the regal Victorians on the Panhandle—the grassy, tree-lined strip extends east from Golden Gate Park along Fell and Oak Streets.

The Marina District
Tanned, fit and energetic twenty-somethings run and rollerblade along the Marina Green, a vast expanse of grass fronting the Bay between two yacht harbors. Mountain bikers crowd cafes, restaurants, and brunch hangouts along busy Chestnut Street after Sunday morning rides to Mount Tamalpais. The graceful Palace of Fine Arts houses the Exploratorium, the one-of-a-kind, hands-on science museum—a must-see for those with kids. At the southern end of the Marina Green is Fort Mason Center, a waterside arts and cultural center.

The Mission District
The nexus of Hispanic culture, and a mecca for edgy bohemians, the Mission now houses increasing numbers of young professionals and their sport utility vehicles. Mexican and Central American businesses line teeming Mission Street. Visit popular La Taqueria, and be assured that the wait is worth it. Along the Valencia Corridor, one block to the west, bars, cafes, and restaurants of every description, notably Casanova Lounge, lead to the buzzing 16th and Valencia hub. Paxton Gate stands as one of the most unique among the array of shops in this stretch. The neighborhood draws its name from nearby Mission Dolores, founded in 1776. The dolled-up, postcard-perfect Victorians on Dolores Street are worth a look—in the daytime—from adjacent Dolores Park.

The Presidio
14,000 acres of forests and beaches, 75 miles of bicycle-friendly roads, a golf course, and scenic grandeur without end make this the jewel of the Fort Miley Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The Presidio was a military base from 1776 to 1994; antebellum Fort Point, under the Golden Gate Bridge, is a favorite for cannon enthusiasts, as well as for surfers, sailboarders, and Hitchcock aficionados (it's the site of Kim Novak's attempted suicide in Vertigo).

The Richmond District
Fog-bound and quiet residential streets stretch to the Cliff House and Sutro Baths at the ocean, with the occasional Irish pub along the way. Some of the city's best Chinese restaurants are to be found in "Little Chinatown" on Clement Street, and Cyrillic lettering fills store windows around the imposing, gold-domed Holy Virgin Russian Orthodox Cathedral on outer Geary Boulevard. Exclusive Seacliff, home to Robin Williams and other celebrities, is next to Lincoln Park, site of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor and a spectacular golf course.

The Sunset
A quiet and intensely foggy residential district, the principal attractions of the Outer Sunset are the San Francisco Zoo and the natural amphitheater at Stern Grove, where free concerts are held on summer Sundays. As well as being home to the Strybing Arboretum & Botanical Gardens, the Inner Sunset features a lively stretch of shops on Irving Street, near 9th Avenue where students from nearby UCSF Medical School crowd ethnic restaurants of every stripe, from Ethiopian to Thai.

Since the days of the Barbary Coast, San Franciscans have packed blues and comedy clubs, plays, movies, and the opera into their nightly routines. The city also has a long tradition, by American standards, of celebrating a vital visual art scene.

Art
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SF MOMA) and its excellent temporary exhibitions draws tens of thousands of San Franciscans who might not otherwise bother to come to an art show. Across 3rd Street, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts has interesting exhibitions, often of larger multimedia installations and kinetic sculpture, in its two-floor gallery. The De Young Memorial Museum in Golden Gate Park and the California Palace of the Legion of Honor (a handsome classical pavilion with Rodin's "The Thinker" at its entrance) are San Francisco's fine art museums. The world-famous Asian Art Museum in the Civic Center is also a must-see.

Most of San Francisco's private art galleries are clustered downtown, to the east of Union Square on Geary and Sutter Streets. The more experimental galleries operate in SoMa lofts and Potrero Hill.

San Francisco's other museums include the Museo Italoamericano and the African-American Historical & Cultural Society Museum, both at Fort Mason Center, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and for natural history, the California Academy of Sciences. Zeum and the Exploratorium are designed for kids but are great for grown-ups, too. Kids will also love the Musee Mechanique, a fabulously low-tech collection of arcade games from the turn of the 20th Century. Formerly located at the Cliff House, the Musee can now be found at Pier 45 on Fisherman's Wharf.

Cinema
San Franciscans seem to enjoy movies more than most, and popular features can be sold out for weeks. New theaters open all the time to meet the demand, with the AMC Van Ness 14 offering 14 screens, and the AMC Lowes Metreon 16 housing 16, including one IMAX. These city-dwellers love independent cinema, too. In spite of the multiplex phenomenon, San Franciscans strongly support quirky rep houses like the Castro, with its mighty Wurlitzer organ, and the Roxie, with its funky and eclectic programming.

Comedy
Many of San Francisco's Standup Comedy Competition winners have virtually been guaranteed television contracts. Cobb's and the Punch Line are two of the oldest, and most popular, comedy clubs where many got their start.

Dance
San Francisco Ballet has long been one of the world's premier companies. The globe trotting and award-winning ODC/Dance also make San Francisco their home base. More experimental modern dance has found a friendly venue at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater.

Theater
The American Conservatory Theater (ACT) presents innovative productions of excellent plays, both old and new, at the Geary Theater. The Curran puts on commendable plays and musicals. Aside from the big touring productions at the Orpheum Theatre and the cavernous Golden Gate Theatre, and a handful of small houses like the Theater on the Square, there is quite a fringe theater scene in San Francisco. The Magic Theatre, a leading interpreter of Sam Shephard plays, and a few independent, theater-less companies do mount entertaining productions here and there. Performance spaces, such as The Marsh in the Mission, occasionally host experimental plays.

Music
The award-winning San Francisco Symphony Orchestra performs at the ultra-modern Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall. Touring soloists and symphonies play at Davies, Masonic Auditorium, and other venues throughout town. In the summertime, the natural amphitheater at Stern Grove (on Sloat Boulevard in the Sunset District) features outdoor concerts by the Symphony, the Opera, and other performers.

San Francisco is inextricably linked with the history of rock 'n roll. The Fillmore Auditorium (of Hendrix fame) is a boon for rock fans. Slim's and the Great American Music Hall are engaging venues for performances on a smaller, but no less intense, scale.

There are nightclubs all over the city, but locals especially favor North Beach and SoMa. While these clubs mostly have DJs running the show, live bands are still common. Bimbo's 365 Club (a sexy, must-see, retro fantasy spot that puts on more blues and jazz than it does rock 'n roll), the Independent, and the Studio Z have all hosted well-known acts that draw the crowds and pack the halls.

As a restaurant town, San Francisco is rivaled only by New York. As varied as San Francisco's ethnic patchwork is, so is the plethora of dining choices. One can eat Chinese in Chinatown and Italian in North Beach, but a rainbow spectrum of ethnic cuisine awaits you in central and outlying neighborhoods. Have you enjoyed the specialties of Eritrean, Afghan, and Tibetan fare? In San Francisco, you can. Shining out over this sea of ethnic delights are the downtown beacons of fine dining that have really kept San Francisco on the culinary map, such as the stylish downtown restaurant Fringale. Chic and elegant or funky and loud, in San Francisco you'll eat better than you ever have. Bon Appetit!

Castro Street & Noe Valley
In the Castro, casual, inexpensive and fun dining prevails along with lots of gay bars. Orphan Andy's serves what may be the best hamburgers in the city. The loud and lively Detour, one of the most popular bars in the Castro, is a favorite cruising spot while Harvey's offers more relaxed conversations. Noe Valley contains more than its share of the City's better, smaller, less pricey but well-reputed eateries. The Firefly and Eric's, both favorites with locals, often have lines out the door.

Chinatown
Avoid the upstairs restaurants on Grant Avenue, which cater to the tourist trade. Instead, head up the side streets and take your chances at one of the scores of great and inexpensive Cantonese rooms that feed locals. Try the sedate and elegant Imperial Tea Court for a rare and exquisite selection of the finest Asian tea, or the frenetic House of Nanking on Kearny. On the edge of North Beach and Chinatown, Brandy Ho's carries the banner of "spicy Hunan cooking." 

One of the few bars in Chinatown, dimly lit Li Po's, is a legendary literary hangout. Check out its over-the-top facade.

Civic Center & Hayes Valley
If dining before the opera, Hayes Valley, west of the Civic Center, has its share of the city's finest dining. One of the stars of the area, Jardiniere, features a dining room so remarkably styled that it's worth a peek even if you can't get a reservation. On Hayes Street, Absinthe offers innovative California-French fare in a fanciful, dark velvet surrounding. Then there's the Caffe Delle Stelle's more homey, trattoria-style ambiance with clever and unerring renditions of Italian specialties. The Hayes Street Grill is a reliable favorite. Up the street, Suppenkuche offers modern renditions of German favorites and dozens of beers on tap in an ambiance as boisterous as it is spartan.  

Cow Hollow/Union Street

The clientele here is young, brash, beautiful and successful. Great restaurants line Union Street and side streets. For wonderful neighborhood Italian, duck into Pane E Vino on Steiner, just off Union.

Downtown & Nob Hill
 Boulevard offers variations in the spectrum of French/California cuisine, all of them expensive, and all of them worth it. For lovers of seafood and creative design, Farallon, also pricey, is styled on an undersea grotto theme. Don't think of going to these places without a reservation. A large number of great sushi restaurants are to be found in the area south of Post Street. For drinks, try some of the great bars and lounges in Nob Hill hotels, especially if you can't afford to be a guest there. The Top of the Mark (at the Mark Hopkins InterContinental), Harry Denton's Starlight Room (atop the Sir Francis Drake), and the classic Tonga Room (at the Fairmont Hotel) will all let you say you've "been there, done that" without breaking the bank.

Embarcadero & Financial District
Restaurants here, whether stylish or traditional, are informed by discretion and lack of pretense as befits a business environment. On California Street, in the heart of the Financial District, is the Tadich Grill, the City's oldest restaurant. Heavy on tradition, this seafood house hasn't changed much during its extensive existence. The shiny >Fog City Diner, near the Embarcadero Center, tips its hat to the American railroad diner, but serves excellent food. Nearby Il Fornaio, at Levi's Plaza Park, offers an exhaustive Italian menu, as well as a takeout deli and bakery. The Royal Exchange is a popular after-work destination for the young movers and shakers of Montgomery Street.

Fisherman's Wharf, Ghirardelli Square & Aquatic Park
One word: seafood. Places like Alioto's and Scoma's have been here forever, serving serviceable seafood to tourists, and of course have tremendous views with their bayside seating. Ghirardelli Square offers a mind-boggling array of seafood at McCormick and Kuleto. For anyone with a sweet tooth, the huge sundaes at the Ghirardelli's Chocolate Shop are big fun.

Lower Haight
For young bohos around the corner of Haight and Fillmore, Nickie's is a favorite watering hole and dance hall. If you're hungry, go to the Indian Oven around the corner. Or, head to Axum for great, inexpensive Ethiopian food. This area also has more than its share of comfortably scruffy cafes, as well as bars such as the Noc Noc, Toronado, Mad Dog in the Fog, and Ad Bodhran.

North Beach
You're in the culinary heart of the city! What to eat? Italian, of course! Mangia! The only problem here is deciding just what kind of Italian. Check out unpretentious, hearty North Beach institutions like the family-style Calzone's. Off-kilter Sicilian, with gargantuan proportions and chairs on the ceiling? Well, that could only be Caffe Sport. But if you're just looking for a quick snack before scaling Telegraph Hill, have a panini sandwich and espresso at venerable Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store or cross Washington Square Park for fresh focaccia at Liguria Bakery.

But there's more to North Beach than Italian food, of course. Cocktail hour? If you want to get close to the beatnik soul of North Beach, Vesuvio, Saloon, the Tosca Cafe and Savoy Tivoli are where you must go.

Fillmore Street & Japantown
Fillmore Street has dozens of great restaurants so it's hard to know where to begin. Enjoy cozy Thai at the Thai Stick or squeeze yourself into tiny, tasty La Mediterrane. Harry's On Fillmore serves drinks and food and features jazz on weekends. At Fillmore and Geary, pay a cover charge and drink your blues away (or blues your drink away) at the Boom Boom Room. Great noodle houses and sushi bars like Sanppo pack Japan Center.

Potrero Hill
Edgy cafes like the Universal Cafe and restaurants like the Slow Club attract the bohemians and black-clad yuppies in this transitional loft/industrial area.

SoMa
The dynamism of this emerging area can be felt in its restaurant scene, with more "important" restaurants than almost anywhere else in the city, as well as places where the atmosphere's the only thing that counts. Fringale is considered among the very best French restaurants in the entire city, if not the entire state. Brain Wash is one of the best, and perhaps only, places to have a beer, listen to a local band and wash your clothes all at the same time.

South Beach/China Basin
Town's End and Delancey Street are among the better restaurants at the end of the Embarcadero, serving wholesome but refined California cuisine. Recently relocated from the Mission, the Slanted Door styles Vietnamese dishes with a California sensibility and consistently makes top SF restaurant lists. Momo's, ideally located across from AT&T Park, suddenly has the best address in San Francisco, and the powerful and glamorous clientele to match.

Haight-Ashbury & Cole Valley
Colorful, funky and intensely popular restaurants like Cha Cha Cha draw a young and festive crowd in the Haight Ashbury. Nearby Cole Valley is less unkempt but features quite a few good restaurants for its tiny size, most notably the wine bar EOS.

The Marina District
On and around Chestnut Street, the college sweatshirt crowd dines and socializes at quick, comfortable, stylish-but-not-edgy places like Ace Wasabi's Rock 'N' Roll Sushi. Nightlife centers around lively singles bars like Bar None, and on Sundays brunch is hugely popular with bicyclists and rollerbladers at numerous places in the area.

The Mission District
The city's hippest, most popular, inexpensive restaurants are to be found in the area around Valencia and 16th Streets, referred to as the Valencia Corridor. Picaro is among the dozens of imaginative, vibrant places to dine without spending a fortune. Be forewarned of lines and waits, however. For drinks, there are scads of places to go along Valencia Street, among them, the Elbo Room offering drinks, music, and photo booths, and the Oxygen Bar, which offers not only fine sake and wine but, yes, pure oxygen. (You can inhale it in 10 or 25-minute segments.) In a parallel universe to this boho scene are the dozens of great burrito places on Mission and Valencia. Each have their adherents but El Toro Taqueria, Cancun and the legendary La Taqueria are the most popular. All serve popular Mexican beers.

The Avenues: The Richmond & Sunset Districts
In Clement Street's "Little Chinatown," you'll find Chinese food rivaling (some say surpassing) the best Chinatown has to offer. Ton Kiang Restaurant, a Martha Stewart favorite, is one of the many remarkable places to eat here, with every one of them unpretentious and a good value. On the other side of Golden Gate Park, on Irving Street around 9th Avenue, are dozens of lively and inexpensive restaurants catering to medical students at nearby UCSF. Sushi, curry, won ton, pad thai, pizza, falafel, crepes, burritos, hamburgers, and Ethiopian favorites can all be found shoehorned into that one intersection. Some of the city's best Chinese restaurants can also be found on outer Irving and Taraval, as well.

San Francisco

State: California

Country: United States

San Francisco By The Numbers
Population: 864,816 (city); 4,656,132 (metropolitan)
Elevation: 52 feet / 16 meters
Average Annual Rainfall: 23.6 inches / 60 centimeters
Average January Temperature: 51.5°F / 10.8°C
Average July Temperature: 60.5°F / 15.8°C

Quick Facts
Electricity: 110 volts, 60Hz, standard two pin plugs

Time Zone: GMT-8; Pacific Standard Time (PST)

Country Dialing Code: +1

Area Code: 415, 628

Did You Know?
The United Nations Charter was drafted in San Francisco.

San Francisco’s iconic cable cars are the country’s only mobile National Historical Monument.

Orientation
San Francisco is situated on a peninsula right between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean, on California’s coast. The city is located about 383 miles (616 kilometers) north of Los Angeles and about 88 miles (142 kilometers) southwest of Sacramento.

San Francisco is surrounded by water on three sides. The land itself is mountainous. The eastern edge of the city is the calm side and looks across the bay toward Alcatraz, Treasure Island and the East Bay. Buy some fresh coffee and pastries and stroll along the Embarcadero, a 5 km-long waterfront promenade. That barking sound you may hear in the area is the sound of hundreds of sea lions.

Along the northern coast is the legendary Golden Gate Bridge. Walk or bicycle across it, or just hang out in its shadow when you visit the trendy Marina District or the Spanish fort-turned-open space preserve known as the Presidio.

The west is where open ocean begins and things get wild. Storm-driven waves crash into Ocean Beach, which is fine with the surfers and kiteboarders who frequent this spot. A walk along the beach or a drive down the Great Highway is the perfect way to watch the sun set over the Pacific.

Away from the water San Francisco is very hilly, with some streets jumping 300 metres over just a few blocks. The best views are from Twin Peaks, Grand View Park and the top of Coit Tower, which is shaped like a fire nozzle to honour the men who saved the city after a 1906 earthquake.

San Francisco is a walkable city, but you'll want to bring a pair of good walking shoes and a warm coat so you can handle anything the city throws your way.

Miwok Indians to the north and the Ohlones to the south lived a peaceful existence before the coming of Europeans. The Kule Loklo Miwok village, re-created near the Bear Valley Visitors Center at Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County, provides an insight into their daily life.

With an overland expedition by Don Gaspar de Portola, Europeans first laid eyes on the Bay in 1770. In March 1776, Captain Juan Bautista de Anza founded the Presidio and Mission of as-yet unnamed San Francisco. The Spanish presence at the Mission San Francisco de Asis (now Mission Dolores—completed in 1791; the oldest building in the city) and at the Presidio, three miles away, did not amount to much over the succeeding years. The Mexican revolution of 1821 led to the Secularization Act of 1833, ending the Mission Period. Mission Dolores fell into disrepair. Conversion and disease had done much to destroy the culture of the Miwoks and Ohlones; by the early 19th Century, native tribes had effectively ceased to exist.

In 1792, British explorer George Vancouver, visiting San Francisco Bay, discovered a protected anchorage east of the Presidio, called Yerba Buena by the Spanish after the sweet smelling grasses growing around the base of what is now Telegraph Hill. Vancouver pitched and left a tent there, creating the nucleus of what became Yerba Buena, a small English-speaking community outside Spanish and Mexican authority. In 1846 with the Mexican-American war, the Presidio and Yerba Buena came under American control.

In 1847, Yerba Buena, with a population of about 1,000, changed its name to San Francisco. The next January, gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill, which created only a minor stir. It was left to newspaper publisher and merchant Sam Brannan, trying to drum up trade for his Sacramento Street hardware store, to really trigger the Gold Rush. He brandished a bottle of gold pellets in Portsmouth Square and shouted, "Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!" Within a year or two, Brannan was a millionaire. 100,000 "forty-niners" came to San Francisco from all over the world within the next year. Brannan's announcement practically emptied San Francisco of its citizenry in 1848, and most forty-niners stayed only long enough to get picks and shovels before they were off to the hills.

By 1854, the gold fields had been exhausted, and San Francisco sank into an economic depression from which it would not emerge until the early 1860s with the discovery of the Comstock silver lode in western Nevada. It was this boom, richer and longer-lived than the California Gold Rush, which began to make a real city out of San Francisco, and millionaires out of some of its citizens. Comstock "bonanza kings" like James Flood, whose home is now the elegant Pacific Union Club, built mansions on Nob Hill. Fabric merchant Levi Strauss created a clothing empire by sewing pants for miners out of his leftover tent canvas.

The wild and woolly Barbary Coast roared through the ups and downs of San Francisco. The city gained a justly deserved reputation for vice of every sort. Brothels, gambling halls, and Chinese opium dens were everywhere on the city's eastern waterfront, and unwitting patrons were frequently "shanghaied" into service as sailors. The remnants of the Barbary Coast's scandalous "dance" revues can be seen in the slowly declining strip joints along Broadway in North Beach.

Early in the morning of April 18, 1906, an earthquake with an estimated magnitude of 8.1 on the Richter Scale ripped through San Francisco, destroying hundreds of buildings. As gas mains ruptured, a fire spread through the city, causing far greater damage than the quake itself. 500 or so were killed, but an estimated 100,000, who were left homeless, either fled in ferries and watched their city burn from the Oakland hills or joined a tent city of 20,000 in what is now Golden Gate Park.

The city quickly rebuilt itself after the earthquake and fire, like the phoenix rising from ashes on the San Francisco flag. Celebrating civic triumph over adversity, San Francisco hosted the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915, a glittering architectural fantasy built on 635 acres of what is now the Marina District. A great success, the Exposition's steel-reinforced plaster buildings were bulldozed shortly after it closed, leaving only the domed pavilion of the Palace of Fine Arts (site of the Exploratorium).

Throughout the 1920s, plans were put forward for bridges to connect San Francisco with the East Bay and Marin. Finally in the early 1930s, work began on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, which opened in 1936, and the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937.

Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and other young writers and thinkers of what was to be known as the Beat Generation established themselves in the cafes and bars of North Beach, continuing the city's literary, bohemian tradition, albeit with a dreamy, druggy, jazz-inflected twist. Rising North Beach rents forced beatniks (a term coined by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen) out to the Victorians of Haight-Ashbury, where their boundary-breaking prose had already inspired a new movement of long-haired young cultural mavericks.

Derisively dubbed "hippies" by the beats, who saw them as junior beat wanna-bes, the hippies took their cultural and psychic explorations to different extremes, aided by LSD, a synthesized hallucinogen. Bands like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane came up with the soundtrack to "tune in, turn on, and drop out," and the 1967 Summer of Love drew over 100,000 young seekers to the Haight.

Flower Power began to manifest itself more and more stridently with political unrest as demonstrations and even riots became a feature of life at San Francisco State University and, even more so, at the University of California, Berkeley. "Peace and love" began to turn into a bad trip.

San Francisco's gay community began to assert itself with greater confidence and urgency in the 1970s, electing Supervisor Harvey Milk as the nation's only openly gay politician. Milk was killed in 1978, along with Mayor George Moscone by former Supervisor Dan White. White's subsequent conviction on a mere manslaughter charge prompted riots and the burning of police cars by angry gays and their supporters in front of City Hall on "White Night."

During the 1980s, the gay community reeled under the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic. Though incidences of the disease have leveled off and more effective drugs prolong the life of those afflicted, the Castro has drawn even more tightly together to promote awareness of the disease and to support those whose lives have been affected by it.

In 1989, just as the Bay Area was sitting down to watch the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics play each other in the third game of the World Series, it was rocked by the 7.1 Loma Prieta Earthquake. The legacy of the quake can be seen in the sometimes nightmarish San Francisco traffic, caused by irreparable damage to important sections of freeway.

Today San Francisco is a a city of extremes. The magic of a thriving downtown business sector, explosive dot-com businesses South of Market, and a real estate boom in the southern corridor does not seem to be enough to dispel concern over an ever-rising homeless population and intractable problems with San Francisco's public transportation system, Muni. Despite these issues and economic swings, it would be hard to dim the luster of the abundant charms of, as Herb Caen put it, the "Baghdad by the Bay."

San Francisco boasts many forms of public transportation, including the famous cable cars that can take you around the city. Car rentals, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), taxis and bike rentals are just a few of the options. What method you choose really depends on where you are staying and where you would like to go. The city is also very pedestrian friendly, so if you prefer to save on transit, bring some comfortable walking shoes.

If you opt to rent a car, consider using a GPS navigation system. San Francisco is filled with one-way streets that could have you driving around in circles. You'll also need a valid drivers licence and you must be at least 21 years of age. Drivers under 25 may incur an extra charge from the rental car company.

It is also important to note that San Francisco is not a cheap place to park. Be aware that hotels here often charge top dollar to park overnight.

If you prefer to use public transit, check out the MUNI (Municipal Railroad) – which includes the light rail system, buses and cable cars. San Francisco is also connected with bordering cities by the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) system, which operates a series of high speed trains. If you're looking to head north, the Golden Gate Transit system provides bus and ferry service to areas around the bay.

Arrival

Before boarding, you'll pass through security and U.S. Customs in Canada. Once you land at San Francisco International Airport, you'll head straight to baggage claim to pick up your luggage. From the baggage claim level, you can walk outside and catch a shuttle, taxi, bus or train.

Departure

If you have time, stop in at some of San Francisco International Airport's shops and delicious restaurants (from Italian to gourmet burgers to sushi – you'll find it all here).

Don't forget to head over to the WestJet departure counter to check in for your trip home. Or check in and select your seat in advance online using WestJet's simple Web check-in service.

The San Francisco area has given the rest of the world many things – the Wild West, rock 'n' roll, organic food and the Internet. While San Francisco didn't exactly invent all of these cultural phenomena, it's hard to imagine the frontier without the Gold Rush and rock music without the Grateful Dead and the Summer of Love. Likewise it's hard to think of the organic movement without Chez Panisse and the Digital Revolution without Apple, Google or Facebook.

What makes it different cont'd?

San Francisco was once Spanish territory. It's reflected in the Mission-style architecture as well as in the Latin rhythms and fiery cuisine available on many street corners. The Asian influence continues to grow here, with more than a third of the city's residents hailing from the Far East. San Francisco celebrates diversity, tolerance and different cultures – it truly feels like an international crossroads.

San Franciscans take their quality of life seriously. Surveys rate San Francisco at the top when it comes to having the most educated, most fit, most literate and happiest citizens. Natural beauty plays a big part. The picturesque coastline is actually a national park (San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park) and the 1,018-acre, urban green space known as Golden Gate Park is bigger than New York City's Central Park.

The city resembles a mountain range, with more than 50 hills sprouting up in the centre. In San Francisco there are breathtaking views where you least expect them. With virtually every office window offering mountain or ocean views, it's a wonder San Franciscans ever manage to get any business done. Yet achieve they do. San Francisco is the rarest kind of boomtown – the kind that somehow manages to never go bust.

Before boarding, you'll pass through security and U.S. Customs in Canada.

It is advisable to carry some U.S. cash with you for general expenses.

San Francisco boasts many forms of public transportation, including the famous cable cars that can take you around the city.

Departing from:

^Total price one-way per guest. See terms and conditions.

*Prices are per guest, based on double occupancy and are limited; may not reflect real-time pricing or availability. See terms and conditions.

Explore our world.

or find your dream vacation with our Vacation Finder

Logo: San Francisco