San Francisco

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

Airport served by: SFO

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 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.

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.

Departing from:

ˆTotal 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.

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