San Francisco is the kind of quirky place where a ‘fog-calling contest’ might compete for attention with gala balls marking the opening of the symphony, opera and ballet seasons. From Union Square to North Beach to Japantown, you’ll find intriguing neighbourhoods at every turn. The writers of the Beat Generation, the hippies of the Summer of Love in the late 1960s and the gay/lesbian population have contributed to making the city what it is today. San Francisco is also one of the world’s great dining destinations, thanks in part to the diverse cultural influences and proximity of fresh ingredients.
San Francisco, California Highlights
Don't leave without tasting...
Sourdough French bread. This tangy bread, whose origins can be traced back to the Gold Rush era, is a staple at most seafood restaurants in the city. It usually arrives before the first course. Take it a step further and pair it with cioppino—a seafood stew invented here in the 1900s.
Top photo opportunities
While the Golden Gate Bridge is the city's most photographed icon, many visitors also like the view from Alamo Square, where a row of colourful Victorian townhouses, known as the ‘Painted Ladies’, can be seen with downtown skyscrapers looming behind them.
Of San Francisco’s 60-plus museums, the major ones include the Asian Art Museum; the de Young, designed by Herzog & de Meuron and a showcase for American art and art of the Americas; the Legion of Honor, home to ancient and European art; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the California Academy of Sciences and the Exploratorium. Also notable are the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the Museum of the African Diaspora and the Walt Disney Family Museum.
Your child will always remember...
In 1990, California sea lions began congregating on Pier 39’s K-dock. Due to a plentiful supply of herring, comfy dock space, and a protective environment, the population grew. It now ranges from about 50 to 300, and people of all ages love watching them do their thing.
If you want to fit in...
Don't call a cable car a trolley car.
Noe Valley, a bit off the beaten path, offers eclectic shopping, unique restaurants and sunny weather almost guaranteed. The hills that bracket the area give it an aura of a village; it’s a friendly, family neighbourhood brimming with home décor boutiques, toy stores and cafés. The Mission District, San Francisco's oldest neighbourhood, is also its hippest: Valencia Street has become a hotbed of new restaurants and music clubs offering everything from punk to funk.
Built in 1898, the Ferry Building was transformed in 2003 into a major culinary destination. Up to 80 farmers sell their produce at the farmers’ market and the marketplace is home to an array of local purveyors offering locally made cheeses, olive oils, keepsakes and more.
From the observation tower of the de Young museums to the Victorian exuberance of the Conservatory of Flowers, Golden Gate Park has the right combination of secluded spots, remarkable architecture and classic art to set the scene for a first kiss or a marriage proposal. But, of course, the very best place for a kiss is on the Golden Gate Bridge.
Within the 75,000-acre Golden Gate National Recreation Area—one of the largest urban parks in the world—you’ll find islands, redwood forests, beaches and windswept cliffs. Hang-gliding, golfing, biking, birding, hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, surfing and swimming are just a few of the activities available.
For your first visit...
You must take a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge and a ride on a cable car. A bit of history: it is said that Andrew S. Hallidie was inspired to invent the cable car when he came upon a team of four horses struggling to haul a heavily-loaded car up a steep San Francisco street. One horse slipped on the wet cobblestones, dragging the others behind it, and Hallidie vowed to put an end to this kind of cruelty.