San Francisco Travel Guide


This electric neighborhood of 100,000 people is not to be missed, and it's not hard to find: listen for the clack of mahjongg tiles and nose out the salty spicy squid. It's a great place for casual wandering through narrow alleys, where on quiet afternoons you can hear the clack of mahjong tiles from behind screen doors. The most colourful time to visit Chinatown is during the Chinese New Year in late January or early February, with a parade and fireworks and other festivities.

San Francisco's densely populated downtown is squeezed into the hilly northeastern corner of the peninsula. The often dramatic cityscape came about because the streets were laid out as if their planners had never so much as glanced at the city's topography. They simply dropped a grid pattern onto the steeply undulating terrain, and the result is that streets often climb or drop at ridiculously steep gradients. It makes parking hazardous, breeds bicycle messengers of superhuman strength and provides a hairy setting for car chase scenes in movies. Union Square is San Francisco's downtown tourist centre. It's a mishmash of glitzy shops and hotels, flower vendors and homeless people.

Fisherman's Wharf
Open seafood markets, street performers, souvenir shops, restaurants and sidewalk vendors are among the many attractions on this popular stretch of wharf. The gateway for several top attractions (Alcatraz, the Maritime Museum and the Historic Ships Pier), its focal point is Pier 39, which is as popular with a sea lion colony as it is with tourists.

Golden Gate Park
The largest urban national park in the world, containing 74,000 acres of land and water.
Stretching 4,200 feet and towering as high as a 65-story building, this well-known bridge is the gateway to San Francisco. Before its completion in 1937, the bridge was considered unbuildable because of foggy weather, 60-mile-per-hour winds and strong ocean currents sweeping through a deep rugged canyon below. At a cost of $35 million, the 1.2-mile bridge took more than four years to build. Eleven men lost their lives during construction. Often shrouded in thick fog, the bridge sways 27 feet to withstand winds of up to 100 miles per hour. The color of the bridge, known as International Orange, was chosen because it blends well with the bridge's natural surroundings.

Center of the long-gone hippie culture of the 1960s, this trendy neighborhood is now a whole new scene with upscale boutiques, Internet cafes and hip restaurants.
Today, the Haight is still colourful, but its pretty Victorian houses and proximity to Golden Gate Park have prompted increasing gentrification.

North Beach
North Beach is an Italian veneer laid over a half-Chinese neighborhood, and that's only the first of its many surprises and contradictions. This is the place to go for authentic Italian food, people-watching in the park and interesting neighborhood shops.

San Francisco Bay
San Francisco's bay is curiously shy. It always seems to be around the corner, glimpsed in the distance, seen from afar. It is spanned by bridges, surrounded by cities and suede hills, dotted with sails and crisscrossed by fast-moving ferries. The bay is the largest inlet on the California coast, stretching about 60mi (100km) in length and up to 12mi (20km) in width.

Park rangers conduct tours by recounting the prison's thrilling history along with intriguing anecdotes about Al Capone and other legendary figures that made a "home" here.

Just across San Francisco Bay, has some of the best views OF San Francisco in the area. Take a ferry over, browse a few art galleries and have lunch or dinner at Spinnaker, one of my favorite area restaurants.

Mission San Francisco de Asis
San Francisco's oldest building, and California's second-oldest Spanish mission, Mission San Francisco preserves the city's oldest times.

One of the most diverse cities in the US, Oakland has done it hard in recent decades, and still has a few pock marks on its cheeks. But these days it seems to be feeling alive all over again, with a bustling, gussied-up downtown and a thriving club and restaurant scene.

Wine Country
Northern California's glorious Wine Country is a feasible day trip from San Francisco, but an overnight stay will give you a much better taste of the vineyards and circumvent any 'who's gonna drive' conversations. Only about 5% of Californian wine comes from the Wine Country, but it's the quality stuff; plonk ordinaire is churned out by the barrel in the Central Valley. The best time to visit is autumn harvest, when the grapes are on the vine, or in spring, when the hills are brilliant green.


Air Tours

Above the West Ballooning - A unique way to see the Napa Valley is from a hot air balloon. Sunrise flights with champagne breakfast. Transportation from SF. (800) 627-2759

San Francisco Helicopter Tours - Picture perfect flight-seeing over the city, bay, bridges. Try lunch in the wine country. Complimentary pick-up from SF hotels. Reservations (800) 400-2404.

Bay Cruises

Adventure Cat - J Dock, PIER 39 (800) 498-4228

Blue & Gold Fleet - Spectacular 1-hour narrated tour of the San Francisco Bay. Cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz. PIER 39 773-1188.

Red & White Fleet - Golden Gate Bridge cruise under the Bridge, along the Wharf, Sausalito, Tiburon, Angel Island & Alcatraz. Narrated in six languages. Pier 43 1/2 447-0597

Rendezvous Charters Fare - $22.50. Sail away aboard a classic 1935 vintage Tall ship. Join in the fun! South Beach Harbor, Pier 40 543-7333

Ground Tours

SF's Finest Limousines - Providing full-day Napa Wine Charters. Ride in style and comfort in a stretch limousine. Private San Francisco tours also available. (650) 588-4556

Enjoy Your Environment - Guided trips to Muir Woods, Marin Headlands, Bolinas Lagoon, Point Reyes, more. Experience nature 30 minutes from San Francisco! Customized group tours by reservation. 389-1327

Roger's Walking Tours - SF high points: cable car ride, Lombard St., Victorians, Chinatown, Nob Hill. Golden Gate Bridge tour. Victorian San Franciscos tour. Wir sprechen Deutsch! 742-9611

San Francisco Ghost Hunt - This evening walking tour is an enchanting excursion inside authentic hunted history presented with some light, spirit-lifting entertainment. (415) 922-5590

Alcatraz - Spanish for pelican, was named Isla de los Alcatraces after the birds that were the island's only inhabitants. The island served as a military fortification in the 1850s and an incarceration facility for war prisoners during the Spanish-American War. In 1934 Alcatraz became the infamous maximum-security prison for Mafia criminals and high-risk convicts. Famous island residents have included "Machine Gun" Kelly, Al Capone and Robert "Birdman" Stroud.

Bay Bridge - The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge opened in 1936 and links San Francisco with Contra Costa and Alameda counties by way of an 8.5-mile suspension / cantilever structure. Views of the City's skyline are spectacular from the bridge, however no pedestrians are allowed on the structure. A $2 toll is collected westbound.

Cable cars - operate seven days a week from 6:30 am until 12:30 am. The fare is $2 (no transfers issued or accepted) or use your MUNI Passport. Purchase your ticket from the conductor on board where exact change is required. The cable car was introduced to San Francisco on August 2, 1873. Wire-cable manufacturer Andrew Hallidie conceived the idea after witnessing an accident in which a horse-drawn carriage faltered and rolled backward downhill dragging the horses behind it. The first cable car to descend down Clay Street on Nob Hill was an immediate success. Besides creating a vital link in San Francisco's public transportation system, the cable car opened the door for building on steep hills which until this time was thought to be impossible. Throughout the 1890s, eight transit companies operated 600 cars which covered 21 cable car routes and a total of 52.8 miles. Cable cars remained the primary mode of transportation until the 1906 earthquake.

The Marina District - was built on lagoon and marshland filled for use during the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exhibition which celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal. Remaining from the Exhibition is the Palace of Fine Arts designed by Berkeley architect Bernard Maybeck. Today, the Palace houses the Exploratorium, a hands-on museum containing 650 interactive exhibits. A flat, grassy park favored by sunbathers, picnickers, kite flyers and people watchers, the Marina Green is a great spot to exercise while enjoying a view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

PIER 39 - the second most-visited attraction in California, is located at Beach Street and the Embarcadero just two blocks east of Fisherman's Wharf. This renovated cargo pier hosts over 10.5 million visitors annually. PIER 39 is San Francisco port to the Blue & Gold Fleet and offers two-levels of waterfront restaurants and specialty shops, a 350-berth marina, the Venetian Carousel, Turbo Ride (a simulation theatre) and the Secret of San Francisco

Union Square - a shopper's paradise of designer boutiques and large department stores, is bounded by Stockton, Powell, Post and Geary streets. Located around the square are Macy's, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, FAO Schwarz, Tiffany, Niketown, Gucci and many more. Also located nearby (closer to Market Street) are Planet Hollywood, Virgin Megastore and the San Francisco Shopping Center (San Francisco to Nordstrom).

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