In the many years I have been travelling both for pleasure and work, somehow I never made it to San Francisco until this year. On a three day visit, it was everything I expected, a lovely, friendly city, easy to get around, a temperate climate with interesting things to do.
San Francisco exhibits a different feel from some other large cities, with less glass and chrome on the skyline. It suffered a great earthquake and fire in 1906. The city was quickly rebuilt, and much of the Victorian architecture has survived, with many unspoiled neighbourhoods giving San Francisco a unique character.
The transportation system is excellent and for a short visit, if you like to go at our own pace a "City Pass" is a good option. It provides three days of cable car and bus transport along with admission to several attractions. Or take a "Big Bus Hop on, Hop off Sightseeing Tour" which will take you on an extensive tour to all the popular landmarks. Make your first stop the Tourism Bureau in Union Square in the city centre. You can purchase passes there and helpful staff will help your plan your visit. ( www.sftravel.com )
Here are four places worth seeing on a short visit:
Alcatraz - located out in the bay, the island of Alcatraz, once one of the most notorious prisons in the prison system is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in the National Park system. It is an attraction like no other and timed tickets must be booked in advance for the ferry and interesting, unusual tour. Allow half a day to appreciate it fully. It's not for the faint of heart, but certainly something that you will remember. ( www.alcatrazcruises.com )
The iconic cable cars - catch one in Union Square, heart of the city and centre of activity where most of the luxury department stores are located. They climb up toney Nob Hill, past turn-of-the-century apartment buildings, beautifully renovated, and chic hotels to Chinatown and back. These historic trolleys have been in existence since the 1880's and have survived many efforts at dismantlement. Now an iconic tourist attraction, locals use them as they rattle up and down the hills of San Francisco. A turntable at each end of the line requires several strong men to turn the trolley around and anyone standing by, usually lends a hand to get the trolley on the move again. There are often long lineups waiting to board. Take a tip from a helpful tourism agent. Go late in the day as the lineups are much shorter. We boarded at 5 pm with no waiting for a historic ride that I wouldn't have missed.
Haight-Ashbury - take a bus ride to Haight-Ashbury, famous as the first hippie colony and the "summer of love" 50 years ago, home to Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead among others. The late Robin Williams launched his career here and was a frequent visitor, known for donating bicycles to the local children. The neighbourhood has settled into quiet respectability, and there's not much sign of the "summer of love" nowadays, but some historic murals have been preserved and quirky shops and brightly painted houses keep it a bit retro and unusual. Well worth a visit.
Golden Gate Park and Lookout - stay on the bus to Golden Gate Park and over the iconic bridge to the lookout across San Francisco Bay and the city skyline. The large park offers many recreational opportunities with special events and particular emphasis on botanical exhibits including a flower conservatory and a Japanese garden. It also contains several museums including a renowned Natural History Museum.
At the time it was built in 1937, the iconic Golden Gate Bridge was the longest single span suspension bridge in the world. Crossing the bridge is an exhilarating experience, with winds often reaching up to 20 mph. Be sure to bring a jacket. Arriving at the lookout, I enjoyed magnificent views of the bay, city, and the communities of Sausalito and Marin County. Great photo ops here before returning to the city.
San Francisco Vacation Travel Guide | Expedia
What to Do in San Francisco | 36 Hours Travel Videos
Tess Bridgwater is a travel writer who lives in southwestern Ontario, not far from Oxford County. She writes for the Record and other publications in Kitchener/Waterloo County, national magazines and is a member of SATW, the Society of American Travel Writers
San Francisco, in northern California, is a hilly city on the tip of a peninsula surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay. It's known for its year-round fog, iconic Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars and colorful Victorian houses.
The Financial District's Transamerica Pyramid is its most distinctive skyscraper. In the bay sits Alcatraz Island, site of the notorious former prison.
Watch a thirty-second television commercial -
California Really Is Like Living A Dream.
With 43 hills, one of the world's great bridges and a population of more than 800,000 freethinkers, inventors and oddballs, San Francisco is one of the USA's most compelling cities. For more information about San Francisco watch this
Lonely Planet video.
There is so much to see and do in San Francisco, but be
sure to include a
walking tour of Chinatown.