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Holiday Guides for North America - United States

San Francisco

For a true taste of West Coast living in America, a trip to the cultural and artistic melting pot of San Francisco is a must.

With its Spanish roots and hippy chic reputation, San Francisco is probably the least American city in the whole of the United States yet throughout its short history, it has made its own name as a place where many a pioneer has come to chase, and in some cases achieve, the elusive American dream.

Traditions And Culture

As the 60s song said, be sure to where a flower in your hair. San Francisco has a reputation of being laidback and left wing. The city was a hive of activity during the Summer of Love in 1967, with Haight-Ashbury attracting long-haired flower children from across the globe.

Further back in its history, the city prospered from the California Gold Rush and the subsequent economic boom.

Although most traces of the Ohlone Indians, who once made their home on the small peninsular on which modern day San Francisco sits, are long gone, the legacy of the Spanish settlers, the Mission Dolores, lives on in the Mission district, south of Market Street – a huge promenade that slices the city and roughly separates the old from the new.

The city also has a strong literary tradition, being home to several of the Beat Poets during the San Francisco Renaissance.

On a different note, the city has a large gay demographic and is well known for its early adoption of gay rights. With this in mind, the city hosts the largest Mardi Gras in America each summer. SF Pride is an event like no other.

Things To See And Do

No San Francisco holiday would be complete without a bicycle ride across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. One of the longest suspension bridges in the world, the giant red structure can be seen from miles around and connects the city with the picturesque San Francisco Peninsula.

A multi-cultural metropolis, the city also boasts one of the largest Chinatown's in North America. Set up in the 1850s, the area between Nob Hill District, Kearny Street, Union Square and the Financial District is home to some of the best food in San Francisco.

Things to look out for include shops making traditional fortune cookies, the Woh Hei Yuan Park and the bustling Portsmouth Square.

Coit Tower on the top of Telegraph Hill is another recommended attraction. The Art Deco creation is thought to offer the best views across the city - particularly first thing on the morning or at sunset.

The walk up to the tower is breathtaking – in every sense of the word. The steep streets leading through the trendy North Beach neighbourhood and up through the residential Telegraph Hill area can feel vertical in some places, but reaching the top is more than rewarding. The famed Lombard Street is just one of the sights passed on the way up to the tower.

Coit Tower looks out over that other San Francisco holiday attraction - Alcatraz. The one-time prison is operated by the National Park service as a recreational area. A short ferry ride away from the popular Fisherman's Wharf, visitors can learn about some of the island's most famous residents, including Al Capone and the various escape attempts. There is also a chance to put to rest some of the myths surrounding the prison and experience what it was like to spend time in a cell.

For a spot of light culture, head to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and independent galleries of Sutter Street to take in the best that the city's thriving art community can produce.

And when the hunger pangs kick in, a plethora of restaurants offering gastronomic delights from fantastically fresh seafood from the bay to pancakes dripping with butterscotch sauce are never hard to find.

The affluence brought by the DotCom money combined with the world’s biggest gay community and the ever-pleasant Californian climate also gives the city a thriving nightlife with numerous festivals and parties throughout the year not to mention a multitude of bars and clubs rangy from the dark and dingy to the chic and pricey.

Weather In San Francisco

San Francisco is famed for its summer fog. Summer is often the peak tourist season, but with views obscured by fog and the Wine Country arid, it is best avoided.

The most comfortable time to visit is between September and November when temperatures are more forgiving and bright blue skies abound.

Destination Checklist For San Francisco

  • The official language is English.
  • The city is eight hours behind GMT.
  • The international dialling code is +1.
  • The US dollar is the official currency.