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San Francisco Travel Guide

San Francisco Travel Guide

San Francisco is an eccentric, bohemian city which opens its arms to all comers and proves extremely difficult to leave:

Renowned as the world's most free-spirited city, a holiday in San Francisco sends one on a roller-coaster ride of fun in keeping with the trams that traverse its steep, hilly streets. From its diverse neighbourhoods to its bayfront pleasure-land and the offshore bulk of the Alcatraz prison, it is a city of unique charm and character. The locals know how to have a good time, and restaurants and entertainment venues aplenty await travellers among the quirky, Victorian buildings and crooked streets.

There are so many facets to a holiday in San Francisco, from history to hippies, prisons to parks, seafood to shopping, and art to architecture, that the city can truly be said to offer something for everyone. San Francisco is also rated as one of the world's most 'gay-friendly' cities and its annual Gay Pride parade is a popular event.

Best time to visit San Francisco

The weather in San Francisco stays a stable 'cool to mild' throughout the year. Fog can put a damper on things in the summer (June to August), and rain is plentiful during the winter months (December to February). There is thus no best time to visit, and San Francisco welcomes visitors all year round. Read more on San Francisco's Climate and Weather.

What to see in San Francisco

-Explore San Francisco's Chinatown, the oldest of its kind in the US.

-Play prisoner at the formidable island-fortress of Alcatraz.

-Admire panoramic views of the cityscape from Coit Tower.

-Visit San Francisco's most iconic landmark, the Golden Gate Bridge.

What to do in San Francisco

-Go sightseeing on the famous cable cars, the only moving National Historical Monument in the US.

-Enjoy leisurely meals and shopping sprees at Fisherman's Wharf.

-Relish thrills and spills at the Six Flags Discovery Kingdom.

-Walk along Lombard Street, 'the crookedest street in the world'.

Beyond San Francisco

San Francisco boasts enough attractions to fill multiple holidays, but those wanting to travel further afield will find many glorious sights close by. The Napa Valley beckons wine lovers; the giant redwoods can be visited in Muir Woods and the Redwood National and State Park; and even the expanses of Yosemite National Park are within reach for a weekend getaway.

Getting there

San Francisco International Airport, situated 14 miles (23km) south of the city, is the second busiest airport in California. Direct flights to San Francisco are available from several cities in the UK, Europe and the rest of the world. Get more information on Airports in San Francisco.

Did you know?

-The Chinese fortune cookie was invented in San Francisco.

-The famous orange of the Golden Gate Bridge was supposed to be merely a sealant; the bridge was meant to be painted black and yellow.

-In 1906, three quarters of San Francisco was destroyed by an earthquake and fire.


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Golden Gate Bridge from Alcatraz © David Paul Ohmer

The most attractive of American cities and regularly voted the best city in the USA, San Francisco is adored because of its colourful history, dramatic setting and its laissez-faire atmosphere, a quality missing from synthetic Los Angeles. It is a regular trendsetter in everything alternative, from flower-power to 'free love' and gay liberation; it prides itself on being individualistic, down-to-earth and cultured.

Streets rollercoaster up and down the hills, and when not swathed in the city's trademark fog, there are superb vistas of San Francisco Bay, spanned by one of the world's most famous sights, the Golden Gate Bridge. Surrounded by hills and urban development, traversed by bridges, dotted with sails and 14 small islands, including the notorious Alcatraz, the bay is the largest inlet on the Californian Coast. Fisherman's Wharf at the edge of the bay is a popular place to eat, stroll and shop, with its resident seals a favourite photographic subject.

Within the surprisingly compact city are distinct neighbourhoods that reflect the cultural background of diverse communities that were attracted to San Francisco by the discovery of gold in 1848, and the promise of a new life for those desperate to escape their harsh circumstances. Most of San Francisco's residents were born outside the city and this mix of cultures is reflected in the dragon-studded temples of colourful Chinatown and Japantown, the characteristic bohemian flavour of the Italian pasta restaurants and cappuccino cafes in North Beach, the old Spanish-speaking Mission District that blends with the nightlife of SoMa, the modern Financial District, the gay centre of Castro and The Haight, characterised by the memory of the hippie movement of the 1960s.

Become our San Francisco Travel Expert

We are looking for contributors for our San Francisco travel guide. If you are a local, a regular traveller to San Francisco or a travel professional with time to contribute and answer occasional forum questions, please contact us.