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San Francisco, CA Destination Guide

Like a never-ending fair, America's favorite city sits at the edge of the western world - a location that adds the flair of romance to its legend. At once provincial and cosmopolitan, this surprisingly small city is a ravishing tourist magnet that is famous for its liberal attitudes, alternative politics, and eccentricity. San Franciscan pride is rooted in the sheer beauty of the city, a picturesque array of hills, wooden Victorian houses, open greens, and the shimmering bay that encompasses it all.

The ease of exploring this place on your own two feet or by hopping on and off a historic trolley, rather than in a car, is one of its great pleasures as one of the few American cities still catering to the pedestrian. Walking along the maze of streets, you learn to love the alternating moody fog and bright sunshine that set a romantic film-noir tone as you turn a corner high on a hill and unexpectedly stumble upon one of the many gorgeous vistas. So lovely is the place that the Reverend Billy Graham was inspired to say, "the Bay Area is so beautiful, I hesitate to preach about heaven while I'm here."

Places to visit in San Francisco

Fisherman's Wharf: Adjacent to North Beach, this was once the busy heart of the city's great harbor and waterfront industries. Today, it is a kitschy tourist magnet that also attracts lots of friendly sea lions that lounge by the hundreds along the docks.

North Beach: This is the Italian Quarter, stretching from Montgomery and Jackson to Bay Street. It's a great place to pass some time in a café, reading the local alternative press and people-watching. Landmarks from the beat generation are still found along Columbus toward the Financial District. The nightlife is festive, with bars, restaurants, and nightclubs attracting people from all over the Bay Area.

Haight-Ashbury: This trendy, funky, nostalgic neighborhood was the soul of the psychedelic, free-loving 60s, and the center of the counterculture movement. Today's upper Haight Street, east of Golden Gate Park, is more refined and South Cole Street is a peaceful, quaint spot but the commercial district still harbors a colorful population, from aging Dead Heads to Gen Nexters, with eateries, shops, and bars to please every style.

Union Square: Most major hotels and department stores are packed into the area surrounding the square, which was named for a series of pro-Union demonstrations on the eve of the Civil War. It's the commercial hub of the city, with an abundance of upscale boutiques, restaurants, and galleries.

Chinatown: A large red and green gate on Grant Avenue at Bush Street marks the official entrance. Beyond the gate is a 24-block maze of restaurants, markets, temples, and shops jam-packed with tourists and vendors.

The Marina District: Here are some of the best views of the Golden Gate and lots of open green space along San Francisco Bay. The elegant Mediterranean-style homes of the well-to-do line the streets, as well as shops, cafes, and boutiques. This district also hosts the Palace of Fine Arts, the Exploratorium, and Fort Mason Center.

The Mission District: Mexican and other Latin American people fill this area with their cuisine, traditions, and art. There are over 200 amazing murals, alternative arts organizations, and a hip young-crowd nightlife.

Featured San Francisco Vacations and West Coast Cruises!

 

Dining

San Francisco restaurants are so numerous and varied, and hold such high culinary standards, that many people visit the city just to eat! Even locals find little reason to cook at home, spending more money on dining out than any other city in the US. There are over 3,000 eateries for every taste and budget. The masterful ways of the city's long list of brilliant chefs are enhanced by California's fertile land and health conscious society. Locally grown fruits and vegetables, abundant fish and seafood, free range meat and poultry, and top quality dairy products are the foundation of the delicacies that make their way to your dinner table.

Gourmet: The Pacific is one of the city's best-kept secrets - a quietly glimmering oasis tucked away in the Pan Pacific Hotel with terrific cuisine, a gorgeous room, and sharp waiters. It all adds up to a first-class restaurant where you can stillget an easy reservation. 500 Post Street

Highly Recommended: Farallon is a must-visit if only for the ambiance, though certainly the food is as lavish as the interior. Seafood is the theme of both the extravagant decor and the splendid coastal cuisine. Back-lit kelp-bed columns, sea-urchin lights, hand-blown jellyfish lamps, a sea life mosaic floor, and a tentacled bar make up this whimsical underwater setting. The food ranges from basic oysters to striped bass pillows with prawn mousse - with an honorable-mention menus for meat lovers - and the service and wine list are top-notch. 450 Post Street

Local Flair: McCormick & Kuleto's is an immense Ghirardelli Square seafood house that fulfills tourists' expectations of "a nice place at the Wharf," with stunning views and a broad selection of classic fare from the sea. 900 North Point Street

Romantic: At the Fleur de Lys, the plush and extravagant decor of Renaissance France surrounds you as you're presented with course after course of sumptuous cuisine. "Symphony" appetizers and artistic desserts frame some of the most original entrees you'll ever taste. To round off the experience, there is a selection of 300 French and California wines. 777 Sutter Street.

Nightlife

Unlike New York or Los Angeles, you don't need lots of money and even more attitude to have a great night out in San Francisco. It also isn't an all-nighter type city, though that can be found here and there, as well. Rather, the approach to socializing here is best identified with smooth supper clubs and a bar scene that covers all types and budgets. The opera deserves its world-renown, and the ballet and theatre are also well-respected. Some of the most dazzling city views in the world can be found in the skyscraper lounges and the dance-club scene is one of the best outside New York. The clubs are cool and wallet-friendly, with a live music scene that is the city's best nighttime attraction. Rock, jazz, pop, and folk bands entertain all over town, often for no more than the price of a drink. For current happenings, check the San Francisco Weekly and the San Francisco Bay Guardian, both free.

Café Du Nord: This former speakeasy is now a popular club for dining, socializing, and dancing. A revolving weekly entertainment is packed with top-notch local musicians.

The Make-Out Room: This hip and friendly locals bar has high ceilings and a small stage that regularly features the best of the area's college rock bands.

Storyville Classic Jazz Club and Restaurant: Quality jazz is the specialty of the house at this intimate, warm club reminiscent of a 1950s jazz club. It also offers a full bar and restaurant featuring Southern and New Orleans cuisine.

Beach Blanket Babylon: Now in its 25th year, this zany, fast-paced musical revue sends up an ever-changing roster of celebrity caricatures like Madonna and Elvis, presented cabaret-style.

War Memorial Opera House: Counted among the great international opera companies in the world, the San Francisco Opera presents flawless performances of the grand masterpieces starring the world's finest singers.

Cobb's Comedy Club: Every Monday night, 14 comedians go on stage to work their punch lines, with national stars appearing Tuesday through Sunday. Food is served from the adjoining restaurant.

Bottom of the Hill: Recently chosen by Rolling Stone magazine as "the best place to hear live music in San Francisco," this club presents some of the finest established and up-and-comer acts from around the globe and the Bay Area spanning every musical style. Full bar, pool tables, late-night kitchen, and an outdoor patio help make every night a blast.

Weather in San Francisco, CA

Summer is the most popular time to visit, but it's often filled with wet foggy days, cold windy nights, and crowded attractions. The nicest times to visit are late May through June, when the hills are green and covered with wild flowers, and in autumn, when you can be fairly sure of good weather and smaller crowds. The city is also delightful during winter, when the opera and ballet are in season, the crowds are smaller.

"The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco," said Mark Twain. Summers are marked by the famous chilly, sweeping fog that lies off the coast and is pulled in by rising air currents when the land heats up. Still, the city is blessed with a temperate marine climate and enjoys mild weather year-round. The morning and evening fogs that roll in during the summer months rarely persist.

Spring average 60 degrees, 1 inch of rain per month
Summer average 65 degrees, less than ½ inch of rain per month
Fall average 60 degrees, 1.5 inches of rain per month
Winter average 50 degrees, 4 inches of rain per month

Airport Information for San Francisco, CA

New York City 5.5 hrs
Boston 5.5 hrs
Philadelphia 5.25 hrs
Miami 5.5 hrs
Los Angeles 1.25 hrs
Chicago 4 hrs
Dallas-Fort Worth 3.5 hrs