San Francisco conjures up a lot of images — Rice-a-roni, Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars. It also brings to mind gay rights and the Silicon Valley.
Whatever your thoughts are, San Francisco retains a special place in the heart of most Californians because it so much epitomizes the state – its spectacular beauty, its breathtaking coastal and bay views, and its historic architecture. To be sure, it’s an expensive place to live – perhaps the costliest place to live in California – but an incredibly diverse and entertaining place to visit.
San Francisco hotels are among the best in the world and each seems to have its own charm and window into San Francisco history. Some are located by the waterfront, while others are perched on one of the many hills that have made this city famous.
Whether you’re a California resident, or visiting from out of state, San Francisco should rank high on your list of California destinations. While it’s a good 400 miles north of the Los Angeles basin – in other parts of the country you would travel through three or four states to drive that far – it’s so much a part of the California experience that it cannot be overlooked.
Before you visit, though, there are a few things you should know. According to Laurie Armstrong, vice president of public relations for the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau, Important Tidbit Number One is: You don’t need a car. The city is buy sourdough starter congested enough with all those people on that little peninsula but the good news is that public transportation in San Francisco is easy, fast and cheap. You can find a Bart (mass transit) station at the airport, or across the East Bay and let these modern trains whisk you into the downtown area. From there, you can walk, take a streetcar or take a short taxi ride to any part of the city you want to visit. If you do take your car, be sure to budget for parking spaces that cost more than some cheap motel rooms.
To save even more money, Ms. Armstrong suggests buying a San Francisco CityPass, which will give you seven days of riding all San Francisco Municipal Railway vehicles: cable cars, streetcars and buses. The pass, which is priced at $43 for an adult, also includes admissions to some of the city’s best museums.
Another important thing to remember when visiting San Francisco is that the weather is quite a lot cooler than Los Angeles or the Central part of the state.
“We can always tell who the visitors are,” said Ms. Armstrong, “because they’re the ones wearing shorts. You have to remember if it’s sunny and hot in the Central Valley, it’s foggy and cold here. Some cities sell tee-shirts – we sell sweatshirts.”
A few of the highlights in San Francisco that you’ll not want to miss are Fisherman’s Wharf with its bustling waterfront, museums and many restaurants. A trip to Alcatraz is a must – you’ll see first-hand what it was like in maximum security prison that housed the likes of “Machine Gun” Kelly and Al Capone. Pier 39 is the second most visited attraction in California and is just east of Fisherman’s Wharf. The Aquarium of the Bay is located here as well as various rides and attractions.
The Golden Gate Bridge obviously must be part of your visit and you’ll want to visit the Marin County side to see spectacular views across the bay to San Francisco. With about 1,000 acres, the Golden Gate Park is an attraction unto itself with trails, grassy meadows, lakes and gardens.
Go to the area just west of Van Ness Avenue and you’ll find more than 14,000 great examples of Victorian architecture. Coit Tower is atop Telegraph Hill and you’ll find a history museum inside. Chinatown is a colorful part of the city, rich in ethnic culture and well worth a visit. And don’t forget to stop by Lombard Street, “the crookedest street in the world.”
According to the folks at the San Francisco CVB, here are some other interesting stops to make while in San Francisco:
Boudin Sourdough and Bakery Tour – Just opened in Spring 2005, the two-story Boudin flagship building is where visitors can observe 5,000 square feet of bakery action. Located in Fisherman’s Wharf, you can take a history tour showing the legend of San Francisco sourdough and enjoy some fresh-from the oven samples while you’re at it.
The deYoung Museum – This well-known attraction has been around more than 100 years and, on October 15, will re-open in a state-of-the-art facility that integrates art, architecture and natural landscape. The facility will showcase the museum’s priceless collection of art from the 17th through the 20th centuries.