Steep hills, deep blue water and the spectacular Golden Gate Bridge are a few of the sights in this unique city.
With its hilly peaks, sweeping bridges and exotic allure, San-Francisco has always seemed more like an island than a peninsula. Sample the mix of old-world charm and cutting-edge culture, and you may want to strand yourself here forever.
Close your eyes and picture San Francisco, and its hard not to include at least a slice of shimmering blue water in the image. With the roaring Pacific Ocean to the west, mild San Francisco Bay to the east and the famed Golden Gate passage to the north, this is a city born of the sea.
To get a bird’s-eye view, consider crossing the Golden Gate Bridge at low speed. You can park on the city side of the span, using the new Doyle Drive access ramp overlooking the Fort Point National Historic Site, and walk across. Or rent a bike from Sports Basement (610 Old Mason St.) in the Presidio and pedal to Marin County.
Want a closer view? Cruise under the Golden Gate with the Red & White Fleet or better yet, visit the bay’s infamous penitentiary via Alcatraz Cruises (Pier 33). You’ll be glad you are not a mid-20th-century felon. If you wind up killing time along the Embarcadero, stop by Pier 39 for shopping or ogling at Aquarium of the Bay (Building R).
Of course, the ocean isn’t just to look at – its to plunder, too. The seafood in and around San Francisco is unrivaled in quality and assortment. Billed as the oldest restaurant in California Tadich Grill (240 California St.) isn’t strictly a fish house, but its cioppino and pan-fried asand dabs are among the stars of the menu. The Hog Island Oyster Bar (One Ferry Bldg., #11) gets it bivalves from warm Tomales Bay, a little way up the coast. Another rewarding choice is Level III (500 Post St.), the restaurant on the third-floor lobby level of the JW Marriott San Francisco Union Square.
When gold was discovered in California in 1848, San Francisco became a magnet for fortune seekers from the East Coast. But much of the city’s immigration, and influence, has come from the other direction. This is a true pan-Asian metropolis, with communities from China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and many other countries.
The most obvious place to start is San Francisco’s Chinatown, the oldest in America. See it from Grant Street, which runs north-south, but explore those cluttered little alleys, too. Make sure you stop at the Fortune Cookie Factory (56 Ross Alley) – this is where the fortune cookie was invented, after all – and Canton Bazaar (616 Grant Ave.) which brims with trinkets and fine imports.
You don’t have to step foot in Chinatown to encounter great Asian food. It’s all over San Francisco, in every price range imaginable. Two of the current hot spots are Mission Chinese Food (2234 Mission St.), a highly creative foodie mecca housed in an old family restaurant and delightfully complex Burma Superstar (309 Clement St.). Expect a long wait at either during peak hours.
San-Francisco has been attracting eccentrics, dreamers and dropouts since the ‘49ers began arriving at its shores with their pickaxes. That reputation lives on.
For the Beat generation, the epicenter was always City Lights (261 Columbus Ave.), the serious minded North Beach bookstore that remains as vibrant as ever. You can lunch nearby at Caffe Puccini (411 Columbus Ave.), with its outrageous chicken parmigiana sandwich and great espresso drinks.
By the mid-1960s, the action had moved to the Haight-Ashbury district, synonymous with the hippie movement. There’s still plenty going on here. The upper Haight, between Stanyan and Masonic Streets, is a bit more upscale and probably a better bet for those who don’t know the neighborhood well.
If you’re a woman, or shopping for one, you’ll probably want to visit Ambiance (1458 Haight St.), known for its attentive staff and fashionable apparel. And no matter who you are, you should end your visit with a trip to Amoeba Music (1855 Haight St.) that great San Francisco record store. In between have a plate of jerk chicken and a glass of sangria at Cha Cha Cha (1801 Haight St.).
Parking is a tribulation in many parts of San Francisco, but don’t fret. This city is compact and frequently walkable. And if your destination is near a cable-car line, getting there will be at least half the fun.