San Francisco

San Francisco, one of the most evocative of US cities. Now very expensive to live there and a favourite hangout of the tech crowd causing further gentrification, its desirability is never the less right up there, and it’s still a great place to visit.

The city is split into neighborhoods, down by the waterfront Fisherman’s Wharf and North Beach, and looking out to Alcatraz to the west Golden Gate Bridge and to the east the Bay Bridge area. Both these bridges are must visits of San Francisco, the Bay Bridge no less than the Golden Gate as it is also a very impressive bridge.

At the southern end of the Golden Gate is the Presido parkland, and one way of crossing the Golden Gate – by hiring a bicycle, can include riding through this park. South of Presido is the Golden Gate Park which is another great park bordered on the east by Haight Ashbury famous for being the hippy hangout in the city during the 60s.

Haight Ashbury is still worth having a look round with some funky shops, boutiques and eateries along Haight Street. The Red Victorian hotel is a historic location in the Haight. It is still surprisingly affordable and has a unique feel, granted it may not be for everyone.

To the south east of the Haight are the Castro and Mission districts. These may be as far out of the center as you go depending on how much time you have in the city. The Castro is one of the US’s first gay neighborhoods and still hosts many GLBT events through the year and has the first gay bar in the city – Twin Peaks. The Mission has many diverse restaurants and a thriving Latino art scene. There are many murals around the area and the area has a rich musical history. There are a number of festivals and parades including Carnaval on Memorial Day weekend.

Between the Castro and Mission and North Beach is the main downtown area and Chinatown, with the financial district to the east of this. Many of the cities historic buildings are found in this north east quarter. Also here is the Transamerica Pyramid, one of San Francisco’s most recognisable buildings, and Union Square – the main shopping and hotel district.

San Francisco has a year round mild climate with an average summer temperature of around 20 degrees C. Temperatures can go up into the 30s but this is not the norm and the city is known for its fogs rolling in from the Pacific which can make interesting photos in the bay area.

Other tourist attractions include the crooked Lombard Street, Pier 39 for shopping and eating, cable cars over the hilly streets, and the seals bathing from the waterfront piers. Coit Tower is a recognizable landmark and can be useful for orientating yourself in the city. Many cruise ships visit the city. These docked at Pier 35 in the past but now come into Pier 27.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art shows contemporary art devoted to the 20/21st century with sculpture, photography, painting and design. It is one of the largest galleries in the US and well worth visiting if you are interested in modern art.

Going a bit further away from the city center, you have the Marin Headlands across the Golden Gate where you can photograph the city through the expanse of the bridge and maybe get a shot including the fog. Along the west of the city headland there is the Pacific Ocean with beaches by the Great Highway towards the city zoo. This the start of a road trip down the California coastline which you take as far as you like, the first stop being Santa Cruz with its vintage fun fair.

Across the Bay Bridge you have the cities of Oakland and Berkeley. Oakland is a tourist destination in its own right, with great bars and restaurants, nightlife and music events. It also has its own arts community and a diverse ethnic makeup making it an interesting place to go to. Berkeley, known for its university campus has many parks and has a strong interest in environmental issues.

Image (cc) F. Folini, Flickr

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