Difference between revisions of "San Francisco"
Revision as of 18:55, 7 May 2012
San Francisco is located on a small seven-by-seven mile (11x11km) square of land at the tip of a peninsula between the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific coast. It has a population of 815,000, but is the center of a metropolitan area of 7.1 million. San Francisco is just one of the cities which makes up the entire San Francisco Bay Area. San Francisco's neighbors - municipalities to the east of the Bay Bridge, north of the Golden Gate Bridge, and south of the city are all part of separate counties, each with their own governments and local public transportation systems.
Each district of San Francisco carries its own unique and distinct culture. This map is predominantly based on the 11 official governmental districts of San Francisco, but it has been adapted to suit the purposes of this travel guide. Some districts of particular interest to travelers have been broken up into popular neighborhood groupings, while others, mainly residential districts, have been merged together.
Prior to European settlement in the area, the peninsula that now contains San Francisco was home to the Yelamu tribe, who were part of the larger Ohlone language group which stretched south from the Bay Area to the Big Sur of California. Due to San Francisco's characteristic foggy weather, the earliest European explorers completely bypassed the Golden Gate and the San Francisco Bay.
The first European settlement in the area was founded by the Spanish in 1776 as a mission community surrounding the Mission San Francisco de Asís, in what is today called the Mission Dolores in the Mission District. In addition to the mission, a military fort was built near the Golden Gate: El Presidio.
Upon gaining independence from Spain in 1821, the area became part of Mexico. Under Mexican rule, the mission system gradually came to an end and private ownership of land became a possibility. In 1835, an Englishman named William Richardson founded the town of Yerba Buena, the first significant settlement on the peninsula outside of the Mission Dolores area. As the new settlement gradually grew, Yerba Buena developed a street plan and became attractive to settlers.
In 1846, the United States claimed California, and in July of that year, the U.S. Navy arrived to raise the American flag above Yerba Buena. Over the next couple of years, California officially became part of the United States following the Mexican-American War, and the name of the town was changed from Yerba Buena to San Francisco.
With the California Gold Rush of 1848, San Francisco began to explode in population. Waves of immigrants came to the city to seek their fortunes, including large numbers of Chinese immigrants, forming one of the largest Chinese populations outside of Asia. During this time, many major businesses were created and flourished in San Francisco, and famous (and infamous) personalities settled in the city. Of course, with all this success came problems: the rapid growth of the city outstripped any efforts at city planning, meaning proper sanitation and infrastructure were largely undeveloped, which led to a cholera outbreak in 1855. Violence and corruption were evident, and anti-immigrant violence resulted in many race riots.
In the 1890's, there was a large campaign to modernize and beautify the city, the success of which led some officials to proudly call San Francisco the "Paris of the West." But in 1906, a devastating earthquake shook the city and a resulting fire leveled much of the city (in fact, almost 90% of the total damage was from the fire, and not the quake itself). Nevertheless, officials at the time immediately set out on a plan to rebuild the city, with new parks, boulevards, the current civic center complex, and landmarks such as the Coit Tower atop Telegraph Hill. In 1915, San Francisco hosted the Panama-Pacific Exposition (where the Palace of Fine Arts complex is currently located) to showcase the completely rebuilt city.
In the wake of the Great Depression of the 1930's, San Francisco remained largely unscathed. In fact, it was during this time that the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge were conceived and built. It was also during this time that the Federal Government established a prison on Alcatraz Island, which would hold some of the most notorious criminals of the era.
After World War II, San Francisco continued to grow in population. Urban planning projects at the time led to more highrises downtown (including the Transamerica Pyramid) and the destruction of many neighborhoods to build freeways (many of which were later torn down after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake). In the same period, San Francisco became a center of counterculture and the hippie movement, contributing to San Francisco's liberal outlook. San Francisco also became a center for homosexuals during this time, leading to the development of gay neighborhoods like the Castro.
More recently, San Francisco has experienced a boom in business. Despite falling victim to the dot-com bubble burst in the 1990s, the city's economy largely recovered and gentrification of neighborhoods like SoMa continues.
Today San Francisco is known for its liberal outlook and remains one of America's top tourist destinations. Tourism is the city's largest industry.
San Francisco has a mild climate, with cool, wet winters and dry summers. In most months, you can expect the high temperature to be in the upper 50s, 60s or low 70s degrees Fahrenheit (between 15 and 25 degrees Celsius). However, these mild temperature readings belie a unique climate not shared by other major cities in the state or country.
Summer days usually start out under fog, slowly burning off towards the ocean into a sunny albeit windy afternoon. Measureable precipitation during the summer months is rare, although light drizzle is possible. Humidity is very constant, but rarely uncomfortable. At late afternoon, when the fog and wind returns people generally find themselves needing a jacket. There are always some days when the fog lingers all day.
In the winter, the rainy season is in full swing. That being said, your odds for a calm, windless sunny day are actually higher in the winter than the summer, although of course overall temperatures are lower.
Spring and Fall are not so much seasons in themselves but rather quick transition periods with some days resembling summer patterns and others the winter. Fall in particular is a good time to visit because the summer wind & fog has mostly gone but the rainy season has not yet started.
Within these general rules, San Francisco also has a series of microclimates created by the city's sharp topography. For instance, there is more fog on the western side of the city, closer to the ocean. There can also be large variances in rainfall between different parts of the city thanks to the tall hills in the center of the peninsula (generally with more rain taking place on the western side, while the eastern side experiences more sunlight).
San Francisco literature finds its roots in the city's long and often tumultuous history, its diversity, and its attraction to eclectic characters; the city was a major center for the Beat poetry movement and seems to also hold an uncanny attraction for science fiction writers. Among the most famous works set in San Francisco:
San Francisco has been the backdrop for many films, due in part to the Bay Area's vibrant filmmaking community and the city's proximity to Hollywood. The production companies of George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, along with the animation company Pixar are just a few of the big players who call the San Francisco area home. Among the better films set in San Francisco:
San Francisco's visitor information centers offer maps, brochures and other information for tourists.
English is the dominant language spoken in San Francisco. Cantonese is spoken by some citizens of San Francisco's large Chinese population, with an increasing Mandarin-speaking minority. Spanish is also commonly spoken in San Francisco, although not as common as in the rest of California.
San Francisco Bay Area Airports
Oakland and San Jose tend to offer more discount airline flights, while San Francisco Airport attracts more international flights and can be more convenient for those staying in the city. Private pilots should consider Oakland (ICAO: KOAK) rather than SFO, as the separate general aviation field there is more accommodating to light aircraft.
Public Airport Transportation
San Francisco and Oakland Airports are connected to downtown SF by the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART)  system (Oakland Airport indirectly through an AirBART shuttle buses).
Passengers arriving in SFO can walk (5 minutes from United's domestic terminal) or take a free airport shuttle (AirTrain) to the BART station (which is adjacent to the G side of the International Terminal). The BART ride from SFO to San Francisco costs about $8 one-way and runs frequently, every 15 or 20 minutes depending on the time of day. BART trains run through San Bruno, South San Francisco, Colma, Daly City before reaching the city of San Francisco, from where the SF MUNI  can take travellers anywhere in the city.
From Oakland Airport, passengers take a 10-15 min "AirBart" bus ride to the BART station; the cost is $3 for adults ($1 for seniors/children) exact change only; the bus runs every 10 minutes during the day. BART trains from there run directly to San Francisco and cost about $4.00.
The San Jose airport is served by a free shuttle to both VTA Light Rail and Caltrain  called the Airport Flyer — VTA Route #10 . Passengers arriving in San Jose can use Caltrain to reach San Francisco directly (this costs $7.50 one-way). Caltrain also links with the BART system at the Millbrae intermodal station. Be aware that public transportation within the South Bay is not as developed as around San Francisco. Also, when riding Caltrain, be sure to buy your ticket at the automated station kiosks before boarding, as they are not sold on the trains.
Private Airport Transportation
Taxis are considerably more expensive than the public transportation options. A taxi from SFO to the city can easily cost more than $40, and over $60 from OAK. Taxi and van prices from San Jose to San Francisco are significantly higher. Shared vans will cost around $14. If you plan to drive from a car rental area near the SFO airport to downtown San Francisco, you can take the 101 freeway. When returning a rental car to SFO, remember to take the rental car exit, otherwise you will have to wind your way slowly back to the rental car center.
Amtrak, +1 800 872-7245,  serves the Bay Area with long-distance and intercity trains. San Francisco's long distance station is across the bay, outside city limits. Passengers arrive in Emeryville or Oakland's Jack London Square Station in the East Bay and may take an Amtrak California  Thruway bus over the Bay Bridge to San Francisco's Amtrak stop at 101 The Embarcadero (near the Ferry Building) and usually several other downtown destinations (note that Amtrak passengers are not subjected to any extra charge for the bus). Travelers on some shorter distance Amtrak routes can also transfer to BART trains at the Richmond or Oakland Coliseum stations (see below). Alternatively, riders approaching the Bay Area from the south may transfer to Caltrain  at San Jose's Diridon Station for a direct ride to Fourth and King Streets in San Francisco.
Amtrak routes serving the Bay Area are:
There are two regional rail systems which serve San Francisco:
Caltrain, +1 510 817-1717,  operates a regional rail service from San Jose to its San Francisco terminal at Fourth and King. The service also runs between San Jose and Gilroy during rush hour. Caltrain is very useful for travel between San Francisco and communities on the Peninsula, Silicon Valley or South Bay. On weekdays Caltrain provides two trains per hour for most of the day but run more during commute hours, including "Baby Bullet" limited services that cruise between San Francisco and San Jose in 57 minutes; on weekends and public holidays trains run hourly, except that after 10PM only one train runs, leaving at midnight. The 4th & King terminal is served by Muni Metro (see 'Get around' below) giving connections to the rest of the city. Fares vary depending on how far you go. Tickets must be purchased before boarding the train from ticket vending machines at any of the stations or from ticket clerks at staffed stations. Tickets are checked on the trains and anyone found without a ticket is liable to a substantial fine. Cyclists should use the designated car at the northern end of the train, and be aware that bike space is often limited during commute hours.
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), +1 415 989-2278,  provides a regional frequent rail service connecting much of the East Bay and Contra Costa County with San Francisco and the San Francisco Airport through the Transbay Tube, a tunnel underneath San Francisco Bay. BART operates five routes, of which four run through San Francisco. There are three or four trains per hour on each route; consequently trains within San Francisco are generally less than a 5 minute wait. In the East Bay, BART runs mostly on elevated track; in downtown San Francisco it runs in a subway under Market Street, and several underground stations provide easy access to downtown areas and simple transfers to the Muni Metro subway. BART also meets Caltrain at Millbrae. Bicycles are allowed on BART except between stations designated in the schedule brochure during commute hours. Fares vary depending with distance traveled, and start at $1.50 for trips within the city. You will need to insert your ticket into barriers when entering and exiting the system. Tickets hold a balance, deducting the appropriate price for each trip, so someone who plans to use the system several times can buy a $10 or $20 ticket and not worry about fares until the card is used up. Note that the BART vending machines accept any credit card only twice within any 24 hour period. BART also accepts the Clipper Card, and BART ticket machines can be used to refill Clipper Cards, although do not sell them.
Several regional bus systems serve San Francisco from the immediate suburbs:
In many ways a boat is the ideal way to approach San Francisco. The city's spectacular skyline is best appreciated from the water, and from the deck of a boat the bay and its bridges and islands can be viewed as a whole. Cruise ships and private yachts are regular visitors to San Francisco, and passenger ferries regularly link other Bay Area cities to San Francisco.
Ferries run to San Francisco from Larkspur, Sausalito and Tiburon in Marin County, from Vallejo in Solano County and from Alameda and Oakland in the East Bay. In San Francisco, the ferries dock at one or both of the city's two piers at Fisherman's Wharf and the Ferry Building, the later of which is a very short walk from the Amtrak San Francisco bus stop as well as Embarcadero Station, where the BART and Muni trains stop, and the stop for the historic streetcars that run above ground down Market Street. For more information on boat connections:
There are four major highway approaches to San Francisco. US 101 comes up the eastern side of the SF peninsula and is the most direct route from the south, although it often backs up with traffic. Interstate 280 is a more scenic route into the city from the same direction, but with poorer connections than 101. Interstate 80 approaches the city from the east over the San Francisco Bay Bridge. From the north, US 101 takes you over the Golden Gate Bridge.
Cross streets. As San Francisco streets are numbered (100 per block) from the beginning of the street, and even and odd numbers are always on opposite sides, it is best when asking directions to ask for a cross street or neighborhood name rather than relying on the address alone. For instance, addresses on Mission Street at 18th Street are in the 2200s, but one block away on Valencia at 18th, addresses are only in the 700s. This is because Mission starts at the Embarcadero, two miles further east than Valencia's start at Market Street. Local residents rely on cross streets.
Numbered streets and avenues. San Francisco has both numbered streets, in the Mission, the Castro, and SoMa, and numbered avenues in the largely residential Sunset and Richmond districts. Mixing numbered streets and avenues when asking directions may leave you miles from your destination. This can be confusing, as San Franciscans will not say "Street" or "Avenue" unless it is required to avoid ambiguity. Thus, they won't say "I live on Fifth Avenue," but will say "I live near Fifth and Geary." Street signs generally don't have "Street" or "Avenue" either; they just say "GEARY" or "MASONIC", although numbered streets and avenues do.
Multiple street grids. One of the most confusing aspects of driving in San Francisco is the presence of multiple street grids, particularly in the downtown area where two grids intersect at an angle along Market Street. Even more confusing are streets in the middle of the standard blocks, like New Montgomery Street.
No left turns. Several key San Francisco arterial streets, including 19th Avenue and Market Street, do not have space for dedicated left turn lanes and therefore bear NO LEFT TURN signs at most intersections. As a result, you will be frustrated when you drive for miles on these streets with no opportunity to turn left. The trick, of course, is to go around the block with multiple right turns after passing one's desired street, which requires you to stay in the right lane, not the left lane.
Walking can be an enticing option to get from one neighborhood to another, so long as you are aware of where you are and keep your street smarts. San Francisco is a city of friendly neighborhoods, but it is also a big city so be aware of your surroundings and keep in mind the dangers that commonly accompany a city of San Francisco's size.
However, streets that often go straight up and down hills may make walking challenging when attempting the uphill portions (but provide good exercise). Driving can be difficult up and down hills but have breathtaking views. There are many stairway walks scattered throughout the city when the streets are too steep. You can find maps that include hiking trails, bikeways, and the grade pitch of all streets marked in varying colors by how steep each segment is, that can help you orient to city walks suitable to your ability and temperament, such as the downloadable map issued by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition .
Note that locals rarely use the designations "street" or "avenue," even when differentiating the numbered streets and avenues. Numbered roads designated "Street" are located on the east side of the city, south of Market in Downtown, Castro, Noe Valley, and Mission. Numbered roads designated "Avenue" put you in the Richmond and Sunset districts on the west side.
By public transit
San Francisco has one of the most comprehensive public transportation systems in the United States, arguably the most comprehensive system west of Chicago. Transport services within San Francisco are provided by several bodies; they are separate organizations and although they have many interchange stations, tickets are not normally transferable across the systems (except for monthly or longer period passes). The major transit systems are:
San Francisco Municipal Railway or Muni, +1 415 701-2311,  runs a network of local transport that covers most areas of touristic interest well. An all day Muni passport good on all Muni services, including Cable Cars, costs $14. Other passports and passes are available for longer periods: a 3-day pass costs $21, while a 7 day pass costs $27. The passports come in the form of scratch cards; be sure to scratch off the appropriate dates before using.
The Clipper Card was fully introduced in 2010 and is a contact-less, multi-agency fare card similar to Octopus in Hong Kong and Charlie Card in Boston. Clipper cards are free at any MUNI ticket machine and are accepted on BART, CalTrain, San Francisco ferries, and many regional transit systems outside the City of San Francisco, in addition to all of MUNI's vehicles (streetcar/subway, busses and cable cars). Clipper can either be set up with pay as you go with all transfers calculated automatically or a monthly pass (but not daily and weekly passports). MUNI has also created a single use "Clipper Ticket" as the new subway turnstiles no longer accept cash. You can still pay with exact change when boarding a streetcar above ground or a bus.
MUNI operates on a proof of payment basis, sometimes called an "honor system with teeth." 90 minutes of travel on the Muni system (Metro, F-line streetcar, buses) costs $2 ($0.75 for youth 5-17, disabled, and seniors 65+) including transfers and return trips if they fall within the 90 minute limit. If you're using a Clipper Card, be sure you "touch on" at any of the readers located near the streetcar or bus door to pay your fare and start the 90 minute clock (you can board at any door as they all have readers). Likewise if you aren't using a Clipper Card (and don't have a passport) and pay cash, you must board at the front door and obtain a transfer ticket from the driver. The MUNI Saturation Team (fare inspectors) and sometimes the SFPD randomly and frequently patrol streetcars, subway stations and buses with handheld Clipper Card readers checking for proper fare - residents who ride MUNI regularly report being checked once or twice a week. The fine for being caught without proof of payment is $250, although tourists are sometimes issued a warning if its their first offense.
Cable Cars are not included in these transfers and cost $6 per ride (one way, no transfers), or $14 per day. Before 7AM and after 9PM, seniors and disabled pay $3 for cable car rides. Muni Passports and FastPasses greatly reduce this cost, including cable cars in the regular daily, weekly or monthly fares.
A portable wallet-sized map of San Francisco and all its public transit (MUNI, BART, Caltrain) is also available at stores around the city or through their website online . Many of the city's bus stops also have posted copies of this map with the location of the stop marked, a godsend for lost pedestrians.
You can plan your Muni travel online . Muni arrival times are also available online for many lines at NextMuni . An unofficial site is RescueMuni.com , which often has information on routes that are not listed officially.
Muni consists of:
Other public transportation options include:
If you have strong legs and can tolerate traffic with intermittent bike lanes, bicycles can be a convenient form of transportation in San Francisco. Although it's a city with a hefty population and a high density rate, San Francisco is fairly small in land area-- just 7x7 miles from north to south and east to west-- so it's fairly quick to get from one end to the other. But much of the terrain is hilly and hard to pedal up. Do not be misled by maps depicting the city's strict, regular street grid, as even the straightest of San Francisco's streets might include steep hills or even staircases instead of a roadway. A classic and relatively easy ride is from the tip of Golden Gate Park's panhandle in the Haight, along paths and JFK Drive through the park to Ocean Beach. JFK Drive is lightly trafficked, and closed to cars on Sundays.
Downtown, SoMa, and the Sunset, and Richmond districts are relatively flat. There are a number of bike paths and bike routes on city streets; the San Francisco Bike Coalition  keeps a lot of information about them. There are a number of bike rental companies in town, including Dylan's Bike Rental ,Bay City Bike , Bike and Roll  and Blazing Saddles Bike Rentals  with locations in Fisherman's Wharf, and the Bike Hut  and Pacific Bicycle  in SoMa.
The Golden Gate Bridge has sectioned off pathways on each side for pedestrians and bicyclists. If you choose to ride a bicycle across the Golden Gate Bridge, be aware that walkers always stay on the east side of the bridge and bikes are often to ride on the west (ocean) side of the bridge. When the Bridge is closed to pedestrians during nighttime, you may continue to bicycle across by stopping to press the buzzer at the automatically closed gates to be buzzed in and out.  It is a pet peeve of many locals to have to dodge bicycles while jogging or strolling.
Taxis in San Francisco are, for a large city, surprisingly inefficient and expensive, starting at $3.10 just for getting in the door. You can get an idea of how much particular taxi trips cost in San Francisco using the San Francisco Taxicab Commission's webpage .
Except for taxi stations at or near downtown business hotels, or cruising just a few major arteries, taxis can be hard to find and hail -- and calling for a cab can mean a 30-45 minute wait, if the cab shows up at all. Now, if you're anywhere near Union Square and are holding shopping bags, just by standing on the curb and hailing passing cabs will usually get you one quite quickly. It is significantly easier to catch a taxi on weekdays, not including Friday night.
If you are heading to the airport, your best bet is to call ahead with a specific pickup time to one of the many taxi companies. You will also want to schedule your cab ahead of time because if you are going beyond 15 miles, you will end up paying 50% extra.
Perpetually-clogged traffic, steep hills, a confusing system of one-way streets downtown, expensive parking, and a fleet of parking control officers who enforce parking laws with zeal can make driving in San Francisco extremely frustrating; visitors to the city should seriously consider alternatives to automobiles when possible. In addition, traffic from the Golden Gate Bridge uses surface streets either along CA-1, 19th Avenue or US-101 on Lombard and Van Ness. A car is really only useful for visiting destinations outside of the city. The greatest hazard of driving is on Lombard Street between Hyde and Leavenworth, where a stretch known as "The Crookedest Street in the World" runs one-way down a steep hill making eight hairpin turns. Oversized vehicles such as pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles, and recreational vehicles should NOT attempt to pass through the winding stretch of Lombard Street.
The most difficult problem with your car in San Francisco will be parking. Parking throughout the city is extremely scarce. Garages, where they are available, are quite expensive ($20-30/day downtown). San Francisco has some of the strictest parking laws and enforcement in the country. For day trips into the city, consider a park-and-ride at a Peninsula Caltrain  station, at a Peninsula BART  station, or at an East Bay BART station.
When parking on a hill (and there are many of them in San Francisco), remember to always apply that parking brake and turn your wheels so that the tires are against the curb (Facing uphill, the front wheels should be turned out until the tires are resting against the curb. Facing downhill, the front wheels should be turned in so that they are set against the curb). Failure to park properly doesn't just run the risk of having your car roll downhill, but it is also against the law and you may be ticketed. 
Motorcycles and scooters are a common sight on San Francisco streets; in fact, San Francisco is known as one of the most motorcycle-friendly places in the U.S. Street parking for motorcycles is plentiful and relatively inexpensive ($0.40 to $0.70 an hour), but note that parking on sidewalks is usually illegal. There are several motorcycle rental shops, along with many dealers, service shops, and motorcyclist hangouts. As elsewhere in California, motorcyclists must wear helmets. Motorcycle theft is a problem; always use a disk lock or secure your bike to a stationary object using a cable or chain.
Segways, though more novel, are fairly common in San Francisco. So far there is only one authorized Segway dealer that rents out Segways , though various tour operators (many of whom operate from Fisherman's Wharf) offer guided trips throughout the city.
San Francisco has much to see — these are just the most significant sights. For more detail see the individual district sections, often linked from this entry.
Three passes are available which offer discounts to many interesting attractions:
There are many highlight walks you can take to really capture the feel of the city and see a whole lot of attractions at the same time. Some of the best ones are:
Perhaps the most recognizable landmark in San Francisco and one of the most famous bridges in the world, the Golden Gate Bridge, spanning the Golden Gate, has been called one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World and is the first thing you see of San Francisco if driving in from the north, as it is one of the major road routes into and out of the city. Overlooking the Golden Gate is the Presidio, a former military post with beautiful architecture and a very scenic park setting. Within the Presidio is the gorgeous Palace of Fine Arts, built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition and reminiscent of Roman and Greek architecture.
Within the center of the city, the famous cable cars run up and down the hills of San Francisco between Market Street and Fisherman's Wharf and offer quite a ride (see above under Get around for more info). Atop one of those hills, Telegraph Hill in North Beach, is Coit Tower, a gleaming white tower dedicated to the San Francisco firefighters. At 275' high, the hill is a healthy hike from the nearby neighborhoods just below. Another prominent tower nearby is the Transamerica Pyramid, the tallest and most recognizable building in the San Francisco skyline, located among the skyscrapers and highrises of the Financial District. Perhaps the most famous view of that skyline is from Alamo Square Park in the Western Addition district, home to the famous Painted Ladies row of Victorian houses, with many other pretty Victorians encircling the lovely park.
Over on Russian Hill is the famous stretch of Lombard Street between Hyde & Leavenworth, the (nearly) crookedest street in America. The city also has a twistier but less scenic stretch of street, Vermont Street on Potrero Hill. Other street oddities in San Francisco include 22nd Street between Vicksburg and Church in Noe Valley and Filbert Street between Leavenworth and Hyde on Russian Hill — At a 31.5% grade, these streets share the honor of the steepest streets in San Francisco.
San Francisco is also well-known for its collection of unique and intriguing neighborhoods. Most tourists start with Fisherman's Wharf; although many of the locals consider it a tourist trap, it is a great place to see amazing street entertainers, watch sea lions, visit museums, or take a cruise to the infamous Alcatraz Prison or the pleasant Angel Island. Working fishing boats still come into the small harbor here, and the district is home to several excellent seafood restaurants. The fresh breeze from the bay can provide a bracing setting.
Chinatown, centered around Grant Street from Bush to Columbus, is part tourist trap, part an exhibit of local life. Good eating places abound, and the side streets especially have stores one wouldn't find in a mall. Stockton Street is where most locals do their shopping for groceries; be sure to sample some of the dim sum and other specialties offered in the many bustling shops. However, many local Chinese prefer to eat and shop in the new Chinatowns located in other neighborhoods such as on Clement Street between 2nd and 12th Avenues in the Inner Richmond neighborhood. The Muni #1 (California) and #2 (Clement, does not run at night) buses get people from one Chinatown to the other.
Closer to Downtown is the Civic Center, with its impressive Beaux Arts buildings including City Hall and the War Memorial Veterans Building, the celebrated Asian Art Museum, music and theater venues (including large concert halls and a renowned Symphony and Opera), and the main public library. Nearby, within the highrises of Downtown, Union Square is the heart of the city's main shopping and hotel district, while SoMa to the south is rapidly gentrifying, home to the city's main convention center and several new museums.
To the west of Downtown is Haight Ashbury, famous for being a center of the Hippie movement in the 60s and 70s. While tourism has softened the image of the neighborhood somewhat, the area still retains its distinct feel with small organic coffee shops and store after store selling marijuana-themed goods, tie dye tee shirts and hand bands. Nearby at the top of Market Street is the Castro, the center of San Francisco's Lesbian/Gay/Bi/Transgender (LGBT) community, with numerous theaters and small shops and restaurants. Next door is the Mission District, home to the Mission Dolores Church, one of the oldest structures in the city, and a fantastic collection of murals of all sorts on the walls of many nearby buildings, especially on alleys between Market and Valencia.
Treasure Island, an artificial island half-way between San Francisco and Oakland connected to the Bay Bridge, has excellent views of the San Francisco and Oakland skylines and quirky structures from the international fairground-turned-navy base-turned-neighborhood. Accessible by Muni bus #108 from the Transbay Terminal in SoMa.
When the morning is foggy, you may want to spend a few hours in one of the city's many world-class museums. Golden Gate Park is home to the copper-clad M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, which houses an impressive collection of contemporary and indigenous art. The de Young Museum's former Asian collection is now permanently housed in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, located in the Civic Center. Across from the de Young Museum stands the California Academy of Sciences, which holds a huge array of science exhibits, including an aquarium and a natural history museum.
The California Palace of the Legion of Honor is in Lincoln Park in the northwest corner of the Richmond district. In Nob Hill, the Cable Car Museum offers exhibits on the famous moving landmarks of San Francisco. Near the Castro is the Randall Museum, a lovely little children's museum. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Moscone Center, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Zeum, the Cartoon Art Museum, the Museum of the African Diaspora and the Museum of Craft and Folk Art are all located in SoMa, south of Union Square. The Contemporary Jewish Museum, which was designed by Daniel Libeskind and opened in June 2008, is the latest major addition to San Francisco's museum scene.
At the Hyde Street Pier in Fisherman's Wharf you can go on board several historical ships, including the 1886 Balclutha clipper ship, a walking-beam ferry, a steam tug, and a coastal schooner. At Pier 45 just to the east, the World War II submarine USS Pampanito and the World War II Liberty Ship SS Jeremiah O'Brien can be visited. Nearby is the Aquarium of the Bay on Pier 39 and the Wax Museum.
The Exploratorium at the Palace of Fine Arts in the Marina will keep you busy for an entire day with their science and perception exhibits. Also in the Marina district is Fort Mason, home to a few cultural museums.
Parks and outdoors
San Francisco has numerous parks, ranging from the tiny to the huge. The most famous of them is Golden Gate Park in The Avenues district, a massive (roughly 1/2 mile-by-four mile) urban oasis with windmills, bison, museums, a carousel and much more hidden among its charms. The park contains the antique palatial greenhouse of the Conservatory of Flowers, the modern and ethnic art focused de Young Museum, the large Japanese Tea Garden, the new California Academy of Sciences building designed by Renzo Piano and the Strybing Arboretum, a collection of plants from across the temperate world. Defining the extreme Northwestern corner of the city is Lincoln Park in Richmond, which provides majestic views of the Marin Headlands, the Golden Gate Bridge from the ocean side, and the Pacific Ocean itself. At the extreme western end the well known Cliff House provides both semi-casual and a more formal eating and drinking place. The Legion of Honor museum at the center of the park houses many incredible artworks.
Near the physical center of the city is the Twin Peaks, one of San Francisco's highest points (875' above sea level); providing spectacular views in all directions. Tour buses can get backed up here during the day, but it's a great place to really appreciate the city from above, especially at and after sunset. Temperatures up there can be quite a bit lower than in the rest of the city, so bring a jacket. Nearby in the Lake Merced area is the San Francisco Zoo, a large and well maintained zoo which is a great place to go if you are traveling with children or have a fondness for penguins, primates, lions or llamas.
While not particularly well known for its beaches, San Francisco has a couple of good ones along the Pacific Ocean — but the water is brisk, the winds can be rough, and due to strong rip currents swimming at any of them is not recommended. Ocean Beach along the Sunset district is the largest and most famous beach, with plenty of sand and people enjoying themselves. China Beach in Richmond and Baker Beach in Golden Gate are smaller, rather secluded beaches with lovely views.
On sunny days hipsters flock to Mission Dolores Park, so named due to its location across the street from the Mission Dolores Basilica. The park often comes to resemble a large party, with music, coolers of beer and, er, uh...medical marijuana treatment. Mission Dolores Park is situated on a slight slope in the Noe Valley neighborhood, just a few blocks from the many restaurants and bars in the Mission. The east side of the park is bounded by Dolores Street, a hilly and scenic drive lined with palm trees and Victorians.
In the southern half of the city is the often overlooked but wonderful Bernal Heights Park, a small park on top of a hill overlooking the entire eastern half of the city, with excellent views of the skyscrapers in the Financial District, the Mission District, and the hills in the southeastern corner of the city. A wide trail runs around the base of the park below the peak which can be walked in ten to fifteen minutes. Bernal Heights Park is dog friendly, so much so that a coyote is often observed there.
One of the best ways to see San Francisco is from the waters of San Francisco Bay. There are many companies offering harbor tours of varying durations and prices but they all provide marvelous views of the bay, the bridges, the island of Alcatraz and the city.
Only specific island tours are allowed to land at Alcatraz, but the typical harbor tour will circle the island at a slow crawl, giving you plenty of opportunity to photograph the now-inactive prison from the water.
Most tours leave from docks at Fisherman's Wharf near Pier 39. Tickets can be purchased at kiosks along the waterfront walk. Buy tickets a day or two in advance during the summer high season.
Boats usually leave roughly hourly starting around 10AM and ending around 5PM. Multi-lingual guides are available on some tours. Prices range from $20-$40, more for sunset, dinner, or whale watching tours.
There is an incredible array of events going on in San Francisco — virtually every day there will be something of interest to anyone going on, and San Francisco's mild climate ensures that practically every weekend will bring another major festival or some sort of large event. Listed here are just some of the really big events going on:
LGBT community events
San Francisco is famous for its exuberant and visible lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, who always put together some very festive events:
Outdoor and recreational events
The San Francisco Giants are the city's Major League Baseball team, playing their home games at the lovely AT&T Park in SoMa. The other major league team in San Francisco is the San Francisco 49ers, the city's National Football League team, who play their games at Candlestick Park on Candlestick Point in Southeast San Francisco. Both teams command huge fan bases.
As far as college sports go in San Francisco, there are the University of San Francisco Dons, who play various college sports including baseball, basketball, soccer and volleyball at their campus in Western Addition. The San Francisco State University Gators play various college sports including baseball, basketball and soccer at their campus near Lake Merced.
San Francisco is a hotbed for underground music; a highly diverse array of musical styles is represented (e.g., rock, pop, experimental, weird folk, and avant-jazz). Shows occur every night, with as many as fifteen small shows occurring each Thursday through Saturday night. Much of this activity is not always well covered in the mainstream media; useful community-driven resources for finding about local shows include Dar Dar Dar  and the Transbay Calendar .
The University of California, San Francisco is one of the city's largest employers and is dedicated solely to the education of health and the biomedical sciences. Also in the University of California system is the Hastings College of the Law, a major law school located in downtown San Francisco. The San Francisco State University is another major public university that offers a broader range of studies than the UC colleges in the city. Rounding off the city's public colleges is the City College of San Francisco, a two-year community college.
San Francisco also has numerous private colleges and universities, some of them large, such as the University of San Francisco located in the Richmond district, and some of them smaller and much more specalized.
While San Franciso's economy is linked to it being a world-class tourist attraction, its economy is diversified. The largest employment sectors are professional services, government, finance, trade, and tourism. Its frequent portrayal in music, films, literature and popular culture has helped make the city and its landmarks known throughout the world. San Francisco has developed a large tourist infrastructure with numerous hotels, restaurants, and top-notch convention facilities.
While it's been a long time since people considered Montgomery Street in the Financial District to be the "Wall Street of the West", San Francisco remains one of the principal banking and finance centers of the west coast of the United States. Many major financial institutions and banks are based in the city or have set up regional headquarters here.
San Francisco's proximity to Silicon Valley has made the city increasingly attractive for high-tech companies. In recent years, San Francisco has also been making itself a center of biotechnology.
If you want it, chances are likely you can get it in San Francisco. There are a wide range of small and locally owned businesses throughout the city's neighborhoods; in fact, San Francisco has for the most part repelled the development of large chain retailers and big box stores that are common across America.
If it's tourist trinkets you're looking for, Fisherman's Wharf has the typical souvenir, T-shirt, and camera shops, along with plenty of specialty stores. However, San Francisco's most popular shopping area is Union Square, which has all the big national department stores (Macy's, Saks, Nordstrom, etc.) and plenty of fancy boutique stores, as well as a few shopping centers thrown in.
For small, upscale boutiques, Union Street, Fillmore Street, and Chestnut Street in the Golden Gate area are lined with unique and trendy places, and all three streets are among the best spots in the city to window shop. Nob Hill is also full of specialty places.
But if you don't have a luxury dollar to spend and still want to walk away with something unique, there are plenty of shops in Chinatown for you, selling Oriental handicrafts of all descriptions, and no chain stores in sight. Japantown also offers plenty of great shops selling authentic souvenirs, including the excellent Kinokuniya Stationery/Bookstore. The Haight is full of excellent independent record and book stores, with Amoeba Music dominating the scene.
San Francisco is a sensual, epicurean city with a vast array of restaurants. In fact, San Francisco has more restaurants per capita than any major city in North America, with 1 restaurant for every 250 residents (in comparison, New York City has 1 restaurant for every 940 residents). The price range is huge, and you can spend anywhere from a small fortune to a couple bucks for every type of cuisine. Vegetarians and vegans will find SF a paradise, however contrary to popular belief the city has one of the lowest rates of vegetarian consumers in the nation. Sushi is a local obsession, and though you can find a sushi bar on almost every street corner, the Richmond district has more than its fair share of excellent sushi chefs.
San Francisco is also one of the best places in the nation for Asian cuisine: Korean, Thai, Indian, Japanese and, of course, Chinese. With the largest Chinatown in North America as well as one of the largest Chinese communities in the West, there are many exceptional restaurants serving dim sum and other Chinese delicacies found throughout the city. This localized Chinese cuisine has its feet in Hong Kong and America, and is different from what many visitors are accustomed to — it is common to hear complaints from Chinese visitors that Chinese food here is not like the food back home. There are several main types of Chinese restaurants in San Francisco: those primarily serving immigrants from Hong Kong ("Hong Kong style") which commonly have signs on the wall in Chinese characters, live fish and shellfish tanks and some exotic main ingredients, such as pig's blood or sea cucumber; those primarily serving San Franciscans who are not Asian immigrants ("California Chinese") which commonly have Westernized table service, low fat content and more emphasis on fresh vegetables; those primarily serving tourists or other people accustomed to Chinese food as it is commonly served in the United States ("Americanized Chinese"); and those primarily serving immigrants from other areas or a particular dietary need or interest (regional cuisines, vegetarian, Muslim). There may be some mixing between these various classifications and each category may influence the others, for instance, the Americanized dish known as Chop Suey is often not served even at Americanized Chinese restaurants in San Francisco, while Chinese vegetables such as bok choy and pea sprouts may turn up on your plate at California Cuisine style restaurants.
Fisherman's Wharf serves fresh seafood, especially clam chowder and crabs cooked to order. North Beach is the place to go for Italian food, and the Mission (birth place of the mission style burrito) for Mexican and Latin American cuisine of all sorts. San Francisco restaurants are also very corkage friendly. Average corkage fee appears to be in the $15 range, with some of the more pricey places charging $25-35.
The best way to find a good bar or club is to ask the advice of a local; but barring that a copy of The SF Bay Guardian or the SF Weekly will help you find something suited to your personal taste.
San Francisco is very much of a "scene" town. Head to the Marina for mid-20s to mid-30s professionals (and those visiting from Los Angeles). Haight-Ashbury, famous for the "Summer of Love" and hippies, is still a place for alternative lifestyle and now has many neo-punks and hipsters in the mix. South of Market (SoMa) and the Mission District have left-over dot-commers and hipsters hanging out on every corner. The Castro primarily serves San Francisco's gay men, with The Lexington, Wild Side West, and Stray Bar in the Mission serving as lesbian bars. With a large Irish population, San Francisco has a number of very good Irish pubs extending out into the Sunset neighborhood. North Beach is home to several dance clubs and strip clubs.
If you like soccer (football) and all things English, you should stop into the Kezar Pub, at the edge of the Haight-Ashbury District, or Lower Haight's Mad Dog In the Fog. The pub quiz and bar food are good. Swill some pints and stay in the dark. Good for an entire day's worth of drinking.
San Francisco, despite being much smaller than New York City, sports more microbreweries. Anchor Brewing Company (makers of Anchor Steam, found throughout the US) is brewed on Potrero Hill, though it is generally not open to the public (tours are available Friday afternoons by reservation). Similarly, Speakeasy Ales & Lagers opens its doors on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons, though its location in Hunter's Point makes it a long Muni ride if you're traveling without a car. The other microbreweries are housed in brewpubs:
Other destinations for beer drinkers include the Gordon Biersch alehouse on the Embarcadero in SoMa, the City Beer Store and Tasting Bar on Folsom St in SoMa (your best bet for beer to go), the Mission's Monk's Kettle, and the famous Toronado Pub on lower Haight Street, which specializes in Belgian ales.
The surrounding Alameda, San Mateo, and Marin Counties also host many microbreweries worth trying. Many of these are accessible by BART. And although Santa Rosa is 45 minutes north of San Francisco, no beer lovers should skip the renowned Russian River Brewing Company in downtown Santa Rosa.
San Francisco offers a wide range of accommodations, from a healthy supply of hostels and budget hotels to the lavish, luxurious hotels in the city center, as well as just about everything in-between. The majority of accommodations are in the northeastern portion of the city, in and around the popular areas of Downtown, Chinatown, and Fisherman's Wharf. As one moves into the mostly residential neighborhoods to the west, the sleeping options filter down to small inns and bed and breakfasts.
Decide if you want to be in walking distance of your destinations, or are up to driving and parking (which can be quite an undertaking in some of the busier areas of San Francisco) or taking public transit. If you have a specific destination in mind, look also in the Districts sections.
If you'd rather stay closer to the San Francisco International Airport, there are plenty of standard airport accommodations in the cities surrounding the airport — Burlingame, Millbrae, San Bruno and South San Francisco. From there, you can drive or take BART or Caltrain into San Francisco.
The area code for San Francisco is 415. You need to only dial the seven digit phone number for calls within the city. For calls within the US or Canada, dial 1+area code+number, and for international calls, dial 011+country code+city code(if applicable)+number. Pay phones are getting less and less commonplace as nearly everyone in San Francisco has a mobile phone. When you do find one, keep in mind that they only take coins and phone cards with a dial-to-use number. Local calls start at $0.50.
To get online, internet cafes are available at a sprinkling of city center locations. Many coffee houses and cafes also offer wireless connection for free or a small fee. Free access is available in Union Square. For a more scenic place to check your email try the Apple Store on Stockton at Ellis near Market in Union Square or any of the many public libraries, especially the main branch on Market near Civic Center station.
Additionally, those traveling with laptop computers will often find an open free signal across the city which is being deployed by a company called Meraki. The "Free the Net" signal is unlocked and free to use.
Blue mailboxes for mail such as letters and postcards are on many street corners. USPS post offices sell stamps and ship packages, and several private companies provide additional services.
As with many other major cities in the world, San Francisco has its share of problems. A search for "People Behaving Badly" on YouTube will reveal local KRON 4 reporter Stanley Roberts' varied and sometimes comical segments on aggressive panhandling, distracted drivers, fare evasion, and most famously "Elmo Shirt Guy" who became an internet-meme in his own right and was featured on Jimmy Kimmel. The good news is that as a visitor to San Francisco, though you may occasionally encounter people behaving badly, with a dash of common sense its unlikely you'll be the target of any crime or violence.
The areas that one should be most cautious are in the neighborhoods of Bayview-Hunters Point, Visitacion Valley, Sunnydale, Ingleside, and Potrero Hill in Southeast San Francisco, as well as the Tenderloin, parts of Western Addition (including the Fillmore District), and parts of the Mission. San Francisco is still susceptible to violent crime, and most of these murders occur in the southeast, less economically fortunate, neighborhoods of the city. Gang violence touches even busy and thriving areas such as the Mission Street retail corridor, although most instances of violent crime are directed to specific targets and are not random acts. The SoMa district used to be somewhat dangerous; however, recent gentrification (something that has become fairly common and a social issue in SF) has transformed it into a rather hip and much safer neighborhood with plenty of art galleries and clubs. However, it is best to be careful even now.
San Francisco also has the largest homeless population per capita in the United States. If someone begs from you, you may either politely say you do not have any change or just keep walking, and he or she will generally leave you alone. The main homeless area is around 6th and Market, heading towards the Civic Center, and in the Tenderloin. Haight Ashbury also has lots of panhandlers, and the area near Golden Gate Park at the end of Haight Street near McDonalds is notorious for junkies and should be avoided at night.
Pickpocketing, purse snatching, and other forms of petty crime are common as with any other large city. Be especially cautious on crowded Muni trains and buses, in heavily touristed areas such as Fisherman's Wharf, and during the busy holiday shopping season.
Do not leave valuables in your vehicle, especially when parking on public streets. Car break-ins are very common in San Francisco, and any valuables in plain sight are in danger of being stolen. During your visit, you will probably see small piles of broken glass on sidewalks throughout the city, which are the result of such crimes. If you cannot carry all valuables with you, try to keep them in the trunk and park your vehicle in secure parking garages, which are slightly safer than street parking but are not completely free from crime either.
Be careful to check for ticks after hiking in fields in the Bay Area. There is a high rate of lyme disease transmission in the Bay Area. If a bulls' eye rash develops at the tick bite site, immediately seek medical help and treatment with antibiotics.
San Francisco prides itself on its openness to diversity in race, gender, sexual orientation and personal style. This trait is widely considered to be one of the defining features of the city, and it draws both visitors and transplants alike.
Smokers beware: as in the rest of California, smoking is illegal in bars, restaurants, and other public places. Bay Area people can be particularly vocal about your personal habits. Be aware of nonsmoking areas, and try to be courteous about smoking in other places. They will probably not bother you about standing and smoking outside a restaurant or bar.
On the other hand, smoking marijuana is remarkably well-tolerated. If you are visiting from elsewhere in the U.S., you may be very surprised to find that marijuana is not considered to be a problem by San Franciscans, and even by the city's police. While still illegal under federal law, a law was passed in 2006 officially making marijuana the lowest priority for the SFPD. This does not mean that you should smoke marijuana just anywhere -- as with cigarettes, it is considered improper etiquette to smoke marijuana in crowded areas.
It's worth mentioning that natives tend to dislike many of the nicknames given to their city. Instead of saying "San Fran" or "Frisco," most refer to San Francisco by its full name, "SF", or "The City."
Bikes can be rented from around the northern waterfront (Pier 41/Fisherman's Wharf/Aquatic Park area) or near Golden Gate Park for trips to Marin County via the Golden Gate Bridge. Stanyan near Haight at the end of the park has several good shops. Golden Gate Transit also sporadically serves the North Bay from San Francisco, and has bike racks on most buses.
Nearby destinations suitable for day trips include: