San Francisco

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Revision as of 07:56, 22 March 2004 by Notty (talk | contribs) (Added some highlight walks)
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San Francisco

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The Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco is a bustling cosmopolitan city in California, the centerpiece of the Bay Area, well-known for its large gay and Chinese communities, hilly and picturesque terrain, and history of earthquakes.

It is located on the tip of a peninsula by San Francisco Bay and the Pacific coast and has a population of around 750,000. It is 7 miles by 7 miles in size. The best times to visit are September and October because they are mostly fog free.


Get In

By train

the Amtrak Coast Starlight train runs up and down the west coast from Seattle to Los Angeles, departing Union Station in LA at 10.15am. The train does not go into San Francisco itself - there are stations at Oakland (train arrives 9.30pm) and Emeryville (train arrives 10pm) and from either one there is a connecting bus service to San Francisco which takes approximately 30 minutes.

By plane

There are three airports in the San Francisco Bay Area: San Francisco (SFO, located about 10 miles south of the city), Oakland (OAK, in the East Bay), and San Jose (SJO, in the Silicon Valley, about 1 hour south of San Francisco). Both Oakland and San Jose are served by discount airlines such as Southwest; San Francisco and Oakland are connected to downtown SF by the BART rapid-transit train. Rental cars and discount remote parking at SFO are reached by an elevated monorail. There is also a BART connection to the CalTrain service, which travels from San Francisco to San Jose, with stops at many cities along the way in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. San Jose airport is currently undergoing major construction that can sometimes cause significant road traffic delays.

By car

The two main arteries that connect San Francisco with Portland and other cities in the Pacific Northwest, and with Los Angeles and the rest of Southern California to the south, are US 101 and US Interstate 5. 101 meanders through the coastal hills of Central and Northern California, while 5 is a bullet-straight line up the San Joaquin Valley. Of the two, 5 is the faster route from almost any destination, while 101 is more scenic and enjoyable.

From practically any points east, Interstate Highway 80 is the way to get to SF. It's an excellent way to come into SF, as it ends on the beautiful San Francisco Bay Bridge.

Get around

San Francisco's Municipal Railway (Muni) runs an extensive network of buses, historic trams, and cable cars. Many of them are electric and powered by a spider web of overhead wires. The Cable Cars running from Powell Street and Market to Fisherman's Wharf are a fun ride, if a bit impractical for everyday use. $1.25 buys two hours of travel on the Muni system; be sure to get a transfer ticket when you pay for your first ride. Cable Cars are $3.00 per one-way, single-vehicle ride, no transfers issued or accepted. $9.00 buys an all day pass good on all Muni vehicles, including Cable Cars.

Having a car can make it easy to get to parts of the city poorly served by Muni or other public transportation, as well as other parts of the Bay Area. However, perpetually-clogged traffic and a confusing system of one-way streets can make driving in downtown extremely frustrating. In addition, about 2 5% of the city's revenue is made through parking tickets; parking laws are arbitrary, convoluted, and devilishly stacked against the driver. Most of the city's internal freeways were damaged by the 1989 earthquake and consequently torn down, so driving in San Francisco is a surface-street affair.

Bicycles can be convenient in San Francisco, if you have strong legs. San Francisco is fairly small -- about 7 miles square -- and it's fairly quick to get from one end to the other. But much of the terrain is hilly and hard to pedal up. Downtown, SoMa, and the Sunset and Richmond districts are relatively flat. There are a number of bike * atures live piano music courtesy of Spencer Day. The clientele is diverse, but skews towards young, hip gay men; the specials of the day are usually cheap, sweet, and highly alcoholic.

   * Olive
   * Arrow Bar, 10 6TH St, 255-7920. Friday night brings out the darker side of the hipster crowd where local DJs spin a mix of trendy 80s, hip-hop, house, and anything else that gets your body moving music at this relatively small and dark lounge. Expect crazy hair styles, black clothes, and some fun people. 

Entertainment paths and bike routes on city streets; the San Francisco Bike Coalition keeps a lot of information about them.

Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), which covers most of the Bay Area, has eight stations in San Francisco, making it a nice way to get between well-trafficked parts of the city -- especially downtown and the Mission. Bicycles are allowed on BART during non-commute hours; but don't bring a dog along, as BARTing dogs don't bike.

Taxis in San Francisco are, for a large city, surprisingly inefficient and expensive. Except for outside downtown business hotels, taxis can be hard to find and hail -- and calling for a cab can mean 30-45 minute waits, if the cab shows up at all.

Walking can be an enticing option to get from one neighborhood to another, so long as you are aware of where you are as some neighborhoods can be iffy. Streets which often go straight up and down hills may make driving difficult, but make for breathtaking views (as well as good exercise) for the pedestrian. An extensive stairway system also is good for views that can't be seen by car.

Highlight walks might include:

  • Broadway, a quite doable walk of several miles beginning at the Bay, going through a risque entertainment area, past Chinatown, over Russian Hill, out to the mansions of Pacific Heights, and ending at the Lyon Steps alongside the Presidio, San Francisco's newest national park.
  • Ocean Beach (Richmond, Sunset),
  • Herb Caen Way (The Embarcadero) along the waterfront,
  • the Barbary Coast Trail (through Downtown, Chinatown, and North Beach), and
  • the Greenwich and Filbert Steps on the east side of Telegraph Hill, both strenuous and unforgettable.

Cross streets: As San Francisco streets are numbered from the beginning of the street, It is best when asking directions to ask for a cross street or neighborhood name. For instance, if you are at the intersection of Haight Street and Clayton Street, and you ask the driver of the 33 Stanyan bus "Does this bus go to Market Street?" it will get you a yes, but the bus won't get you downtown, it will get you to Market and 18th in the Castro district.

Numbered streets and avenues: San Francisco has both numbered streets, in the Mission, the Castro, Noe Valley, and SoMa, and numbered avenues in the Sunset and the Richmond. 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, "I live on Fifth Avenue" but "I live near Fifth and Geary." Street signs generally don't have "Street" or "Avenue" either; they just say "GEARY" or "MASONIC".


  • The Painted Ladies - historic terrace houses in heritage condition
  • Lombard Street
  • Alcatraz
  • Angel Island
  • Golden Gate Park
  • Twin Peaks, Twin Peaks Boulevard (north of Portola Drive, just east of O'Shaughnessy). The small parking area at the northern tip of Twin Peaks Boulevard has the best view of San Francisco and the Bay Area that you can get within the city limits. Not much services, and the tour buses can get backed up here during the day, but it's a great place to really appreciate the City from above.

Golden Gate Bridge

Highway 101 N (from Park-Presidio or Lombard Street entrance), +1 415-921-5858 ([email protected]). Open 24 hours, occasionally closed Sunday morning for events. $5 (toll driving south into San Francisco; free on foot or bike)

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most famous bridges in the United States, and has been called one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. The bridge spans the Golden Gate, a strait between San Francisco and Marin County to the north, and is one of the major road routes into and out of the city.

Vehicular traffic in both directions share a single deck; orange pylons are used to allot lanes to one direction or the other depending on traffic conditions. Observation areas and parking lots are provided on both the north and south sides of the bridge; the best way to enjoy the bridge is to park and walk across, not least because you don't have to pay a toll. Note that winds are high and it can be cold and foggy; dress appropriately. Bikes can also be difficult to navigate in the high winds and narrow pathway.

The masterwork of architect Joseph B. Strauss, whose statue graces the southern observation deck, the bridge took seven years to build, and was completed on May 27, 1937. Not actually golden in color -- a common misconception -- the bridge is painted a deep red-orange. Erroneous legend has it that the bridge is continuously painted, with crews starting at one end and, on getting to the other end, turning around and starting over again. In fact, the bridge is only painted once every few years, with some touchup done continuously.


  • Take one of the many San Francisco harbour tours and admire the views from the bay or visit historic Tiburon.
  • Ride a San Francisco Cable Car, or electric tram along the Embarcadero
  • Critical Mass. On the last Friday of each month, bicyclists gather at the north end of Market Street on the Embarcadero and go together to some destination. If you are driving in SF on a Critical Mass day, you will want to listen for radio traffic reports for streets that are closed or badly congested by the bikes. Tempers can and do flare.


San Francisco is a sensual, epicurean city with a vast array of restaurants. If money is no object, you can have an unparalleled dining experience at Masa or Boulevard. But less budget-busting restaurants exist for every type of cuisine. Sushi is a local obsession, and though you can find a sushi bar on almost every streetcorner, the Richmond district has more than its fair share of excellent sushi chefs. San Francisco also has the largest Chinatown in North America, with many exceptional restaurants serving dim sum and other Chinese delicacies; this localized Chinese cuisine has its feet in Hong Kong and America, and is different from what many visitors are accustomed to. 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 for Mexican restaurants (and South American cuisine of all sorts).

  • Rainbow Grocery, 1745 Folsom (near 16th and Mission BART station). A wide variety of organic groceries, herbs and spices at low prices.


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. However, smoking is not dead in San Francisco —there are a small number of bars that choose to defy the law, and cater to the short-of-breath. The Zeitgeist (a motorcycle-themed dive bar) on Valencia in the Mission District is one of the better known.

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