San Francisco and Los Angeles are California’s two biggest cities. While people usually refer to San Francisco is being in northern California, it’s actually closer to the middle, at least going north-to-south. It’s not only one of the state’s greatest cities, but one of the most vibrant and unique in the country, even the world.
San Francisco originally flourished during the Gold Rush of the 19th century and has been a popular attraction ever since. Today, it’s known for having one of the nations largest Chinatowns, being a center of technology and business, it’s trolley cars and steep hills, Golden Gate Park and the Golden Gate Bridge and lots of other things.
Highlights of San Francisco
You can find almost anything in San Francisco, whether you’re seeking ethnic cuisine, trendy boutiques, a vibrant arts scene or places to appreciate the natural beauty of the California coast. Here are just a few highlights.
- Golden Gate Bridge –Certainly one of the nation’s most famous bridges, this one connects the city of San Francisco to Marin County and cities such as Sausalito. You can cross the bridge by car, bike or on foot. Or you can simply admire it and take pictures from a distance.
- Golden Gate Park –New York has Central Park and San Francisco has Golden Gate Park. This park contains over 1000 acres of places to walk, play, ride bikes and explore attractions such as museums. Some of the fun and exciting things you’ll find within this park include Segway tours, De Young Museum, Conservatory of Flowers and a traditional carousel.
- Union Square –One of the city’s central neighborhoods and full of places to walk, eat and shop.
- Ocean Beach –San Francisco, unlike Southern California, is not known for its beaches. While it’s usually too chilly for swimming, you can still admire the grandeur of the Pacific Ocean from Ocean Beach. It’s also a hip neighborhood with some nice cafes and restaurants. If you want to check out trendy boutiques, sample food from a street vendor or visit a nightclub, this is the neighborhood to visit.
- Museums and Aquariums –San Francisco is full of cultural attractions, such as Exploratorium, an interactive museum with educational exhibits for both kids and adults; California Academy of the Sciences, which has an aquarium, rainforests and a planetarium; Aquarium of the Bay and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, to name just a few.
- Cable Cars, BART, MUNI and Ferries –San Francisco has lots of choices for getting around. You can take a ferry to the infamous prison Alcatraz; ride cable cars around downtown and explore some of the city’s distinct neighborhoods on the BART and MUNI public transportation systems. Even if you’re driving, it’s fun to try out some of these local forms of transportation while you’re in town.
Dining and Entertainment
When dining out in San Francisco, you can target certain neighborhoods that are known for certain types of cuisine. Chinatown, naturally, is the place to go for amazing Chinese and, increasingly, other types of Asian food (Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese are especially prevalent now). North Beach is famous for its traditional Italian food and pizza places. Golden Boy Pizza often has lines going out the door for people waiting to buy slices. Ichido, an extremely popular Japanese and seafood place is also in North Beach.
Of course, you can find great restaurants in many other neighborhoods as well. If you visit the Ferry Building downtown, which is full of shops and restaurants, you should try Hog Island Oyster Company, known for its clam chowder, oysters and other seafood specialties. Hollywood Café in Fisherman’s Wharf is a great place for breakfast. For the perfect American burger, you can head over to Pearl’s Deluxe Burgers on Post Street.
Entertainment and nightlife are prolific in San Francisco. For great food and blues, you can go out to Biscuits and Blues on Geary Street. The Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar on Mason Street is another hopping nightclub, famous for its throwback nights with music from the 50s. DNA Lounge on Eleventh Street is a place to hear some contemporary live music.
For concerts, plays and musicals, there are theaters such as The Fillmore, Oracle Arena, Greek Theater, Regency Ballroom and Fox Theater in Oakland.
Where to Stay
San Francisco has everything from 4 and 5 star hotels to small inns and B & B’s. If you’re looking for high quality hotels that are centrally located (near popular neighborhoods such as Union Square), you might like the Chancellor Hotel on Union Square, Fairmont San Francisco, Omni San Francisco Hotel or Courtyard San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf.
If you prefer something smaller and cozier, you might like one of the city’s many historic inns or B & B’s, such as the Inn on Castro, The Battery or Bernalview B & B. Budget travelers can find good value at the Seaside Inn, Hotel Mayflower or the Fitzgerald Hotel.