There are lots of clichés about San Francisco and rightfully so. Its weird and wonderful history is married with a magical layout of rollercoaster hills, pastel houses at crooked angles, and a liberated spirit, all overlooking the misty Pacific Ocean. Just taking in the scenery can be enough.
If you’re there for a couple of days you might only get a taster of its charms but you won’t fail to be intoxicated by just being there.
The city may have been an iconic backdrop for gas guzzler Steve McQueen’s Bullitt but that doesn’t mean you can’t save a few quid by walking some of the signature neighbourhoods, and jumping on a cable car for the hell of it.
When to go
San Francisco is a cooler customer than its Southern Californian cousins in more ways than one. It boasts the beautiful blue skies of the Golden State but tempered by changeable, foggy conditions. Always take layers and aim to go in late spring (April to May) or the end of summer (October) for mild, bright days.
Save transit time and try to get a good flight deal that jets you in over the water straight into San Francisco International airport (14 miles from downtown). Lucky Highway 1 tourists may prefer to motor in along the coastline.
Explore on day 1
You might want to get your mental compass in place by starting off at Union Square, which is handy to take a pew in for a snack and take-out coffee while watching the human traffic. It’s only worth lingering in if you want to dive into the shiny retail stores that surround it. (There’s also a theatre district to the west that’s handy for night time entertainment.)
If not, head up to Nob Hill, one of the city’s swankiest locales. You’ll get great views and photo opportunities (Grace Cathedral is nestled into its lofty heights), and a nosy look at some of the monied apartments and hotels.
Head down (and up) to Russian Hill which fans of Armistead Maupin will recognise as the picturesque setting for his Tales of the City novels and TV series. It’s within a stone’s throw of Lombard Street, ‘the crookedest street in the world’, a dizzying one-way section between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets.
From here it makes sense to walk north east towards Fisherman’s Wharf making a pit stop via North Beach. You might end up tallying at North Beach for longer than you intended. The area is rich in Beatnik folklore and Italian heritage, with plenty of eateries and bars to tempt you into the dark hours. Pop into the landmark City Lights bookstore to get into a literary state of mind, then head over the road to Vesuvio Café on Columbus Avenue. It’s been serving up liquid refreshment since 1948 to patrons including Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Bob Dylan.
Freshen up with the touristy, blustery delights of Fisherman’s Wharf with its souvenir stores, famous piers (all aboard to Alcatraz!), and lip-smacking seafood stands groaning with fishy snacks served with lemon wedges, tomato dips, and hunks of fresh bread.
After the sea air it’s tempting to head back to North Beach’s warm trattoiras or the pungent environ of The Stinking Rose which serves up succulent garlic-infused dishes that will give you multi-coloured dreams.
If you’re feeling adventurous give the edgy Tenderloin area the swerve and head to SoMa (South of Market) and the Mission District. You’ll find bars and clubs of most persuasions to keep you entertained way passed the witching hour.
Explore on day 2
Embrace the laid back vibe after a night on the town and follow the incense trail to The Haight. Yes, it suffers from a slightly dog-eared 60s reputation as hippie dippy central for freaks and flower children but it retains plenty of quirky charm, cool shops and a mishmash demographic to make it a memorable part of your trip.
There are plenty of cafes to stop in, vintage shops to buy quirky trinkets, and Amoeba record store for an old-school music retail experience. Edge your way towards Buena Vista Park where George Harrison got freaked out by the crowds in ’67. You might just prefer a light nap or picnic.
Extend your pastoral trip by hopping on a Muni bus to Golden Gate Park. It’s bigger than Central Park, and its 75,000 trees cut an epic swathe all the way down to Ocean Beach. A Japanese Tea Garden is nestled amongst the vegetation providing a peaceful spot for refreshment, and Stow Lake is a great place for messing about in boats.
After an afternoon of pastoral frolics, bring yourself back down to earth with an evening of electric blues. Biscuits and Blues on Mason Street (near Union Square) is worth booking a table if you want to sit back, dine on hearty US fare like Louisiana meatloaf with ‘slaw’ and yam fries, wash down copious spirits and enjoy sensational music from lightning-fingered bluesmen.
This article was originally published at http://www.travelbite.co.uk