San Francisco’s storied place in American song and culture is well-deserved. This gem of a city overlooking picturesque San Francisco Bay is built on seven hills. It is a must-visit place for its beauty alone. Add in a really great restaurant scene, a fascinating mix of cultures and neighborhoods, museums, unique architecture and proximity to too-many regional attractions to visit in a single trip and you have a real gem of a place to visit.

Famous for its cable cars, the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz, the marketplace at the Ferry Terminal, Coit Tower, the financial district, “painted lady” Victorian houses and many other scenes often portrayed in movies and TV, this bustling city is a crossroads of culture and a busy center of maritime commerce.

While San Francisco is on the pricey side if you choose to limit yourself to world-famous hotels and eateries and shop only at Union Square boutiques, the city also boasts excellent lodging, entertainment, shopping and restaurants that are reasonably affordable. Purchasing a San Francisco Municipal Public Transportation Passport gives you affordable and convenient access to cable cars, buses, streetcars and the Metro. Similarly, a San Francisco City Pass (citypass.com) gives you transportation access plus museums and a bay cruise.

Before you go

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Getting there

• By air, the nearest airport is San Francisco International (SFO) at 15 miles away. Oakland International (OAK), is 20 miles away from the financial district.

• By train, Amtrak has a station in Oakland at Jack London Square. It is connected by Amtrak buses and other public transportation. From Oakland, there is frequent service to the entire west coast and beyond.

• By car, San Francisco is on interstates 280, 580 and California 101

• Cruise ships sail from San Francisco’s cruise terminal, 1½ miles distant

For a short visit

• Visit Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39

• Take a Hop-on, hop-off bus tour of the city, but bring a sweater

• Enjoy a sightseeing boat trip around the bay, weather permittin.

• Explore Chinatown, preferably on foot

• Visit Lombard Street, preferably via the Powell-Hyde Cable Car line that starts at Fisherman’s Wharf

For a longer visit

• Walk, shop and eat in some of the city’s more interesting neighborhoods, including Castro, Haight-Ashbury and Chinatown

• Enjoy a day-trip to vibrant and trendy Oakland. Be sure to catch Jack London Square and Lake Merritt.

• Take a drive through Golden Gate Park

• See amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge from Land’s End

• Go on an excursion north, over the Golden Gate Bridge. Stop in Sausalito, then continue on to the Muir Woods (towering redwoods) and then into wine country in Napa and/or Sonoma counties. A full agenda will be best served by at least an overnight stay in wine country.

At a glance

• A worldly city with great shopping, restaurants and excellent cultural and sports attractions

• Mobility level: Moderate because of the steep hills.

• When to go: Summers are cool and often foggy. Fall is usually good and spring is a close second.

• Where to stay: The entire Bay Area is filled with abundant hotel choices at all ends of the price scale.


Jeffrey Orenstein and Virginia Orenstein are publishers of Living on the Suncoast Magazine. They can be reached at jorenstein@simplysmarttravel.com.

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