San Francisco is a city in the State of California, USA. Life in the city is never dull for the population of San Francisco is well-known for its ethnic diversity. Expect a stay that's fun-filled with activities that let you explore and appreciate its diverse cultures in all their shapes and forms. San Francisco also boasts of spectacular views both natural and man-made that take your breath away, a renowned example being the Golden Gate Bridge.
San Francisco has an atmosphere of genteel chic mixed with offbeat innovation and a self-effacing quality missing from brassy New York and plastic LA. Its hilly streets provide some gorgeous glimpses of the sparkling bay and its famous bridges.
The treats of San Francisco are not just for locals. The basic pleasures of life here - wonderful food, sparkling nightlife and those glorious views - are there for everyone. Watch the white fog fill the Golden Gate as the sunset lights up the windows across the bay, and prepare to leave your heart.
San Francisco is a popular location any time of the year. Summer is the prime tourist season, but its summer weather is none too hospitable anyway: the bay is often foggy, while inland or north in the Wine Country it's often too hot and dusty for comfort. Local weather patterns are highly unpredictable, but generally the best months weather-wise are between mid-September and mid-November.
Pick a month of the year and there's always a festival or street party on somewhere in San Fran. Unless a bit of fog or a brisk morning perturbs you, you can't go too wrong visiting the city. The best months to come are either side of the summer peak season, with the September to November period being particularly festive.
Berkeley, across the bay from San Francisco, is home to several pioneering disabled services organisations, so there are a great deal of resources and provisions for disabled travellers in the Bay Area.
All the Bay Area transit companies, including BART, Muni, AC Transit and Golden Gate Transit, offer travel discounts for the disabled, and they have a jointly issued ID card to access these reductions. All Muni Metro and BART stations are wheelchair accessible. Muni's Street & Transit Map details which bus routes and streetcar stops are wheelchair friendly. The San Francisco Bay Area Regional Transit Guide, published by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, has a Disabled Services section and the major car rental companies are generally able to supply hand-controlled vehicles with one or two days' notice.
If you need information about the wheelchair accessibility of local hotels, contact the San Francisco office of the Berkeley-based Center for Independent Living (tel: 415543-6222, 415543-6698; www.cilberkeley.org). For visually impaired persons there are a few major intersections that emit a chirping signal to indicate when it is safe to cross the street. They are most common in Berkeley. For the hearing impaired many local TV stations include subtitles in their broadcasts.
The city's steepness makes for some wonderfully panoramic viewpoints. Spread out below you is an appetising mix of colourful neighbourhoods, bohemian history, mind-teasing art, innovative architecture and restorative parks. Go explore - by foot if you're particularly sprightly, by cable car if not.
African Orthodox Church of St John Coltrane
Tel: (415) 673 3572 (info)
When the bassist plucks the opening notes of 'A Love Supreme,' you'll know the Sunday liturgy has begun, but you never know when it will end. The jam session and religious testimony often continues for hours, with audience members joining in on their own instruments. In the mesmerizing icons on the wall, the saxophonist known here as St John Coltrane keeps his cool as fire leaps from his soprano sax. Even people allergic to organized religion may find themselves grooving to this improvised one.
Tel: (415) 981 7625 (info)
For almost 150 years, the name Alcatraz has given the innocent chills and the guilty cold sweats. It's been the nation's first military prison, then a forbidding maximum-security penitentiary, then disputed territory between Native American activists and the FBI. No wonder that first step you take off the ferry and onto 'The Rock' seems to cue ominous music: dunh-dunh-dunnnnh! The place has a long history and by 1973 had already become a major draw. Tickets should be booked two weeks or more in advance, so plan your escape now.
Web: www.nps.gov/alcatraz, alcatrazcruises.com
Aquarium Of The Bay
Tel: (415) 623 5301 (info)
Watch sharks circle overhead, manta rays skate shyly by and seaweed sway all around, as conveyer belts guide you through glass tubes right into the Bay. Not for the claustrophobic, perhaps, but a thrilling fish-eye view of San Francisco that leaves kids and parents wide-eyed and humming Little Mermaid tunes.
Asian Art Museum
Tel: (415) 581 3500 (info)
Until some mad San Francisco inventor finally succeeds in inventing the combo time-machine-teleporter, the Asian Art Museum tour remains the best way to cover 6000 years and thousands of miles of astounding terrain in a single afternoon. A trip through the galleries is a treasure-hunting expedition, from racy Rajasthan palace miniatures to Osamu Tezuka's legendary Japanese manga drawings of Astro Boy - just don't go bumping into those priceless Ming vases.
Tel: (415) 771 1616 (info)
Sit in total darkness as Stan Shaff plays his hour-plus compositions of sounds emitted by his sound chamber, which sometimes degenerate into 1970s sci-fi sound effects before resolving into oddly endearing Moog synthesizer wheezes. The Audium was specifically sculpted in 1962 to produce bizarre acoustic effects and eerie soundscapes.
Tel: 1 800 537 6822 (info)
The Beat goes on, and on - OK, so it rambles a little - at this truly obsessive collection of SF literary scene ephemera c 1950-1969. The banned edition of Allen Ginsberg's Howl is the ultimate free-speech trophy, and the 1961 check Jack Kerouac wrote to a liquor store has a certain dark humor, but some items are head-shakers: did those Kerouac bobbles and yo-yos ever really go into mass production? The space is split evenly into a store and museum - the store sells poetry chapbooks and limited-run editions of obscure Beat titles you won't find elsewhere, and entry to this part is free.
Cable Car Museum
Tel: (415) 474 1887 (info)
Grips, engines, braking mechanisms...If terms like these warm your gearhead heart, you will be completely besotted with the Cable Car Museum, housed in the city's still-functioning cable car barn. See three original 1870s cable cars and watch as cables glide over huge wheels - as awesome a feat of physics now as when the mechanism was invented by Andrew Hallidie in 1873.
California Academy of Sciences
Tel: (415) 321 8000 (info)
Finally the California Academy of Sciences is getting the museum suited to its fascinating collection of natural wonders and the occasional freak of nature: a grass-domed building by Renzo Piano, which promises to give the landmark de Young museum competition for architectural attention.
Cartoon Art Museum
Tel: (415) 227 8666 (info)
Comics fans need no introduction to the permanent collection here. Founded on a grant from Bay Area cartoon legend Charles M Schultz of Peanuts fame, this bold museum isn't afraid of the dark, racy, or political, including R Crumb drawings from the '70s and a show featuring painfully funny cartoon satires of the US from Middle Eastern newspapers. Lectures and openings are rare opportunities to mingle with comic legends, Pixar studio heads and obsessively knowledgeable collectors.
Catharine Clark Gallery
Tel: (415) 399 1439 (info)
Catharine Clark has an astronomer's ability to detect art stars in the making and chart radical new directions. No material is too political or risqué here: witness Travis Somerville's altered-photo altars of smiling suburban California high school students in KKK hoods, or Masami Teraoka's paintings of geishas and Venus goddesses banding together like superheroines to fend off wayward priests. Don't miss the video/new media room, featuring works such as Julia Page's video collage of US presidential offspring.
Cathedral of St Mary of The Assumption
Tel: (415) 567 2020 (info)
You might assume from afar that this 1971 concrete cathedral is a ship's prow. This behemoth started out as a modest proposal by a local architecture firm - but the archbishop read architectural criticism in his spare time, and hired MIT guru Pietro Belluschi and Italian engineer Pier-Luigi Nervi to build this sci-fi landmark. Say what you will about the exterior, but the honeycomb ceiling has great acoustics for organ recitals.
Chinese Culture Center
Tel: (415) 986 1822 (info)
Forget digging a tunnel to China: now you can reach the mainland by taking the elevator to the 3rd floor of the Hilton. The center features two to three Chinese art exhibits a year, and recently ramped up its public programming, which now includes beginner Mandarin classes, poetry readings, a genealogy service to trace Cantonese ancestry and Chinese Culture Center Cinema, featuring independent Chinese documentaries.
Chinese Historical Society of America Museum
Tel: (415) 391 1188 (info)
Here, intimate vintage photos, an 1880 temple altar and personal artifacts are seen in the context of popular advertisements and movie clips promoting Chinese stereotypes. The Society's programming also covers the contemporary arts scene, including Indigo Som's photos of Chinese restaurants across the deep South and a theater piece about the local fight against the 1882 Chinese Exclusion. Art shows are across the courtyard in this graceful 1932 landmark building, built as Chinatown's YWCA by Julia Morgan.
Tel: (415) 386 3330 (info)
Populist millionaire Adolph Sutro imagined this place as a workingman's paradise, and by 1869 Sutro's dream had expanded the Cliff House to an elegant eight-story resort with art galleries, dining rooms and an observation deck. Other attractions include views of sea lions blithely frolicking among the seagull guano on Seal Rock in wintertime, and the Camera Obscura, a Victorian invention that projects the sea view outside onto a parabolic screen inside a small building.
Suit up and hit your stride on this nine-mile Coastal Trail, starting at Fort Funston and wrapping around the Presidio paralleling Lincoln Blvd to end at Fort Mason. The four miles of sandy Ocean Beach will definitely work those calves and numb your toes. Casual strollers will prefer to pick up the trail near Sutro Baths, head around Land's End for a peek at Golden Gate Bridge, and then duck into the Legion of Honor at Lincoln Park.
Coit Tower & Telegraph Hill
Tel: (415) 362 0808 (info)
Go ahead and snicker at the wacky hose-shaped concrete projectile eccentric Ms Lillie Hancock Coit left a third of her considerable fortune to build - everyone does - but the climb here is no joke, the tower's dedication to firefighters is heartfelt and the views inside the tower will win you over to Lillie's point of view. After climbing the Greenwich St or Filbert Street Steps to get here, the wait for the elevator is well worth it. From the top of the tower, you can take in panoramic views and spot colorful flocks of parrots turning the treetops red and blue.
Conservatory Of Flowers
Tel: (415) 666 7017 (info)
Flower power is alive and well inside this grand Victorian greenhouse, where orchids sprawl out like Bohemian divas, lilies float contemplatively in ponds and carnivorous plants give off odors that smell exactly like insect belches. The original 1878 structure is newly restored and the plants are thriving as never before.
Contemporary Jewish Museum
Tel: (415) 344 8800 (info)
That upended brushed-steel box balancing improbably on one corner isn't a sculpture, but a special events gallery for the Contemporary Jewish Museum, a major new San Francisco landmark that has been in the works since 1998. The blue-steel structure incorporates the brick facade of the Jesse St Power substation, an 1881 industrial structure rather oddly ornamented with cream-colored cherubs and garlands. Some architectural critics call it creative adaptive reuse, others call it pure hodgepodge, but the jury's out until the public can enter at last in June 2008.
Tel: (415) 863 2108 (info)
This is an extraordinary nonprofit place celebrating art without limits, where 100 developmentally disabled artists create alongside other professional artists. Works created here are often snapped up by collectors and included in shows across the nation, and a recent show was organized by the curator of the 2002 Whitney Biennial.
War is definitely for the birds in this military-airstrip-turned-nature-preserve. Where military aircraft once zoomed in for a landing, bird-watchers now huddle in the silent rushes of a reclaimed tidal marsh. Joggers pound beachside trails that were once oil-stained asphalt, and the only security alerts are raised by puppies suspiciously sniffing surfers. On foggy days, stop by the Crissy Field Center to thaw-out over fair-trade coffee.
Crown Point Press
Tel: (415) 974 6273 (info)
Bet you didn't think anyone could capture Chuck Close's giant portraits, Wayne Thiebaud's Pop Art pastries, or Australian Aboriginal artist Dorothy Napangardi's dreamings on paper. Yet here they are: color woodcut portraits produced by carving and printing 51 separate blocks of wood; cream pie tinged pale blue by glass pastry cases captured in a color gravure; and salt tracings of Mina Mina in mesmerizing sugar-lift etchings.
Eleanor Harwood Gallery
Tel: (415) 867 7770 (info)
Hidden on a residential Mission side street is this treasure-box showcase for Bay Area talents, from those still toiling in inexplicable relative obscurity like myth master Paul Ulrich to breakthrough stars like 2007 Venice Biennale artist Emily Prince, who responded to limited military acknowledgement of US casualties in Iraq by making hand drawings of every US soldier killed there.
Tel: (415) 626 5496 (info)
In the gallery/printmaking studio that calls itself 'The Land of Yes,' anything is possible - including Marcel Dzama's gangs of vampire toddlers and Sandow Birk's modern take on Dante's Inferno starring traffic-jammed LA as hell and San Francisco as a foggy purgatory. Also, its an affordable alternative to museum stores and sales from print editions benefit nonprofits.
Tel: (415) 561 0360 (info)
Is there a science to skateboarding, do robots have feelings, too, and do toilets really flush counter-clockwise in Australia? Head to the Exploratorium to get fascinating scientific answers to all those questions you always wanted to ask in science class. Try out a punk hairdo courtesy of the static electricity station and feel your way through the maze of the Tactile Dome; patrons must be over seven years old and reservations are required.
Tel: (415) 693 0996 (info)
Other towns have their gourmet ghettos, but San Francisco puts its love of food front and center at the Ferry Building. The once-grand port was overshadowed by a 1950s freeway overpass until 1989, when the freeway turned out to be less than earthquake-proof. The overpass was torn down and the Ferry Building emerged as the symbol of San Francisco's new pride and joy: the food.
First Unitarian Church
Tel: (415) 776 4580 (info)
Low-down and rough around the edges aren't usually meant as compliments, and they're not usually applied to a church. But George Percy's 1888 down-to-earth design for a cathedral in rough-hewn stone was perfect for the radical Universalists (whose current church committees include a pagan interest group and gay marriage advocacy) and has since become one of SF's few universally beloved ecclesiastical structures.
Galería De La Raza
Tel: (415) 826 8009 (info)
Art never forgets its roots at this showcase for Latino art since 1970 - witness Dulce Pinzon's portrait of Spiderman as an immigrant window-washer, and mirrors filling with the viewer's exhaled breath to reveal portraits of the disappeared by Columbian artist Oscar Muñoz. On the gallery wall outside is a billboard that sells ideas instead of cigarettes, such as Serio de La Torre's huge poster of clear blue sky with a hazy slogan: REVOLT.
Gallery Paule Anglim
Tel: (415) 433 2710 (info)
Expect the unexpected from museum marquee names like Tony Oursler, whose video projections of distorted faces grumble and squeak in the corner. But provocative works by local upstarts threaten to steal the show, including Ala Ebtekar's paintings of soldiers and storm clouds gathering on ancient Iranian prayer scriptures, and Bull.Miletic's video views of San Francisco from the perspective of a flitting butterfly.
Tel: (415) 775 5500 (info)
Willie Wonka would tip his hat to Domingo Ghirardelli (gear -ar-deli), whose business became the West's largest chocolate factory in 1893. After the company moved to the East Bay, two sweet-talking developers reinvented the factory as a mall and landmark ice-cream parlor in 1964. Today, the square is entering its third incarnation as a luxury timeshare-spa complex - like a massage with your Ghirardelli chocolate sundae?
Golden Gate Bridge
Tel: (415) 556 1693 (info)
Strange but true: the elegant suspension bridge painted a signature shade called 'International Orange' was almost nixed by the Navy in favor of concrete pylons and yellow stripes. Joseph B Strauss correctly gets heaps of praise as the engineering mastermind behind this marvel. But without the aesthetic intervention of architects Gertrude and Irving Murrow and the incredibly quick work of daredevil workers, this 1937 might have been just another traffic bottleneck.
Golden Gate National Recreation Area Headquarters
Tel: (415) 561 4700 (info)
Find out everything a hard-core hiker needs to know about accessing the outer reaches of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), including Presidio, Alcatraz, Fort Point, Fort Funston, the Cliff House, Muir Woods and the Marin Headlands. This is the park's headquarters and visitors’ center, and offers a wealth of maps and information about camping, hiking and other programs for national parks in the Pacific West region.
Tel: (415) 441 3004 (info)
A grand Queen Anne-style Victorian with its original period splendor c. 1882, this family mansion looks like a Clue game come to life - Colonel Mustard could definitely have committed murder with a candlestick in the dark-wood ballroom, or Miss Scarlet in the red velvet parlor. One-hour tours are led by volunteer docents whose devotion to Victoriana is almost cultish.
Tel: (415) 495 5454 (info)
Trancelike states are often induced by Hosfelt, where visitors step from gritty SoMa sidewalks into dreamy, meticulously detailed interior worlds. Close inspection of Russell Crotty's giant orbs reveals nocturnal landscapes painstakingly sketched with a BIC pen, and Marco Maggi's minutely carved stacks of office paper make paperwork seem sublime.
Hyde St Pier: Historic Ships Collection
Tel: (415) 556 3002 (info)
'Aye, she's a beauty,' you'll growl like a true salty dog once you've visited any of the four historic Bay Area boats currently open as museums along Hyde St Pier - especially elegant 1891 schooner Alma and the steamboat Eureka, the world's largest ferry c. 1890. For more mariner action, check out the deck of the magnificent triple-masted, iron-hulled 19th century Balclutha and the toylike paddlewheel tugboat Eppleton Hall.
Jack Hanley Gallery
Tel: (415) 522 1623 (info)
Furious scribblers and meticulous daydreamers will see their worlds reflected on the wall in Chris Johansen's crowds of shy hipsters, Sean O'Dell's snowy owls caught up in narratives not of their own making, and Simon Evans' fragile mental maps of Bohemian utopias held together with Scotch tape. This is a rare chance to see cutting-edge work in its natural habitat - collectors and museums snap up these works.
Tel: (415) 931 0453 (info)
Inside the low-roofed, high-modernist temple, you'll find a handsome blond-wood sanctuary with a lofty beamed ceiling, vintage photographs of Konko events dating back 70 years, and a friendly minister in an Aloha shirt who will greet you, answer any questions about the temple or its Shinto-based beliefs, and then leave you to your contemplation.
Legion Of Honor
Tel: (415) 750 3600 (info)
Never doubt the resolve of a nude model. The Legion was a gift to San Francisco from Alma de Bretteville Spreckels, a sculptor's model who married well and decided to create a fitting artistic tribute to Californians killed in France in WWI. Today, the Legion still 'honors the dead while serving the living' with groundbreaking exhibitions, including a retrospective for folk-art visionary Howard Finster and crowd-pleasing shows.
Tel: (415) 221 9911 (info)
John McLaren took time out from his day job as Golden Gate Park's superintendent for 56 years to establish the lovely Lincoln Park (Clement St, The Richmond). There's a fine walking path that covers a surprisingly rugged, bucolic stretch of coast from the Cliff House to the Legion of Honor, part of the nine-mile Coastal Trail. This path offers terrific views of the Golden Gate from Lands End, and it takes about half an hour to the Legion - and it's worth it, fog or no fog.
Lisa Dent Gallery
Tel: (415) 875 9055 (info)
The smart old money is on Lisa Dent Gallery, purveyor of cosmopolitan sophistication and meticulous attention to craft. Dent is a bona fide curatorial star, who ditched the Whitney and the New Museum to return to her hometown, and take risks on international and local talent. Look here for major intrigue in minor details: Marcia Kure's spindly figures painted with kola-nut pigment, Jason Middlebrook's mirror-mosaic car parts, Jeong Im-yi's fastidious trompe l'oeil recreations of her studio walls.
Luggage Store Gallery
Tel: (415) 255 5971 (info)
A dandelion pushing up through cracks in the sidewalk, this plucky nonprofit gallery has brought signs of life to one of the toughest blocks in the Tenderloin for more than 20 years. The art that sprawls out across the spacious 2nd-floor gallery rises above the street without losing sight of it - this space was the launching pad for renowned graffiti satirists.
MH De Young Memorial Museum
Tel: (415) 863 3330 (info)
The latest, greatest addition to the park is the sleek, sensational copper-clad de Young, cleverly treated by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron to rapidly oxidize green to blend into the park. Herzog & de Meuron won a Pritzker Prize (the architecture equivalent of a Nobel) for the repurposed industrial Tate Modern and showed a similar appreciation for building environment with the 2005 de Young, whose perforated facade pattern is drawn from aerial photography of the park.
Tel: (415) 621 8203 (info)
The city's oldest building and its namesake, the Missión San Francisco de Asis was founded in 1776 and rebuilt in 1782 with conscripted native Ohlone labor in exchange for a meal a day. Today, the original mission building is overshadowed by the grand adjoining basilica, built in 1913 after an 1876 cathedral collapsed in the 1906 earthquake. The basilica's ornate, fanciful churrigueresque design is actually an improvement on the original dour brick Gothic structure and the distinguishing feature of the original mission structure remains its painted-wood ceiling, patterned after Ohlone native baskets.
Tel: (415) 346 2000 (info)
Sinister, freckle-faced Laughing Sal has been creeping out kiddies for a hundred years, but don't let this manic mannequin deter you from the best arcade west of Coney Island. A few quarters lets you start bar brawls in coin-operated Wild West saloons, peep at belly-dancers through a vintage Mutoscope, feed the insatiable Ms Pacman and get your fortune told by an eerily lifelike wooden swami.
Museum Of Craft & Folk Art
Tel: (415) 227 4888 (info)
Vicarious hand cramps are to be expected from a trip to this museum, where amazing handiwork comes with fascinating back stories. Recent shows explored historic handmade ukuleles, four generations of African American quilt makers, and parallel lines in Scandinavian and Californian modernist furniture.
New Langton Arts
Tel: (415) 626 5416 (info)
Strange is the norm at New Langton, where artists have done odd and occasionally unprintable things since 1975. This nonprofit is where Tony Labat stepped into the boxing ring with his critics and Harrell Fletcher distributed newspapers by teen reporters he'd commissioned to collect good news from their neighbors. Don't miss the Musée d'Honneur Miniscule, a window box in the entryway featuring small, ambitious works.
Palace of Fine Arts Theatre
Tel: (415) 563 6504 (info)
Like a fossilized party favor, this romantic, fake Greco-Roman ruin is the memento San Francisco decided to keep from the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. The original was built in wood by Bernard Maybeck as a picturesque backdrop. In the '60s the structure was recast in concrete, so that future generations could gaze up at the rotunda relief to glimpse 'Art Under Attack by Materialists, with Idealists Leaping to Her Rescue.'
San Francisco Botanical Garden & Strybing Arboretum
Tel: (415) 661 1316 (info)
There's always something blooming in these 70-acre gardens, covering a world of vegetation from South African savannah to New Zealand cloud forest. The Garden of Fragrance is designed for appeal to the visually impaired, and the California native plant section explodes with color when the native wildflowers bloom in early spring, right off the redwood trail. Free tours take place daily; for details, see the bookstore inside the entrance.
San Francisco Center for The Book
Tel: (415) 565 0545 (info)
Anyone who can't get enough of the sound and smell of a freshly cracked book will achieve a whole new level of obsession with these displays of elaborate Coptic binding and wooden typesetting machines. One recent exhibit showcased letterpress poetry chapbooks made to protest the car-bombing of Baghdad's Mutannabi St, the famed booksellers' quarter.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Tel: (415) 357 4000 (info)
With its vantage point on the cutting edge of the Pacific Rim, local technology savvy and its prodigious photography collection, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) was destined from the start in 1935 to be an eclectic, unconventional museum. But when moved into architect Mario Botta's light-filled brick box in 1995, it suddenly became clear just how far this museum was prepared to push the art world.
San Francisco Zoo
Tel: (415) 753 7061 (info)
Even those who object to zoos in theory have been known to break down and take kids to the San Francisco Zoo after being begged for, oh, the thousandth time - only to discover that, actually, there are some well-kept habitats here, including a Savannah featuring giraffes, zebras, antelope, ostriches and other African wildlife, and a cuddly Lemur Forest hosting five different species of the Madagascan primates in a large outdoor, naturalistic setting.
SF Arts Commission Gallery
Tel: (415) 554 6080 (info)
Get in on the next art movement at this lobby-level public gallery featuring international perspectives and local talents. Recently, visitors got an eyeful of SF performance artist Mark Lee Morris acting out all the roles in his own not-so-private soap opera, alongside film clips featuring Billy Bob Thornton and doctored by artist Canadian Jillian McDonald to insert herself as co-star.
Tel: (415) 512 2020 (info)
Take everything you know about photography and stretch it a mile, and there you have SF Camerawork. Since 1974 this nonprofit organization has explored the world of photo-based imagery beyond vintage black and white, including Binh Danh's ethereal portraits developed directly on leaves and Lars Laumann's conspiracy-theory video collage of Morrissey from the Smiths apparently predicting Princess Diana's death.
SS Jeremiah O'Brien
Tel: (415) 544 0100 (info)
Hard to believe this 10,000 ton beauty was turned out by San Francisco's ship workers in under eight weeks, and harder still to imagine how she dodged U-boats on a mission delivering supplies to Allied forces on D-Day. For steamy piston-on-piston, 2700-horsepower action, visit during 'steaming weekends' (usually the third weekend of each month) or check the website for upcoming cruises.
Tel: (415) 346 6466 (info)
Radical ideals wrapped up in distinctive buildings make beloved San Francisco landmarks, and this standout 1894 example is the collaborative effort of a who's who of 19th century Bay Area progressive thinkers: naturalist John Muir, California Arts and Crafts leader Bernard Maybeck and architect Arthur Page Brown.
Tel: (415) 864 8855 (info)
Escape from the drab certainties of laundry and airport hassles to the wild what-ifs of the Lab. Since 1984 this experimental art space has offered outrageous flights of fancy: Corey Hitchcock's attempt to engineer desire with a machine and fashion shows where one-off designs are sold right off the models' backs.
The Presidio Base
Tel: (415) 561 4323 (info)
Explore that splotch of green on the map between Baker Beach and Crissy Field, and you'll find a pet cemetery, parade grounds, Yoda, a centuries-old adobe wall and a vintage bowling alley. What started out as a Spanish fort built by conscripted Ohlone in 1776 is now a treasure hunt of uniqueness.
Tel: (415) 981 1280 (info)
Your chariot awaits to whisk you and the kiddies past the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and other SF landmarks hand-painted on this Italian carousel at the Bayside end of Pier 39. The old-timey organ carnival music is loud enough to drown out the inevitable tiny tot clinging for dear life to a high-stepping horsey.
The Women's Building
Tel: (415) 431 1180 (info)
The nation's first woman-owned and operated community center has been quietly doing good work with 170 women's organizations since 1979 - but the 1994 addition of the Maestrapeace mural showed this building for the landmark that it truly is. An all-star team of muralistas covered the building with the icons of female strength, from Mayan and Chinese goddesses to modern trailblazers, including Rigoberta Menchu, Hanaan Ashrawi and Dr Jocelyn Elders.
Xanadu Gallery: Folk Art International
Tel: (415) 392 9999 (info)
Shrink the Guggenheim and plop it inside a brick box with a sunken Romanesque archway, and there you have Frank Lloyd Wright's 1949 Circle Gallery Building, which since 1979 has been the home of Xanadu Gallery. The nautilus shell ramp in the atrium leads you on a world tour of high-end folk art, from Fijian war cubs to mounted nose ornaments from the Andes.
Tel: (415) 863 3136 (info)
No, this isn't a spa, but an active spiritual retreat since 1969 for the largest Buddhist community outside Asia. The graceful landmark building designed by Julia Morgan manages to pull off a seamless Italianate Japanese style without resorting to kitsch, and providing plenty of light. The center is open to the public for visits, meditation and workshops, and also offers overnight stays by prior arrangement for intensive meditation retreats.
San Francisco's shopping is best for small, quirky items. Sure, there are big department stores and an international selection of name-brand boutiques, but the oddities are a lot more fun.
Tel: (415) 392 6369 (info)
You'll have to bend over those bins to let DJs and hardcore collectors pass (and, hey, wasn't that Tom Waits?!), but among the thousands of discs are rare releases still sealed in their original plastic shrink-wrap. At the sister shop at 513 Green St, don't bonk your head on the vintage Les Pauls, and check out the sweet turntables that were state-of-the-art in the 1970s.
Tel: (415) 255 2787 (info)
Hats come in handy in SF almost year-round, and this local hatmaker sells super-fly lids to keep the fog from freezing your scalp, plus fancy fedoras and floppy numbers that would do Janis Joplin proud. For little ones who need no occasion for costumes, try the hats shaped like melons or the ones with built-in puppy ears.
Tel: (415) 558 0482 (info)
San Francisco's Victorian social graces may yet be revived by Alabaster's elegant luncheon invitation cards, glass cake pedestals, mother-of-pearl-handled opera glasses, and Fanny the French bulldog, who prefers to say hello from a polite distance. French decanters and moon-faced Fornasetti plates make impressive (read: expensive) gifts, but for vintage scores and botanical prints, head through the Zen garden to the annex.
Tel: (415) 647 5800 (info)
Maybe it's the cute cuts, or the no-fail sales pitch: 'Oh. My. God. That looks sooo cute on you!' Whatever the case, you'll emerge clutching some little number for a very special occasion you've yet to invent: a silk smock covered with mod wine glasses for a wine-tasting, say, or a jacket with a double-helix DNA pattern for a biotech lecture.
Tel: (415) 441 9220 (info)
Tucked away in a courtyard, this design showcase offers version 2.0 of essential household items: colorful wall-mounted rubber straps stylishly replace bulletin boards, credit-card-sized flashlights are handier in any emergency than a clunky torch, and locally designed, floppy-eared, wide-eyed Reddy the Rabbit earns instant pride of place on any kid's bed.
Best In Show
Tel: (415) 864 73877 (info)
Your dog would be one proud puppy in that crystal collar and your cat tickled pink by the fuchsia faux-fur kitty couch. Give them George Bush squeak toys to chew or catnip-infused bubbles to chase, and they'll be blissed out like hippies c 1967.
Tel: (415) 392 2910 (info)
No reality show can compare to the four floors of nonstop fashion drama at Britex. First floor: designers bicker over who gets first dibs on yellow silk organza for a spring collection. Second floor: prom queens and their chromosome-challenged doppelgangers compete for sequins. Third floor: European buyers are snapping up all the antique Bakelite buttons. Top floor: fake fur flies and remnants roll as costumers prepare for Burning Man and Halloween.
Tel: (415) 391 6369 (info)
At the Bazaar (667 Grant Ave), wire racks are perilously overloaded with bargain novelty items in no discernable order, except for the Tiki section which will add some aloha to your home bar. Just when you thought home decor couldn't get any cheaper, check out the ceramics sale section downstairs. Send the kiddies upstairs to the toy and gag gifts section if you don't want to have to explain the anatomically correct pens on the main floor.
Tel: 415 989 5182 (info)
Be the star of Crissy Field and wow any kids in your life with a fierce six-foot-long flying shark, the classic goggle-eyed golden carp, or 'Pink Floyd,' the goofy pink flamingo (shouldn't that be a pig, really?). The wind chimes may seem like a fine idea to scare off hungry ghosts, but some of them are loud enough to scare off the living in a windstorm - if it's feng shui you're after, go with the noiseless ba gua, a mirror inside an octagon.
Tel: (415) 771 4649 (info)
Bargains never tasted so sweet: heart-shaped ramekins, frighteningly effective Microplane graters, Brika espresso makers and other specialty gourmet gear, all at 30-50% off the prices you'd pay downtown. Hard-to-find appliance replacement parts, parchment paper and cooking tips are all readily available here (1542 Polk St, Nob Hills), thanks to the friendly foodie counter staff.
Clarion Music Center
Tel: (415) 391 1317 (info)
The minor chords of the erhu (Chinese string instrument) will pluck at your heartstrings as you walk through Chinatown's alleyways, and here you can try your hand at the bow yourself with a superior student model. With the impressive range of African congas, Central American marimbas and gongs, you could become your own multi-culti one-man band. Check the website for concerts, workshops and demonstrations by masters.
Tel: (415) 431 5365 (info)
None of the hardware maestros at Cliff's will raise an eyebrow if you express a dire need for a 4x4 beam, a jar of rubber nuns, non-toxic silver paint and more cocktail toothpicks than anyone can safely use in a lifetime - though they might angle for an invitation. A community institution since 1936, Cliff's window displays alone are a local landmark.
Tel: (415) 861 4910 (info)
When local stores have house-wares overstock, they donate it to Community Thrift, where proceeds go to community organizations - all the more reason to gloat over your thrifted Fiestaware plates and that cork lamp you found out back by the furniture. Donate your own unused stuff and show some love to the Community.
Tel: (415) 775 8885 (info)
Pssst, fashionistas: you know those designers you see lining Fillmore St, like Betsey Johnson and Marc Jacobs? Many of their creations can be found used at Crossroads (1901 Fillmore St, Japantown) for a fraction of retail, thanks to Pacific Heights clotheshorses who tire of clothes fast and can't be bothered to hang onto their receipts. That's why this Crossroads store is better than the other ones in the city (including Market and Haight St) - for even better deals, trade in your own old stuff and browse the half-price rack.
Tel: (415) 431 7684 (info)
Not sure what to wear to your Marilyn Manson tribute band's debut in the Mission, or to your authentic Victorian wedding at the Chateau Tivoli? Dark Garden might have your answer, as long as you don't need to take any deep breaths and can get help with the lacing (not exactly a cinch, no matter what they tell you). Corsets are made to order and surprisingly comfortable, especially the va-va-voom velvet numbers.
Dog Eared Books
Tel: (415) 282 1901 (info)
'Zines, remainders and graphic novels pack this place, but intriguing new stuff also gets its due in esoteric sections (especially Pirate literature) and trusty staff picks (for example: Miranda July's latest short story collection and Adverbs by Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snickett). Don't miss the hand-drawn obituaries to the likes of Susan Sontag, James Brown and Edward Said displayed in the front window.
Tel: (415) 445 9511 (info)
The basement clearance section is where recovering shoe hounds come once they've sworn that they've really bought their last pair for the season (you know who you are). Diligent research has uncovered black and pink Pucci sneakers, green Miu Miu boots and an inexplicable bonanza of limited-edition Adidas.
Tel: (415) 772 0700 (info)
If this really is San Francisco's answer to Lincoln Center, that's one round for New York. These skyscrapers joined by an overhead walkway form an urban sprawl of a mall, and the upper office floors have nothing to recommend them beyond the crowd-pleasing Embarcadero Center Cinema, the indie movie multiplex whose concessions counter is consistently rated the city's best.
Far East Flea Market
Tel: (415) 989 8588 (info)
The shopping equivalent of crack, this bottomless store at 729 Grant Ave is dangerously cheap and certain to make you giddy and delusional. Of course you can cram ten orange ceramic platters and a turquoise sake set into your carry-on! Everyone needs more bath toys and Chinese opera masks! No one in your extended family should be denied silk brocade pillowcases with matching slippers! Step away from the dollar Golden Gate snow globes while there's still time…
Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market
Tel: (415) 291 3276 (info)
Remember what tomatoes are supposed to taste like, or the last time a cheese made you forget about dinner? You're in for a treat at this weekly roundup of the finest seasonal produce and artisanal foods. Other markets are certainly cheaper, but you can't find a much finer selection anywhere for local specialties like fresh Point Reyes Farmstead blue cheese, Bariani cold-pressed California olive oil, and Eatwell Farms dry-farmed tomatoes that are like summer in your mouth.
Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant
Tel: (415) 391 9400 (info)
Part store, part wine bar, totally tasty. Stock up on California wines after you've tasted a few - start with Pinot Gris and work your way to Pinots and Zins. The staff are knowledgeable and the wine list is written in a colloquial way to make non-snobs feel welcome. This place is jammed on Saturdays, but otherwise the staff will take the time to suggest pairings and other wines to try.
Tel: (415) 552 2355 (info)
People who swear they lack artistic flair suddenly find it at Flax, where an entire room of specialty papers, racks of plump paint tubes in luscious colors, and a wonderland of hot glue guns practically make the collage for you. Home decor projects and kid-art projects start here, and the vast selections of pens and journals are novels waiting to happen.
Tel: (415) 487-1001 (info)
Having a nice flight in the no-liquids, no-legroom era is actually a possibility with the in-flight assistance of Flight 001. Clever carry-ons built to fit international size regulations come with just the right number of pockets for your new rubber alarm clock, travel Scrabble set and the first-class Jet Comfort Kit with earplugs, sleep mask, booties, neck rest, candy and cards.
Tel: (415) 863 5892 (info)
Castro couples getting hitched may not be officially recognized by the state of California - for now, anyway - but there's no mistaking those eye-catching wedding bands from Gallery Flux. Back-lit glass shelves highlight the hypnotic swirls of precious metals in locally crafted Michael Daniels rings, and Nick Dong's brushed-gold rings with polished gems on the inside.
Tel: (415) 876 4773 (info)
The storefront of the uberhip Cali-Asian pop culture magazine understands exactly how you imagined life as a grown-up: stacks of comics, a never-ending supply of toys and stickers, and a wardrobe consisting entirely of T-shirts.
Global Exchange Fair Trade Craft Center
Tel: (415) 648 8068 (info)
Consumerism with a heart of gold: wild splurges on glossy Vietnamese lacquerware, silver chandelier earrings from Mexico, and adorable stuffed hippos made in Sri Lanka seem somehow noble since the proceeds go right back to the community cooperatives who make these small wonders via nonprofit Global Exchange. The ultimate solution to office-birthday dilemmas are gift packs of organic Fair Trade coffee, tea and cocoa.
Tel: (800) 882 8055 (info)
About 150 years before Pier One reduced Asian import chic to wicker papasan chairs, Gump's was quietly outfitting Pacific Heights meditation rooms and Nob Hill Japanese gardens with authentic decor touches. Since 1861, San Franciscan Solomon Gump's posh import and export gift emporium has been the purveyor of a range of high-end-to-overpriced, tasteful-to-bland antiques, decorative arts and Asian home furnishings, all lovingly presented in lavish window displays.
Tel: (415) 931 6209 (info)
When you're in the mood for a little something special, try a bonsai. Katsura Garden (1825 Post St, Japantown & Pacific Heights) can set you up with a miniature juniper that looks like it grew on a windswept molehill, or a stunted maple that will shed all of five glorious red leaves this autumn. Hawaiian flowers are another specialty, including cuttings for fragrant plumeria and shocking red awapuhi (ginger).
Tel: (415) 255 7900 (info)
Finally, useful tools for the artistically inclined: Keri Smith's freeform 'Daily Non-Planner' so you can make lists and dates when so moved, an 'Aquatic Adventures' planner by Allison Cole, and a Simon Evans airplane bookmark that ominously declares its destination as 'TERMINAL EXCESSIVE SENSIBILITIES.' Recycled paper stationery makes eco-smart gifts, especially that phone log for your slacker roommates (hint, hint).
Tel: (415) 397 3333 (info)
Five floors of name brands, plus a basement food court best avoided for the oddly sour smells. The men's department is across the street so they won't have to worry their pretty little heads about where to find boxer briefs and Kenneth Cole, while women have to brave the perfume police and fend off slightly insulting free makeover offers just to check out the shoe sale (its totally worth it).
Tel: (415) 564 6300 (info)
The high-impact store sign by renowned artist Tauba Auerbach is the first hint that this is the source of West Coast surfer cool. Visits by celebrity shapers (surfboard makers) yield limited-edition boards you won't find anywhere else, and the signature Mollusk T-shirts and hoodies by local artists buy you instant SF street cred. Surf books and sculpture installations by the likes of the Society of Driftwood Enthusiasts give non-surfers vicarious surf-subculture thrills.
Tel: (415) 552 3802 (info)
All you closet pomaders and after-sun-balmers: wear those products with pride, without feeling like the dupe of some cosmetics conglomerate. Clever Nancy Boy knows you'd rather pay for the product than advertising campaigns featuring Scarlett Johansson, and delivers locally made products with effective plant oils that are tested on boyfriends, never animals.
Tel: (415) 362 3900 (info)
Hoity-toity and proud of it, Neiman-Marcus delivers old-school wow factor with soft lighting filtered through an oval rotunda and shamelessly obsequious service. There's a reason it's called Needless Markup - unless you're prepared to surrender that trust fund, stay a good 20 ft away from the personal shopper eager to help you into that emerald green, ruched raw-silk Prada number. Check the website for designer trunk shows and fun runway events.
Tel: (415) 905 8555 (info)
This pro lab will do right by your artistic inspirations, whether you're an old-school photographer who needs contact sheets and proof prints, a new media maven looking to output massive Giclee prints of digital photos, or in transition converting your slides to digital images. Turnaround time is usually 4 hours for photos, 24 for contact sheets and proofs.
Tel: (415) 775 1416 (info)
Bargain hunters and anyone who keeps a cache of gifts for friends that need cheering up will go wild in this shop (1837 Polk St, Russian & Nob Hills), brimming with designer overstock at half the retail price. Recent finds include letterpress cards that spell 'thank you' in sign language, elegant eco-bamboo serving platters and messenger bags in traffic-stopping neon colors. No refunds or exchanges, so check your merchandise carefully.
Tel: (415) 626 6800 (info)
This is one of the city's best shops for quick, pro-quality photo processing and printing. They'll do capable work for film and digital shooters, including printing digital pics on classic Ilford black and white paper or putting your favorite images on canvas so you can make it into a pillow.
Tel: (415) 864 8075 (info)
'No food, no cell phones, no playing in the boas,' says the sign at the door, but inside, that last rule is gleefully ignored by cross-dressers, cabaret singers, strippers and people who take Halloween dead seriously. All the getups are custom-designed in-house and built to last - so they're not as cheap as they look.
Tel: (415) 346 9870 (info)
Discover a new favorite California vintage at the distinctive wine boutique that won owner Mayor Gavin Newsom grudging respect from even Green party gourmets. A more knowledgeable staff is hard to find anywhere in SF, and they'll set you up with bottles to flatter your sensibilities and grace your dinner party like a fundraising politician.
Tel: (415) 701 7767 (info)
Don't think of it as a design store, but a cocoon where decor metamorphoses occur: a single Wellington boot becomes a cheeky vase, rosy-cheeked porcelain baby-doll heads turn into uniquely sinister candle holders, and meticulous layers of hot glue make a mesmerizing lampshade. For truly original gifts, this design showcase highlights innovation and local designers, not just trendy brand names.
Tel: (415) 834 9494 (info)
Forget everything you think you know about American chocolate: this is San Francisco, where chocolatiers have been working their dark magic since the 1850s. No San Franciscan can resist Recchiuti: Pacific Heights parts with old money for fleur de sel caramels; the Mission splurges on edible chocolate paintings designed by local artist Rex Ray; and Noe Valley skips family camping trips and splurges instead on gourmet s'more bites.
Red Blossom Tea Company
Tel: (415) 395 0868 (info)
Think beyond the world of black and green teas to the universe of white teas, herbal infusions, and of course the signature blossom teas that unfurl in your pot like time-lapse photography of a dahlia in August. That pot-bellied 'dragon egg' Yixing teapot holds the flavor of the tea and gives just the right water-to-tea ratio for two cups.
Residents Apparel Gallery
Tel: (415) 621 7718 (info)
Local designers at design-school prices make eclectic SF chic easy at this certified green cooperative boutique. Take your pick of limited-edition screen-printed tees, button-down shirts and hoodies, locally made designer dark denims (no sweatshops here, thank you), clever reconstructed cashmere sweaters and reclaimed-vintage dresses, and designer jewelry in silver, gold and Legos.
Tel: (415) 861 2097 (info)
You'd go out tonight, but you haven't got a stitch to wear? Rolo Garage fixes that old excuse at 30-60% off retail for club-ready menswear, including artfully distressed G-Star jeans, a stag shirt so everyone is clear on your single status and sunglasses for tomorrow morning.
San Francisco Flower Mart
Tel: (415) 781 8410 (info)
When you're in San Francisco, in love, and in the doghouse, do what the locals do: bring armloads of relentlessly cheerful sunflowers, bask in forgiveness, and never let on that you got them for cheap at the Flower Mart. Many of the 80 flower and plant vendors offer seasonal flowers grown locally, not flown in, so you can enjoy your greenery the green way.
San Francisco Japantown
Tel: (415) 922 6776 (info)
Entering this oddly charming mall is like walking onto a 1960s Japanese movie set - the fake-rock waterfall, indoor wooden pedestrian bridges, rock gardens and curtained wooden restaurant entryways have hardly aged a day since the mall's grand opening in 1968. If not for the anachronistic Tare Panda cell-phone charms and Fruits books displayed at the Kinokuniya stationary shop and bookstore, Japan Center would be a total time warp.
Sfmoma Museum Store
Tel: (415) 357 4000 (info)
Design fetishists may have to be pried away from the glass shelves and display cases, brimming with collapsible rubber colanders, grass-printed picnic blankets and watches with a face to match Mario Botta's black-and-white SFMOMA facade. Contemporary art books will keep aspiring collectors absorbed for hours, and kids will be entranced by William Wegman's video of dogs spelling out the alphabet.
Tel: (415) 437 0100 (info)
All you triathletes who desperately need your gait analyzed or your kiddies outfitted with rental snowboards, you've come to the right place - and so have all you slackers looking to cadge a free coffee or hot cider in the Presidio. This 70,000 sq ft of sports and camping equipment was once a US Army PX, which is why you find hiking boots near the Fresh Produce sign.
Tel: (415) 673 2065 (info)
Spring has sprung a fresh new idea: housework shouldn't mean an instant headache from noxious cleaning fumes. Instead, this store thoughtfully provides all the non-toxic lemon, rosemary and lavender products you need to clean your home and clean up your environmental act. The organic cotton and bamboo-fiber bedding is pricey, but products by Caldrea and local maker Method in 'ginger pomelo' and 'cut grass' smell scrumptious and are priced to move.
Tel: (415) 931 3130 (info)
So maybe shopping is a substitute for Prozac after all - especially that silver necklace in the shape of a serotonin molecule. Spiff up your pad with locally made arts and crafts at bargain prices, like Ayu Tomikawa's woodcuts of the continuing adventures of an anime bumblebee, Brian Behnke's 'Phobia' paintings of fears sealed in wax for your protection, and Joanna Mendicino's white bird vases with flowers stuck in their heads.
Tel: (415) 775 6343 (info)
Tans are too LA; in SF, everyone is after that dewy, fogged-in-for-months-fresh face. This local company uses all-natural ingredients to polish the skin, such as rice bran and honey in the 'Rice and Shine' facial scrub that seals in moisture as you're taking your shower. For men, the lavender shaving soap and combo soap-shampoo are travel-kit musts.
Sur La Table
Tel: 415 262 9974 (info)
Can't fathom life without an espresso maker and citrus reamer? You'll never need to, thanks to these kindly salespeople. For the gourmet who has everything, there's the handheld grocery list recorder, with voice-recognition technology and a mini-printer, and for the young aspiring chef, a Ratatouille baking set. The Ferry Building location features free lectures and demos; evening classes at the Maiden Lane store on romantic meals, California cuisine and more cost around US$65 to $75.
Under One Roof
Tel: 415 503 2300 (info)
All the fabulous gift ideas under this roof are donated by local designers and businesses, so AIDS service organizations get 100% of the proceeds from your indispensable Elvis tape dispenser and adorable Jonathan Adler vase. The sales clerks are volunteers, so show them some love for raising - get this - around US$11 million to date. Don't miss the sales annex for bargain SF souvenirs.
Tel: 415 861 1960 (info)
Score instant street cred in your locally designed Upper Playground signature walrus T, Grotesk Golden State hoodie, 'I'm in a San Francisco State of Mind' tee, knit Muni cap and limited-edition skater shoes in a faux-wood finish. If Fifty24SF Gallery next door isn't open, get the person at the register to let you see slick art made with stuff found in the street.
Westfield San Francisco Centre
Wait, is this suburbia? Sure looks like it inside this nine-level chain-store city, with Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom, plus 400 other national and international retailers and a movie theater. Supposedly there's a 'distinctive boutique' concept to this mall, which apparently means the same amount of stuff gets crammed into smaller stores. Best/only reasons to brave this behemoth: post-holiday sales, bathrooms (including lounges for women and families with changing tables) and a respectable basement food court with tasty eats on the go.
San Franciscans are an energetic lot, and there are plenty of opportunities to burn calories even within the city limits. A glance over the sail-dotted bay would suggest this is prime sailing and windsurfing country, but it's not the easiest stretch of water to navigate, and icy winds don't help either.
For leisurely cycling, head to Golden Gate Park or the Presidio and avoid the inner-city hazards of steep hills and aggressive motorists. Downtown becomes a sea of festive bicyclists on the last Friday of every month when Critical Mass, a cheerfully anarchic ride of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of cyclists, gathers at the bay end of Market St and rides, bells ringing, to a different destination along a different route each time.
At dawn and dusk, the running paths in Golden Gate Park are infested with brightly-clad jogging hoards. This is a jogger's catwalk, so wear your Sunday best. The Presidio is another great park for running.
Rollerblading will help you cover more of Golden Gate Park than you can manage on foot, and you can rent skates from nearby Haight St. Every Friday night about 20:00, hundreds of rollerbladers meet at Justin Herman Plaza for Midnight Rollers, a 20km (12mi) group cruise around downtown and the northern waterfront.
The bay is at its best from April through August, when the west winds blow. But the waters around San Francisco are treacherous at any time of the year, and it's extremely important to pay attention to the tides. The easiest way to get out on the water is to take a sailboat cruise and let a more experienced skipper take the helm.
San Francisco's Ocean Beach is one of the most challenging and exhausting places to surf in California, especially in winter, when the powerful, cold swells can reach 4m (12ft) or more. There are no lifeguards, and you should never surf alone or without at least a 3mm full-length wetsuit.
Swimming is unsafe and unpleasant in the arctic currents of oceanside San Francisco. There's a tiny patch of beach at Aquatic Park though, just west of Fisherman's Wharf, where you often see hardy swimmers in the chilly waters.
Walking the hilly streets of downtown San Francisco combines excursion with exertion, challenging even the fittest tourist. Golden Gate Park is the place for promenading, while San Francisco's wind-swept beaches are for passionate lunging.
San Francisco's culinary strengths are the diversity of its influences, which stretch from Europe to Asia, and its wealth of high-quality, moderately-priced choices as well as prestigious restaurants. Not content to just follow fashion, San Francisco has its own treasured culinary traditions.
Hedonism must be built into the local DNA from the giddy days of gold fever: no doubt about it, San Franciscans like to get out. The city may be known for its restaurants, but its citizens spend even more of their time in bars, clubs and theatres.
San Francisco has the full range of accommodations, from exorbitant presidential suites to bug-ridden flops. Considering the price of real estate in the area, it's a wonder the flops still exist at all. Most of the city's beds are concentrated in the city centre, catering for the business market.
The Bay Area has three major airports: San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Oakland International Airport (OAK) and San Jose International Airport (SJC). You can get to your hotel via shuttles, the BART system or taxi. There are different options at each airport.
By no means the only bus company in the area, Greyhound is the only one to operate a regular long-distance service in the region. Amtrak also ably services the Bay Area.
Although a variety of bus companies have services between other Bay Area communities and San Francisco, Greyhound is the only regular long-distance bus company operating in the region. Their buses arrive and depart at the Transbay Terminal in SoMa. As an alternative to Greyhound, try the funky Green Tortoise bus line, a favourite of backpackers because it manages to combine getting there with enjoying yourself along the way.
Freeways crisscross the Bay Area, and once you're outside of the city you'll be glad to have a car. Highway 101 runs south to Los Angeles and north to Oregon, but its bayside stretch is a continuous traffic jam - sometimes stationary, sometimes high-speed, but always solid. Interstate 280, parallel and slightly to the west, is much more attractive and easier on the nerves. Highway 1 is the slow but scenic coast route. On the east side of the bay, Interstate 80 runs across the Bay Bridge north through Berkeley and inland through Sacramento, the state capital, on its way to Reno, Nevada. Interstate 580 swings inland from the East Bay to meet Interstate 5, the fastest route south to Los Angeles; the trip takes 6 or 7 boring hours. The 340km (210mi) route inland to Yosemite starts along Interstate 580.
Amtrak is the US national train system, and its Bay Area terminal is at Jack London Square in Oakland. A free shuttle bus connects with San Francisco's Caltrain station and the Ferry Building at the Embarcadero. Travelling north from Los Angeles, it's equally simple to transfer to Caltrain at San Jose and take that service to San Francisco. Amtrak's main Bay Area routes are the San Joaquin (Oakland - Bakersfield), the Capitol Corridor (San Jose - Oakland - Sacramento) and the Coast Starlight (Seattle - Oakland - San Jose - Los Angeles).
The Bay Area has three major airports: San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Oakland International Airport (OAK) and San Jose International Airport (SJC). Most international flights use San Francisco (at Oakland and San Jose, 'international' mostly means Mexico and Canada), but all three are important domestic gateways, so you should have little trouble finding a flight or connection to just about anywhere on the continent. Departure tax is included in the ticket price.
Within the compact city centre, walking is a pleasurable way to get around, but there's a solid transport network backing you up when perambulation seems too pedestrian. San Francisco's principal public transport system is Muni (San Francisco Municipal Railway), which operates nearly 100 bus lines (many of them electric trolley buses), streetcars and the famous cable cars. The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system is a convenient, economical subway system linking San Francisco with the East Bay. Ferries are a scenic way to get around.
A car is more of a liability than an asset in downtown San Francisco: hills are steep and parking spots few. If you're considering a taxi, the best way is to phone.
For most visitors, the thought of hopping a bicycle in the city is gruesome - there's too much traffic and the hills are fearsome - but the Bay Area is a great place for recreational biking.
Along with the Muni light-rail and cable cars, Muni buses will get you almost anywhere in the city. A Muni passport allows unlimited travel on all Muni transports and is available from Visitor Information Centres, hotels and from businesses that display the Muni pass sign in their window.
A car is the last thing you want in downtown San Francisco: negotiating the hills and trying to find a parking spot are going to stress both you and your machine. For travelling further afield though - up to the Wine Country for example - a car can be invaluable.
Ferries are back in business, plying the waters from Fisherman's Wharf and the Embarcadero Ferry Building to Alameda, Oakland, Sausalito, Tiburon and the bay islands.
Taxis are tough to secure in San Francisco; you may find phoning one easier than whistling or waving your hand on street corners, especially during peak hours, but even that's no guarantee.
Where else can you travel in a tourist attraction from one tourist highlight to another? As well as getting you around its three downtown routes, a ride in one of San Francisco's old-fashioned, open-air, seemingly dangerous cable cars can be exhilarating fun. The subterranean rumbling on Market St is an underground light-rail run by the San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni) that weaves its way through downtown San Francisco. Downtown, Muni stations are the same as BART stations.
The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system is a convenient, economical subway system linking San Francisco with the East Bay.
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