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Overview

San Francisco

The most attractive of American cities and regularly voted the best city in the USA, San Francisco is adored because of its colourful history, dramatic setting and its laissez-faire atmosphere, a quality missing from synthetic Los Angeles. It is a regular trendsetter in everything alternative, from flower-power to 'free love' and gay liberation; it prides itself on being individualistic, down-to-earth and cultured.

Streets rollercoaster up and down the hills, and when not swathed in the city's trademark fog, there are superb vistas of San Francisco Bay, spanned by one of the world's most famous sights, the Golden Gate Bridge. Surrounded by hills and urban development, traversed by bridges, dotted with sails and 14 small islands, including the notorious Alcatraz, the bay is the largest inlet on the Californian Coast. Fisherman's Wharf at the edge of the bay is a popular place to eat, stroll and shop, with its resident seals a favourite photographic subject.

Within the surprisingly compact city are distinct neighbourhoods that reflect the cultural background of diverse communities that were attracted to San Francisco by the discovery of gold in 1848, and the promise of a new life for those desperate to escape their harsh circumstances. Most of San Francisco's residents were born outside the city and this mix of cultures is reflected in the dragon-studded temples of colourful Chinatown and Japantown, the characteristic bohemian flavour of the Italian pasta restaurants and cappuccino cafes in North Beach, the old Spanish-speaking Mission District that blends with the nightlife of SoMa, the modern Financial District, the gay centre of Castro and The Haight, characterised by the memory of the hippie movement of the 1960s.

GettingAround

Travelling around San Francisco is a fun and fairly straightforward experience. By using a combination of buses, trams and cable cars you can get to just about attraction in the city. The main roads and public transport routes lead off Market Street, which runs the length of the city from Pier 1 to Castro; and Stockton and Powell Streets, which intersect with Market and link the Union Square area with Chinatown, North Beach and Fisherman's Wharf. An essential purchase when getting around the city is the San Francisco CityPass. From date of validation it is good for 9 days on unlimited passage on all trams, trains and cable cars. (The CityPass also provides free entrance to six key attractions.) Another vital accessory is the free and ubiquitous printed San Francisco City Map branded by Baycityguide.com It shows all the major transport routes with relevant numbers. The public transport system in San Francisco is known as MUNI and operates buses, electric trolley buses and the famous cable cars as well as metro streetcars (underground trains that become street cars when they emerge above ground). MUNI is sometimes late and crowded, but San Francisco is one of the few cities in America in which residents make good use of public transport. Driving is extremely difficult, due to traffic, an unconventional street layout, impossible parking and, of course, very steep streets - though a rental car may be necessary for trips farther afield. MUNI offers access to all parts of the city; exact change is required, and the same fare applies to all services except the cable cars, which are more expensive (but well worth at least one ride - the Powell-Hyde route is the most scenic). Note that the cable cars are a moving National Monument and hence are very popular and crowded. They can be tough to get onto, and slow in getting to your destination. If you want less scenery and more efficiency the buses and trams are the way to go. Passengers can ask for a free transfer with each ticket bought, which allows another two rides on a bus or train and gives a 50 percent discount on cable cars within 90 minutes. MUNI trains and buses run 24 hours a day, with a more limited service after midnight; buses late at night are not always safe to use. MUNI Passports are available for one, three and seven days, allowing unlimited use of public transport within the city limits. The other transport system, known as BART, is a fast and economical subway/rail network that connects the city to the East Bay as well as the airport. Taxis are also available in the city but can be hard to find, especially during peak hours. During the day, perhaps the best option is to walk; lots of locals do. However, be prepared to climb a few hills.

Events

Uncorked!

The San Francisco Wine Festival is a celebration of wine, providing opportunity to taste, learn about and enjoy wines produced from San Francisco's local wine-making region. Various events take place along Beach Street including chef demonstrations, wine tasting seminars, and a chocolate and wine pairing seminar.

San Francisco Pride Parade and Celebration

As the world's most gay-friendly city, San Francisco celebrates gay and lesbian pride with a festive procession and numerous music stages. The parade features hundreds of themed marchers and floats, after which thousands of people from every walk of life gather at the Civic Center to carry on the party in front of one of the many music stages. The area is lined with stalls selling everything from food and drink to crafts and souvenirs.

San Francisco Carnaval

Every Memorial Day weekend, the Mission District hosts San Francisco's version of the Mardi Gras celebrations with music and dancing, food and craft stalls, contests, street performers, and a parade with lavish floats, marching bands and colourful costumes. The Grand Parade is an exotic celebration of different traditions and cultures from around the world, with floats and dancers depicting vibrant multi-cultural themes, from samba and Chinese Lion dancers, to African drummers, and accompanied by the hip-swinging music of Latin America, Brazil, and the Caribbean.

Chinese New Year Parade

The New Year Parade is the highlight and focus of the two-week Chinese New Year celebrations that includes the Miss Chinatown USA Pageant, the Community Street Fair and the New Year Flower Market. A San Francisco tradition since the 1849 Gold Rush, the Parade is the biggest celebration of its kind outside Asia and is listed as one of the top 10 parades in the world. Hundreds of spectators gather to watch as colourful floats, elaborate costumes, firecrackers, stilt walkers, lion dancers and marching bands go by, and wait in expectation for the world-famous annual Golden Dragon, which is 160ft (49m) long and takes over 100 men to carry it through the streets. In 2009 the Year of the Ox begins.

Haight Ashbury Street Fair

One of the city's most famous neighbourhoods, Haight Ashbury was the centre of the hippie movement in the 1960s, and the summer Haight Street Fair is a vibrant and colourful celebration of its cultural heritage and creative roots. Two stages provide a variety of musical presentations and entertainment, and the streets are filled with food and drinks vendors, art and craft stalls and street performers.

North Beach Festival

Every year 'Little Italy' celebrates San Francisco's oldest street festival with arts and crafts, a pizza toss competition, local delicacies, Italian street chalk art, cooking demonstrations and cheese carving. The weekend kicks off with the Animal Blessing at the national Shrine of St Francis, and entertainment includes live jazz, rock, blues, salsa and swing music in a salutation to the Italian and Beat Generation history of the neighbourhood.

International Beer Festival

The biggest beer festival in the city is an annual event that features hundreds of beers from around the world, including Thailand, Japan, England and Germany as well as local brews and allows visitors to taste as much as they like. Live bands and a wide selection of food from local restaurants add to the atmosphere.

San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival

The Bay area has been hailed as one of the dance capitals of the country and the annual Ethnic Dance Festival is the most significant contributor to its reputation as such. The festival presents dance styles from around the globe introducing a diverse range of cultural traditions, from Scottish dancers to belly dancing. Weekends only.

Monterey Jazz Festival

The Monterey Jazz Festival is one of the oldest and most famous annual jazz festivals in the world. Throughout the decades, some of the greatest names in jazz have played including Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, McCoy Tyner and Oscar Peterson. The main focus of the festival is jazz education with several workshops held over the weekend.

Attractions

Golden Gate Bridge

The rust-coloured towers, graceful suspension and supportive cables of the Golden Gate Bridge make this famous symbol of San Francisco the most photographed bridge in the world, and visible from almost any high point in the city, although it is often shrouded in rolling fog. Spanning the two-mile (3km) mouth of the bay, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time of its completion in 1937 and was built to withstand winds of more than 100 mph (161km per hour). During high winds it can sway up to 27 feet (8m) in each direction. One of the great engineering accomplishments of the 20th century, the bridge claims to have used enough wire in its construction to stretch around the earth several times. Walking across the bridge, under the towers that loom 65 storeys above the water, is one of the best ways to experience the immensity of the structure and affords beautiful views of the San Francisco skyline, the bay and its islands. Golden Gate Bridge has a grisly side, however, as it is also a favourite with the suicidal and the sidewalks are dotted with crisis-counselling phones as a sobering reminder.

Alcatraz

Out in the middle of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz Island, or 'The Rock', is one of Golden Gate National Recreation Area's most popular destinations. The notorious escape-proof island with its dreaded maximum-security prison once held the likes of Al 'Scarface' Capone, George 'Machine Gun' Kelly and the 'Birdman of Alcatraz', Robert Stroud. With sheer cliffs surrounded by the icy waters of San Francisco Bay, known for its treacherous tides and currents, it was regarded as the perfect place to detain the country's most-wanted and dangerous criminals who were isolated in dark solitary confinement cells. Visitors can explore the prison as well as learn about its history: from its discovery as a pelican nesting ground, its location as a military outpost, and the years between 1933 and 1963 as an off-limit federal penitentiary. It was also inhabited by Native Americans before being declared a Recreational Area and protected bird sanctuary. Thousands of tourists flock here each year and take the excellent self-guided audio tours that contain commentary from former guards and prisoners about life on the island and the notorious escape attempts. There is also a slide show and a tour of the island's ecology and bird life led by a park ranger. The view from the island looking across to San Francisco is fantastic as well.

Fisherman's Wharf

Some people love the bustle of Fisherman's Wharf, while others make a conscious effort to steer well clear of it. But for better or worse it is massively popular, attracting more visitors than any other city sight, with Pier 39 the commercial tourist epicentre. The Wharf was once a fishing port with dozens of boats anchored here. Pier 45 is still used by fishermen in the early morning hours, and fish and seafood can be bought from the Fish Alley Market. There are shops galore, fast food stands and overpriced bay-view restaurants as well as bars, markets, street performers, and an endless variety of activities for the whole family. It is also the gateway for several top attractions: trips to Alcatraz and other bay cruises leave from here; numerous museums include the Historic Ships Pier; and the USS Pampanito submarine that can be boarded from Pier 45. The entertaining colony of sea lions that reside on the floating docks at Pier 39 are one of the best attractions on the quay. The quirky Musée Mécanique is located nearby Pier 45, and houses the world's largest collection of vintage coin-operated mechanical wonders.

North Beach

Between Russian and Telegraph Hills, North Beach is San Francisco's 'Little Italy', that has long been the central hub for anyone with alternative inclinations. During the 1950s the pleasure-seeking, non-conformist lifestyle of the Beat Generation and their rebellious literature contributed to the neighbourhood's unconventional character and tourists poured into the district for 'Beatnik Tours'. Two of the Beat-era landmarks are the Vesuvio bar, and the first paperback bookstore in the US and hangout of Beat-era writers, the City Lights Bookstore. The steep stairways on Telegraph Hill lead to one of the city's most distinctive landmarks, Coit Tower, a monument to the volunteer fire fighters of the city providing superb 360-degree views of the city and San Francisco Bay. Inside the round, stone-tower murals of the Great Depression depict different aspects of life in California during the 1930s. The 'Crookedest Street in the World' winds down the steep eastern side of Russian Hill, the angle so steep that Lombard Street has to zigzag down with eight sharp turns to make any descent possible. The affluent residents inside their mansions with well-tended flowerbeds that flank the street bemoan the frequent traffic jams as thousands of visitors queue at the top and wait their turn to drive slowly down the tight curves, gathering at the bottom for photographic opportunities.

Golden Gate Park

Of the many open green spaces in San Francisco, Golden Gate Park is the biggest and the loveliest stretching from The Haight to the Pacific Ocean, featuring gardens, lakes, numerous sporting facilities, and museums. On Sundays the main drive is closed to traffic and becomes the playground for joggers, cyclists, roller-bladers and strollers. The California Academy of Sciences includes the Natural History Museum, aquarium and planetarium. The serenity of the Japanese Tea Garden with its bridges, bonsai and fortune cookies is a favourite with tour groups. Opportunities for games and activities abound, with lawn bowling, disc golf, soccer, football, baseball and tennis all catered for. Although filled with people, the park never seems crowded and there is always a secluded space somewhere on the lawns or in the gardens. For a lively atmosphere, the Beach Brewery and Restaurant is a popular restaurant in Golden Gate Park. Golden Gate Park is even said to be haunted by its own resident spirit, the Stow Lake Ghost!

Cable Cars

One of San Francisco's most endearing attractions is its network of 130-year-old cable cars, the only mobile National Historic Landmark in the country, and the world's only surviving system of cable cars. Many cities adopted the system, but all have since been replaced by more practical means of transport. The perpetuation of these clanking museum pieces was due to determination by the city's residents and today they remain at the heart of the city's character. It is an experience to ride up and down the steep gradients of the hills, hanging on while the brass bell clangs, the conductor jingles his coins and the familiar clanking of the cables pulls the car at a constant 9.5 miles (15km) per hour. Many people have difficulty believing that these six-tonne cars can work without engines and the San Francisco Cable Car Museum affords visitors a closer look at the cable-winding machinery, and the 'home base' where cars are reeled in and out on 11 miles (17km) of steel cable. The museum also houses some interesting sights, including the first cable car (1873) and scale models of different types of cable cars that were once in use in the city. The idea of the cable car system was conceived by engineer Andrew Hallidie. After watching the uphill struggle of laden horse-drawn carts, he was determined to find a kinder and more efficient means of transportation, which he produced four years later.

Wine Country

The Napa and Sonoma Valleys are at the heart of the Californian wine country, producing wines that are praised by connoisseurs worldwide, from a perfect climate of sunny days and cool nights. The area is a forerunner in the latest grape-growing techniques and wine making, and many individual growers, instead of selling their grapes to the larger wineries, are producing their own excellent boutique wines. The Napa Valley is the more commercial of the two, with more wineries, spas and tourist traffic, and a better selection of restaurants and hotels. The valley also caters for classic wine country activities such as hot air ballooning or biking through the vineyards; the world-renowned wineries also offer informative tours, which provide the ultimate wine-country experience. Sonoma Valley is less pretentious and more beautiful in a rustic way, with smaller family-run cellars and fewer visitors. Although the Napa Valley is the USA's best-known wine region, Sonoma boasts more awards than their snobbish neighbour, producing intensely complex reds. The Napa Valley is a relatively compact region with more than 200 wineries offering tours and tasting. Most of the large wineries with their orderly rows of vineyards are situated along the main thoroughfare that stretches from San Francisco Bay to Calistoga in the north. But there is more to the valley than wine tasting. The small resort town of Calistoga is famous for its mineral springs and mud baths, as well as the Old Faithful Geyser that shoots boiling water and steam 60 feet (18m) into the air every 40 minutes. Nearby is a Petrified Forest with redwoods, seashells and marine life that were turned to stone after volcanic ash from the eruption of Mount St Helena covered the area.

Sausalito

Located at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito is a half hour ferry ride from Fisherman's Wharf. The panoramic view of San Francisco Bay is spectacular, and Sausalito's sunny, inviting outdoor cafés and small shops overlooking the city are simply charming. One of the chief attractions in Sausolito is the docks where wealthy San Francisco residents dock their yachts. Tourists can hire bikes from Pier 39, Fisherman's Wharf and bicycle to Sausalito across the Golden Gate Bridge, have lunch and return on the ferry.

Exploratorium

Located inside the Palace of Fine Arts, the Exploratorium is known as the museum of science, art and human perception, and is a leader in the movement to promote museums as educational centres. Named San Francisco's best museum, the Exploratorium is a fun, quirky museum of science, art, and human perception that features some 650 'please touch' exhibits. Many of its exhibits are created by visual and performing artists as well as scientists and educators. Exhibits such as the off-site Wave Organ, a unique sonic exhibit which is located on a nearby piece of land jutting out in the San Francisco Bay, can be found nowhere else in the world. It is one of San Francisco's most popular museums, drawing over 500,000 people each year and its three-dimensional pitch-black Tactile Dome inspire many visitors to approach challenges in a very different way.

Aquarium of the Bay

The Aquarium of the Bay features 300 feet (91m) of crystal clear acrylic tunnels through which over 20,000 aquatic animals can be viewed. The aquarium offers visitors the opportunity to come face-to-face with the Bay's largest predator, the seven-gill shark, as well as touch leopard sharks, skates, rays, and sea stars. The Aquarium hosts nearly 600,00 visitors every year and provides free classes and tours to more than 13,000 Bay Area school children annually, making it a wonderful San Francisco attraction for families.

Alamo Square

Anyone who has ever seen an episode of the 90s sitcom 'Full House' will know what Alamo Square looks like. It is a residential neighbourhood and park in San Francisco, frequented by tourists, neighbours and dog-owners. The park features a playground as well as a tennis court. A row of Victorian houses overlooks the park, known as the 'painted ladies' and this view is often shown in the foreground of panoramic pictures of the city. On a clear day, the Transamerica Pyramid building and the tops of the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge can be seen from the park's centre. Alamo Square is a great place to get out of the car and have a picnic after a bit of sightseeing in San Francisco.

Chinatown

A dragon-draped archway at the intersection of Bush and Grant streets marks the entrance to Chinatown in San Francisco, the oldest Chinatown in the United States and the largest Chinatown outside of Asia. Chinatown draws more tourists than the Golden Gate Bridge with its streets teeming with fish and vegetable stalls, herbal shops, temples, and eateries. There are some fantastic Chinese and dim sum restaurants such as Lichee Garden, Hunan Home's, and R&G; while the shopping is nearly unlimited as lucky cats wave from every doorway. Museums include the Chinese Historical Society of America and Chinese Culture Center, making Chinatown an absolute must-see.

Lombard Street

Known as the 'Crookedest Street in the world', Lombard Street features eight sharp hairpin turns. The road was designed in 1922 in order to reduce the 72 degree slope of the hill and make it more usable for cars as well as pedestrians. The speed limit is a mere 5mph (8 km/h) on the crooked section, which is about a quarter of a mile (400m) long. The crooked section of the street is reserved for one-way traffic travelling downhill and is paved with red bricks. Tourists are known to literally queue to drive down this famous road, making it a definite must-see when visiting San Francisco.

Ripley's Believe it or Not! Museum

Visitors at the Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum can be mystified and thrilled at the rare, the bizarre and the totally unexplained in the many interactive and state-of-the-art exhibitions throughout the museum. Exhibits range from a vertigo-inducing spinning tunnel to shrunken heads from central Africa. Children will be gob-smacked and this is a must for families travelling with kids in San Francisco.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Voted the world's best seaside amusement park, Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk offers fun for ages with its collection of carnival rides, classic arcade games, and active pursuits like mini golf, bowling and laser tag. Founded in 1907, Beach Boardwalk is also California's oldest amusement park.

Oakland Zoo

Boasting a menagerie of over 300 wonderful animals, the Oakland Zoo is a must for animal lovers and children. Highlights include a children's park, picnic area, wildlife theatre, carousel and a miniature railway. The children's zoo allows kids the opportunity to get close to the animals and even pet them. There's also a small rides area, and a cafe and souvenir shop.

Randall Museum

The Randall Museum, also known as the Science and Nature Museum, provides plenty of enjoyable and exciting learning opportunities and experiences for children of all ages. The museum also features animals, such as birds, mice and snakes and children can even get to handle these animals as part of the educational experience. Workshops and programs are also available to children and adults.

Children's Fairyland

This ten-acre entertainment park on the shores of Lake Merritt features carousel rides, puppet shows and displays of other fairy-tale characters from well-loved stories like Johnny Appleseed, Peter Rabbit and Alice in Wonderland. The park features a puppet theatre, rides, cafe and gift shop. Children of all ages will love a trip to Children's Fairyland where they can let their imaginations run wild.

Ghirardelli Square

Just as you'll find gold at the end of the rainbow, there is surely chocolate at the end of the cable car line in San Francisco. Ghirardelli Square, located on Fisherman's Wharf, is occupied by shops, restaurants, art galleries, and of course the famous Ghirardelli Chocolate Company. While the factory itself is no longer located there, the square is listed in the national register of historic places, and there is a free guided history tour every Tuesday and Wednesday morning at 9:30am.

Coit Tower

This 210 foot tall (64m) tower in North Beach is the best vantage point in the city, and a great way for new arrivals to get their bearings. The art deco tower is the centrepiece of Pioneer Park, and was a bequest of Lillie Hitchcock Coit with the intention of adding beauty to the city she has always loved. Visitors should come early as the 360 degree views and wonderful photo opportunities make this a must-visit site for visitors and it gets crowded during peak times. The hill is accessed via Lombard Street, itself a very popular attraction.

Haight Ashbury

Legend has it that the 1960s hippy movement and resulting American counter-culture kicked off in the Haight Ashbury area. That was more than 50 years ago, but the bohemian atmosphere of this area prevails, with plenty of shops selling vintage clothing, hemp based accessories, vinyl records and tie-dye shirts, alongside imaginative boutique shops. There are lots of bars and live music venues, particularly along famous Fillmore Street, and charming boutique hotels. The area is famous also for its 'painted lady' Victorian houses. The Haight, as it's commonly known, borders Golden Gate Park so is a natural base to explore this natural treasure.

Union Square

This central plaza is the modern face of San Francisco, surrounded by Macy's, Saks, Bloomingdale's, and the Levis flagship store, plus iconic hotels and quaint historical buildings. Along the west side, up the steep incline of Powell street, the famous cable cars run down to Fisherman's Wharf, while on the other side, Grant avenue leads directly into the heart of Chinatown. The Square is a natural meeting place and a popular departure point for walking and bus tours. You can also find the discount ticket booth here, and enjoy the café pavilion with outdoor seating. Note the gorgeous statue of Victory atop the central plinth. Each holiday season a giant Christmas tree is erected in Union Square, giving the area a festive atmosphere.

San Francisco MOMA

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is one of the country's premier modern art centres, featuring important works of Diego Rivera, Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, Henry Matisse, Paul Klee, Jeff Koons and iconic photography from Ansel Adams. With the recent donation of the 1,100-piece Fisher Collection, SFMOMA now ranks alongside the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Tate Modern in London as essential pilgrimage sites for lovers of 20th century art. The museum café and art shop are destinations in their own right, while the SFMOMA's iconic building, constructed in 1995, is a work of art in itself. Grab a free audio tour headset on the way in - the excellent commentary will greatly enhance your appreciation of the works.

Asian Art Museum of San Francisco

San Francisco has close ties with Asia, a legacy reflected in its sizeable Chinese and Japanese communities. The Asian Art Museum collection was funded and developed to honour this heritage. Housed in the magnificent former San Francisco city library building, this is the largest museum in the western world dedicated to Asian art, with over 17,000 Asian art treasures drawn from 6,000 years of history. The museum is well known for its exceptional special exhibitions, with visiting collections representing art from all over Asia.

Muir Woods

The closest remaining stand of Redwoods to San Francisco, Muir Woods National Monument is a great half-day excursion from the city to pay homage to these soaring giants of the forest. It's incredible to think that each tree grew from a seed no larger than that of a tomato's. Redwoods can grow to over 380 feet (115m), although Muir Woods' tallest tree is 258 feet (79m). The park itself is a haven for wildlife and there are numerous longer hikes departing from the shorter ring path that most visitors amble around.

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom

Located in Vallejo, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is an animal theme park that offers wildlife experiences with a range of creatures. Visitors can feed dolphins, sea lions, seals or giraffes, or watch trained dolphins and elephants perform in shows. The park's animals include tigers, killer whales, camels, alligators, otters, flamingos, penguins, snapping turtles, sharks and more. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom also has dozens of rides ranging from the thrilling Medusa rollercoaster to the kid-friendly Seaport Carousel. Kids will enjoy meeting their favourite Looney Toons characters like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, while thrill-seeking teenagers will enjoy the more intense rides.

Winchester Mystery House

One of the most bizarre attractions in northern California, the Winchester Mystery House was the residence of Sarah Winchester, widow of the inventor of the famous rifle. The house was continuously under construction for nearly 40 years, and it is popularly believed to be haunted by the spirits of people killed by Winchester rifles, who drove her to keep adding and remodeling the mansion. Whether or not it is haunted, the house is a strange and rambling collection of roughly 160 rooms, including 40 bedrooms, two ballrooms, 47 fireplaces and several secret passageways. Seemingly innocent doors and stairways lead nowhere, and there are superstitious touches including a preoccupation with the number 13, and recurring spiderweb motifs. Tours of the Winchester Mystery House take roughly 2.5 hours and are offered daily. Special flashlight tours are offered every Halloween and on Friday the 13th. Children are not allowed on 'Behind the Scenes' and Grand Tours for safety reasons.

Redwood National and State Park

Redwood National and State Park is home to the world-famous redwood trees that tower up to 379 feet (115m) in the air. Home to 45 percent of the remaining old-growth redwood forests in the world, the park is the best place to see the magnificent trees. Aside from the redwoods, the park has nearly 40 miles (64km) of wild coastline, as well as prairies and oak woodlands. The park has over 200 miles (322km) of hiking trails, and offers outdoor activities like horseback riding, kayaking, camping, mountain biking and bird watching.

Dining

Hunan Home's Restaurant

Cuisine style: Chinese

Hunan Home's is considered one of the best restaurants in Chinatown by both locals and foreigners. Diners are presented with a dazzling array of traditional Chinese foods. For a Chinese restaurant the waiters are surprisingly friendly and can advise on the best dishes. There is a reasonably-priced lunch menu. Hunan Home's is hidden deep in Chinatown, so you'll have fun exploring the neighbourhood on your way there as long as you don't mind the walk.

Address: 622 Jackson Street, Chinatown


Gary Danko

Cuisine style: French

Award-winning, top Californian chef Gary Danko has built up a culinary name for himself by combining classical French cuisine with Mediterranean and Californian cooking, incorporating major culinary traditions from around the world into his work. His fine dining restaurant is a very special experience, and not only for the exquisite food; the service is impeccable and the atmosphere quietly elegant with no hint of stuffiness. Perhaps the best way to experience Danko's ingenuity is by way of a fixed-price seasonal menu, which might include glazed oysters, guinea hen breast and chocolate soufflé. Reservations essential. Dinner nightly. Elegant dress attire requested.

Address: 800 North Point at Hyde Street (Fisherman's Wharf)


One Market

Cuisine style: American

Winner of several national and local awards, One Market features upscale American fare specialising in fresh meat and fish dishes. There are remarkable views of the waterfront and historic Market Street that can be enjoyed while dining on ahi tuna steak or the daily roast. For a unique dining experience, the restaurant also features a special 'Chef's Table' located inside the kitchen from where the group is guided through the exquisite tasting menu served by the chef himself. There is live jazz every evening. Closed Sundays. Dinner Monday to Saturday and lunch on weekdays only. Reservations essential.

Address: 1 Market Street, Embarcadero


Boulevard

Cuisine style: American

Located in the Art Nouveau Audiffred Building near the waterfront, the mosaic floor, central open kitchen and striking decor perfectly complement the artistic dishes created by culinary star Nancy Oakes. One of the city's best restaurants, Boulevard is always packed and is ideal for a special occasion. Specialities include wood-roasted dishes like the rack of lamb, pork loin, or a variety of fish. Reservations essential. Dinner daily; lunch on weekdays only.

Address: 1 Mission Street, Embarcadero, SoMa


Fifth Floor

Cuisine style: French

With a palette of rich colours and luxurious furnishings, Fifth Floor became an instant classic after opening in 1999. The modern French cuisine produced by Laurent Gras remains original, visually creative and sophisticated. Incredible attention to detail is paid to dishes like the crab salad with a white truffle confit, the slow-baked rack of lamb, or the velvet chocolate mousse cake with a roasted banana sorbet. The wine list is prestigious and professionally served. Breakfast daily. Dinner Monday to Saturday. Reservations essential.

Address: 12 Fourth Street, Hotel Palomar, SoMo


The Slanted Door

Chef Charles Phan prepares real Vietnamese home cooking at The Slanted Door and his food is so flavourful and incredibly fresh that even the likes of Mick Jagger and Bill Clinton have sought it out. The establishment attempts to recreate the richness of Vietnamese street food with Western style service. The menu includes fresh spring rolls, green papaya salad, duck and grilled ahi tuna, as well as delicious desserts such as vanilla bean crème brûlée and a collection of Oriental teas. Its new location overlooking San Francisco Bay also has a to-go section of the restaurant. Lunch and dinner daily.

Address: 1 Ferry Building #3


Zuni Café

Dining at this much-loved rustic restaurant is a quintessential San Francisco experience. The eclectic Italian-Mediterranean fare includes the legendary brick-oven roasted chicken with a Tuscan-style bread salad, hamburger on grilled rosemary focaccia bread, and the classic Caesar salad. The bustling copper-topped bar serves drinks as well as the very freshest selection of oysters. It is a great place for a pre- or post-Opera House drink and is always crammed with an eclectic crowd. Reservations recommended. Closed Monday.

Address: 1658 Market Street, Civic Center, Hayes Valley


Greens

With high ceilings and enormous windows overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay, Greens boasts one of the most dramatic dining spaces in the city and offers outstanding, creative meatless dishes that have earned it a place as one of the top vegetarian restaurants in the country. Owned by the Zen Buddhist Center, dishes use the finest organic ingredients and the delicious meals attract non-vegetarians as well as vegetarians. Lunch Tuesday to Saturday and dinner Monday to Friday. There is a special fixed-price dinner on Saturdays. Brunch on Sundays.

Address: Building A, Fort Mason Center, Marina Boulevard, Marina


Delfina

Cuisine style: Italian

Craig Stoll was one of Food and Wine's Best New Chefs in 2001, and the ultra-fresh seasonal Italian cuisine, the reasonable prices and warm atmosphere have made Delfina one of the most popular restaurants in the city today, continuously abuzz with happy diners. Dishes on the daily-changing menu are kept simple but extraordinary and might include thick Tuscan soup, butternut panna cotta or roasted chicken. The handmade pastas, braised meats and fish dishes are all full of flavour. Reservations essential. Dinner daily.

Address: 3621 18th Street (Mission District)


Hollywood Café

Cuisine style: American

Hollywood Café is simply the best restaurant in San Francisco to get a classic all-American breakfast: Denver Omelette, Eggs Benedict with Dungeness Crab, French Toast with Fried Bananas and Blueberries, and the list goes on. Lunch is just as good with a range of excellent sandwiches, including a particularly enormous BLT. The portions are large, and come accompanied by freshly-squeezed orange juice or excellent coffee.

Address: 530 N Point Street, Fisherman's Wharf


Opaque

Cuisine style: International

Imagine eating a gourmet meal in total darkness, experiencing the food and your dining partners in a whole new way. That's the magic of Dining in the Dark at Opaque, guaranteed to be one of the most interesting and enjoyable restaurant experiences of your life. The wait staff are all legally blind, but their service is impeccable, and highly skilled. They guide the dining guests to their tables, bring the food, orientate one to the table layout and cuisine, and generally serve as host and chaperone. The dishes, which guests select in the lighted lobby before being lead into the darkness, includes Ahi tuna tartar, beef tenderloin, and chocolate dessert cake. Expect to abandon your silverware around the main course when most diners report using their hands and loving every minute of it. At around $90 per person, it's not cheap but the overall experience is truly priceless.

Address:


Historic John's Grill

Cuisine style: Steakhouse

This is perhaps the iconic San Francisco restaurant, filled with history and mystery, and famous since 1908 for its classic ambiance of wood panelled walls and dimly lit interior. Meat and fish are the specialities here, preferably grilled. The clam chowder is wonderful too, but the real stars of the show are the lamb chops and the steak, served with gratis vegetables, bread and sparkling water. This restaurant was featured in Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, a much loved crime classic. The fact is celebrated everywhere from the etching on the glassware to the falcon statues for sale in the souvenir cabinet. Located just off Union Square.

Address: 3 Ellis Street


Airports

San Francisco International Airport

Website: www.flysfo.com

Location: The airport is situated 14 miles (23km) south of San Francisco.

Contacts: Tel: +1 800 435 9736.

Time Zone: GMT –8 (GMT –7 from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November).

Transfer between terminals: AirTrain light rail service operates on two lines. The Red Line connects all terminals, garages and the BART Station; and the Blue Line, which also connects to the Rental Car Centre. AirTrain does not provide service to SFO's Long Term Parking Lot.

Facilities: There are banks, bureaux de change and ATMs available. Facilities for the disabled are very good. Other facilities include baggage storage, medical clinic, bars and restaurants, duty-free, shops, childcare and baby changing facilities, post office, wireless Internet, tourist information and hotel reservations. There is also a museum, library, art gallery and an aviation history museum within the terminal.

Parking: Rates for short-term parking start at $2 per 20 minutes and increase to $33 per 24 hours. Other daily rates available range from $20 per day in the international parking area or $15 per day in the long-term lot.

Transfer to the city: The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Rapid Rail service connects the airport to the city centre, and provides a connection to the Caltrain commuter rail service at Milbrae Station, from where trains leave regularly to San Francisco downtown, costing about $2 and to San Jose. SamTrans Service, bus 292, leaves every 30 minutes for the city centre and suburbs costing US$1.75. There are also shared vans, which provide a door-to-door service and are cheaper than taxis. Reservations are sometimes needed for service after 11pm. Taxis cost about US$35 for an hour's ride to the city centre, very dependant on traffic. Airport employs are available at the taxi pick up area, outside all terminals, to help passengers.

Car rental: The AirTrain links the terminals to the rental car centre. Car rental companies include Alamo, Avis, Budget, National, Thrifty and Hertz.


Oakland International Airport

Website: www.oaklandairport.com

Location: The airport is situated 12 miles (19km) from Oakland.

Contacts: Tel: +1 510 563 3300.

Time Zone: GMT –8 (GMT –7 from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November).

Facilities: ATMs, restaurants and bars are available in both terminals. Duty-free shopping, a business centre and left luggage services can be found in Terminal 1. Passengers with disabilities are well catered for, but those requiring wheelchairs should contact their airline in advance.

Parking: There are four parking options at Oakland International - the Premier, Hourly, Daily and Economy lots. The Premier lots, for VIPs, are closest to the terminal and cost $3 for every half hour for the first five hours, and $36 for 5-24 hours. The Hourly lot is the next closest car park and is probably best for short-term or overnight parking. It costs $2 per half hour (up to 5 hours), or $32 for 5-24 hours. The Daily and Economy lots are furthest from the terminal, but offer the cheapest parking at $2 per half hour with a daily maximum of $22 and $16 respectively.

Transfer to the city: The BART subway network links the airport to Oakland and San Francisco from the Coliseum/Oakland International Airport Station. The AirBART shuttle links the station to the airport every 10 minutes. AC Transit bus line 50 connects the airport with BART, line N connects to downtown Oakland and downtown San Francisco as well as to east Oakland, and bus line 58 connects to the Amtrak railway station at Jack London Square. From Jack London Square it is possible to link to the Alameda/Oakland ferry, which provides services to San Francisco's ferry terminal and Pier 39.

Car rental: The Rental Car Center is open 24 hours and has all rental companies in one location, including Avis, Budget, Hertz and National. A Rental Car Shuttle bus ferries passengers between the terminals and Rental Car Centre every 10 minutes.


Mineta San Jose International Airport

Website: www.sjc.org

Location: The airport is located two miles (3km) north of central San Jos�.

Contacts: Tel: +1 (408) 392 3600.

Time Zone: GMT �8 (GMT �7 from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November).

Departure tax: None.

Transfer between terminals: A free shuttle connects the three terminals, running roughly every five minutes.

Facilities: Facilities at the airport include several restaurants and cafés, WiFi Internet access, a gift shop, ATMs, bureaux de change, a shoeshine stand, fax and telephone facilities. Facilities for the disabled are good.

Parking: Short-term parking at San José International Airport starts at $2 per half hour and goes up to $30 per day. Economy parking is $22 per day, and Economy Lot 1 has a daily rate of $15.

Transfer to the city: The Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) operates a special Airport Flyer service that links the airport to the Metro Light Rail Station and the Santa Clara Caltrain Station. The Amtrak is three miles (5km) away from the airport, but there is no direct shuttle or bus service to and from the airport. Other transport options include a reliable and efficient bus service, or taxis. There are several taxi operators available at the airport at all terminals, which can cost anywhere from $20 to downtown San Jose or $90 to downtown San Francisco. There are also limousines available, and several hotels offer door-to-door shuttles for their guests.

Car rental: Car rental companies can be found at the Rental Car Centre, which is serviced by a shuttle bus that stops outside terminals. Companies represented at the airport include Alamo, Thrifty, Avis, National and Enterprise, among others.




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