Destination Insight: San Francisco
San Francisco ranks as one of the greatest cities to visit in the world. The ‘City by the Bay’ is famous for its classic cable cars, Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and the fabulous Fisherman’s Wharf, as well as amazing cuisine and shopping.
It’s definitely worth extending a business trip or even spending a few days in San Francisco as part of a multicentre US holiday.
8 things to see and do in San Francisco
1. Catch a ferry to Alcatraz Island
Renowned predominantly as a federal prison that once housed the likes of Al Capone and George ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly, Alcatraz Island was also once a Civil War fortress, home to the first lighthouse on the West Coast and birthplace of the American Indian Red Power Movement. Catch a ferry to the island from Pier 33 and explore the (now much calmer) park. Make sure you listen to the fascinating audio tour that includes amazing tales from the officers and prisoners who lived and worked on the island.
2. Ride on a cable car
Back in 1873, after witnessing a horrific accident on the city's steep streets, Andrew Smith Hallidie set about creating the now infamous San Francisco cable car. In its heyday there were eight lines covering a distance of 53 miles. Why not hop on one of the three lines still in operation today – the Powell-Hyde Line, the Powell-Mason Line and the California Line – and explore the city by cable car.
3. Say hello to the sea lions at Fisherman's Wharf
If you're arriving by cable car, jump off at either Bay Street or Aquatic Park and head to Pier 39. Fisherman's Wharf is the most visited destination in San Francisco with amazing views of Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and Angel Island, but it's also home to a pod of Californian seals that took up residence at K-Dock at Pier 39 back in the 1990s and never left.
4. Cycle across Golden Gate Bridge
As one of the seven wonders of the modern world, this famous landmark is best experienced by bicycle. Hire a bike and pedal down the National Park Cycle Path from Fisherman's Wharf to Sausalito. This easy eight-mile route takes in the Aquatic Park, Fort Mason, the Marina and Presidio National Park to the base of the bridge and Fort Point. Cross the bridge on the sidewalk, not forgetting to take lots of pictures of the stunning views, and then zip down to Sausalito, where you can relax and grab a bite to eat. If you don't fancy the ride back, hop on the ferry to San Francisco.
5. See fortune cookies being made in Chinatown
Chinatown San Francisco is the largest one outside of Asia and the oldest one in North America. There's so much to see and do, it's hard to know where to begin. We love the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory on Ross Alley, where you can watch two women make some of the 20,000 handmade cookies a day. Not your thing, then head to Grant Avenue for herbal shops, trinket stores and kitschy plastic Buddhas or hang out with the locals on Stockton Street.
6. Shop until you drop in Union Square
Boasting the largest collection of luxury, department and boutique shops, this is the place to go to for shopping! Built originally in 1850, Union Square served as a gathering site for pro-union demonstrations on the eve of the Civil War. Today's gatherings have changed somewhat... If shopping doesn't take your fancy, check out the many art galleries, salons, restaurants and theatres.
7. Whizz to the top of Coit Tower for panoramic views
Standing at the top of Telegraph Hill is Coit Tower, where you can take the elevator to the viewing platform for 360-degree views of San Francisco. The tower was completed in 1933 after Lillie Hitchcock Hoit – a wealthy patron to the city's fire fighters – left a substantial amount of money to be used “for the purpose of adding to the beauty of the city I have always loved.” Listen out for the noisy parrots that live on the hill too!
8. Go on a wine tasting tour in Napa Valley
From the wine trolley to the wine train, if you've got some time you'll discover there are lots of ways to explore Napa and its wineries. The region has more world-acclaimed wineries than anywhere else in North America, plus 95% of all of them are family owned and operated. Tours usually take in a few vineyards and offer transportation and meals.
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