Shakedown, San Francisco

This week’s Shakedown shines a spotlight on the capital of Californian creativity, San Francisco. Expect a healthy blend of historic and hysteric, as we walk the streets of the city that were forged by the Gold Rush in the mid-19th century.

San Francisco is perhaps most famous for its hills, having been built upon no less than forty-three of them, and for having some of the most clearly defined neighbourhoods in urban history. The Italians occupy North Beach; The Haight (Haight and Ashbury) is the hippy hangout; The Castro is the gay district; Japantown and Chinatown hold their own; while the Mission District is where you’ll find the Latino flavour.

San Francisco: The Miniature City, by MINIMUS

Look out for street fairs and festivals throughout the year, which are a great way to get among the communities which dovetail San Francisco, and make it such a vibrant city.

Unpredicting the weather in San Francisco is anyone’s guess, but you can bet your bottom dollar it will involve fog of varying degrees, while roaming micro-climates dictate the daily dazzle with extraordinary effect.

Drive-time San Francisco

San Fran is a movie mecca, with many of the most successful films having roots in the city, such as, “neeeear, farrrrr, wherever, you, are…” plus some less tear/puke (remove as appropriate) inducing flicks such as Alfred Hitchcock’s film Vertigo (1958) and Steve McQueen’s, Bullitt (1968), whose famous car chase was mostly along Fillmore Street, between Broadway and Vallejo Street.

The recent biographical film, Milk (2008) was based in and around Castro Street, meanwhile Clint Eastwood took the initiative in Escape from Alcatraz (1979), which is based on a true story. A final nod to Phillip Kaufman’s remake of famed horror, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), which is not based on a true story. As far as I know.

Fog shrouds the cityscape of San Francisco. Honest.

Travelling to San Francisco

You’ll be pleased to hear that there are plenty of opportunities to score cheap flights to San Francisco, and that the city’s international airport is located an easy 30 minutes from the downtown area. It’s also a popular stop-off for many round the world flights, including our very own Jumbo Jetsetter.

If you’re considering hitting San Francisco as part of an epic American overlander, consider that many of our Amtrak passes and Greyhound passes visit the city, while hiring a campervan remains an affordable way to roll up to the ‘City by the Bay’.

Talking of road trips, it’s well worth considering some of our most popular trans-America journeys. Roadtrip America will take you from San Fran to NYC (or the other way) via the southern states, Experience America attempts the same destinations via the midwest. Finally, the Best of America combines the best of both for an incredible 43-day loop from New York.

We offer over twenty West Coast USA tours that visit San Francisco, with my pick being a journey through the smoky badlands, along the Wild Western, which is currently basking in 25{8105bc8a7da0e4ee2985a05e217cd0e1bef95b551bf8bafd62a449e444182173} off glory (book by 23 December 2011).

Getting Around San Francisco

Getting around San Francisco is an attraction in itself. If I say, “San Francisco cable car” you’ll instantly get the picture. Much of the city’s transport is operated by the San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni), which maintains 80 routes throughout San Francisco, with stops within 2 blocks of 90{8105bc8a7da0e4ee2985a05e217cd0e1bef95b551bf8bafd62a449e444182173} of all residences in the city. If you’re in town for a few days, weigh up the value of a multi-day Muni Passport, for unlimited travel throughout the city.

Alternatively consider our San Francisco City Pass, which bolts on some of the city’s most popular attractions to the Muni Passport. Ask in store for details. A popular cycle route for visitors to the city is to rent a bike and cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito and then catching the ferry back.

Time - Hours of the Day

Sixteen slices of San Francisco on the seashore | Image by Dave Morrow

San Francisco’s City Attractions

Hands up if you can name San Francisco’s most famous landmark? Ten bonus points if you said the Golden Gate Bridge. Its orange vermilion uprights are kept up to scratch by a 38 painters and 17 ironworkers, who get to grips with the 1.7 miles of pure, world-class bridginess.

Can you name another landmark? I’ve mentioned it already? Famous prison? There we go! Yes, Alcatraz needs little introduction, but we know a man who will give you one. Pat Mahoney is a former prison guard, and narrates the award-winning 42 minute audio guide, which is an absolute must. Another must is to book in advance, as ‘the Rock’ is a magnet for innocent tourists in search of their inner-naughty.

Elsewhere, journey to the swanky quarters of Nob Hill, or stretch out beneath the windmills in Golden Gate Park. The city’s Museum of Modern Art features celebrated artists, such as Jackson Pollock. For an eyeful of the state’s famous Redwood trees, look no further than Muir Woods, which can be reached via a shuttle service from Sausalito Ferry Terminal for just $3 return.

Union Street is the obligatory urban strip for shopping til you pop, or scoffing til you drop. Pick up a free guide of the Union Street Guide, for some insight into the 200 plus shops and over three dozen eateries that fill in the gaps between the strip’s clubs and bars. Just to clarify, I did say “strip’s clubs”.

At Fisherman’s Wharf you’ll find the ever-popular Pier 39, a lively waterfront marketplace. If you pick up a whiff in the air, follow your nose to the nearby colony of California sea lions that call the floats to the west of the pier their home. Elsewhere, it’s a short walk to the Wax Museum, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and the local crab vendors selling fresh crab and shrimp cocktails.

While you’re notching up city icons, don’t miss flower-lined Lombard Street in the Marina District, famous for eight tight hairpin turns

Events in San Francisco

Keeping up with the Shakedown? Here’s a quick round-up of 2012 diary dates for San Francisco:

  • 11 February: Chinese New Year Festival & Parade
  • 2-3 June: Union Street Festival
  • 23-24 June: Gay Pride
  • 7-8 July: Fillmore Street Jazz Festival
  • 7-18 September: San Francisco Fringe Festival
  • 10-11 September: Chocolate Festival

The Gay Pride and Chinese New Year Festival are particularly noteworthy. They both attract people from around the world, so it’s worth considering these when you’re thinking ahead for accommodation or interesting times to visit the city.

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OMG, you bitch! | Image by tinou bao

In need of a good grunt? Search out tickets to either of San Francisco’s major league sports teams: the 49ers laying it down the touchdowns at Candlestick Park; or the Giants smashing it out of the ballpark at the AT&T Park in South Beach.

Food and Accommodation in San Francisco

Foodies congregate around the Ferry Building at the foot of Market Street for a variety of gourmet food. Meanwhile, Ike’s Place at 3489 16th Street is gathering a reputation for its monster sandwiches, while Lori’s Diner flies the flag for the all-American diner in four separate locations across SF. For a walk on the spicy side, jump into Little Delhi for a twist of North Indian cuisine, and cap it off with a sweet treat from the Bi-Rite Creamery & Bakeshop at 3692 18th Street.

Accommodation in San Francisco is reasonably priced, with USA Hostels (fr £16pppn) and Mosser Hotel (fr £24pppn) leading the charge for the budget beds brigade.

Nearby to San Francisco

Beyond the city limits, you’re in the heart of America’s West Coast. Just a stones throw from Silicon Valley, home to every tech giant from Apple to Google, and eBay to Facebook. Meanwhile, the gorgeous Napa Valley offers premium vineyards, and — you guessed it — mud baths.

The Yosemite National Park and its fabulously verdant neighbours are easily reached — especially aboard the Bundu Bus — as are the crystal blue waters of Lake Tahoe (or consider tying them both in with the imaginatively titled Yosemite & Tahoe.

So there we have it, for the Shakedown on San Francisco, ‘The City by the Bay’ and one of the USA’s most liberating cities, both in terms of history and everyday vibe.

Remember, this is the city that made the Summer of Love possible, when thousands of Flower Children descended on the city to hand out flowers and bring about an era of tie-dye.

So, all that’s left for me to do, is take you by the hand, and walk off into the sunset with a flower in our hair, and not a care in the world. Peace, man.

Pssssst… perhaps while we do that, you can share your thoughts on San Francisco in the comment thread below? It would be a great addition to the Shakedown, and help 1000s of travellers from around the world to make the most of their time in the city.