Spectacular, historically colorful and often a trendsetter in everything: from flower power to gay liberation, San Francisco is known as America's favorite city! One of the reasons why San Francisco became a favorite is the contrast between the quiet neighborhoods and the urban chaos with in the background, one of the world's most famous bridges!
In 1776, the Spanish established a fort at the Golden Gate and a mission named for Francis of Assisi. The California Gold Rush in 1848 propelled the city into a period of rapid growth, transforming it into the largest city on the West Coast at the time.
The 1906 earthquake and fire leveled most of the city, years of construction followed. This included the most outstanding examples: the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in 1936 and the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937.
During World War II the Bay Area became a major launching pad for military troops for operation in the pacific. The summer of love kicked off in 1967, when 20,000 hippies gathered in the Golden Gate Park for a concert! The Aids epidemic, which struck in the early '80s, had an enormous impact on the city but the community continued to grow. Early settlers and international groups created a reputation for being the country's culinary renaissance.
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If you would like to travel by bus you can choose the Greyhound bus lines. Have a look at the article we placed on the Intern Blog, Travel Ideas – Buses. www.myinterexchange.org/interns/?p=115#more-115
If you want to combine San Francisco with the Californian countryside and its national parks you can decide to take the more interesting and cheaper option. This organization operates around California, it is called Green Tortoise and they drive buses with sleeping bunks. www.greentortoise.com, choose the Adventure Travel link, you can plan your route and book your reservation with them.
Amtrak routes connect San Francisco with the rest of the USA. www.amtrak.com
- California Zephyr - daily service between Chicago and San Francisco with stops in between.
- Coast Starlight – daily service along the U.S. West Coast.
However depending on your departure city, the train will be more expensive than booking a seat on an airplane.
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How to get around:
A detailed Street and Transit map is available at the grand stations and at the tourist information offices. General fares for street buses are $1.50 and for cable cars it is $5.
There are specific ferries to take you around San Francisco; the Blue & Gold Ferries run the Alameda-Oakland ferry from Pier 41 and the Ferry Building, which serves the Alcatraz Island also. The Golden Gate Ferry has regular service from the Ferry Building to Marin County.
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Where to stay:
My advice is to book a bunk bed at one of the 3 Hostelling International San Francisco locations, www.sfhostels.com/. Situated at Fisherman's Warf, Downtown Hostel at Union Square or in the City Centre.
Fisherman's Wharf is the Hostel where I stayed: it has great views, friendly staff and clean facilities. The nice thing about this hostel is that you are close enough to the city center but far enough to feel like you can rest in nature.
The other 2 locations are in San Francisco's city center; they are great for people that want to continue their experiences till early in the morning!
Prices in these hostels vary between $20 - $25 a night, shared bedroom/bathroom.
If you prefer another place to stay, you can find most hostels in Fisherman's Wharf and Lombard Street is packed with motels.
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My personal San Francisco favorites - Top 3
1. Cycle the Golden Gate Bridge:
o Designed by Joseph Strauss, the gorgeous Golden Gate Bridge is 2 miles long with a main span of 4200 feet, it links the city with California's Marin County. At the time of completion it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. Painting the bridge is a never-ending job; a team of 25 painters adds 1000 gallons of orange paint every week. Imagine that being your job… a nice place to start you tribute to the bridge is at Fort Point Lookout, the Southern end on Marine Drive.
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o Pier 39 is a dense concentration of restaurants and souvenir shops but this is also the Pier where the best attractions are the herd noisy sea lions that lounge on the old boat docks and an antique Venetian carousel. Also make sure you buy some real good chocolate at Ghirardelli Square, the formerly famous factory of the San Francisco chocolatier.
3. The Castro, the city's gay quarters and home to San Francisco's hippies. Start your walk in Golden Gate park, take your time shopping in Castro district and walk towards Height and Ashley Street. Number 1 thing to do here: soak in the amazing atmosphere!
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What you need to see:
• Walk down the number 1 most cornered street worldwide – Lombard Street, the famous 1000 block, which wiggles downhill from Hyde Street to Leavenworth and is known as 'the world's most crooked street'.
• Lower Heights, the exclusive neighborhood became famous after hosting the Tanner family TV show ' Full House'. Alamo Square is the park with the view of the Victorian Houses used as the city's most well known residencies.
• Downtown Tourist centre Union Square and Theater District, great for lots of shopping.
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• City Hall in Civic Center.
• Chinatown: venture down some of the dark alleys. Waverly Place, a narrow street is lined with open balconies and upstairs temples. At the Golden Gate Cookie Company in Ross Alley you can see how fortune cookies are made (yes they are made in San Francisco, not in China itself)
• The Hispanic Mission District is a great area for cheap meals and bar hopping.
• Golden Gate Park with the Conservatory of Flowers and the beautiful Japanese Tea Garden. Rowboats, pedal boats and electric boats can be rented on Stow Lake for around $12 an hour. Bike rental is available on the eastern edge of the park, rent from Start to Finish Bike Shop. You can also rent skates at Skates on Haight shop near to the park.
• Interested in visiting a church on Sunday? The famous Glide Memorial church at 330 Ellis Street is a Black Gospel church, used in many movies like 'the Pursuit of Happiness'.
• Another interesting church for those who are young at heart: C3San Francisco, stand for Christian City Church San Francisco, visit their website at www.c3sf.com.
• Cliff House north of the Golden Gate Park along the Great Highway, but plan to visit this only if you spend many days in the city. This is not a 'must seen' sight.
Where to eat:
Stinking Rose at 325 Columbus Ave, (415) 781-7673. A cute and funny delicious Garlic Restaurant! www.thestinkingrose.com
Pier Market Seafood Restaurant on 103 Pier 39 in Fisherman's Wharf, (415) 989-7437 www.piermarket.com
Furthermore there are a number of nice Steak Houses and Burger Restaurants near Union square
Wear comfortable shoes for walking, it is after all a city built on hills which you will notice as soon as you start walking (trust me).
Watch the movie 'The Rock' with Sean Connery and Nicolas Gage directed by Michael Bay. Visit Alcatraz Island the next day!
Ferries run from Pier 41, $14 book in advance, trip includes tour. Make sure you eat on the ferry because they do not allow food on the island.
If you decide to spend Chinese New Year in San Francisco, in January or early February, visit the Chinatown's Golden Dragon Parade, led by a 75-foot-long dragon.
If you are in San Francisco in June you will notice the celebratory atmosphere of Gay Pride Week for the gay community, this kicks off with the Gay & Lesbian Film Festival at the Castro Theater. On the last Sunday in June the often outrageous Gay Freedom Day Parade is held.
Treat yourself with a nice cocktail at Harry Denton's Starlight Room on Powell Street, on the top floor of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel you can fall in love with the city, if you haven't done that yet. They serve great drinks, there are amazing views and there is nightly dancing.
Forget to bring an umbrella, very necessary in the city, especially in the mornings, however it is not a cold city so a nice sweater should be sufficient if you visit in the spring or autumn.
Also don't be scared of a little rain, it hardly ever rains the entire day.
For your convenience, here is a link for the PDF version of the interesting parts from my city map so you can start thinking about the places you want to visit:
A fan of independent cinema and proponent of the Oxford comma, Matthew began his career at a Miami-based tech startup before returning to West Virginia University to pursue his M.A. in Foreign Languages. He has worked at InterExchange since 2006 and currently serves as a Marketing Project Manager.