Travel to the United States: How to make the most of a quick visit to San Francisco
Besides admiring the view, a bike ride over the world’s most famous bridge is a must in San Francisco. Photo/Getty Images
Even if you’re only in town for a short time, you can still cram a lot into a quick trip to Golden Gate City, writes Brett Atkinson.
Framed by the historic Ferry Building, San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturday mornings features fresh Northern California produce and plenty of harborside brunch options. Pair fair trade coffee from family-run roaster Proyecto Diaz with a cardamom and orange blossom bun from Saltwater Bakeshop, or join the queue of loyal regulars for chilaquiles (eggs with salsa and fried tortilla) from Primavera’s bustling stall. It’s strictly cash only for a plate of spicy Mexican goodness.
Take the historic F-line streetcar one mile west along the Embarcadero waterfront and board the Alcatraz City Cruises ferry from Pier 33 to the infamous San Francisco Prison Island. Advance booking online is recommended, and return departures include an audio-guided tour of the island’s fascinating and spooky cellblock. Allow around three hours for the full experience back at Pier 33. Other Alcatraz tour options include an after-dark tour as the San Francisco skyline fades to twilight in the area of the bay.
From Pier 33, it’s just a 500m walk to the North Beach district of San Francisco, first settled by Italian fishing families in the early 20th century. Take in views of the city and harbor from the top of Coit Tower before refueling on espresso and cannoli at Caffe Trieste, or picking up mortadella and focaccia at Palermo II Deli. In the 1950s, North Beach was the epicenter of the Beat Generation, the bohemian literary movement that was the liberal precursor to San Francisco’s hippie culture and 1967’s Summer of Love.
Learn about writers including Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs at the Beat Museum before adjourning nearby for City Lights Books. A copy of San Francisco Poems by the late City Lights founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti is an essential buy at America’s top bookstore. On the ground floor, you’ll find plenty of handy nooks and crannies for relaxed reading and browsing.
From Union Square, take the San Francisco Powell-Hyde Cable Car up Powell St to the heights of Nob Hill. Options for a pre-dinner cocktail include the tiki-bar ambiance of the Fairmont’s Tonga Room – monsoon rain showers sweep the bar’s interior “lagoon” every 20 minutes – or combine nighttime views of $1 million with live jazz and a martini on the 19th floor at Top of the Mark Bar at the Mark Hopkins Hotel. Nearby restaurants for dinner include wood-fired pizza at Del Popolo or Japanese flavors at Izaka ya Yoki.
After an American-style breakfast at the Sutter Street Cafe—try an omelet or breakfast wrap—take the Powell-Hyde Cable Car north to the Blazing Saddles location near Fisherman’s Wharf. Hire a Blazing Saddles bike to embark on the mostly flat 8-mile adventure across the Golden Gate Bridge to the seaside village of Sausalito, before catching one of the frequent ferries back to Fisherman’s Wharf. Guided bike tours lasting about three hours are also available, as well as e-bikes, making it an easy trip along San Francisco’s Embarcadero waterfront and across the Golden Gate Bridge.
After watching California sea lions roam the tourist district of Fisherman’s Wharf –
aka Pier 39 – take the F line streetcar back to the Ferry Building and transfer to the blue, red or yellow line and continue southwest to the Mission district. San Francisco’s historic center of Hispanic culture is a great place for a late lunch. Try a lengua (beef tongue) burrito at La Taqueria before exploring the street art and murals that enliven the neighborhood’s alleys and alleyways. Search “Mission District Murals” on sftravel.com for locations of Mission’s best colorful outdoor galleries.
Catch an Uber about 2.5 miles northwest to Haight-Ashbury, the incense-infused intersection that was the hub of San Francisco’s Summer of Love in 1967. Mainline stores, vintage clothing stores and long-established businesses such as the anarchist bookstore Bound Together all hint at Haight-Ashbury’s collectivist, LSD-fueled past, and there are occasional gigs at the sprawling Amoeba Records store on the east end. from Golden Gate Park.
After picking up tunes from famous San Francisco bands including the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and the Dead Kennedys, keep going down to the Lower Haight neighborhood for value-for-money meals from around the world, and the The city’s best craft beer meets the dive-bar vibe at the legendary Toronado. A gourmet grilled sausage from Berliner Berliner, located next door, is a nice way to cap off a stay in San Francisco.
Getting There :
Air New Zealand offers direct flights between Auckland and San Francisco.
Where to stay:
With decor inspired by the Beat Generation, Hotel Emblem is conveniently located near Union Square. Expect occasional poetry slam events in the hotel’s Obscenity Bar & Lounge.
For more travel ideas, see sftravel.com