San Francisco is an eccentric, bohemian city that opens its arms to all comers and proves extremely difficult to leave:
Renowned as the world's most free-spirited city, a holiday in San Francisco sends one on a roller-coaster ride of fun in keeping with the trams that traverse its steep, hilly streets. From its diverse neighbourhoods to its bayfront pleasure-land and the offshore bulk of the Alcatraz prison, it is a city of unique charm and character. The locals know how to have a good time, and restaurants and entertainment venues aplenty await travellers among the quirky, Victorian buildings and crooked streets.
There are so many facets to a holiday in San Francisco, from history to hippies, prisons to parks, seafood to shopping, and art to architecture, that the city can truly be said to offer something for everyone. San Francisco is also rated as one of the world's most 'gay-friendly' cities and its annual Gay Pride parade is a popular event.
Best time to visit San Francisco
The weather in San Francisco stays a stable 'cool to mild' throughout the year. Fog can put a damper on things in the summer (June to August), and rain is plentiful during the winter months (December to February). There is thus no best time to visit, and San Francisco welcomes visitors all year round.
GMT -8 (GMT -7 from March to November).
Electrical current is 120 volts, 60Hz. Plugs are mainly the type with two flat pins, though three-pin plugs (two flat parallel pins and a rounded pin) are also widely used. European appliances without dual-voltage capabilities will require an adapter.
English is the most common language spoken but Spanish is often heard in the south-western states.
There are no specific health risks associated with travel within the USA. Medical facilities are excellent, but expensive. Only emergencies are treated without prior payment and treatment can be refused without evidence of insurance or proof of funds. Good medical insurance is essential.
A 15 percent tip is expected by taxi drivers, bartenders, hairdressers and waiters, but don't tip in fast-food or self-service restaurants. In expensive restaurants or for large parties, tip 20 percent of the bill. It is normal to tip staff such as valets and porters in hotels; this is discretionary, although a minimum of $5 is expected. Most services are customarily tipped if the service is good.
Travel within the United States is generally trouble-free, however, travellers should be aware that the US shares with the rest of the world, an increased threat from terrorist incidents. Security has been heightened, particularly at airports. Restrictions on hand luggage apply and travellers are advised to check on the latest situation with airlines in advance. Travellers should also be alert to the dangers of car and street crime in cities and should use common sense and take basic precautions. Hurricanes are common between June and November, putting the southern USA, including the Gulf Coast and the eastern US at risk. There is a risk of wildfires in many dry areas in the US, particularly on the West Coast from March to November.
Laws vary from state to state, including speed limit, fines and punishment. The age at which you may legally buy and consume alcohol is 21 years.
San Francisco sightseeing is a hugely rewarding experience and, if you enjoy walking between the sights, a physically demanding one, too. Few cities have hills as steep as this, but mercifully the cable cars are a practical and fun way to travel up and down the rises.
There are a number of world class sights: take a stroll around Golden Gate Park, while enjoying glimpses of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge; then catch a cable car up the steep hills to Chinatown, and the stunning Aquarium, before taking a long lunch at Fisherman's Wharf, one of the city's most popular attraction.
Perhaps the best of sightseeing in San Francisco is simply being in the city and experiencing its welcoming atmosphere while enjoying the charming architecture and splendid natural scenery. If you're planning a very full day of sightseeing, consider the Go San Francisco card, which provides a range of discounts and preferential access to attractions. Prices start from $78 per day.
No doubt about it, San Francisco is a fabulous food city. In fact, those in the know rate this as the restaurant capital of the country. There are over 3,000 eateries to sample, some of them home to the best chefs and finest ingredients in the land. With an emphasis on artisan culinary delights, impressive famers' markets, creative fine-dining and speciality food stores, San Francisco is a thrill for foodies.
Local dishes are typically ingredient driven, incorporating farm fresh produce and the best of regional wineries, dairies and organic produce suppliers. No one cuisine dominates; there is rather a wonderful variety to experience. Asian fusion food is well represented, with a strong emphasis on fresh local seafood. For Italian dishes head over to North Beach; for Chinese and other Asian dishes, make a beeline for Chinatown. The Mission district is home to a huge variety of Mexican and Latino restaurants.
San Francisco is a health-conscious city, and vegetarians and vegans will find more options than they had ever dreamed possible. The city is notorious for clamping down on unhealthy kids' meals as well, so parents will be happy with the healthy choices presented. In January annually, you can enjoy 'Restaurant Week', where you can enjoy a fixed-price two-course or three-course meal at over 100 top restaurants for either $15 or $25 per person (lunch) and $40 or $65 per person for dinner.
Tips of 15 to 20 percent are expected for good service. Make reservations well in advance as impromptu fine-dining isn't really an option.
San Francisco nightlife is diverse and enticing. Each neighbourhood's bars, clubs and lounges have a unique atmosphere, and there are multiple cafés and performing arts venues to enjoy. As San Francisco after dark is known for its novelty and constant innovation, be sure to check online for special events, once-off performances and pop-up dining that may coincide with your travel dates.
For electronic music clubs, hip hop and art lounges try the SoMa area, while the Mission and Marina districts are good for bars. Gay-friendly bars and clubs are prevalent in the Castro area, and North Beach boasts neon strip joints and bars. The San Francisco Opera stages a free performance of Opera in the Park, followed by occasional free performances throughout the city. Ballet and modern dance can be seen at the Cowell Theater and Marina Boulevard. The Civic Center/Hayes Valley area is known for brilliant live performance venues and is the go-to spot for ballet, opera and jazz.
There is plenty to do after hours in San Francisco and visitors are bound to have a tough time choosing from the utter abundance of weird and wonderful, original and entertaining night time activities.
The weather in San Francisco is cool to mild throughout the year, with foggy summers and wet winters. The climate is influenced by the cold currents of the Pacific Ocean surrounding the city, which in conflict with the Californian mainland's summer heat, creates foggy conditions that blanket the city during summer and early autumn. This ensures summers (June to August) in San Francisco are cooler than inland California and average high temperatures reach 77°F (25°C). Winters (December to February) are mild during the day, with temperatures seldom dropping below 60°F (16°C) lows, but nights are cold and rain is common. Rain in summer is rare.
The US is an extremely diverse society and attitudes towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people differ hugely across the country. The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in San Francisco is one of the largest and most prominent LGBT communities in the world, and is one of the most important in the history of LGBT rights and activism alongside New York City. The city itself has, among its many nicknames, the nicknames "gay capital of the world" and "the gay Mecca", and has been described as "the original 'gay-friendly city'".
Details of vaccination recommendations and requirements are provided below.