Introducing the city
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About San Francisco
Victorian buildings mist in fog as the iconic Golden Gate Bridge rises majestically on the skyline; San Francisco is a diverse city full of multi-cultural communities, tree-lined hills and Gold Rush era optimism.
Lying on a Pacific peninsula, San Francisco is a city of highs and lows; cable cabs swing up some of the 43 hills while at street level you can wander past 19th century buildings. Parts of the city (the Palace of Fine Arts; the Legion of Honour) have all the palatial splendour of their European cousins, while modern greats (the California Academy of Science; the Exploratorium) are sleek examples of contemporary design that are well suited to this tech-savvy hub. Surrounding the eclectic neighbourhoods are miles of natural beauty, from the manicured gardens of Golden Gate Park to the scenic vistas at Baker's Beach.
Parts of town feel like a Californian beach resort, notably Pier 39 with its waterfront promenade, while others are more urban and gritty. Proud of its LGBT and multi-cultural population, San Francisco's liberal diversity is reassuringly palpable. Make time for one of the museums (the Asian Art Museum is wonderful) or stop off at quirky Lombard Street for unique souvenirs.
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When Should You Visit?
August for warm days when you can explore the city's great outdoors.
San Francisco has a cool-summer Mediterranean climate with mainly wet, mild winters and dry, warm summers. Thanks to the surrounding Pacific Ocean, the temperature in the city is relatively consistent all-year-round. The warmest months are August and September with an average temperature of 20 degrees Celsius. The coolest month is January with an average temperature of seven degrees Celsius. The wettest month is January.
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Travioor top tips
- City Guides offer established walking tours around San Francisco and best of all - they are free! Learn about local history, famous landmarks and insider knowledge.
- Get a discount CityPass Card (which covers free entrance to plenty of attractions plus seven days of Muni and Cable Car fares) through Viator or a Go San Francisco Card (a discount card that can save you over fifty percent on entrance fees), also available through Viator.
- Bring comfy shoes (there are lots of hills) plus warm clothes - it might be California but the temperature still drops (especially at night).
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Food and drink
As a multi-cultural city, there are plenty of local, national and international food options. If you're looking for a taste of San Francisco then opt for clam chowder in a sourdough roll (yes, it works), bay shrimp and sourdough or buttery Dungeness crab. If you visit local restaurants you might find common favourites on the menu, including 'Hangtown Fry' (oysters, scrambled eggs and bacon), or 'Joe's Special' (spinach, onions, mushrooms, ground beef and eggs). Those with a sweet tooth should leave space for an 'It's It', a chocolate coated scoop of vanilla ice-cream sandwiched between two oatmeal cookies.
San Francisco has more breweries than New York - hardly surprising then that beer is popular with the locals. Anchor Steam Beer (made by the local brewery) is everywhere - we like it ice cold on a hot day. Other popular choices are fruity cocktails as well as Irish Coffee; it's a big claim, but San Francisco boasts that it makes the best in the USA. We'll leave you to decide.
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San Francisco's Story
The area was originally inhabited by the Yelamu tribe of Native Americans before Spanish settlers arrived in 1776 and founded a mission community. In 1821, the area gained independence from Spain and it became part of Mexico before an Englishman named William Richardson arrived in 1835 and established a town called Yerba Buena. In 1846, the US claimed California and the town's name was subsequently changed to San Francisco.
During the California Gold Rush (1848) the city boomed in population with many people arriving in search of prosperity. A significant number were Chinese and subsequently the area became home to a large Asian population. As the city grew, proposals were suggested to modernise and develop the area - unfortunately in 1909 a huge earthquake struck and 90 percent of buildings were destroyed. San Francisco - known for its resilience - nevertheless recovered and in the subsequent decades the Golden Gate Bridge was built. Today it has a reputation for being one of the USA's most liberal cities with a huge emphasis on equality, LGBT rights and creativity,
English is the official language spoken in San Francisco, although tourist attraction signs are also in multiple languages. Thanks to the diverse and international population, there are also large groups of people who speak Chinese and Spanish. You may notice the San Franciscan accent when talking to locals. The following gives you an idea on pronunciation that you may hear:
'Caught' is pronounced 'Cot'
'Should' is pronounced 'Shud'
'Book' is pronounced 'Buck'
Need to know
Get The Low-Down
- As with any major city tourist scams and crime can be a problem, be wary of pickpockets, especially on crowded Muni trains.
- A group of San Franciscans have set up a meet and greet with locals service that offers insider knowledge including tips on where to eat and what to see.
- Taxis tend to be expensive and often get stuck in traffic; more and more common are taxi apps on smart phones that tend to work out cheaper.
- Some neighbourhoods have higher rates of crime than others - be cautious around Bayview, Visitacion. Sunnydale, Ingleside and Potrero Hill.
- Avoid using 'San Fran' or 'Frisco' (you'll earn the wrath of the locals). If you must abbreviate, 'The City' or 'S.F.' is more acceptable.
Find out about the visa requirements for the USA here.
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1. Alcatraz Island
Visit the abandoned prison, historic lighthouse and idyllic rock-pools on this famous island. Accessible by ferry, it makes a great day trip.
2. Cable Cars
Cable cars are synonymous with San Francisco. The iconic yellow cabs traverse the city's hills making you feel like you've taken a step back in time.
3. Golden Gate Bridge
Rusty red and one mile long, Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most photographed structures in the world. The best views of it are from the San Francisco Bay side.
4. Fisherman's Wharf
Yes it's touristy but this bustling waterfront area is great for a people watch, a cold beer or some locally caught crab. Just be prepared for the crowds.
5. MUSEUMS AND MORE
There are plenty of places to wile away the hours, including the California Academy of Sciences and the de Young Museum (free admission on the first Tuesday of the month).
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