San Francisco -- don't call it "San Fran," and please, please don't call it "Frisco" -- has long attracted visitors from around the world. The array of famous landmarks and images is reason enough to go: Alcatraz, cable cars (don't call them trolleys), the Golden Gate Bridge, the pastel boxlike houses packed in, shoulder-to-shoulder, along legendary hills. (Does any American city, save New York, have as many iconic sites and sights? Maybe D.C.. But no place else.) In the '60s and '70s, people flocked to San Francisco to experience, or just witness, the epicenter of the hippie movement. And while the flower children of yesteryear are long gone, unceremoniously swept aside by the rise of Silicon Valley in the 1980s and the dot-com boom in the '90s, the city remains a bastion of liberalism and progressive politics. The gay community still thrives in the Castro District (note the rainbow flags hanging from windows), as does an ethnically diverse population throughout the city (a rainbow of a different sort); in the mayoral election, the Republican candidate sometimes doesn't even finish in the top three.
Most of all, though, people come to the City by the Bay for its unsurpassed beauty. San Francisco's peninsular combination of bay and ocean, with steep crests rising in between, creates what is quite possibly the most picturesque natural setting for a major city anywhere in the world. You can find gorgeous panoramic views from half a dozen different spots: Twin Peaks, Nob Hill, Coit Tower, and so on, up and down, peak to peak. So get those thighs in shape. And when you get there, take a walk across the Golden Gate and a hike to the top of Lombard Street. Grab a ferry to Alcatraz and a slice of sourdough. Oh, and bring a jacket!
You tend to get less hotel for your money here than in most other American cities. For one thing, San Francisco is just plain expensive. Also, though, many hotels occupy buildings that are a century old; no matter how many flat-screen TVs and iPod docks you add, there's no getting around the fact that the room was constructed in 1907. (A good example is the Westin St. Francis, the second-oldest hotel in the city, where the rooms in the original building are a tad bit cozier than today's traveler might like.) Still, as with any major destination for tourists and business travelers alike, San Francisco boasts plenty of variety. Ultraluxe chain outposts (Ritz, St. Regis, Four Seasons); indie budget places (GOOD Hotel, Donatello); business-minded skyscraper hotels (Le Meridien, Hyatt Regency); and cute boutiques (Joie de Vivre and Kimpton) are all well represented in San Francisco.
Although you can find budget-minded inns almost anywhere in San Francisco, the vast majority of the hotels are concentrated in five neighborhoods in the northeastern corner of the city: Union Square, SoMa ("South of Market" Street), the Financial District, Fisherman's Wharf, and Nob Hill. No matter where you stay, you'll need to grab a taxi or bus to many of the most popular sites, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, Twin Peaks, the Castro, and Haight-Ashbury. Union Square is best known for high-end shopping, but it's also a central location with a wide range of hotels in terms of both price and size. The artsy SoMa neighborhood and the Financial District are quite different from each other, vibe-wise, but they both play host mostly to large business-minded chain outposts. To locals, Fisherman's Wharf is nothing more than a ghastly tourist trap, but there are some good values there, and it's the jumping-off point for boats to Alcatraz. Finally there's Nob Hill, also known as "Snob Hill," where the hotels match the reputation. For a taste of old-school luxury, head to the top of the hill, where grand old dames like the Fairmont and Intercontinental Mark Hopkins lord over the city like royalty.
|Airports:||San Francisco Int'l Airport (SFO)|
|Peak:||June 21 - Sept. 22|
|Electricity:||120 V, 60 Hz|
|Tipping:||15-20% at restaurants|