San Francisco Overview
- Thrilling car-chase scenery
- City Life
- Counterculture and cable cars
That bridge, the scenic Bay, those cable cars… San Francisco is a dream location for film-makers – and tourists. Its compact districts, worldly outlook and cultured population give it a cosmopolitan vibe.
Settled by seafaring Spaniards in the 18th century, populated by gold-rush dreamers in the 19th century, and rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in the 20th century, San Francisco has a rich history of reinventing itself. It’s been home to some of America’s most liberal, forward-thinking citizens – the Beat Generation, the Summer of Love hippies and the dot-com boomers. Its youthful, hip social scene is still carefree and on the pulse. Just don’t call it Frisco unless you want everyone to know you’re from outta town.
Suitably San Francisco
You can’t visit this city without taking a ride on one of its famous cable cars. They were first conceived by a kind-hearted engineer who was distressed by the sight of horse teams being dragged downhill by the weight of their carriage. Each car has three separate braking systems, operated by a gripman. Flag down a car from one of stops; when you want to get off, never pull the bell cord – just yell ‘Next stop, please’. Give the gripman fair warning though, as cable cars take a while to bring to a halt. If you like kitsch souvenirs, the Cable Car Museum (www.cablecarmuseum.org) has cable-car-shaped music boxes that play ‘I left my heart in San Francisco’.
- You can hail taxis anywhere on the street, although they’re less numerous outside the downtown area. San Franciscan cabbies are a fascinating bunch, and they can’t refuse you for short rides, either.
- Tipping culture
- As in most US destinations, 15–20 per cent is standard in taxis, at the bar, for hotel bellhops, waiters… Expect to be doling out those singles quite a lot.
- Siesta and fiesta
- San Francisco works and plays hard. Evenings kick off with a few drinks in a neighbourhood joint, or bar-hopping in the Mission, before the city’s 3,000 restaurants start to feel the heat in their very capable kitchens. The SOMA area’s chill-out lounges and vibey bars pick up at around 10pm and, for late-night partying, the bars of Castro and North Beach stay open into the wee hours.
- Packing tips
- The weather here is a wondrous and ever-changing thing: pack layers. If you expect to walk anywhere, bring trainers and maybe even your personal trainer, too – the hills are deadly steep.
- Recommended reads
- Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin; City Limits by James Toland; The Subterraneans by Jack Kerouac; The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth.
- This city is a food-lover’s paradise: whatever you want, it’s here. Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame got this city on the right track: intoxicatingly fresh, local, seasonal food. The Dungeness crab is a feature of San Franciscan cuisine; they’re available all year round, but are best when they’re in season (from September to April). Whether you fancy cheap and cheerful burritos in the Mission, dim sum in China Town, freshly landed fish and seafood at Fisherman’s Wharf or fine Californian dining in the Financial District, you won’t have to look far to find something that tickles the tastebuds.
- US Dollar.
- Time zone
- GMT -8 hours.
- Dialling codes
- Country code for the US: +1. San Francisco: 415.
- Do go/don't go
- There’s never a bad time to go to San Francisco, but June and July are the peak tourist months. However, mid-summer brings with it the city’s distinctive fogs, so you may miss out on some of the bigger views. March to May and September to early November provide mild, sunny days. The rains can be torrential from late November to February, so if you’re going then, bring layers and suitably waterproof outerwear. Between storms you’ll be rewarded with crisp, bright sunshine.