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Welcome to San Francisco

San Francisco

The most attractive of American cities and regularly voted the best city in the USA, San Francisco is adored because of its colourful history, dramatic setting and its laissez-faire atmosphere, a quality missing from synthetic Los Angeles. It is a regular trendsetter in everything alternative, from flower-power to 'free love' and gay liberation; it prides itself on being individualistic, down-to-earth and cultured.

Streets rollercoaster up and down the hills, and when not swathed in the city's trademark fog, there are superb vistas of San Francisco Bay, spanned by one of the world's most famous sights, the Golden Gate Bridge. Surrounded by hills and urban development, traversed by bridges, dotted with sails and 14 small islands, including the notorious Alcatraz, the bay is the largest inlet on the Californian Coast. Fisherman's Wharf at the edge of the bay is a popular place to eat, stroll and shop, with its resident seals a favourite photographic subject.

Within the surprisingly compact city are distinct neighbourhoods that reflect the cultural background of diverse communities that were attracted to San Francisco by the discovery of gold in 1848, and the promise of a new life for those desperate to escape their harsh circumstances. Most of San Francisco's residents were born outside the city and this mix of cultures is reflected in the dragon-studded temples of colourful Chinatown and Japantown, the characteristic bohemian flavour of the Italian pasta restaurants and cappuccino cafes in North Beach, the old Spanish-speaking Mission District that blends with the nightlife of SoMa, the modern Financial District, the gay centre of Castro and The Haight, characterised by the memory of the hippie movement of the 1960s.

Information & Facts


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 California mainland summer heat, creates foggy conditions that blanket the city during summer and early autumn. This ensures summers in San Francisco are cooler than inland California. Winters are mild during the day, temperatures seldom dropping below 60°F (15°C), but nights are cold and rain is common. Rain in summer is rare.

Eating Out

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.

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.

Every January is declared 'Dine About Town' month when you can enjoy a fixed-price three-course meal at over 100 top restaurants for $21.95 per person (lunch) and $31.95 per person for dinner.

Tips of 15 to 20% are expected for good service. Make reservations well in advance as impromptu fine dining just doesn't happen here.

Getting Around

Travelling around San Francisco is a fun and fairly straightforward experience. By using a combination of buses, trams and cable cars you can get to just about attraction in the city. The main roads and public transport routes lead off Market Street, which runs the length of the city from Pier 1 to Castro; and Stockton and Powell Streets, which intersect with Market and link the Union Square area with Chinatown, North Beach and Fisherman's Wharf. An essential purchase when getting around the city is the San Francisco CityPass. From date of validation it is good for 9 days on unlimited passage on all trams, trains and cable cars. (The CityPass also provides free entrance to six key attractions.) Another vital accessory is the free and ubiquitous printed San Francisco City Map branded by It shows all the major transport routes with relevant numbers.

The public transport system in San Francisco is known as MUNI and operates buses, electric trolley buses and the famous cable cars as well as metro streetcars (underground trains that become street cars when they emerge above ground). MUNI is sometimes late and crowded, but San Francisco is one of the few cities in America in which residents make good use of public transport. Driving is extremely difficult, due to traffic, an unconventional street layout, impossible parking and, of course, very steep streets - though a rental car may be necessary for trips farther afield. MUNI offers access to all parts of the city; exact change is required, and the same fare applies to all services except the cable cars, which are more expensive (but well worth at least one ride - the Powell-Hyde route is the most scenic). Note that the cable cars are a moving National Monument and hence are very popular and crowded. They can be tough to get onto, and slow in getting to your destination. If you want less scenery and more efficiency the buses and trams are the way to go. Passengers can ask for a free transfer with each ticket bought, which allows another two rides on a bus or train and gives a 50 percent discount on cable cars within 90 minutes.

MUNI trains and buses run 24 hours a day, with a more limited service after midnight; buses late at night are not always safe to use. MUNI Passports are available for one, three and seven days, allowing unlimited use of public transport within the city limits. The other transport system, known as BART, is a fast and economical subway/rail network that connects the city to the East Bay as well as the airport. Taxis are also available in the city but can be hard to find, especially during peak hours. During the day, perhaps the best option is to walk; lots of locals do. However, be prepared to climb a few hills.

Kids Attractions

California is a great place for families and children, and San Francisco is one its most child-friendly cities. Not only is there great weather, but there's also a plethora of fantastic attractions and activities to keep the little ones busy.

When the sun is out, visit world-renowned landmark Golden Gate Bridge and enjoy the sights, or even take an electric bike tour over the bridge. Not your typical theme park, the Gilroy Gardens are great for a picnic or a stroll and there is loads of space for kids to run around and let off some steam. There are also breathtaking views from the Panoramic Wheel and there are even a few rides for the younger ones to enjoy, but don't forget the hats and sunscreen. Fisherman's Wharf is also a great day out and be sure to head to Pier 39 where there is plenty for kids to see and do.

When the weather is bad and children's outdoor activities in San Francisco are not an option, head out to some of the exciting museums such as the Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum, or for something more educational, the Randall Museum is a great place to learn about animals and science.

English is the most common language but Spanish is often spoken in south-western states.

The US Dollar (USD) is the unit of currency and is divided into 100 cents. Only major banks exchange foreign currency. ATMs are widespread and credit cards and travellers cheques are widely accepted. Travellers cheques should be taken in US Dollars to avoid hassles. Banking hours are Monday to Friday 9am to 3pm.


The San Francisco nightlife is diverse and enticing. Each neighbourhood's bars, clubs and lounges have a unique atmosphere, and there are also plenty of cafés and performance arts venues to enjoy. The San Francisco Weekly and the San Francisco Bay Guardian have nightlife listings and are available free from bars, restaurants and street-corner boxes.

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. Hemlock Tavern in the seedy Tenderloin district hosts live upcoming bands, and Amber is a grungy lounge bar where smokers are welcome. Rockit Room features rock bands, and has pool tables and a laid-back lounge area. Red Devil Lounge is an elegant club with red lanterns and comfortable seating, while Hush Hush offers excellent deejays, tasteful décor and lovely booths.

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. Other live performances can be caught at San Francisco Performances in the Bay Area.

If there is one live performance to see in San Francisco it has to Beach Blanket Babylon, the longest running musical revue in history. It's a unique show that has achieved cult status with its witty spoofs of popular culture and show-stopping tunes. The costumes are outrageous, especially the enormous hats which grow in stature as the show progresses. The finale features a hat that takes up half the stage. Beach Blanket Babylon was founded by the late Steve Silver and has become a San Francisco institution, as popular with locals as the astounded and delighted visitors. The venue is at Club Fugazi in North Beach.


Shopping in San Francisco is a delightful experience with varied shopping centres, charming districts and wonderful malls to keep you interested.

Some of the city's best shopping is at its museums. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art store has an incredible selection of art books, posters, DVDs and other beautiful curios, while the Exploratorium offers an irresistible range of interactive toys, robots, experiment kits and other science themed media and curios. The Asian Art Museum has the city's best collection of books, fabrics, statues, bowls and jewellery in theme with its expansive exhibits on Asian art through the centuries.

For an authentic experience of Japanese culture with all the weird and wonderful shops that go along with it, visit Japan Center on Geary Street. This center, which meanders through several buildings on a second-storey skyway, contains dozens of stores selling everything from manga to traditional medicine. Coupled with the excellent sushi restaurants it's like being transplanted into Tokyo for the afternoon.

The prime shopping area is probably Union Square, home to boutiques and top labels. Haight and Ashbury Streets may have shed much of its hippy heritage in favour of steady gentrification but has still retained an eclectic selection of stores that makes this area one of the most interesting to shop in. In a similar vein, Hayes Valley is also a good bet for a galleries, boutiques and studios. Don't miss Chinatown for a fascinating stir-fry of Asian products, while Alemany Market and San Jose flea market - on the edge of town - offer a hugely varied range of goods.

The best of the many shopping malls are probably Embarcadero Centre and Westfield San Francisco Centre, both packed with retail brands and decent value stores.

Top purchases while in the city include music CDs and books, wine from the Napa Valley, and invariably, miniature reproductions of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The price of all goods includes a non-refundable state sales tax of 8.25%. This tax can be refunded if goods are shipped outside California; keep your receipts and enquire when departing at the airport.


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, 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 $20 per day:

Anyone who has ever seen an episode of the 90s sitcom 'Full House' will know what Alamo Square looks like. It is a residential neighbourhood and park in San Francisco, frequented by tourists, neighbours and dog-owners. The park features a playground as well as a tennis court. A row of Victorian houses overlooks the park, known as the 'painted ladies' and this view is often shown in the foreground of panoramic pictures of the city. On a clear day, the Transamerica Pyramid building and the tops of the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge can be seen from the park's centre.

Out in the middle of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz Island, or 'The Rock', is one of Golden Gate National Recreation Area's most popular destinations. The notorious escape-proof island with its dreaded maximum-security prison once held the likes of Al 'Scarface' Capone, George 'Machine Gun' Kelly and the 'Birdman of Alcatraz', Robert Stroud. With sheer cliffs surrounded by the icy waters of San Francisco Bay, known for its treacherous tides and currents, it was regarded as the perfect place to detain the country's most-wanted and dangerous criminals who were isolated in dark solitary confinement cells. Visitors can explore the prison as well as learn about its history: from its discovery as a pelican nesting ground, its location as a military outpost, and the years between 1933 and 1963 as an off-limit federal penitentiary. It was also inhabited by Native Americans before being declared a Recreational Area and protected bird sanctuary. Thousands of tourists flock here each year and take the excellent self-guided audio tours that contain commentary from former guards and prisoners about life on the island and the notorious escape attempts. There is also a slide show and a tour of the island's ecology and bird life led by a park ranger. The view from the island looking across to San Francisco is fantastic as well.

The Aquarium of the Bay features 300 feet (91m) of crystal clear acrylic tunnels through which over 20,000 aquatic animals can be viewed. The aquarium offers visitors the opportunity to come face-to-face with the Bay's largest predator, the sevengill shark, as well as touch leopard sharks, skates, rays, and sea stars. The Aquarium hosts nearly 600,00 visitors every year and provides free classes and tours to more than 13,000 Bay Area school children annually, making it a wonderful San Francisco attraction for families.

San Francisco has close ties with Asia, a legacy reflected in its sizeable Chinese and Japanese communities. The Asian Art Museum collection was funded and developed to honour this heritage. Housed in the magnificent former San Francisco city library building, this is the largest museum in the western world dedicated to Asian art, with over 17,000 Asian art treasures drawn from 6,000 years of history. The museum is well known for its exceptional special exhibitions, the most recent of which Shanghai, the highlight of the Bay Area-wide collaboration running throughout 2010 in honour of San Francisco's sister city.

One of San Francisco's most endearing attractions is its network of 130-year-old cable cars, the only mobile National Historic Landmark in the country, and the world's only surviving system of cable cars. Many cities adopted the system, but all have since been replaced by more practical means of transport. The perpetuation of these clanking museum pieces was due to determination by the city's residents and today they remain at the heart of the city's character. It is an experience to ride up and down the steep gradients of the hills, hanging on while the brass bell clangs, the conductor jingles his coins and the familiar clanking of the cables pulls the car at a constant 9.5 miles (15km) per hour. Many people have difficulty believing that these six-tonne cars can work without engines and the San Francisco Cable Car Museum affords visitors a closer look at the cable-winding machinery, and the 'home base' where cars are reeled in and out on 11 miles (17km) of steel cable. The museum also houses some interesting sights, including the first cable car (1873) and scale models of different types of cable cars that were once in use in the city. The idea of the cable car system was conceived by engineer Andrew Hallidie. After watching the uphill struggle of laden horse-drawn carts, he was determined to find a kinder and more efficient means of transportation, which he produced four years later.

This ten-acre entertainment park on the shores of Lake Merritt features carousel rides, puppet shows and displays of other fairy-tale characters from well-loved stories where stories come to life. The park features a puppet theatre, rides, cafe and gift shop. Children of all ages will love a trip to Children's Fairyland where they can let their imaginations run wild.

A dragon-draped archway at the intersection of Bush and Grant streets marks the entrance to Chinatown in San Francisco, the oldest Chinatown in the United States and the largest Chinatown outside of Asia. Chinatown draws more tourists than the Golden Gate Bridge with its streets teeming with fish and vegetable stalls, herbal shops, temples, and eateries. There are some fantastic Chinese and dim sum restaurants such as Lichee Garden, Hunan Home's, and R&G. Museums include the Chinese Historical Society of America and Chinese Culture Center, making Chinatown an absolute must-see.

This 210 feet-high (64 m) tower in North Beach is the best vantage point in the city, and a great way for new arrivals to get their bearings. The art deco tower is the centrepiece of Pioneer Park, and was a bequest of Lillie Hitchcock Coit with the intention of adding beauty to the city she has always loved. Visitors should come early as the 360 degree views and wonderful photo opportunities make this a must-visit site for visitors and it gets crowded during peak times. The hill is accessed via Lombard Street, itself a very popular attraction.

Located inside the Palace of Fine Arts, the Exploratorium is known as the museum of science, art and human perception, and is a leader in the movement to promote museums as educational centres. Named San Francisco's best museum, the Exploratorium is a fun, quirky museum of science, art, and human perception that features some 650 'please touch' exhibits. Many of its exhibits are created by visual and performing artists as well as scientists and educators. Exhibits such as the off-site Wave Organ, a unique sonic exhibit which is located on a nearby piece of land jutting out in the San Francisco Bay, can be found nowhere else in the world. It is one of San Francisco's most popular museums, drawing over 500,000 people each year and its three-dimensional pitch-black Tactile Dome inspire many visitors to approach challenges in a very different way.

Some people love the bustle of Fisherman's Wharf, while others make a conscious effort to steer well clear of it. But for better or worse it is massively popular, attracting more visitors than any other city sight, with Pier 39 the commercial tourist epicentre. The Wharf was once a fishing port with dozens of boats anchored here. Pier 45 is still used by fishermen in the early morning hours, and fish and seafood can be bought from the Fish Alley Market. There are shops galore, fast food stands and overpriced bay-view restaurants as well as bars, markets, street performers, and an endless variety of activities for the whole family. It is also the gateway for several top attractions: trips to Alcatraz and other bay cruises leave from here; numerous museums include the Historic Ships Pier; and the USS Pampanito submarine that can be boarded from Pier 45. The entertaining colony of sea lions that reside on the floating docks at Pier 39 are one of the best attractions on the quay. The quirky Musée Mécanique is located by Pier 45, and houses the world's largest collection of coin-operated mechanical wonders.

Just as you'll find gold at the end of the rainbow, there is surely chocolate at the end of the cable car line in San Francisco. Ghirardelli Square, located on Fisherman's Wharf, is occupied by shops, restaurants, art galleries, and of course the famous Ghirardelli Chocolate Company. While the factory itself is no longer located there, the square is listed in the national register of historic places, and there is a free guided history tour every Tuesday and Wednesday morning at 9:30am.

The rust-coloured towers, graceful suspension and supportive cables of the Golden Gate Bridge make this famous symbol of San Francisco the most photographed bridge in the world, and visible from almost any high point in the city, although it is often shrouded in rolling fog. Spanning the two-mile (3km) mouth of the bay, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time of its completion in 1937 and was built to withstand winds of more than 100 mph (161km per hour). During high winds it can sway up to 27ft (8m) in each direction. One of the great engineering accomplishments of the 20th century, the bridge claims to have used enough wire in its construction to stretch around the earth several times. Walking across the bridge, under the towers that loom 65 storeys above the water, is one of the best ways to experience the immensity of the structure and affords beautiful views of the San Francisco skyline, the bay and its islands. Golden Gate Bridge has a grisly side, however, as it is also a favourite with the suicidal and the sidewalks are dotted with crisis-counselling phones as a sobering reminder.

Of the many open green spaces in San Francisco, Golden Gate Park is the biggest and the loveliest stretching from The Haight to the Pacific Ocean, featuring gardens, lakes, numerous sporting facilities, and museums. On Sundays the main drive is closed to traffic and becomes the playground for joggers, cyclists, roller-bladers and strollers. The California Academy of Sciences includes the Natural History Museum, aquarium and planetarium. The serenity of the Japanese Tea Garden with its bridges, bonsai and fortune cookies is a favourite with tour groups. Opportunities for games and activities abound, with lawn bowling, disc golf, soccer, football, baseball and tennis all catered for. Although filled with people, the park never seems crowded and there is always a secluded space somewhere on the lawns or in the gardens. For a lively atmosphere, the Beach Brewery and Restaurant is a popular restaurant in Golden Gate Park.

Legend has it that the 1960s hippy movement and resulting American counter-culture kicked off in the Haight Ashbury area. That was more than 50 years ago, but the bohemian atmosphere of this area prevails, with plenty of shops selling vintage clothing, hemp based accessories, vinyl records and tie-dye shirts, alongside imaginative boutique shops. There are lots of bars and live music venues, particularly along famous Fillmore Street, and charming boutique hotels. The area is famous also for its 'painted lady' Victorian houses. The Haight, as it's commonly known, borders Golden Gate Park so is a natural base to explore this natural treasure.

Known as the 'Crookedest Street in the world', Lombard Street features eight sharp hairpin turns. The road was designed in 1922 in order to reduce the 72 degree slope of the hill and make it more usable for cars as well as pedestrians. The speed limit is a mere 5mph (8 km/h) on the crooked section, which is about a quarter of a mile (400m) long. The crooked section of the street is reserved for one-way traffic travelling downhill and is paved with red bricks. Tourists are known to literally queue to drive down this famous road, making it a definite must-see when visiting San Francisco.

The closest remaining stand of Redwoods to San Francisco, Muir Woods National Monument is a great half-day excursion from the city to pay homage to these soaring giants of the forest. It's incredible to think that each tree grew from a seed no larger than that of a tomato's. Redwoods can grow to over 380 feet (115 m), although Muir Woods' tallest tree is 258 feet (79 m). The park itself is a haven for wildlife and there are numerous longer hikes departing from the shorter ring path that most visitors amble around.

Between Russian and Telegraph Hills, North Beach is San Francisco's 'Little Italy', that has long been the central hub for anyone with alternative inclinations. During the 1950s the pleasure-seeking, non-conformist lifestyle of the Beat Generation and their rebellious literature contributed to the neighbourhood's unconventional character and tourists poured into the district for 'Beatnik Tours'. Two of the Beat-era landmarks are the Vesuvio bar, and the first paperback bookstore in the US and hangout of Beat-era writers, the City Lights Bookstore. The steep stairways on Telegraph Hill lead to one of the city's most distinctive landmarks, Coit Tower, a monument to the volunteer fire fighters of the city providing superb 360-degree views of the city and San Francisco Bay. Inside the round, stone-tower murals of the Great Depression depict different aspects of life in California during the 1930s. The 'Crookedest Street in the World' winds down the steep eastern side of Russian Hill, the angle so steep that Lombard Street has to zigzag down with eight sharp turns to make any descent possible. The affluent residents inside their mansions with well-tended flowerbeds that flank the street bemoan the frequent traffic jams as thousands of visitors queue at the top and wait their turn to drive slowly down the tight curves, gathering at the bottom for photographic opportunities.

Boasting a menagerie of over 300 wonderful animals, the Oakland Zoo is a must for animal lovers and children. Highlights include a children's park, picnic area, wildlife theatre, carousel and a miniature railway. The children's zoo allows kids the opportunity to get close to the animals and even pet them. There's also a small rides area, and a cafe and souvenir shop.

The Randall Museum, also known as the Science and Nature Museum, provides plenty of enjoyable and exciting learning opportunities and experiences for children of all ages. The museum also features animals, such as birds, mice and snakes and children can even get to handle these animals as part of the educational experience. Workshops and programs are also available to children and adults.

Visitors at the Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum can be mystified and thrilled at the rare, the bizarre and the totally unexplained in the many interactive and state-of-the-art exhibitions throughout the museum. Children will be gob-smacked and this is a must for families travelling with kids in San Francisco.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is one of the country's premier modern art centres, featuring important works of Diego Rivera, Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, Henry Matisse, Paul Klee, Jeff Koons and iconic photography from Ansel Adams. With the recent donation of the 1,100-piece Fisher Collection, SFMOMA now ranks alongside the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Tate Modern in London as essential pilgrimage sites for lovers of 20th century art. The museum café and art shop are destinations in their own right, while the SFMOMA's iconic building, constructed in 1995, is a work of art in itself. Grab a free audio tour headset on the way in - the excellent commentary will greatly enhance your appreciation of the works.

Voted the world's best seaside amusement park, Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk offers fun for ages with its collection of carnival rides, classic arcade games, and active pursuits like mini golf, bowling and laser tag. Founded in 1907, Beach Boardwalk is also California's oldest amusement park.

Located at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito is a half hour ferry ride from Fisherman's Wharf. The panoramic view of San Francisco Bay is spectacular, and Sausalito's sunny, inviting outdoor cafés and small shops overlooking the city are simply charming. One of the chief attractions in Sausolito is the docks where wealthy San Francisco residents dock their yachts. Tourists can hire bikes from Pier 39, Fisherman's Wharf and bicycle to Sausalito across the Golden Gate Bridge, have lunch and return on the ferry.

This central plaza is the modern face of San Francisco, surrounded by Macy's, Saks, Bloomingdale's, and the Levis flagship store, plus iconic hotels and quaint historical buildings. Along the west side, up the steep incline of Powell street, the famous cable cars run down to Fisherman's Wharf, while on the other side, Grant avenue leads directly into the heart of Chinatown. The Square is a natural meeting place and a popular departure point for walking and bus tours. You can also find the discount ticket booth here, and enjoy the café pavilion with outdoor seating. Note the gorgeous statue of Victory atop the central plinth. Each holiday season a giant Christmas tree is erected in Union Square, giving the area a festive atmosphere.

The Napa and Sonoma Valleys are at the heart of the Californian wine country, producing wines that are praised by connoisseurs worldwide, from a perfect climate of sunny days and cool nights. The area is a forerunner in the latest grape-growing techniques and wine making, and many individual growers, instead of selling their grapes to the larger wineries, are producing their own excellent boutique wines. The Napa Valley is the more commercial of the two, with more wineries, spas and tourist traffic, and a better selection of restaurants and hotels. The valley also caters for classic wine country activities such as hot air ballooning or biking through the vineyards; the world-renowned wineries also offer informative tours, which provide the ultimate wine-country experience. Sonoma Valley is less pretentious and more beautiful in a rustic way, with smaller family-run cellars and fewer visitors. Although the Napa Valley is the USA's best-known wine region, Sonoma boasts more awards than their snobbish neighbour, producing intensely complex reds. The Napa Valley is a relatively compact region with more than 200 wineries offering tours and tasting. Most of the large wineries with their orderly rows of vineyards are situated along the main thoroughfare that stretches from San Francisco Bay to Calistoga in the north. But there is more to the valley than wine tasting. The small resort town of Calistoga is famous for its mineral springs and mud baths, as well as the Old Faithful Geyser that shoots boiling water and steam 60ft (18m) into the air every 40 minutes. Nearby is a Petrified Forest with redwoods, seashells and marine life that were turned to stone after volcanic ash from the eruption of Mount St Helena covered the area.

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