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.
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.
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 Baycityguide.com 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.
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: www.gosanfranciscocard.com.