With the Pacific Ocean lapping at its feet and steep hills and Victorian rooflines at its shoulders, San Francisco has long been a magnet for visitors the world over. Once you have shopped at its waterfront boutiques, ridden its quaint cable cars and ticked off the famous landmarks, it is likely that you too will be smitten. After all, what's not to love about California's most-cherished city?
This is one of the city's most tourist-centric districts and often the first pit stop for visitors, but it is none the worst for it. The beautiful waterfront is lined with restored 19th and 20th century ships, souvenir stores, and restaurants with just-caught seafood headlining their menus, with pier 39 is also being in the neighbourhood. One minute you can be shopping at one of the 130-plus stores, another dining on clam chowder, and the next watching a street artist performing against a backdrop of both city and bay.
Fisherman's Wharf is the departure point for ferries to the infamous Alcatraz Island, which kept the likes of Al Capone and the 'Birdman' captive when it served as a prison. A visit these days includes a trip to the cell house where you can see where the prisoners lived and get a glimpse into their life. Tours fill up fast, so remember to reserve online in advance.
Golden Gate Bridge and Park
San Francisco's most recognisable landmark is the first thing you will see if you are driving in to the city - it is one of the major road routes from the north. The giant ochre-coloured bridge is certainly an arresting sight, no more so than when travelling across its two-mile span, floodlit at night.
A few minutes' drive south, Golden Gate Park wraps a green blanket over more than 1,000 acres of lovely gardens, walking trails, and cycle paths. You will find it easy to lose a couple of days here, wandering through the botanical gardens, exploring the trio of museums, and boating on the lakes.
Overlooking the Golden Gate is thePresidio. As a military post turned national park site, it is worth parking up to explore its beautiful hiking trails which go hand in hand with gorgeous architecture and vitas that take in the swell of the ocean. Within the grounds, the Palace of Fine Arts is reminiscent of Roman and Greek architecture.
The city is home to the largest Chinatown outside of Asia. It is only a 15-minute drive from the bay, but is like entering another world, one of temples, theatres, teahouses and antique stores built in the Chinese style. Time your visit to coincide with an important Chinese holiday or event such as Chinese New Year and you can expect an all-singing-all-dancing celebration.
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