Currency is the US dollar. San Francisco is eight hours behind GMT and a direct 10-hour flight from London.
Continental Airlines (http://continental.com) flies regularly from London Heathrow to San Francisco.
Virgin Atlantic (http://virgin-atlantic.com) flies regularly from London Heathrow to San Francisco.
San Francisco Tourist Office (http://sanfrancisco.travel) is a good source for information on accommodation and city tours.
San Francisco Stories: Great Writers on the City A collection of essays, poems and short stories based on the city, edited by John Miller (Chronicle Books, £8.60).
It’s not often you come across a city that ticks all the boxes, but San Francisco does exactly that. Walk along the Golden Gate Bridge, spend an afternoon shopping in Union Square and don’t forget to try some Dungeness crab or clam chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf. Watch out for the steep hills (a perfect excuse to ride the cable cars) and don’t overlook the beauty of the brightly coloured Victorian houses and mansions in Pacific Heights.
What to do
Fisherman’s Wharf is home to the city’s waterfront community. It’s a hive of activity with shops and restaurants touting for customers, quirky street performers and curious tour groups. Walk down the Embarcadero, the eastern waterfront, until you come to Pier 33 and catch a ferry to Alcatraz Island. From 1934 to 1963, the old military fortress on the island was used as a maximum-security prison where hardened criminals such as Al Capone were housed. The audio tours take you through its history, weaving in stories from inmates and prison guards. Back on land, head south on Hyde Street until you come to a zigzagging road, also known as the Crookedest Street in the World. The best views are from the bottom where you can look up at the string of cars carefully navigating their way down. Carry on a few blocks until you hit Columbus Avenue lined with shops, restaurants, delis and cafés – you’ve reached North Beach, home to the Italian community. Right in the heart is Washington Square where the Romanesque church of Saints Peter and Paul stands in all its splendour. The stone-white towers of the church look like they’ve come straight from a storybook castle, which is probably why Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio chose to have their wedding photos taken here. Head south on Columbus Avenue and you’ll enter Chinatown. Here, red lanterns and pagoda-style roofs decorate the streets. The Golden Gate Park (http://golden-gatepark.com) is well worth a visit if you have time. It’s hard to believe the 1,017 acres of parkland was once barren sand dunes. Today, you’ll see locals boating on Stow Lake and find various monuments, the Conservatory of Flowers, a Japanese Tea Garden and even a Buffalo Paddock inside.
Where to stay
If you’ve got cash to splash, Nob Hill is the place to be. It’s also a convenient location halfway between well, pretty much everything. It’s here that you’ll find The Fairmont (00 1 415 772 5000, http://fairmont.com). The hotel is everything you expect it to be, grand and luxurious with most bedrooms located in the historical part of the building. Hotel Rex (00 1 415 433 4434, http://jdvhotels.com), in the theatre district, has the lively Library Bar with cosy brown leather chairs, dark wood furniture and shelves filled with books. If you’re lucky, you may catch an evening poetry reading here. Rooms are simple but the service is great. Wake up to views of the bay at the Harbor Court Hotel (00 1 415 882 1300, http://harborcourthotel.com). Rooms are painted in rich shades of purple and gold and come with Aveda toiletries.
Where to eat and drink
Pick up personalised hand-made fortune cookies at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, in Ross Alley, Chinatown.
The Cliff House restaurant (00 1 415 386 3330, http://cliffhouse.com) has been offering the best views of Ocean Beach since 1863. It has two eateries focusing on seasonal and local ingredients including house-smoked sturgeon and South West mole-rubbed pork tenderloin. Hidden in the narrow streets of Chinatown, you’ll find a real gem of a restaurant. Featured in the Michelin guide two years running, the food and service at Bund Shanghai (001 415 982 0618) is well worth the trip. Try the pork soup dumplings for starters, followed by the clay pot of chicken and water chestnuts. Chef Mark Dommen from the Michelinstarred One Market restaurant (00 1 415 777 5577, http://onemarket.com) showcases a locally farm-raised animal once a week, so expect some exciting options like crispy pig trotters with foie gras and frisée on the menu.
Time running out?
Hire an electric bike and whizz through the city at your leisure (http://blazingsaddles.com).
Average daily temperatures and rainfall
This article was published on 31st January 2012 so certain details may not be up to date.