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Though the Spanish may not have realized they’d discovered a gold mine—literally—in 1776, they did recognize the strength and beauty of the City by the Bay. The streets offer a veritable treasure trove of unique festivals and fairs, from June’s Pride celebrations to the Autumn Moon Festival in Chinatown. And when your work is done at this international financial leader, there’s an attraction for everyone, from Pier 39 to knee-buckling improv comedy.

City Tips

Facts & Fundamentals

Rising 853 feet over the Financial District, the 48-story Transamerica Pyramid—completed in 1972—is the city’s tallest building. The Golden Gate suspension bridge incorporates 1.66 billion pounds of steel. Each year, some 39 million vehicles cross this 1.7-mile span, which opened to traffic in May 1937. The settlement that came to be known as San Francisco in 1847 took root in the early 19th-century as the village of Yerba Buena (Spanish for “good herb”), after a wild herb that was native to the area. Known for its hilly streets—the backdrop for many cinematic car chases—San Francisco claims grades as steep as 31.5 percent (as on Filbert Street between Leavenworth and Hyde). The city’s most crooked street, brick-paved Lombard Street makes eight hairpin turns as its single lane descends the block from Hyde to Leavenworth. Founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, City Lights was the first all-paperback bookstore in the U.S. It still operates in North Beach as a literary landmark of 1950s Beat Generation writers. Invented by Scottish immigrant Andrew Hallidie in 1873, the city’s beloved cable-car system today transports 8 million riders annually. San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake lasted only about 60 seconds, but the devastation took at least five years to rebuild. Seat of the 1960s countercultural movement, Haight-Ashbury hosted the Summer of Love in 1967, when more than 100,000 young people converged to experience the hippie lifestyle. North Beach boasts the longest-running musical revue in history: Beach Blanket Babylon, an outrageous spoof on pop culture and current events that debuted in 1974.

Weather

Despite Mark Twain’s quip that “the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco,” the city claims a mild climate year-round. January temperatures average in the 50s, while July highs normally hover in the 70s. The fact that San Francisco is surrounded by water heavily influences its changeable weather, which can differ from one neighborhood to the next. Ocean breezes cool the humid coastline, leaving inland areas relatively warm and dry.

Fog, an ubiquitous weather condition in the Bay Area, can come on suddenly, causing temperatures to drop. Spring’s morning fogs tend to burn off by afternoon, but not so in summer. Fall is the best time to visit, when clear, fog-free days foster fabulous photo ops around the city. Winter, the rainy season, lasts from November through March.

City Detail

Few cities can boast an awe-inspiring setting like San Francisco. With its steep streets framed by views of the glittering San Francisco Bay, this city of more than 805,000 people is one spectacular place. The area first drew the attention of the Spanish, who in 1776 established the Presidio military garrison on a hill overlooking the bay, and chose the site for Mission Dolores.

Precious metals funded the city’s early prosperity, thanks to gold discoveries in the nearby Sierra Nevada foothills in 1849, and to the Comstock Lode silver vein, found in Nevada ten years later. But the walls came tumbling down—literally—on the April 18, 1906, when a massive earthquake ripped open the San Andreas Fault. The quake and resulting city-wide fires killed an estimated 3,000 people, left 225,000 people homeless and destroyed 28,000 buildings.

Rising like a phoenix from its ashes, San Francisco began to develop its progressive personality in the decades after the earthquake. The city’s reputation for welcoming the disenfranchised began in the 1950s, with the influx of Beat poets like Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg, who hung out in the coffeehouses of North Beach. Next came the hippies in the 1960s, when the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood cradled America’s countercultural movement. The gay and lesbian community, which took hold in the Castro District in the 1970s, retains a powerful voice in the city today.

Surrounded by 29 miles of coastline, San Franciscans revel in an active outdoor lifestyle. Weekends find locals biking in Golden Gate Park, sailing the bay and hiking in the Marin headlands. Those who prefer to kick back head for Ocean Beach on the west side of the peninsula.

From world-class paintings and ancient artifacts in the Asian Art Museum to the contemporary masterworks held at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in SoMa (South of Market), culture vultures want for nothing here. And that’s not to mention the city’s opera, symphony and ballet companies that take the stage at the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center.

Of course, you don’t want to miss the quintessentially San Francisco highlights: sipping a soda in Ghirardelli Square, riding a cable car and the amusements at Fisherman’s Wharf. But look beyond the obvious and you’ll see that San Francisco packs a world of diverse cultures into its 49 square miles. The Dragon Gate at Grant and Bush streets marks San Francisco’s Chinatown—the largest outside Asia—where temples, exotic markets and herb shops abound. Japantown centers on the commercial Japan Center complex, recognizable by the 110-foot Peace Pagoda that crowns it. Abutting Columbus Street, North Beach has been dubbed “Little Italy” for its pizzerias and pasta shops, while 24th Street in the Mission District is peppered with a Latino vibe.

Look farther still, and within a couple of hours drive from the city, the Wine Country around Napa and Sonoma beckons with bucolic vineyards. With all this and more going for the City by the Bay, it’s easy to see why visitors have long left their hearts in San Francisco.

Restaurants

Boulevard

1 Mission Street

San Francisco, CA 94105

Inside her Belle-Époque-style brasserie, Chef Nancy Oakes continues to capture taste buds with her seasonal California cuisine. A crispy squash blossom filled with house-made ricotta makes the perfect summer prelude to grilled wild local King salmon. You’re sure to find a match to your meal on the 500-bottle wine list.

Phone

+1-415-543-6084


Delfina

3621 18th Street

San Francisco, CA 94110

Though it’s been around since 1998, this laid-back trattoria in the Mission has never lagged in popularity. The daily changing menu plays up fresh ingredients, as in chicken liver spiedini with house-cured guanciale and house-made mint tagliatelle with chanterelles and wild nettles. Next door, Pizzeria Delfina wins rave reviews for its thin-crust pies.

Phone

+1-415-552-4055


Fleur de Lys

777 Sutter Street

San Francisco, CA 94110

For the ne plus ultra in romantic French dinners, San Franciscans choose Fleur de Lys. Here, Chef Hubert Keller may marry Muscovy duck breast with Savoy cabbage and cream of celery root, while sunflower-seeded sea bass has an affair to remember with endive and mustard fondue. Wine pairings are available for an additional fee.

Phone

+1-415-673-7779


Gary Danko

800 North Point

San Francisco, CA 94109

Award-winning chef Gary Danko draws crowds to his eponymous restaurant near Fisherman’s Wharf, where soothing jazz sets the tone for a memorable meal. Guests fashion their own 3-, 4- and 5-course menus from contemporary California dishes such as guinea hen breast with ricotta cavatelli and herb-crusted tuna with sunchoke purée.

Phone

+1-415-749-2060


Zuni Café

1658 Market Street

San Francisco, CA 94102

This airy café opened in 1979 as a Mexican restaurant and took a turn towards the Mediterranean eight years later when Judy Rodgers took the helm as chef. Among other dishes, Rodgers put the roasted chicken on the menu—a perpetual favorite for two, served straight from the wood-burning brick oven.

Phone

+1-415-552-2522


Fresh and local are more than buzzwords in San Francisco, a food town extraordinaire. It all started in the 1970s with Alice Waters, an idealistic chef whose Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse, sourced superb seasonal and sustainably-raised ingredients.

Since then, Waters’ way of cooking has spread across the country, but perhaps nowhere is it more evident than in the Bay Area today. One trip to the Ferry Building Marketplace on the Embarcadero will convince you. Inside this renovated 1898 landmark, a smorgasbord of food shops offers everything from artisan-made Recchiutto chocolates to Frog Hollow Farms organic marmalades. Imagine it—imported Chinese teas, California olive oils, farmstead cheeses—and you will likely find it here.

If you want to sit down to eat at this food-lover’s shrine, check out Charles Phan’s beloved Vietnamese place, The Slanted Door; grab a chilaquiles for breakfast and perch at the picnic tables at Mijita (run by Traci Des Jardins of Jardinière fame); or slurp some fresh Tomales Bay oysters at the Hog Island Oyster Company. If you’re in town on Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday, stop by the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market for the dazzling array of fresh fruit, vegetables, cheeses and more.

For a different kind of market experience, head to Chinatown on Saturday morning (when the locals shop) to browse the Asian produce, fish and poultry markets along Stockton Street—and be sure to stop at the Golden Gate Bakery for a custard tart. Also, no visit to Chinatown is complete without sampling the array of tiny buns, dumplings and potstickers at dim sum palaces like the venerable Hang Ah Tea Room.

There is no lack of top chefs (think Gary Danko, Hubert Keller, Traci Des Jardins and Judy Rodgers, to name a few) in town, and with some 3,500 restaurants in the city alone, you’ll find fine dining everywhere you look. Seafood comes straight from the Pacific, especially local delicacies such as Dungeness crab, in peak season from November to January.

For good pasta, you can’t beat North Beach. In the late 1800s, Italian immigrants poured into the area around Columbus Avenue, which still bustles with ristorantes, coffee shops and Italian delis. One favorite restaurant, Rose Pistola, is a great place to come for a wood-fired pizza or a bowl of spaghetti with seafood sauce. And don’t leave North Beach without tasting cioppino, a San Francisco seafood stew that traces its roots to the early Ligurian fishermen who settled here.

From North Beach, hop a cable car down to Fisherman’s Wharf, where you can experience a typical tourist treat: clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. For more of that fantastic sourdough bread, make a beeline for Boudin Bakery, a San Francisco institution since the Gold Rush days.

Round out your ethnic sampling of San Francisco with some sushi in Japantown; then drop into one of the many taquerias that dot the Mission District. In Richmond and Sunset, the fog-shrouded residential quarters on the northwest side of the peninsula, you’ll find a melting pot of ethnic eateries, dishing up cuisines from Moroccan to Burmese. And what better libation to pair it all with than the stellar wines from the nearby Napa and Sonoma valleys?

Events

North Beach Festival

Little Italy

San Francisco, CA

[Third weekend in June] Going into its 57th year, the city’s oldest street fair fills San Francisco’s “Little Italy” with arts and crafts, food and fun. There’s something for everyone here, including live music, face painting, a pizza toss, a play area just for kids and a special blessing of the animals.


SF Pride Celebration

1841 Market Street, Fourth Floor

San Francisco, CA 94103

[Last weekend in June] It wouldn’t be San Francisco without paying tribute to the city’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender population. Going into its 41st year in 2011, the SF Pride Celebration—the largest of its kind in the country—includes a huge parade, some 300 exhibitors and 19 performance stages.


Autumn Moon Festival

Grant Ave between California and Broadway Streets

San Francisco, CA 94108

[Second-to-last weekend in September] Celebrating the autumn harvest, the Moon Festival takes place each year in Chinatown. The event showcases several parades, a colorful street bazaar and a host of Chinese entertainers, including dancers, musicians, acrobats and martial artists. The festival’s traditional confection is the moon cake, made with sweet lotus-seed paste.


San Francisco Jazz Festival

Throughout San Francisco

San Francisco, CA

[Mid-September to mid-December] Since 1983, more than 10,000 musicians have performed at this renowned jazz festival, which takes place on stages around the Bay Area for four months in the fall. Come hear cool stylings by the likes of Pat Metheny, Esperanza Spalding, Aaron Neville, Savion Glover and other popular musicians.


Christmas Tree Lightings

Throughout San Francisco

San Francisco, CA

[Fourth week of November] The Christmas holidays kick off with several spectacular tree-lighting ceremonies. Santa leads the countdown to lighting the 60-foot tree at the entrance to Pier 39. Macy’s sponsors a huge tree every year in Union Square, while the twinkling lights on the tree in Ghirardelli Square illuminate the oversized Ghirardelli chocolate bars that adorn its branches.


San Francisco is a beautiful and talented city with an open door policy for culture, and it wastes no time celebrating this diversity. The calendar bears annual and one-time events around every turn, from the indulgent Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival to the Castro Street Fair, one of the largest street festivals in the city and a celebration of this historic gay neighborhood.

San Franciscans take pride in their ethnic origins and celebrate them in a rainbow of festivals. Bring the kids to the Palace of Fine Arts in early June to see a synthesis of culture at the nationally recognized San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival. Then in July, mark your calendar for the world’s first and largest Jewish film festival, when talented filmmakers celebrate their heritage and screen the latest creations throughout the Bay Area. The fun extends to North Beach, which hails an Italian background, during the Italian Heritage Parade on Columbus Day.

Summer’s warm temperatures spawn a host of indoor and outdoor arts and music events, beginning with the Union Street Eco-Urban Festival in early June. Spotlighting green-minded artisans, this street fair showcases arts and crafts made from recycled and sustainable materials. July draws classical-music lovers to stages around the city as part of the two-week Midsummer Mozart Festival. On summer Sundays, many San Franciscans head to the natural outdoor amphitheater in Stern Grove Park. Here, in the Sunset neighborhood south of Golden Gate Park, they take in an array of free concerts, as residents have been doing since 1932.

The arts season extends into September, when movies by U.S. Latino, Spanish and Latin American filmmakers form the focal point of the annual Latino Film Festival. Meet Bay Area artists, tour their studios and buy their creations during ArtSpan Open Studios, which takes place in different neighborhoods every weekend in October. More than 90 free events form part of the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival, which runs from May through October. Music, circus, dance and children’s programs performed by artists from around the globe attract families to Yerba Buena Gardens, a complex of galleries, museums and theaters in SoMa.

The waterfront at Fisherman’s Wharf—the city’s most popular tourist attraction—makes a scenic site for many a fête. On July 4th, bands and street performers entertain at Pier 39, followed by a brilliant display of fireworks that fragment the darkness from barges on the water. Nearly a million spectators flock to the northern waterfront to watch the parade of Navy ships and gasp at the aerial acrobatics by the Navy’s Blue Angels during Fleet Week. This mid-October show pays tribute to the men and women who serve in America’s armed forces.

Celebrate the Christmas holidays as San Franciscans have since 1970, by joining in the revelry at the Dickens Christmas Fair. Don Victorian garb for this annual holiday tradition, held at the San Francisco Cow Palace and featuring the sights, sounds and tastes of Merry Olde England. And don’t let the holidays go by without checking out the twinkling lights that decorate the ships docked at Fisherman’s Wharf beginning in late November. Sure it’s touristy, but it’s oh-so San Francisco!


San Francisco International Airport (SFO): San Francisco, California

Airport Address
806 South Airport Boulevard
San Francisco, CA 94128 USA

Ticket Counter Location
International Terminal, Ticket Counter Aisle 6 Ticket counter closes 45 minutes prior to flight departure.

Airport Parking
Click here for easy and inexpensive airport parking in San Francisco with Park N’ Fly.

Click here for San Francisco International Airport International Terminal map.


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