Distinctive neighbourhoods, a renowned food scene and world-class museums give this beautiful city an enduring appeal, despite rapid gentrification.
San Francisco will always be associated with the hippies (and their stronghold in Haight-Ashbury – ‘the Hashbury’, as it was known) and the Beats (whose most famous members were Jack Kerouac and the poet Allen Ginsberg).
Now the influence of Silicon Valley means the original residents are gradually being priced out. Still, though, the city’s famously diverse neighbourhoods still retain their (often extremely scruffy) character, and its compact size means its iconic attractions are within easy reach. Add an innovative dining scene, a number of outstanding museums and a scenic waterfront district and San Francisco is hard to beat as a holiday destination.
Gentrification notwithstanding, the seismic influence of the 1960s on American culture is far from forgotten; this year especially as 2017 sees the 50-year anniversary of the original Summer of Love. Exhibitions and events will celebrate and give insight into the heady summer when over 100,000 free-spirited young people gathered in the Haight-Ashbury district to celebrate the counter-cultural ideals of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.
San Francisco is certainly full of iconic attractions, from the rust-red span of the Golden Gate Bridge (at its most lovely when wreathed in mist) to Alcatraz, the maximum-security prison, now a tourist attraction, that housed some of America’s most notorious criminals from the 1930s to 1960s. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art reopened last year after a three year, multi-million dollar expansion that has doubled its gallery space, making it one of the most prestigious modern art museums in the world. For further details and more top attractions, see our Things To See in San Francisco guide.
The city is easy to explore on foot, despite the hills, but there’s also a comprehensive bus, trolley and streetcar service. Our Getting Around San Francisco section gives full details. As well as sturdy walking shoes, a waterproof jacket is essential – San Francisco has a famously chilly climate (Mark Twain allegedly remarked that the coldest winter he had ever spent was summer in San Francisco). September and October are the best months to visit, with temperate weather and fewer crowds, but July and August see a plethora of outdoor events and festivals.
Stroll down the Embarcadero, the boulevard along the city’s waterfront, and stop off at the landmark Ferry Building, which dates from 1898 and now houses gourmet food shops and restaurants as well as a farmers market on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturday mornings. For top-notch dining recommendations in all price ranges, see our Restaurants in San Francisco guide.
When it comes to nightlife, the city’s neighbourhoods have distinctive characters. The Mission district, first settled by Spanish immigrants in the 1770s, still retains a Latin feel despite gentrification bringing in a swathe of trendy galleries, boutiques and restaurants; the vibrant Castro district is a mix of gay and straight bars and restaurants. For more upscale options, head to Nob Hill (the views over the city are outstanding); don’t miss the legendary Art Deco Redwood Room at the Clift Hotel, it’s lustrous wooden panels cut from a single tree. For recommendations on bars, nightclubs and live music venues, check out our Nightlife in San Francisco listings.