Hostelworld Guide for San Francisco

Colm Hanratty

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It's seldom you hear a bad word about San Francisco. There's good reason for that. One of America's smaller cities, the list of things to do and see in the 47 square miles it covers is endless. This is the city that has given us cable cars, frighteningly steep hills, the world's most famous prison, one of the most beautiful bridges on the planet, and eclectic and trendy neighbourhoods. After a visit you'll be spreading the good word in no time.









 

 

In this Guide...      

Useful Information
After Dark
Places to Eat
Top Attractions
Budget Tips
Where to Shop






 The Essentials


 Climate


Getting There

By plane: San Francisco International is where most flights touch down. From the airport, the easiest way to the city centre is on the BART, the city's underground network.

By train: The majority of trains terminate at the Amtrak terminal across the bay on Landregan Street in Emeryville.

By bus: San Francisco's main bus hub is Transbay Terminal, 425 Mission Street in the SoMa district.

Getting Around

On foot: San Francisco is one of USA's smaller cities but due to its steep hills, getting around on foot can prove to be quite challenging.

By BART: San Francisco's BART (Bay Area Rapid Transport) network consists of five lines, with some useful stops in the city centre.

By bus/trolley/streetcar: These three modes of transport are useful to get to some of San Francisco's best-known neighbourhoods.

By cable car: The city's cable cars are now more a tourist attraction than anything else. There are three lines and a single journey costs $5.

 San Francisco facts

Name: San Francisco is also known as the 'City by the Bay'.

Location: You'll find San Francisco on the West Coast of the USA in the state of California.

Population: Around 850,000 people live in the city of San Francisco.

Founded: Initially established in 1776, San Francisco was officially incorporated in 1850.


San Francisco enjoys the Mediterranean-type climate that California is famous for, but it isn't all warm days and blue skies, even in the summer. Its location on the Pacific Ocean plays a key role in the weather. The combination of cold ocean water and the high heat of the state create the city's famous fog that can sometimes cover the whole city and make an August evening a cool one. Winters are quite mild, with temperatures seldom reaching freezing point.

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 Good to know...

Language: English, Chinese
Currency: US Dollar
Electricity: 110 Volts, AC/60Hz, 2-pin plug
Area Code: +1 (USA), 415 (San Francisco)
Emergency Codes: Ambulance / Fire / Police 911
Time Zone: Pacific Standard Time (GMT -8)
Central Post Office: Macy's Union Square Station, Macy's, 170 O'Farrell St
Main Tourist Office: Hallidie Plaza, Cnr of Powell and Market Sts)

Embassies/Consulates

UK: +1 415 617 1300
Canada: +1 415 834 3180
Australia: +1 415 536 1970
South Africa: +1 323 651 0902*
Ireland: +1 415 392 4214
Germany: +1 415 775 1061
Spain: +1 415 922 2995
Italy: +1 415 292 9200
New Zealand: +1 415 399 1255
France: +1 415 397 4330

*Consulate in Los Angeles

 
Hostelworld Guide for San Francisco www.hostelworld.com

 Cheap Eats


 After Dark


Polkers, 2226 Polk St From huge breakfasts that will keep you going for most of the day to a variety of omelettes, burgers and sandwiches, Polkers is a local favourite.Open daily from 8am-10pm.

Pakwan, 3182 16th St, Mission District This Pakistani/Indian eatery on the Mission District's restaurant-soaked 16th Street is always buzzing. There's no table service here, so pick what you want from the menu, take a seat, wait for your number to be called and enjoy. Open daily from 12 noon to 11pm.

Capital Restaurant, 839 Clay St, Chinatown There are literally hundreds of restaurants in the largest Chinatown in America. Try to steer clear of those with hawkers luring you in. This particular one on Clay St didn't which is only a good sign. Both appetisers and second courses are very reasonably priced. Open daily from 8am-10pm.

 The best deal in San Francisco

Giordano Bros., 303 Columbus Ave, North Beach Giardino Bros is a bar in North Beach that specialises in the 'all-in-one' sandwich. This, my friends, is a sandwich served on two pieces of fresh Italian bread with meat, coleslaw and fries packed in between. And considering one of these jam-packed sandwiches costs as little as $6.75, it's hard to think of a better deal in San Fran. Open daily from 10am-11pm/1am.

Miller's East Coast Deli, 1725 Polk Street, Nob Hill This New York-style deli serves up a jam-packed menu filled with everything from bagels to pastrami sandwiches. You really will find a really great selection of reasonably priced meals to choose from here in this busy spot. Open daily 8am-9pm.


Hobson's Choice, 1601 Haight Street, Haight-Ashbury Due to a daily happy hour from 5pm-7pm where all drinks cost $2.50, Hobson's Choice on San Francisco's famous Haight Street is busy seven days a week. You can use that $2.50 to buy a beer or a 'welcome drink' (short and mixer), but instead get the drink that this bar specialises in - punch. They sure pack one. Open daily from 2pm-2am.

Holy Cow, 1535 Folsom St, SoMa If dancing to cheesy music is your thing, then this club in SoMa is perfect for you. Open seven nights a week and never imposing a cover charge, the first thing to greet you after the burly doorman will be a dancefloor full of people getting down to a mix of dance and top 40 tracks. Get ready to shake your money maker. Open Thurs-Sun 9pm-2am.

 Gay / Lesbian San Francisco

San Francisco is famously one of America's most gay-friendly cities, and this is largely due to one neighbourhood - the Castro. The area's best known landmark is The Castro Theatre (429 Castro Street at Market St) which hosts talks and shows movies regularly. For bars, Badlands (4121 18th St. at Castro) is one of the best-known. The Cafe (2367 Market St at Castro) and 440 (440 Castro St at 18th St.) are two other favourites.

Dalva, 3121 16th St, Mission District While it certainly isn't the biggest bar in San Francisco's Mission District, Dalva on 16th Street between Valencia and Mission is arguably the coolest. Listen to DJs spin discs on turntables at the front window while enjoying a drink or two. Staff are friendly and the dark lights create the perfect ambience for a weekend night. Open daily from 4pm-2am.

Foley's, 243 O'Farrell Street Downtown San Francisco is stuffed with Irish bars, but this one on O'Farrell Street is one which gets mentioned repeatedly when asking people where to go at night. Packed at weekends, if you pop in for a pint during the week you'll almost definitely be treated to some live music. Open daily from 12 noon-2am.

Wish, 1539 Folsom St, SoMa If you step into Folsom Street's Holy Cow and realise it's a bit too much for you, step next door into Wish. Not so in-your-face, there is a relaxed atmosphere which mixes nicely with the décor and selection of drinks. Open daily from 4pm-2am.


 Don't Miss


 Mark Your Calendar


Golden Gate Bridge Completed in 1937, San Francisco's celebrated bridge is one of the most beautiful constructions in the world. Spanning a distance of 1.7 miles, it's also extremely photogenic. There are great vantage points on both sides of the bridge, unless it's covered in the city's famous fog. To get to the bridge take bus #30 from Stockton St in downtown San Francisco.

 The Rock

Alcatraz 1937 was a bad year for criminals in the US. This was the year that Alcatraz ceased being a military base and began life as a prison. Over the 40 years it operated as a federal institution it housed some of America's most infamous criminals. Walking around the cell house with the audio tour, imagining what it would've been like to live there as an inmate is effortless. Visit alcatrazcruises.com for tour info.

Cable car ride A single journey may be hideously overpriced at $6, but no trip to San Francisco is complete without a ride on one of its cable cars. Built in 1837 when it was realised the hills were too steep for the horses, there are three lines in operation today. Be prepared to battle for a place hanging out on the side! Cable cars operate daily between 5.30am-12am; single journey $6, all-day Muni Passport ticket $14.

Telegraph Hill There are a number of places that boast great views, but those from Telegraph Hill are hard to beat. You don't even have to climb Coit Tower to see the entire city. From the car park at the base you can enjoy glorious views of Alcatraz, the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Fisherman's Wharf After a trip on either of the Powell cable car lines, explore the wharf. It's where you'll find the painfully touristy Pier 39, but it's also where you'll find a good atmosphere, a host of food stalls and lots of street entertainment.


February/March - Chinese New Year Since it's home to the USA's largest Chinatown, San Francisco really turns it on when it comes to Chinese New Year. The parade is the highlight.

April - St Stupid's Day Parade Aptly held on April Fools Day, this is one of San Francisco's more unique parades. Beginning at Embarcadero Plaza, it marches through the Financial District before ending up in Washington Square.

May - O'Reilly's Oyster and Beer Festival Over 10,000 people converge on Washington Square Park each year to sample stout and oysters. Once down there they also enjoy loads of live music from a host of bands.

May- Bay to Breakers If ever the term 'it's the taking part that counts' applied to a run then the colourful Bay to Breakers is it. Think of it as Halloween meets a 12km run as thousands, most in fancy dress, make their way across the city.

June - Haight/Ashbury Street Fair San Francisco's famous hippy hangout attracts over 100,000 people each year for its street fair. Stages with everyone from local bands to some more better-known acts entertain the masses.

June - North Beach Festival Since 1944 North Beach has staged this annual festival. Held over two days, the emphasis here is largely on food as it's in the city's Italian quarter.

June - San Francisco 'Pride' America's most gay-friendly city puts on one of the most outlandish gay celebrations in the US. Around Market Street is where the celebrations take place and it is also the starting point of the famously outlandish parade.

September - San Francisco Fringe Festival Artists from all over the US stage over 250 performances during this festival's 12 days. The vast majority of the festival's performances take place in the city's Exit Theatre.

October - Castro Street Fair Always held on the first Sunday of October, this absolutely fabulous festival takes over San Francisco's gay neighbourhood for the day.

November - Dias de de los Muertos 'Day of the Dead' may not sound like a festival you'd want to attend, but the Mexican version of Halloween is a favourite in San Francisco thanks to a parade with some very special costumes.

 
Hostelworld Guide for San Francisco www.hostelworld.com

 Neighbourhood Watch


 Retail Therapy


Chinatown Until recently, San Francisco's Chinatown was the biggest one in North America. Although it lost that moniker to Vancouver, the city's Chinatown district is not to be missed. Its main thoroughfare is Grant Street, but the surrounding streets and alleys are also full of Chinese herbal stores, grocery stores, post offices, banks, jewelleries and, of course, Chinese restaurants.

 'Big' Italy

North Beach While other cities have 'Little Italy' neighbourhoods, San Francisco's North Beach district could easily be called 'Big Italy'. This huge Italian quarter is full of cafés, restaurants and bars. Many of them can be found on its main thoroughfare, Columbus Ave. If you're wondering whether or not you're in North Beach, just look for the Italian flags on the lampposts.

The Castro Not only does this city have the USA's biggest Chinatown and most famous hippy district, it's also where you'll find America's most famous gay neighbourhood. This camp part of the city is on Castro Street from Market Street to 19th St. Take the F-street Car down Market St. to the Castro.

Haight-Ashbury Also known as 'The Haight', Haight-Ashbury is known as San Francisco's alternative hangout as it was the centre of 1960s hippy movement. Today, you'll definitely discover quite an eclectic bunch of people, but you'll also find some great bars, restaurants and places to shop. Take buses #7 or #71 from Market St at the Westfield Shopping Centre.

The Mission After dark, the Mission District is where the cool kids go. Bars, nightclubs and funky restaurants line the streets here. Most of the action can be found around 16th Street and Valencia Street, while its real heart is 21st Street. Take the Bart to 16th St Mission.


Union Square area The heart of downtown San Francisco, Union Square and the surrounding streets are a shopaholic's dream come true. The square itself is bordered by Stockton St, Post St, Geary St and Powell St and was the site of the world's first underground car park. Some well known department stores and brands in the area include Footlocker, Saks Fifth Avenue and Macy's.

Westfield Shopping Centre, 865 Market St. With over 400 stores to choose from, you could spend an entire day (along with a fortune) in Westfield's San Francisco centre. As you can imagine, you'll find everthing here from clothes stores to jewellery stores to music stores to sports stores. It also has a food court to pig out in. Open Mon-Sat 9.30am-9pm, Sun 10am-7pm.

Chestnut Street As you look out the window of bus #30 on the way to the Golden Gate Bridge you'll notice a lot of high street brands on the one street. This street is the classy Chestnut Street in the Marina part of the city. Obviously not as crowded as the city centre, it can be a better place to shop if you're looking for gifts and not crowds.

 Looking for something different?

Haight Street Along with hippies, cool bars and funky restaurants, Haight Street is also home to some of the city's more alternative stores. These include 'Anubis Warpus' which specialises in punk and hemp products and 'FTC' which draws the city's skateboarders. If you are in the mood to decorate yourself you'll be in the right place as there are tattoo/piercing shops galore.

Fisherman's Wharf Not clothes you're looking for but souvenirs? Then this tourist haven is where you need to go. Miniature Golden Gate Bridges, Alcatraz t-shirts and San Francisco baseball caps - you'll find it all in the stores here.


 Budget Tips


 A Day in San Francisco...


Visit some free museums San Francisco is heaving with free museums which are perfect for visiting on rainy days. These include the Cable Car Museum (1201 Mason St) where you can see the cables in motion, North Beach Museum (1435 Stockton St) which gives an interesting insight into the history of the neighbourhood, and the Chinese Culture Centre of San Francisco (750 Kearney St) which is in Chinatown.

Buy an all-day cable car ticket As a one-way ticket on a cable car costs $6, you are definitely better off buying an all-day ticket for $14. Then you can hop on and hop off to your heart's content!

 3.4 miles of bliss

Walk the Golden Gate Bridge Taking approximately 25 minutes to walk each way, no trip to San Francisco is complete without embarking on this bridge walk. The walk up to the 1.7 mile long bridge through the Presidio is breathtaking. Just don't cross the bridge without visiting the lookout at the other side. The views of the bridge with the city in the background are even more mind-blowing.

Chill out in San Francisco's parks Whether it's at the weekend or during the week, Washington Square, the Presidio and Golden Gate Park are some of the city's best places to relax. The first is in San Francisco's North Beach district while the second is a great place to catch a sunset. The third is the city's best-known park and deserves a half-day of exploring.

Visit Grace Cathedral Built in 1849 and then destroyed in 1906, Nob Hill's Grace Cathedral is one of San Francisco's most fascinating buildings. Here you'll encounter labyrinths and varied stained glass windows. It is most famous for its Ghiberti doors ("The Gates of Paradise").


Beat the crowds by visiting Alcatraz bright and early. Once you arrive take the audio tour and imagine what it would've been like to be an inmate there.

Upon returning back to the city, walk down to Pier 39. See what San Francisco's tourist quarter is like before moving on to Fisherman's Wharf.

Take the Powell-Mason cable car line from Bay St to Union and Mason. Make your way past Washington Square to Telegraph Hill for awesome views of the city.

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Return to Washington Square and pick up some lunch at one of the nearby delis. Chill out and have lunch in the park.

Take bus #30 from Washington Square to the last stop. Walk through the Presidio to the Golden Gate Bridge. Embark on one of the best bridge walks in the world.

After the walk take the bus back to the city centre. Take a stroll around Union Square, Geary Street, Powell Street and the rest of Downtown San Francisco.

After freshening up for the night ahead, go for dinner in San Francisco's famous Chinatown. Avoid the restaurants with the hawkers outside!

Check out the bars in The Mission. Most can be found around Valencia Street and 16th Street and there are types to suit all tastes.

While the Mission District is where to find cool bars, finish the night off dancing away in Holy Cow in the nearby SoMa area of the city. Bop till you drop!

 
Hostelworld Guide for San Francisco www.hostelworld.com