Beyond the Golden Gate BridgeIn the shadow of a needle-pointed, 853-foot-tall skyscraper that signifies corporate America, an elderly vendor wearing silk slippers sells unfamiliar-looking vegetables piled in wooden crates under signs hand-lettered in Chinese characters.
A disheveled man sits cross-legged on a busy sidewalk in the Financial District, holding out a battered cup and soliciting spare change from wheeler-dealers dressed in expensive suits as they hurry by while perusing their smartphones.
A young woman with pierced ears, pierced eyebrows, a pierced nose and a bright green buzz cut walks along Haight Street gulping down a strong cappuccino and holding a bag containing a gluten-free, vegan banana muffin as she heads to work at a boutique that sells vintage hippie clothing. Meanwhile, in a fashionable home accessories store on Valencia Street two young men check out tables for the dining room of a renovated Victorian they’ve just purchased.
Droplets of dew still gleam on the grass as an early-morning jogger runs past a stand of eucalyptus trees; the scent of their leaves permeates the cool air. Meanwhile, the sun peeks above the horizon as fog rolls off the Pacific, billowing around the base of the Golden Gate Bridge as the sky turns from pink to pale blue.
This is San Francisco. Everywhere you turn there’s an intriguing juxtaposition. The idealized image is of a worldly, sophisticated metropolis whose residents are blessed with the finer things in life—fantastic food, fine arts, handsome homes, picture-postcard views. And many do live this good life.
Then there’s the other side of the coin: overcrowding, gentrifying neighborhoods and the impossibility of finding a parking space. The economic hardship extends to those free-spirited souls who by choice live in parks or on the street rather than under a traditional roof, and who have long given San Francisco its reputation for embracing both creative and alternative lifestyles.
And lurking in the background is an unpleasant thought that most residents manage to suppress but few can forget about completely, namely the threat of rattling dishes, wall cracks—or worse. Blame the San Andreas Fault.
But the City by the Bay remains a seductive, one-of-a-kind destination for visitors. It’s all about location, location, location. Varying in elevation from sea level to 939 feet, the city rests on some 40 hills at the northern end of a narrow peninsula, bounded on three sides by water—the Pacific Ocean, San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Strait. The urban cityscape almost seems to bob up and down on its rolling terrain, like a boat riding a wave. For the record, there are seven major hills: Nob Hill, Rincon Hill, Russian Hill, Telegraph Hill, Mount Davidson, Mount Sutro and Twin Peaks.
And San Francisco neighborhoods are true communities, not idealized versions of reality designed to appeal to tourists. Chinatown has bustled since the 1850s. Vibrant murals cover buildings and gritty back-alley walls in the Mission. Fillmore Street pulses to the beat of rock and jazz music as it did in the 1960s. North Beach’s nonconformist beat and Haight-Ashbury flower power paved the way for the prominent and politically active LGBTQ community centered in the Castro.
So what should you do? For one thing, eat out at the local restaurants—San Francisco is home to some of the best restaurants in the world. Take a nice long walk in Golden Gate Park. Ride a ferry. Hang out in Union Square. Go to a farmers market. Enjoy the views of San Francisco Bay from a cable car climbing Nob Hill. See a film at the Castro Theatre. These are just a few of our suggestions; you’ll no doubt come up with many more fun things to do on your vacation.
San Francisco, CA
AAA’s in-person hotel evaluations are unscheduled to ensure the inspector has an experience similar to that of members. To pass inspection, all hotels must meet the same rigorous standards for cleanliness, comfort and hospitality. These hotels receive a AAA Diamond designation that tells members what type of experience to expect.
State and county sales taxes total 8.5 percent in San Francisco. A hotel room tax of 15 to 15.5 percent also is levied.
California Pacific Medical Center, (415) 600-6000; Saint Francis Memorial Hospital, (415) 353-6000; St. Mary's Medical Center, (415) 668-1000; Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, (415) 206-8000; University of California San Francisco Medical Center, (415) 476-1000.
749 Howard St San Francisco, CA 94103. Phone:(415)391-2000
San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is about 13 miles south near San Bruno off US 101 (Bayshore Freeway); it receives flights from some 50 airlines as well as private charters. Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) is about 3 miles northwest of downtown San Jose. Oakland International Airport (OAK) is off I-880 about 10 miles south of downtown Oakland.
Hertz, with locations at the San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose airports, offers discounts to AAA members. Phone (650) 624-6600 for the San Francisco airport location, (415) 771-2200 for the outlet at 325 Mason St., (510) 633-4300 for the Oakland airport location, (408) 938-6000 for the San Jose airport location, or (800) 654-3080.
For schedule and fare information phone Amtrak at (800) 872-7245.
Greyhound Lines Inc., (800) 231-2222, departs from Bus Deck Level Three of the Salesforce Transit Center, 425 Mission St.
Taxis in San Francisco are metered, with fares averaging about $3.50 for the first one-fifth mile and 55c for each additional one-fifth mile or minute of waiting time. Either phone for a cab or wait at a hotel taxi stand (hailing one on the street often takes time and persistence). Limousine service ranges from $60-$80 per hour.
San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni) provides public transportation consisting of buses, streetcars, light rail, trolley buses and cable cars. BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) connects San Francisco with East Bay cities, and passenger ferries link the city with the northern Bay Area.