Welcome to San Francisco, CA

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San Francisco OverviewSan Francisco OverviewIn propertySee some of the highlights of San Francisco

Welcome to San Francisco, CA

When you hear San Francisco, you probably think of long, steep and twisty streets--and, of course, the Golden Gate Bridge. Maybe you think of liberal politics, multiculturalism, cable cars, earthquakes and fog. All of these are correct, but San Francisco has each of these things and much more.

Squeezed into an area of just about 47 square miles, San Fran packs a lot of punch. (This is just a figure of speech, of course; the city and its people are famously easy-going.) Like many American cities, it's seen some hard times, and it suffered more than most during the burst of the dot-com bubble. But recent years have been kind to the city, and San Franciscans are breathing a collective sigh of relief. To their delight, the air still blows in cool from the sea, and it smells like opportunity.

Thanks to this upswing, San Francisco has a renewed spring in its step. It shows in the new wave of immigration, the emergence of new shops and restaurants, and even the spawning of successful new consumer districts. Tourism to the Bay Area never suffered horribly (it's just that popular), but San Francisco still has been picking up speed. After all, it's one of the most popular cities in the U.S. for both American and international travelers. And why not? Its streets and vistas are irresistible fodder for photographers, its hotels and restaurants fit all tastes and budgets, and its "live and let live" population loves the city as much as tourists do.

San Francisco has something to offer every kind of traveler. From wildlife to nightlife, it's got you covered. Just don't forget to pack a parka and your walking shoes, and you'll find yourself a place in The City by the Bay.

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Pier 39Pier 39In propertyWalk through the Pier 39

Shopping in San Francisco, CA

San Francisco's shopping is, necessarily, as vastly varied and inclusive as its population. It has the same chain stores that inevitably disseminate to every corner of the country, but it also has the intimate, entrepreneurial, and just plain different kinds of enterprises that only seem to make it in big, thriving cities.

The best of these are scattered about the city, especially in the Mission District and the Haight. There is also a good, albeit less DIY, selection in area around Union Square. It's here that most of the major department stores have set up shop, but they tower over lots of defiant and surprisingly successful littler guys. North Beach offers up boutiques that hint of hippy sympathies and left-of-center politics.On Union Street, there's a cluster of retailers selling nice but non-essential lifestyle goods.

As in any good city, there's also a fully-stocked Chinatown. Kitsch is its most common commodity, but there are good buys to be found with a little walking and asking around. There's also a Japantown, a nice selection of Japanese shops that lies between Chinatown and North Beach.

On Fisherman's Wharf and in the area immediately surrounding it, the stores are grouped into tourist-oriented malls. Pier 39, The Cannery and Ghirardelli Square are among these oft-maligned and under-appreciated shopping centers; they offer lots of shopping opportunity in a convenient and attractive location. They're close to the harbor and the departure point for Alcatraz tours, too, so they enjoy a steady stream of business even if some picky locals avoid them.

Experience List
Coit TowerCoit TowerIn propertyExperience the Coit Tower
Golden Gate BridgeGolden Gate BridgeIn propertyWalk around the Golden Gate Bridge
Palace of Fine ArtsPalace of Fine ArtsIn propertyExplore the Palace of Fine Arts
EmbarcaderoEmbarcaderoIn propertyWalk through Embarcadero
Fisherman's WharfFisherman's WharfIn propertyWander around Fisherman's Wharf

Attractions in San Francisco, CA

It's been said again and again, but... we'll say it again: San Francisco has something for everybody. But if bay views from the tops of perilously steep streets--or politics, culture and high life to spare--or the best restaurants west of New York (or west of anywhere)--don't do it for you, maybe you can prove us wrong. Or maybe you can just take another look around. Here are some places to start:

Fisherman's Wharf

Although it has earned a reputation as a tourist trap, Fisherman's Wharf is a waterfront extravaganza of shops, mini-museums, street entertainment and great seafood that most visitors won't want to miss. The wharf also overlooks floating docks where sea lions bathe in the warmth of the sun, but human onlookers are wise to pack a windbreaker.

Golden Gate Bridge

It's one of the most famous bridges in the United States and, according to some, one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. Named not for its color (which could be called rust-like but isn't literally rust, just a nice, orangey-red paint that looks great at sunset) but after the Golden Gate strait that it crosses. The bridge is best appreciated on foot, as there are observation decks on both sides, and you don't have to pay an exorbitant to walk on it. The southern observation deck displays a statue of the bridge's architect, Joseph B. Strauss. It may be windy, which can be especially biting when the fog rolls in, so appropriate dress is encouraged.

Palace of Fine Arts

This beautiful building in the Marina District was designed by Bernard Maybeck for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. It boasts Roman- and Greek-styled architecture and is surrounded by a lagoon and lush gardens. The tranquil lagoon is home to water fowl and assorted benevolent creatures, and its surface provides a photogenic reflection of the building and gardens. The central dome also houses a public, interactive science museum known as the Exploratorium. It's easy to spend the better part of a day merely enjoying all that the POFA has to offer.

Coit Tower

Built in 1933, this tower on the top of Telegraph Hill is not, as popularly believed, dedicated to San Francisco's firefighters. Its spire vaguely resembles the nozzle of a fire hose, but this is a mere coincidence; Coit (an honorary volunteer firefighter and Coit Tower's benefactor) had also commissioned a statue of three firefighters in a nearby square. Someone speculated as to the tower's unique style, and the idea stuck. Nevertheless, the tower stands 250 feet high, and many of its interior walls are covered with murals. It's a nice (if not easy) walk up from the Embarcadero, and it offers a nice view to boot (no firefighter pun intended).