48 Hours In: San Francisco

The Golden Gate Bridge turns 75 next weekend. It's the perfect excuse to visit this vibrant city

Click here for 48 Hours In... San Francisco map

Travel essentials

Why go now?

San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge (1) is 75 years old in 2012, an occasion marked by events through the year that climax on 27 May when a festival marks the day in 1937 when the iconic span linking the city with Marin County opened to the public (goldengatebridge75.org).

Touch down

Fly non-stop from Heathrow on British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com), United (0845 607 6760; united.com) or Virgin (0844 209 7310; virgin-atlantic.com).

San Francisco airport is 14 miles south of downtown. From the International Terminal, BART trains ( bart.gov) take around 30 minutes – and an $8.10 (£5.40) fare – to reach central Powell Street station (2). Alternatively, a taxi to city centre hotels costs between $40 and $50 (£27 to £33).

Get your bearings

Unlike many sprawling, pedestrian-unfriendly US cities, much of compact San Francisco is accessible on foot. Although its handy grid street system makes navigating easy, don't underestimate the calf-popping steepness of its hills. You'll be grateful to hop in a taxi or clamber inside a rattling red cable car as energy-saving alternatives.

Palm-studded Union Square (3) – a short walk from Powell Street BART station (2) – is downtown's heart, with Nob Hill rising steeply to the north. On the other side of this slope is Fisherman's Wharf and the Embarcadero waterfront. West is Golden Gate Park and the Presidio, from where Golden Gate Bridge (1) rises through the mist.

The vibrant Mission District starts a few blocks south-west of Union Square (3).

San Francisco's extensive public-transport system includes bus, streetcar (tram) and cable car services ( sfmta.com). For unlimited rides on the entire network, a Muni Passport costs $14 (£9.30) for a day, or $21 (£14) for three.

For maps and Muni Passports, the San Francisco Visitor Information Centre (4) is at the junction of Market and Powell Streets (001 415 391 2000; sanfrancisco .travel; open 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday; 9am to 3pm at weekends), just across from the entrance to Powell Street station (2). Ask about free City Guides walking tours ( sfcityguides.org).

Separate from the Muni system, BART trains zip to Berkeley, Oakland and beyond. Fares are distance-based and start at $1.75 (£1.20).

Check in

One of many century-old tower block sleepovers near Union Square (3) is Larkspur Hotel (5) at 524 Sutter Street (001 415 421 2865; larkspurhotels.com), which has compact rooms, free Wi-Fi and proximity to major shops. Doubles from $129 (£86), room only.

A couple of blocks from the attraction-packed waterfront, Hyatt Fisherman's Wharf (6) at 555 North Point Street (001 415 563 1234; fishermanswharf.hyatt.com) flaunts contemporary rooms and an outdoor pool. Doubles start at $229 (£152), room only.

For old-school grandeur, stay in Nob Hill's Huntingdon Hotel (7) at 1075 California Street (001 415 474 5400; huntingtonhotel.com). Many of the rooms are large enough to lose yourself in and include views of the city shimmering below. Deluxe doubles from $325 (£216), room only.

Day One

Window shopping

The department stores Macy's (8) and Saks 5th Avenue (9) flank Union Square – Macy's basement post office is handy for postcard stamps. A short walk away on Market Street is the Westfield San Francisco Centre (10) with its chain boutiques and cool curving elevators (westfield.com/sanfrancisco). City Lights (11) at 261 Columbus Avenue in nearby North Beach (001 415 362 8193; citylights.com) is the infamous beatnik-era bookstore that published Allen Ginsberg's Howl, and it's not far from here to the glass-roofed Ferry Building (12) (001 415 983 8030; ferrybuildingmarket place.com), an Embarcadero landmark colonised with gourmet food stands – plus a farmers' market on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Lunch on the run

At Fisherman's Wharf, it's all about seafood chowder. Check out the steaming shacks on Taylor Street, but avoid the predatory seagulls with an undercover table at Boudin (13) at 160 Jefferson Street (001 415 928 1849; boudinbakery.com). Classic clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl is $7.60 (£5).

Take a hike

Take a westward Fisherman's Wharf stroll. Don't waste time on the overpriced attractions of Pier 39 (14) but check out the barking sea lions lolling on its left side. Continue west to Musée Mécanique (15) on Pier 45 (001 415 346 2000; museemechanique.org; 10am-7pm or later), and drop a few quarters in its coin-operated dioramas.

Stroll on to the Maritime National Historical Park (16) at Hyde Street Pier (001 415 447 5000; nps.gov/safr) where antique ships line the jetty – check for daily free tours or pay $5 (£3.30) to board vessels such as the 1886 Glasgow-built Balclutha.

Back on dry land, cut through the corner of Victoria Park and make for Ghirardelli Square (17). The former chocolate factory now houses shops, but the city's favourite confectioner ( ghirardelli.com) still has a store here. Collect your free sample at the door, then head back to the park's cable-car turnaround.

Take a ride

Climb on the next car (outside seat preferred) and trundle uphill. With a Muni Passport, you can hop on and off, so jump out en route at the fascinating Cable Car Museum (18) at 1201 Mason Street (001 415 474 1887; cablecarmuseum.org). Then rattle downhill to Union Square (3).

An aperitif

The Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar (19) in the Fairmont San Francisco hotel at 950 Mason Street (001 415 772 5278; tongaroom.com) is a Polynesian themed bar – complete with fake rainstorms – that hosts a $10 (£6.70) buffet from 5 to 7pm, Wednesday to Friday (plus one-drink minimum; pina colada $12/£8). Over the road, the InterContinental Mark Hopkins 19th-floor Top of the Mark (20) at One Nob Hill (001 415 616 6940; intercontinentalmarkhopkins.com) is San Francisco's best spot for a sunset-hugging Cable Car Martini, $13 (£8.70).

Dining with the locals

Hit the Ferry Building (12) at the foot of Market Street for more substantial sustenance. Snag a waterfront perch – and some tasty shucked treats – at Hog Island Oyster Company (21) (001 415 391 7117; hogisland oysters.com) where six fresh oysters are around $17 (£11.30).

Day two

Sunday morning: go to church

Overlooking Nob Hill's Huntingdon Park, soaring Grace Cathedral (22) at 1100 California Street (001 415 749 6300; gracecathedral.org) is the third church on this site: the previous one was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake.

Out for brunch

Walk two blocks east to Powell Street. Muni Passport in hand (to avoid the steep $6/£4 flat fare), hop on the cable car to end-of-the-line Powell Street. Walk two blocks over to Mission Street and pick up bus 14, through the lively Spanish Mission District. Join the locals for an authentic carne asada burrito ($8/£5.30) at La Taquería (23) at 2889 Mission (001 415 285 7117) or huddle with the sophisticates in Foreign Cinema (24) at 2534 Mission (001 415 648 7600; foreigncinema.com), where poached eggs on Persian chicken hit the spot ($14.50/£9.70).

Cultural afternoon

The Mission District is crammed with great independent bookshops. Valencia Street highlights include Dog Eared Books (25) at 900 Valencia (001 415 282 1901; dogearedbooks.com), with its tempting new and used tomes; and Borderlands Books (26) at 866 Valencia (001 415 824 8203; borderlandsbooks.com) for great sci-fi, horror and fantasy. Save time to check out the area's kaleidoscopic street art, especially beside the Community Thrift Store (27) at 623 Valencia.

A walk in the park

Hop back on to bus 14, then transfer to the no 44 at Silver Street. This takes you into Golden Gate Park (28), a favourite hangout. Attractions include the de Young Museum (29) (001 415 750 3600; deyoung.famsf.org; $10/£6.70) with its array of international fine arts and crafts; the California Academy of Sciences (30) (001 415 379 8000; calacademy.org; $29.95/£20), a natural history museum with 40,000 animals in authentic habitats; and the Conservatory of Flowers (31) (001 415 831 2090; conservatoryofflowers.org; $7/£4.70), a botanical garden.

Icing on the cake

Bus 28 takes you to the grassy, waterfront Presidio area, where one of North America's most famous icons perches on the shoreline. Alight at the Golden Gate Bridge (1) parking lot and you'll be a one-minute walk from the soaring span. Pedestrians have the east side to themselves and, although the entire gently swaying stretch is 1.7 miles, the best views are at midpoint where you can enjoy breathtaking bay-and-city panoramas.

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
people
Sport
SPORT
News
people
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Biggins as Mrs Smee in Peter Pan
theatreHow do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
News
i100
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick