MY ROUGH GUIDE: Did the earth move for you? No, I was on my bike

Most bizarre experience

On a warm afternoon in October 1989, I cycled home through Golden Gate Park. On exiting I noticed that all the traffic lights were out and that pedestrians were wandering around in a peculiar daze, as if a tornado had blown through town. Thinking it was nothing more than a neighbourhood power cut, I continued home to my apartment in Haight-Ashbury and then called a friend. He seemed puzzled by my matter-of-fact calmness. "They're showing something on the news right now," he explained. "The Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge has collapsed." One of the biggest earthquakes in local history had shaken the city while I was on my bike - but being in motion myself, I hadn't even felt it. Not an easy thing to explain, over and over, during the next few months when people asked me, "So where were you when the big one hit?"

Best view

Forget touristy Twin Peaks and Coit Tower. Just above Haight-Ashbury, Tank Hill offers most of the breathtaking scenery you'll see on Twin Peaks - taking in Golden Gate Park, the San Francisco Bay, and on clear days the mountains of Marin-but in nearly people-free isolation. Nearer to downtown, to avoid the huge lines at Coit Tower, go the roof of the nearby San Francisco Art Institute for a splendid and free view of the water between the Golden Gate and San Francisco Bay Bridges, with the stark ex-prison buildings of Alcatraz Island easily visible in the middle.

Best cheap meal

The Mission District is jammed with joints serving the best Mexican food to be found anywhere (including Mexico); you can get huge and delicious meals for $5 or less. A particular favourite is the cafe-style Taqueria El Toro at 17th & Valencia, serving delicious football-sized meat and veggie burritos for around $4. Perennially crowded, you may think you'll never get a seat, but something always seems to open up just in time. Then you're rubbing elbows with the most eclectic lunch and dinner crowds around, including neighbourhood Latinos, youthful slackers, and policemen from the station across the street.

Most offbeat sport

San Franciscans are equally fervent about their fitness programs and left-leaning politics. Never do the two mix more explosively than on the last Friday evening of every month, when thousands of cyclists stage a "Critical Mass" ride through the heart of downtown on Market Street. Their goal is to advocate bicycle transportation as an alternative to the car commuting that chokes the city's streets at rush hour, and they really can't be ignored. Traffic is delayed for blocks in each direction as angry, harried office workers lean on their horns in counter-protest. The street is magically motor-free for 15 minutes or so, but this isn't Amsterdam; a couple of minutes after the last rider has passed, it's back to artery-clogged business as usual.

A must to avoid

Fisherman's Wharf, despite its millions of annual visitors and position of honour at the front of most local tourist brochures, is for the most part a colossal waste of time, centred around some of the tackiest tourist- trap museums and arcades of any major city. If you do go, don't skip the wharf's boat trips to the former prisons on Alcatraz Island, however, which are surprisingly educational and informative; repeat visitors should try the new evening tours, especially for the eerie ride back through the darkness.

Most surprising sight

Driving through the western outskirts of Golden Gate Park, you see a large field enclosing what appear to be moving haystacks. This is the Buffalo Paddock, where a small herd of rare American Bison roam. Even here, San Francisco's yen for obscure political activism is a force to reckon with; the death of the herd's leader, King Lear, in 1997 sparked an outcry from a volunteer Watch Bison Committee that the San Francisco Zoo hadn't done enough to prevent his decline.

fact file

Where to head for

The best way to reach Tank Hill is by going south on Clayton Street and bearing right on Twin Peaks Boulevard just to the south of 17th Street; as you start going up a steep incline, Tank Hill lies to the right. The San Francisco Art Institute is at 800 Chestnut Street.

Taqueria El Toro (415 431 3351) is at 598 Valencia Street, on the northwestern corner of 17th & Valencia.

Critical Mass rides start from Justin Herman Plaza, near Market & Steuart Streets on the last Friday evening of each month. Riders begin gathering around 5pm.

Boat trips to Alcatraz, operated by the Blue & Gold fleet (415 773 1188), leave from Pier 41 on Fisherman's Wharf. There are regular daily departures.

To reach the Buffalo Paddock in Golden Gate Park, enter the park at 36th Avenue and Fulton Street, take the first right onto JFK Drive, and go a few hundred feet; the enclosure is on the right side of the road.

Keep up with the latest developments in travel by subscribing to the free newsletter `Rough News', published three times yearly. Write to Rough Guides, IoS offer, 1 Mercer Street, London WC2H 9QJ. A free Rough Guide to the first three subscribers each week.

Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    Day In a Page

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'