Favorite thing: Starring Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, this movie does a fairly accurate and highly acclaimed portrayal of the life and death of San Francisco's first gay supervisor, Harvey Milk. Thanks to the efforts of Mayor Moscone, who was also killed by former supervisor Dan White (who later committed suicide after release from jail), Harvey Milk, and others the San Francisco gay community has become an established part of the city community. Their martyrdom also spurred the movement for gay rights in the USA and throughout the world. Go to Milk for more information on the movie, or History of Harvey Milk
If you really want to see a bit of SFO three hours will not give you much time to do anything. Contact your travel agent or you carrier and find out if you can take a later connecting flight to Japan or earlier flight to SFO. If you have 6hours on your sleeves you can do it. As mentioned above, the three hours will only be enough getting out and back into airside at SFO.
Check SFO website below. It says pax with 4hrs layover could use the BART from the airport to the Bay area. But personally I would want 5-6 hrs lay over if I ever have to get out from a busy international hub like SFO. You would not want to miss your flight.
So call your airline and ask for some advice. When you arrive in SFO go to the transfer desk and advice them of your plan. Some airports can give you a pass to go out so you do not have to go through the long queues. But again, check this with your carrier.
If you are from a visa waiver country you can go out of the airport anytime. If not just make sure you have a transit-visa or a US visa.
Fondest memory: Most charming and captivating city! I love the Victorian homes that lines her narrow streets. The tram, the crooked street, two of the most popular/beautiful bridges in the world; and yeah, I love the view from Twin Peaks!
There's no law that says you have to dress a certain way in San Francisco, and people have become much more casual in their dress in recent years, just as they have elsewhere. But there still are some places where people generally dress up to go - the theater, the opera, the nicer restaurants . . .
A little aside: if you pack for San Francisco as if you were coming to "Sunny California," you will most likely be running out to buy long pants and a sweatshirt with "I left my heart in SF" on it! San Francisco can be warm (and even hot, on occasion), but it can also be foggy and cold, even (some say "especially") in the summertime. So bring some warm things along, just in case.
Fondest memory: My first trip (can't even count how many times since) to San Francisco from Sacramento with my boyfriend and his family when I was 17 - we had breakfast at the Roundhouse Restaurant at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge (now home to the Gift Center).
@ Powell Station, Union Sq, Downtown SF
My SF trip started here at Tourist Info Ctr. They've got lots of brochures and flyers on every aspects / activities available in San Francisco and the Bay Area. Get a map, ask for experts' advices, grab a light snack from a shop nearby. SF Muni Passport can be purchased here, as well as day trips and travel packages. It's also a good, quiet place to sit for a while and meet some fellow travelers who might share some interests.
It's usually rather quiet in SF on Christmas Day, with fewer crowds and less traffic than normal, but there will be things going on in Chinatown and Fisherman's Wharf. Also, it should be easier to catch a ride on the cable cars! Personally, I'd spend some time strolling the neighborhoods (the "Hidden Cities" of San Francisco).
As for restaurants that will be open - check on OpenTable.com. You can find out what's open and also a price range.
San Francisco is my all-time favorite city! And it's even more charming during its quiet times, like Christmas Day, or early in the morning when the trucks are making their deliveries of fresh produce to the little neighborhood groceries!
This may not appeal much to the average tourist, but a great resource of San Francisco history is the SF Public Library's "San Francisco History Center," - located on the 6th floor of the main library in Civic Center Plaza.
The 6th floor contains 3 public areas: an exhibit area (shown here displaying prints from Dorothea Lange's Mt.Tam days), a rare book room, and a history room containing lots of really cool stuff. Most of it is stuff like archives of San Francisco literary publications going back to the Gold Rush days, but they also have an extensive collection of reference materials regarding the City's famous architecture.
The Center is also the official archives for the City of San Francisco.
This is not going to appeal to most travelers, but if you are doing research on San Francisco history or are into that sort of thing, it's worth a visit. It's free, and the Asian Art Museum is right next door if you're looking to bundle attractions.
Fondest memory: click here for the SF History Center website
San Francisco is a food lover's paradise. The quality and competition among restaurants is so intense, that many restaurants have gala openings only to close down as the fad passes. The main trick is to get good service, extraordinary quality, and reasonable portions. Restaurants creating apparently artful but food wise stingy plates leave the patron feeling like a joke has been played on them. These are the restaurants that open up quickly for the tourist buck and then close down quickly when word gets around. Since reviews are so often stale, I recommend SFgate.com, which has timely updates, as well as a search engine by type of cusine and location in town. Just be careful to avoid finding a great restaurant out of town, as this database does include a few of these extra-Bay area restaurants too. This website also includes great uptodate articles about what else is happening around town in terms of food and entertainment.
Favorite thing: San Francisco has featured in many Hollywood movies. The steep streets and the iconic sights make it a beautiful city to film in. As I can barely remember what we saw during or trip I probably know the city better through the movies I’ve seen rather than from my own visits. Vertigo by Alfred Hitchcock is my favourite San Francisco movie - another excellent one is The Maltese Falcon.
San Fran Music - 1976-1995
San Francisco music has never been about bands - it's been about "scenes." SF has been home to a wide variety of world renown music scenes through the years; the psychadelic rock/flower power scene of the late 60's - localized in the Haight/Ashbury - is only the most obvious example.
San Francisco also hosted one of the major punk rock scenes of the late 70's and early 80's, along with New York and, later, Los Angeles. The City's goth scene is legendary, and, although the heyday may be over, there is still a very sizable goth presence. The grunge scene of the late 80's and early 90's was rivaled only by the Northwestern cities, and SF's rave and house scene in the early to mid 90's was known around the world.
The Burning Man Festival - held every Labor Day weekend in the Black Rock Desert in NW Nevada - is, for all practical purposes, just another San Francisco scene. The festival was born on SF's beaches, and you can always tell the festival's over by the number of playa dust-encrusted jeeps driving around town!
The 'Pretty Big One' - Oct. 17, 1989
The 1989 earthquake may not have killed as many people, but it did a lot of damage to San Francisco's infrastructure, and one of the main reasons why trafffic is so terrible here is that the entire freeway system had to be torn down and rebuilt - replacing the old double-decker freeways with single-deck ones. Most of the damage has been fixed by now, but you'll still occasionally encounter the specter of the '89 shaker.
I was living in the Haight/Ashbury when it hit, and, although I'm pretty used to earthquakes by now, I hope to never go through that again; "terrifying" does not begin to describe it!
What does an earthquake feel like? It feels like a truck driving by your house, only longer. If you think you might be feeling an earthquake, look up; if the light fixtures are swinging, hold on! If not... then it probably was a truck.
Fondest memory: Recent history - The Dot-com boom and bust
While many people will speak fondly of the heady days of the "dot-com boom," it is now known that the whole thing was, essentially, a giant scam. The great economic boom of tech's first wave was largely smoke and mirrors, and that many of the so-called "tech entrepeneurs" were, in effect, virtual snake-oil salesmen, who saw an opportunity to get rich quick on gullible investors, and rode it for all it was worth. The wheels were liberally greased by the charismatic and venally corrupt Mayor Willie Brown, and hordes of bank-rolled neo-yuppies descended upon the city. Within a few years, rents doubled, then tripled, and the price of everything skyrocketed. Apartments were almost impossible to find at any price.
Most of these "techies" were, in fact, nothing but PR and sales people, more involved in convincing investors they had something of value than actually, well... producing anything of value. By 2000, the investment economy had wised up, and pulled the rug out en-masse. As hundreds of pseudo-companies folded (many of them abandoning their offices under cover of night), the rats deserted the sinking ship, heading back home to nurse the hangover. And, while most San Franciscans would miss the money these folks spent like water, the truth was that most of us were not sad to see them go.
Unfortunately, the damage had been done. A great many of the people who made up San Francisco's art scene - writers, artists, and especially musicians - were forced to leave town or work 3 jobs just to survive. In this Faustian bargain, the City had lost a big piece of its soul.
San Francisco is still a magical place, but its' best days - at least in the short term - are behind it. Maybe this is a good thing; good that the concentration of artistic talent has spread out a bit, bringing some of the magic to other places. I have no doubt that someday my city will again be the cool place it used to be. Maybe you can help it along!
A BRIEF, SELECTIVE, AND OPINIONATED HISTORY OF SAN FRANCISCO
The Gold Rush
Very little exists of pre-Gold Rush San Francisco. Before news of the gold discovery at Sutter's Mill hit, San Francisco was a sleepy little town of about 2,000 or so, nestled around Yerba Buena Cove. In May of 1848, Sam Brannan rode his horse through Portsmouth Square, and, in an event almost equal to Paul Revere's ride, brought news of the gold strike at Sutter's Mill in the Sierra foothills, screaming "Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!." Within 2 years, SF's population went from 2,000 to 25,000; by 1860 it was 56,000, and by 1870 it had grown to 150,000.
San Francisco became synonymous with sin, and the Barbary Coast was a legendary vice district. Lawlessness was rampant, but vigilante groups (some of them formed by the previously mentioned Brannan himself) were a strong counterforce, and were largely successful in weeding out many of the more serious criminals. It's safe to say that San Francisco may not have become the city that it is without the efforts of these vigilantes.
San Francisco continued to grow and grow, taking its place among the great cities of the world. And then....WHAMMO!
The 'Big One' - 1906 earthquake and fire
It's hard to really grasp the significance of the 1906 earthquake these days, but I'd say it's easily in the top 5 worst disasters in American history. You have to remember that, at the time, San Francisco was by far the largest and most important city west of the Mississippi River (and would continue to be until surpassed by Los Angeles in the mid 1910's). It was the heart of the new west, and the earthquake utterly destroyed it, seemingly for good. But the city-folk proved to be a resourceful lot, and in seemingly no time at all San Francisco was back on its' feet.
Fondest memory: Contrary to the notion that the entire city was destroyed, there is still quite a bit of pre-1906 architecture to be seen and appreciated (I, in fact, live in a building that was built in 1886!). You just won't find much of it downtown, for obvious reasons. The exception is the Jackson Square Historic District, which was saved from the fire thanks mostly to the fact that it was right on the waterfront - a waterfront that was filled in long ago. Telegraph Hill (Coit Tower) also has some areas that were saved, and is home to some of the oldest existing homes in the City. And Alamo Square has an excellent concentration of pre-1906 architecture, including examples of nearly every late 19th century building style - including its famous row of Victorians.
One of the good aspects of the 1906 earthquake was that it greatly cleaned up the city; the vice dens of the Barbary Coast dwindled away, and San Francisco became more than just a port of call; it became home.
Fast Forward to the 60's
Ah... the 60's. First the beats, and then the hippies, made San Francisco synonymous with the Baby-Boom generation's coming of age.
Unfortunately, there isn't much remaining of the Beat Generation (except Lawrence Ferlinghetti), though there are some remnants of it left around North Beach.
The hippies? That's another story. The Haight/Ashbury is teeming with "Summer of Love" late-60's nostalgia, and some of you folks who were actually there might even find some pieces of the real thing (like the Dead House at 710 Ashbury) still in existence. For the most part, though, the Haight is more of a psychadelia-themed shopping mall than a real live expression of 60's counter-cultural values; indeed, the street kids that litter the Haight invoke more of the early-70's "hangover" days of the Haight, when speed was the drug of choice and the icky predator-types had driven out all semblance of 'peace' and 'love' from the area.
I highly recommend purchasing a box of the City Walks: San Francisco cards by Christina Henry de Tessan featuring self-guided adventures on foot around 40+ neighborhoods in the city. My hostess for my most recent trip had a set that I was going to borrow, but I decided I wanted my own set to carry and bang around and mark up.
I was researching locales for a novel I'm working on, and these cards proved to be invaluable. There's a level of detail in each neigbhorhood description that you don't always find in tour guides. Most importantly, the layout is compact and quite handy; the cards are pocket/purse side, with one side of each card features a close-up map of a given neighborhood and the other side tells you step-by-step which streets to take on your walking tour, which sites to stop for, the difficulty level of the walk, which bus to take to get to the starting point, and places to eat and shop.
You can find the cards at bookstores like Barnes & Noble. I'm hoping the series will make a set for Los Angeles soon.
Fondest memory: My other tip is that you get an SF Weekly and a Guardian. They seem to come out on Thursdays, and you can grab them just about anywhere. I would recommend getting both because I think the club listings in SF Weekly are more extensive, but the Guardian seems to have more alternative/funkier listings for places to go.
My Travelogue Page dedicated just to online travel sources.
-- 1800cheapseats.com: full-scale service, live reservationists and Internet technology. Phone 1-800-CheapSeats, available almost around the clock, seven days a week. They have a database of Internet and airline airfares. The prices of its airfares, cruises and hotel rooms are great.
-- CheapFlights.com: For people seeking flights within the United States (it also books hotels). It surveys traditional carriers, cut-rate upstarts, and major "consolidators" (discounters) of airfares. Its main menu shows the pattern of fares on various airlines for a continuous period. Click on that pattern and it displays access information.
-- Applefares.com: Devoted to ascertaining the fares and available seats of many new cut-rate airlines that now fly from city to city in Europe. Reveals spectacularly low rates that are frequently offered for travel within Europe.
From the Beats and their jugs of cheap red to the hippies and their 3-letter cures to the Crystal Meth-fueled gay dance scene, SF has always been a great place to get f*cked up.
But in spite of (or, more likely, because of) this, SF has a wealth of resources available to the sober traveler. There are over 600 - that's 600! - AA meetings every week in the city alone! There are also chapters of Rational Recovery, CA, NA, and just about every other A. Check your phone book for the contact #s, or just call 411.
For AA in San Francisco, go to http://www.aasf.org/.
Their phone# is 415-674-1821
I started our roundtrip through the western part of the USA in San Francisco I stayed here for a couple of days before we went on. I am not a real city person but San Francisco has stolen my heart!
I picked a hotel near Fisherman's Wharf. This turned out to be a very handy starting point. The cable car stopped just 1 block from our hotel. This is a very easy and fun way of traveling around in the city. It's mainly for tourists, but local people use it too. There is a time schedule, but the cable cars don't stick to it very well. But there are a lot of them around and we never needed to wait for a long time.
There is a lot to see in this city and this is what I did :
China Town is amazing. Don't forget to go to eat in a chinese restaurant. Good food and good prices. But look out for one that the local people go to.
Alcatraz An absolute must! You can't visit San Francisco without going to Alcatraz!
The Golden Gate Bridge is so famous, you don't want to miss it.
Pier39 : I loved it! All those sea lions making all that noise in the middle of a big city... amazing!
Fisherman's Wharf This a real tourist attraction. It is not my cup of tea, to touristy. All kinds of tourist shops and attractions packed together.
And there is so much more to see and do in this city. Just look at all the great buildings and fantastic Victorian houses. Just go there and take a look for yourself!
Favorite thing: the drivers are so nice in san fran! they are all so friendly and helpful! and they will patiently tell u how to get to where u want to go, wat numbers to take, where to transfer,... they even announce to everyone when the bus reaches a stop that has some popular tourist attraction or a stop where u can transfer to another bus to a tourist attraction! how i wish some of the bus drivers in singapore are that friendly.