For travels to San Francisco, below are some specific web sites I like.
For your "general" travel research check out my first SF "travelogue" entitled Before You Go - My Favorite Online Resources
SAN FRANCISCO TRAVEL SITES
SF Convention & Visitors Bureau
SF Online Newspaper
* See 'Regional' and 'Entertainment' sections
Bay City Guide
* Order this free "Guide" before you come to SF, mailed in 2-3 weeks
SF Theater Tickets at Half-Price
SF Virtual Tour
* get acquainted with the City and the Bay Area before you arrive!
SF "Live Cam"
* pointed at the Golden Gate Bridge (hopefully it's not a foggy day!)
Make this your first stop in the city, especially if you arrive by B.A.R.T. The Powell Street station opens up into Hallidie Plaza practically at the front door of the center. The plaza is at the intersection of Powell Street and Market Street and there is a cable car turn-around next door. Free maps and guidebooks, as well as brochures for activities can be found here. There are "hotlines" in various languages to assist travellers from many places.
English 391 2001
Spanish 391 2122
French 391 2003
German 391 2004
Japanese 391 2101
San Francisco has been, appropriately, called the most Asian city in the United States for its high proportion of Asian residents. However, the presence of Europe is also highly evident in the newsstands selling European periodicals and the murmuring of European tongues echoing through the streets. If one is looking to absorb an Asian atmopshere, Chinatown is of course the first neighbourhood that springs into one's mind. However, farther from downtown, Japantown, or Nihonmachi with its large Japan Center mall, is a centre for Japanese-American culture in the city, and the Richmond District, far from Chinatown's droves of tourists, has been described as the new heart of Chinese San Francisco. The Japanese influence is also evident in the form of the beautiful Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. Of course, most of San Francisco's predominately Asian neighbourhoods aren't uniformly Chinese or Japanese but also include Koreans, Vietnamese, Laosians, Cambodians, Thais, Burmese, Malaysians, Filipinos, and many other diverse groups. And the Asian presence in San Francisco has spread far from its traditional centres, reaching every corner of the city. Much of the city's famed California haute-cuisine is a fusion of Asian and European cuisinary styles. Asian newspapers are readily available everywhere, and many, if not most, signs have translations into Chinese and sometimes other Asian tongues.
Fondest memory: As aforementioned, the European influence on San Francisco seems to be just as strong as the famed Asian one. In fashionable Union Square, the second language of those engaged in faire des courses is French. In fact, on a Saturday spent there, I observed that at least 20% or more of the pedestrians in the area were speaking French. In fact, San Francisco has the largest number of French expatriates in the United States. There is a French embassy in the area containing the fashionable Hotel Trianon and the Cafe de la Presse, at Bush and Grant Streets. And Belden Place, once a staid Financial District alley, has become the regional centre for French cuisine, with grand restaurants and street cafes. On Belden Place also is the largest Bastille Day celebration in the United States. If it is Italian flair on is looking for, North Beach, the traditional centre for Italian immigrants and beatnik poets alike, has become a centre for expatriate Italians and Italian tourists alike, who come to dine at the fashionable restaurants along Columbus Avenue, speaking their tongue in rapid-fire fashion. The previously mentioned Richmond District, which is becoming a centre for Asian settlement, maintains an aura of Russian influence as well, with onion-domed Orthodox churches and one of the largest Russian-born populations in the country. It should come as no surprise that San Francisco is a centre for Russian culture in the US, as Russia once sought to extend its influence over the area in the 18th and early 19th centuries, when it built Fort Ross just north of the city. The name of Russian Hill has long been a curiosity, and local legend tells of gravestones found with Cyrillic inscriptions.
Asia and Europe are not the only continents influencing this cosmopolitan metropolis. Australians have begun moving here as well, and the Latin American presence in the Mission District has been well-established for a decade.
There is no set rule. I can only tell you what I do. I typically give a minimum of 15% and round up to the nearest $5. It’s so much easier this way. For example a $3.90 fare becomes $5.00, a $7.50 fare becomes $10, a $17.00 fare becomes $20.00 and so on. So, it’s more than 15%, but considering what these drivers make for a living, I don’t mind.
Remember to talk to your drivers. They are usually very friendly and helpful.
In calculating your daily food budget, remember to add 15-20% to your total.
In San Francisco, as in most of the U.S, the service is NOT included at restaurants. There are exceptions to this rule, but the exceptions are clearly stated on the menus. It is customary to tip a minimum of 15% of the cost of the meal (before taxes), but if you get excellent service or if you receive a complimentary dish, you should leave 18% to 20% or at least round up to the nearest dollar.
Most servers earn minimum wage and rely on the money they make on tips, so remember to be good to your waiter if your waiter has been good to you.
Another thing that says something about the people of San Francisco, apart from the better known things like that the Haight District is where the whole hippie movement started [local columnist Herb Caen invented the term 'hippie' as a bit of a slap to what he saw as young punks trying to use the Beat Generation's (also an SF thing, centered in North Beach) definition of 'hip' as an excuse for lazing around, thus 'hippie', sort of like a small hip person)(Haight Street actually declared itself a seperate republic for a short spell, but when the authorities did nothing about it everyone must have felt they lacked something and just sort of forgot about it) and other things, are in one event and one old personage.
The person was Emperor Norton. Norton was a fat cat end of the 19th century, rail money I think, but lost it all and took to drink. His wealthy friends took pity on him because he was a)harmless and b)funny. his mind sort of started drifting from its moorings. Here was a guy who was essentially a prototype homeless, eating in the best restaurants and staying for free at the Mark Hopkins and the Fairmont hotels, his amused friends footing the bill.
One day Norton declares himself Emperor of the World, insisting everyone address him as such. And they did and it just sort of stuck. Then one day norton decides he will print his own money and starts waving it around insisting he'll pay this time. His friends, all wealthy, instruct the waiters and such to accept it and they'll make good on it. Eventually so much Norton cash was floating around town that people not even remotely connected with this crowd started using it as an unofficial local currency.
That's local colour story #1.
#2 is that when Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead died, they flew a tie-dye flag at half mast from city hall.
I mean, you just gotta love it.
Fondest memory: Going to see Brritt Alley - where Miles Archer, partner to Sam Spade, was shot to death at the beginning of "The Maltese Falcon" (the book and the film). There is a plaque there commerating this fictional event.
But be warned - it tells whodunnit!
Off Bush Street, just west of the top of the Stockton Tunnel - the small dead-end alley next to the Tunnel Top Bar (good drum 'n' bass bar owned by French people).
Favorite thing: San Fancisco is a tiny city. It's only 7 miles by 7 miles but what's inside that area is larger than most cities. You can find anything and everything there. Just use your imagination and make sure you go with an open mind to explore.
For a nice illustrated, paperback travel guide to the City: 'Eyewitness Travel Guide to San Francisco and Northern California (revised)' by Linda Williams. Here's a sample page from this book. (Click to enlarge.) Most of your touristing in this City will be in the Districts highlighted on this sample page: Chinatown, Fisherman's Wharf, Marina, Presidio, Golden Gate Park. With this book, you'll know the City better than most natives. This book will orient you to the City's colorful history, culture and landscape.
Fondest memory: I survived the earthquake of 1989. Oh, and about that earthquake of 1906, the history can be found online (copy & paste this in your browser) http://quake.usgs.gov/info/1906
Favorite thing: Go online for more information at www.sfgate.com (along the left margin on this webpage look at the 'Regional' section and look at the 'Entertainment' section).....when you arrive in SF, for current entertainment & map guides, pick up a free 'This Week in San Francisco' booklet (from your hotel or from around town); buy the Sunday SF Chronicle for the pullout 'Datebook Section'; or visit the SF Visitor's Bureau discussed in my 'Transportation' section. (With all this information, you'll be armed and dangerous.)
San Francisco covers the tip of a 30mile
(50km) peninsula in Northern California, with the
Pacific Ocean on its western side and the San Francisco
Bay to the north and east. San Francisco is just one
of many cities in the Bay Area; others include Oakland
(east across the Bay Bridge), Berkeley (north of Oakland)
and San Jose (an hour's drive southeast of San Francisco,
near the southern tip of the bay). Marin County and the
Wine Country lie to the north, across the Golden Gate
The Bay Area has three major airports. San Francisco
International Airport is on the bay side of the Peninsula,
14 miles south of the city center. The city of Oakland, at
the eastern end of the Bay Bridge, has its own airport 8
miles south of downtown. San Jose International Airport,
at the southern end of the bay, is a few miles north of
downtown San Jose and one hour drive from San Francisco.
Go to the corner of Market & 2nd Streets...there you will find a Rand McNally
Store, you know maps, books, etc, very serious travel info...anyway ask for a copy of
Rand McNally' San Francisco Cross Street Directory. The Bible for serious Bike Messengers, Cabbies, and other Delivery type persons...never, leave home (your hotel, hostel, friends house etc) without it. Now you're ready to ROCK...SF unlike most American cities, is easy in terms of size to navigate, ( traffic permitting) by whichever means you choose...Apprx 49 m2, or 126.90 km2 in area...
View on San Francisco
Fondest memory: History of San Francisco
A Spanish writer at the end of the 15th century wrote a made-up story about a far land, he called California. The streets are paved with gold and jewelry. This fable gave the Spanish great spirit to find such a place and to exploit it for the next two hundred years. The Spanish never found any gold along the Northern Coastline the name is still California.
San Francisco became an important trading post for the Spanish and afterwards for the explorers. Its Bay is one of the biggest natural harbours of the world and is protected on three sides by land. In 1848, it was still a very small town of about 800 inhabitants, but after the “gold rush” of 1849 San Francisco grew fast from 800 to 340,000 inhabitants in the next few decades. The city was built on money, bribes and corruption. Opiumhuts flourished in Chinatown and brothels along the north beaches. Unstable wooden buildings spread over the hills in a disorganised way.
In 1906 San Francisco was struck by the famous notorious big earthquake. The fires destroyed the town. After this designers were gathered for a meeting to recreate the town as we know it today.
San Francisco covers the tip of a 30 mile (50km) peninsula in Northern California, with the Pacific Ocean on its western side and the San Francisco Bay to the north and east. San Francisco is just one of many cities in the Bay Area; others include Oakland (east across the Bay Bridge), Berkeley (just north of Oakland) and San Jose (an hour's drive southeast of San Francisco, near the southern tip of the bay). Marin County and the Wine Country lie to the north, across the Golden Gate Bridge.
The most touristed part of the city resembles a slice of pie, with Van Ness Ave and Market St making the two sides and the Embarcadero the round edge of the pie. The steaming toppings of this homebaked slice are the classy shops around Union Square, the highrise Financial District, the classy Civic Center, the down-and-out Tenderloin, swanky Nob Hill and Russian Hill, Chinatown, North Beach and the epicenter of tourist kitsch, Fisherman's Wharf. To the south of Market St lies SoMa, an upwardly mobile warehouse zone of clubs and bars that fades in the southwest into the Mission, the city's Latino quarter, and then the Castro, the center of gay life.
The vast swathe from Van Ness Ave west to the Pacific Ocean encompasses upscale neighborhoods like the Marina and Pacific Heights, ethnically diverse zones like the Richmond and Sunset districts as well as the self-conscious timewarp of Haight-Ashbury. Three of the city's great parklands - the Presidio, Lincoln Park and Golden Gate Park - are also in this area.
Making a circuit of the 49-Mile Drive is a good way to check out almost all of the city's highlights. The route is well posted with instantly recognizable seagull signs, but a map and an alert navigator are essential. Do yourself a favor and allow a whole day to complete the circuit.
The Bay Area has three major airports. San Francisco International Airport is on the bay side of the Peninsula, 14 miles (22km) south of the city center. The city of Oakland, at the eastern end of the Bay Bridge, has its own airport 8 miles (13km) south of downtown. San Jose International Airport, at the southern end of the bay, is a few miles north of downtown San Jose and an hour's drive from San Francisco.
Greyhound is the only regular long distance bus company operating to the city - all bus services arrive and depart at the Transbay Terminal in SoMa. Amtrak's rail network connects the Bay Area with the rest of the continental US and Canada. Its main stations are in Oakland and Emeryville, both in the East Bay. CalTrain links San Francisco with the peninsula and San Jose; its depot is in SoMa.
Background on a city is always helpful when traveling. Take note of the following as you discover and re-discover the magic of San Francisco.
Surrounded on three sides by the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, San Francisco's compact 46 square miles (125 sq. km.) crowd the tip of the San Francisco Peninsula.
'The City' has a population of 723,959; nevertheless it looms large in the imagination as the hub of the greater Bay Area. The nation's fifth largest metropolitan region registers a population of 6 million and hosts over 16 million visitors, conventioneers and business travelers each year.
The San Francisco Bay Area has some of the best weather in the nation. For year-round temperatures and a comprehensive five-day weather forecast.
Favorite thing: San Francisco is quite accurately known for its tolerant, liberal atmosphere...one that seems to breed wild eccentricities. A visitor from more conservative regions or countries should be aware that some of the behaviour of the city's citizens, whether they be homeless or nouveaux riches, can be either curious, amusing, or horrifying. Like a true San Franciscan, either ignore such things or pretend to do so. You must keep an open mind and not observe people's behaviour as if they are clowns in a circus. Some of th people on the street are deliberately putting on a show, and it is polite courtesy to pay attention. But if somone is attempting to bring a cause to attention, it is wiser to respect that than to mock said person or, worst of all, treat him or her like a street ornament to be photographed. Of course, capturing the mood of the city on film is a worthwhile activity, but in attempting to do so, do not alienate the subjects by appearing to be more of a tourist looking for something to put into a vacation album than a serious urban anthropologist type. Most of all, do not label people with nicknames or stereotypes, or do so in a loud and brandishing fashion. Do not even attempt to do so while in private conversation with someone from the city. San Franciscans are sensitive to their city's diversity, both of race and of ideology, and will not appreciate what they will perceive as closed-mindedness. Appreciate the city's eccentric residents, do not be put off by them or treat them as curiosities.