Featured Hotels in San Francisco
Luxury San Francisco Holidays
San Francisco, the Jewel of California, is a picture-perfect city, set round a sparkling blue bay, backed by rolling hills and filled with elegant streets and squares. But it's not just its visual beauty that makes San Francisco holidays so special - it's the history, the hot contemporary arts and culture scene, and the vibrant and diverse neighbourhoods, full of distinctive personality - the groovy Mission District, the lively Union Square area, the swanky Nob Hill, the funky Haight-Ashbury, the bohemian North Beach. A stay in dynamic San Francisco will give you a taste of the good life, which you will savour for years to come.
A Great Starting Point
For many people, San Francisco holidays start at Fisherman's Wharf by the bay - a great place to stroll around and get a flavour of the city. It's part of the Embarcadero, the three-mile stretch of the waterfront that starts at the Ferry Building, and takes in Pier 39, a tourist hub with two levels of boutiques, restaurants and entertainment, set against the spectacular backdrop of the city and the bay. On the west-side docks of the Pier 39 Marina, a community of sea lions has been in permanent residence for over 25 years, and their antics provide even better entertainment than the street performers.
From Pier 33 on Fisherman's Wharf, you can take a scenic ferry ride to Alcatraz Island, known as the Rock, where the legendary no-escape prison once housed some of America's most notorious criminals, such as Al Capone. A visit to the island includes the Cellhouse Audio Tour, narrated by former guards and prisoners, recounting harrowing tales of riots and escape attempts. For extra excitement, you can opt for the creepy night tour, which leaves in late afternoon.
Beautiful Golden Gate
It may be very obvious, but you really can't stay in San Francisco without a visit to the most famous landmark, the Golden Gate Bridge, whose bright orange span against the blue of the ocean represents a symbol of the city right across the globe. There are plenty of ways to cross - you can walk, cycle, drive or take the bus, or even enjoy a tour on a vintage fire engine. Alternatively, taking the Sausalito Ferry gives you a unique view from the water of the incredible structure of the bridge - one of the seven engineering wonders of the world - and you can then take the bus back across the bridge.
Coming down off the bridge at the city end brings you to the beginning of Golden Gate Park, one of the largest urban parks in the world. It's an oasis of verdant landscapes and hiking trails, with historic windmills, lakes, dozens of species of trees including eucalyptus, and even a buffalo park. You can wander the exquisite Japanese Tea Garden, rent a pedalo boat on the Stow Lake, marvel at the Botanical Gardens and the Conservatory of Flowers, or explore the park on a rented bike or on horseback.
One of the foremost attractions in the Golden Gate Park is the stunning California Academy of Sciences, offering an array of delights including an interactive aquarium with 900 different species, containing a dramatic and awe-inspiring living coral-reef ecosystem. There's also an immersive planetarium that will transport you through time and space, an African Hall with a live colony of splashing penguins, and a four-storey rainforest with tropical plants and wildlife, housed within a spectacular glass dome. The building has a living green roof, planted with 1.7 million native California plants.
It can be hard to tear yourself away from the gorgeous waterfront, but there's plenty to explore inland, and one of the best ways to see it all is by taking a ride on the historic cable cars, which provide spectacular views of the famous hilly streets. The cable cars run on three trolley routes, the Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason lines, which run from near Union Square to Ghirardelli Square and Fisherman's Wharf, and the California Street Line. Part of the fun is watching the manual turning of the car on a revolving wooden platform, so that it can go back the way it came.
The Union Square neighbourhood, where two of the cable car lines start, is the city's shopping mecca, but is also a delightful place just to hang out and relax, on one of the many benches scattered around. It's full of fascinating art galleries, taverns hosting varied music performances, and live theatre. Maiden Lane is famous for spontaneous street performances, and attractive food and wine events.
Not far away are some of the city's most picturesque and historic areas, including the "painted ladies" - the brightly coloured Victorian houses at Alamo Square - and particularly the famous "Postcard Row" at the Steiner Street and Hayes Street junction, with the backdrop of the downtown buildings providing a spectacular contrast. The best time to take a picture is when the sun is going down, creating a sunset glow over the houses and the square. Nearby is the famous Lombard Street, possibly the twistiest and steepest street in the world, but stunningly attractive with its hairpin bends, elegant houses, colourful gardens, and sweeping views of the bay and Alcatraz.
The unique terrain of San Francisco - the bay, the bridge, the mountains, the hilly streets - certainly results in spectacular visual effects for the visitor. It also means that San Francisco holidays are full of experiences that could happen nowhere else in the world. You may only have a few days here, but it could be a few days that change your life.