Holidays in San Francisco 2013/2014:
San Francisco has it all. Occupying a hilly 47-square mile thumbprint at the top of a peninsula, the City by the Bay is blessed with a spectacular setting, beautiful open spaces, truly diverse culture and a bridge that’s the envy of the world. But beyond all of this is a certain audacious spirit that’s hard to define, characterised by decades of progressive movements and the idealists, entrepreneurs and pioneers who started them. It’s a spirit that makes San Francisco feel like it’s always one step ahead, and it’s an invigorating and optimistic place to be.
Among the reasons why San Francisco continuously ranks as one of the USA’s most liveable cities is its patchwork of walkable neighbourhoods, each with their own distinct character. Pacific Heights and Cow Hollow are awash with Victorian houses and antique stores; exclusive Nob Hill has elegant hotels and million-dollar views; Haight-Ashbury still retains a hint of its hippy past, and North Beach brims with Italian bakeries, boho boutiques and Beat generation bookstores.
But despite being constrained by the ocean and the bay, the city rarely feels overrun. Green urban spaces like Golden Gate Park and the Presidio, and chilled-out harbourside towns like the artistic enclave of Sausalito mean nature and relaxation are never far away.
Things to do/Attractions
San Francisco’s list of attractions belies its relatively small size, and there’s all that Northern Californian wine and wilderness on your doorstep too. No wonder it’s one of the world’s top tourist destinations. Get your bearings on a Deluxe City Tour with stops at the Golden Gate Bridge, Union Square, Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown and other landmarks, or invest in a CityPASS for 7 days’ unlimited use of the cable cars and municipal transport, plus entrance to five major attractions including Aquarium of the Bay and SFMoMA (Museum of Modern Art).
Holidays in San Francisco don’t end in the city. Yosemite National Park is within striking distance, and the mountains, lakes, forests and bears will completely blow your mind. Our Yosemite Day Out guided tour will ensure you get enough time to soak it all in. And don’t miss Sonoma and the Napa Valley, California’s great winemaking regions. You can travel through this golden landscape on our Wine Country Tour, with stops to sample the vintages at a variety of wineries both large and small.
Whew, does it seem like there’s a lot to fit it? Don’t panic. Our Concierge Service is here to answer any questions, help you prioritise, check out facts and book your chosen tours and attractions in advance. To make it even more personal we have a dedicated San Francisco expert just waiting to hear from you. Just call 0844 557 3890 between 6.00pm – 9.00pm GMT or email firstname.lastname@example.org any time.
San Franciscans tend to think of their city as the ultimate American dining destination. The familiar foodie mantra of seasonal, sustainable, farm-to-table produce has been a way of life here for decades – an ethos that resonates in the tiniest of cafés as well as the packed-nightly hotspots. Visit the Saturday farmers’ market at the Ferry Building to experience some of this organic NorCal food culture for yourself: you can probably dine out on the free samples alone. For more variety, head to the neighbourhoods. Try North Beach for Italian bistros, delis and gelaterie; Chinatown for dim sum and hand-made fortune cookies; Haight-Ashbury for a huge range of vegetarian and ethnic eats, or the Mission District for an authentic San Francisco burrito. Around Union Square, the flavour is very much international, with a choice of French brasseries, Japanese sushi bars and Californian steakhouses to tempt any palate.
San Francisco’s buzzing nightlife reflects its diverse population, with a focus on creativity and good times rather than what to wear or how to behave. This is a city that likes to drink and its bar scene covers all bases, with the trend in loft-style brewpubs, cutting-edge cocktail joints and Prohibition-inspired speakeasies continuing to flourish. Looking for a particular vibe? Nob Hill’s upscale lounges and wine bars cater to a moneyed, professional crowd; the Lower Haight is ground zero for craft beer lovers, and the Mission does the best mezcal and tequila libations in town. Back in downtown, after-dark highlights include the low-lit and dramatic Redwood Room at Clift or the sophisticated Clock Bar at the Westin St. Francis.
Not to be missed
Whatever the weather, walking or cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge is something you’ll remember for the rest of your life. Gazing up at the rust-red towers and feeling the sidewalk sway beneath your feet is the city’s biggest thrill. If you have time, continue down to Sausalito for a seafood lunch before taking the ferry back to the mainland. Equally unmissable is a ride on the Powell-Hyde cable car down to Fisherman’s Wharf, where the views from Nob Hill towards the bay will have you desperately applying for a Green Card. Visit Alcatraz Island by night for the most atmospheric experience, and stand in the footprints of notorious gangsters like Al Capone. Must-see photo-worthy landmarks include crookedest-street Lombard’s eight hairpin turns, the pastel-coloured ‘Painted Ladies’ opposite Alamo Square park, and the teeming alleys and trinket-filled shopfronts of Chinatown.
Best for families
Family-friendly San Francisco is packed with world-class attractions for the young and young-at-heart. Top of the list is the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, with its aquarium, rainforest dome, earthquake simulation, and the largest all-digital planetarium in the world. If you can’t get enough, consider our Behind the Scenes Tour for special access to areas normally off-limits. Fisherman’s Wharf is the most child-focused tourist area in the city. Take a hair-raising interactive ride at the new 7D Experience, visit the sea lions camped out at Pier 39 or learn how to somersault on the bungee trampolines. For a holiday treat, let them eat cake at the Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop, where the cocoa-laden sundaes are the size of traffic cones.
Best for couples
Hire a tandem bike and cycle to Crissy Field to watch the waves break over the shore. If you come just before sunset you’ll get a wonderful west-facing view of the Golden Gate Bridge, and you’ll be heading back towards the city as the lights start to twinkle. Cuddle up on a Hornblower dinner cruise for more panoramic views of the skyline, or wander up to Twin Peaks and witness the most unforgettable vistas in the city. Overlooking the ocean, the Champagne Sunday brunch at the Cliff House is a San Franciso institution, though remember to book in advance. Finish the day with classic cocktails and a touch of retro glam at the newly spruced-up Harry Denton’s Starlight Room at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in Union Square.
Want to get married in the room where Tony Bennett first sang about leaving his heart in San Francisco? The lavish Venetian Room at the Fairmont San Francisco will be delighted to host your special day. The city is full of distinctive hotel wedding venues, including the gorgeous outdoor terraces of the Hotel Vitale and the stately ballroom of the Stanford Court Hotel in Nob Hill. Or why not opt for something more intimate and head for the log cabin on the Presidio’s western shore? This ex-officer’s club with views of the skyline is one of San Francisco’s quirkiest places to say ‘I do’. If it’s the perfect honeymoon suite you’re after, look no further than the cool and contemporary Clift. The spacious, light-filled guest rooms are so heavenly you’ll never want to leave.
Unsurprisingly, San Francisco is overflowing with offbeat attractions – you just need to know where to find them. Head to Pier 45 at Fisherman’s Wharf for a play on the nostalgic penny arcades at Musée Mécanique, or hover above the water on our Bay Vista Helicopter Tour for a bird’s eye view of Alcatraz, Treasure Island and the Bay Bridge. For a perspective-shifting experience, immerse yourself in a ‘sound sculpture’ in total darkness at Audium, or spook yourself silly on the San Francisco Ghost Hunt. Feeling energetic? Get your jive on at Lindy in the Park; a free swing dance party every Sunday in Golden Gate Park – spectators and dancers both welcome.
Weather/Best time to go
San Francisco’s marine climate means relatively mild weather year-round. Spring and summer follow a familiar pattern: cool early mornings followed by pleasant daytime temperatures of between 15-25ºC, dropping again as the famous late afternoon fog rolls in. All those hills create several different microclimates however, so if there’s fog over the oceanside neighbourhoods, it’s more than likely sunny by the bay. September to November is the exception, when the reliable Indian Summer provides glorious blue sky days with the mercury even tipping 30ºC on occasion. Winters rarely fall below freezing and snow is practically unheard of, so enjoying the holiday season is a breeze.
Surrounded by water on three sides, San Francisco is ripe for all kinds of sea-based adventures. Several companies offer kayaking excursions, from challenging trips under the Golden Gate Bridge to gentle tours alongside the houseboats of Sausalito waterfront. For a different perspective, opt for a peaceful paddle by moonlight. For something equally exhilarating but less hands-on, charter a private sail with friends or take a whale-watching cruise to the Farallon Islands 30 miles out to sea. Want something more extreme? Several skydiving outfits operate in the area: the closest dropzone is in Santa Cruz County to the south, so your freefall comes with incredible views of Monterey Bay.
San Francisco’s compact size and excellent public transport makes it a brilliant city for shopaholics. Start at the heart of it all: Union Square is ringed by well-known luxury brands and giant department stores like Macy’s and Nordstrom, while over the road at the Westfield shopping centre you’ll find all your favourite USA brands like Victoria’s Secret, Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch. Want something less mainstream? The stretch of Fillmore Street between Geary Boulevard and Jackson Street houses small-scale independent boutiques, bookstores, bagel shops and galleries. Try Hayes Valley for chic homeware, eco beauty products, one-of-a-kind gifts and wine bars, or Haight Street for vintage clothing, tattoo parlours and psychedelic memorabilia.
Either explore on foot or hop aboard one of the many cable cars, but hold on tight, riding down some of those steep streets requires nerves of steel!
So, if a holiday in San Francisco sounds like a perfect city break getaway, check out our fantastic San Francisco hotels and package holidays!
If you don't require car hire, return transfers are available at the following price:
£43 per person
Feel like a film star and guarantee that your hotel is the first and only drop-off with this fantastic private transfer airport-to-hotel! You'll have checked in and be riding a cable car before anyone else arrives!
All prices are per car for a one-way trip.
£95 - max 4 passengers. £155 - max 6 passengers.
- Golden Gate Bridge
- Pier 39
- Golden Gate Park
- Union Square
Our Top 5 hotels
Here in the heart of Fisherman's Wharf, this much-loved hotel is also where you can find our Virgin Holidays' office. Getting around is easy - the cable car turnaround is 2 blocks away (taking you all the way up to Union Square) and city tours leave opposite. The ferry dock, for that essential trip to Alcatraz, is just a few minutes' walk away. The hotel is divided into 2 sections.
In an excellent location, the hotel is just a short walk from PIER 39. Ghirardelli Square and The Cannery are also close by, together with shops, restaurants and various nightspots.
Perched conveniently on the edge of the bay at Fisherman's Wharf, this Kimpton Deluxe Hotel is a nautically inspired boutique hotel has something of the feel of a luxury cruise ship.
The Holiday Inn Express is conveniently located at Fisherman's Wharf, close to many attractions, including PIER 39 and Ghirardelli Square, as well as being adjacent to the Holiday Inn Fisherman's Wharf. A smart, maritime theme throughout creates a warm and relaxing respite from the many things to do in San Francisco.
The elegant Westin St Francis is located in the heart of cosmopolitan San Francisco, overlooking the picturesque Union Square. This wonderful hotel has enjoyed a rich, colourful history at the centre of the city's social and cultural life. The bustling lobby leads out to the famous cable cars which stop right outside making for real convenience when exploring this unique city.
Feb - Chinese New Year Parade
Mar - San Francisco Flower and Garden Show
Apr - San Francisco International Film Festival
Jun - North Beach Festival
Jul - Fourth of July Waterfront Festival
Late Jul/Early Aug - San Francisco Marathon
Sep - Ghirardelli Square Chocolate Festival
Oct - Fleet Week