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Star attractions

  • Golden Gate Bridge
  • Pier 39
  • Alcatraz
  • Golden Gate Park
  • Union Square

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Getting there

Flight Details: Virgin Atlantic fly daily from London Heathrow, with a second flight operating on selected days of the week throughout the summer.

Time Difference: GMT -8 hours.

Transfers: If you don't require a car, return transfers are available for £43 per person return.

Private Transfers: Feel like a film star and guarantee that your hotel is the first and only drop-off with this fantastic private transfer from 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.

Holidays to San Francisco

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WEATHER HERE

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 distin... Read more

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.

Read less
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Holiday Inn Fisherman's Wharf

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Grand Hyatt San Francisco

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The Stanford Court, San Francisco

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The Fairmont San Francisco

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More about San Francisco

Eating out

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.

Not to be missed

The most iconic and historical attraction in San Francisco, Alcatraz was named by Spanish Explorer Manuel de Ayala as Isla de los Alcatraces (Island of the Pelicans). Alcatraz was once home to a notorious slew of super criminals including the likes of Al Capone and was known as the inescapable prison as the island it’s on is surrounded by freezing and wild sea. It has had many purposes over the years including a Civil War Fort, Federal prison and symbol of Native American plight. Many of the buildings no longer exist after burning down in the 1970s or simply decaying away, but barracks from the Alcatraz Island’s stint as a military base, the cell house, the lighthouse and a few others remain. You can tour the remains of the prison by getting a ferry from Fisherman’s Wharf.

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

San Francisco comes alive at night. With music venues, bars and lounges for every taste, from huge dance venues to cool jazz lounges or a fun night of stand-up comedy, San Francisco has it all. The majority of the city’s historic bars are clustered around North Beach.

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.

Weddings/Honeymoons

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.

Something different

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.

Seeking adventure

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.

Sight Seeing Ideas

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).

The Golden Gate Bridge is by far the most popular tourist attraction in San Francisco with over 10 million visitors annually. The Bridge connects San Francisco to California’s northern counties. With its tremendous 746ft tall towers, sweeping main cables, signature International Orange colour, and art deco styling, it’s a sight not to be missed. Take the time to visit the Golden Gate Park, which was modelled on New York City’s Central Park and is a dominant feature of the city, it houses an amazing Japanese tea Garden, the Chain of Lakes, the Conservatory of Flowers, and a Redwood trail.

Situated on Russian Hill, Lombard Street is the world’s crookedest road, purposely designed to reduce the natural steep incline of the hill. Some of San Francisco’s most expensive real estate sits on Lombard Street and it comes alive in the spring and summer, when the flowers that line the street come into bloom. From the opening credits of the TV hit Full House you will recognise the houses in a line at Alamo Square – a great picture opportunity

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 sanfranrep@virginholidays.com any time.

Getting around

San Francisco is one of the few places in the world where people can ride on a national historic landmark. The cable cars are the world’s last permanently operational manually operated cable car system, and are the most convenient way to get around. Be sure to stop off and visit the Cable Car Museum for a look at the powerhouse behind the machines.

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