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An expert's guide to San Francisco

The Experts - San Francisco

We sent a crew of Virgin Holidays employees on a fact-finding holiday to San Fran. Here's a taste of what they experienced in this surprising city. 


What did you know you wanted to do in San Fran before you arrived?

Rachel: I wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge. And we did that using the open-top, hop-on hop-off (HoHo) bus. You get to see a lot that way.

Emily: I really wanted to see the Painted Ladies — these famous old Victorian terraced houses on the edge of Alamo Square park. Again, the HoHo bus really helped us.


Michael: The HoHo bus was always really good. On the second bus we took, the guide told us about the great fires of 1906 and, as we went passed Lombard Street, he pointed out buildings with bricks that remain charred to this day. It was fascinating. It really made you feel like you were in San Francisco, as strange as that may sound.

Oliver: Ask the bus guides for tips, too.

Emily: Yes! For example, there was one stop by a tram route sweeping down a dramatic hill and back up again, and there was no one waiting for it. The bus guide said, “Yeah, you should definitely get off here and ride the tram.”


Did you get a feel for any of San Fran’s neighbourhoods?

Rachel: I was staying just behind Union Square, and it’s a very different vibe from Fisherman’s Wharf, which has this great, seaside-y, family feel. Altogether more laid back than Union Square, which is all shopping and exciting hustle and bustle.

Sian: We had rooftop drinks at The Proper on Market Street — a luxury hotel with quirky 60s and 70s influences. It’s close to the Tenderloin, which is this up-and-coming neighbourhood with a cool Shoreditch feel to it.

Emily: It had great views of the city. I’d recommend it to everyone.


Sian: I’d like to spend more time in Castro, too, which is a famous LGBT neighbourhood. It has cool bars and out-there shops with brilliant names. It’s also where you’ll find Seward Mini Park, which has these amazing, winding concrete slides. It’s really bizarre. They recommend you bring a bit of cardboard and ride down on it and the hills are so steep that it’s become this secret little attraction.


Rachel: You can have a very different experience of San Fran simply by going to different neighbourhoods and checking them out, or just hanging out at a coffee shop and watching the world go by. Take Twin Peaks, for example — you get amazing views of the city, and they’re very different from those you get from the Golden Gate Bridge.

San Francisco has a vibrant food culture. Any recommendations?

Michael: Quite a few of us went to the Hollywood Café in Fisherman’s Wharf. Really nice food there.

Emily: Boudin’s Bakery — it’s famous for its sourdough. That was good.

Bianca: Japantown has amazing take-out food. It was really late when we arrived in San Fran, and we got takeaway. Literally down the road. It was fantastic.

Sian: And, of course, you’ve got to have an In-N-Out burger; they’re amazing — a real California specialty. (Psst... they're in Arizona too, along with these great food choices!)


What were the highlights of the trip for you?

Bianca: The sea lions on PIER 39— they were funny, and free to see. PIER 39 has loads of other attractions, too.

Rachel: The tram. Top tip? Don’t get on at the first stop at Union Square. There are huge queues. But, get on one stop later (two minutes up the road), and it’s empty.


Sian: Shopping was a highlight for me. The city is just so compact and easy to navigate. There’s a massive Westfield mall, a Macy’s and boutique shops, and it’s all within two or three blocks.

Oliver: Hiking under the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s really cheap, and it’s great for photos.

Michael: The whale tour. A lot of different species migrate up the West Coast, so you can see orcas, grey whales, to name a few. Alcatraz (naturally). And, there’s so much to do in the area just north of the Golden Gate. You can visit the giant redwoods in Muir Woods — it’s where Rise of the Planet of the Apes was shot.


Thanks, guys. Last question: how would you describe San Fran in a few words?

Rachel: Trendy, and innovative.

Oliver: Open. Each to their own. I like that. Vibrant, too.

Emily: Unique. I’ve never been anywhere quite like it before.


Have the team here piqued your interest in San Francisco? Why not check out our San Francisco holidays to explore this energetic city for yourself, or take a peek at our new USA 2019 brochure for all our USA holidays and experiences.  

Tagged in:

  • Expert guides
  • Our picks
  • City and shopping breaks
  • Favourite
  • San Francisco
  • Travel tips
  • Travel tastes
  • USA
  • Staff Travels
30 Aug 2018 | Virgin Holidays