City guide: San Francisco

San Francisco is a bustling city, rich in ethnic diversity and with an eclectic, bohemian subculture. Locals speak a myriad of languages and observe a wide variety of globally influenced customs. It all comes together into a uniquely American melting pot mix of entrepreneurism, arts and flavorful, fresh-focused cuisine.

The city’s geography is a defining characteristic. San Francisco is bordered by water on the east and west, making it a compact space of about 47 square miles. About 860,000 people live there, navigating some of the city’s 50 hills every day.

Much of San Francisco’s employment comes from financial, tourism and professional business services. Since the 1990s, the city has been a hub for technology, biotechnology and medical research.

Getting to and from the airport

 San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is 15 miles south of downtown. Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART, operates a direct rapid rail service that goes from the airport to the Embarcadero financial district for around US$8. The airport’s BART station is on the departures/ticketing level of the international terminal.

Taxis depart from designated taxi zones at the roadway center islands on the arrivals/baggage claim level of all terminals. Approximate taxi fare to downtown is US$45.

 Where to stay

For luxury and upscale hotel options, try Fairmont San Francisco (950 Mason St.; Ph: +1-415-772-5000), Autograph Collection Hotel Adagio (550 Geary St.; Ph: +1-415-775-5000), Sheraton Fisherman’s Wharf (2500 Mason St.; Ph: +1-415-362-5500), Hyatt at Fisherman’s Wharf (555 North Point St.; Ph: +1-415-563-1234) or Courtyard San Francisco Downtown (299 2nd St.; Ph: +1-415-947-0700).

Midscale options near the city include Best Western Plus El Rancho Inn & Suites (1100 El Camino Real, Millbrae; Ph: +1-650-588-8500) and Ramada San Bruno (500 El Camino Road, San Bruno; Ph: +1-650-871-4000).

 Getting around San Francisco

The best way to navigate San Francisco is via the city’s public transportation system, Muni, which operates over 100 bus lines, as well as the city’s streetcars and cable cars. A single bus and rail fare costs US$2.50. You can get a free transfer tickets on most Muni lines for connecting trips within 90 minutes. A one-way cable car fare is US$7.

If you’re up for a hilly challenge, why not cycle? San Francisco is bicycle friendly and many residents use their bikes as a primary means of transport. The Embarcadero, Marina Green and Golden Gate Park are popular cycling areas; you can rent bikes from companies such as Blazing Saddles, Bike and Roll and others.

Flag down a taxi on the street or book one over the phone. Tipping is customary, and drivers expect about 10%-15% gratuity.

Things to see and do

No trip to San Francisco would be complete without a visit to the city’s most prominent landmark, the Golden Gate Bridge. This 1.7-mile suspension bridge spans the opening of the San Francisco Bay into the Pacific Ocean. Cross the bridge via car, bicycle or on foot to take in the magnificent view.

In the heart of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is the de Young Museum, which showcases collections of American art from the 17th through the 20th centuries, as well as art of the native Americas, Africa and the Pacific. The fee is US$15. It’s open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m.

Head to the piers and sidewalks of Fisherman’s Wharf, where sunbathing sea lions crowd on the water’s edge. You’ll find plenty of bay-view restaurants and souvenir shops.

Coit Tower, a 210-foot high Art Deco structure on Telegraph Hill, contains 1930s-era Public Works murals and a viewing platform with sweeping vistas of San Francisco Bay, Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz Island and other area landmarks. It’s open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. A docent-led tour of the entire building, including murals, is US$8, and tickets to the viewing platform are US$5.

The California Academy of Science contains an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum and four-story rainforest—all under one roof. It’s an architectural achievement with hundreds of unique exhibits and nearly 40,000 live animals. The academy is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. General admission tickets cost US$35.95.

Where to eat

For a cheap, cheerful and casual bite, head to Gott’s Roadside. The giant neon “Eat” sign over the ordering counter gets right to the point. Grab your fill of burgers, fish and chips, sandwiches, tacos and much more. It’s at Ferry Building Marketplace, 1 Ferry Building, Space #6; Ph: +1-415-318-3423.

 Yank Sing specializes in traditional and contemporary dim sum, offering over 100 varieties. The restaurant has no menu; food servers carry freshly cooked dim sum around, and you order as they pass by. Open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays, it’s a great place for a business lunch. Weekend hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Yank Sing has two locations: 101 Spear St.; Ph: +1-415-781-1111; and 49 Stevenson St.; Ph: +1-415-541-4949.

Pacific Catch offers great fish and seafood dishes created with California ingredients and infused with flavors from Asia, Latin America and Hawaii. The reasonably priced menu includes fish and sweet potato fries, grilled sandwiches, island tacos and Japanese rice bowls. Sit back, relax and watch the world go by. It’s at 2027 Chestnut St.; Ph: +1-415-440-1950.