There are a few places in the world, such as Cape Town and Rio de Janeiro, where the confluence of hills and water makes for spectacular views. San Francisco in the USA firmly belongs in the league of cities where the dramatic topography sets the pulse racing. The heaving Pacific Ocean the west connects to the placid San Francisco Bay on the east and forty-three distinct peaks crop up now and again, rewarding you with magnificent vistas.
With houses and streets cut into the hillsides, San Franciscans live amidst slopes and slants, rolling parks and tumbling gardens. They soak-in views of the fog-washed Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, the iconic Trans American Pyramid and the shimmering waters beyond.
The small city is easily navigable on foot, and those who drive must park their cars with the front wheels slightly turned to keep the vehicle from rolling.
Exploring the city
Around Fisherman’s Wharf, packed with lively shops and food stalls, you can view the sweeping expanse of Golden Gate Bridge and enjoy the sea lions at Pier 39. Alcatraz Island, once a prison can be visited by boat, and a climb up to Coit Tower reveals views of the Sausolito area further north. The section of Lombard Street between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets is the crooked street in the world. The particularly steep street has eight switchbacks to enable easy access to the homes on its sides. Designed with zigzagging hedges and flowering plants, it is a unique and picturesque sight.
Downtown San Francisco and the high-rise financial area lie to the east along the Bay, not far from a clutch of low-set posh neighbourhoods — Nob Hill, Pacific Heights and Hayes Valley famous for their four storey Victorian row-houses. Further south, the bohemian, multi-cultural Mission District is Mecca for food lovers who gather in the popular eateries around Eighteenth Street by Dolores Park.
Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane said that San Francisco is “Forty-nine square miles surrounded by reality.” The artsy, diverse, creative, fiercely proud locals are known for their progressive attitudes. This is where the Gay Movement took a foothold under Harvey Milk in 1961, and Flower-power Hippies found expression. San Franciscans revel in their own quirkiness; at the annual Bay to Breakers race every May, people turn up in the wildest costumes. Valentines Day sees a pillow fight at Justin Herman Plaza. In mid March, the Ides of March, Men and women parade in Bridal Dresses, celebrating ‘The Brides of March’.
They are also known for being book lovers, and poetry readings are listed in book shops everywhere. Whether they are wizards of the tech-world, ordinary folks or avant-gardes, San Franciscans are united in their love for organic produce. As someone said, “It is a city that takes food more seriously than religion.”
Need to know
Best time to go: April, May, September and October.
Stay at: Top end hotels in Nob Hill: The Huntington, The Fairmont
Business: The Four Seasons Hotel, SoMa.
Affordable Style: The Stanyan Park Hotel in Height Ashbury.
Budget Beds: Fisherman’s Wharf Hostel at the Marina, San Remo Hotel, North Beach.
Eat at: The Ferry Building - The Slanted Door serves excellent Vietnamese cuisine. Boulette’s larder, Blue-Bottle Coffee.
The Mission District - 18th street is a food-lovers’ honeypot; Delfina, Pizzeria Delfina, Bar Tartine, Bi-Rite Creamery are some local favourites.
Hayes Street- Absinthe, Arlequin Café, Boulangerie.
Shop: Adriano Goldschmied, 20 O’Farrell St carries well made jeans in soft denim for men and women.
nightclubs: Harlet, Slide. The NoMa and SoMa areas have several bars and clubs.
Bookshops: City Lights Books, 29, Russell Street.
Explore: San Francisco City Guide Walking tours are organised through the Library at 100, Larkin St. 415 557 4266. No charge. Visit Alcatraz Island. Take a walk along Crissy Field in The Presido (park) and photograph Golden Gate Bridge up close. Drive north across Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County and the Redwood forests at Muir Woods.
world class golf course: Pebble Beach, a two hour drive south near Caramel.
Floating spa experience
For a unique wellness experience, The Jiva Spa boat at Taj Lake Palace Udaipur is difficult to miss out. The boat cruises on the tranquil waters of Lake Pichola while you relax during your therapeutic spa treatments. You can choose amongst the Jiva Spa within the hotel or the boat.
How to get there: Reach Dabok Airport and hire a cab to the resort. By road its a twelve-hour drive from New Delhi and a 19-hour journey to Udaipur, by train.
Price: Rs 31,000 for two nights.
For reservations: Visit www.tajhotel.com