It is election season in the US. The race to win the White House has left the country divided. Everyone has an opinion on who they’d like to see as the next US President. And they don’t hesitate to share it. So, while a tour guide in Chicago “hates” Donald Trump for building a Trump Tower in the city and “ruining our beautiful architecture”, an Uber driver in New York won’t vote for Hilary Clinton because of trust issues. But once you land in San Francisco, it is easy to put all the politics behind you. With many sights to see, several entertainment and nightlife options and good weather, those visiting the city are often left spoilt for choice. We arrive in time for the San Francisco Pride, which takes place at the end of June. The city, known the world over for its liberal leanings, takes the two-day festival and parade that celebrates the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and their allies rather seriously. It sees the participation of hundreds of contingents from across the nation, while thousands line up to watch the proceedings. Preparations for the event can go on for weeks.
We are told to avoid taking the road into the city that weekend, and plan other activities in San Francisco’s outskirts instead. Short on time, and armed with a bucket list of things to do and see, we take the advice seriously, and start out.
Plan a trip to Alcatraz Island: Once home to the US’s notorious criminals, including Al “Scarface” Capone, and the “Birdman” Robert Stroud, Alcatraz is one of the world’s most famous prisons. Take a cruise to the island, which lies about 2km offshore from San Francisco, for a crash course in gangster history. It is best to book tickets in advance and visit the place on a weekday, if you wish to avoid wasting time in long queues.
Bike the Golden Gate Bridge: Rent a cycle at Fisherman’s Wharf, and set off on a ride that will take you up to one of the world’s most memorable landmarks – the Golden Gate Bridge. The ride ends at the city of Sausalito. The road is mostly flat, and there are great views along the route. It takes about 2 hours to cover the 13km stretch, and you can take a ferry back to Fisherman’s Wharf.
Hike to the crookedest street: San Francisco is known for its steep streets, but a stop at Lombard Street is a must on any itinerary. Those with cars can attempt to navigate their way down the sharp curves. Otherwise, take a walk to the top and take the stairs down – taking in the sights of what is often called “the crookedest street in the world”.
Spend an evening at the famous Pier 39.
Visit Pier 39: A great way to take in sounds and tastes of the city is to spend an evening at the famous Pier 39. One can watch boisterous sea lions at play at the K-Docks, try fresh seafood at the Fog Harbor Fish House or catch live performances by local artistes throughout the day.
Head to Chinatown: Thought to be the oldest in North America and the largest outside Asia, the San Francisco Chinatown attracts tourists by the hordes. Book a tour to learn more about its history, check out attractions that are unique to the place and visit one of its many famous restaurants.
Ride a cable car: A visit to the city is incomplete without a ride up the steep hills in its iconic cable cars. For incredible views of the bay, sit on the right side of cars leaving from downtown.
Indulge at Ghirardelli Square: The chocolate store and eatery is famous for its shakes and candy, attracting crowds from across the globe. Try one of their many chocolate sundaes that are on offer here. New flavours of chocolate by Ghiradelli also tend to be introduced at this store first.
Book a tour that takes you to Napa Valley.
Go to wine country: Book a tour that takes you to Napa Valley to spend time at some of the best wineries in the world. Learn how some of finest wine is made, indulge in tastings, food pairings and bring home souvenirs for friends and family.
Catch a baseball game: The Americans don’t understand the fuss around cricket in India. To try and understand baseball, plan a trip to the AT&T Park to catch a game featuring the San Francisco Giants.
Walk in the Muir Woods: About 19km north of San Francisco is the Muir Woods National Monument. The ages of the redwoods here range from 400 to 800 years. Their heights go up to 250 feet. One can also find red alders, California big leaf maples, tanoaks and Douglas fir in these woods. Walk on the many trails and be awed by the beauty around.
Keep in mind
Downtown hotels tend to be expensive. Try staying closer to the airport, which is well connected to the main city by train. Hotels are cheaper here and also provide free pick-ups and drops to the airport.
There are plenty of things to see and do in and around San Francisco. Prioritise what you want to see and plan your itinerary accordingly.
Several local tour operators work out of the Bay area. They offer full-day and half-day tours. If you are short on time, opt for half-day trips that let you mix two different activities in a single day.
San Francisco is known for its seafood. Do make it a point to try the local clam chowders.
Cabs tend to be expensive. Opt for Uber to commute short distances.