San Francisco is a city full of contradictions, and that’s what makes it such an interesting travel destination.
Catch a flight to San Francisco and immerse yourself in the type of town where you can choose between a bargain burrito at a hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint off Market Street and an exquisite tasting menu on Spear Street (both of which are guaranteed to be tasty). This is a place where the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge is bathed in sunshine one moment, and shrouded in fog the next.
Whatever the weather, the architecture in San Francisco is always impressive. As well as its iconic bridge, there’s also Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill. It was built in the 1930s in the legacy of Lillie Hitchcock Coit, who left a $125,000 bequest to the metropolis “for the purpose of adding beauty to the city which I have always loved”.
It’s a beautiful place, yes, and eclectic too. San Francisco is a community where hipsters live in in the Tenderloin ("TL" to the locals) next to the offices of multi-billion dollar companies like Twitter and Uber. AirBnB, the service that lets people rent out their apartments, started here, and continues to thrive. In fact, staying in a resident's cool loft apartment while they’re out of town can be even cheaper than a hotel, and makes you feel like a true local.
Given San Francisco’s size – less than a million people cram into the 11km by 11km area – it has historically played a huge role in the culture of the US. As a result, many of the things to do in San Francisco have a historical element to them as well as a modern function.
Decades ago, the city was at the heart of the 1960s hippie movement that culminated in 1967’s Summer of Love. It even inspired Scott Mckenzie's iconic song San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair). If you have any interest in that era, then San Francisco’s famous Haight-Ashbury is an awesome place to visit.
Back in the day, this neighbourhood was the haunt of icons such as Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. Record shopping at Amoeba Music in this neighbourhood and browsing the books at City Lights offer a glimpse into the past as well as a chance to score a very cool souvenir.
When it comes to food, there's a rumour that if everyone who lived in San Francisco went out to eat at the same time, they could all find a seat at a restaurant. While the truth of that urban legend is debatable, the reality of the city as one of the best foodie destinations in the United States is not. Nowhere presents the vast range of options – from cheap, good Mexican food to expensive new American classics – in such a small space.
San Francisco's proximity to farms means exceptionally fresh produce that every restaurant uses, making even the least expensive options healthy and wholesome. The best restaurants in San Francisco all look forward, from the ground-breaking Nopa to Range, where the food's so fresh you'll feel like it might have walked off, well, the range.
Today, the Summer of Love may be over, but that positive, creative vibe remains strong in the City by the Bay.