The best things to see and do in one of the world’s most photogenic cities.
You’ve seen the movies, now visit the prison for yourself — it’s only a short ferry ride to Alcatraz, where Al Capone spent his stretch and 14 prisoners made failed attempts to escape to the San Francisco shore. Book your tour the moment you book your flights, though — ‘The Rock’ is the hottest tourist ticket in town, and passes sell out weeks in advance.
San Fran’s various parks are also well worth a visit — there’s Alamo Square (below) overlooking the famous ‘painted ladies’, the row of Instagrammable Victorian houses that appear in the ‘Full House’ opening credits; the vast Golden Gate Park, bigger than New York’s Central Park; and sun-drenched Dolores Park, abounding with frolicking dogs and picnicking hipsters.
There are plenty of ways to take in the Golden Gate Bridge but the most scenic way to tackle San Fran’s most iconic landmark is by bike — cycle over the the Marin Headlands side for vistas with the city in the background, or stick to Fort Point on the city side for those postcard views with the tumbling hills as a backdrop. Escape the tourist crowds by wandering the walking trails beneath the art deco span for a unique angle of the bridge, too.
There’s eating frogs legs in Paris, pizza in Rome, and chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco — touristy, sure, but compulsory. Head to Pier 39 for a steaming clam chowder served in a bread bowl, or take your pick from plenty of other fresh seafood, right next to the docks where a colony of sea lions have set up shop in their hundreds. Ride a cable car back — another essential San Fran experience, and the city’s favourite form of transportation until it gave birth to Uber in 2009 — back into the city if Asian food is more your style, and follow your nose through the enormous Chinatown.
The evening is a great chance to explore some of San Fran’s many diverse districts, home to the city’s vibrant nightlife. The rapidly gentrifying Mission District — once home to immigrant communities who are quickly being priced out of a property market that makes Sydney’s look affordable — boasts a string of great bars, notably local favourite Zeitgeist and its famous beer garden, or the Royal Cuckoo for a cocktail and live music. There’s also always a good time to be found in the hippie hub of Haight-Ashbury or the historic gay community of the Castro.