Wednesday 14 March 2012

San Francisco’s blockbuster attractions

There is never a dull moment in the city by the bay which consistently draws visitors to its iconic sights, gastronomic delights and fabulous shopping ...

The Northern California city of San Francisco offers numerous places of interest and varied experiences such as its famed cable car and the former island prison of Alcatraz. Other places of interest in the area include San Jose and the Napa Valley wine region in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The Golden Gate Bridge is probably the most recognized landmark in San Francisco as it has been featured in many Hollywood films. A good place to start exploring is to take a bus there and walk the length of the bridge stretching from the north side of the city to Marin County.

The cable cars are movable landmarks and one of the most enchanting forms of transport that are well worth a ride. Alcatraz is the iconic prison complex on an island off the bay that looms large in the city’s consciousness and has made a significant impact on pop culture.

To get there, take a ferry ride from the pier to the island. You can wonder around the cells where notorious prisoners like Al Capone were incarcerated, the mess hall where inmates had their meals and the yard where prisoners could exercise. The audio guide is an excellent accompaniment to the walking tour and makes the visit all the more fascinating.

Just outside the city, visitors will find beautiful parks and nature reserves. The Muir Woods is a short 20 minutes away by car. Here you can walk among the giant redwood trees, which are considered the tallest in the world. These natural ‘skyscrapers’ reach as far to the sky as the eye can see.

Shopping enthusiasts will find the retail scene has something for every taste. Hit the downtown shopping areas for luxury goods and designer brands. Sacramento Street and Union Street are the places to go to if you prefer boutiques.

You can get the best bargains at discount shops like Nordstrom Rack, Marshall's and Ross. Post season stock and over runs can go for up to 70 per cent off the original prices. Make your way to Gilroy Premium Outlets where an assortment of brand names like Banana Republic and Coach are available at substantial discounts.

Some of the most enjoyable shopping can be done in the Chinatown area with items ranging from furniture and jewellery to porcelain. The Chinatown in San Francisco is the oldest in North America and is a non-stop hive of activity. Here you can find a range of herbal stops along the streets that dispense traditional Chinese medicine.

Weekends are the time to head for the farmer's markets, which are usually held in various towns such as Mountain View. The farmers' market at the Ferry Plaza building is the largest and opens on weekend mornings while the permanent stores in the building sell some of the best chocolate, cheese, olive oil and wine.

It is hard to avoid eating well in San Francisco. The diversity of cultures and the availability of fresh local produce combine to make San Francisco a place for great feasting. As a matter of fact, the Bay Area is regarded as home to some of the best restaurants in the United States.

These range from incredible Italian grub, authentic Japanese food and even exotic Afghan cuisine. For California style fare, feast on fresh crabs with a starter of clam chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl at the seafood restaurants along Fisherman's Wharf.

Practical Information:

Being a coastal city, the weather is pleasant throughout the year. Spring time in May or June is a good time as is the summer phase between July and August, which is a suitable time to visit most of the Bay Area. Autumn from September to November is when the weather is cool and the fall foliage is at its scenic best.

It is easy to get around on San Francisco's public transport with bus, trolley bus and railway systems that charge a flat fee for adults and concession fares for children and senior citizens. An alternative is the Bay Area Rapid Transit or Bart, which issues store valued cards that can be used to get around easily.

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