San Francisco is no doubt one of the ‘coolest’ cities in North America. And by that we mean trendy, free-spirited and uber- individualistic. This arty, cosmopolitan metropolis combines quaint charm with natural, coastal beauty providing a great backdrop of contrasts to explore.

The city itself is compact enough to explore on foot, by trolley bus or on the famous cable cars (trams). There’s so much to see and do here, it would be hard not to find something for everyone, so here's our guide to stopping over in San Francisco...

Packed with history, art galleries and museums, high street shopping to vintage boutiques and an exciting nightlife, this is a city not to be missed. Come equipped with a hearty appetite, as the city boasts an array of gastronomic delights for every taste bud.

With a stable ‘cool to mild’ climate throughout the year, the infamous fog in summer can provide an incredible backdrop for avid photographers and in winter pack an umbrella as rain is likely. And make sure you stop to talk to some of the locals, whether it be your bus driver or even the hotel receptionist – everyone seems to have a great story or two to tell!

Painless airport transfer and travel around the city

San Francisco Airport is a short drive from downtown, approximately 14 miles (23km) south, making getting into and out of the city easy and accessible. The BART Rapid Rail service connects the airport to the city centre, as well as buses, taxi cabs and shared shuttle vans which offer a reliable door to-door service. Buses, trams and cable cars make getting to any attraction in the city easy and San Francisco is a great city to just get up and walk around.

Where to stay

There's no shortage of great places to stay in San Francisco. Hostels and B&Bs are best to keep your rates cheap but be careful of anything in the ‘theatre district’ or that borders Tenderloin, SoMa and the Mission. These areas are not particularly safe and could leave you feeling uncomfortable with your surroundings.

There are plenty of generic 4 star options that will have great rates and can serve a purpose for being central and convenient. But we there are also plenty of gorgeous boutique options that are completely in keeping with the city's bohemian atmosphere. With such great connected transport options, you can choose to stay anywhere that takes your fancy; Fisherman’s Wharf or the Marina for the piers and seafood restaurants (Argonaut hotel is a great value boutique option here), or Union Square for the shopping and city buzz (Galleria Park Hotel or Hotel Diva are two of our favourites).

San Francisco’s different districts – our favourite picks

Union Square is the central plaza surrounded by all the major department stores and shopping meccas like Macy’s, Saks, Bloomingdales and Levis. Iconic hotels and historical buildings line the surrounding streets and walking and bus tours depart from here. Make sure you leave some room in your luggage if you like to shop!

China Town is the oldest in the United States and the largest Chinatown outside China  - it actually draws more tourists than the Golden Gate Bridge! There are a handful of historical museums and fantastic restaurants as well as streets lined with stalls, eateries and temples.

Haight Ashbury is famous for the 1960s hippy flower-power counter culture. Vintage, tie-dye and classic ‘Boho’ boutique shops make this a colourful and unique area to explore. Head here if you want to pick up some rose tinted glasses!

Golden Gate Bridge is the most photographed bridge in the world and iconic symbol of San Francisco. No trip would be complete without a walk over this great engineering accomplishment - why not take the Golden Gate ferry for some fantastic photo opportunities!

Fisherman’s Wharf is the gateway for trips to Alcatraz and the Bay cruises. Numerous museums, restaurants, shops and fast food stands provide plenty of attractions on the quay. Head to Pier 39 for the colony of sea lions and Pier 45 for Musee Mecanique which is a fun house of vintage coin operated mechanical wonders.

What to see and do

Grab a map and explore on foot! Or hire a Segway or bike and zip around the main city sites. Take a tram and watch the world go by. This city has an abundance on offer; from art to architecture, culture and history, politics and poetry; fashion and food.

Go San Francisco card provides a range of discounts and preferential access to attractions. There are 1-7 day options available.

A Hop on Hop Off Bus Pass has 1 or 2 day options which can include Alcatraz, Golden Gate or the Aquarium. This is a great way to get around with a 14-stop loop of all the major attractions and locations.

San Francisco CityPass allows 6 entries to key attractions and unlimited passage on all trams, trains and cable cars for 9 days once validated. This is a great option for longer stays.

The San Francisco City Map branded by Baycityguide.com shows all the major transport routes with relevant numbers and is free. A great help for planning and navigating your sightseeing.

Where to eat

No doubt about it, San Francisco is spoilt for choice when it comes to cuisine. Known for more eateries per capita than New York, there is a mouth-watering variety on offer to experience here. Local, organic and fresh ingredients pervade most menus in a fusion of east to west, with no one distinct preference dominating.

We've teamed up with our well-traversed consultants, to find out their top tips for where to eat in the city.

Italian - head over to North Beach to find some of the best dining in the city.

Asian - without a doubt, Chinatown is the place to be. You's Dim Sum, Good Mong Kok Bakery, or Yank Sing are some of the best in the city.

Mexican and Latino - The Mission district is home to tequila, burritos and tex mex with a twist.

Seafood  - head to Fisherman's Wharf for a great catch with great views. Pier 39 for clam chowder in a sourdough bowl or Gary Danko's for a more intimate affair.

Beatniks and Film Buffs - make sure you hang out in the Castro district – the epicentre of quirk and culture. Try out Mr Kerouac's Bar and Mr Coppola's restaurant and find a place that does bottomless mimosas (bucks fizz) for a memorable night out.

Exploring further afield

On San Francisco’s door step, you'll find Yosemite, The Redwood National and State Park and Muir Woods. Home to the world famous redwood trees, these parks offers hiking trails, horseback riding, camping, mountain biking and wildlife for outdoor enthusiasts. A variety of tours are available from San Francisco to get out of the city and into the wilderness.

The nearby Napa and Sonoma Valleys are at the heart of the Californian wine country, offering tours, biking and hot air ballooning. A haven for foodies and connoisseurs with a range of vineyards and wineries on offer, as well as restaurants and shopping in the nearby quaint townships, it's worth spending a few days there.

San Francisco's Pacific coast and the adjoining, picturesque Farallon Islands are known for their rich and diverse marine life and annual migration patterns for whales. Whale watching and Wildlife Tours are available from San Francisco to get out of the city and into this unique marine eco-system.

Contact Chris to get more information on a San Francisco trip.

Interested? How to include San Francisco as a stopover

San Francisco is the perfect stop on any Round the World trip no matter what time of year you leave. We can build any itinerary to suit you perfectly so why stop with just San Francisco?!

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