If there is one time to avoid the city on the Bay it is the summer. Not only are attractions swamped by vacationing American families, the weather can be plagued by wind and fog. As Mark Twain so infamously acclaimed, the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco. Instead opt for the shoulder seasons of April to May or September to November when conditions are fine, skies are (for the most part) clear and crowds are few. Or, for the really low season, try January to March. Temperatures are cooler and there is a good chance of rainfall, but you’ll have many sites to yourself, prices will be the lowest you’ll find all year, and when the sun does come out, the views are simply glorious.
You might be forgiven for thinking this is one city with a personality crisis. Each neighbourhood is so utterly distinct from the last that you can practically enjoy a different holiday each day. Fisherman’s Wharf is a great place to start. See (and hear) the sealions at Pier 39 and stop by the Ferry Building, not only an architectural wonder, but a fabulous place to buy local artisanal delicacies. Take a boat out to Alcatraz, the legendary ‘Rock’, which once held notorious criminals such as Al Capone. Head to North Beach, SF’s Little Italy, home to Joe DiMaggio and the Beat Generation of the 1950s. Here you can visit Telegraph Hill and climb the 64 metre Coit Tower, emblem of the city’s skyline since 1933. Visit the thriving brewery scene in SoMa, south of Market Street, and check out Castro, the famously gay district with its rainbow crosswalk and iconic camera shop of gay rights’ campaigner Harvey Milk. Don’t miss bustling Union Square, the cultural Civic Centre of the green oasis of Golden Gate Park which houses the California Academy of Sciences, the de Young Fine Arts Museum, and the Japanese Tea Garden where cherry blossoms bloom each spring.
Conveniently stuffed into its own seven mile wide peninsula, San Francisco enjoys a compact layout that is really easy to get around without a car, and there are lots of different ways to do just that. One of the best ways is to walk or hire a bicycle. Not only will you see loads while getting your bearings, you’ll work off all those extra large portions of cioppino and fish tacos while you’re at it. The only drawback is the hills. Towering, terrifying and downright very steep hills. Maybe consider then, the public transport options. Buses and trams under the Muni system are very regular and travel across the Bay area. Likewise the BART subway is popular and very efficient. You can pay for an individual ticket when you hop on or obtain a Clipper Card which work out cheaper per ride. Then of course there are the iconic cable cars. Pricy but lots of fun, it just has to be done! It’s the world’s last manually operated cable car system, running since 1873 after being saved from extinction by campaigners and aren’t we glad it was!