If you’re going to San Francisco...

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iol travel june 25 sanfrancisco

REUTERS

BAY VIEW: A cable car climbs Powell Street as it approaches California Street in San Francisco. In the background is the famed bay.

With its striking cityscapes and an eclectic offering of food, arts and culture, San Francisco captivates travellers and residents alike.

Start your visit with a meal at one of the city’s hot dinner spots, Zuni Cafe, a glass-enclosed space overlooking Market Street that offers Mediterranean-inspired dishes that change daily. Sample fresh local oysters at the downstairs bar or grab a table upstairs and try the signature roast chicken with bread salad.

See what’s playing at the American Conservatory Theater, which puts on a mix of classical and new productions. After a show,head to the Prohibition-era inspired speakeasy Bourbon and Branch. Make an online reservation at www.bourbonandbranch.com to receive a password you’ll need to walk through a nondescript door on 501 Jones Street.

Relax at a cozy booth and be transported to the 1920s. The mixologists will answer questions or create new cocktails to suit your taste. For a more local experience, try the former Beat bar Vesuvio Cafe in North Beach, or wander up Columbus Avenue and take a right on Stockton Street to Tony Niks, a hip, friendly neighbourhood bar.

Visit the historic Ferry Building at the foot of Market Street and stroll through dozens of shops and restaurants that sell everything from fresh local fish to artisan cheeses to just-baked breads. Try a breakfast sandwich from Sidekick, the take-out café run by the Cowgirl Creamery, or pick up some chocolate from Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker.

Grab a coffee, some pastries and enjoy breakfast outside while watching the ferries dock. On Saturdays, the plaza teems with local farmers who set up stalls at a thrice-weekly market to sell fresh California fruit, vegetables, jams, breads, cheeses and other locally produced foods.

iol travel june 25 sanfrancisco2

GREAT ESCAPE: One of many brightly coloured street cars moves past the Ferry Building in San Francisco.

REUTERS

Jump on a street car or take a leisurely walk up the Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf. Head to Pier 33 near Bay Street and catch a ferry to Alcatraz, the rock island and former maximum security prison in the middle of San Francisco Bay.

Its former inmates included Al Capone and Robert Stroud, better known as the “Birdman of Alcatraz”. Visitors can roam around the island, including cells, the cafeteria and gardens once tended by prisoners. Nesting seabirds of Alcatraz are also an island attraction. If you’re a bird lover, spend some time spotting cormorants, egrets, herons and pigeon guillemots.

Head to the city centre by way of North Beach. Jack Kerouac and the Beat poets called the cafes and bars of the neighbourhood home and many of their favourite haunts still exist. For lunch, try Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Bar overlooking Washington Square Park for its famous meatball sandwich slathered on locally made focaccia bread. Head up Grant Street to check out the boutiques then walk back to Columbus Avenue for a snack at Stella Pastry.

Turn the corner to Cafe Trieste for coffee the locals swear by. Make a last stop at Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s legendary City Lights bookshop to find radical political titles not available at mainstream shops. Climb the stairs to Coit Tower for views of the bay and Lombard Street, known as the most crooked street in the US.

Skip the Powell Street cable car for the less crowded California Street car. Clamber off at the top of Nob Hill and head to the Mark Hopkins Hotel for traditional afternoon tea. Ride the elevator to the famous Top of the Mark bar on the 19th floor for stunning 360º views of the city.

After dinner, follow the crowds to the corner of 17th and Valencia and choose from dozens of bars for a drink. Blondies is a popular meeting spot. For some music, head to the bar Amnesia.

In the morning walk to the end of Haight Street into Golden Gate Park. Built in the 1870s, the park stretches to the Pacific Ocean. Visit the Conservatory of Flowers, the oldest glass-and-wood Victorian greenhouse in the western hemisphere and home to more than 10 000 plants. – Reuters

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