San Francisco can prove to be a compelling lure when it comes to attracting record-breaking attendances. The same attributes that propel the city to the top of travel polls year after year make it equally appealing to convention attendees: first-class hotels, top-rated facilities at Moscone Center, a compact and walkable downtown, superb restaurants, famous landmarks, world-class arts and cultural attractions, scenic topography, a mild climate and cosmopolitan flair.
That’s the big picture.
But you need to take a closer look to really experience San Francisco. Here are a few reasons to come early or stay later.
1. The Golden Gate Bridge, the most famous bridge in the world, manages to impress even the most experienced travelers with its stunning 1.7-mile span. Approximately 120,000 automobiles drive across it every day. A pedestrian walkway also allows the crossing on foot, and bikes are allowed on the western side. The Golden Gate Bridge is said to be one of the most photographed things on Earth.
2. Cable cars have been transporting people around San Francisco since the late 19th century. The cars run on tracks and are moved by an underground cable on three routes. Their familiar bells can be heard ringing from blocks away. Tickets ($6) may be purchased at the cable car turnarounds at the ends of each route. Each one-way ride will provide spectacular views of the city’s celebrated hills as well as exhilarating transportation.
3. Alcatraz, the notorious former prison, is located on an island of the same name in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Some of the United States’ most notorious criminals were incarcerated there. Though several tried, no inmate ever made a successful escape from “The Rock.” The prison was closed in the 1960’s and stories about Alcatraz are legendary. A visit to Alcatraz today is fascinating. Recorded cell-house tours are available, allowing visitors to learn about the prison as they explore the buildings and grounds. To reach the island, take an Alcatraz Cruises ferry from Pier 43. Advance reservations are recommended, 415-981-ROCK (7625). www.alcatrazcruises.com
4. Fisherman’s Wharf is also home to PIER 39, a festive waterfront marketplace that is one of the city’s most popular attractions. A community of California sea lions has taken up residence on the floats to the west of the pier and visitors line the nearby railing to watch their antics. From there it’s a short walk to Madame Tussauds San Francisco, Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, and the famous crab vendors selling walk-away crab and shrimp cocktails.
5. Union Square is the place for serious shoppers. Major departments stores and the most exclusive designer boutiques line streets like Post, Sutter, Geary, Grant, Stockton and Powell. The Westfield San Francisco Shopping Centre houses the largest Bloomingdale's outside of New York and the second largest Nordstrom in the U.S.
6. North Beach, the city’s Italian quarter, isn’t a beach at all. It’s a neighborhood of romantic European-style sidewalk cafes, restaurants and shops centered near Washington Square along Columbus and Grant avenues. The beautiful Church of Saints Peter and Paul is a beloved landmark. Coit Tower atop Telegraph Hill offers a splendid vantage point for photos of the bridges and the Bay. Inside the tower, floor-to-ceiling murals painted in the 1930s depict scenes of early San Francisco.
7. The entrance to Chinatown at Grant Avenue and Bush Street is called the "Dragon's Gate." Inside are 24 blocks of hustle and bustle, most of it taking place along Grant Avenue, the oldest street in San Francisco. This city within a city is best explored on foot; exotic shops, renowned restaurants, food markets, temples and small museums comprise its boundaries. Visitors can buy ancient potions from herb shops, relax and enjoy a "dim sum" lunch or witness the making of fortune cookies.
8. Dining in San Francisco is an attraction in itself. Known as America’s best restaurant city, San Francisco chefs excel at combining the freshest local ingredients, authentic international flavors and a touch of creative genius. Choose your cuisine – Chinese, Japanese, French, Italian, Spanish, Moroccan, Indian, Malaysian, Mexican, Greek, Russian or “fusion,” a combination of any or all of these influences. Visit our dining section for a list of San Francisco's hottest restaurants, a calendar listing of food-related news and events, and a weekly insider's blog by Marcia "The Tablehopper" Gagliardi.
9. Nightlife in San Francisco is a constantly changing scene. The “hottest” clubs currently are in the South of Market and Mission districts, with live and recorded rock and Latin music. Jazz, blues, swing and “oldies” music can be found all over town. For a complete list of nightlife options, visit our Nightlife section.
10. A visit to San Francisco would not be complete without a cultural experience. The city is home to internationally recognized symphony, opera and ballet companies. Playwrights such as Sam Shepherd and Tom Stoppard introduce their works in San Francisco and avant-garde theatre and dance companies dot the city. The Asian Art Museum, de Young Museum, the Legion of Honor and other museums and galleries are devoted to the finest of classical and contemporary arts. San Francisco is also home to the Exploratorium and the California Academy of Sciences - the only place on the planet with an aquarium, a planetarium, a natural history museum, and a 4-story rainforest all under one roof. For a complete museum guide, visit our Arts & Culture section.
11. Neighborhoods from Dogpatch to the Inner Sunset and Outer Richmond are easily accessed by public transit or a short cab ride. They lend an intimacy to a San Francisco visit that is rare in most metropolitan areas. There are valleys as in Noe Valley Hayes Valley, and heights as in Pacific Heights. A gulch as in Polk Gulch and “cities within the city” such as Japantown, the oldest in the U.S. and Little Saigon, just north of the Civic Center.
12. San Francisco is the perfect hub for one-day excursions throughout the Bay Area whether it’s a jaunt to the wine country or a leisurely drive along the coast to Santa Cruz or Monterey. Just 45 miles from San Francisco Sonoma County offers more than 400 wineries, miles of rugged Pacific coastline and towering redwood forests. Sonoma County was named one of Wine Enthusiast’s 10 Best Wine Travel Destinations for 2014. Or head for a hiking trail, float down the Russian River or opt for a hot air balloon ride for a dash of adventure. To the south experience one of the top road trips in the U.S. on the drive to Santa Cruz, a beachcomber’s paradise, or Monterey , home of famous golf courses, Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.