No longer just renowned for its lack of inhibition and strident gay community, San Francisco has a surprising lot to offer the vacationer. Sitting on the Pacific Ocean, it has cool summers, steep hills, fog, cable cars and world-famous landmarks, such as the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz.
Where to take the kids
San Francisco is a great place to take the family on vacation, with many attractions to entertain both kids and adults alike. The San Francisco Zoo on Sloat Boulevard has the smallest insects and some of the largest mammals within its walls; also a delightful miniature steam train called Little Puffer that the kids will love. At the Aquarium of the Bay, visitors can walk along transparent tunnels beneath the simulated ocean, with over twenty thousand different aquatic animals, including octopus and sevengill sharks, swimming around them. In the Touch the Bay exhibit, you can even touch some of the creatures. For a different type of water fun, there is the Aquatic Park with several swimming pools, water slides and a rock-climbing wall.
The Chabot Space and Science Center on Skyline Boulevard, Oakland Hills, is a museum that will interest the whole family. Here, there is an interactive space museum, planetarium shows and science exhibitions. Kids can get their photo taken in a replica of the Gemini Transport Capsule, look through powerful telescopes and get to ask a real-life astronaut questions about space travel.
The must-see sights
San Francisco has a significant maritime history and a wealth of information and fun is to be found at the Fisherman’s Wharf, one of the busiest tourist attractions in this part of the United States. Here there is a shopping center, a Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum, a Wax Museum and the Maritime National Park. At Fisherman’s Wharf, kids can take the helm on board a nineteenth century sailing ship, sing along to a sea shanty and sign up to become a Junior Ranger. A walk along Hyde Street Pier will reveal more historic ships and provide an opportunity for picnics on the beach. The end of the pier offers incredible views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay.
For those wanting to get back to nature, the Muir Woods National Monument is a 240-acre forest of redwood trees. This park is for pedestrians only, with hiking trails of varying difficulty. Stinson Beach, a 30-minute drive from San Francisco, is the cleanest and sandiest beach in the area, but has a reputation for sharks, so bathers beware! Plenty of good restaurants, especially those serving local fish produce, surround the beach.
Where to stay
In keeping with its bohemian reputation, San Francisco favors small, independent, boutique-type hotels rather than the big name chains, although these can still be found in the area. San Francisco hotels range from three star small hotels in the quieter areas of the city – with plenty of character and dating from the 1950s – to modern five star major corporate players downtown with stunning views from the rooms and a host of amenities, including gyms and swimming pools.