San Francisco is truly a city of contrasts – jellybean Victorian houses border historic Italian neighbourhoods dotted with charmingly authentic trattorias, sprawling green parks neighbour gritty districts full of fantastical murals, and one of the world's most infamous prisons lies moments away from a glittering nightlife scene. Pair this with bayside beaches and countless culinary delights, from a vast Chinatown to fine dining alongside exquisite Californian wines, and you're met with one of the USA's most exciting cities.
The emblematic Golden Gate Bridge is, of course, San Francisco's most illustrious architectural splendour, wonderfully explored with biking, bus tours and hiking. But just moments away are a whole host of other historic fascinations too, from the infamous Alcatraz Island, to which tours run regularly, to the Art Deco Coit Tower that affords panoramic views of the city. Then there's the vivid 'Painted Ladies' Victorian rowhouses around the corner from Haight-Ashbury's remarkable murals and eclectic eateries, the farmers market-lined Ferry Building, and Lombard Street, claimed to be the 'crookedest street in the world'. A walk through the compact city affords best exploration, and historic cable cars bring visitors through the city across buzzing Union Square, where tourists and locals alike bask in the sun – which, due to the city's bay position, is at its warmest in September and October – and high-end department stores swell with shoppers.
California is synonymous with the outdoors, and San Francisco doesn't disappoint. Its crowning glory is the Golden Gate Park, an unexpected haven of 1000 acres in the heart of the city, explored with segways, hikes, and pedalos on its many lakes. Head to Fisherman's Wharf where a bustle of fresh seafood eateries, historic boats, museums and sun-basking sealions are the backdrop for infamous Alcatraz prison that looms a mere mile away – be sure to book tours several months in advance. San Francisco is easily explored on foot, the 43 hills of near-impossible gradients offering superb views, and it's surrounded by coast and cityside beaches, whether you're looking for a cliffside stroll or sunbathing. The popular Ocean Beach and Mission Dolores Park offer a wonderful way to while away the hours on a summer's day.
This is California, home to some of the world's best cuisine, so it's not surprising that San Francisco delivers, too. Union Square and its surrounding areas cover any fine dining needs, while Chinatown's maze of alleys and laneways, one of the USA's oldest, comprise of tiny dim sum eateries juxtaposed with smart cocktail lounges. For classic American fare, Bob's Donut's queues reflect its delectable offerings, while a traditional clam chowder at Fisherman's Wharf showcases the wonderfully fresh seafood that this coast is known for.