Poised on its Californian peninsula, San Francisco is an energetic enclave with a storied libertine history, undeniable entrepreneurial fervour and vibrant cultural patronage. It may be known for its thriving technology sector but look beyond the numbers and you’ll find a dynamic urban offering, complete with easygoing charm and dramatic natural beauty.

Need to know

Get to grips with the basics

  1. The city’s character: Many San Franciscans worry that the city’s diversity is being diluted but the hippie vibe of the Haight-Ashbury and the rainbow pride of The Castro are still alive and thriving.
  2. Mind your step: The US method of planning a city to a grid system doesn’t lend itself well to the relentless undulation of San Francisco’s 70-plus hills; bear this in mind when judging distances from A to B.
  3. June gloom: The fog rolls in during summer when hot air over the land rises and cold air from the Pacific rushes in. These theatrical scenes bring a drastic drop in temperature so carry a few extra layers at all times.
  4. Chips with everything: Silicon Valley encompasses a large portion of the southern Bay Area. Cities such as Palo Alto, San José, Mountain View and Cupertino host leading technology innovators, including Apple.
  5. Service charges: As in all big US cities, tipping is a given: expect 20 per cent on a restaurant bill. When ordering at a bar it’s standard to tip at least a dollar a drink.

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Hotels

Hospitality at its finest

  1. Inn at the Presidio, Presidio

    Presidential palace

    Located in the city’s vast national park, this hotel is particularly popular with outdoorsy types and the romantic-break crowd. But even if you’re on business it serves as a peaceful retreat.

  2. Hotel G, Union Square

    Youth of today

    Since opening in 2014 this Thai-owned stop-in has injected some fun into the hospitality scene. Each of its 153 rooms features tasteful details.

  3. The Battery, Financial District

    Join the club

    A stay here comes with full membership privileges, including access to the library. There’s also a tranquil spa and well-equipped gym.

Vocabulary

Local lingo

  1. Karl: The fog's nickname
  2. Hella: Used in place of “very” for emphasis
  3. Slaps: Great, catchy songs
  4. June gloom: The cold, foggy summers
  5. 415: Another name for the city, referencing its area code

Food and drink

Smart bites and top stops

  1. Outerlands, Outer Sunset

    Beach cultureembodied

    Outerlands is the epicentre of Outer Sunset’s new wave of cool beach culture. The brunch menu is luscious and attracts a large weekend crowd (reservations are encouraged) but dinner is when you’ll get a better sense of the locals: surfers, artists and families.

  2. Sightglass, Mission District

    Charming filter

    Sightglass’s second outpost has a neighbourly feel. The chic clientele make for great peoplewatching so cosy up on the tufted leather banquette with a signature filter coffee for a picturesque slice of the Mission life.

  3. Tosca Café, Financial District

    Modern classic

    The dishes and decor pay homage to the neighbourhood’s Italian-US roots. The lively bar is populated by foodies and businesspeople – perhaps because it’s one of the only spots in the city that serves dinner until 01.00.

  4. Cala, Civic Center

    Minimalist Mexican

    Chef Gabriela Cámara left Mexico City to open this elegant but unfussy affair and some of San Francisco’s leading food critics now claim that it’s the best Mexican restaurant in the country

  5. 20 Spot, Mission District

    Wine club

    After more than a decade running Bacchus, a tiny wine bar atop Russian Hill, Bodhi Freedom transformed a vacant shop from a dingy space into this chic wine bar.

Retail

Shop talk

  1. The Voyager Shop, Mission District

    Ethical and exciting

    Clothing shop Revolver in the Lower Haight was the launchpad for Marta Fernandez and Valerie Hirsch, who later went on to found The Voyager Shop. Here you’ll find everything from fashion to homeware.

  2. Unionmade, The Castro

    Stateside selection

    Just off Valencia Street in a pre-1906 house, Unionmade sees two large rooms filled with dapper menswear, accessories and grooming products. The clothes lean towards an all- American bent, with the Levi’s Vintage range and Unionmade’s own line of classic T-shirts.

  3. General Store, Outer Sunset

    California cool

    The popularity of this shop has singlehandedly enticed San Franciscans out of the city centre and west to the Outer Sunset, prompting the opening of a second location in Venice Beach in 2012. The round-up of homeware, stationery, accessories and clothing represents classic Californian cool.

  4. Heath Ceramics, Mission District

    All in one

    Besides a homeware collection, this site has a kitchen for demonstrations, work stations for custom orders, a newsstand and a coffee cart. Plus, the nearby Heath-run Boiler Room hosts pop-up shops, events and exhibitions.

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