Rush for the golden city
Gita Conn says the best way for first-time visitors to see San Francisco is just to take the tourist trail
FIRST-TIME VISITORS TO San Francisco, heads bursting with images from books films countless TV series and the lyrics from so many songs, may not know quite wher e t o b e g i n exploring this most iconic of American cities. The solution is to swallow your pride and do the proper tourist stuff. To catch the breadth and beauty of this peninsula city, sit on the open top deck of a City Tour bus ($20 for a two-day hop-on, hop-off ticket) as it glides over the Golden Gate Bridge.
Sophisticates may recoil from a recommendation to stay in Fisherman’s Wharf. But, cosseted in the friendliness of a cosy inn, the Wharf has undeniable attractions and is an excellent base for touring the city.
San Francisco excels at transforming its various historic sites into tourist attractions, few more bizarrely than Alcatraz, the federal maximum security prison from 1934 until 1963. Reached via a boat trip across the Bay, one of this must-see attraction’s spookiest aspect is in the clearly audible sounds of life being lived in the city so near yet so remote for its hapless inmates.
Back on the mainland, the Ferry Building — just a few stops on a bus or on one of the city’s trams from the Wharf — is another historic example of rehabilitation.
Opened in 1898, it was the transportation hub for trains from the East, for ferries from the eastern suburbs. Today it has a marketplace, located along the Embarcadero at the foot of Market Street which is bursting with shops, cafes, deli’s, specialist shops and book shops.
Union Square, the imposing heart of the city, is the place for the up-market shopper uninterested in the knockdown prices of Wharf vendors. All the department and designer stores (Vuitton, Gucci, Armani, Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs; Saks, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom) are in the square or in the streets surrounding it while Chinatown is just a few blocks north-west for cheap souvenirs and knock-offs.
While in Union Square, visit the theatre booth where you can buy half-price tickets for the day’s performances. We picked up tickets for a great revue at the Eureka Theatre for just $32.50.
Exiting the theatre, we were accosted by a large lady asking if we would cab-share. Breathlessly, she explained that she had been a judge in the Ma-
San Francisco’s most iconic sight, the city’s Golden Gate Bridge