The California city of San Francisco is a favourite port of call for many cruises. Here are some top tips for making the most of this wonderful location

Like the song says, you’ll leave your heart in San Francisco. It may be one of America’s most famous cities, but it has the feel of a friendly town with characterful neighbourhoods that lend themselves to being explored on foot. It’s a good city for walking and the steep gravity-defying hills are guaranteed to keep you fit, but if they prove too much, hitch a ride on the famous cable cars that trundle through the streets.

San Francisco is known as the City by the Bay and on a clear day, the views to the famous Golden Gate Bridge are simply breathtaking.

WHAT TO DO

After the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, which celebrated its 75th anniversary in May 2012, marked in the nearby visitors centre, the most popular attraction has to be Alcatraz. This infamous penal colony was, until 1963, used to house some of America’s most notorious criminals including gangster Al Capone.

There are various city tours, and it’s very easy to get around by trolley. But the most unusual way to travel is the 90-minute Fire Engine tour in a 1950s open-top fire engine. Trundling through the streets with the bell clanging away is a novel experience, especially when charging across the Golden Gate Bridge to the pretty waterside town of Sausalito.

Alternatively, travellers can hire bikes to explore the city’s sights and cycle across the Golden Gate to the artist’s town of Sausalito or take a boat trip around the bay.

San Francisco is also famous for its museums, including the California Academy of Sciences and the Museum of Modern Art, but if you want a true taste of the city there are walking tours that showcase the cuisine of its distinct neighbourhoods. The hippies are long-gone from Haight-Ashbury but it’s still worth exploring.

WHERE TO SHOP

San Francisco is a veritable goldmine for shoppers who can choose from silks and oriental treats in Chinatown, up and coming interior designs in trendy Fillmore Street or funky gifts and clothing at boutiques around Mission Street. But the best-known shopping area is the city’s hub at Union Square, dominated by large stores such as Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue. A few blocks away is the opulent Westfield San Francisco Centre containing famous American names such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Victoria’s Secret and Kenneth Cole.

WHERE TO EAT
You’re really spoiled for choice, because the city has more than 5,300 restaurants. The lively hub of Fisherman’s Wharf is packed with places to drink and dine, many specialising in local seafood and some offering views across the bay. Try the French-accented Bistro Boudin (Jefferson Street), dating from 1849 and famous for its original sourdough bread; or the Italian-themed Castagnola’s Seafood and Chophouse (Jefferson Street) with its seafood and pasta dishes and lively vibe. For good views, the Carnelian Room is 52 floors up at the top of Bank of America (California Street) or the historic Cliff House on the outskirts of the city (Point Lobos). There’s no shortage of bars and clubs, either. Atmospheric Blackbird (Market Street) serves local beers, speciality cocktails and one-off local beers; or Vesuvio (Columbus Avenue) which dates from 1948 and is regarded as a San Francisco classic. Bix (Gold Street) has been voted one of America’s best bars, helped by the live jazz and retro décor that takes drinkers back to the Thirties era.

WHERE TO STAY
If you’re planning to stay a few days in San Francisco before, or as you finish, a cruise there’s a huge range of hotels, from big chain luxury hotels to Victorian guest-houses. Staying in one of the hotels clustered around Fisherman’s Wharf, including the Hyatt (North Point Street), puts you in reach of the area’s attractions and the cable car stops. The Comfort Inn by the Bay (Van Ness Avenue) offers a value option and is only a few blocks away, boasting great views across the city to the Golden Gate Bridge. Union Square, in the heart of the city’s downtown, is another area with numerous hotels, including large convention-style properties such as the Grand Hyatt (Stockton Street) and JW Marriott (Post Street).

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Images courtesy of visitcalifornia