The Swedish American Hall is a venue above the Cafe Du Nord on Market Street. Built in 1907, the grand ballroom was a speakeasy during Prohibition and still has its old decor. Fold-down seats make it feel a little like school assembly, but the hall has great acoustics and provides good sized folk and rock concerts at a reasonable price.
This is where the engines that drive the cables for the cable cars are located. For geeky kids (and parents), see pre-computer, mechanical stuff.
The Bay Area has numerous beautiful panoramas to appeal to even the most cynical visitor, but Indian Rock in Albany, next to Berkeley, offers perhaps the most spectacular views of the Bay - in fact, the views are up there with the best in the world. Its location in the middle of leafy suburbia, far away from any other major tourist draws does make it something of an effort to get to. But it also means that, a few locals aside, you'll have the place pretty much to yourself a lot of the time. And believe me, it is worth the effort. Directly opposite the Golden Gate Bridge, the view from Indian Rock encompasses almost the entire Bay Area. The shimmering skyscrapers of downtown San Francisco, the gridiron of the East Bay (mesmerisingly illuminated at night), the waters of the Bay, the far-off glistening Pacific, the coastal mountains including the forest-clad hills of Marin County. A world-beating feast for the eyes that you can hardly believe. Come and witness the spectacular sunsets and have your breath taken away. The memories will last a lifetime.
A couple of miles north of downtown Berkeley, a car is the best way to get there, as it's more than half an hour's walk from North Berkeley or El Cerrito bart station. Indian Rock Park, 950 Indian Rock Ave, Albany, CA.
The Red Victoria is a lovely hotel in the Haight (pronounced Hate) district of San Francisco - think Camden with more hippies and less pirates.
It is run by a septegenarian artist called Sami Sunchild who designed each room separately and occasionally joins guests for breakfast and discussion in the Peace Cafe. You can choose from Peacock, Butterfly, Sunshine and even Japanese tea garden rooms, but I found waking up in the Skylight room particularly relaxing.
Local curios include the Red Vic movie house where I squeezed in with the other punters on to old sofas and benches whilst eating popcorn 'n' yeast and watching The Big Lebowski.
Golden Gate Park is two blocks away, and the Castro district is a steep 20 minute walk (via Twin Peaks), or a 5 minute bus ride which connects with trams into the centre of town.
I was assured by a man whose eyes seemed to work independently that the burrito shop on the corner was the best in the area, and after only being there for a couple of days I met a gay man and a lesbian who had fallen in love. Only in San Francisco...
It's a bright red building on Haight and Ashbury, if you're on the street it's hard to miss.
Red Victorian Bed, Breakfast & Art
1665 Haight Street San Francisco,
Phone: (415) 864-1978
Fax: (415) 863-3293
The world's last surviving cable car powerhouse and carbarn (1887) houses a free cable car museum.
In addition to historic cable cars (including an original 1873 cable car), displays, informational video and souvenirs, you can watch and hear the motors and sheave wheels moving the cables underneath the three remaining cable car lines of one of America's few moving National Historic Landmarks (1964).
1201 Mason St (at Washington St), Nob Hill, San Francisco;
tel: (415) 474 1887
To get there ride Powell-Mason and Powell-Hyde cable cars to Washington and Mason car stop;
OK, it's tacky and touristy, but it's fab. Hang on to the side while you race down toward the Bay, or better still, late at night shooting down California Street. Better than a fairground ride.
There are cable car turnarounds at the bottom of California Street and at the bottom of Powell Street;
City Lights Books, in North Beach, is sacred ground for fans of the beat movement. Still run by the octogenarian poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, it retains something of the bohemian charm of its heyday. When you've finished browsing its impressive array of titles why not head next door to Vesuvios - Jack Kerouac's watering hole of choice - for the authentic beat experience?
261 Columbus Avenue;
tel: (415) 362 8193; fax: (415) 362 4921;
Open daily, 10am - midnight.
I'm almost reluctant to share this one in case it gets too popular - but the seafood here is out of this world. Tadich is a San Francisco institution. Reputedly the oldest restaurant in the city. Check opening hours as it's in the financial district so may close earlier than expected.
240 California St, near the Embarcadero Center, between Front and Beale Streets;
tel: (415) 391 1849
The bar on top of the Mark Hopkins Hotel is a famous and historic bar. It has a fantastic view of the city and a relaxed atmosphere. Here you can have a drink at "weepers corner" where the wives/girlfriends of the sailors in WW2 watched their loved ones sail off to war, many to never return again. Truly mesmerising views.
1 Nob Hill (999 California Street) - you cant miss it, it is visible from all of San Francisco;
tel: (415) 616 6916;
This was the largest public swimming pool and was ruined in the 60s. The ruins remain just at the entrance to the park. I went on a windswept day and was amazing.
Also, there is the Cliff House right beside it with shop, cafe and bar - amazing. I went after going to the Legion of Honour art museum. Very compact but sweet, and the best baristas - very friendly, in an incredible location
1090 Point Lobos Avenue, near Lincoln Park;
tel: (415) 386 3330;
If you and your kids like walking and don't mind a bit of a climb the Saturn Steps will take you up from the Castro to the Randall Museum and Corona Heights Park with rocky outcrops and breathtaking views. Surprisingly underused. Walk back via the Vulcan Steps into the Haight Ashbury
The Randall Museum: 199 Museum Way, San Francisco, CA 94114;
tel: (415) 554 9600;
Classic beat hangout just across Jack Kerouac Alley from City Lights Bookstore. Good beer on tap; fascinating decor; try to get an upstairs table.
255 Columbus Avenue; tel: (415) 362 3370;
Open: 6am-2am every day of the week;
You are taken around all the important historic sites in San Francisco's gay area. The $45 fee includes lunch. Last time I was there, our group was introduced to Armistead Maupin on a street corner! Unfortunately, Trevor Hailey has retired as of August 15, 2005 and she was the epitome of Southern Charm.
This is a great place if you want something a little different from the norm. They have done a great job restoring it and the prices won't break the bank. Very old fashioned with lots of plants everywhere! We stopped here for about 6 nights and although it was a little tricksy with a baby, we preferred it to the more upmarket boring places that were available for a dime a dozen. It's nice to experience a bit of history and then sleep in it!
Get the bus out along Geary Blvd to The Cliff House - which is reputably fantastic if you are not on a budget ;-) we ate at the diner just up the hill for a tenth of the price. But the views from the Cliff House over Ocean Beach on the Pacific are pretty special. Then head down to the old Sutro Baths to check out where the San Franners used to come for their r n' r.
A classic Greek portal opened to a massive glass enclosure containing seven swimming pools of various temperatures. There were slides, trapezes, springboards and a high dive. Together the pools held 1.7 million gallons of water and could be filled in one hour by high tides. There were 20,000 bathing suits and 40,000 towels for rent.
Balmy temperatures and abundant plants enhanced "California’s Tropical Winter Garden." The Baths could accommodate 10,000 people at one time. Now all that remains are the ruins.
From here you can head through the little tunnel down by the baths and up the hill to the trail which leads along the coast all the way around to Chinia Beach via an increasingly impressive panorama of the GG.
Surfers take on the Pacific swells just below you at the base of the cliffs. You re-enter civilisation at China Beach and could probably walk up to the Palace of the Legion of Honor about half way around if you had time.
Walk through China Beach past the millionaires row of ab fab homes and if you still feel spritely, you can continue along the coast path to the GG or if not, grab a bus on Lincoln Blvd into the city - a lovely untouristy gem of a walk that is pretty easy to reach via public transport and not too strenuous (I did it with a 1yr old on my back!)
Take the ferry across the bay (passing Alcatraz on the way!) to the pleasant town of Sausalito, which, with its restaurants, antique shops and galleries, seems to be the place where San Francisco's artists end up when they find the city too hectic. Then if you can, hike past the bridge to the Marin Headlands on the Pacific - it's great for walking or dirt-biking, and has a nature reserve and a small museum dedicated to the Portuguese fishing community that used to live there, and even an abandoned nuclear missile silo!
Alcatraz is definitely worth a visit. From the ferry trip to the atmospheric walk round the prison buildings, it’s a great experience not to be missed. The audio tour, narrated by ex convicts and guards, is excellent.
Unless you book in advance, during peak tourist periods tickets are often unavailable from the booths. If you turn up 'on spec', wait for the tour buses to arrive, hang around until the guide has all the guests off the bus and approach her/him directly for any spare tickets they have for the day. Usually they have spares at face value or even less which are usuually for the next ferry leaving.
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