L.A. - Sanat Monica
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San Francisco

Even people who hate the USA love San Francisco. It has an atmosphere of genteel chic mixed with offbeat innovation, and a self-effacing flutter-of-the-eyelids quality so blatantly missing from brassy New York and plastic LA. This is a place that breeds alternatives: it's the home of the Beat Generation, flower power, Critical Mass direct action bike rides and gay pride.
One of the USA's most attractive cities, San Francisco's hilly streets provide some gorgeous glimpses of the San Francisco Bay and its famous bridges. This is a mosaic of a city, a big picture made from the colorful tiles of bustling Chinatown, the gentrifying Mission, gay Castro, clubby SoMa, hippie Haight-Ashbury and faux-hemian North Beach.


Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco


San Francisco covers the tip of a 30mi (50km) peninsula in Northern California, with the Pacific Ocean on its western side and the San Francisco Bay to the north and east. San Francisco is just one of many cities in the Bay Area; others include Oakland (east across the Bay Bridge), Berkeley (just north of Oakland) and San Jose (an hour's drive southeast of San Francisco, near the southern tip of the bay). Marin County and the Wine Country lie to the north, across the Golden Gate Bridge.

The most touristed part of the city resembles a slice of pie, with Van Ness Ave and Market St making the two sides and the Embarcadero the round edge of the pie. The steaming toppings of this homebaked slice are the classy shops around Union Square, the highrise Financial District, the classy Civic Center, the down-and-out but up-and-coming Tenderloin, swanky Nob Hill and Russian Hill, Chinatown, North Beach and the epicenter of tourist kitsch, Fisherman's Wharf. To the south of Market St lies SoMa, an upwardly mobile warehouse zone of clubs and bars that fades in the southwest into the Mission - the city's Latino quarter - and then the Castro, the center of gay life.

The vast swathe from Van Ness Ave west to the Pacific Ocean encompasses upscale neighborhoods like the Marina and Pacific Heights, ethnically diverse zones like the Richmond and Sunset districts as well as the self-conscious timewarp of Haight-Ashbury. Three of the city's great parklands - the Presidio, Lincoln Park and Golden Gate Park - are also in this area.

Making a circuit of the 49-Mile Drive is a good way to check out almost all of the city's highlights. The route is well posted with instantly recognizable seagull signs, but a map and an alert navigator are essential. Do yourself a favor and allow a whole day to complete the circuit.

The Bay Area has three major airports. San Francisco International Airport is on the bay side of the Peninsula, 14mi (22km) south of the city center. The city of Oakland, at the eastern end of the Bay Bridge, has its own airport 8mi (13km) south of downtown. San Jose International Airport, at the southern end of the bay, is a few miles north of downtown San Jose and an hour's drive from San Francisco.

Greyhound is the only regular long-distance bus company operating to the city - all bus services arrive and depart at the Transbay Terminal in SoMa. Amtrak's rail network connects the Bay Area with the rest of the continental US and Canada. Its main stations are in Oakland and Emeryville, both in the East Bay. Caltrain links San Francisco with the peninsula and San Jose; its depot is in SoMa.