San Francisco makes a big impression for a small city.
If your shooting through for business or extending out a few days, there's plenty to enjoy in the city that excels at doing things differently.
Take a look at the our local's guide to the best eats, drinks and culture.
Fancy brunch by the beach? Then don’t let the crowds at Outerlands deter you. Put your name on the list and take a walk on the beach while you wait. Late night favourite Nopa is just as enticing in the morning. Order the decadent French toast or the house-cured fish and wash it down with a Bloody Mary. If you prefer to hang out in the Mission District, the light-filled Foreign Cinema is a perfect place to start the day. You will need to book in advance if you want to try specialties such as the famous Croque Madame.
Are you ready for The Rock? For decades, Alcatraz, a former prison located on an island in the middle of the bay, has been San Fran’s most famous attraction. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art reopened last year after an extensive revamp. It's has received raves for an extraordinary collection and cutting-edge architecture. Another highlight is the city’s colourful Chinatown. Stretching over 24 blocks, this is the largest Chinatown outside Asia.
The Mission District is the place to go. Check out the street art, browse the superb second-hand bookstores, fuel up at a trendy eatery or at an old-school Mexican taqueria. There are lots of quirky outlets to explore including the 826 Valencia Pirate Supply Store, where you can pick up everything from an eye patch or a message in a bottle to mermaid repellent. Equally entertaining is the North Beach neighbourhood. There's no actual beach but there is an inviting mix of bars, boutiques and historic buildings. North Beach is also San Fran’s Little Italy, so you don’t have to look far to find a tasty plate of pasta.
San Fran is one of America’s great food cities, so whether you are after something old-school, new-school or out-of-the-box, there are plenty of options. James Syhabout's Commis restaurant is known for delicate dishes such as sea scallops with black tea and spring flowers. Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse kick-started the city’s dining renaissance almost 50 years ago. You can also tap into the city’s rich Asian heritage at Burma Superstar; the tea leaf salad is a must-try.
At bijou cocktail bars such as Benjamin Cooper, what’s in your glass changes depending on what's in season. These aren’t your average cocktails. You may find your favourite spirit blended with compressed fennel, salted orange-chili oil or rice wine vinegar. If you prefer something more retro, head to the Black Cat Supper Club. Upstairs is all about drinking and dining, downstairs is the place to catch some cool jazz. If you prefer a glass of wine, the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, part of the foodie paradise that is the Ferry Building, is the place to try wines from small producers in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys.
Nob Hill is the neighbourhood that San Fran’s gold rush millionaires chose to call home. That should give you an idea of the old-world charm on offer at the sumptuous Scarlet Huntington Hotel. There's lots of tactile upholstery and superb service, including a complimentary limousine service to Union Square. If you prefer something more modern, The Marker offers eye-catching interiors, a central location and welcome touches such as in-room yoga mats and aperitifs for guests every evening. Alternatively, Hotel Zetta in the SoMa neighbourhood is heavy on hipster elements such as recycled wood and found art.