MUNI is the city's public transport system. Mix your trips up for the best experience. Take a bus to the bridge and the historic 'F' line trolley to Fisherman's Wharf and Union Square. Then, jump on board an iconic cable car to Chinatown and Nob Hill. A seven-day CityPass is US$69 and includes free entry into some top attractions.
With scarce parking and heavy traffic, car rental is probably not worth the cost, unless you're planning on taking day trips to San Francisco's surrounding countryside. Be aware of strict parking rules on the city's steep slopes to avoid being fined. Pointing downhill? Turn your wheels to the curb. If you're pointing uphill, turn your wheels to the road.
Although San Francisco is renowned for its steep slopes, exploring its beautiful streets by foot is recommended. The hills can be challenging, so wear comfortable shoes, pace yourself and make regular stops at some of the city's quirky little corner cafes. The whole city is compacted into just forty-nine square miles, so most sights are within walking distance.
San Francisco has fleets of sightseeing buses running between the area's main points of cultural interest. All day hop-on, hop-off passes start from around US$35 per adult and come with a choice of personal or live commentary. An easy option for a first time visitor to get their bearings and tick the main sites off their list.
Like any big city, there are areas you should steer clear of, but San Francisco has a particularly large population of homeless people. You might get pestered for money, but these lost souls are mostly harmless. Avoid downtown late at night, don't flash expensive accessories and try not to look like a lost tourist. This might lead to uninvited interaction.
Tourists don't flock to San Francisco for its climate, which can be temperamental. The fog, wind and rain can be bone chilling. Even in summer, be prepared by packing jumpers. Because the temperature is unpredictable, the best advice is to layer up. If you get a clear day, beeline to a high point to snap the far-reaching bay views.
Tipping in bars, restaurants and hotels is the norm. Wait staff live off tips, as their base salary is low. For good service, tip around fifteen to twenty percent of the bill. For each drink at the bar, pay US$1 to the barman. It's a personal choice, but if you're likely to go back, expect friendlier service if you open your purse strings.
The US can refuse passports that are about to expire, make sure you have six months on yours. If you're travelling as a tourist for under three months, you only need a passport under the Visa Waiver Program, applicable to Australian citizens. For trips over three months, you'll need a B-1 or B-2 US visa, available from the US embassy.
Flights from Sydney
Flights leave twice daily from Sydney on Delta with a stopover in Los Angeles. The total journey time is just over seventeen hours.
Flights from Melbourne United runs daily flights with two short stopovers in Sydney and Los Angeles.
Flights from Perth Fly Qantas and you'll stop off in Dallas or Los Angeles en route. Flights depart daily.
Flights from Brisbane There are no direct flights from Brisbane. Airlines including Virgin Australia and Delta operate daily flights via Los Angeles.
Flights from Darwin Qantas and American Airlines operate flights from Darwin with stopovers in Sydney and Los Angeles.
For groups of four or less, head to the airport's second floor and take a shared-ride van. Prices start from US$15 per person. You'll make multiple stops but you'll be dropped at your front door. If there are more than four of you, get a cab. It will probably be cheaper and more comfortable, especially after a long flight.
Designated taxi zones are located on the first level of the airport, where metered cabs line up to take your fare. Cabs must legally accept any journey within the Bay area and uniformed taxi coordinators are dotted around to help with any questions. You'll pay about US$45 to Fisherman's Wharf, including the $2 airport exit surcharge.
The Bay Area Rapid Transport (BART) network offers easy access into the city centre. Take a five-minute trip on the airport shuttle to BART's SFO station where trains into the city centre run every twenty minutes. At US$8 for a one-way ticket to downtown San Francisco, it's cheaper and quicker than a cab or shared-ride van.
The easiest way to rent a car is at the airport's dedicated rental car centre. Hertz, Alamo and Avis all have desks here. Get there on the AirTrain blue line, SFO's automated people mover system that runs twenty-four hours a day from all terminals. Take Highway 101 to the city centre, located twenty-one kilometres north of the airport.
Take a short ferry to the world's most famous island penitentiary from Pier 39. If you're lucky you'll see seals and dolphins swimming in the choppy waters. Bring the prison to life by getting the audio tour to guide you with fascinating stories of the notorious Birdman and famous escapees. Tickets including both the boat and island are around US$30.
This row of iconic multi-coloured Victorian houses sits in front of a beautiful backdrop of San Francisco. Take a cable car up to Alamo Square, rest on the grass in front and soak up the breathtaking panoramic views, making sure you get a few snapshots of this glorious scene.
On a clear day, this iconic landmark is magnificent, but don't expect the weather to work in your favour! The bridge is often shrouded in fog. Get there by bus and wrap up warm, especially if you plan to cross it. You should, the views of the harbour are amazing. A return walk will take you around an hour.
Towering giant redwoods, roaring waterfalls and giant granite formations create an unforgettable day trip to this ancient parkland, four hours out of San Francisco. Ambling through is enough, but if you're feeling adventurous you could arrange abseiling or rock climbing. You might even spot a bear. Discoveryosemite.com has full day tours starting from US$100 each.
An upscale but unpretentious restaurant near Fisherman's Wharf, famous for its exquisite lobster dishes and impeccable service. Treat yourself to the sumptuous five-course prix fixe menu to sample a range of their dishes. This fine-dining establishment is not cheap, but the fabulous experience is worth the price. Save it to celebrate a special occasion. 800 N Point St San Francisco, CA 94109
Chef Roland Passot has created a magnificently decadent menu at this Michelin-starred restaurant in the Nob Hill district. Feast on caviar, enormous servings of foie gras and shaved truffles while enveloped in the cream and gold candlelit interior. Wait in the recently opened lounge bar next door before wandering through. A fine food lover's paradise. 2316 Polk St San Francisco, CA 94109
The big selling point of this casual crab cafe is its spectacular water views. The specialty dish is Dungeness crab, swimming in garlic sauce with garlic fries on the side. The portions are generous and the atmosphere relaxed. It gets one black mark for the queues, but that's to be expected from a popular restaurant in a tourist hotspot. 203 C Pier 39 San Francisco, CA 94133
Locals love the hearty gourmet sandwiches served at this popular pub in the Mission district. The grilled cheese served with apple and bacon is extraordinary. The side serving of cauliflower is an unexpected but genius addition! The pork rolls? To-die-for. Head to dinner at The Galley before moving on to enjoy this vibrant area's bars and clubs. Clooney's Pub 1401 Valencia St San Francisco, CA 94110
Soft glow lighting and working fireplaces give this trendy Marina lounge hangout a warm atmosphere. People come here to get lost in conversations over cocktails rather than cut any dance floor shapes. A cosy, intimate escape from the elements if you happen to get caught in a cold wind. 3138 Fillmore St San Francisco, CA 94123
Away from the usual tourist hangouts is The Ramp. A rustic waterfront bar and restaurant with a gorgeous outdoor area. Order a crisp Californian white and soak up the beautiful water views. A casual post-work hangout with soul music, salsa dancing and freshly caught seafood. Try and get there by boat to make the visit extra memorable. 855 Terry Francois St San Francisco, CA 94158
Join the fashion pack at this stalwart of the San Francisco social scene. The US$50 million Philippe Starck interior is jaw-dropping. Like the bar, famously made from one giant redwood tree. Perch here and order a lychee martini. Tasty cocktails and an oh-so-fabulous crowd create a very cool atmosphere. 495 Geary Street San Francisco, CA 94102
This legendary all-nighter boasts twenty thousand square feet across five huge rooms and San Francisco's best sound system. Dance into the early hours to hip hop beats and trance DJs. If you need some time out, head to the swanky lounge bar downstairs for a more chilled vibe. 1015 Folsom St SoMa, CA 94103
Hop on a sightseeing bus with an all-day pass. Take a downtown loop tour, jumping off at the Ferry Building and Union Square. Pause for lunch at Fisherman's Wharf for a clam chowder and some shots of the seal colony. Next, head towards the bridge and walk the full length and back. Even if it's foggy, it's a must do. That evening, head to Mission, get a casual bite to eat and hit a few trendy bars.
Immerse yourself in San Francisco's rich cultural offerings. Start at the Exploratorium, a thrilling science centre where you can touch the exhibits and take part in performances. Next take a trip back to childhood at the Walt Disney museum. Continue your loop through Richmond, stopping at the de Young museum where there's something for everyone's tastes. The building alone is breathtaking. Next up is the Museum of Modern Art in SOMA. After 6pm, admission is half-price.
Get to Fisherman's Wharf early and purchase a combination ticket to Alcatraz and Angel Island. Spend an hour exploring Angel Island by cable car before crossing over to wander the formidable corridors of Alcatraz. Back on land, head to Washington Square Park and take MUNI bus 39 to Telegraph Hill, to visit the Coit Tower perched on top. Walk eight hundred stairs to the bottom through beautiful gardens. You might even spot a wild parrot or two.
Spend your last day exploring places you might have missed on a Streets of San Francisco bike tour. Choose between three or six-hour rides, avoiding scarily steep hills and stopping along the way. Off your bike, head to Chinatown. The area boasts some exquisite, authentic cuisine and interesting boutiques. At night, head to the AT&T Park and watch a ball game with a box of garlic fries, surrounded by locals enjoying this all-American pastime.
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