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San Francisco

Thursday, April 1, 2010
Many tourists visiting a new city like to head straight to the places they have seen in the movies or read about and then look for other things on offer. When Dermott Brereton arrived in San Francisco for the first time, he decided to see what else was on offer apart from the Golden Gate Bridge.

Half-way down the Californian coast, San Francisco is one of North America's most exciting cities and Dermott joined an intrepid guide for a local's-eye view, as well as taking in iconic sights. Public transport is plentiful in San Francisco making getting around easy — particularly the cable cars that climb the city's steep hills.

San Francisco is home to many minority groups which gives it its patchwork of cultures and cuisines.

Mission district

Dermott's first stop was the vibrant and colourful Mission District, site of San Francisco's first European settlement in 1776. These days the area is a mix of Latino, Asian, Caucasian and all bohemian. Walking tours of the mission show off brightly coloured facades expressing Latino culture, folklore, famous citizens and history. Mission Dolores is the city's oldest original intact mission in California and the oldest building in San Francisco. It comprises both the Basilica and the Old Mission.

There's a taqueria on almost every corner. The food carts sell authentic tacos and other Mexican treats, possibly unlike anything you've ever tasted at home.

A must-do is taking a ride on a cable car to climb California Street, through the financial district to China Town, Portsmouth Square, historic side lanes and markets.

China Town

Hardly home to a minority, China Town has one of the largest populations of Chinese outside of China. It popped up within a year of the 1849 gold rush as a community for Mexican, American, Chinese and Australian-Chinese miners.

When the gold rush slowed down because of the discovery of gold in Australia, many miners turned against Australian miners living in San Francisco. Their houses were burned and anti-Chinese riots broke out. Laws were adopted in 1870 to restrict housing and employment for anyone born in China.

Meanwhile, white landlords, police and even the mayor looked the other way as brothels, opium dens and gambling dens began to appear around the neighbourhood.

Today it has pagoda-style roofs and dragon lanterns lining the streets. Grant Avenue is the most popular for shopping and nightspots and Stockton Street is where to go for fresh produce and fantastic restaurants.

Ross Alley is the city's oldest alley. Once a place of brothels and gambling, and later a haunt of Sinatra and the Beatles, it's now home to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie factory. It pumps out more than 20,000 cookies a day with more than 1000 fortunes on offer. They supply restaurants all over the United States. The factory is adorned with colourful murals depicting everyday life of the Chinese-American community.

To find the hidden gem, Y Ben House dim sum restaurant on Pacific Avenue, you could almost just follow the trail of people heading there. It's cheap and delicious.

North Beach

While there's no beach in sight, North Beach is one of San Francisco's most colourful areas. It's nestled in an urban valley between Russian and Telegraph Hills and encompasses Little Italy, the Barbary Coast and bohemian/beatnik tradition.

City Lights Bookstore, one of the country's most renowned independent bookstores, was founded by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. It was a meeting point for some of America's famous beat generation authors.

Romanesque Saints Peter & Paul Church — known as the Italian Cathedral — rises above Washington Square, one of America's greatest public places. Festivals, rallies, art exhibits and picnics take place there year-round.

North Beach is home to the straight end of Lombard Street, the world's most crooked street, the Coit Tower, the challenging slopes of Russian and Telegraph Hills, San Francisco Art Institute and the National Shrine of St Francis of Assisi.

As you would imagine, being known as Little Italy, North Beach has a fantastic array of restaurants, cafes and bars. They're not just Italian and many other cuisines are represented.

Fishermans Wharf

Back on the main tourist trail, Dermott headed to Pier 39 to board an Adventure Cat Sailing Charter. They head out three times a day and offer an uncrowded way of seeing many of the city's landmarks.

You'll cruise past the infamous Alcatraz, the former island prison which is now a major tourist attraction. From there, you sail under the Golden Gate Bridge. Built in 1936, it was named during the gold rush as it was seen as the gateway to gold.

As you sail along the coastline, keep a lookout for the colonies of sea lions that have made San Francisco Bay area home. They come and go regularly, and in autumn head to the California Channel Islands to breed and give birth.


San Francisco on the centre of California's coastline.


Intrepid Travel has an eight-hour Urban Adventure tour. Transport, sailing and lunch are included and it costs $108 per person.

V Australia has flights Los Angeles with connections to San Francisco from $1149 out of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. The fares are available for a limited time only so log on to for further details.

Prices correct at April 1, 2010.

For further information

V Australia

Intrepid Australia
Ph: 1300 364 512

Adventure Cat Sailing Charters
Pier 39, Dock J
Ph: +1 415 777 1630

Visas: Most Australians do not need a visa, providing they have a machine readable passport with at least six months' validity after the departure day, have a round-trip non-refundable ticket and do not intend to stay longer than 90 days. Australians need to complete a pre-travel authorisation at

Electricity: 110V to 115V at 60Hz. Outlets take two-parallel, flat prongs. Australian visitors will need a US adapter and converter.

Time zone: GMT -8.

Currency: The American dollar.

International dialling code: +1.

To find out more about the hot deals mentioned on the show, check out Holidays for Sale.

User comments
This was really cool and definitely something i'd love to do if visiting San Francisco. Taking a look at the Urban Adventures website I see heaps of other places around the world too, that's great to know, as i'm probably more likely to visit Europe than the US in the near future.
Urban Adventures is simply the greatest deal for travelers. It really makes you feel like local people. Its a totally different, new and unique travel experience as it gets you connected with the destination. I took this tour in San Francisco and I can definitely say I know the city.
I think exploring some of the lesser known, more local, hangouts in a destination - as well as the big sites - is the way to go. The Intrepid Urban Adventures look like a cool way to expereince a city in a day.

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