San Francisco has an interesting mix of physical characteristics. It is surrounded on three sides by the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay, it has steep rolling hills and months of thick fog. It has the famous Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, the Transamerica Pyramid, pretty little cable cars and rows of beautiful Victorian houses.
In 1776 the Spanish were the first Europeans to settle in San Francisco. They named their new home St Francis. Rapid growth followed when gold was discovered in 1848 at John Sutter's Mill. 150,000 fortune seekers from around the world had arrived by 1848 known as the 49ers. The Comstock Lode and silver mines followed in 1859.
The prosperity, growth and excesses brought about by the gold rush were literally wiped away by the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fires. The city was almost entirely destroyed, but in just nine years, was rebuilt and in 1915 was able to host its own world fair.
Early in the 20th century, San Francisco's waterfront labour movement was riotous and bloody. All port activity is now carried out in Oakland, and the once sleazy Embarcadero has been beautifully renovated and offers the best in shopping, dining and entertainment. It is served by a fleet of antique streetcars that connect Market Street, the Ferry Building and Fisherman's Wharf.
An excellent way to get your bearings in San Francisco is from the water, aboard a one-hour narrated adventure with Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruises. You cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge, past Sausalito, by Angel Island and around the notorious Alcatraz.
A day well-spent can begin with a cable car ride from downtown to Fisherman's Wharf. Locals love to hate it, but for visitors it can be fun. Sure, it is very commercial, but its terrific location and seafood cannot be denied. You will also see sea lions playing and sunning themselves around the pontoons.
Something locals do approve of and consume in great quantities is sourdough bread. The Boudin Bakery at the Wharf was founded in 1849 by a family of French immigrants and the bread they bake today is derived from the original mother dough. The bakery still enjoys tremendous popularity and a 10 metre glass observation window allows passers-by and customers to see the delicious bread being made. A thick slice to accompany a bowl of steaming clam chowder is recommended!
A wander around Ghirardelli Square is also recommended. It is one of the city's treasures and was added to the National Historic Register in 1982. One of the delights is its famous chocolate introduced by its Italian founder, Domenico Ghirardelli.
At the Embarcadero is the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, operated by the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture. Despite its clumsy name, it's worth a look. It has four markets a week and is a link between residents and farmers of the region. You can enjoy flavours of the season and pick up some useful preparation tips.
Something totally different to do one evening is visit Teatro ZinZanni. Set along the historic waterfront, you will be treated to an evening of European cabaret, cirque, divas, contortionists, aerial artists, jugglers, illusionists, madmen, combining to present an absolute spectacle with live music, and a five- course dinner.
City Pass is an excellent way to find your way around one of America's most popular city destinations. Simple to purchase from outlets all across the city, travel agents or you can buy in advance on their website. In San Francisco your ticket gives you entry to six attractions, an itinerary for the best of the City By The Bay and unlimited Cable Car rides.
The Hotel Adagio was built in 1929 and opened as the El Cortez. After extensive renovation, it re-opened in 2003 and echoes the Spanish colonial architectural style. The elegant property is right on Union Square, the heart of the city's theatre, dining and shopping. Cortez, the hotel's restaurant, has been recognized by Conde Nast who praised its creative Mediterranean cuisine.