Getting the most from San Francisco
Travelling to the US might not always mean smooth flight connections onto inner destinations.
But a quick stopover on the west coast should not be stressful or spent waiting in an airport.Here’s how to play tourist with less than 22 hours in San Francisco.
11:15am: Many flights from the east coast of Australia land at San Francisco Airport at around 11am, so first things first, jump on a free shuttle to one of the airport hotels.
There are plenty of chain hotels to choose from that are only about five minutes from the airport, and shuttles depart every half hour or so.
Check TripAdvisor or Yelp before you book though, as some hotels, such as the Crowne Plaza, have a warranted poor reputation for on-time pick-up.
The shuttles stop at an island in the road outside Terminal 3 at the international terminal, but double-check this when booking your room.
There is also a free phone so you can call your hotel so that they know to expect you.
Noon: Once you have checked in, dropped your bags in your room and get freshened up, hop on the next shuttle back to the airport, from where you can board the BART train to downtown.
Tickets are easy to buy from the self-serve machines and cost around $US9 one-way depending on your downtown location.
Powell Street ($US8.65) is a good place to disembark and the trip there takes about 20 minutes.
12:30pm: For a true 1950s American experience, head to Lori’s Diner for a hearty lunch.
A short stroll up the hill, Lori’s is on the corner of Powell and Sutter streets. It serves massive nachos, gourmet hot dogs, burgers and buffalo wings.
Make sure you also order a malt milkshake — they are ridiculously large and sweet. You will be served by friendly Hispanic waitresses as you sit in a faux leather booth surrounded by 1950s memorabilia.
A vintage car takes centre stage on the checked lino floor, an American flags hang from the walls and a motorcycle sits behind the counter. Check out lorisdiner.com.
2:30pm: After lunch, head back to Union Square. This is a shopping plaza, with something for every budget.
At the high end there is Tiffany’s, Victoria’s Secret, Bottega Veneta and Burberry.
At the other end there is Converse, Paul Frank, GAP and a huge multi-level Niketown.
You will also find plenty of big brand shops along Market Street nearby but try not to get too caught up here, as you are on a tight schedule.
4pm: It’s time to head to Fisherman’s Wharf, one of San Francisco’s most iconic tourist attractions. This is your chance to catch one of the city’s famous cable cars for $US5 one-way.
You can walk back down Powell Street and hop aboard at the turnaround (the start of the line) or grab it at one of the stops near Union Square.
You need cash to pay the conductor and it’s best to have the right change as the ride can be busy.
There are two routes that end at different spots at Fisherman’s Wharf. They are similar but Powell-Mason Cable Car is the shortest, taking about 10 minutes. For more, check out sfcablecar.com.
4:10pm: At Fishermen’s Wharf you can purchase nik-naks (think fridge magnets, t-shirts, ornaments) as you stroll the streets.
Make sure you pose for a photo under the towering Fisherman’s Wharf sign and then, if you’re feeling peckish, you can pick up a bowl of clam chowder from any number of vendors.
If you want to rest your feet, head to Chowder Hut near the waterfront. You can grab a bite here and wash it down with a hot-buttered rum (a delicious spiced rum concoction). If it’s cold, grab a chair around one of the fire pits.
5:30pm: From here, make your way along Jefferson Street to Pier 39, another city icon.
Pier 39 is where a colony of sea lions resides on the pontoons. Their bark is loud and their breath smelly but you cannot be this close and not visit them.
Snap a few pictures, watch them flop all over the place and then leave them to the crowds.
6:05pm: Pier 39 is not just about sealions though. There are a number of restaurants, shops and even a merry-go-round here.
Browse the stores as you head to the end of the boardwalk where you will find none other than Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
If you have not heard of this chain of restaurants that sprouted after the 1994 film Forrest Gump, then picture a similar eatery to Lone Star Steakhouse and Saloon.
This place is all about the shrimp, with large meals, fast service and plenty of American character. If you are travelling with kids, they will love it.
8:30pm: Say goodbye to the waterfront and hail a taxi back to your hotel. The trip will take you about 25 minutes and cost approximately $US55, depending on traffic.
You can get a cable car back to Market Street and then the train from there but it’s a hassle.
In the morning, grab the free shuttle back to the airport for your onwards flight.
*The writer travelled to the US as a guest of United Airlines.