After waking up at the Fairmont Heritage Place hotel (which has welcomed every President since 1909), take an early morning dip to blow the cobwebs away in San Francisco Bay. Overlooked by Golden Gate Bridge – built in 1937 by Irving Morrow and Joseph Strauss with the ebb and flow of the sea skimming Alcatraz. With the early morning fog lifting off the Bay, it’s the perfect backdrop to a day in the city.
Once you’ve dried off from your swim, join the queue at Buena Vista Café (it’s worth the wait), which opened in 1916, right next to the Maritime Museum. It’s where locals religiously head for the wood-panelled bar, strong drinks and charismatic bar staff. Chances are you order the famous Irish coffee – the owner boasts it was invented here in 1952.
Head along Columbus Avenue and stop in at the City Lights Bookstore on Columbus Avenue, founded in 1953 and a go-to for beatniks and poets with three-floors of inspiring literature. It became world-famous in 1953 when it published Ginsberg’s Howl – which resulted in an obscenity trial. The surrounding neighbourhood of Little Italy is worth wandering around in its own right – make sure you head to Lombard Street, the so-called “most crooked street in the world” with eight hairpin turns.
Head to the historic Haight neighbourhood – where free-spirited hippies laid down roots and the centre of counter-culture and psychedelia in the 1960s. Stop in for a hearty brunch at no-frills Pork Store Café where you can get the local favourite biscuits and gravy (it’s nicer than it sounds). It’s a community café showcasing events for music festivals and poetry nights. Eye-popping vintage band posters adorn the walls and customers jostle elbow to elbow at the counter seats.
From the Pork Store Café it’s only a few blocks over to the Golden Gate Park, the site of the first “Human Be-In” in 1967, which drew around 25,000 people to the park and signalled the start of the “Summer of Love”. You’re still sure to find some tye-dye-fringed free spirits dancing and banging drums on ‘Hippie Hill’.
From the Haight, it’s only a short hop to Misión San Francisco. It’s an elaborate Spanish church and the oldest building in the city. If you want to learn more about the city’s history it’s a must. Hang around the Mission neighbourhood too and try the tacos and burritos while hunting for colourful street art murals.
You can’t visit the city and experience historic San Francisco without jumping aboard a tram on one of the three lines still in action. Some of the streets are set at 30-degree angles Locals don’t queue – try hopping on a moving tram if you dare.
Though you could head to a glitzy new restaurant like State Bird Provisions (the best dim sum in town) or Gary Danko (where the west coast elite rub shoulders over French food) – for a true taste of old-fashioned San Francisco, go to Alfred’s which serves the best steaks in town in a ruby red dining room, reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Vertigo.