The Esquire Travel Guide To: San Francisco

Stop California dreaming and go and explore the most intoxicating city on the west coast

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At first glance, San Francisco is a city without a clear narrative, moving from late-19th-century gold-rush greed to flowers-in-your-hair hippie love-ins, and now home to tech giants including Twitter and Instagram. So, what’s the common theme? An overriding sense of what’s possible when groups of like-minded individuals get together, be that for making love or money. This buzzy vibe has attracted so many migrants and makes this one of the world’s most uplifting cities. You may want to overstay your welcome.

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1 | Where To Stay 

San Francisco is, like most big cities, a collection of distinctive neighbourhoods. You’ll particularly want to clock the hippies in Haight-Ashbury and hipsters in The Mission; both districts are within easy reach of the slick Hotel Zetta in Mid-Market, itself the centre of the tech industry’s steady gravity shift away from Silicon Valley. Chances are you’ll end up competing with a 23-year-old dotcom gazillionaire over the pool table in the Zetta’s Playroom or at the giant Plinko game wall in the lobby. The Cavalier brasserie serves pretty decent modern British dishes as well.

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2 | Where To Lunch

Settle in for the long haul at Foreign Cinema, which serves some of the finest oysters in a city that certainly knows a beautiful bivalve when it sees one. Relax in the courtyard, order a selection of beau soleils and kumamotos, and wash them down with a jug of the mean house margarita, inspired by the many Mexican restaurants nearby. Linger long enough and later you can catch the films shown every evening.

3 | Where To Dine

Enjoy some of the best US cooking complemented by the best US wines from the nearby Napa and Sonoma valleys (most definitely worth a day trip) at Salt House. Add a seductive atmosphere and an extremely good art collection and this is the perfect place to take your other half. Order the melt-in-the-mouth ribeye steak with a bottle of Miner’s The Oracle cabernet sauvignon from Napa.

4 | Where To Drink

After sampling the Sonoma wines, head to the hippie Haights for another Bay Area beverage of choice, craft beer. The Toronado pub has around 60 draught beers including cask ales, 10 per cent-strong Belgian pales and nitro stouts (no, me neither). The management encourage drinkers to refuel on delicious merguez sausages with giardiniera, onions and honey mustard from the neighbouring Rosamunde Sausage Grill.;

5 | What To See

We know our very own Banksy visited the Bay Area in 2010 because the external wall of Public Works, an event space in the Mission district, features a vivid example of his oeuvre. Since then, several of the finest US street artists have embellished the same wall, creating a supercool collage.

View of the city from Mission Dolores Park

6 | Where To Party

EDM continues its relentless sweep across the US from Miami via Vegas to the West Coast. Clubbers can always find a four-on-the-floor fix in ’Frisco, but we’re going with a venue focusing on live acts, in what, inappropriately enough, was once a mortuary. Check The Chapel for anything from Ethiopian jazz to gospel and good rock and indie.

7 | What To Do

Consider the ultimate hangover cure after all that grape and grain. The Dolphin Club, founded in 1877, organises regular, extremely bracing swims in the Bay.

8 | Where To Shop

Pacific region immigrants have not only brought Asian food to the city. At cutting-edge Japanese menswear store The Archive, Kazuyuki Kumagai’s classy coats are the must-have fashion buy this winter.

9 | When In...

Tell anyone and everyone you meet that you recycle. In ’Frisco, failing to display your environmental credentials is tantamount to burning the Stars and Stripes elsewhere in the US.

10 | Why Now?

Because if San Francisco has a chink in its armour, it’s the weather. Visit in summer and the fog rolling in off the Bay is a bummer, but in winter it’s another excuse to seek out the nearest hipster hangout and enjoy a drink.

11 | Where To Avoid

The millions of other tourists in ’Frisco: which means either missing out Alcatraz, the sea lions at Pier 39, the Swan Oyster Depot and all the other classics – or least be canny about when you visit them.;;

Tom Barber is a founder of award-winning travel company


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