‘I left my heart in San Francisco’… at the luxurious Fairmont Hotel
San Francisco certainly lives up to its reputation as being one of the world’s leading tourist destinations. This is a city you simply must make the effort to visit; it is rich with culture and boasts an eclectic mix of people who create a welcoming atmosphere. The eleven hour flight is made considerably more pleasurable when flying Business Class as part of the British Airways Club World Cabin. I made the most of the perks at London Heathrow and scheduled time for a complimentary facial in the lounge prior to boarding, where passengers can also enjoy champagne, lunch and some relaxation time.
On landing at your destination, a hire car is pretty much crucial for getting around the city and when you cruise through the streets, the reason for this is immediately apparent. Just like the famous film sets, the roads are set at an incredibly steep incline which challenges even the fittest walker. However, with the assistance of a satellite navigation device, it is incredibly easy to drive around the city.
Prized at the top of Nob Hill is the glorious Fairmont Hotel, which provides an ideal base for the luxury traveller embarking on a weekend or city break. The grand building is centrally located in upmarket surroundings. As soon as you enter the hotel, you will not want to leave. The sweeping lobby features a live pianist who plays soothing and elegant pieces of music. The décor is opulent but not ostentatious and the Laurel Court bar attracts a chic crowd by providing a sophisticated setting for an early evening glass of Californian Champagne. The guest rooms are equally stylish and despite the obvious popularity of the hotel, the corridors fall silent when darkness arrives.
You can embrace the city’s traditional and famed travel method by hopping on a cable car to take the short ride to Union Square. This is the world’s first cable car system and was invented by London-born Andrew Smith-Hallidie between 1836 and 1900, with three lines accessing most of the city.
A plethora of luxury boutiques await in the energetic area of Union Square, including European high end designers such as Louis Vuitton and Prada. A large Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue will also cater for your department store needs.
Dining at Scala’s Bistro is recommended and if you forget to make a reservation, make sure you arrive early in order to put your name on the waitlist for a table. The Italian menu presents a number of delicious options and the food in general is arguably healthier, with less extravagant portions than often presented on the East Coast of America. Another area to explore for dining options is Polk Gulch, which is a popular choice by residents of San Francisco and contains a number of restaurants including the delicious Thai Spice.
A visit to Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 is essential. Whilst this area maybe considered a bit of a tourist trap and contains entertainment that echoes a theme park in parts, you must catch a glimpse of the famous sea lions. Basking in the sunshine you will find well over thirty of the impressive animals lying on jetties and playing in the water at the end of the pier. Neptune’s Waterfront Grill and Bar has gallery tables available for lunch where you can watch them play and push each other into the water whilst sipping some delicious clam chowder.
Taking a boat ride to the notorious and now defunct prison, Alcatraz should also be a priority during a city break. This is one of the most popular tourist attractions in California and you should pre-reserve tickets online to minimise queuing. The short journey across the treacherous sea gives you a good glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge and also presents a stunning, panoramic view of the city.
Once on the island, you can take a tour of the prison or choose to meander through the cells alone, with a headset that narrates some of the tales and woes of life in the jail that housed some of America’s most threatening criminals, including Al Capone and Robert ‘The Birdman’ Stroud.
Whilst you may have caught a glimpse of Golden Gate Bridge on your journey to Alcatraz, it is certainly worth driving over the magnificent structure to get a feel of the scale of this impressive feat of engineering. A low mist is common but you may be lucky enough to visit on a clear day; the viewing point provides an unmissable photo opportunity, regardless.
With mild temperatures during the winter months that soar come summertime, San Francisco is a beautiful place for a standalone city break. Alternatively you could stop off whilst on route to skiing, visiting the renowned Californian wineries or taking a trip to see the splendid giant Redwood Trees at Muir Woods, which is only 30 minutes North of San Francisco along the famous Route One. However you incorporate a visit to the city, you can expect a friendly atmosphere, luxury accommodation, delightful dining and the opportunity to explore some of the most famous tourist attractions in the world.