To many people of my age, San Francisco conjures up images of hippies, flower power and the Summer of Love centred around the Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood of the city. Well obviously much has changed since the 1960s, but I still find San Francisco has a vibrancy and liberal, forward-looking atmosphere that I’ve not found in other US cities.
The choice of San Francisco as one of my Top Ten Cities is based partly on this, but also on its attractive position at the head of a peninsula and its many iconic features such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, cable cars and Pier 39 on the waterfront.
For Seniors, San Francisco has the advantage that its central area is compact, hemmed in by its peninsula location. Its steep rolling hills are not a problem because of the network of cable cars and trams. However to make the most of San Francisco and its environs a car is very useful and depending how long you have, the coastline north and south of the city and Napa Valley area are well worth visiting.
Often iconic features can be disappointing in real life, but in the case of San Francisco that does not apply and so they very much feature in my five highlights:
- Strolling along the waterfront and Pier 39 and the sampling the shops, dining and entertainment. At most times of the year sea lions can be seen basking near Pier 39.
- Exploring the central part of San Francisco, including Chinatown, and travelling up and down its hilly streets on the cable cars. Take care if you try hanging on the outside of the cable car – the locals have had many years to practise.
- Visiting the prison on the island of Alcatraz. The views during the ferry crossing (from Pier 33) and from the island are superb and the prison with its famous former inmates is an interesting but claustrophobic experience. Allow about 3 hours for your visit, Seniors 62+ get a small discount on the tours.
- Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and looking back towards San Francisco from the picturesque community of Sausalito. There are many good restaurants in Sausalito – I’ve enjoyed excellent Italian meals there.
- Taking in the panoramic views from Mount Diablo. After the hustle and bustle of the city, Mount Diablo State Park is just a 45 minute drive east from the centre of San Francisco, but a world away. Although only just over 1,000 metres high, its isolated position results in one of the largest areas of view from any point in the Western United States with the Sierra Nevada visible on clear days.
Travel and Accommodation
I travelled directly from London with Virgin Atlantic, with an option of travelling back from Los Angeles or Las Vegas. Other major airlines flying from the UK to San Francisco include British Airways directly and KLM via Schipol.
On my last visit to San Francisco, I hired a car at a very good rate via Auto Europe, and having taken the fully automated Air Train Blue Line from the terminal to the car rental area, I was driving away within about an hour of landing. I dropped the car off two weeks later in Las Vegas with no extra charge.
Almost every major hotel chain has hotels in San Francisco and its suburbs and, as is the norm in the USA, most will give good Senior discounts – see Hotel Deals for Seniors to find out how to claim them. Staying outside the central peninsula area can be cheaper and gives easier access for exploring the surrounding region.