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Must do recommendations in San Francisco

San Francisco may be small — its landmass is only 47 square miles, and it has a population of fewer than one million people — but its reputation certainly isn’t. From iconic landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge to natural attractions like Ocean Beach, from San Francisco’s status as a literary luminary to the city’s rougher side (as epitomised by the infamous prison on Alcatraz Island), there’s much to attract and entertain. Before you touch down at SFO, brush up with this crash-course on the city’s essential sights.

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Literary San Francisco

San Francisco is one bookish town — and while it’s long attracted literary types of all persuasions, it’s best known for being the home base for the Beat Generation in the 1950s and 60s. Famous scribes such as Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti have all called San Francisco home. Pay tribute to their talents and visit local literary landmarks, from the City Lights Bookstore — founded by Ferlinghetti, and still trading today — to the Beat Museum.

Take a literary tour of San Francisco’s Beat culture

Ocean Beach

Thought SoCal was the place to go for beautiful, sandy beaches? Think again. Beautiful Ocean Beach — just seven-and-a-half miles from downtown San Francisco — is where locals go to get their Pacific kicks. From surfing schools to hiking trails to simply strolling along the sand, there’s much to do here. Just be sure to bring layers: Ocean Beach can’t quite compete with LA when it comes to toasty temperatures.

Hit the surf in San Francisco


San Francisco is far from sprawling, but its Chinatown neighbourhood still holds the distinction of being the largest outside of Asia. You’ll want to set aside enough time to properly explore. Browse the market-lined Stockton Street, visit landmarks like the Tien Hau Temple, and stop by local restaurants for dim sum, dumplings, and other belly-filling delights.

Between meetings: 10 things to see in San Francisco in an hour

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The Golden Gate Bridge

It may not actually be gold — many visitors are surprised to find that the Golden Gate Bridge is in fact a rusty red colour — but this San Francisco icon still stuns. You can drink in dramatic views of the landmark from viewing points at Baker Beach or the Fort Point National Historic Site, and you can also drive or walk across the bridge (pedestrians should keep in mind that it’s close to two miles across each way).

San Francisco: best Golden Gate Bridge views

The Cable Car Museum

When you live in a city as hilly as San Francisco, how do you get around town? One Andrew Smith Hallidie was inspired to create the cable car system that still traverses the city today — it was the first such system in the world when it launched in 1873. After you’ve gone for a ride, venture to the Cable Car Museum, where you can learn more about this local icon’s fascinating history.

How to: see San Francisco for free

Alcatraz Island

For all its gorgeous views and scenic hills, San Francisco also has a delightfully sordid past. Get in touch with the city’s seedier side during a visit to Alcatraz Island: the former high-security prison located on a small island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. One of the city’s most popular attractions, the prison has plenty of gruesome lore behind it, once hosting famous inmates like Al Capone.

San Francisco: A first timer’s inside guide

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