Few people travel more than Jennifer Kash. At least once a week she’s off to visit clients across the globe through her work as a patents and product liability attorney, visiting her boyfriend in New York, or relaxing at her vacation home in Mexico.
When she’s back home in San Francisco, she takes in something that might seem easy to miss: the city’s pace.
“For me, San Francisco is the best combination of a big city and a small community,” said Kash, managing partner of the San Francisco office of the law firm Quinn Emanuel. “We have all the restaurants and nightlife of a big city, but we also don’t have that crazy pace of bigger cities. Here, people enjoy life.”
Maybe it’s the open-minded culture influenced by the city's hippy past, or the progressive influence of the dot-com companies, but Kash said few towns strike a better balance than San Francisco. Sure, people work hard and clock long hours, but they also enjoy the city’s temperate weather and active lifestyle.
It isn’t easy to define the business culture in San Francisco. That’s because it’s a place where button-down bankers and lawyers mix with hoodie-wearing tech workers. Whatever your reason to head to San Francisco, you’ll find a city full of charm, which caters to tourists and business travellers and that prides itself on luring them back.
Most flights to the Bay Area begin at San Francisco International Airport, located 14 miles south of downtown. In 2013, the airport began a 10-year, $4.3bn improvement project that has already modernised the once-outdated terminal two, packing with restaurants from the quick-yet-gourmet Napa Farms Market to chef Cat Cora’s self-named sit-down restaurant. Upgrades to the all three terminals are ongoing, but you’ll still see more wi-fi routers and stations to refill water bottles throughout.
Bay Area Rapid Transit trains, or BART, shuttle airport travellers downtown for $8 in about 35 minutes. But check your final destination to avoid hauling luggage up one of San Francisco’s famously steep hills.
Taxis cost $45 to $50 and average 40 minutes to downtown. The city is also served by app-based transport services including Uber and Lyft, and the upstart FlightCar, which unlike regular car-rental companies, lets you affordably rent out the private cars of other traveller’s departing from the airport.
Buses, light rail, trolleys, and cable cars through MUNI, the municipal transport company, are an easy way to get around the city and surrounding neighbourhoods without a car; fares range from about $2 to $6.
Further out, the Mineta San Jose International Airport and the Oakland International Airport often offer less expensive flight options and direct flights not served by San Francisco. Kash recommends considering Oakland International during the summer, when fog can delay San Francisco flights.
Credit and debit cards are universally accepted, but expect prices of goods and services to be on par with cities like New York and London.
San Francisco’s international terminal also offers 13 money exchange stations where travellers can get US dollars. As well, the city also boasts multiple currency-exchange companies such as Travelex and Currency Exchange International, mostly in the central business district and Chinatown.
Since the influx of migrants with the 1849 gold rush, San Francisco has been a melting pot of cultures, languages, and cuisines. It's known as a city of neighbourhoods, each with its own distinct identity and flavour. There’s a strong influence from Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Mexican sections of the city. Even as it has developed as an international tech hub, San Francisco has retained a connection with its past.
The city’s peace-loving, hippy past is still evident in neighbourhoods including Haight-Ashbury- famous for the 1960s “summer of love.” And, there are few places in the world that are more friendly to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, most obvious in the Castro District.
No doubt the business culture has been influenced by that tie-dyed past, with office cultures where T-shirts and jeans are often the standard. But Kash said there are plenty of bankers and lawyers sporting designer suits and committing to long work days. Business travellers should note that some keep early hours, often working 05:00 to 14:00 local time to match the New York markets.
San Francisco crams 250 hotels within the city, but finding an inexpensive one can be a challenge. Many hotels start at more than $400 per night.
“This is a great hotel town,” Kash said. “There are just incredible choices of places to stay.”
The St. Regis San Francisco, with its contemporary art collection, 24-hour spa pool, butler service in suites, and lively bar scene is lush spot downtown. Expect room rates at $500-plus per night, and more than $1,000 for suites.
Also downtown, the Mandarin Oriental, boasts one of the city’s best views from 40 floors up and two towers connected by sky bridges. Room windows open to let in the unique sounds of cable cars. Rates start from $500 a night.
For a bit of San Francisco’s historic charm, head up Nob Hill to the grand Fairmont San Francisco. Built in 1907, rooms at the Fairmont generally run $500 and higher.
For a more affordable option, Holiday Inn has multiple locations in the city, including near the airport, the convention centre, and tourist destination Fisherman’s Wharf. Rates are generally less than $200 when booked in advance.
Dinner for one
It’s difficult to find a city more ahead of restaurant trends, where whatever the hottest foodie addiction — ramen, shabu shabu, cinnamon toast — can be found. And, as you would expect in the city by the bay, it isn’t hard to find menus with local seafood.
But beyond the trends, San Francisco is known for its locally sourced dining, said Patty Unterman, a food blogger and writer who has covered the restaurant scene for 35 years. “We’re a model here of direct, farm-to-table eating. It’s also a place where you can eat very, very well for a not a lot of money.”
Udon Mugizo — For flavours not easy to find elsewhere, Udon Mugizo highlights the simplicity and fun-to-eat quality of Japanese noodles.
Tosca Café — In the historic Italian neighbourhood of North Beach, Tosca serves well-prepared, simple ingredients.
Causwells — A creative American bistro hailed as one of the city’s best new restaurants in 2014, this affordable restaurant serves small plates for around $10 and entrees for about $20.
Off the clock
After your meetings end, there are few cities better for an afternoon walk. From downtown, head along Market Street to the Ferry Building, located waterside on the Embarcadero, which holds an eclectic selection of shops and restaurants.
The city features two major parks, the Presidio at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge, and Golden Gate Park. Both feature walking paths and museums, including the fine arts museum De Young.
Fewer weather patterns will befuddle travellers more than the warm winters and cold summers in San Francisco. Dressing in layers is standard at all times, especially on foggy days, when the city can feel draped in a cold, wet blanket — until the afternoon sun warms things up for a few hours.
If your work in San Francisco means travelling the Bay Area, note that it’s a vast metropolitan area, with the technology hub of Silicon Valley an hour south and Oakland and the suburbs east across the bay. Trips outside San Francisco will likely require a car rental, as city-to-city public transportation is limited.
The city’s events are representative of the residents’ diverse backgrounds and include the Fringe Festival, the Chinese New Year Festival and Parade and the Outside Lands music and arts event.
San Francisco’s American football team, the 49ers, boasts a hearty fan base, but you’re more likely to find business travellers at baseball games. The Giants play downtown at AT&T Park, which features a unique feature: homeruns that clear the wall can land in the cool Pacific waters of the bay.
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