International hospitality from Iceland to Bosnia
For four swoon-filled years during the dot com boom and bust a decade ago, I lived in San Francisco, the beautiful lotus-eating, Pacific-touching, city on a hill. I was centrally planted on historic Market Street at the base of fabled Haight Street and explored so much in the Bay Area over those years that I never ceased to be a tourist, a happy affliction of most of its residents. Over every hill is an amazing view, each neighbourhood is a micro-world of exploration, the parks are terrific, the food is world class, and the weekend culture of hikes, bikes and camping in the hills and along the coast surrounding the peninsula encourages endless destinations within a day’s drive.
It is a cliché, but no less true, that I left my heart in San Francisco when I moved from The City nearly ten years ago. I left behind dear friends, favourite coffee shops (Java Beach, The Grind), bars (the Toranado, Vesuvio) and the best outdoor experiences I have ever had within city limits (Ocean Beach, Golden Gate Park, Golden Gate Bridge, the Presidio, Chrissy Field and many more). Even the touristy areas like Fisherman's Wharf and Alcatraz (especially at night) are worth visiting repeatedly. I will never tire of a jolting, clankety ride on a cable car over Nob Hill, an Irish coffee at that drink's birthplace in the Buena Vista coffeeshop, sunsets from Cliff House or gawking at sea lions piled on Pier 39. The city's artistic and literary history, including the Beats and the Dead, feels very much alive in the big chain-resistant bookstore and cafe culture.
I return at least once a year to visit all my favourite things, located in a Brigadoon-esque bubble described by Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane as "49 square miles surrounded by reality." And I recommend everyone go there to see it for themselves to believe it.
BBC Travel brings you a new travel guide to San Francisco this week, quintessentially distilled in "A perfect day in San Francisco" and another story on the city's top five highlights, both by Allison Bing. For more niche views, explore the dramatic island prison in the middle of the Bay with "A tour of San Francisco's Alcatraz" and Ms. Bing's the-title-says-it-all "San Francisco's blissful Golden Gate Park". Then travel in and out of the city to follow the cinematic footsteps of another fan of the Bay area, Alfred Hitchcock, in "For the birds: Hitchcock's California." If you have more time to explore, San Francisco (please don't call it San Fran) is a great launching pad for Napa and Sonoma Valley vineyards, the coast (see Amelia Thomas's "Driving California's Big Sur") and the tech boom sprawl just south of the city, covered by Ms. Thomas's "Downtime in Silicon Valley".
Monday: A perfect day in San Francisco
Tuesday : For the birds: Hitchcock's California
Wednesday : San Francisco's blissful Golden Gate Park
Thursday : A tour of San Francisco's Alcatraz