After Landing: San Francisco
After Landing is a travel guide series dedicated to bringing you insider tips and local recommendations on what to see and do in some of our favourite cities. Check back often for new destinations.
If you have visited San Francisco already, you will know of its charms. If you have not, then you absolutely should. To help you plan your trip, we have tapped into a few of our employees, the travel experts, to share insider tips and local recommendations on some of our favourite cities. First up, the City by the Bay.
Get to know the City by the Bay
Founded by seafaring Spaniards in the 18th century, the City by the Bay has lured settlers and visitors to its hills for centuries since. With a heady combination of the Californian climate, world-class cuisine and a carefree, cutting-edge culture, it is very easy to see why.
Heavy traffic and high taxi prices mean the quickest, easiest and cheapest way to cover the 13 miles from San Francisco International Airport to downtown is to take the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), a direct underground/monorail that leaves every 15 minutes and takes about 30 minutes.
Where to stay
While great quality and good value hotels are dotted all across the city, the greatest concentration can be found in three main locations: around the tourist mecca of Fisherman's Wharf, on all sides of the city's main shopping district of Union Square, and along the stretch of Lombard Street just north of Cow Hollow, heading west towards Presidio and the Golden Gate Bridge. All three have their merits, being close to many of the city's most popular attractions.
However, two other good neighbourhoods worth considering are in and around SoMa (South of Market) and Mission. Both combine excellent hotels with many of the city's best restaurants and bars, all within easy strolling distance.
What to see and do
The following recommendations merely scratch the surface of what San Francisco has to offer, but they should definitely be on the itinerary of any first-time visitor.
The best way to cover ground in this hilly city, cable cars have been a feature since 1873 and were awarded national historic landmark status in 1964. They run on three lines, through many of the city's most popular neighbourhoods: North Beach, Fisherman's Wharf, Union Square, Nob Hill, Chinatown and Embarcadero. Before you get on, however, remember to buy a ticket.
'The most famous landmarks and attractions are all worth adding to your must-see list', says Christine U., Customer Service Lead. 'The sea lions at Pier 39, Fisherman's Wharf, the wonderfully winding Lombard Street, Chinatown… They are popular for a good reason'.
North Beach is another must-visit. Misleadingly, there is no beach there, but the Italian quarter is packed full of cafés, restaurants and hip stores. It is also close to Coit Tower, high on Telegraph Hill, which offers amazing Instagram-worthy views of the city, the bridges and the Bay.
Access the park through Haight-Ashbury, the birthplace of America's counter-culture.
The aforementioned California Academy of Sciences is well worth visiting, especially for families. It houses an aquarium, a planetarium, a natural history museum and four-storey rainforest, all under one roof. If you need more, look no further than the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the de Young Museum, the Asian Art Museum and the Legion of Honor.
If you are after couture more than culture, make your way to Union Square, a mecca for serious shoppers. Major department stores and designer boutiques await, including the largest Bloomingdale's outside of New York City.
'A personal favourite that I accidentally discovered is the Walt Disney Family Museum in Presidio', says San Francisco-based flight attendant, Sean R. 'It houses many of the Disney family's heirlooms, many of them interactive and created by Disney Imagineers. It is an amazing and unmissable place'.
Cycling to Sausalito across the Golden Gate Bridge is another must-do experience. The Bridge stretches 1.7 miles across the Golden Gate and gives you amazing views across the bay, from Alcatraz to the city. You will get to explore Sausalito for a while before either cycling back or jumping on a boat back to the San Francisco Ferry Building. Another gem just across the Golden Gate Bridge is the Muir Woods National Monument. 'The magnitude of the Redwoods is breathtaking. A lovely day trip to escape the city, cross the Golden Gate Bridge and enjoy the peace that comes with a few hours of no mobile phone service', says Newark-based flight attendant, Luke B.
Finally, no visit to San Francisco can be complete without visiting the Rock: Alcatraz. Once home to some of America's most notorious criminals, the prison closed in the 1960s but is now open for cellhouse tours. Take an Alcatraz Cruises boat from Pier 33, but be sure to book ahead.
Where to eat and drink
In a city renowned for its gastronomic inventiveness, you will eat well wherever you roam. That said, there are certain culinary experiences that should be on the list of every first-time visitor to San Francisco.
Eating burritos in the Mission at Taqueria El Farolito or La Taqueria is a must. Though don't eat at both in the same visit, as they're on the large side. Head to Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, where local chefs shop for some of the city's freshest, finest produce. For seafood fans, head to the Fisherman's Wharf for the chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl at the legendary Boudin Bakery. Refuel with an espresso at Caffe Trieste, where Francis Ford Coppola wrote The Godfather, or with a cold glass of America's first craft beer, the local Anchor Steam. To stay ahead of the culinary curve, order a few slices of millionaire's bacon, just so you can say you have had it.
But, if you want three specific insider options, follow this advice:
'Ristorante Franchino on Columbus Avenue is a great family-run Italian restaurant you have to visit', says Cleveland-based Boeing 737 captain Gary B. 'The food and ambience are exceptional. I have made it my staple restaurant every time I have been in the city for the last 15-plus years, which tells you how good it is. Particularly the tiramisu!'
'One of my absolute favourites is The House in North Beach', says San Francisco-based flight attendant Rebecca M. 'The food is Asian American with simple, yummy ingredients. The sea bass is amazing, as are the deep fried salmon rolls'.
'Fish in Sausalito is worth the journey', says San Francisco-based flight attendant Mallory C.
'The drive (or cycle) over the Golden Gate Bridge is stunning, with the gorgeous San Francisco skyline behind you. Then you get to enjoy some of the freshest fish in the Bay Area, eaten on picnic tables and overlooking the marina in Sausalito. Don't leave without ordering the fish tacos. But be warned, Fish is cash only'.
San Francisco focus: Time to wine and dine
Two of America's—indeed the world's—greatest wine regions lie just north of San Francisco, in Napa Valley and Sonoma County. Ideally, you will be adding a couple of days on at the end of your visit to explore the vineyards at leisure. But if that is not possible, you don't even need to leave the city to experience the best grapes Northern California has to offer. A growing number of neighbourhood wine bars and tasting rooms bring the experience to you, offering the very best local vintages with small plates of seasonal bites. Fig & Thistle, Bluxome Street Winery and Tank18 are just three places getting it spectacularly right.
Best time to visit
While summer guarantees sun, it also brings the crowds and higher prices. The shoulder seasons of March to May and late August to November are still warm and slightly quieter, making excellent alternatives.
United Airlines offers flights to San Francisco from many cities throughout the U.S. For more information and to book your trip, go to United.com or download our convenient United app.While you are there, share your adventures on social media with the hashtag #MyUnitedJourney.
Eric Rubens (@erubes1) is a MileagePlus member based in Southern California. He is a photographer/videographer who loves meeting new people and traveling the world.
When planning a vacation, one of the first steps is picking a theme. If you're in search of mountains, many look to the Rockies, Swiss Alps, or Dolomites. If a tropical vacation is desired, Hawaii, Mexico, or the Caribbean may be calling your name. There are so many beautiful destinations in this world, but is it possible for one of them to be blessed with incredible mountains, picturesque beaches, and some of the best wildlife viewing in the world?
Cape Town is one of the few places I've found that seems to have it all. With the iconic Table Mountain and Lion's Head rising out of the city, there are hikes leading up to majestic views down the African coastline. The beaches of Clifton and Camps Bay are some of the most incredible beaches on this planet. If wildlife peaks your interest, there's Boulder's Beach, home to one of the only land-based penguin colonies in the world. Did I mention the safari is a short trip away? Add in an exchange rate that is very favorable and you have all the makings of a trip you'll never forget.
Camps Bay Beach
Planning a trip to Africa for the first time can be both intimidating and a bit challenging. I found very few of my friends or family had been, which made my voyage to South Africa even more exciting. Cape Town is home to a hip urban scene, a vibrant melting pot of culture, and jaw dropping landscapes that'll make you wonder why you didn't visit sooner. There's no city quite like it, and this list of top things to do will make sure you maximize your time in the Mother City. Several theories exist regarding the origin of Cape Town's nickname as "The Mother City." Some say it can be traced back to the beginning of the city's history as a trading hub in the 17th century, or its status as South Africa's first metropolis. But many locals have their own theories – one running joke is that it takes nine months to get anything done in the very laid back city.
View from the top of Table Mountain
#1: Take a hike or tram up to the top of Table Mountain
This iconic mountain rising from the city is arguably home to Cape Town's best views. The 2 to 3-hour hike to the top makes for a fun activity if you're up for it. Otherwise, take in the view from the aerial cableway, complete with 360-degree rotating floor and running every 5 minutes from the base. Once up top, there's plenty of walking trails, souvenir shopping, and food and drinks. Table Mountain is known for the blanket of fog that rolls over the peak, so weather at the top can change quickly. Make sure to check the weather before heading up and bring a jacket, since the wind can be intense!
Penguins at Boulder Beach
#2: Visit the penguin colony at Boulder's Beach
Even though it's an hour or so drive from the city, visiting Boulder's Beach and its nearly 2,000 penguins is an unforgettable experience. Watching the penguins lounge on the beach and come in and out of the waves makes for some incredible pictures and a unique encounter. You can also swim in the nearby waters and will often come face to face with members of the colony.
#3: Wake up for a sunrise hike up Lion's Head
One of the most bucket list-worthy activities on a visit to Cape Town is catching sunrise atop Lion's Head. It's a challenging hike and not for those with a fear of heights, but you won't soon forget the view from the summit. If you're willing to scramble and make your way up the final ladders, 360-degree views of the city await, and the sunrise over the city is one for the ages.
#4: Explore the Cape Winelands and the beauty of Constantia
South Africa has some of the best vineyards in the world. Even though the towns of Franschooek and Stellenbosch get the majority of the press, nearby Constantia is home to the oldest wine estate in the country, Groot Constantia. Its proximity (just 15 minutes from the city center) makes it perfect for a day trip. The city sightseeing "Hop-On Hop-Off" bus tour has a purple line that connects through this region, so getting here is easy! If wine tasting isn't your thing, the Alphen Trail is a beautiful trek through the countryside and sure to put you in a relaxing mood.
Chapman's Peak Drive
#5: Take a road trip down Chapman's Peak Drive
One of the most beautiful drives awaits just south of Cape Town. Carved into the cliffs and winding along the ocean, this road between Hout Bay and Noordhoek offers majestic views of the coastline. Just make sure to keep your eyes on the road since the sheer beauty can be distracting!
#6: View the diversity of flora throughout Kirstenbosch Gardens
The flora and fauna of South Africa is some of the most diverse in the world, and no place showcases it better than Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Tucked along the slopes of Table Mountain and widely recognized as one of the most impressive gardens in the world, Kirstenbosch is home to over 7,000 species of plants. The newly completed Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway allows you to walk above the tree line. If you visit in summer, try to make one of the Sunday concerts in the gardens, which are a hit with locals and visitors.
V & A Waterfront
#7: Shop your heart out along the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
Known as one of the biggest tourism hubs of the city, the always bustling V&A Waterfront is home to many of Cape Town's finest restaurants, shopping, and the launching point of many tours. There are countless ways to spend your time here, but make sure to stop by the V&A food market, where over 40 vendors sell gourmet street food from around the world.
#8: Make your way to the Southern tip of Africa
If you're up for an adventure, take a trip to The Cape of Good Hope. You'll most likely encounter penguins, baboons, and who knows what else along the 1.5-hour drive. The weather can be very unpredictable, so make sure to check it before making the trip south. While there, visit the lighthouse and if you're hungry grab a bite at the appropriately named Two Oceans Restaurant.
#9 Take a tour of historical Robben Island
Even though the prison has been shut down since 1996, a visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Cape Town's most popular tours. Tours take around 4 hours including a ferry ride to the island famous for housing Nelson Mandela for 18 of the 27 years he was imprisoned.
-Use the "hop on hop off" bus for an easy guided tour of the city. The route takes you to many of the best spots throughout Cape Town and allows you to explore at your own pace. Buy tickets ahead of time to save on fare!
-Cape Town has some incredible boutique hotels and bed & breakfasts. My favorites are: Tintswalo Atlantic, 52 De Wet Luxury Boutique Hotel, and Derwent House Boutique Hotel.
-Make sure you don't carry too many valuables on you if you're walking around at night. Although beautiful and mostly safe, there is still a good amount of opportunistic crime throughout the city. Always pay attention to your surroundings.
Opinions expressed by the author are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of United.
Planning a Caribbean vacation around hurricane season isn't necessary if you head to Dutch-affiliated Curaçao. The southernmost of all Caribbean islands — just off Venezuela's coast — is rarely even grazed by hurricanes. It also has an ideal tropical climate with average winter highs in the 80s (and water temperatures to match) and only about one inch of rain a month.
Curaçao will be more accessible beginning December 7, 2019, when weekly nonstops begin from New York/Newark on United Airlines. The new seasonal service on 737-700 aircraft makes Curaçao the 21st Caribbean island destination for United, which already flies to the other two nearby "ABC islands" — Aruba and Bonaire. Why choose Curaçao? Because like the island's famous blue liqueur, it's colorful, exotic and appealing.
Jet lag won't be an issue for Americans flying to Curaçao because it's in the same time zone as New York. Nor is it a long flight — about five hours nonstop from New York/Newark. Upon arrival you can take a taxi, rental car or hotel shuttle from Curaçao International Airport to your accommodations — a resort (reserve early), boutique inn, vacation house or B&B. Most are in Willemstad, a coastal city only five miles from the airport.
Forts above the port
Straat Curaçao Getty Images/iStockphoto
The historic city center and harbor areas of Curaçao's only city of Willemstad are designated as a UNESCO Heritage Site, mostly for the 17th to 19th century Dutch colonial architecture of the houses and forts. The houses are painted a rainbow of bright colors in the Caribbean tradition, and the city is packed with forts — Fort Amsterdam (built in 1636), Fort Beekenburg (1703), Fort Nassau (1797) and Fort Waakzaamheid (1803). All four offer stellar views and are free to visitors.
On the waterfront
Curacao colorful houses Getty Images/iStockphoto
Along with forts, the harbor area is home to the oldest continuously operating synagogue (and museum) in the Western Hemisphere, an African art museum that tells the story of the slave trade through West African art and artifacts, and a maritime museum. These visits can be followed by a tour and tasting at the Curaçao Distillery, where you'll see how the peels of the native Laraha bitter oranges are turned into curaçao liqueur.
Snorkel from the sand
Two people snorkeling off coast of tropical island Getty Images
The chief allure of this 38-mile-long island is, of course, the ocean. Besides sunbathing at any of the dozens of powder-sand cove beaches, you can wade right in and snorkel in the turquoise, bathlike sea, usually around 80 degrees. Visibility is up to 100 feet, a snorkeler's dream. More adventurous types can snorkel or dive from day boats that head to prime diving sites like the Mushroom Forest (mushroom-shaped coral), Blue Cave and several shipwreck spots. There's also a nice aquarium on the shoreline where marine life is seen up close in their natural habitat —from land or aboard a minisub that dives 1,000 feet.
Curaçao is a convenient tropical destination for Americans because U.S. dollars and credit cards are commonly accepted, English is widely spoken and no visa is required. But the local culture and cuisine are still exotic enough to be intriguing with local specialties like stewed iguana and cactus soup served in restaurants and from food carts in Willemstad.
If you go
One of our most treasured events of the year is here – Fantasy Flights! Our Fantasy Flights bring holiday cheer to children in need by taking them on a special trip to the "North Pole." Each station creates a North Pole with care, in preparation for all the children who will soon be there…
Our participating stations this year are HNL (Honolulu), FRA (Frankfurt), CLE (Cleveland), DEN (Denver), IAD (Washington Dulles), LAX (Los Angeles), SFO (San Francisco), MCO (Orlando), ORD (Chicago O'Hare), GUM (Guam), EWR (New York/New Jersey), NRT (Tokyo-Narita), PHX (Phoenix), IAH (Houston), MCI (Kansas City) and SAT (San Antonio).
Please stay tuned for stories, photos and more from these magical events. #UAFantasyFlights