After Landing: San Francisco - United Hub
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After Landing: San Francisco

By The Hub team

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 favorite cities. Check back often for new destinations.

If you've visited San Francisco already, you'll know of its charms. If you haven't, then you absolutely should. To help you plan your trip, we've tapped into a few of our employees, aka the travel experts, to share insider tips and local recommendations on some of our favorite cities. First up, the City by the Bay.

Aerial view of the Golden Gate Bridge

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's very easy to see why.

Your arrival

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 subway/monorail that leaves every 15 minutes and is about a 30-minute trip.

The famous Lombard Street, San Francisco

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 neighborhoods 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 & 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 neighborhoods: 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're popular for a good reason."

San Francisco based flight attendant, Louise C., shares her tips on where to go and what to see in San Fran

North Beach is another must-visit. Misleadingly, there's no beach there, but the Italian quarter is packed full of cafés, restaurants and hip stores. It's also close to Coit Tower, high on Telegraph Hill, which offers amazing Instagram-worthy views of the city, the bridges and the Bay.

"Golden Gate Park is a must-see," says San Francisco based flight attendant Louise C. "It stretches across more than 1,000 acres of land and is 20% larger than Central Park in NYC. It's best seen on foot and there are so many points of interest, most of them free of charge, including Stow Lake, the Conservatory of Flowers, and the California Academy of Science." 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-story 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're 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.

SF based flight attendant, Sean R., pictured in front of the Walt Disney Family Museum | Photo credit: Sean R.

"A personal favorite 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's 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'll get to explore Sausalito for a while before either cycling back or jumping on a boat back to the San Francisco Ferry Building. Another must 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 cell phone service," says Newark based flight attendant, Luke B.

Newark based flight attendant, Luke B., shares his tips and recommendations on what to see and do in San Francisco

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 & drink

In a city renowned for its gastronomic inventiveness, you'll 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 both in the same visit, as they're on the larger 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:

Pictured: Ristorante Franchino | Photo credit: Gary B.

"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've made it my go-to every time I've been in the city for the last 15-plus years, which tells you how good it is. Particularly the tiramisu!"

"One of my absolute favorites 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, and also the deep fried salmon roll."

"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 chow down on 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 based flight attendant, Rebecca M., shares tips and recommendations on what to see and do in San Fran

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'll be adding a couple of days on at the end of your visit to explore the vineyards at leisure. But if that's not possible, you don't ever need to leave the city to experience the best grapes Northern California has to offer. A growing number of neighborhood 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.

Neighborhoods in San Francisco

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.

Getting there

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're there, share your adventures on social media with the hashtag #UnitedJourney.


Discover more in the After Landing series:

After Landing: Austin

After Landing: Denver

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