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 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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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 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.
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're there, share your adventures on social media with the hashtag #UnitedJourney.
Discover more in the After Landing series:
Right now, around the world, brave members of America's armed forces are on duty, defending our freedom and upholding our values.
When not laser-focused on the mission at hand, they're looking forward to the day when their service to our nation is fulfilled and they can reunite with their families.
They are also imagining how they can use their hard-earned skills to build an exciting, rewarding and important career when they return home.
I want them to look no further than United Airlines.
That's why we are focused on recruiting, developing and championing veterans across our company, demonstrating to our returning women and men in uniform that United is the best possible place for them to put their training, knowledge, discipline and character to the noblest use.
They've developed their knowledge and skills in some of the worst of times. We hope they will use those skills to keep United performing at our best, all of the time.
That's why we are accelerating our efforts to onboard the best and the brightest, and substantially increasing our overall recruitment numbers each year.
We recently launched a new sponsorship program to support onboarding veterans into United and a new care package program to support deployed employees. It's one more reason why United continues to rank high - and rise higher - as a top workplace for veterans. In fact, we jumped 21 spots this year on Indeed.com's list of the top U.S workplaces for veterans. This is a testament to our increased recruiting efforts, as well as our efforts to create a culture where veterans feel valued and supported.
We use the special reach and resources of our global operations to partner with outstanding organizations. This is our way of stepping up and going the extra mile for all those who've stepped forward to answer our nation's call.
We do this year-round, and the month of November is no exception; however, it is exceptional, especially as we mark Veterans Day.
As we pay tribute to all Americans who have served in uniform and carried our flag into battle throughout our history, let's also keep our thoughts with the women and men who are serving around the world, now. They belong to a generation of post-9/11 veterans who've taken part in the longest sustained period of conflict in our history.
Never has so much been asked by so many of so few.... for so long. These heroes represent every color and creed. They are drawn from across the country and many immigrated to our shores.
They then freely choose to serve in the most distant and dangerous regions of the world, to protect democracy in its moments of maximum danger.
Wherever they serve - however they serve - whether they put on a uniform each day, or serve in ways which may never be fully known, these Americans wake up each morning willing to offer the "last full measure of devotion" on our behalf.
Every time they do so, they provide a stunning rebuke to the kinds of voices around the world who doubt freedom and democracy's ability to defend itself.
Unfortunately, we know there are those who seem to not understand – or say they do not - what it is that inspires a free people to step forward, willing to lay down their lives so that their country and fellow citizens might live.
But, we – who are both the wards and stewards of the democracy which has been preserved and handed down to us by veterans throughout our history – do understand.
We know that inciting fear and hatred of others is a source of weakness, not strength. And such divisive rhetoric can never inspire solidarity or sacrifice like love for others and love of country can.
It is this quality of devotion that we most honor in our veterans - those who have served, do serve and will serve.
On behalf of a grateful family of 96,000, thank you for your service.
Each year around Veterans Day, Indeed, one of the world's largest job search engines, rates companies based on actual employee reviews to identify which ones offer the best opportunities and benefits for current and former U.S. military members. Our dramatic improvement in the rankings this year reflects a stronger commitment than ever before to actively recruiting, developing and nurturing veteran talent.
"We've spent a lot of time over the past 12 months looking for ways to better connect with our employees who served and attract new employees from the military ranks," said Global Catering Operations and Logistics Managing Director Ryan Melby, a U.S. Army veteran and the president of our United for Veterans business resource group.
"Our group is launching a mentorship program, for instance, where we'll assign existing employee-veterans to work with new hires who come to us from the armed forces. Having a friend and an ally like that, someone who can help you translate the skills you picked up in the military to what we do as a civilian company, is invaluable. That initiative is still in its infancy, but I'm really optimistic about what it can do for United and for our veteran population here."
Impressively, we were the only one of our industry peers to move up on the list, further evidence that we're on a good track as a company.
The question of where David Ferrari was had haunted retired U.S. Army Sergeant Major Vincent Salceto for the better part of 66 years.
Rarely did a week go by that Salceto didn't think about his old friend. Often, he relived their last moments together in a recurring nightmare. In it, it's once again 1953 and Salceto and Ferrari are patrolling a valley in what is now North Korea. Suddenly, explosions shatter the silence and flares light up the night sky.
Crouching under a barrage of bullets, Salceto, the squad's leader, drags two of his men to safety, then he sees Ferrari lying face down on the ground. He runs out to help him, but he's too late. And that's when he always wakes up.
Italian Americans from opposite coasts – Salceto from Philadelphia, Ferrari from San Francisco – the two became close, almost like brothers, after being assigned to the same unit during the Korean War. When Ferrari died, it hit Salceto hard.
"After that, I never let anyone get close to me like I did with Dave," he says. "I couldn't; I didn't want to go through that again."
When the war ended, Salceto wanted to tell Ferrari's family how brave their son and brother had been in battle. Most of all, he wanted to salute his friend at his gravesite and give him a proper farewell.
For decades, though, Salceto had no luck finding his final resting place or locating any of his relatives. Then, in June of this year, he uncovered a clue that led him to the Italian Cemetary in Colma, California, where Ferrari is buried.
Within days, Salceto, who lives in Franklinville, New Jersey, was packed and sitting aboard United Flight 731 from Philadelphia to San Francisco with his wife, Amy, and daughter, Donna Decker, on his way to Colma. For such a meaningful trip, he even wore his Army dress uniform.
That's how San Francisco-based flight attendant Noreen Baldwin spotted him as he walked down the jet bridge to get on the plane.
"I saw him and said to the other crew members, 'Oh my goodness, look at this guy,'" she says. "I knew there had to be a story."
The two struck up a conversation and Salceto told Baldwin why he was traveling. She got emotional listening to him talk and made a point of fussing over him, making sure he and his family had everything they needed.
About halfway through the flight, Baldwin had an idea. She and her fellow crew members would write messages of encouragement to Salceto and invite his fellow passengers to do the same.
"We did it discreetly," says Baldwin. "I asked the customers if they saw the man in uniform, which most had, and asked them if they wanted to write a few words for him on a cocktail napkin. A lot of people did; families did it together, parents got their kids to write something. After the first few rows, I was so choked up that I could barely talk."
When Baldwin surprised Salceto with dozens of hand-written notes, he, too, was speechless. He laid the stack on his lap and read each one. At the same time, the pilots made an announcement about the veteran over the loud speaker, after which the customers on board burst into applause.
"It seems contrived, and I hate using the word organic, but that's what it was; it just happened," Baldwin says. "Mr. Salceto was so loveable and humble, and what he was doing was so incredible, it felt like the right thing to do. And you could tell he was touched."
On June 27, Salceto finally stood before Ferrari's grave and said that long-awaited goodbye. As a trumpeter played "Taps," he unpinned a medal from his jacket and laid it reverently on the headstone.
"I had gotten a Bronze Star for my actions [the night Ferrari died] with a 'V' for valor, and that was the medal I put on Dave's grave," says Salceto, pausing to fight back tears. "I thought he was more deserving of it than I was."
For the first time in years, Salceto felt at peace. His mission was accomplished.