United's Ultimate Guide to San Francisco's Top Neighborhoods - United Hub

The ultimate guide to San Francisco's top neighborhoods

By Bob Cooper

Seeing the sights of San Francisco is fun, but once you've been to Fisherman's Wharf, Pier 39, Union Square, the waterfront and the major museums — what's next? Try venturing out to San Francisco's colorful, eclectic neighborhoods for a more authentic experience.

Each major neighborhood is filled with pleasant people-watching, rave-worthy restaurants and a major upcoming festival. And each is within 20 minutes of downtown hotels on foot or by light-rail, streetcar, bus, taxi or ride-share.

Chinatown neighborhood in San Francisco Chinatown

Chinatown

First generation Chinese-Americans have crowded into America's oldest Chinatown for more than a century, so it feels like a slice of China with its hundreds of shops, produce markets, teahouses and restaurants (check out China Live). Visitors should explore Stockton Street and the alleys where locals shop — not just tourist-oriented Grant Avenue.

North Beach

Italian-Americans rebuilt San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fire and settled in North Beach, where you can still enjoy pasta and Italian espresso. (Try crazy-fun Stinking Rose, the iconic Caffe Trieste or America's oldest Italian restaurant, Fior d'Italia.) And if you're in town in June, check out the North Beach Festival (June 15-16) and in October, the 151st Italian Heritage Parade (October 13).

The Marina

Marina residents enjoy the city's best Golden Gate Bridge views, and it's the best place by far to watch the Blue Angels perform over the bay during the San Francisco Fleet Week Air Show, presented by none other than United (October 11-13). It's also a bonanza for the upscale shopping and dining — try Pacific Catch or Kaiyo — on two parallel commercial streets: Union Street attracts a well-heeled older crowd and Chestnut Street attracts a livelier and younger crowd.

The Castro neighborhood in San Francisco Castro neighborhood

The Castro

The Castro has been at the heart of LGBTQ culture in the U.S. for 50 years, and the neighborhood is as vibrant as ever. Visitors should stop by the GLBT Museum, enjoy lunch and a chamtini (champagne/martini) at Harvey's — named after "Mayor of Castro Street" Harvey Milk, and catch a classic movie at the Castro Theatre, a 1,400-seat art-deco gem. The Castro is at its liveliest during San Francisco's Pride Parade & Celebration (June 29-30).

People sun bathing at Dolores Park in the Mission District in San Francisco Summer at Dolores Park

The Mission

In the heavily Hispanic Mission District, rapidly gentrifying Valencia Street is just edgy enough to be a favorite of millennials. Taco joints stand alongside fine dining, but affordable, restaurants like Locanda and Al's Place — the least-expensive Michelin-star restaurant in America. Between meals, check out Mission Dolores, the oldest building in the city (1791), and Dolores Park, millennial central on sunny days. Valencia Street teems with 10,000 bookworms during Lit Crawl (October 19), a three-hour circus of 108 readings by authors and poets.

The Haight

Fifty-two years after the Summer of Love, there's still a lot to love about the Haight besides taking a selfie at the famed intersection of Haight and Ashbury. The hippie vibe still lives on even as once-radical concepts like socialism and marijuana use are now more accepted. On the street once prowled by Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead are Hippie Thai, the world's largest independent music store, a dazzling Buddhist-merchandise shop and a unique tie-dye shop, Love on Haight.

Fillmore/Japantown

Japantown is the Bay Area's cultural hub for Japanese-Americans and the Fillmore District is a hub of African-American culture. They are side-by-side on Fillmore Street, with the Japan Center Mall the focal point of Japantown and the Fillmore District stretching north along Fillmore. Enjoy Waraku's ramen for lunch or nightly jazz and Italian fare at Zingari. The Fillmore's rich jazz history is celebrated during the Fillmore Jazz Festival (July 6-7) and Japantown's big festival is the Nihonmachi Street Fair (August 4-5).

Conservatory of Flowers in the Golden Gate Bridge Park Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park

Inner Richmond

The predominantly Asian-American Inner Richmond District is the thickest concentration of Asian restaurants in the city outside Chinatown. The 12-block-long buffet line of eateries on Clement Street includes memorable spots like Chili House, where you can enjoy a dim sum lunch between visits to the Conservatory of Flowers and the California Academy of Sciences and De Young museums in nearby Golden Gate Park. Also in the park on October 4-6 is Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, a free, six-stage outdoor concert that draws more than a half-million people.

If you go

A San Francisco visit is a great escape from summer heat or for a fall getaway when the weather is the most pleasant. United offers numerous flights to San Francisco from cities throughout the U.S. and worldwide. MileagePlus® Rewards can help pay for your hotel room. Go to united.com or use the United app to plan your San Francisco vacation.

Cape Town: A first-timer’s guide to the Mother City

By Eric Rubens , December 07, 2019

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.

Insider tips:

-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.

You can purchase tickets now at united.com or on the United app for three weekly nonstop flights from New York/Newark to Cape Town beginning December 15.

Opinions expressed by the author are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of United.

Say Halo to Curaçao

By Bob Cooper , December 06, 2019

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.

Settling in

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.

Ready, set…

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

Flight reservations from New York/Newark (EWR) to Curaçao (CUR) can be made at united.com on the United app. Use miles to reserve a hotel, rental car or both with MileagePlus®.

Fantasy Flights: Making holiday wishes come true

By The Hub team , December 04, 2019

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

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