No doubt about it, San Francisco is a fabulous food city. In fact, those in the know rate this as the restaurant capital of the country. There are over 3,000 eateries to sample, some of them home to the best chefs and finest ingredients in the land. With an emphasis on artisan culinary delights, impressive famers' markets, creative fine-dining and speciality food stores, San Francisco is a thrill for foodies.
Local dishes are typically ingredient driven, incorporating farm fresh produce and the best of regional wineries, dairies and organic produce suppliers. No one cuisine dominates; there is rather a wonderful variety to experience. Asian fusion food is well represented, with a strong emphasis on fresh local seafood. For Italian dishes head over to North Beach; for Chinese and other Asian dishes, make a beeline for Chinatown. The Mission district is home to a huge variety of Mexican and Latino restaurants.
San Francisco is a health-conscious city, and vegetarians and vegans will find more options than they had ever dreamed possible. The city is notorious for clamping down on unhealthy kids' meals as well, so parents will be happy with the healthy choices presented.
Shopping in San Francisco is a delightful experience with varied shopping centres, charming districts and wonderful malls to keep you interested.
Some of the city's best shopping is at its museums. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art store has an incredible selection of art books, posters and other beautiful curios, while the Exploratorium offers an irresistible range of interactive toys, robots, experiment kits and other science themed media and curios. The Asian Art Museum has the city's best collection of books, fabrics, statues, bowls and jewellery in theme with its expansive exhibits on Asian art through the centuries.
For an authentic experience of Japanese culture with all the weird and wonderful shops that go along with it, visit Japan Center on Geary Street. This center, which meanders through several buildings on a second-storey skyway, contains dozens of stores selling everything from manga to traditional medicine. Coupled with the excellent sushi restaurants it's like being transplanted into Tokyo for the afternoon.
Union Square is home to top labels and boutiques. Haight and Ashbury Streets may have shed much of their hippy heritage with the area's steady gentrification but have still retained an eclectic selection of stores that make this area one of the most interesting to shop in. In a similar vein, Hayes Valley is also a good bet for galleries, boutiques and studios. Travellers shouldn't miss Chinatown for an incredible collection of Asian products, while Alemany Market and San Jose flea market (on the edge of town) offer a hugely varied range of goods.
The best of the many shopping malls are probably Westfield San Francisco Centre and Ghirardelli Square, Westfield having an emphasis on value stores and well-known brands, while Ghirardelli offers speciality stores and award-winning restaurants. Top purchases while in the city include music records and books, giant fortune cookies and wine from the Napa Valley. Tax can be refunded if goods are shipped outside California; travellers should keep their receipts and enquire when departing at the airport.
San Francisco nightlife is diverse and enticing. Each neighbourhood's bars, clubs and lounges have a unique atmosphere, and there are multiple cafés and performing arts venues to enjoy. As San Francisco after dark is known for its novelty and constant innovation, be sure to check online for special events, once-off performances and pop-up dining that may coincide with your travel dates.
For electronic music clubs, hip hop and art lounges try the SoMa area, while the Mission and Marina districts are good for bars. Gay-friendly bars and clubs are prevalent in the Castro area, and North Beach boasts neon strip joints and bars. The San Francisco Opera stages a free performance of Opera in the Park, followed by occasional free performances throughout the city. Ballet and modern dance can be seen at the Cowell Theater and Marina Boulevard. The Civic Center-Hayes Valley area is known for brilliant live performance venues and is the go-to spot for ballet, opera and jazz.
There is plenty to do after hours in San Francisco and visitors are bound to have a tough time choosing from the utter abundance of weird and wonderful, original and entertaining night time activities.