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Time in San Francisco
Spring is a very attractive time to visit San Francisco with temperatures averaging 16°C (61°F). The city gets busier during the spring break – there are 17 colleges in the area and lots of students take spring break here – but visitor numbers are still not as high as the middle of the summer. The parks look their best at this time of year – now is a great time to climb Bernal Heights Hill and enjoy the view of the city below or to hop across the Golden Gate bridge to the Marin Headlands.
San Francisco is famous for its fog, which can be quite heavy in summer, keeping temperatures cool as it blankets the city. But on the days when there are clear skies, San Francisco can reach highs of at least 23°C (73°F). July and August can see 12-14 hours of sunshine a day. Summer is a great time to explore the beaches of the Bay Area. Even if it isn’t warm enough to swim, you can watch wildlife on Rodeo Beach, fly a kite on Ocean Beach or enjoy the buzz at the area’s most popular beach: Baker Beach.
As most tourists go home and the schools and colleges return, San Francisco becomes less busy. This is a great time to enjoy the museums and art galleries. SFMoMA has artworks by Jasper Johns, Frida Kahlo and Henri Matisse, whilst the most beautiful attraction at the Museum of Fine Arts is outside: its attractive waterside rotunda. Thanksgiving, the third Thursday of November, may affect certain opening times, so always check first. Plenty of restaurants do set Thanksgiving menus that are well worth checking out – there are places to suit all budgets.
The Beach Boys may have sang about California’s famous sun, but winter temperatures in San Francisco can dip as low as 9°C (48°F). Popular attractions such as Alcatraz have lower visitor numbers in the winter however and the city feels slightly quieter than it does in the summer. Hire a car, and then just three hours drive north of San Francisco are the ski resorts of Lake Tahoe if you want to embrace the snow and hit the slopes.
If you’re a citizen of a country covered by the Visa Waiver Programme (such as the UK), you will need to have a valid e-Passport along with an approved ESTA to enter the USA. You can identify an e-Passport by the ‘chip’ symbol on the front cover.
You can apply for an ESTA online, and should receive approval straight away, although we recommend applying at least 72 hours before departure, in case any travel authorisation is denied. An ESTA is valid for multiple journeys and lasts for two years, or until your passport expires.
You will no longer be able to enter the USA using an ESTA if you have dual nationality, with one passport being issued by a country eligible under the Visa Waiver Programme and the other issued by Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria.
UK citizens can also fast track US passport control by joining Global Entry, the US Customs and Border Protection programme. Membership lasts for five years and the application process includes background checks and a face-to-face interview at an official enrolment centre.
Remember, it’s your responsibility to ensure that you have the right documents to be allowed entry into the USA when flying into San Francisco.
Though you won’t necessarily need a car in the centre of San Francisco, picking up a hire car is really useful if you’re going on to explore beyond the bay – and drive over that amazing Golden Gate Bridge. Driving in northern California is real pleasure. Many people motor the few hours up to Yosemite National Park, pop over to San Jose, Monterey and Sacramento, or even continue down the coast to Los Angeles. You can add car hire to your flight booking. If you’re parking on an incline, curbing your wheels is required by law – to stop your vehicle rolling down the hill.
You can hail cabs on the streets of San Francisco, but there are also plenty of cabs you can book by phone, including the Yellow Cab Company and Luxor – and Green Cab, which is carbon neutral and has a fleet of hybrids. YoTaxi has an app you can download to book its cabs – and Uber and Lyft operate in the area, too. Otherwise, you can always ask your hotel concierge to help you organise a ride. Getting around by cab is convenient and it means you don’t have to pay steep parking fees; but in this busy city, journeys aren’t always fast.
The bus and train services in San Francisco are run by BART, and most trains run from 04:00 until 00:30 at night. Tickets can be bought at automatic vending machines at the station or online. A ClipperCard will keep the cost down, and it can be bought and topped up online or in the stations. Whatever you do, you shouldn’t miss a ride on a San Francisco cable car. These pieces of history have been part of the San Fran landscape since the 1870s and are the most fun way to get uphill. Three lines run in the centre of town – use your ClipperCard to buy tickets or download the MuniMobile app.
Bike hire and cycle tours are popular in San Francisco – who wouldn’t want to cycle over Golden Gate Bridge? Cycling is a great way to see neighbourhoods and sights you may well miss otherwise. There are several companies to choose from for your two-wheeled wandering, including Blazing Saddles and San Francisco Bicycle Rentals. Walking is easy around San Francisco; it’s an attractive city and easily accessible on foot – wandering through Golden Gate Park is a particular highlight. There are several websites dedicated to walking routes around the city and many well-known urban hiking trails. Try walking to Land’s End, above Ocean Beach, for views of Golden Gate Bridge.
Tipping in San Francisco isn’t just for good service – it’s a part of the culture here, as many service industries such as hotels, restaurants and transportation factor tips into their staff’s wages – but that doesn’t mean you have to go crazy with it. Our guide will help simplify who, when and how much to tip when you’re out and about in the Bay area.
For most restaurants in San Francisco, a tip between 15 and 20 per cent on the pre-tax total is standard. If you feel your service was exceptional, a tip of 22 per cent would be recommended. An easy way to calculate the tip is just to double the tax – which works out to be roughly 18 per cent. If you’re eating at a hotel restaurant or with a big group (usually six or more), the tip is sometimes already included in the bill as a service charge or gratuity – however, this might not go to your server, so check it carefully before leaving any additional money.
If you order a beer or wine, a $1-$2 tip per drink is typical in San Francisco. Even if you order a soft drink, a tip of about 50 cents per drink is expected. For cocktails, $2-$3 should suffice, although if you’re drinking in an upscale bar, where bartenders take time to create your drink, it’s better to leave $3-$4 per drink.
On short rides around San Francisco, it’s common to round up the fare, while the average tip for a longer journey should be around 15 per cent. If you’re travelling to and from the airport and your driver helps you load and unload your bags, it’s recommended to tip around 20 to 22 per cent.
Tipping is also expected at hotels in San Francisco. It’s best to tip the person directly at the time of service. If the porters help you carry your bags, expect to tip $1 or $2 per bag. If the doorman hails a cab for you, you should tip $1. And hotel maids might also expect $1 or $2 for a few days of cleaning.
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