Holidays `99: California - I Left My Heart in San Francisco.In a Cafe
WE FELL in love with everything about the place...but then it was hardly surprising. Well, San Francisco is where the idea of "loving everybody and everything'' first started.
It might be 30 years since the city first put a flower in its hair, but it still has that special kind of magic to set your heart and pulse racing.
The early-morning fog rolling in from the Pacific lifted to reveal streets packed with unmissable sights, excellent restaurants and some great shopping. There's enough to keep you busy for days - so don't make the mistake of just allowing two or three nights here if you're planning a tour of California.
The Americans agree it's their favourite city, maybe because of the strong European flavour or perhaps because it's so friendly.
We couldn't wait to explore San Francisco despite warnings that taking a young child was a recipe for disaster. If a 10-hour flight would not be hard enough with a one-year-old, then the city's roller-coaster streets would have us on our knees, we were told
But don't let the doom merchants put you off. Our daughter was a bit fidgety on the plane, but soon settled down and played with her toys, while cabs made the going easier when those hilly streets proved too much.
When it came to taking a closer look at the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge, we resorted to an old fire engine - a really fun excursion with a difference, although those topsy-turvy streets make it one heck of a bumpy ride.
The bridge is breathtaking whether you see it from a fire engine or on foot. It's certainly more stunning in real life than on any TV screen - a remarkable feat of engineering for the 1930s, even more remarkable when you realise only a handful of workers died during the four years it took to complete.
But there's more to see in San Francisco than just one bridge.
Remember to take a ferry ride to Sausalito with its quaint shops and restaurants.Ferries also make frequent crossings to the nearby town of Tiburon, which is worth a briefer stop. Views of the city skyline are an added bonus.
Back in the city, the famous Victorian houses at Alamo Square are as pretty as their pictures in any guide book, both inside and out.
Chateau Tivoli has an abundance of antique treasures that wouldn't be out of place in Christies, while the picture- postcard row of houses opposite are a delight.
What makes this colourful collection of old houses so special is the stunning backdrop...the San Francisco skyline.
You feel as if you have entered two different time zones at the same time as you stare at the old and new together.
Not far away from Alamo Square is Golden Gate Park which, in true American style, is on a grand scale. It's a pleasant change of scenery and pace from downtown San Francisco, with the added bonus of The Academy of Science on the site.
Union Square is the place to go for serious shopaholics. You'll find the big name stores like Macy's and Saks there, but the friendly staff at nearby Nordstrom make this store well worth a visit.
Lovers of fine paintings will also be drawn to Union Square, as there are some splendid art shops where you can often get the chance to talk to the artist before having the chance of purchasing his or her work.
After some serious shopping, recharge your batteries with afternoon tea at the elegant Westin St Francis. …