San Francisco is a treasured respite from mainstream America. One of the most beautiful cities in the US, and arguably the most broadminded, its people take pride in their liberal sanctuary. The conservatism engulfing the rest of the nation can be suffocating at times but in San Francisco the culture seeps into your system – just breathe in the avant-garde air.
A city comprised of steep hills and diverse neighborhoods, there are literally hundreds of San Francisco hotels to choose from. Downtown (around Union Square and SoMa) offers all the big name chains – Best Western, Crowne Plaza, Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, Raddison – but we chose the smaller independent Mosser Hotel for its innovative package deals and mixed budget options.
True to San Francisco's all-embracing nature, The Mosser Hotel seamlessly blends economical rooms with shared hall bath and deluxe rooms with private bathrooms. This cute-as-a-button hotel has retained a Victorian exterior whilst completely revamping its innards. We recommend The Mosser Hotel for single female travellers in particular, or for anyone who values personal security, favours being central to just about everything, and appreciates modern amenities including great artwork, WiFi for tech heads, a recording studio for creative types and double-double paned windows to keep out the traffic noise (bless them!).
Plus you sleep soundly with the knowledge that a portion of The Mosser Hotel's revenue goes towards reforestation, literacy and education programs. Don't be fooled into thinking this is a first-rate hostel though. The Mosser Hotel is a charming boutique hotel, but one with no self-catering facilities. You can't even make a cup of tea in your room. But who needs tea when you've got San Francisco at your doorstep? Literally.
With over three thousand restaurants crammed onto the small peninsula, you won't go hungry in San Francisco. Thankfully, San Franciscans have a grasp on moderation when it comes to eating. Annabelle's Bar & Bistro, attached to The Mosser Hotel, offers a continental breakfast for US$9.95 but there are cheaper options around town. As if bacon and eggs on toast wasn't enough of an artery plug, try a bacon, egg and cheese croissant at Franciscan Croissant (cnr Grant Ave and Sutter St).
For cheap eats you can't go past a Mission burrito. For more discerning foodies, head to the Castro or upscale Nob Hill. We tried the wine bar Mecca, which proved to be dark and seductive; our cash mysteriously vaporising with every drink. Our best meal in San Francisco came unexpectedly from the city's financial district. Perbacco offers exceptional Northern Italian cuisine accompanied by an extensive wine list, outstanding service, reasonable prices and absolutely no hint of pretension.
We were also in San Francisco for the start of Dungeness crab season; a crustacean renowned for its sweet buttery flavour. At this time of year you'll find crab on the menu of every restaurant in town (think Bubba Gump and his endless repertoire of shrimp dishes and you'll come close to the gastronomic variations of crab meat on offer). For absolute freshness, handpick a live crab from the street stalls along Fisherman's Wharf and have it cooked in front of you. The anticipation is agonising: side effects include hopping from one foot to the other, salivating and the unconscious readying of cutlery.
A crisp beer makes a good companion to the velvety Dungeness crab. If you think all American beer is as bad as Budweiser, then you're in for a pleasant surprise. There are plenty of microbreweries around San Francisco to keep you intoxicated on full-flavoured brews: San Francisco Brewing Company, Anchor Brewing, Speakeasy Ales & Lagers, and my favourite, Magnolia Pub & Brewery. The San Franciscans are particularly into their pale ales and India ales.
If your palate leans more towards wine then you're also in luck. The US is the fourth leading wine-producing country in the world (after France, Italy and Spain), and Californian wineries produce a whopping 90% of all US wines. Read more Californian wine statistics here. Sonama and Napa Valley, a day trip from San Francisco are the best known Californian wine regions.