A few fun things to do in San Francisco

Alcatraz

A visit to Alcatraz is a must if you’re in San Francisco.  It is well known for being the prison island but you will also discover more about its history whilst enjoying terrific views.  You can order your tickets up to 90 days in advance and our advice is to make full use of this 90 day period as tickets sell out FAST!

See the real San Francisco

Head to Richmond District (north of Golden Gate Park) and take a walk on Clement Street between 2nd and 12th Avenue.  If you want to head South of Golden Gate Park try Sunset District and walk around 9th Avenue and Irving Street.  Don’t miss 16th Avenue Staircase – 163 steps of mosaic tiles.

Noe Valley isn’t far away and you can enjoy 24th Street and if you have a car, drive around Noe Valley to see some great Victorian architecture.  Also, here you’re not far away from Twin Peaks where you can get a great view of the city and don’t forget to try the Seward Street Slides!!

You may take a liking to Chestnut Street in the Marina District and then decide to take a walk along the Marina Green at Marina Boulevard; it’s an easy walk with spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge and hills.

Golden Gate Bridge

The 9th longest suspension bridge in the world opened in May 1937, connecting San Francisco to other Californian counties.  Contrary to belief, Golden Gate Bridge is not painted end to end each year but it is an on-going task to maintain it.  You can drive along the bride (toll payable), walk along it, cycle the bridge or admire it from a distance to try and emulate many a famous photo.  To cross the bridge and come back again it will take roughly 40 minutes at a reasonable pace without stopping often to take snaps.

Try one of the world’s weirdest restaurants

Forbes Island – the world’s only manmade floating island

Supperclub –  a restaurant, cocktail bar, club, gallery and ‘experimental free state’

The Brainwash Caféeat great food, do your laundry and watch a comedy show

Tonga Room – complete with its own indoor hurricane!

Straw – a carnival themed restaurant where you can play games whilst eating candy floss

Pier 39

Pier 39 is a bustling tourist hotspot full of entertainment for families and shops for those who like to take home a few souvenirs.  However, the real draw here is K-Dock: home to hundreds of sea lions.  It’s free to visit and you can catch them sunbathing at most points throughout the day.  The sea lions like to take a holiday too and so if you want to see a house full, visit from late July to early May.

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10 things to do in New York this winter!

Stop for drinks on the 8th floor of The Marriott Hotel in Times Square.  It’s not very expensive when you consider its location and the view you get of Times Square.

Catch the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City with the Rockettes from November.  For all Scrooges out there, be warned!  It’s very happy and Christmassy and full of American splendour.  We got tickets on the door.  They were in the very back row but even these were great and we got to sit next to two old New Yorkers who go every year.

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You have to see a show on Broadway when in New York but don’t forget to save yourself some pennies and head to TKTS earlier in the day (the same TKTS you find in Leicester Square).  We got tickets 5 rows back for little over $50 each.  The kiosk opens at 3pm for evening performances (2pm on Tuesdays).

Get your skates on at the Wollman Rink which opens in late October.  It’s the biggest rink in the city and set in Central Park.  Head to Bryant Park for free admission (also open in late October).  You still need to pay for skate hire and a lock for the lockers (!) and so if you have a lock with you (on your suitcase!), you may as well take this as it just may save you $9.  Travel light as lockers are small.

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We found Max Brenner (see the dessert menu!) by accident and what a wonderful accident that was.  A must visit for all chocolate lovers out there.  You can order incredible ice-cream, chocolate pizza, fondue and try the Hug Mug with Mexican spicy chocolate or Italian hot chocolate (this is best dark).

Walk, walk, walk!  There is so much to see in this city, don’t miss out by taking cabs and the subway all the time.  Take in sights such as the Empire State Building, the New York Public Library, the Chrysler Building and Grand Central Station.  Don’t forget the views back over the city from Brooklyn Bridge and of course Central Park.

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Take a helicopter flight at night and fly around the Statue of Liberty.  Try Liberty Helicopters where you can buy a ‘Soar and Sail’ tour for $150 pp (it may be cheaper booking through your hotel or looking out for discounts which can be found on its website).

The Statue of Liberty tour takes a long time and so get up early and head for the first boat out at 9:30am from Battery Park taking in Ellis Island on the way back and don’t plan too many other activities for the day.

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Take your credit card for all the shopping there is to be done.  Macys is the largest and most reasonable of all department stores and has a wonderful shop window display nearing Christmas and don’t forget your brown bag from Bloomies.

If you are there for the Rockefeller light switch on (3 December), don’t miss it.  It’s known for having a host of fantastic acts.  We saw (or rather heard!) performances from John Legend, Sting and Enya to name a few.  Our tip is to get there early to get a better spot but be very prepared to stand around for a while.

5 tips for Respectful and Ethical travel

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Tip 1

Travel on foot, bike, bus and train wherever possible when you arrive at your destination.  You never quite get to know a city until you have walked it.  We found a lot of hidden gems in New York thanks to taking only one subway whilst there.

Tip 2

Learn basic phrases in the native language of the country you’re visiting.  This can result in friendlier exchanges, better bartering and you’re learning!  Check out this helpful BBC page.

Tip 3

Be aware of local customs to avoid causing offence and embarrassment.

    1. Thailand – Never disrespect the king or images of him (this includes currency).  Openly doing so can result in imprisonment and possibly the death penalty.
    2. Dubai – Some prescription drugs (including some commonly used anti-depressants) are included on the UAE’s controlled list and you should check the status of their medicines before bringing them into the country.
    3. Venice – feeding pigeons is against the law and could land you with a fine.
    4. Barbados – it’s an offence to dress in camouflage clothing and you can be fined.

Tip 4

Are you a keen photographer?  Holiday snaps are a lovely souvenir but be careful what you capture.  You should always check the laws of the country you are visiting to make sure you do not come home with a fine too.  Hungary has just introduced a law (March 2014) making it illegal to take a photograph without obtaining permission from everybody in the photo.

Tip 5

Be sparing with the water you use.  Take quick showers, re-use your towels and don’t leave taps running whilst brushing your teeth.  Our charity of the year is also supporting a clean water project and it’s only £8 to donate and so think about offsetting your use by donating.