San Francisco is not quite like other cities. The mid-1800s gold rush transformed what was a small settlement into a booming city; then, a century later in the post-war period, an influx of liberal activists made it the home of American counter-culture, as epitomised by the 1967 Summer of Love. Beyond the Golden Gate Bridge today, a diverse and energetic society is setting its own agenda. Gay rights, feminist views and political liberals have grown strong roots, as have immigrants from every corner of the world. To call it ‘cosmopolitan’ would be an understatement.
Alongside its rebellious attitude, San Francisco has a history of radical environmental action. Vibrant NGOs and charities hold public conferences, workshops and lectures on green issues. The government has introduced numerous ground-breaking policies: it has made recycling and composting mandatory, banned plastic bags from supermarkets; it has even clamped down on happy meals at McDonald’s, arguing that children should not receive toys with meals high on sugar, fat and salt. Such measures have placed San Francisco among the world’s greenest cities.
Ride a cable car
The charming cable cars are among San Francisco’s landmarks, and have criss-crossed the city since 1873. They are a favourite with visitors, and transport some 7.5 million people each year. En route, passengers are often spoilt with panoramic views, which are owed to the city’s hilly streets.
Bike the Golden Gate
Every traveller will want to visit the Golden Gate Bridge; the symbol of San Francisco since 1937. But how? Rent a bike, or put on your walking shoes. And remember: the east side of the bridge is primarily reserved for walkers, while the west side is allocated for cyclists. Bring a camera, warm clothes, and enjoy the view of San Francisco Bay.
San Francisco has an overwhelming selection of eco stores, eco restaurants – and eco hotels. So make sure you choose one of them. The Orchard Garden Hotel is a fine example; a hotel built after the strict standards of the US Green Building Council. Other options include the Good Hotel, the W San Francisco and the Hotel Griffon, located by the waterfront.
Eat organic food
The fact that one organic food directory lists 216 restaurants based in San Francisco tells you everything about the selection at hand. The restaurants range from vegetarian to slow food and organic. On top of that, the country-specific variety goes close to mirroring that of the city’s ethnical diversity.
Visit Alcatraz Island
Alcatraz. The name has a fear-factor to it. The island, of course, is famous for its notorious prison, which operated from 1934 to 1963 and housed criminals such as Al Capone and Robert Stroud. Visitors are shipped out on a ferry, which is partly driven by solar panels and wind turbines. Remember to book well in advance.
Location: On the US west coast
Area: 121.5km2 (46mi2)
Currency: US Dollars ($)
Time zone: GMT-8
Photos: Chintla, Col, Pius Lee, Peeradach Rattanakoses, Dana Smith, trekandshoot [all via Shutterstock.com].