San FranciscoTravel Guide

Epicentre of the hippie movement in the late 1960s, San Francisco still prides itself on being an open-minded city with a bohemian soul. This is also a city with its fair share of must-do experiences, such as a walk over the Golden Gate Bridge, a visit to Alcatraz, a ride on a cable car and, of course, dropping in on the neighbourhood of Haight-Ashbury. San Francisco is also home to eclectic bookshops, a fabulous Chinatown, the beautiful Golden Gate Park and so many other gems.If you’re planning a visit, explore our San Francisco travel guide and find out how to make the most of your time in this city by the bay. We’ve collected the best tips from our travel experts, and have top suggestions for things to do, the best time to travel, where to stay in San Francisco, getting around and more.

San Francisco quick facts

Language

National language

English

Beverages

Bottle of Coke/Pepsi (330ml)

NZD $4.44

Local time

Saturday

4:48am

Currency

United States dollar

NZD $1.00 = USD $0.61

Eating out

Restaurant meal (casual dining)

NZD $40.84

Electricity

Plug type: A

2 or 3 pins • 120V

Explore San Francisco

Where to stay in San Francisco?

San Francisco is a city bursting with personality. Each neighbourhood and precinct have their own unique flavour. Likewise, every shop, restaurant, bar, and gallery has unique charms to contribute to this city’s fine culture. So no matter where you stay in San Francisco, you won't have to travel far to discover something totally original right next-door. The bustling city centre of Union Square and the revitalised South of Market by the bay both offer the authentic San Francisco experience, in totally different ways. Free-spirit or trendsetter, the best areas to stay in San Francisco feel like they’re tailored for you.

Welcome to the centre of fine-dining, fashion, and art. Easily accessible and always providing plenty to eat, drink and see, Union Square is the crown jewel of San Francisco's shopping districts. Stroll through some of the finest galleries and discover some of the coolest bars. From here, the city is laid out before you. Shop 'til you drop, rinse and repeat.


South of Market (SoMa) is an impressively vast district, sprawling out across the southern reaches of the bay. The revitalised neighbourhood is a puzzle of warehouses, chic nightspots, loft apartments, art spaces, and internet start-ups. With ongoing development and gentrification, SoMa is an up-and-coming neighbourhood, making it one of the best areas to stay in San Francisco.


Nob Hill is one of San Francisco's signature suburbs. The iconic rolling hill is almost frozen in time, with barber shops, corner cafes, and cocktail lounges dotting its streets. Nob Hill holds the character of a bygone era with charm and sophistication. A cable car trip down towards the bay will land you right in the buzzing Fisherman's Wharf.


The home of San Francisco's government, the Civic Centre has been witness to some of the most culturally vital turning points for the city by the bay. An opera house, state library, museums, and shopping plazas make this one of San Francisco's most esteemed neighbourhoods. The area has also recently gone through a period of beautification.


The Embarcadero has a reputation as one of the liveliest and most scenic spots along the Bay Area. Its proximity to Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf make it a must-visit destination for food lovers and shopaholics. Ghirardelli Square is full of boutiques and restaurants. If you want to get to Alcatraz, Pier 33 is your passageway to the infamous island prison.


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  • Cars entering and exiting Golden Gate Bridge during day time
    • Cable car and cars going through the city of San Francisco
    • groups of sealions laying in the sun on wooden planks on pier 39
  • Cars entering and exiting Golden Gate Bridge during day time
    Cars entering and exiting Golden Gate Bridge during day time
    Cars entering and exiting Golden Gate Bridge during day time
  • Cable car and cars going through the city of San Francisco
    Cable car and cars going through the city of San Francisco
    Cable car and cars going through the city of San Francisco
  • groups of sealions laying in the sun on wooden planks on pier 39
    groups of sealions laying in the sun on wooden planks on pier 39
    groups of sealions laying in the sun on wooden planks on pier 39

Things to do in San Francisco

As a city built largely on trade, there’s no shortage of things to do in San Francisco. Discover fresh fish markets along the piers of the bay, organic sellers from the farmland valleys, and small businesses dotted throughout the city’s warren of charming districts. Every one of them is keeping the historic market culture alive and well. The food is wonderfully eclectic and equally delicious. Arts and culture are respected and celebrated across all facets, and museums and galleries are plentiful.

The Golden Gate Bridge is at the top of every visitor's to-do list – and for good reason! Opened in 1937 and initially dubbed ‘the bridge that couldn't be built', today the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the United States' most recognisable structures. After a walk across the bridge, visit the gentrified former Presidio barracks for a coffee.


Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39 are everything you need for a postcard-perfect view of the bay. A short stroll from Chinatown, take in the marvellous views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. Enjoy street performers, seaside dining, and market shopping. Make sure to keep an eye out for the local sea lions that often hang out around the boardwalk.


As one of the oldest settlements in San Francisco, the Mission District has been the epicentre of some of the most iconic music, art, and performance to come out of the Bay Area. Inspired by traditional Mexican art, the Mission's buildings and walls are stunningly decorated by colourful intricate murals. On nearly every street you'll find bookstores, cafes, and restaurants to explore. These mesmerising murals are most concentrated in Balmy Alley. The first murals appeared in the mid-1980s as expressions of political distrust from the marginalised people of San Francisco. Today, big cultural and human rights issues still grace the walls of Balmy Alley. The alley is best seen on foot, with every detail on display and at your fingertips.


Baker Beach is a scenic stretch of sand nestled at the foot of rugged cliffs on the Presidio's western shore. The beach offers a spectacular alternative view of Golden Gate Bridge. From the white sands no buildings are visible, leaving the bridge to loom over the pastoral headlands. The northern end of the beach is also frequented by ‘clothing-optional' bathers, so venture that way at your own discretion.


Running parallel with Union Square, Geary Street in San Francisco's city centre is virtually overflowing with art galleries. In a city where art is at the forefront of the cultural palate, Geary Street is the home of the local art scene. With so many spots to explore, why not take a chance and pop in wherever takes your fancy?


Step inside a mad scientist's penny arcade! The Exploratorium is San Francisco's self-described public learning laboratory. Overlooking the bay on Pier 15, explore science, art, and human perception. Learn and create in what the New York Times once called the most important science museum of the 20th century. If you've ever wanted the answers to the universe, the Exploratorium might just have what you're looking for (or it'll come pretty close!).


Alcatraz was once home to America's most notorious criminals. These days, the inescapable penitentiary, also known as ‘The Rock', is open to the public. Explore the beautiful island in the shade of the legendary prison walls. Venture inside on a guided tour and take a glimpse at how infamous inmates like Al Capone lived while on the inside.
 


Alamo Square is home to San Francisco's most peculiar women. At Hayes and Steiner Street, you'll find a tight, escalating formation of Victorian houses painted in sweet pastels standing before a backdrop of city skyscrapers. The stunning contrast makes the ‘Painted Ladies' one of the most photographed locations in the city. The area is also home to several lovely B&Bs for those wishing to spend some time in one of San Francisco's most picturesque locales.


Inspired by the social-realism art movement, the Coit Tower stands proud perched atop historic Telegraph Hill. Praised by architectural critics, from the top of the tower you can look out over the magnificent views of the Bay Area's greatest landmarks. By night, a trip to the top is a spectacular way to marvel at the lights of the city.


Internationally recognised for its world-renowned collection of modern and contemporary art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is a palace of human creativity and imagination. The building itself is a work of art, jutting out from the cityscape in spectacular fashion. Engage your mind with artworks that are elsewhere unparalleled.


The historic and humble cable car is a fixture of San Francisco's famously hilly city streets. It also happens to be a very reliable way to get around. The Cable Car Museum houses a collection of classic cable cars, photographs, and displays of the world's last manually operated system of its kind.


Looking for an immersive experience? Then a tour is the way to go.

San Francisco travel tips

The city is such a hive of activity, so the best San Francisco travel tip is to make sure you flesh out a solid itinerary before you fly. This way, you’ll hopefully get to tick off all the high-priority items on your to-do list!Preparation really is key, and the same can be said for any trip to the United States. Planning ahead with your Flight Centre Travel Expert will help you make the most of your time abroad. In the weeks leading up to and during your San Francisco holiday, it’s important to stay informed about any safety concerns and events occurring in the United States.

Visiting San Francisco as a short-term tourist? You'll most likely be eligible for admission for up to 90 days on an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). If you'd like to stay longer than 3 months (and who wouldn't in San Francisco?), you'll need to get a visa before you arrive.


San Francisco food is a true melting pot of cultural cuisine. Mexican, Chinese, and local seafood are the most popular and widespread dining options. If you have dietary requirements, simply speak to your waiter and the venue will most likely be more than happy to accommodate. In a city as progressive as San Francisco, gluten-free and vegan cuisine are both easy to come by as well.


Unlike our diagonal-pronged 240v electrical outlets, the United States uses horizontal-pronged 110v outlets. To charge your phone or use your laptop while travelling in San Francisco, you'll need to invest in a suitable adapter. You can buy one before your flight, though you won't have much trouble finding one among the many shops of San Francisco if you forget to do so.


San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is the primary commercial airport servicing San Francisco, located 20km south of the downtown area. SFO also services flights to major metropolitan areas across the Unites States. The airport features a number of security and immigration checkpoints and screening areas, which are operated by the Transportation Security Administration.


As you'd expect, San Francisco uses the US Dollar (USD). The actual note/coin breakdown is slightly different to what we're used to in Australia, with pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters and half-dollar coins, and values of $1 or more existing as banknotes. Check online for the current AUD-to-USD exchange rate.


Tipping is a common custom in San Francisco and is standard practice throughout the United States. Hospitality salaries are considerably low, so waiters and other service people rely on receiving tips of about 15-20% of each bill. It's also courteous to tip a similar percentage for taxi drivers in San Francisco.


San Francisco's official language is English, as with the rest of the United States. The Bay Area is also home to a diverse mix of secondary dialects, prominently a variety of Chinese dialects such as Taishanese and Cantonese. San Francisco also has rich culture of local ‘slang', which to English-speaking travellers will be simple enough to understand when used in conversation.


Flights to San Francisco

San Francisco food and drink

Let your senses fall in love with the sumptuous tastes of San Francisco food and drink. From street food to fine-dining, the cultural complexity of the city lends itself perfectly to flavoursome cuisine. Enjoy some of the most unique dining experiences across the city, as California and the rest of the world collide in delicious fashion. The city’s chefs are like artists, and they treat their craft with an unrivalled intensity. The results are stunning. Ingredients are organic and fresh, and each district offers its own spin on what it means to dine in San Francisco. As such, the foodie scene here is brimming with originality.

From the Mission District to the city centre and everywhere in between, San Francisco is a hive for restaurant dining. Chinatown and Pier 39 offer up the best in fresh seafood, while the Haight is the place for great Mexican street food. Trendy eateries are popping up all over the city, each one proving why some of America's greatest food trends are coming out of the Bay Area.


With music being such an important part of the city's identity, dancing and drinking in San Francisco go hand in hand. Cocktail bars, pubs, converted warehouses, and theatres make for the greatest locations to grab a drink. Whether your chosen venue is industrial-chic or roaring 1920s revitalised, have fun and enjoy something out of the ordinary. Discover the pure enjoyment of San Francisco's bars and nightlife.


The ‘City by the Bay' is all about fresh produce. With the coast to the west and luscious pastures in the valleys that surround the bay, organic food is the focal point of the thriving local markets. The best markets are easy to find and always buzzing with activity. Make sure to bring a keen appetite – you'll have no trouble indulging yourself when visiting San Francisco markets. Highlights include the farmers' markets in Ferry Plaza and Alemany.


San Francisco is a coffee lover's nirvana. Hole-in-the-wall vendors and hip cafes and coffee shops have nestled themselves into every corner of the city. San Francisco's best brewers and baristas understand how import coffee is to their patrons, and they live to create brews unlike any other. The aroma of freshly ground coffee beans wafting through the city is truly fantastic.


Get a real taste for the local cuisine by booking a tour.

San Francisco through your eyes

Where to shop in San Francisco?

Shopaholics, brace yourself – San Francisco’s shopping scene is an experience and a half. The city centre is home to big brands, haute couture, and major department stores. Vibrant neighbourhood districts are inhabited by kitsch boutiques, vintage shops, and locally designed fashion that you simply won't find anywhere else. Meanwhile, outdoor flea markets are the perfect place to indulge in some unique retail therapy as you soak in the infectious Bay Area atmosphere. The rich mix of retailers is sure to keep you enthralled, and savvy shoppers are certain to discover something fit for any budget. Whether you’re hippy-chic or urban sophisticate, discover your style while shopping in San Francisco.

Fashion, food, and music – San Francisco does it best. Get amongst the locals and discover beautiful handmade garments and collectable treasures in San Francisco's flea markets. Popular locations like Treasure Island Flea and the United Nations Plaza offer great shopping for antiques, vintage fashion, and independent designers. You can also enjoy local artists, food trucks, and Californian wine vendors as you indulge in some much-deserved retail therapy.


For those looking for the best in designer brands, make yourself at home around Union Square. The city centre is wall-to-wall fashion, with Westfield San Francisco Centre being the epitome of the sophisticated shopping experience. This massive mall is a wonderful ode to American consumerism in striking marble and gold. Here you'll discover the epicentre of San Francisco fashion and design.


If you enjoy shopping then you'll want to spend a good amount of time (and perhaps money) in San Francisco's best retail precincts. Union Square and the Hayes Valley are the affluent centres of everything big-brand and high-end. Haight-Ashbury, the birthplace of the Summer of Love, is spilling over with vintage charm and distinctive design. Meanwhile, Chinatown and the Mission District are fantastically one-of-a-kind.


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When is the best time to travel to San Francisco?

The weather in San Francisco is cool year-round, so don’t let the ‘Bay Area’ name fool you – this is no swimming hotspot. However, there’s a pleasant crispness to the air that makes a stroll through the city or one of its serene parks all the more enjoyable. Surrounded on almost all sides by the ocean and bay, San Francisco’s weather can also be difficult to predict. Rain and fog often blanket the early morning skies. Though, one thing is certain in the Bay Area, and that’s the guarantee of strikingly brilliant sunsets.Don’t forget the seasons are flipped compared to back home. San Francisco is a happening travel destination in any season, but you’ll want to avoid December-February if you’re sensitive to the cold.

San Francisco summers have little in common with that of the Southern Hemisphere. The summer months in the bay area are typically overcast and cool. The average temperature sits around a fresh 57°F (14°C). In summer, rainfall is at its lowest for the year, and towards the end of August the fog over the Golden Gate Bridge clears to reveal a truly spectacular view. Appropriate clothing: Long pants and a warm jacket. Don't forget: A camera to capture the majestic fog over the Golden Gate Bridge.


Snow is an extreme rarity in San Francisco. Since 1887, snow has only been recorded to have fallen once, over 40 years ago. Nevertheless, winter is a chilly affair with average temperatures of around 50°F (10°C). Rainfall is also at its peak in winter, with storms from the coasts of Mexico and Central America bringing anything from light showers to torrential downpours. Appropriate clothing: Warm socks and a thick jumper. Don't forget: Your raincoat or a reliable umbrella.


Autumn (or ‘Fall') is one of the best times of year for weather. The sun is out and the days are reasonably warm. The autumn average temperature doesn't vary from summer – still 14°C – and rainfall is a rare occurrence. The evenings are mild and clear, perfect for getting out and about after dark! Appropriate clothing: Long pants and a warm jacket. Don't forget: Sunscreen, and a nice jacket for the evenings.


Spring is the most inviting time to visit San Francisco. The skies are clear and the warmest days of the year often occur during these months. The average spring temperature sits around 52°F (11°C), and the city is noticeably free from the spring showers that dampen other parts of the nation. Appropriate clothing: Shorts and light clothing. Don't forget: Sunglasses.


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How to get around San Francisco

San Francisco transport is made simple by all the options for getting around available to you. Cable cars provide an authentic tourist experience. While travelling the hilly streets of the Bay Area from a vintage cable car, you can soak in the excellent views and people-watch to your heart’s content. Rapid public transport options are also available in the form of an elevated and subway rail system. If you’re comfortable on a bicycle, a whole different travel experience awaits you. Alternatively, you could walk San Francisco to discover something quirky on every block – just make sure you pack your most comfortable walking shoes.

Taxi fares in San Francisco can become quite expensive, depending on your desired destination. Trips from the airport to areas outside of the city limits can increase your fare quite drastically in price, so it's good to know your transport options before ordering a cab. It's also customary in the San Francisco to tip taxi drivers between 10-15% of your overall fare.


For the steepest hills in town, it's best to let San Francisco's famous cable cars do the legwork. Instantly recognisable for their unique style, most popular cable car routes run every 10 minutes. All-day passes are available, or you can pay as you go. Remember to hold on tight! The cable cars are constantly stopping for passengers and traffic.


Bay Area Bike Share is the newest San Francisco public transport system. The idea is simple. Purchase a single ride or a day pass and enjoy a leisurely ride through some of the city's most bike-friendly areas. There are 540 bike stations and 7,000 bikes across five cities, making hiring and dropping off completely hassle-free.


The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system will quickly deliver you from the airport to downtown, and from inner-city districts to surrounding counties quickly and affordably. If you're planning on using the BART frequently, purchasing a Clipper card is a good idea. Clipper is a reloadable smart card used for electronic fare payment – it takes the hassle out of dealing in small change.


San Francisco is extremely well suited to exploring on foot. With something to see on every corner, you never know where you'll find yourself stepping into off the bustling city streets. San Francisco's stunning parks are also home to some of the most picturesque walking trails. Stroll through San Francisco's most beautiful spots, natural or otherwise.


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What are the best beaches in San Francisco?

San Francisco meets the North Pacific Ocean on one side and San Francisco Bay on the other. It’s an area of incredible natural beauty, with beaches dotting the coast within the city limits and beyond.

A photo capturing views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands is probably on your must-do list, so why not take your snap from one of San Francisco’s most-loved beaches? Baker Beach is a sandy strip about 1.5km long, with some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Baker Beach is part of The Presidio area of San Francisco and it’s a great spot to view some of spectacular San Francisco sunsets. Hikers, you can also take the California Coastal Trail from here. The trail starts just beyond the Battery Chamberlin, a historic military site, and follows the coastal bluffs, ending at the Golden Gate Bridge. Note: Baker Beach is unsafe for swimming due to strong currents.


Continuing on around the Lands End headland you’ll come to Ocean Beach—San Francisco's longest stretch of shoreline. Ocean Beach faces the Pacific and is also not a swimming beach due to the wild weather and icy water temperatures, although surfers who are wet suited-up do brave the waves. Its dramatic scenery and flat, wide, sandy expanse make it ideal for an energetic walk, especially when the wind is kicking (which is most of the time).


One beach in San Francisco that’s not exposed to the wild Pacific Ocean is Crissy Field Beach, on the eastern side of the Presidio, also with a view to the Golden Gate Bridge. Crissy Field beach is a sandy, family-friendly beach with picnic benches and a promenade. While the water temperature is a little too cool for swimming, it’s a perfect spot for relaxing in the sun. Crissy Field East Beach is about 800m walk away from Crissy Field South Beach, and at the opposite (western) end of Crissy Field is the quaint 100-year-old Warming Hut, serving up snacks, coffee, hot chocolate, and light meals.


Slightly further south is China Beach, a small sandy cove named for the Chinese fishermen who used to camp here during the Gold Rush Era. This quiet little beach also has views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Swimming is also prohibited due to the dangerous rips and cold temperatures.


Further south you’ll find Fort Funston. This is one of the prettiest San Francisco beaches, with sandy, steep cliffs that drop 60 metres to the beach. It’s an off-leash area so a big hit with dog owners and hang gliders, thanks to ... yes, that wind.


If you venture north over the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County you’ll find Muir Beach, a quiet sheltered cove surrounded by sheer ocean bluffs. The northernmost end of the beach is popular with clothing-optional sunbathers (we won’t tell if you don’t).


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What are the best parks in San Francisco?

Every year, millions of people – locals and visitors – enjoy San Francisco’s parks. There are more than 220 green spaces, parks, and squares to visit throughout the city, so the perfect opportunity for a bit of rest and relaxation is rarely more than a block away. Explore luscious natural forests and rolling country valleys. Take in the views from the peaks that surround the bay, or witness an actual herd of buffalo just a stone’s throw from the Golden Gate Bridge. With so many quirky parks in San Francisco, the city is like one big playground for adults. Wander, have a picnic, and feel reenergised.

Golden Gate Park is a San Francisco treasure. The massive park says hello to more than 13 million visitors each year. Explore over 411ha of wonderful gardens, lakes, picnic spots, trails, and monuments. The park also plays host to the oldest Japanese Tea House in the United States, complete with serene koi ponds and an attractive Zen garden.


Muir Woods National Monument is a shrine to the power and beauty of nature. Established in 1908 by President Roosevelt, Muir Woods is a protected forest of redwoods. The monument's inhabitants are ancient, with the oldest trees estimated to be nearly 800 years old, and some standing at up to 76m. This sanctuary of nature is also home to wildlife including woodpeckers, owls and river otters, just to name a few.


Just north of the Golden Gate Bridge in the heart of the majestic Marin County, you'll discover Mount Tamalpais State Park. The stunning park immediately captures your attention with its sweeping hillsides and Oakwood-covered ridges. There are more than 80km of picturesque hiking and bicycle trails to explore.


Look down upon the charming Mission District from the shade of Dolores Park. As one of the most popular parks for residents, Dolores Park is the perfect spot to soak in the local atmosphere – best enjoyed over a picnic on the soft grass with a glass of Californian wine in hand.


Right in the middle of San Francisco's bustling epicentre of shopping, fashion and dining, you'll find Union Square. Everything you could ever need is within strolling distance, so make sure you're ready to eat, shop, and explore. The public plaza is the perfect setting for cultural celebrations, public art, and street performance. With the ancient Greek goddess of victory towering over the centre of the square, you'll certainly never lose your way.


San Francisco Botanical Garden is vibrant, colourful, and more than slightly impressive. Boasting more than 7,500 varieties of flora from all over the world, this 22ha of land is conveniently attached to the sprawling Golden Gate Park. Regular film screenings and live performances inject a touch of elegance and culture to the remarkable surroundings.


Getting from park to park is so much better with your own wheels. Hitch your ride now!

San Francisco Frequently asked questions

With more than 100 named beaches along the Central Coast, sun-seekers are spoilt for choice when it comes to the decision of where to roll out a towel in California. Surfers flock to Huntington Beach while Thousand Steps in Laguna Beach promises that perfect ‘gram-worthy shot. Did you even visit California if you didn’t head to Santa Monica State Beach for a stroll along the pier?


What to take depends on what your dream itinerary looks like and the time of year you are travelling. California is unique in that you could be surfing in the morning and skiing by nightfall. We recommend packing light, because anything you forget can be picked up along the way. Just be sure to pack your sense of adventure.


Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada Mountains is something that every intrepid traveller should see at least once in their lifetime. Meanwhile, Southern California – or SoCal – is a dream for sun-soaked beach days and exploring Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, Malibu and Palm Springs, to name just a few. Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly holiday with Disneyland adventures, a foodie feast or a vacay that’s jam-packed with breath-taking sights, there’s a side of California to suit.


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This all depends on how much you hope to cram into your holiday! You could easily spend weeks (months) exploring San Francisco and all it has to offer including Yosemite, Alcatraz as well its world-renowned food scene. San Diego is ideal for beach dwellers, while Lake Tahoe is the perfect place to reconnect with nature. Big Sur is great for road trippers and adventurers, Napa Valley is like Disneyland for wine lovers and Santa Monica is a must for those token tourist activities.


The peak tourism season kicks off around June and stretches through until August. Summer in California is a vibe, however those who prefer smaller crowds could consider the shoulder seasons from March to May. The good news is there’s never really a bad time to visit as you will always find something to see and do, even on rainy days.


Here goes – explore National Parks, hike, surf (or learn to surf), road trip to Big Sur, see the Hollywood sign, take a stroll along Venice Beach Boardwalk, get locked up at Alcatraz, stargaze in Death Valley, sip wine in Napa, take a self-guided tour of San Francisco’s Michelin-star restaurants and, of course, visit the happiest place on Earth, Disneyland.


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