For cutting-edge bands, local brews and a hipster vibe, San Francisco is the place to be
Famous for a bridge, hippies and - even more so lately - Harvey Milk, the city of San Francisco is iconic but little-visited. For most, it is a great stopover on a road trip that might encompass some of the beautiful nearby natural parks, the California wine regions and maybe Las Vegas, LA or San Diego. But it's worth staying longer - because for those looking for a place to chill out to some cutting-edge bands, sample the local micro-brews and take in the hipster vibe, San Francisco is the place to be.
New Yorkers will tell you San Francisco is too full of hippies, and it's true, but the city offers a hell of a lot to those looking for a city break fuelled with adventure. You can get to know it in four days, but to get under the skin may take longer. So head straight to the latest place to be, the Mission district.
Check into Elements hostel (you get to choose between either a private room or one of the best-kept dorms in the city), and take full advantage of the rooftop view. Be warned: the rooftop bar goes distinctly upmarket after 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
Round the corner from Elements is Valencia, one of the roads on which you'll find some of the most interesting bars in the Mission. Five blocks down on 16th Street is a fantastic bar named Gestalt. If you're lucky you'll be in there while John is behind the bar, meaning FA Cup and Premier League football will be on behind the bar. For sustenance, Gestalt offers German sausage hot dogs for $5, and the great selection of locally-brewed beers are available in glasses up to the size of a litre!
In San Francisco, you'll never miss a flyer for a gig but in case you've no time to waste reading, pop into Amnesia back on Valencia, where you'll be able to join a crowd of PBR-loving hipsters in the audience of some of the most varied entertainment in the city. Make sure you arrive on the second Monday of the month to catch the best Japanese country 'n' western singer this side of the Pacific. The shows are normally free.
During the day, and to keep the alternative theme flowing, the district of Haight-Ashbury is the place to go in order to find a coffee, an excellent brunch or - if needs must - relax with free wi-fi, available in most eateries. A particularly popular spot along the Haight is the Pork Store Cafe, which regularly has a queue of hungry customers outside by around 2pm.
One of the best restaurants I was lucky enough to discover, however, was the Citrus Club, on Haight. Head there for the best (and most authentic) Vietnamese noodle soup this writer has tasted outside of Asia.
If you'e on a budget, the Haight provides much in the way of places to relax for free, as the Golden Gate park is found at the end of the street and smaller parks are around every corner. Come evening time, the anarchist bookstores and smoke shops shut down and the bars once again draw in locals and some amazing talent.
It's a pleasant if hour-long walk from the Mission but all downhill on the way home, so if you find yourself there in the evening you'd be mad not to hang around and take advantage of some of San Francisco's most diverse bands. Expect more lo-fi or folk in the Haight than in the Mission district, but certainly don't miss out.
As with any major city, if you time your trip right you'll be able to see some of your favourite bands (often at the famous Fillmore), but those winging it should pick up either SF Weekly or The Onion for local weekly listings. Both are available for free from most street corners in the Mission .
On a final note, no trip to San Francisco is complete without experiencing some of the Mexican food available. In any given district you will be within a stone's throw of a taqueria, a Mexican cafe, where, for around £4, you can pick up a selection of authentic soups or slightly Americanised (but delicious) burritos.