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Sun 4 Nov 2007 04:00 AM

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California dreaming

Not only is San Fransico the cultural capital of California, it is also a shopper's paradise with a buzzing nightlife. Ramia Farrage takes a trip across the Golden gate bridge to find out more.

California dreaming
California dreaming
California dreaming
California dreaming
California dreaming
California dreaming
Murals on the exterior of a building in San Francisco.
California dreaming
Transamerica Pyramid, Chinatown, San Francisco.
California dreaming
Seals bask in the sun on Pier 39 in San Francisco Bay.
California dreaming
Row of Victorian houses on Steiner Street.
California dreaming
Oakland Bay Bridge.

San Francisco is an awe-inspiring metropolis. From its most famous icon, the Golden Gate Bridge, to the fine art galleries at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the city boasts numerous tourist attractions, distinguished museums, and distinctive neighbourhoods. But the city's true magic is its ability to offer both its residents and tourists some of the most exciting cultural experiences of their lives alongside some spectacular scenery. Visitors to the city will often find themselves in a museum in the morning and in the mountains, taking in the breathtaking scenery by late afternoon. Cultural attractions sit alongside outdoor activities with great ease in San Francisco. Taking in the work of Jackson Pollock at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is a must for tourists who like to start their day with a touch of culture and can be followed up by a visit to Muir Woods to sit in the shade of skyscraping redwoods in the afternoon. From the hippie scene of Haight-Ashbury to the multicolored Victorian architecture of the Castro District, from Japantown to Chinatown, San Francisco is truly about districts - each one set apart with its own distinctive look and ambience.

The bridge is simply unmissable. Stretching 4200 feet and towering as high as a 65-storey building, it is known as the gateway to San Francisco.

Golden Gate Bridge is unmissable. Stretching 4200ft and towering as high as a 65-storey building, it’s known as the gateway to San Francisco.

Getting to San Francisco from Dubai is relatively simple. Although no airlines offer direct flights from the UAE, most can accommodate first class travellers with just one stopover. British Airways fly from Abu Dhabi to San Francisco with one stop in London Heathrow while Virgin Atlantic will get you to London direct from Dubai before flying on to San Francisco. Both airlines offer business or first class return fare for around US$7600.

San Francisco's famed nightlife is as varied and diverse as the city and its people. Each neighbourhood's bars, clubs and lounges have different vibes and atmospheres. If you're in town hoping to mix with some of San Francisco's most elite patrons, including celebrities and businessmen then the Mission district is the perfect place. For those in the mood for something with a touch of elegance and grace, the picturesque Marina district is a stunning spot to relax and quietly enjoy the city. San Francisco's North Beach is another unmissable beauty spot which is busy until the early hours and is littered with quaint hideaway bars.

The Red Devil Lounge was once one of San Francisco's historic theatres, but now serves as an elegant club. It transports its patrons to another world with charming interior design features such as unique lanterns, gold lining throughout the fabrics and decor which dress the room and cosy sitting areas. Local bands and musicians from the four corners of the earth have performed at the intimate, yet international venue. Close to downtown hotels and five-star gourmet restaurants, the Red Devil Lounge is not only convenient, it offers live music that varies vastly in genre, accommodating any music fan.

Dolce is San Francisco's most elite and upscale bar. Three individual areas make up the club's sweet, soft, and smooth theme with a main bar, dance floor and VIP area.

Business etiquette

Always start and end meetings on time. If you are driving to your appointment, add extra time for your journey and always take highway 280 over highway 101 if you can-it is usually faster and has fantastic scenery. If possible, schedule meetings between 10am and 3pm to avoid rush hours.

Americans are generally quite informal so do not be alarmed or offended if someone does not shake your hand or offer you their business card.

Always accentuate the positive. Americans are very optimistic people and will appreciate you being the same.

If you are dining with an associate on their invitation you should let them pay the bill and offer to return the favour when they are invited by you.

Some top international DJs appear at Ruby Skye. The club and bar is located in the heart of downtown, off Union Square, and is a stylish lounge that features bands, and hosts fashion shows, dance nights, and private events. Two levels, four rooms and a handful of VIP areas draw celebrities from America's hottest cities and the rest of the world to see what the Bay Area club scene has to offer. Several full bars pepper the historic theatre and premiere nightclub and born and bred San Franciscans know that whether they are looking for a solo drink at the bar, a dance with friends, or catching a one-hit-wonder on their comeback tour, it's all under the Ruby Skye.

Hush Hush's intimate booths, big DJs, and simple, yet endearing interior design make this bar a must for those who want to feel what San Francisco nightlife is really all about. Decorating the wall to the left of the dance floor is a maiden balanced on a sliver of a moon. Above her it says ‘Hush Hush', and with good reason. Hush Hush really is a covert spot. If it were not for the people smoking out front, (San Francisco bans smoking in enclosed public places) it would be unlikely that any passers-by would know it was discreetly nestled there. The DJs mostly spin a combination of Latin/Cuban house with funk, soul and a healthy dose of R&B mixed in.

Over 95% of all companies have 50 employees or less making small businesses the lifeblood of the city’s economy organisations.

Once visitors have exhausted the nightlife, they may want to absorb some of the cultural attractions the city has to offer.

No visit to San Francisco would be complete without a tour of its most famous landmarks; the Golden Gate Bridge and the infamous Alcatraz. The city's tourism board offers daily tours and walks over the awe-inspiring Golden Gate Bridge, while there are three-times daily cruises of the world's most famous prison.

Between 1934 and 1963 the federal penitentiary, which sits on a lone island rock in San Francisco Bay, was home to some of America's most notorious criminals, including Al ‘Scarface' Capone and Robert Stroud. Today, the prison has closed and the rock is home to something far less dangerous. Marine wildlife, rare flowers and thousands of nesting seabirds all inhabit Alcatraz while the buildings still standing from the Civil War era, when it was used as both a harbour defence fort and a military prison, are peppered across the island.

Home to the first American lighthouse to appear on the West Coast, Alcatraz is steeped in history and visitors to the island are also given an insight into the American Indian occupation of 1969, an important milestone in the American Indian rights movement which shaped the country's modern history.

Hours in San Francisco

Morning:visit the city's many museums and cafe bars before heading over the Golden Gate Bridge to take in the panoramic views of this spectacular Californian city.

Afternoon:no trip to San Francisco would be complete without a visit to Alcatraz. For just US$24.50 you can enjoy a cruise out to the island rock and take a tour of the infamous prison.

Evening:enjoy dinner at one of San Francisco's many restaurants followed by drinks and music in the plethora of bars and clubs this multi-cultural haven has to offer.

The Golden Gate Loop tour offers a 75 minute trip on a double decker bus where tourists will take in stunning landscape and unrivalled views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The city's iconic skyine can also be seen from the open-top bus, as well as Alcatraz, Angel Island, Pacific Ocean, Baker Beach, Sea Cliff and the East Bay.

San Francisco boasts stunning art galleries and Museums. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is one of the world's most novel museums of modern and contemporary works.

The Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco is also a must see. It is comprised of the de Young in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park and is the largest public arts institution in the city and one of the biggest art museums in the United States. The de Young collections include American paintings, decorative arts and crafts, arts from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, and Western and non-Western textiles. The Legion of Honor was built to commemorate Californian soldiers who died in The First World War. The beautiful Beaux Arts building overlooks the Pacific Ocean, the Golden Gate Bridge and the rest of San Francisco. It is noted for its magnificent setting. Its collections include European decorative arts and paintings, ancient art, and one of country's most prominent collections of works on paper.

The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco is one of the foremost museums in the Western world devoted exclusively to Asian art. In just one visit, one can travel through 6,000 years of history, trek across seven major regions, and sample the cultures of various Asian countries.

It is well worth it for classical music connoisseurs to watch a performance of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, as it is one of the most revered in America. It was created in the wake of the 1906 earthquake. After the devastation was overcome, establishing a permanent orchestra was high on the civic agenda, and in December 1911, the San Francisco Symphony performed its first concerts. Almost immediately, the Symphony revitalized San Francisco's cultural life with programs that offered a huge variety of classics and new music. Today the Orchestra's artistic vitality has made it a world-renowned ensemble whose impact extends throughout American musical life.

Where to stay

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel

Typically the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco is one of the city's most luxurious hotels. Prominently positioned in the city's Nob Hill district, the Ritz offers the ultimate in glamour and luxury. The hotel's front entrance looks out on to the cable cars on the California Street line where visitors can enjoy the hustle and bustle of busy San Francisco life. Alternatively rooms facing the back courtyard offer a more peaceful stay. The hotel has two highly recommended restaurants, The Terrace and the Dining Room.

St Regis Hotel

Set just a stone-throw away from the city's booming financial district, the St Regis Hotel is a perfect place for the business traveller. All of the austere hotel's rooms are subtle decorated and offer all of the necessary amenities needed for doing business. Most rooms offer panoramic views over the city and are big enough to host impromptu meetings. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Yerba Buena Centre for the Arts are within walking distance for visitors who want to make the most of their stay.

Hotel Vitale

The Hotel Vitale is one of San Francisco's hidden gems. Perched on the city's revitalised waterfront, the Hotel Vitale is a chic spot for anyone looking for tranquil views and a relaxing stay. Business travellers will have access to all the vital amenities and complimentary yoga classes are available every morning. In the evening a visit to the hotel's popular bar Americano is a must. The sleek surroundings coupled with the marina views make it one of the city's best bars.

Flora lovers should pay a visit to the Strybing Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. A mild Mediterranean climate provides the San Francisco Botanical Garden with prime conditions to grow and conserve plants across the world, including those which are no longer found in their native habitats. There are 55 acres of sanctuary, landscaped gardens and open spaces to explore, and over 7500 varieties of plants from the seven continents of the world.

Those interested in marine life would not want to pass up the chance to visit the Steinhart Aquarium. Founded in 1923, it is the oldest grand municipal aquarium still operational in America. Its collection includes species found at no other establishment internationally, as well as varieties that are already extinct in the wild.

From the days of the Gold Rush and the Barbary Coast, to the 1906 earthquake and the Beat renaissance, San Francisco's history is loaded with dynamic events and larger-than-life characters. The Barbary Coast Trail is a San Francisco walking tour that connects the city's most prominent historic sites, drawing those who experience it into a world of gold seekers and railroad barons, writers, futurists, and silver kings.

San Francisco is known for its golf so fans of the sport will definitely want to visit Harding Park, where they can play the course Tiger Woods won the 2005 World Golf Championships-American Express Championship on. Alternatively a nine-hole course was recently added to Harding Park to accommodate novice golfers. The Pasatiempo Golf Club is also a golfer's paradise. The course is sprinkled with rolling hills, trees, and sand bunkers. Every hole is memorable along this course that has appeared in several top 100 golf course lists.

When it comes to shopping, San Francisco offers some of the best in the world, so it is no wonder that tourists and serious shopaholics want to spend some time and money in its numerous shopping centres, districts and malls. Union Square, Hayes Valley, upper Fillmore, the Mission, Sacramento Street, and downtown's San Francisco Shopping Centre offer a distinctive style with one-of-a-kind boutique shops.

Union Square Shopping is mandatory for serious shoppers as it is ringed by Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Levi's stores along with colorful flower stands and street performers. Surrounding streets feature high class boutiques such as Coach, Bvlgari, Cartier, Thomas Pink, Louis Vuitton, Emporio Armani, Prada, Gucci, Hermes, and Betsy Johnson.

How to get there

Virgin Atlantic

Flights from Dubai - London - San Francisco with approximate flying time of 40 hours.

Flights from San Francisco - London - Dubai with approximate flying time of 26 hours 25 minutes.

Upper Class fare - US$7608 per adult return.

British Airways

Flights from Abu Dhabi - London - San Francisco with approximate flying time of 22 hours 45 minutes.

Flights from San Francisco - London - Abu Dhabi with approximate flying time of 40 hours.

Business Club class fare - US$7409per adult return fare.

The Westfield San Francisco Centre mall also offers an opulent San Francisco shopping experience.

On Fillmore Street, it is easy to feel pampered with a number of well-known beauty retailers and swanky interior design boutiques fresh out of New York. Rachel Ashwell's Shabbychic furniture and bedroom design store is next to Betsy Johnson's runway shop on this plush stretch of Fillmore that combines a bustling wealthy Victorian neighborhood with a thriving San Francisco shopping centre. Every shopping wish list is checked off here with perfumeries, furniture designers, and expert beauty outlets.

Sacramento Street shopping is on the cusp between Pacific Heights and Presidio Heights in a tranquil residential neighbourhood. Its main attractions are the interior decor shops and classy boutiques. Sacramento offers everything from cashmere sofa throws and scented Florentine soaps to huge Persian
rugs and 19th century dining sets. When done buying for the home, shoppers can pamper their fashion tastes with bathing suits designed by Shoshana at Brown Eyed Girl, or Jimmy Choo and Prada stilettos at Fetish Shoes.

Located halfway between London and Tokyo, and Seattle and San Diego, San Francisco is one of America's hubs for global business. When it comes to venture capital, the San Francisco Bay area has the largest investment community in the country. Research sponsored by government and private sectors brings billions of dollars to the city's economy annually. San Francisco's economic activity attracts and supports a range of industries and it is the base for some of the nation's largest banks, with more than 30 international financial institutions and the Pacific Exchange. Most recently, San Francisco was the birthplace of new media, and its South Park neighbourhood houses some of the most pioneering, relatively young technology companies in the world. Its newest neighbourhood, Mission Bay, is a model for nurturing innovative alliances among academic researchers and biotechnology industry partners.

Over 60,000 businesses are based in San Francisco and while the city is home to many large organizations like The Gap, Levi Strauss, Lucasfilm, and VISA USA, it also has tens of thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises. More than 95% of all companies in San Francisco employ 50 employees or less, making small businesses the lifeblood of the city's economy. To support the creation and growth of SME's, the city provides a range of services, and is open, cooperative and inviting to foreign investors.

San Francisco has premier convention facilities like the Moscone Center. The sprawling center sits in the vibrant South of Market neighbourhood adjacent to the Financial District and Union Square. Within walking distance of nearly 20,000 hotel rooms, Moscone Center is both convenient and spacious enough to accommodate large numbers of people, as it provides over 600,000 sq ft of meeting and tradeshow space. San Francisco's popularity as a meeting destination, along with the high volume of facility bookings prompted the city to construct Moscone West, which provides an additional 300,000 sq ft of function space. Ultimately, both leisure and business travellers have everything they need in the remarkable city of San Francisco.

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