The piano design of one of Liberace's Palm springs homes- Piazza di Liberace- includes a piano shaped letterbox.
The piano design of one of Liberace's Palm springs homes- Piazza di Liberace- includes a piano shaped letterbox. Detours

California dreaming

SAN Francisco has always marched to the beat of a different drummer. Rudyard Kipling said of it: “A mad city - inhabited for the most part by perfectly insane people whose women are of remarkable beauty”.

Its special personality and vitality makes it everybody's favourite US city - 15.2 million visitors a year can't be wrong.

When you think of San Francisco, you think of cable cars crawling up some of the world's steepest city streets.

But, surprisingly, San Francisco is a very walkable city. It is compact and many of its most interesting sites are best seen on foot, if you avoid all but the steepest of its 42 inclines.

To orient yourself, first take a half-day Super Sightseeing city coach tour which takes in the some of the best-known city sights. Thereafter you can go it alone, on foot, picking out the places you want to see up close and personal.

San Francisco has a terrific program of free guided walking tours sponsored by the San Francisco Public Library.

And the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau supplies printed, themed self-guided walk booklets.

A host of commercial, guided, themed walking tours can also take you to every part of the city, day and night.

Among the themed walks is a Local Tastes of City tour which takes three hours and goes into local bakeries, restaurants and cafes where you sample the food and meet the people who make it.

The Vampire Tour of San Francisco runs on Friday and Saturday nights. A character from Dracula conducts the tour in costume - showing how vampires played a role in San Francisco's history.

For a fun walking tour we chose Foot! ( www.foottours.com).

This walking tour group offers 10 different historical tours - graded from PG to R - and is led by comic actors, improvisers, and stand-up comedians. Foot! tours are like interactive game shows, with questions, answers, prizes and games along the route.

On another half day, you'll want to take a walking tour of the island of Alcatraz, site of the USA's most notorious prison, and San Francisco's top tourist destination.

Al Capone and Robert “The Birdman” Stroud were inmates here. It is popular, so book ahead and get the audio tour.

You'll start from famed Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39. Very touristy, but spend time here, and don't miss a bowl of clam chowder.

The more energetic can rent a bike and take a nine-mile trail along the San Francisco bay, over the Golden Gate Bridge and down to Sausalito.

Wine country

WE'RE in the CIA splashing red wine around.

Well, it's not that CIA: it is the Culinary Institute of America and we are being introduced to the art of blending wines.

The CIA is just one stop on our wine tour of the Napa and Sonoma valleys, the USA's premier wine country, across the bay from San Francisco.

The valleys are home to more than 200 wineries. About five million visitors come to the valley each year - most for the summer or harvest in September-October.

Schramsberg Vineyards, established by German immigrants Jacob and Annie Schramm in 1862, specialises in world-class methode champenoise sparkling wines.

You'll find them on your next visits to the White House and Buckingham Palace.

Three million bottles are kept in the four kilometres of tunnels which were carved into the hillside in the 1870s by Chinese labourers.

Chateau St Jean in the Sonoma Valley is the only winery ever to have been placed five times in a Wine Spectator magazine Top 100 rating. Not only are its wines magnificent but so are its gardens.

Getting there

San Francisco:

■ Creative Holidays has four nights for the price of three at the Renoir Hotel from $195 per person, twin share (land only).

This package is valid for sale and travel until March 31, 2010.

■ For more information on tours in San Francisco, visit www.sfcity

guides.com or www.sfvisitor.org

■ Foot! Tours - www.foottours.com


Wine country:

■ Creative Holidays' Wine Country Tour is priced from $113 per person (ex San Francisco).

■ For more information visit www.creativeholidays.com

■ Visit www.napavalley.com and www.californiawinetours.com for more information on wine tours.



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