Canterbury to California: Five must-do activities in San Francisco

This summer, United Airlines is flying three times per week between Christchurch and San Francisco.

It's a new opportunity for South Island jetsetters with direct services between the US resuming for the first time since Air New Zealand ceased them in 2006.

Return flights start from around NZ$1510 for economy, with premium economy and 'Polaris' business class options also on offer.

But what to do when you get to San Fran? Here are my five must-dos for when you get there after recently making the CHC-SFO trip myself. 

SkyStar Fisherman's Wharf  

In what could soon be as iconic as the eye in London's cityscape, Fisherman's Wharf is now home to its very own observation wheel.   

SkyStar is one of the hottest new attractions in town that gives a panoramic, 360-degree view of San Francisco I really enjoyed.

SkyStar Fisherman's Wharf.
Photo credit: supplied

The 12-storey wheel boasts a different perspective of the city and offers freshly discovered views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, while also showing off the hilly nature high-rises and apartments are built on.    

SkyStar is ideal for families and groups with gondolas seating six people per cabin. For those willing to pay for a more memorable moment, an upper-class VIP experience is also possible for date night or other special moments, equipped with champagne coolers and leather booth seating.  

Red and White Cruises.
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Red and White Cruises   

Head out to the stunning bay with Red and White Cruises was a 60-minute experience I will not forget.   

Under the Californian sun we set sail underneath the Golden Gate Bridge looking straight out to the Pacific Ocean, before travelling back via Alcatraz Island.  

The idyllic setting also made for an ideal picture and video backdrop, allowing for precious memories to be captured.   

Booking in for an afternoon cruise can give the best of both worlds as you catch the sunset before the city's high rises light up at dusk.  

Many sailings also offer dining options with a two-for-one beer, wine and spirits deal offered during happy hour, which proved popular with those on board my outing. 

John's Grill.
Photo credit: supplied

John's Grill  

If you're looking for an authentic San Francisco dining experience - steeped in history without all the bells and whistles - then look no further than John's Grill.   

The downtown restaurant specialises in steak and seafood with the "surf and turf" option of steak served with jumbo prawns a favourite for regulars. The interior of John's Grill has hundreds of portraits gracing the walls of the three-storey restaurant, all with a unique story to tell.   

Earlier this year the steakhouse celebrated its 115th birthday. It has a reputation for being the first eatery to return to the city centre after the tragic 1906 earthquake which killed more than 3000 people, flattening 80 percent of the infrastructure in the process.   

John Grill's website showcases notable clientele over the years like Ronald Reagan, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Johnny Depp and Robin Williams to name just a few.   

For those who may recognise the name, John's Grill is home of the US movie The Maltese Falcon, which received several nominations at the 14th Academy Awards. 

I also really enjoyed a lesson in pure customer service and storytelling from owner John Kostin Jr who helped make my visit a memorable one.

Japantown, San Francisco.
Photo credit: supplied


If you're looking to escape the hustle and bustle of downtown San Francisco, Japantown is well worth checking out.   

The cultural hub is the largest and one of only three remaining Japantowns in the US with a rich history dating back to the early 1900s when Japanese immigrants settled in the area.  

Despite facing challenges such as the forced relocation of Japanese Americans during World War II, the community has persevered and maintained its identity, with a new generation being called upon to take the mantle.   

Several shopping and dining options are located across multiple blocks involving a mix of both traditional and modern Japanese cuisine. There's also anime, ceramics, kimonos, sushi, manga, Japanese fashion and sweets, providing a wide variety to be appreciated. 

The area is expected to continue growing in popularity with millions of dollars of state funding being committed towards redevelopment in the coming years. It helps San Francisco’s reputation for cultural diversity along with Chinatown and Little Italy. 

San Francisco Love Tour.
Photo credit: supplied

San Francisco Love Tour  

While open-roofed, double-decker tour buses are a popular way of exploring new cities, a clear-roofed, 1970s-era Volkswagen Combi Van is not.    

San Francisco Love Tours involve a two-hour long drive around the city in a clear roofed combi van which attracts plenty of attention when driving around town.   

Seating a guide and seven customers, the van tour offers a more intimate look at San Francisco, which afforded me the ability to ask questions and learn in-depth information about all corners of the city. Starting and ending at Fisherman's Wharf, it takes you around the city, including North Beach, the Castro, the Mission, downtown and more. 

A tour in a hippie van wouldn't be complete without information surrounding California's hippie movement and the tour included stops outside the homes of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, among others.  

The vehicle's playlist is delightfully nostalgic too.

Newshub travelled to San Francisco as guests of San Franciso Travel and United Airlines.