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Our grea r Golden at view; Get the best from San Francisco by living like a local in apartments hired using Airbnb.


To the south an early morning mist was forming over Twin Peaks, to the north Alcatraz Island was reflecting the shimmering surface of the bay waters and between the two, a glorious 180-degree view of San Francisco.

Here, in my favourite place on the planet, the skies were clear blue, the steep streets echoed to the sounds of cable cars and the grids of wooden townhouses rolled down to the foggy oceanfront.

But this incredible cityscape merely framed the glittering prize I'd travelled over 5,000 miles to see. Because I had a dream. Quite a specific dream.

Getting sentimental in my old age, I wanted to travel to San Francisco for my 40th birthday and open my curtains to a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. And, incredibly, I found an apartment which let me drink in the majestic sight without choking when I saw the bill. Just ten years ago, when I last visited this expensive city, securing an outlook like this might have been impossible unless you paid through the nose for a penthouse suite.

But these days we have Airbnb, and in the city where it all began nine years ago they're still making waves.

That's because their hundreds of apartments and rooms scattered around the city keep prices competitive and offer the option of staying in a room in someone's home or getting a whole place to yourself.

To be fair, at [euro]370 a night our flat on Nob Hill wasn't cheap, but you can get more basic Airbnb accommodation in San Francisco for less than half that price.

Crucially, you'd also expect to pay double or triple the price for the same view and facilities in a hotel. And even then you probably wouldn't get the luxury or the cosiness that my partner Dan and I enjoyed in our one-bedroom pad in a townhouse in an exclusive part of the city.

Our lovely host, Patricia Barlow, has created a boutique escape, with wood-lined walls and sophisticated furnishings, plus an open plan living space complete with ultra modern kitchen.

The beauty of Airbnb is its homely imperfection. The finish of decor might not match a five-star hotel, the bedding might not be flawless and not everything works as well as it should. But the same would be said of anyone's home, surely? And that's kind of the point of using the online accommodation website - you're staying in someone else's place.

The added beauty of being in an apartment in the heart of the city means you can walk into the centre in about 10 minutes. Just remember the steepness of the streets means it will take you twice as long to walk back.

You can easily fill a day looking around the department stores, designer boutiques and souvenir shops, not to mention Chinatown, where, along with buying all sorts of trinkets, you can also get an insight into some authentic Chinese culture.

Though some of the best restaurants are further out of town (we had a superb meal in French restaurant, Cocotte on Hyde Street in Nob Hill) there's a greater density of cafes, bars and restaurants in the city centre. For sheer atmosphere try the light-festooned Belden Place.

We didn't have to face the long walk back to the apartment since the cable car - a must do in San Francisco - dropped us just two blocks from our front door.

It will also take you straight to Lombard Street, the city's iconic zig-zagging road, and Fisherman's Wharf - a waterfront area a bit like a less garish Blackpool where you can gorge on seafood and watch sea lions frolicking in the harbour while taking a stroll along the pier. From here you can also take a ferry ride and tour to the former prison on Alcatraz Island.

On the way back we also recommend a visit to North Beach for a flavour of the city's Bohemian past, particularly Vesuvio bar where beatnik writer Jack Kerouac, who penned the classic On The Road, used to hang out.

From here you can also get one of the best views of the distinctive Transamerica pyramid, the city's tallest skyscraper, which towers over its older but equally distinctive neighbour, the copper Columbus tower. Missing the experience of the central tourist trail means you are missing out on a chunk of the San Francisco experience, but if you want to savour the city's soul you have to go further out of the city.

To that end we reluctantly said goodbye to our de luxe apartment on Nob Hill and went for a large Victorian townhouse in the Cole Valley.

From this upmarket neighbourhood you can wander into the birthplace of the hippy movement in Haight-Ashbury, the home of the gay rights movement in the Castro or just take a bike ride through Golden Gate Park down to the Pacific Ocean - they are all on your doorstep along with some superb bars and restaurants.

But if you want an authentic flavour of San Francisco try the Mission District. Once a his pid poorer, predominantly Hispanic area, thneighbourhood has undergone some rapgentrification over the last decade.

res s of e of the By day you have to try Mission DelorPark which offers some of the best views the city, before going off in search of some the many multicoloured murals that line t neighbouring streets.

any of he ges By night you also have to sample the mabars and restaurants in the area, some which are seriously fashionable, like tForeign Cinema where you can dine as imagof old movies are projected on walls.

Thankfully not all of the grit anauthenticity of the area has been washaway. In the depths of Mission seek out nd hed El eet, Farolito Taqueria on 2779 Mission Strewhich does the best Mexican fast food.

on't nge ng an It isn't the most glamorous venue and doexpect silver service, but do expect chanfrom a tenner from your meal - somethiyou won't experience in many other SFrancisco eateries.

our he But heightening the authenticity was obase for exploring this outer rim of tcity centre.

A notably less luxurious apartment inlarge townhouse which rumbled when ttram passes by the single glazed windown a the ws.

The furnishings are more functional than glamorous and the decor not quite as sophisticated as the Nob Hill apartment but the interiors are, like the neighbourhood, nicely old-school.

And the price? Just [euro]255 a night and that's for three rooms, which works out at [euro]85 per room or, if you're all couples, just [euro]42.50 per person per night.

And, believe it or not, this even more imperfect apartment had a perfectly good view since, from the living room window, we could see the glimmering lights of the city centre in all its glory.

Unlike our previous apartment we never saw or heard from our host, but just like our previous apartment we were expected to strip all the bed linen and take our rubbish out. Which wasn't a problem.

Overall, our experience of Airbnb explained why San Francisco gave birth to the phenomenal business in the first place.

Like the city, what's on offer is clean but not clinical, refined yet relaxed and all at a cost which is reassuringly substantial, but amazingly achievable.

Forget hotels and guest houses, this San Francisco fan will certainly never go back and stay any other way than Airbnb.

TRAVEL FILE TOP TIPS Pick the wrong convenience store in this city and eating in can cost as much as eating out. If you want to selfcater, go to a large supermarket. EATING OUT Seek out El Farolito Taqueria on 2779 Mission St for the best Mexican fast food. You may get change from a tenner too - which won't happen in many eateries. GETTING AROUND Public transport isn't as comprehensive as in some cities, but it can be good value if you buy the [euro]15-a-day ticket for unlimited access.

BOOK IT The Airbnb price per night isn't always what you end up paying. Our threenight stay on Nob Hill cost 36& more with cleaning and service fees and taxes. Prices depend on what night of the week you stay. GETTING THERE Virgin Atlantic fly twice daily from Heathrow to San Francisco with return fares from PS516. Get inspired at

You'd pay triple the price for this view in a hotel but you wouldn't get the luxury or cosiness


Span Francisco: majestic Golden Gate Bridge

Hit the heights: pyramid tower and cable car

Sophisticated: Nob Hill flat
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:May 17, 2015
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