San Francisco a bonus for Rugby 7s fans

Greg Roberts
San Francisco is the perfect city to host the Rugby Sevens World Cup

It's a boys - and girls - own adventure holiday.

Not only do you go to an exciting destination such as California, but you also get to watch a rugby world cup there.

You read that right: three full days of rugby in baseball and gridiron-loving America.

AT&T Park in San Francisco, the iconic home of the 135-year-old Giants baseball team, will be transformed into a rugby pitch in the middle of the baseball season in July this year for the Rugby World Cup Sevens event.

AT&T Park is a beautiful 42,000 capacity ball park on San Francisco Bay with views of the water - some fans get there on a kayak.

It seems sacrilegious to play rugby on a field that conjures up images of America's pastime and hot dogs.

But rugby's popularity in the US and potential for growth is not to be underestimated and it is the fastest-growing team sport in US colleges and high schools.

Organisers say San Francisco is the best place in America to host the Rugby Sevens World Cup and are keen for rugby fans from around Australia and the world to travel to the city for it.

"We are the most diverse, most cosmopolitan city. This is an event city," says Pat Gallagher, a former senior executive at the Giants.

He also helped organise the NFL Superbowl when it was held in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2015, an experience he co-wrote a business book about.

He said he always wanted AT&T Park to host rugby from his days in charge of Giants Enterprises.

San Francisco is the country's traditional gay capital, has always had high immigration and is historically associated with the counterculture including the beat generation, hippies, sexual revolution, summer of love and anti-war movement.

More recently there is the tech boom with Silicon Valley an hour's drive away.

The city is as diverse, non-mainstream and liberal as it gets in the US; not a lot of Donald Trump supporters here.

The world cup's general manager, Rosie Spaulding, says locals and businesses are embracing the event and looking forward to fans that get dressed up from around the world visiting, with plenty of pageantry organised on and off the field to celebrate teams from Polynesia, Africa and so on.

Nearly half or 56,000 tickets had been sold in February with most people buying a three-day pass for the event.

There will be rugby players from 28 nations participating, representing 24 mens and 16 womens teams. There will be 32 matches on the first of three days and it will be broadcast locally on NBC.

"People love the fact its men and women, all those nations and rugby's core values resonate well with the Bay Area and corporations even if they don't know about rugby: inclusivity, cultural awareness," Ms Spaulding said.

San Francisco is already a desirable "destination city" but add a rugby world cup to it and that makes it even more so, says Alfonso Felder, an executive vice president at the Giants.

"What would otherwise be a great vacation, this is a cherry on top," he said.

"You can come to this part of the country and spend seven days and be busy every day seeing some of the world's most remarkable sights, whether it's the coast between here and the big surf, heading north and enjoying the beauty of Marin County and the wine country at Napa and Sonoma, it's a really easy trip frankly."

Cross the water on the Golden Gate Bridge on a bike and the contrast of going from one of America's biggest cities to a rural area is stark.

Then catch a ferry back.

Gallagher recommends visitors dive into San Francisco's foodie culture, when they are not watching rugby, and wander around the Ferry Building and Mission district, enjoying food, wine and beers.

"San Francisco is like a 49 square mile theme park, there's different districts depending on what the nationality is, you've got the Mission district with its own vibe to Chinatown and North Beach," he said.

MUST DOs in SAN FRANCISCO

Alcatraz aka The Rock: San Fran's best known sight along with the orange bridge. (In)Famous as the supposedly escape-proof prison located 2.5km offshore.

Golden Gate Bridge: Cycle the world's most famous bridge, find yourself in a rural area, have a drink on the water at Sausalito and get the ferry back.

Foodie tour: SF is a haven for foodies. The Ferry Building with its local produce is a delight, as is strolling the artists' Mission area famous for murals and a great food scene. Other top restaurants include China Live, 25 Lusk and Spin.

Just walk: San Francisco and its diversity is best experienced by getting outside. There is walking between the Castro district and Mission, getting a cable car to Fisherman's Wharf to see the Sea Lions or finding baseball to watch, restaurants to eat at or watching the world's longest-running musical revue, Beach Blanket Babylon.

Get out on the water: The sight of San Francisco's buildings hugged up against the water from the bay is a special one, capturing the urban nature contrast. Hornblower Cruises offer a dinner cruise at night that goes around the bay and under the Golden Gate Bridge.

IF YOU GO

GETTING THERE: San Francisco is a 13-14 hour flight from Sydney. United Airlines and Qantas fly direct from Sydney to San Francisco return from about $1300.

STAYING THERE: Situated in Nob Hill, Stanford Court Hotel is a historic hotel with with great views of the San Francisco skyline and luxury amenities including a large gym. Visit www.stanfordcourt.com/San_Francisco

Located just 600 metres from Union Square, Hotel Nikko is in the heart of San Francisco. It is designed with Japanese-styled amenities. Visit www.hotelnikkosf.com/

RUGBY WORLD CUP SEVENS: Australia's men's and women's teams will be in San Francisco for the Rugby World Cup Sevens from July 20-22. The Olympic sport's world cup is in the US for the first time at AT&T park, home of the three-time World Series-winning San Francisco Giants. Forty mens and womens teams from 28 nations will be there.

The writer travelled as a guest of San Francisco Travel.