It really isn't fair that a city could have everything: unnatural beauty, beat generation literati, cable cars, barking seals, mystic fog and a young Michael Douglas keeping the streets safe.
... with Karl Malden. With a little over 45 square miles of land, the city overlooks the bay, the Pacific Ocean and coastal hills, it has plenty to offer including vintage architecture and offbeat entertainment.
Where to stay:
Pricey: For a plush pick, try four-star hotel Drisco in the Pacific Heights area, amid mansions with spectacular bay and city views. Rates from $209 include gourmet continental breakfast, complimentary evening wine and cheese reception and 24-hour coffee and tea. Also complimentary shuttle service to Union Square, the Financial District, and the Presidio each weekday every half-hour till 9.30 pm. (Room tax is 14pc.)
Reasonable: The Cornell Hotel de France offers queen rooms from $90. A charming boutique 3-star hotel, family-operated for 40 years, it's an exceptional value with full American breakfast included. Well located between Union Square and elegant Nob Hill.
Where to eat:
Pricey: Make reservations for one of San Francisco's top restaurants - Gary Danko, a four-star sophisticated choice. Imagine a global selection of artisanal cheeses and seasonal dishes with classic cooking style. Prix-fixe multi-course menus from $48 to $66 and choices from more than 1,500 wines.
Reasonable: Try easy on the budget La Tacqueria on Mission Street for the tastiest Super Burritos! They're huge, so you'll have leftovers for a midnight snack - under $10, cash only.
Five things to do:
North Beach: The real superstars here are the Golden Gate Bridge, the seals barking, barking in the early morning fog along Fisherman's Wharf, while the Sea Lions cast a lazy eye over the youngsters. And if you really want to see where "Birdman" rubbed elbows with Al Capone, book your Alcatraz Cruise at $26. You also can walk across the east side of the Golden Gate from sunrise to sunset, but layer up, because the chill can get you.
If you opted for the Hotel Drisco, take the hotel shuttle to the "guardian of the Golden Gate" - The Presidio. The former historic military base is now a cultural and recreational paradise of the National Park Service. Free, open daily year-round, with gorgeous views, forests and coastal bluff walks that mix with vintage architecture and the Letterman Digital Arts Centre, complete with Yoda fountain and Star Wars geek-fest.
Beatnik Bonanza: "On the Road" nomad, Jack Kerouac, settled on Russell Street for a while, beckoned by the melting pot of restless thinkers and experimental rebels. They blew through the San Fran foghorn with marijuana and music, offbeat poetry and free love - and passed it all along to a generation hungry for change. This beat revolution throbbed through the City Lights Bookstore, where wired thinkers sifted through ideologies and art, no thought too sinful to utter. Today, you'll find every literature type, but the second floor is the temple of Beat Generation literature. Carrying forth the rebellious spirit, you'll love "Beach Blanket Babylon" at Club Fugazi. They deliver side-splitting hilarity, poking holes in the pristine armor of Martha Stewart, Hillary Clinton and other "iffy" icons. Get advance reservations/tickets from $25 to $65.
Golden Gate Park: Sundays are perfect for biking through miles of paved trails. The Japanese Tea Garden is a must at $3 with paths and koi ponds, bridges and bonsai. The park has everything - boat rentals, the de Young Museum, waterfalls - relaxing, safe and well worth your time. End your day at the Cliff House casual Bistro Restaurant at Ocean Beach. Gorgeous views and classic San Francisco fare with first-come, first-served seating.
Roam the city with a wandering spirit: The Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill serves up breathtaking views. Russian Hill hears the click of many a camera on the world's most curvaceous street. Lombard Street winds through busy neighbourhoods with startling views, beautiful gardens and the heavenly fragrance of flowers. Hop a cable car to complete the experience.
Mix past and present: Visit the Fillmore Heritage Centre opened in late 2007 to celebrate what was known as the "Harlem of the West" - think Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday. The complex includes galleries, exhibits and Yoshi's Jazz club and restaurant, with a jammin' performance calendar and online ticket purchase.
City tip: For a short stay, purchase a Muni pass (includes light rail, buses, trolley buses and cable cars) that allows unlimited travel for a set fee for 1, 3 or 7 days. A City Pass saves 50pc on five museums, a bay cruise and 7-day access to the MUNI system.
You may not leave your heart in San Francisco, but you'll likely be planning your next visit, as soon as you return home.