San Francisco’s density, history and weather have led many to dub it “the East Coast city on the Pacific.” California’s fourth-largest metropolis offers a vast collection of neighbourhoods, all boasting their own unique personalities, including North America’s oldest Chinatown, the gay and lesbian culture of the Castro, Haight-Ashbury’s hippie heritage and the modern hipster-ness of Valencia Street. As you wander around, perhaps stopping to stare at the impossibly steep Lombard Street or to ride a trolley car, be aware—as Rudyard Kipling said, “San Francisco has only one drawback. ’Tis hard to leave.”
Golden Gate Bridge
Completed in 1937, the bridge spans 2.7 km over the bay and is perhaps the city’s most recognizable landmark. You can drive across for $6, but pedestrians and cyclists cross for free. On the other side, get fantastic views of the city from the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
California Academy of Sciences
Located in Golden Gate Park, the recently renovated scientific and cultural institution is one of the world’s largest natural history museums, and features a planetarium, an aquarium and a stunning 2.5-acre “living roof.” 55 Music Concourse Dr., Golden Gate Park.
The former island prison, once home to Al Capone and infamous “Birdman” Robert Stroud, regularly sells out its tour spots, so be sure to book well in advance. Get warmed up by watching Clint Eastwood in Escape from Alcatraz, or YouTube the tour scene from So I Married an Axe Murderer. Pier 33.
House of Nanking
An institution known for letting its tasty food make up for its crowded tables and lack of ambiance. Ask your server for recommendations. They rarely disappoint. 919 Kearny St.
See why the World Design Council has named Helsinki its World Design Capital for 2012, via the museum’s look at design throughout Finnish history. Korkeavuorenkatu 23
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Founded in 1935, this was the first contemporary art museum on the West Coast. Today, it features more than 26,000 works of art, photography and design. 151 3rd St.
Anchor Brewing Co.
They’ve been serving up the delicious nectar that is Anchor Steam beer since 1896, and one taste should convince you to take the brewhouse tour. It includes beer-tasting tips and six half-pints of various Anchor brews. 1705 Mariposa St.
It might be the biggest tourist trap in the city, but it’s worth a look if only to people-watch and catch the herd of seals regularly lounging on Pier 39. Jefferson Street.