The world is full of beautiful and interesting cities, but few of them shelter denizens as smitten with their home as San Francisco. In fact, even the most jaded traveler will grudgingly admit that there's a lot to love about the City by the Bay. It's beautiful, of course: Iconic cable cars scramble up and down the steep streets like urban mountain goats; the Bay wraps around the base of the city like a vast blue puddle, spanned here and there by bridges that glitter in the sunlight on their way to other, lesser towns
But San Francisco is not just another pretty place. Because of its "inhospitable geography," the city was always an ethnically diverse melting pot of can-do scrappy-types, who came to find gold (which is why a San Francisco dry goods merchant named Levi Strauss gave us blue jeans) or build railroads (which is why Chinese Americans are still the largest ethnic group in the city). The great Earthquake of 1906 destroyed three quarters of San Francisco, and a less feisty population might have thrown in the towel. But by 1915, San Francisco had not only rebuilt, but had emerged as a center of banking and finance. (Wells-Fargo and Bank of America were founded here.) Its reputation as a culturally and politically liberal city dates to the Beatnik era of Ginsberg and Kerouac, the Vietnam War protests at Berkeley, the hippy scene of Haight-Ashbury, and the birth of the Gay Rights movement. And it was San Francisco that led the dotcom boom and the gourmet organics trend. In other words, San Francisco is a city with real character.
And it's a great city for boaters. With 1,600 square miles of Bay to explore, you may find it hard to go ashore. But hit the hard because San Francisco is small enough to be a great city for walkers, too. Grab a slip at Pier 39 Marina, if you can, and you'll be right in the middle of all the tourist action, with more than 110 stores, 12 Bay view restaurants, and plenty of entertainment, ranging from the famous sea lions and street performers, to scheduled live entertainment and people watching! At nearby Pier 41, you can hop on a tour to infamous Alcatraz Island, which once hosted inmates Al Capone and Robert Stroud, aka "The Birdman of Alcatraz."
You don't want to miss Lombard Street, the city's famously crooked street with- count 'em-nine hairpin turns. Check out the view from Alamo Square, with its oft-photographed row of Victorian houses topping off a great city vista. Union Square is the shopping and dining epicenter of the city. And take the pedestrian path across the Golden Gate Bridge for more amazing views and a close-up look at what was once the world's largest suspension bridge.
Last but not least, make sure you do some serious eating. The city is said to have more restaurants per capita than anywhere else in the world-San Franciscans were foodies back when the rest of us still thought a Twinkie was fine dining. They never stop innovating, so great new restaurants open frequently. But the diversity of San Francisco is a food boon every day, with just-caught crab from Fisherman's Wharf, fresh warm burrata and prosciutto from the North Beach neighborhood's Italian eateries, not to mention excellent dim sum, Vietnamese, and Asian-fusion food throughout the San Francisco Bay area.