San Francisco earned its reputation as a beautiful enigma during the Gold Rush. Since then, Tony Bennett left his heart here, Humphrey Bogart roamed the streets and the world has watched in awe -- from the 1906 earthquake to the '60s counterculture revolution to the '90s dot-com craze.
A favorite among tourists, Fisherman's Wharf is known for its historic waterfront, delicious seafood, spectacular sights and unique shopping. This lively area offers a wide array of things to do and see. Visit the Maritime Museum or Ghirardelli Square, catch a ferry to Alcatraz or visit the sea lions near Pier 59. Try a taste of the local catch, like Dungeness crab or chowder in a sourdough bowl.
With its landmark cable cars, first-rate shopping and vibrant theater district, Union Square offers a buffet of San Francisco treats. Give your credit cards a workout at Neiman Marcus, Macy's or Gump's, then indulge in a crepe at a quaint Maiden Lane cafe. Most area hotels are located within walking distance of the fun, so you can catch a catnap before the evening's theater performance.
Once hidden in the shadows of a now-demolished freeway, the Embarcadero has been transformed back into a user-friendly waterfront. At the north end of Market Street, the century-old Ferry Building is a thriving gourmet mecca, with dozens of permanent shops and a Saturday-morning farmers' market. Spend the morning people-watching along the bayside promenade, then hop on a ferry to Sausalito.
Though summer is when most Americans vacation, spring and autumn are the best times to visit San Francisco. There are fewer tourists milling around, and you're apt to enjoy not only more temperate weather but cheaper hotel rates. If you can stand the fog, plan a trip in winter, when hotel rates are lowest of all and the opera and ballet seasons are at their peak.