From sailing boats skimming under the Golden Gate Bridge, to clanging cable cars climbing steep hills, San Francisco has a magic that consistently makes it one of the most exciting cities in the world. taste fresh-steamed Dungeness crab on fisherman's wharf. Shop for treasures along luxurious maiden lane. enjoy long-running shows: the circus-like Teatro ZinZanni and the irreverent musical revue, Beach Blanket Babylon. Getting around can be half the fun: rent an electric, satnav-guided GoCar to zip to the fun shops lining Pier 39 and lively Ghirardelli square, a former chocolate factory where you can browse among shops and splurge on sundaes. Rent bikes to pedal across the Golden Gate Bridge. Hop aboard a clanging cable car (shortest waits: California street line between Polk street and Van ness). Take a bay cruise, or tour Alcatraz Island (book well in advance), a former federal prison. Stop by the San Francisco Visitor information center at 900 market st., or the California welcome center at pier 39.

Parks & Museums in the expansive grounds of Golden Gate Park, visit the new California academy of sciences, an architectural masterpiece with innovative green design and exhibits, including a spectacular rainforest dome and wildflower-covered rooftop garden. Nearby, the dramatic de young Museum has thrilling exhibits. Some 6,000 years of art are showcased at the Asian art Museum, in the civic center plaza. Downtown, SFMOMA (san Francisco Museum of Modern art) presents edgy works by Andy Warhol and Roy li-chtenstein, and others adjacent are the yerba Buena Gardens, with pretty fountains. The elegant Legion of Honor showcases ancient art and exceptional views.

Shopping & dining. San Francisco's famous hills have become natural dividers for different neighborhoods and cuisines. Enjoy chilli con carne in the Mission district, dim sum in bustling Chinatown and pasta in North beach. SOMA (south of Market) has hot clubs and restaurants. For artisan foods, visit the Ferry building Marketplace. Luxury stores (think tiffany & co.) line the streets around union square. Nearby, visit over 200 stores in lavish Westfield San Francisco. Eclectic Hayes Valley, near the civic center, yields one-of-a-kind fashion and gifts. Haight-ashbury is the place for hip clothes and vintage finds. The Castro, known for the annual gay pride celebration and parade, is filled with colorful shops and cafes.