Grab a taxi from the designated zone in Arrivals; it'll cost about $40 to get downtown from the airport. There are plenty of car-hire companies if you want to head on to the wine region for a few days; be warned though, parking in San Francisco can be a headache, and the cost is almost as steep as the streets. By law, you must point your wheels at the curb when you park to prevent runaway disasters.
San Francisco International Airport (www.flysfo.com) lies 13 miles south of the city. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic both operate daily flights from London. Other options are Oakland International Airport, 25 miles away, or San Jose, 60 miles to the south.
Amtrak's wonderfully scenic Coast Starlight train route (www.amtrak.com) connects San Francisco to LA and Seattle via Oakland; there's a bus connection from the Ferry Building in San Francisco. The BART metro system connects the city with the East Bay and the airport's domestic and international terminals; visit www.bart.gov for details. The journey from the airport takes around half an hour; get off at Montgomery Station for the Financial District. For short hops around town, the Muni system's trams, cable cars and buses are handy; ring +1 415 673 6864 for route information.
Country code for the US: +1. San Francisco: 415.
Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin; City Limits by James Toland; The Subterraneans by Jack Kerouac; The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth.
Do go / Don't Go
There's never a bad time to go to San Francisco, but June and July are the peak tourist months. However, mid-summer brings with it the city's distinctive fogs, so you may miss out on some of the bigger views. March to May and September to early November provide mild, sunny days. The rains can be torrential from late November to February, so if you're going then, bring layers and suitably waterproof outerwear. Between storms you'll be rewarded with crisp, bright sunshine.
This city is a food-lover's paradise: whatever you want, it's here. Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame got this city on the right track: intoxicatingly fresh, local, seasonal food. The Dungeness crab is a feature of San Franciscan cuisine; they're available all year round, but are best when they're in season (from September to April). Whether you fancy cheap and cheerful burritos in the Mission, dim sum in China Town, freshly landed fish and seafood at Fisherman's Wharf or fine Californian dining in the Financial District, you won't have to look far to find something that tickles the tastebuds.
You can hail taxis anywhere on the street, although they're less numerous outside the downtown area. San Franciscan cabbies are a fascinating bunch, and they can't refuse you for short rides, either.
As in most US destinations, 15-20 per cent is standard in taxis, at the bar, for hotel bellhops, waiters… Expect to be doling out those singles quite a lot.
The weather here is a wondrous and ever-changing thing: pack layers. If you expect to walk anywhere, bring trainers and maybe even your personal trainer, too - the hills are deadly steep.
In the Financial District, SFMoMA (www.sfmoma.org) on Third Street has an impressive collection of paintings, sculpture, photography and design. The Legion of Honour (www.thinker.org) in Lincoln Park houses some of the city's most important art pieces. San Francisco's immigrant population has been vital to the city's character; get a Walking Tour of China Town from the Chinese Culture Center on Kearny Street (www.c-c-c.org) to relive the post-Gold Rush era. The Asian Art Museum (www.asianart.org) has the largest collection of Asian Art in the Western World and hosts fantastic exhibitions.
Who can pass up the temptation to make like Nick Cage and Sean Connery with a visit to the Rock? We hear the night tour of the historic maximum-security penitentiary on Alcatraz Island is super spooky - book early (www.alcatraztickets.com) as places fill up quickly.
Hike up the stepped hills of boutique-packed Fillmore Street (www.fillmorestreetsf.com) from the Marina for lunch and more shopping in the fashionable Notting Hill-like neighbourhood of Pacific Heights. American Apparel on Union Street has an excellent mix of clothing, shoes and accessories; great shops on Fillmore include the gorgeous knitwear emporium Margaret OLeary, and Erica Tanov womenswear. Urban hipsters should head for the Chrissy Bee boutique on Shrader Street near Haight-Ashbury for cool denim and accessories. For arty interior design and contemporary homewares, browse the galleries and studios in Hayes Valley. The Mission district with its boho atmosphere and Latin soul is a fun place to shop, with food stalls and taquerias on every street corner. Literature fans should make a pilgrimage to San Francisco's counter-culture and Beat Generation mecca City Lights (+1 415 362 8193), the book store and publishing house on Columbus Avenue.
At an elevation of 922 feet, bang in the middle of town, Twin Peaks offers amazing 360º views; Twin Peaks Boulevard is the only road to the summit. And there's Golden Gate Bridge; walk across the eastern sidewalk, and, at its centre, you'll be 220 feet above the surface of the water. If you'd prefer a nice view of the bridge itself rather than the slightly scary view from it, the best places to view it are at South Vista Point on the city side (via Lincoln Avenue), or from scenic Baker Beach (popular with picnickers and walkers, though also a nudist beach, so mind where you point your camera).
Take a stroll through Golden Gate Park - the San Francisco Parks Trust organises various free guided tours; ring +1 415 263 0991 for details. Do yourself a favour and look out for a copy of the free monthly listings magazine TODO. Basically a best friend in your back pocket, it's seriously worth picking up for up-to-date tips on where to eat, drink, shop and visit.
Late January/early February Chinese New Year is celebrated throughout Chinatown with a colourful parade, street fair and fireworks. Mid-February The California International Antiquarian Book Fair (www.sfbookfair.com). Mid-March St Patrick's Day Parade. April San Francisco International Film Festival. Third Sunday in May San Francisco Bay to Breakers; the world's largest footrace is half serious sports event, half crazy costumed run from Embarcadero to Golden Gate Park. 4 July Independence Day celebrations, with fireworks over the Bay. Mid-July The Cable Car Bell-Ringing Championship in Union Square. 2 November Día de los Muertos sees Mexican celebrations in the Mission.