The general consensus is that San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities in the United States, but if you're looking to get a bigger bang for your sightseeing buck, this place is actually a brilliant choice. Occupying a tight, 47-square mile fingerprint on the tip of a narrow peninsula, San Francisco is blessed with beautiful, attraction-filled parks, a neverending parade of free, off-the-wall events and performances, absorbing and walkable neighbourhoods, miles of windswept city beaches and one of the world's most recognisable landmarks. With the added bonus of cheap-ish public transport, you might find yourself spending considerably less than planned..
Put your windbreakers on, we're going for a walk. Not just any old walk either, but a bracing and exhilarating stroll over the Golden Gate Bridge - probably the most photographed bridge on the planet and arguably the most beautiful. There is simply no better way to appreciate the scale and height, the towering orange vermilion-painted twin towers and the graceful arc of its two main cables (each containing 40,000 miles of wire) than to stand underneath them and gawp upwards in amazement. When you start to notice the barely-tangible swaying motion whipped up by the blustery ocean winds, stand still, close your eyes and feel the gentle-but-juddery vibrations move through your body from feet to forehead. Yes, it gets really windy up here so dress accordingly. Pedestrians can enter the bridge's east sidewalk between 5am and 9pm in summer and 5am and 6.30pm in winter.
San Francisco's beloved cable car system is the last in the world to be manually operated, and hopping on one will no doubt be a highlight of your stay. Three perfectly-preserved antique cable cars from the 1870s live in the family-friendly Cable Car Museum, along with an engaging collection of historic photos, replica models and memorabilia, but best of all, it is all housed in the actual Washington/Mason powerhouse and storage facility of the entire, present-day cable car network - this means you can stand on the gallery level and look down over the enormous engines and whirring wheels that heave the cables under the streets of San Francisco. Down in the lower-level viewing room, check out how the huge gear and pulley system operates, and see the cable line entering the building through the channel under the street. Don't miss the great little store where you can buy yourself an original cable car bell.
For another kid-friendly, free-to-enter San Francisco museum, we highly recommend Musee Mecanique
Co-founded in 1953 by Peter D. Martin and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, City Lights is one of the best known and most influential independent bookstores in America, first gaining notoriety after Ferlinghetti published and sold Beat poet Allen Ginsberg's banned poetry collection Howlin 1956. With a heavy slant towards the arts, global literature and the liberal culture and politics that are synonymous with San Francisco, the store is manna from heaven for book-loving visitors. Expanded over the years, there are now three floors brimming with fiction, poetry, history, politics, music, art and philosophy tomes with both major and niche publishers well represented, including City Lights' own publishing house. It's the sort of place where you can linger for hours and no-one will bat an eyelid, so grab a table in the basement (highbrow non-fiction) and soak up the ambience.
For a real glimpse into the local literary scene, try and get down to one of City Lights' ongoing series of readings and events - there are normally one or two a week, many of which are turned into podcasts. City Lights Books, 261 Columbus Avenue at Broadway, San Francisco