San Francisco refuses to fit a mold. It climbed hills while other cities spread out. It encouraged immigrants to guard their ethnic distinctions while other cities assimilated them. It rejects urban freeways because they’re unsightly and renovates dusty keepsakes (an archaic cable car system, an abandoned factory, an antiquated cannery) with felicitous results.

San Francisco is congenitally worldly, inherently irrepressible. Its verve is contagious.

“You know what it is?” John Steinbeck said of San Francisco. “It is a golden handcuff with the key thrown away.”

Fellow author Gene Fowler remarked that “Every man should be allowed to love two cities — his own and San Francisco.”

Many things contribute to this charisma. San Francisco rises like a siren out of the sea. The surrounding water casts a whitish aura over the city. Wisps of fog fly like pennants from its spires. Buildings of every description cling to its pinnacles. Clanging museum-pieces swoop over its hills. Tiers of windows turn gold in the sunset. The air is almost always crisp.

Though slightly more than 824,000 people live in San Francisco, its population swells to more than a million on weekdays when commuters pour in from three sides. To them and the rest of California it’s “The City.”

The City’s a cinch to explore. Confined to 47.335 square miles, it’s “America’s Leading Compact.” You can stroll from its shopping center, Union Square, to its Neapolitan-flavored nightlife belt, North Beach, taking in Chinatown and Wall Street West en route. Public transport will whisk you from Golden Gate Park to the Embarcadero, from Ocean Beach to the East Bay. Ferries will carry you to the resort-like ports of Sausalito and Tiburon, the isles of Angel and Alcatraz and their terminal at Larkspur near Pt. San Quentin.

“Chinoiserie, chiaroscuro, chili sauce” is the way one writer describes San Francisco’s ethnic mix, omitting the teriyaki. The most Asian city outside of Asia, now has not one but two Chinatowns as well as a Little Italy, a Spanish-accented Mission District and a Japanese quarter known as Nihonmachi.

The landscape yields all manner of picturesque mementos—Gold Rush nuggets like Jackson Square, gingerbread mews like outer Union St., Victorian whatnots all over Pacific Heights.

Any compendium of local attractions should list RESTAURANTS in large type. There are more than 3,400 of every nationality. This is one of the great eating towns of the world, famed for its cuisine since the days of the railways barons and bonanza kings. San Francisco’s glittering tradition is the performing arts. Generally acknowledged to be the cultural capital of Northern California, it has its on opera, ballet, symphony and drama (American Conservatory Theater) companies, all of exceptional caliber.

Top shows are imported from New York and London, and innovative local companies launch long-running hits. The country’s oldest international film festival is held here annually. Movie houses and special-interest film festivals proliferate. The city supports four public art museums—the Asian Art, de Young, Palace of the Legion of Honor and Modern Art. There are at least 34 other repositories of culture and local lore, ranging from vintage ships to a 200-year-old mission, from a car barn (cable) to an island (Alcatraz) of unusual interest.

 Sports fans can find plenty to cheer about in the Bay Area —pro baseball (San Francisco Giants, Oakland A’s), football (San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders), basketball (Golden State Warriors), hockey (San Jose Sharks), soccer (amateur competitions), horse racing, regattas, and collegiate contests— the whole spectrum.

Amazingly, the fourth largest metropolitan complex in California now embraces what might be described as an urban Yellowstone, a backpacker’s paradise within sight of the skyscrapers. In 1972 Congress set aside 39,000 undeveloped San Francisco and Marin County acres as the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Administered by the National Park Service and expanded in 1994 to include the Presidio, this magnificent preserve takes in the city’s shoreline greenbelt, its offshore islands and miles of rugged headlands, beaches, coastal fortifications, lagoons, wildlife sanctuaries, redwoods and ranch lands just across the Golden Gate, as well as in San Mateo County to the south. What’s more, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s northern reaches adjoin the 67,000-acre Point Reyes National Seashore.

Headquarters for a vast vacationland, San Francisco is within easy driving distance of the Sierra Nevada resorts of Lake Tahoe and Yosemite, the scenic Monterey-Carmel Peninsula, San Simeon, California’s great wine region, the Redwood Empire and the spectacular Mendocino Coast.

The Pacific crossroads known by turns as the Paris of the West, Gateway to the Orient, Baghdad-by-the-Bay and Gum San Dai Fow (Great City on Golden Hill) abounds with ethnic pageantry. Its festivals, like its food and social fabric, bring the world into focus. Among these seasonal spectacles are the mid-winter Chinese New Year celebration and Black History Month, St. Patrick’s observance in March, the Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival in April, Cinco de Mayo in May, Carnaval and the San Francisco Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Pride Celebration in June, and the Blessing of the Fishing Fleet and Italian Heritage Festival pageantry put on by the Italian community every October.

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