The author's daughter flies a kite at a downtown San Francisco beach with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. Photo credit: Katrina Woznicki 

San Francisco is absolutely one of the my favorite cities in
the world because it is a city of contrasts. You have Victorian architecture
combined with sleek, glass skyscrapers, rowdiness in
Union Square not too far from serenity in the Japanese Tea Garden, and of course, its infamous weather ,
which is a study in contrasts. A typical summer day can barely reach 55 degrees
(as it did for us one August afternoon) while the following day can climb over
70. Pack plenty of layers and book your cheap tickets to San Francisco so you
can get to the "city by the bay," that offers something for everyone,
from foodies to shopaholics to outdoorsy types.

 

Fly a Kite at
Fisherman's Wharf

Ok, this is on the beaten tourist path, but there's so much
to see you can get it all done in one afternoon and hit the off-the-beaten path
stuff during the rest of your trip. There are tons of shops along
Fisherman's Wharf selling touristy tchotchkes, but our
favorite highlight was
buying and flying a kite along a
little stretch of beach at the wharf. This was also a great spot to enjoy the
iconic Golden Gate Bridge. San Francisco can get pretty windy so flying a kite
on a city beach is pretty effortless; just unfurl the string and nature takes
care of the rest. Warm up with a hot cocoa from nearby
Ghirardelli Square (also filled with shops, including one
of my favorites,
Gigi and Rose) or order
some sourdough buns from the ever-popular
Boudin Bakery right there along the wharf. If you get
there early enough, the bakery has fresh buns shaped like giant crabs.

Botanical Therapy at
the Japanese Tea Garden

I loved this place. If you want to relax, soak up some
natural beauty, and avoid crowds, the Japanese Tea Garden is it. Accessible by
public transportation, the garden is part of the more than 1,000-acre Golden Gate Park, which is also
home to the San Francisco Botanical Garden, Shakespeare's Garden and the AIDS
Memorial Grove. The Japanese Tea Garden is one of the largest of its kind in
the United States, featuring a wide variety of plants from China and Japan. You
can also enjoy its tea house and watch tea ceremonies. Filled with beautiful
manicured gardens, small temples, and a koi pond, the Japanese Tea Garden is
the ideal spot for some Zen.

 

Meet Me at the Soda
Fountain

What's a soda fountain, you ask? Your parents or
grandparents might remember the good ol' days when "soda" wasn't just
something in a can but something special served by a guy in a crisp white
uniform and a bowtie. It is said that the bottle cap put the soda fountain out
of business. Back in the early 20th century, creating delicious sodas took a
bit of chemistry and pizzazz. San Francisco has brought this era back with the
1930s retro Ice Cream Bar and Soda
Fountain restaurant
on Cole Street. This is a fun place to stop for lunch,
and something different for kids. The menu ranges from classic grilled cheese
sandwiches to vegetarian black bean burgers to a long list of
"Remedies," "Phosphates," "Malts," and
"Floats." Save room for scoops, sundaes, or ice cream cake.

  

Zig Zag Down Lombard
Street

Steep hills are all over San Francisco, but zig zagging down
Lombard Street is fun and free, and won't take long, so why not? Plus it's a
great way to see some of San Francisco's colorful neighborhoods.  Located in the city's Russian Hill
neighborhood, Lombard Street is called America's "most crooked
street" because of its eight turns that were created to slow down vehicle
and pedestrian traffic navigating this steep hill. Lombard Street has appeared
in countless cultural references, from movies to television shows. We drove
down it (along with dozens of other people), and enjoyed fantastic views of the
city. Take things slow, don't rush, and obey all the road signs, and everything
will be fine.

  

Ride a Cable Car

Ok, you kind of have to do this while in San Francisco,
though I have mixed feelings about the safety of these cable cars.  I wouldn't recommend them for families
traveling with strollers or small children or anyone who has difficulty moving
quickly because the cars can be extremely crowded and not always easy to hop on
and off mainly because there are too many tourists all trying to do the same
thing. These old-fashioned trolleys aren't the fastest or most cost-efficient
way to get around San Francisco, but they are sometimes fun and one of the most
unique ways to take in the city. Stepping on to a cable car is like stepping on
to a bygone era, just be careful. Also, you may be stuck waiting a long time
for a trolley because if they are crowded, they will pass you by, as several
did during our trip; and that's no fun when it's cold and windy out.

 

For more information about visiting San Francisco, go to http://www.sanfrancisco.travel/.

 

Check out CheapOair for your;cheap flights to San Francisco

 

Photo credit: Katrina Woznicki;

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