…Make sure that you have enough money in your wallet! It’s only partially a joke, as San Fran has become one of the most expensive cities in the world, even for travelers. Even with the beat-down the city will deal to your pocket-book, it still holds enough exciting sights and unique experiences to make it worth planning and budgeting for a visit.

Our hearts were captured from the moment we stood atop a bluff just before entering the city and looked in awe upon the man-made wonder that is the Golden Gate Bridge. Having seen the structure in countless films and TV shows, I suppose I may have underestimated the effect an in-person viewing would have upon me. No words can adequately describe how I felt laying my eyes upon it for the first time, but, as we both marveled at its towering, red glory in the light of an escaping sun I believe Spencer said it best: “It doesn’t just make you proud to be an American, it makes you proud to be a human.” He was right, it’s an engineering marvel that supersedes simple patriotism and awakens in you a sense of pride that  encompasses the very spirit of human ingenuity and drive.

Its appropriate that this fiery-colored bridge is the gateway into a city that holds so many curious and almost magical elements. An old friend of mine lives in the Castro district, which allowed us to park for free and spend some time there. The Castro District is one of the first (some say the very first) homosexual-centric burro or neighborhood. The area is rich with LGBT representation from the Harvey Milk Plaza to the GLBT History Museum. Rainbow crosswalks and flags decorate the streets with vibrant color and remind everyone that its a place where all are welcome – a beautiful message of love and acceptance, direly needed more today than ever.

The BART is the underground rail system that serves as the main transit system for the city and its impressively efficient. Within 5 minutes we were able to transit from the center of SF to the Embarcadero, on the far edge of town. Utilizing this system saved us untold hours of waiting for buses and walking. If you’re in town for a few days, consider picking up a Clipper Card to avoid having to continuously purchase tickets each time you ride.

Embarcadero means “the place to embark” and though the name does accurately describe this location where you can catch a ferry or cruise liner, it fails to capture the beauty of this sunny, shore-side area. The embarkation are itself is almost reminiscent of Pike’s Market in Seattle – though fully enclosed – as it has various vendors. You can buy fine wines, high quality meats and rare mushrooms. Outside, the streets bustle with tourists and men and women in sharp business suits running to grab a bite on lunch breaks from their jobs at the nearby high rises. Gulls waft in between the monolithic palm trees and over the smoky green ocean waters. Its a sight to behold and well worth a leisurely stroll, if only to grab some sun.

Our last stop was in San Fran’s Chinatown district. Perhaps the most famous Chinatown district in the U.S., this was yet another place that I’d seen often on TV and in films and had some preconceived ideas about… and one that I was yet again pleasantly surprised by. There are definitely many of the usual suspects that one might anticipate – szechuan and dim sum restaurants, herbal shops and bubble tea stores, but here you can also find some distinct “red light” offerings inhabiting age-old buildings, quirky little bars and book stores with holdings that would make some public libraries feel inadequate. We grabbed a few hot plates at Little Szechuan and checked out City Lights Book Sellers and Publishers (one of the best book stores I have ever seen, occupying three floors and with custom recommendations noted in every section).

It was a shame that we had only a day to utilize in this amazing city, but I am already sold on a re-visit here. Next time, we will have to block out a full week and I would advise (if you can) that you do the same. I guarantee that it will take at least that long to see even half of what this place has to offer you.