It's no wonder Tony Bennett left his heart there. San Francisco is a compact city of world-class culture, historical landmarks, award-winning dining, outdoor adventures and nightlife -- all wrapped by a sparkling bay flanked by the famous Golden Gate Bridge, visible from historic cable cars that ply the hilly streets. Even the unpredictable fog adds to the beauty.
Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala discovered the inlet in 1775, but it wasn't until 1847 that San Francisco got its name -- just before gold was discovered in "them thar" Sierra Nevada hills to the east. In 1850, California became the 31st state in the union, and, by 1854, more than 500 saloons and 20 theaters graced the booming Gold Rush town. But, the real "gold" to be found was in its seas. The area known as Fisherman's Wharf, on the San Francisco Bay, is still the center of Northern California's commercial and sport fishing industry.
Indeed, the City by the Bay reflects its roots: a morning stroll down Fish Alley -- Jefferson between Hyde and Jones -- offers a chance to view fishermen at work. The Saloon (1232 Grant Avenue) established in 1861, still stands in the city's North Beach neighborhood with cracked barstools and a dusty wooden floor. (It's one of the three oldest taverns in San Francisco, which somehow survived demolition by man and earthquakes, including the major one in 1906 that resulted in fire and widespread destruction.)
But, above all, today's San Francisco is playfully sophisticated, with a mix of distinct contemporary neighborhoods like the tie-dye-wearing, peace-loving Haight; the super-trendy Mission; swank Pacific Heights; and fabulously gay Castro, home to many of the city's LGBT businesses and households.
If your voyage begins or ends in this colorful California port, consider a pre- or post-cruise stay. The treats of San Francisco command more than a few hours. These include mah-jongg parlors in Chinatown (with yummy samples from the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory on Ross Alley), cable car rides over Nob Hill, the staircase down the very steep and crooked Lombard Street, the ferry ride to enchanting Sausalito across San Francisco Bay and, of course, an escape to Alcatraz.