Pick up your hire car at San Francisco airport and head for America's most laid-back city.
"We've got cable cars, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, a hugely diverse population and one of the most liberal cultures in the Western world - there's nowhere quite like San Francisco!"
It might lack the scale and frantic pace of New York or Los Angeles, but who needs hectic when you're on holiday? Take your time and explore the many wonders this fabulously compact city has to offer.
With the locals enjoying living here so much there's a very positive feel to the place. And with street festivals, exhibitions and excellent food and drink options, you can see why.
Welcome to liberal and laid-back. This is the home to the famous hippy Summer of Love movement of 1967, after all. And while the clothes and haircuts have changed, many of the ideals have remained the same.
The city has a warm climate, with mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. But prepare yourself for drops in temperature in the summer when the unwelcome fog comes to town.
The San Francisco burrito - rice, beans, lettuce, salsa, meat, guacamole, cheese and sour cream, wrapped up in a tortilla - has to be the city's favourite snack. Head to any of the taquerias in the Mission district for the best ones.
Hollywood heavyweight Clint Eastwood and rock wild child Courtney Love were both born in San Francisco.
The San Francisco 49ers American football team got its name from the gold rush of 1849. The gold prospectors who flooded into the city that year became known as '49ers'.
"We're crazy about this city. Los Angeles? - that's just a big parking lot where you buy a hamburger for the trip to San Francisco." - John Lennon and Yoko Ono
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Spanning San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most iconic bridges in the world. With its spectacular views and warm golden colour when the sun shines, it's a classic photo opportunity.
There's metered parking ($1 per hour) at Vista Point on the San Francisco side of the bridge, southbound. Northbound drivers can park their hire car at the Marin Side Vista Point, which is free for up to four hours.
A popular feature of the Golden Gate Park, this tea garden is more than 100 years old. Its first gardener, Makoto Hagiware, was said to have introduced fortune cookies to America.
Metered parking is available on the road that rings the garden, or there's free parking on JFK Drive and Martin Luther King Drive.
Anyone with an interest in learning should get along to the Exploratorium. With its unrivalled collection of interactive science, art, nature and technology exhibits, you might leave with boffin status.
There's free onsite parking for your hire car.
The oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest Chinese community outside of Asia, this is a great place to sample both oriental life and the historical hardships of the Chinese in America.
Park your hire car at the Portsmouth Square parking garage for $2 an hour.
This majestic building was a gift to the city from the wife of a wealthy businessman to commemorate the Californians that died in France in the First World War. These days the fine art museum offers groundbreaking exhibitions to the culture-hungry San Franciscans.
Metered parking is available around the fountain in front of the museum and along the Camino de Mar.
A charming little town in the Californian Wine Country, Sonoma is known as the birthplace of American California, as independence from Mexico was won here in 1846. You can buy some of the best locally produced food and wine in North America here, plus it's much friendlier than nearby Napa.
Heading north on US-101 - it's about an hour and a half to Sonoma.
Chill out in Santa Cruz with the alternative lifestyle-adopting locals, who love nothing more than reading and discussing books and surfing. Not at the same time, obviously.
It takes around an hour and 20 minutes to get there. Take US-101 south and branch right at Cupertino. Highway 17 takes you to Santa Cruz.
The location of numerous John Steinbeck novels, Monterey Bay is rich in aquatic wildlife, as you'll see if you visit the world-famous aquarium or stroll around the town's pier - home to numerous resident sea lions and sea otters.
Head south on US-101, then west on CA-156. It will take around two hours.
Think you've seen tall trees before? Well think again, because many of the 2000-year-old redwoods in the Mill Valley are more than 90 metres tall and 6 metres wide. A bit bigger than you're average British sycamore.
Take US-101 north. It'll take around half an hour.
" San Francisco is a city of one-way streets and steep hills, so driving can be a little tricky at first - but once you get used to the local customs, it's a breeze. Be sure to turn your wheels towards the curb if you are parked down hill and away from the curb if parked uphill to avoid a parking ticket or, worse, a runaway car. Avoid the bridges and freeways in the Bay area during rush hour, or you'll spend ages stuck in traffic, and carry lots of quarters as there's a toll on the Bay Bridge. "