Tony Bennett may have famously sung that he left his heart in this city on the bay, but my father more aptly says, "I left my wallet in San Francisco." Rents climbed sky high, rivaling those of New York City during the dot-com boom of the 1990s. It's legendarily attractive to visitors for its fantastic culinary fusion, and a long history as a haven of hippies, jazz, Beat poetry and all-around liberal inclusiveness. It's also a serious place for cyclists; a foray across the Golden Gate Bridge is not for the faint of heart, as the whiz of hardcore bicyclists can topple even the easily frazzled.
A couple of good places to start take pulse of the area include the online arm of San Francisco magazine (www.sfguide.com), with a built-in search feature for rental cars, accommodations, and airfare, and printable coupons redeemable in a host of places throughout the city. For a quirky look, try The Esseffist (www.sfist.com), a blog about all things SF that will give you a taste of the city as the locals know it including great eats off the beaten track, the politics of the day, insider takes on nightlife and more; it's updated Monday through Friday often as events take place or become known. An equally compelling take is presented by Flavorpill (http://sf.flavorpill.net) another digest that lists what its editors consider to be only the best cultural events occurring during the week.
During spring and summer, San Francisco is replete with street fairs and festivals. If you're around for Memorial Day weekend, there is a parade and festivities starting at 10am on the 30th, with fireworks, music, starting at the Presidio and ending at the San Francisco National Cemetery. The Tenth Annual California Blues Festival (tel. 415/810-1867; www.bobbiewebb.com/bluesfest.htm) takes place at the Civic Center from 11am till 6pm. Also during Memorial Day weekend the Carnaval Festival (tel. 415/920-0105; www.carnavalsf.com) takes place May 28-29 from 10am-6pm, Harrison Street between 17th and 21st Streets. Dubbed San Francisco's Mardi Gras, it includes music, art, activities, and a Grand Parade, May 29 at 9:30 am, which heads toward Mission and travels north through this gentrified but still immigrant neighborhood. The theme to the 27th annual party, which celebrates Latin American and Caribbean culture, is "Baila Conmigo" or dance with me.
A united festival of food takes place in the city on June 1-5 as the world celebrates United Nations World Environment Day (www.wed2005.org). It's the first time the event will take place in the United States since its inception in 1972. Among other events, such as programs to raise awareness about green buildings and renewable energy, is a concerted focus on sustainable cuisine. The dozens of restaurants involved are striving to create one entire meal made from local organic ingredients.
A walk through the Haight-Ashbury district, named for the intersection of two streets, is a quintessential San Francisco experience. Although it's now home to a Gap and Ben and Jerry's, the area still retains a ragtag, loose feel with eclectic stores and the occasional whiff of patchouli. The Haight Street Fair (tel. 415-661-8025; www.haightstreetfair.org) starts June 12 and runs from 10am to 6pm all day, it's free, and celebrates with the usual gamut of food, crafts, music, and the like. The North Beach Festival (www.sfnorthbeach.org/festival) is San Francisco's answer to Little Italy and also the home the City Lights book store, made famous by the likes of Beat Generation writers. Conveniently, it's situated right between Chinatown (also not to miss) and Fisherman's Wharf. The 51st Annual event runs June 18 and 19, 10am-6pm, and is free. Arts and crafts and music abound, but so do a celebrity pizza toss and an animal blessing -- up to three hundred pooches, kitties and other pets become sanctified by a Franciscan monk at National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi. Later, in July, North Beach hosts a jazz festival. San Francisco Lesbian /Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Pride Celebration (tel. 415-864-FREE; www.sfpride.org) is held June 25, 12pm-6pm; June 26 10:30am-7pm. This year's theme is "Stand Up, Stand Out, Stand Proud" for the 35th anniversary celebration of gay and lesbian pride, which culminates with a colorful parade. The celebration begins noon on Saturday, in Civic Center Plaza, and the parade is held Sunday, beginning at 10:30am and heads west along Market Street to Eighth Street.
For Independence Day, the San Francisco Waterfront Festival (www.pier39.com/entertainment/entertainment.cfm/event/1000001) is a daylong fest complete with food, entertainment, crafts, arts from 11am through 9:30pm; the day is caped off with an explosion of fireworks. For fitness-minded, San Francisco provides reliably good weather for outdoor activities. The Runners World Marathon (tel. 415/284-9653; www.causetorun.com) takes place July 31 and includes several options: a marathon, half marathon, four-person relay or 5K run/walk. Registration costs $85 and closes July 31. In a move that combines history, local culture, and fitness, the Cable Car Chase takes (tel. 415/595-6934; www.anacablecarchase.com) place August 28 at 8am in the Nob Hill neighborhood, and it's exactly what it sounds like. At its debut in 1983 to commemorate the rededication of the system after it had been rebuilt, hundreds of runners participate in the event, which starts at Aquatic Park and it costs $27.50.
To find recommendations on discounts for travelers, a good starting point is the Official Site of the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau (tel. 415/391-2000; www.sfvisitor.org). This site, and several others, including the simply named Sanfrancisco.com, claims they have the lowest rate guaranteed, but investigation and careful searching will probably reveal the truth. Nevertheless, the SFCVB has a special called the "Visa Preferred Travel Program," available through June 30. Discounts are offered for shopping, dining, various attractions, hotels, wine country, and transportation. A ten percent discount is available using your Visa card through ATA Airlines (tel. 1-800-I-FLY-ATA; www.ata.com). You have to jump through a few hoops first -- order a "visitor kit" through the bureau, call ATA, and then use the coupon booking code 4720 and the coupon number itself. There's no way of knowing for sure how good the discount will be. The terms dictate that the flight base fare is at minimum $198 round-trip, and the travel is good through and must be booked by June 30, but blackout dates apply; May 26-27 and 30. A quick search of early June departure dates from New York-LaGuardia airport to San Francisco revealed no direct flights -- a stopover in Chicago -- for $313 exclusive of taxes. Deals on hotels seem a little more straightforward and manageable. Rates at the four-star diamond Hotel Palomar on Fourth Street start at $189 and include breakfast; rates at the boutique Andrews Hotel start at $99.
For hotel deals, www.hotels.com is running a San Francisco special until June 15. The Ramada Plaza downtown, not far from Union Square, is advertised starting at $89/night; The Radisson Fisherman's Wharf, just steps from the San Francisco Bay, starts at $139/night. Through Jet Blue Airlines' website, (tel. 866/520-5800; www.jetblue.com) you can search for hotels, too -- click on travel deals; currently there are no specials, a.k.a. SuperFly deals, to San Francisco on this airline. But through Jet Blue, the four-star Renaissance Parc 55 hotel, off Market Street (the downtown thoroughfare) advertises rates from $159/night between May 4 and July 3. The three-star Savoy hotel, located in the theater district, also offers rates from $99/night during the same time frame. Similarly, if you book through Continental Airlines Vacations (tel. 800/301-3800; www.covacations.com), which offers bundled hotel and airfare deals through careful searching, you can book just a hotel such as the four-star Fairmont, which is running an 'every fourth night free" special between June 26, 2005 and February 22 2006. A flight and hotel package for two out of Newark to San Francisco, a popular route, in early June, bundled with a four-night stay at the three-star Francis Drake Hotel, runs about $1,481.