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Spontaneity is the only law obeyed without question in San Francisco. No one can commit to a date next week, but everyone suddenly shows up when there is a war that needs protesting or someone’s handing out free cupcakes at same-sex weddings in City Hall. San Francisco’s stratospheric booms and breakneck busts are not for the weak of heart, but as anyone who has clung onto the side of a cable car will tell you, this town gives one hell of a ride. Here are the top ten highlights of San Francisco.

See the Golden Gate Bridge at its best
Leftists pretty much run SF, but fierce right-wing and left-wing debates rage over the best bridge viewpoint. To see both sides of the Golden Gate debate, you can hike or bike it yourself: pedestrians can walk across the bridge on the east side, while bicyclists zoom along on the ocean side. But no matter how you look at or obsessively photograph it, this 1937 engineering marvel never fails to make a scene. Sunny days make you hope for afternoon fog, spilling over the towers like dry ice at a Kiss concert.

Find the city's hidden treasures in Chinatown
"May you live in interesting times" goes the legendary Chinese curse, and the 41 alleys packed into 22 square blocks of Chinatown have lived through 150 very interesting years. In these narrow streets, San Francisco grew up too fast, surviving booms, bootleggers, bigotry and trials by fire to reach a wise old age. Today fortunes are still made on Ross Alley at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company, while Commercial St's main enticements are happy hour at EZ5 and the city's best dim sum.

Go gourmet by the bay in the ferry building
Deciding where to eat can be a major dilemma in a city with one restaurant for every 28 people, but there is one place everyone can agree on: the Ferry Building. Saturday picnickers raid the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and blithely gorge themselves under the statue of a famished Gandhi, while lazy Sundays are ideal for watching chefs whip up beignets at the communal chef's table at Boulette's Larder.

Get giddy in the city atop Telegraph Hill
For breathless views of the bay, there's no topping Telegraph Hill. No crampons are needed, though you may want to pack poetry from nearby City Lights and a sandwich from Molinari for pit stops on the uphill climb. You'll know you're near the crest of Telegraph Hill when you hear squawked hellos from the wild parrots that have claimed the treetops. Topping this surreal scene is the enormous white fire-hose nozzle of Coit tower. For truly woozy vistas, take the elevator to the viewing platform for a 360-degree panorama, 210ft above San Francisco.

See Victorians gone wild around Alamo Square
Several houses around Alamo Square park feature lavish Victorian trimmings: high-contrast colour palettes, stained-glass windows, fish-scale shingles, gilded stucco garlands and peaked roofs with carved wood "gingerbread" trim. The famed Postcard Row on the east side of the park is cookie-cutter Victorian - for more outlandish Victorian photo ops, wander along the north side of the park and the blocks of McAllister and Golden Gate between Scott and Steiner.

© Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘Lonely Planet's top five highlights of San Francisco’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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