I have been to San Francisco many times and I am always amazed at the sheer beauty of the place. What a fantastic spot to build a city. There are so many things to see and do, not just in the city itself, but also outlying areas like Marin County, Mendocino and the East Bay. Public transport is available, but it is patchy at best and getting a cheap rental car is really the way to go. It will allow you to set your own schedule and get you to paces you normally wouldn’t see.
Everyone should take a drive down Lombard Street, probably one of the most beautiful and curvy streets in the world. From there drive down to the Marina and Ghirardelli square. There are lots to do in the area. Park in the Marina and walk. It’s a bit of a hike but you’ll save heaps on parking.
After a nice lunch, drive up to Pacific Heights. You will see some of the most amazing houses anywhere. A word of advice if you are not used to driving with a clutch. This place is seriously hilly, and if you get three cars behind at a stop light it takes some skill to shift into gear and not roll back. Maybe hire an automatic.
Next stop, and highly recommended is The Presidio. A military fortress since 1776, this magnificent place was turned into parkland in 1994. It is absolutely stunning and a great place to watch the sun go down. Perhaps drive over to the Mission District after for dinner and try some Spanish, Dominican or Cuban food.
Depending how long your stay is, you could chose to drive to the wine country up north in either Mendocino or Napa counties. Be careful at wine tastings if you are the drive. The countryside is vastly different that of Marin County, which is just over the Golden Gate Bridge. Speaking of which. A drive across the bridge is a must. There is a toll, but only in one direction, and it is well worth the views. Just over the bridge if you take the very first exit (careful, it is easy to miss) you’ll find the Marin headlands. It is a deserted military installation from World War II. There are still bunkers everywhere and plenty of trails for hiking.
After the headlines, I suggest you go into one of the prettiest towns on earth, Sausalito. There are little restaurants along the water, cool shops and galleries and watching the fog roll in over the hills is a sight you won’t forget. Driving around town is really only the way to go and a cheap rental car will make your budget stretch further.