If you're going to San Francisco...
1. Don't miss the Richard Avedon Photographs 1946-2004 at SFMOMA — 151 Third Street (between Mission and Howard). "The exhibition presents work spanning Avedon's entire career, from his earliest street scenes to his breakthrough 1950s Paris fashion pictures and the iconic celebrity portraits." The one of Bob Dylan as a young dandy is especially good. The exhibition continues until 29 November.
2. Because life is short, consider staying at the Cavallo Point Lodge at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. It's got one of California's largest wine cellars, and it specializes in local and sustainably produced wines. For those who prefer sports, the lodge organizes hiking, biking and kayaking trips around Sausalito. When you get back, there are 11 rooms for massages and facials, plus "a heated outdoor meditation pool and a peaceful tea bar".
3. From 1813 until 1963, prisoners grew flowers and vegetables on the rocky island of Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay. The Garden Conservancy is now restoring the jail gardens for visitors to learn about the role they once played in the lives of the men who lived and died on the island. Take the 9 a.m. ferry from Pier 33 to catch the 9.30 Alcatraz Garden Tour. If you can't go, the Gardens of Alcatraz website is the next best thing: attractive design, simple navigation, beautiful photos, user-friendly.
4. The book to be seen reading in San Francisco these days is Inherent Vice, the latest novel by Thomas Pynchon. Set in the world of California hippie culture, it begins:
"She came along the alley and up the back steps the way she always used to. Doc hadn't seen her for over a year. Nobody had. Back then it was always sandals, bottom half of a flower-print bikini, faded Country Joe and the Fish T-shirt."
Pynchon is famous both for his complex books — Gravity's Rainbow, Mason & Dixon, Against the Day — and for his passion for privacy. Very few photographs of him exist, and you certainly won't find him on Facebook. Because no one is quite sure where he lives or what he looks like, Pynchon might be sitting at the next table as you enjoy what is said to be the best cup of coffee in San Francisco — at 66 Mint Street (corner of Jessie), in the Blue Bottle Café.
5. Finally, many of the best things about San Francisco are free: its natural beauty, festivals, walks, good conversation. Other good things are almost free: the N Judah metro line that goes all the way to the beach and the "happy hour" in Mission District bars.