Know the rules before you break them...
➊ Don't categorize people!
For example, you should compete, naked, in the biggest annual all-city event (Bay to Breakers) - for which you will not be arrested, or ticketed, as long as you don't have an erection - before you make fun of anyone for whatever race/gender/sexual/economic/etc background or category you perceive on their behalf.
To excel at this rule, respond to everything in the most positive, expansive, welcoming way possible - sometimes a challenging and enlightening experience. BATS Improv and Burning Man exemplify this approach in their respective micro-cultures ("no blocking►"!).
➋ You "must" do/see/eat/shop-at X. This rule is both easier and trickier, because the lines are unclear... and nobody agrees on them :)
But (!) the Golden Gate Bridge is a "must do" (eg, combining rule #'s 1 & 2, you can skip the GG Bridge and I can only respond with "You're so rebellious!") - regardless, it is one of the most expansive, artistic, industrial, surprising, all-five-senses experiences you can have in San Francisco. I ride my bike across it once/twice a week and still find the experience exhilarating (as do many other locals). And there really is no better way to see the bridge (and SF) than by bicycle. And once you're riding across the bridge, why not check out the Marin Headlands? :)
The only time GG virgins should consider skipping it, is in cases of extreme and low hanging fog - typically in the summer months (eg, July).
In the spirit of the outdoors, the Golden Gate Park is another must-explore in one form or another. Other eye-poppingly natural locations are Baker Beach, Lands End and Ocean Beach.
One of the most amazing things about SF is the closeness of urban delights and natural wonder. You can literally dance the early hours away at 1015 Folsom and then go 3.5 miles to watch the unbelievable sunrise from Twin Peaks, and then take the BART back for Sunday morning Ecstatic Dance► in Oakland. Not many people do, but it's a limit of imagination and energy not opportunity.
And on the urban delights side, things are a little trickier owing to the fickle nature of the human herd (varying even one evening to the next). The Mission District is the most reliably hip neighborhood (nightlife-wise), Civic Center is the centroid of classical performing arts (Ballet, Symphony and Opera), SOMA the primary hub of dancing and clubbing (including after-hours), North Beach a favorite among youthful suburbanites, and the Castro a world-famous gay destination. Both Upper and Lower Haight have significant bar scenes.
Museum-wise, MOMA sits atop the heap with the de Young, Cal Academy of Sciences and Exploratorium close behind.
For shopping, Union Square provides the most decadent experience... but San Francisco is far more bohemian (or at least, faux-hemian...) than decadent, which puts you in the Mission District (cutting edge), Hayes Valley (fashion forward) and Haight-Ashbury (vintage).
And then there is food - which needs its own article :)
Tagged for "The Rules"...
Commune with the inner Capone
Asian Art Museum
A lot older than you...
Beach Blanket Babylon
Larger than life - and funnier too :)
Walk Like a Victorian
Cal Academy of Sciences
Stunning aquarium and rainforest
More China than town
The bay, up close and personal :)
de Young Museum
A fine fine art museum
All hands on... everything!
Historic outsides, brand new interior
San Francisco's Archetype of Itself
Golden Gate Bridge
Icon of the Golden Gate
Golden Gate Park
Soul of SF
Holy Cathedral, Batman! Gothic is bigger than you
A visual adventure for your inner child
Legion of Honor
A site to behold, inside and out
Get your wiggle on
A little gift from God
The original missionary position
Old growth redwoods
Museum of Modern Art
Great views, rich history + exercise :)
No beach - but a great party!
Not just a bad tranny joke...
Not just an old TV show...
Shop til you drop