) -- Among the banging sounds of trolley cars and fever of shoppers that flood the stores of Union Square, few American cities come to life around the holidays as much as San Francisco does.

Art nouveau street lamps are strung with festive lights, and neighborhoods like Pacific Heights and Marina are decorated like those porcelain holiday villages in the aisles of


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. But this is the real thing, one of America's most Victorian cities ignited by holiday spirit, offering the perfect shopping and arts getaway. Most people know it as America's ultimate food destination. But beyond its fabulous dining scene, San Francisco glows especially bright during the holiday shopping season between Thanksgiving and New Year's.

Where to stay:

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In a city where even boutique hotels are operated by mega-chains, it's a rarity to find a family-owned hotel with luxury credentials. In 1924, real estate developer Eugene Fitz purchased the former Huntington Apartments on Nob Hill, then home to the stately mansions of C.P. Huntington, Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins and Charles Crocker. The 12-story luxury apartment building was the first steel-and-brick high-rise west of the Mississippi before it was converted to a luxury hotel in 1945. Later, Fitz's daughter became one of the country's first female hoteliers, eventually marrying Newton Cope, whose family continues to manage this historic San Francisco hotel today.

Located a very steep walk or zippy cable car or taxi ride up from Union Square to Nob Hill, the Huntington Hotel looks much as it did in the '20s, complete with an original masonry facade and elegant entryway, and mahogany-paneled walls with incredible carved-wood detailing unduplicated in the area's newer, hipper addresses. The hotel, decorated in full-holiday garb, is also home to the well-regarded Big Four Restaurant, reminiscent of the grand eating halls where Huntington and Crocker would have once robustly told tales of the Wild West. The rooms are generous in size, keeping the original dimensions of the previous apartment building. They're decorated in a tailored style of elegantly upholstered furnishings with a muted color palette not to distract from the Golden Gate and city views.

Where to shop:

A few streets away from the flurry of fashionable shoppers around Union Square, home to Macy's, Saks and Neiman Marcus, Gump's has been a San Francisco tradition longer than any other local store. Founded in 1861, Gump's offers a high-end collection of jewelry, house wares and gifts that include selections from Hermes, Cartier and custom Far East specialties. Visitors arrive to a towering glass storefront that yields a staircase atrium that's home to a gilded Buddha. Despite the Asian vibe, the shop is a beacon of Christmas sprit, with endless cards, ornaments and merriment that keeps kids and spirited adults in a holiday shopping trance.

Where to eat:

It's the toughest restaurant reservation in the city, at least this holiday season, when the Quince moved from its cozy perch in Pacific Heights to Jackson Square. Located near edgy design shops, the manicured brick building contains a deco-revival dining room with frosted-white Murano chandeliers and elegant drinking bar. A spacious lounge at the entrance of the dining room is conducive to an after-dinner drinking crowd, with modern club chairs and cushy couches that encourage lingering. The modern Italian menu by chef Michael Tusk has already dazzled the likes of Thomas Keller, who come in search of tortelloni with honeyed walnuts and a medley of black truffle raviolis, each filled with six variations.

What to see:

Next year will mark the 75th anniversary of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, based in its lavish South of Market headquarters with a history that dates to 1945, when Jackson Pollock was featured in his first solo exhibition. To celebrate the anniversary, the museum will bring together more than 400 works from its permanent collection. The anniversary show, which runs from Dec. 19 through Jan. 16, 2011, gives visitors an insider's view of SFMOMA's evolution through early letters, photos, videos and interviews from artists and civic leaders.

What to hear:

While the last performances of "Othello" end in early December at the San Francisco Opera, the city's symphony is offering a special holiday performance of "Hark the Herald Sing Along," which will feature traditional holiday classics accompanied by the San Francisco Symphony with chorus director Ragnar Bohlin.

Michael Martin is the managing editor of JetSetReport.com -- a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in In Style, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine, ITV and BBC.