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San Francisco
Cable cars cresting steep hills, the Golden Gate Bridge against a blue sky (or shrouded in fog), the needle-like Transamerica Pyramid, the verdant expanse of Golden Gate Park—San Francisco is a veritable travelogue of iconic sights. Even if you've never been to the City by the Bay, you've no doubt...
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1 to 3 Day Plan
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Introduction


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Cable cars, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Transamerica Pyramid—San Francisco is a travelogue of iconic images. Even if you've never been to California, you've seen these seven hills in classic films and TV shows. For a first-time visitor, every sight is new but familiar. Who wouldn't recognize the lantern-strung alleys of Chinatown, the stately Victorian mansions of Pacific Heights or the serpentine twists of Lombard Street? Who hasn't sung the Tony Bennett song? Our photographic memories of San Francisco go back to the Great Earthquake of 1906, and more recently, Loma Prieta. Our cultural mileposts include the leather bars of Castro Street, the Latin taquerias of the Mission District and the incense shops of Haight-Ashbury (though the flower children sport more piercings and tattoos these days).


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The “gay capital of the world,” San Francisco has a higher percentage of gay and lesbian residents than any other U.S. city. By contrast, it also has the fewest children. Soaring home prices have forced all but the richest families out of the market. Today's gold rush is real estate—and tourists. Half a million arrive for Gay Pride in June alone. Others come for the Cherry Blossom Festival, the San Francisco Opera and Chinese New Year. Everyone saves room in a suitcase for designer labels from Union Square and kitschy souvenirs from Fisherman's Wharf. It's all part of the San Francisco experience—uniquely American, and a world apart.


In Depth
In the shadow of a needle-pointed, 853-foot-tall skyscraper that signifies corporate America, an elderly vendor wearing silk slippers sells unfamiliar-looking vegetables piled in wooden crates under signs hand-lettered in Chinese characters.

A disheveled man sits cross-legged on a busy sidewalk in the Financial District, holding out a battered tin cup and soliciting spare change from wheeler-dealers dressed in expensive suits as they hurry by while intently perusing the Dilbert Calendar on their smartphones.


A young woman with pierced ears, pierced eyebrows, a pierced nose and a bright green buzz cut walks along Haight Street gulping down a strong cappuccino and holding a bag containing a gluten-free, vegan banana muffin as she heads to work at a boutique that sells vintage hippie clothing. Meanwhile, in a fashionable home accessories store on Valencia Street two young men check out tables for the dining room of a renovated Victorian they’ve just purchased.

Droplets of dew still gleam on the grass as an early-morning jogger runs past a stand of eucalyptus trees; the aromatic scent of their leaves permeates the cool air. Meanwhile, the sun peeks above the horizon as a bank of fog rolls off the Pacific, billowing around the base of the Golden Gate Bridge as the sky turns from pink to pale blue.

This is San Francisco. Everywhere you turn there’s an intriguing juxtaposition. The idealized image is of a worldly, sophisticated metropolis whose residents are blessed with the finer things in life—fantastic food, fine arts, handsome homes, picture-postcard views. And many San Franciscans do live this good life.

Then there’s the other side of the coin: overcrowding, sky-high rents, trying to find a parking space. Relentless gentrification threatens to transform neighborhoods with distinct cultural identities into chic, expensive destinations for the privileged while forcing out longtime residents who can no longer afford the cost of living. The economic hardship extends to those free-spirited souls who by choice live in parks or on the street rather than under a traditional roof, and who have long given San Francisco its reputation for embracing both creative and alternative lifestyles.


And lurking in the background is an unpleasant thought that most residents manage to suppress but few can forget about completely, namely the threat of rattling dishes, wall cracks—or worse. Blame the San Andreas Fault.

But the City by the Bay remains seductive, especially for visitors. It’s all about location, location, location. Varying in elevation from sea level to 939 feet, the city rests on some 40 hills at the northern end of a narrow peninsula, bounded on three sides by water. The urban cityscape almost seems to bob up and down on them, like a boat riding a wave. For the record, there are seven major hills: Nob Hill, Rincon Hill, Russian Hill, Telegraph Hill, Mount Davidson, Mount Sutro and Twin Peaks.

And San Francisco neighborhoods are true communities, not idealized versions of reality designed to appeal to tourists. Chinatown has bustled since the 1850s. Vibrant murals cover buildings and gritty back-alley walls in the Mission. North Beach’s nonconformist beat and Haight-Ashbury flower power paved the way for the prominent and politically active LGBTQ community centered in the Castro.

So what should you do? For one thing, eat out—this is one of the best restaurant cities in the world. Take a nice long walk in Golden Gate Park. Ride a ferry. Hang out in Union Square. Go to a farmers market. See a film at the Castro Theatre. These are just a few of our suggestions; you’ll no doubt come up with many more.


 
About the City


City Population
805,235

Elevation
63 ft.

Money


Sales Tax
State and county sales taxes total 9.5 percent in San Francisco. In addition a hotel room tax of 15 to 15.5 percent is levied.

Whom To Call


Emergency
911

Police (non-emergency)
(415) 553-0123

Hospitals
California Pacific Medical Center, (415) 600-6000; Saint Francis Memorial Hospital, (415) 353-6000; St. Mary's Medical Center, (415) 668-1000; San Francisco General Hospital Medical Center, (415) 206-8000; University of California San Francisco Medical Center, (415) 476-1000.

Where To Look and Listen


Newspapers
The major daily newspaper is the morning San Francisco Chronicle. The free tabloid The Examiner is published Monday through Saturday.

Radio
San Francisco radio station KCBS (740 AM/106.9 FM) is an all-news/weather station; KQED (88.5 FM) is a member of National Public Radio.

Visitor Information

San Francisco Visitor Information Center

900 Market St. SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94102. Phone:(415)391-2000


Transportation


Air Travel
San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is about 13 miles south near San Bruno off US 101 (Bayshore Freeway); it receives flights from some 50 carriers as well as private charters. Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) is about 3 miles northwest of downtown San Jose. Oakland International Airport (OAK) is off I-880 about 10 miles south of downtown Oakland.

Rental Cars
Hertz, with locations at the San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose airports, offers discounts to AAA members. Phone (650) 624-6600 for the San Francisco airport location, (415) 771-2200 for the outlet at 325 Mason St., (510) 639-0200 for the Oakland airport location, (408) 437-5700 for the San Jose airport location, or (800) 654-3080.

Rail Service
For schedule and fare information phone Amtrak at (800) 872-7245.

Buses
Greyhound Lines Inc., (800) 231-2222, departs from the Transbay Temporary Terminal at 250 Main St. Greyhound passengers enter on Folsom Street. The temporary terminal will be in use until construction of the new Transbay Transit Center is completed in 2017.

Taxis
Taxis in San Francisco are metered, with fares averaging about $3.50 for the first mile and $2.75 for each additional mile. Either phone for a cab or wait at a hotel taxi stand (hailing one on the street often takes time and persistence). Limousine service ranges from $60-$80 per hour.

Public Transportation
San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni) provides public transportation consisting of buses, streetcars, light rail, trolley buses and cable cars. BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) connects San Francisco with East Bay cities, and passenger ferries link the city with the northern Bay Area.

 
Visitor Information

San Francisco Visitor Information Center

900 Market St. SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94102. Phone:(415)391-2000


 
Getting There


By Car
Scenic north-south routes passing directly through San Francisco are US 101 and SR 1. They enter the city separately from the south, merge on the San Francisco approach to the Golden Gate Bridge and continue together through a few miles of southern Marin County. Because SR 1, the curvy coastal route, is subject to dense fog and the possibility of landslides, you should check weather and road conditions before driving it.

The fast north-south route, I-5, is east of San Francisco; connections to the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge are via I-505 and I-80 from the north and I-580 from the south. Another route, SR 99, closely parallels I-5 and also has connections into the city.

The primary route from the east is I-80 across the Sierras. I-80 skirts the Sacramento metropolitan area to the north before approaching the Greater Bay Area via Vallejo and then merging with I-580; access into the city is via the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

Air Travel
The San Francisco Bay Area is served by three major airports. San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is about 13 miles south near San Bruno off US 101 (Bayshore Freeway). Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) is about 3 miles northwest of downtown San Jose. Oakland International Airport (OAK), off I-880 about 10 miles south of downtown Oakland, is more convenient than SFO if your destination is the East Bay.

In keeping with the city's progressive reputation, San Francisco International offers travelers a yoga room and rotating museum exhibits. The popular “You Are Hear” concert series offers everything from jazz and classical to R & B and world music served up by Bay Area musicians. Live music takes place on Fridays in July and August between 11 and 2 and also during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

To reach downtown from SFO, exit from the north terminal area and take US 101 north. At the US 101/I-80 junction, choose I-80 and then take the 4th Street exit. Follow 4th Street north past Moscone Center to Market Street; Union Square's hotels and the Financial District are just a few blocks to the north and east.

SuperShuttle, (650) 246-8942, travels from San Francisco International to major downtown hotels every 30 minutes, 5 a.m.-4 p.m. One-way fare for the 30-minute ride is $17. For reservations phone (800) 258-3826.

Door-to-door minivan shuttle service between the airport and hotels, businesses and residences is offered by several companies, including SuperShuttle and Airport Express, (415) 775-5121. The vans make frequent pickups from the blue zones on pedestrian islands on the airport's upper level. One-way fare is $15-$17 per person.

Airport shuttle buses pick up passengers on the lower level pedestrian islands near the blue columns. Taxi fares between downtown and San Francisco International Airport average $35-$50; limousine service costs $50-$75.

AirTrain, an automated light rail system with nine stops throughout the airport, links the International Terminal with other terminals, parking garages, the rental car center and the airport BART station.

Bay Area Rapid Transit's (BART) Pittsburg/Baypoint line provides direct service to the airport. Transfer at the San Bruno station to a Millbrae train to connect with Caltrain rail service down the peninsula to San Jose. Other BART lines can be accessed via the Balboa Park transfer station. Fare for the approximately 30-minute ride from the airport to the downtown Powell Street station is $8.65. For BART schedule and fare information phone (415) 989-22786

Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport is conveniently located just off US 101. When leaving Terminal C (which receives most domestic flights) or Terminal A (which receives American Airlines and two regional carriers), follow signs to US 101 and head north. On the way to downtown San Francisco US 101 bypasses Palo Alto and San Mateo.

To reach downtown San Francisco from Oakland International Airport, exit the terminal building and take Airport Drive east toward downtown Oakland. Exit north onto I-880 (Nimitz Freeway), which connects with I-80. Continue west across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. For automobiles the toll is $4-$6, depending on the time of day and the day of the week. Take exit 2A (5th Street) north to Market Street to reach the Union Square/Financial District area.

Hertz, with locations at the San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose airports, offers discounts to AAA members. Phone (650) 624-6600 for the San Francisco airport location, (415) 771-2200 for the location at 325 Mason St., (510) 639-0200 for the Oakland airport location, (408) 437-5700 for the San Jose airport location, or (800) 654-3080.

Rail Service
Most Amtrak rail service terminates in Oakland at Jack London Square (Alice Street and the Embarcadero) or at Emeryville. From Jack London Square, passengers are transported via shuttle bus to the following San Francisco stops: the Ferry Building, downtown at the foot of Market Street; Fisherman's Wharf at Pier 39; the Westfield San Francisco Centre mall at 4th and Market streets; in front of Macy's at Union Square; outside the Hyatt Regency San Francisco at California and Drumm streets; and at the Caltrain depot, 4th and King streets. For schedule, fare and additional information phone (800) 872-7245.

 
Getting Around


Street System
Two main thoroughfares are Market Street, which runs diagonally from 17th and Castro streets to The Embarcadero, and north-south Van Ness Avenue. Major east-west streets downtown are Bush and Pine, both one-way streets with synchronized traffic signals. Bush goes toward downtown, while Pine heads out. Numbered avenues run north-south in the residential neighborhoods north and south of Golden Gate Park, and the streets form a grid pattern. Streets also form a grid in much of the downtown area.

The Financial District is anchored by north-south Montgomery Street. Union Square is bordered north-south by Post and Geary streets and east-west by Stockton and Powell streets. Note: Ongoing construction associated with an extension of Muni's T Third Line from Bayshore to SoMa to Chinatown may cause occasional traffic delays, especially in the vicinity of Union Square.

Government buildings cluster around Civic Center, between Van Ness Avenue and Leavenworth Street and Golden Gate Avenue and Market Street. Civic Center, Union Square and the Financial District are all north of Market Street; south of Market north-south streets are numbered.

Although the street layout looks straightforward on a map, keep the extremely variable topography in mind when traveling, as the steep hills can be difficult to negotiate. If you're visiting, it may be more advantageous to use public transportation or walk rather than drive. If you'll be driving your own car, you might want to have your brakes checked before departing.

San Francisco intersections are subject to strict enforcement of the Anti-Gridlock Act. The fine for blocking an intersection with your vehicle is $106; the fine for blocking an intersection while turning is $110.

“The Boot” (also known as “The Denver Boot”) is a metal clamp that immobilizes a car when attached to its wheel. This device is applied when five or more parking tickets have accumulated or if registration is not current; it is removed only when all outstanding fines and/or registration fees and a $316 de-booting fee have been paid. If the fines are not paid, the car may be towed within 72 hours.

Visitors should also be aware that municipal buses are equipped with a video camera used to ticket motorists who drive in designated public transit-only lanes (a $73 fine) or park in designated bus zones (a $288 fine).

The downtown speed limit, unless otherwise posted, is 25 mph (15 mph at blind intersections). Right turns on red are legal unless otherwise posted. Traffic is heavy throughout the day in the downtown area and on major thoroughfares. Avoid the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge during rush hours, about 7-9 a.m. and 4-6:30 p.m.

Pedestrians using designated crosswalks always have the right of way. Many major intersections downtown and throughout the Bay Area have visual countdown displays indicating the number of seconds remaining before the light changes for pedestrians.

In a city as densely packed as San Francisco, street construction projects seem neverending. The latest highway improvement is Presidio Parkway, which took 15 years to plan and build and opened to traffic in July 2015. It replaced Doyle Drive (US 101) as the main south access route to the Golden Gate Bridge from downtown. The 1.6-mile parkway features two sets of tunnels and a viaduct that climbs above the rolling green hills of the Presidio en route to the bridge.

Parking
San Francisco is not a parking-friendly city. There is a shortage of on-street spaces and a plethora of parking regulations, which are strictly enforced. On-street metered parking is permitted in some areas, but much neighborhood parking is reserved for local residents and is by permit only.

There are parking garages at Fisherman's Wharf, 655 Beach St. at Hyde Street, (415) 673-1735; downtown at 833 Mission St. (at 5th Street), (415) 982-8522; at the Moscone Center, 255 3rd St., (415) 777-2782; and in Chinatown at 733 Kearny St., (415) 982-6353. Fees range from $1.50-$6 per hour and $15-$34 per day. The only public parking available for recreational vehicles is at Candlestick RV Park, south of the city limits off US 101 on Gilman Avenue; phone (415) 822-2299.

On-street parking is strictly regulated. In addition to posted tow-away zones, pay particular attention to curb colors, which determine parking availability. Red means no stopping, standing or parking whatsoever; yellow curbs indicate commercial loading and unloading (7 a.m.-6 p.m.). Passenger cars left unattended in downtown loading zones are subject to heavy fines and towing.

White curbs allow a 5-minute limit to pick up or discharge passengers during the hours the adjacent public building is open. White curbs marked with a taxi sign are within a taxi zone. Green curbs indicate 10-minute parking 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Blue marks spaces for use by the disabled; the fine for illegally parking in designated spaces for the disabled is a hefty $875, while the fine for parking in bus zone spaces is $288. In several areas of the city local residents have priority parking rights; be sure to read carefully all posted regulations wherever you park.

How you park also is subject to regulation. It is illegal to park a vehicle on any grade exceeding 3 percent without effectively setting the brakes and blocking the wheels by turning them against the curb or by other means. When parking uphill, the front wheels must be “heeled,” or turned out, so that a tire is resting securely against the curb. When parking downhill, they must be “toed,” or turned in. If there is no curb you must use a block. The emergency brake must always be firmly set.

If your car is towed, expect to pay dearly to get it back. Parking violations start at $48 for blocking a private entranceway, plus another $488.50 (or more for larger vehicles) for towing and additional daily storage fees. Fines for illegally parking in disabled-designated spaces, in bus zones or in an area blocking access to a wheelchair ramp are $288-$875. To settle your fees and release your car, go to the City Tow Office at 850 Bryant St., Room 154 in the Hall of Justice. For additional information contact the City of San Francisco Parking and Traffic Department; phone (415) 553-1200.

Public Transportation
San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni) provides bus, streetcar, light rail, trolley bus and cable car transportation. The fare for buses, streetcars, light rail and trolley buses is $2.25; $1 (ages 65+, the physically impaired and ages 5-17 with ID). Exact change is required.

Cash fare includes a free transfer good for use on any other Muni vehicle (except cable cars). A bus transfer can be used within a 30-minute period; the driver will give you one when you pay the fare. A light rail single-ride fare card purchased at a Muni station can be used again within a 90-minute period.

Muni buses are numbered and destinations are marked on the front of the vehicle above the windshield. During the day most buses make stops every 10 to 15 minutes; stops are more frequent on major streets. Routes along busy thoroughfares like Van Ness Avenue provide 24-hour service, although stops are less frequent at night. Many covered bus stops have an automated timetable that displays the number of minutes until the next bus arrives.

Muni light rail cars run underground along Market Street downtown and above ground in outlying neighborhoods. There are eight lines: F (Market & Wharves), J (Church), K (Ingleside), L (Taraval), M (Ocean View), N (Judah), S (Castro-Embarcadero shuttle) and T (Third Street). Color-coded maps of the system are posted on the wall at each underground station.

The Muni's F Line (also called the Market Street Railway) carries passengers on vintage streetcars. The route begins at Market and Castro streets, runs down Market to The Embarcadero, then runs up The Embarcadero to Fisherman's Wharf, ending at Jones and Beach streets. Don't board a streetcar if you're in a hurry; they're much slower and make more stops than the light rail lines.

A 1.7-mile extension of Muni's T Third Line, currently under construction, will extend the line from the 4th Street Caltrain Station north to Chinatown. Four new stations are being built: a street-level station at 4th and Brannan streets, and underground subway stations at 4th and Folsom streets, Stockton Street at Union Square, and Stockton and Washington streets.

Construction of the subway tunnel and stations is scheduled to last through 2017, with the new line opening sometime in 2019. Until then both motorists and pedestrians can expect occasional disruptions, especially in the vicinity of Union Square.

Preserved as national historic landmarks—the only ones on wheels—San Francisco's famous cable cars are painted in their original 1873 colors, maroon with cream and blue trim. They run daily approximately 6 a.m.-1 a.m. and travel three routes. The Powell-Hyde line begins at Powell and Market streets and runs to Victorian Park at Beach and Hyde streets. The Powell-Mason line also begins at Powell and Market streets but ends at Bay and Taylor streets near Fisherman's Wharf. The California Street line runs between Market Street and Van Ness Avenue.

Although there are frequent stops and the trip is slow (travel speed is 9.5 mph), taking a cable car ride is an essential San Francisco experience. One-way fare is $7; $3 (ages 65+ and the physically impaired before 7 a.m. and after 9 p.m. only; a valid ID is required). Clipper cards containing Muni monthly passes or cash value also are accepted. No transfers are issued or accepted. If you're just riding for fun, the California Street line is likely to be the least crowded.

The Clipper card is an all-purpose electronic transit card that can be used on Muni, BART, Caltrain and Golden Gate Transit and Ferry transportation. Clipper card readers on buses and at Muni and BART entrance stations tag the card and then display the remaining cash balance or pass expiration date. Transfers are automatically calculated, eliminating the need for a paper transfer. A variety of different passes and cash value options can be added. For more information phone (877) 878-8883.

The Muni Passport, valid on all Muni buses and cable cars, offers unlimited all-day usage and is worth purchasing if you're a visitor and plan on using the system multiple times. A 1-day pass costs $20; a 3-day pass costs $31; a 7-day pass costs $35. The 3- and 7-day passports are valid for consecutive days only. A pass valid for 1 month costs $70 (Muni only); $83 (Muni and BART); $25 (ages 5-17, ages 65+ and the physically impaired; Muni pass only). Monthly passes are only available on a Clipper card.

Passes and Clipper cards can be purchased at San Francisco International Airport; at the San Francisco Visitor Information Center, Hallidie Plaza (lower level) at Market and Powell streets; at TIX Bay Area, inside the Union Square Garage at the Geary Street entrance; and at Walgreens stores, Whole Foods markets and other businesses. For schedules, routing and other information phone (415) 673-6864.

Note: You must be prepared to show proof of payment (Muni pass, Clipper card, single-ride ticket or transfer) for the duration of your travel on all forms of Muni transportation. Random checks of passengers exiting the turnstiles at Muni stations are frequently conducted, and a citation of up to $112 may be issued if you cannot show proof of payment.

BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) connects San Francisco with East Bay cities, terminating at Richmond (north), Pittsburg/Bay Point (east), Dublin/Pleasanton (southeast) and Fremont (south). On the San Francisco side of the bay the terminus is Millbrae, approximately 30 minutes south of downtown.

BART operates Mon.-Fri. 4 a.m.-midnight, Sat. 6 a.m.-midnight, Sun. and holidays 8 a.m.-midnight. Color-keyed wall maps at the stations list destinations and fares; tickets are dispensed from machines at each station. The one-way fare between downtown San Francisco stations is $1.85; 65c (ages 5-12, ages 65+, Clipper card and the physically impaired); all fares are posted at the ticket machines. Phone (415) 989-2278 for schedule and other information.

AC Transit is a bus service that runs from the Transbay Terminal to various destinations in the East Bay area (Alameda and Contra Costa counties). Bus service via the Golden Gate Bridge connects San Francisco to Sausalito, Mill Valley and Tiburon in Marin County and to Santa Rosa in Sonoma County. Phone (415) 455-2000 for schedule, fare and other information.

Passenger ferries link San Francisco with northern Bay Area destinations and also crisscross San Francisco Bay, providing both commuter service and sightseeing pleasure. The Blue & Gold Fleet , (415) 773-1188, operates daily commuter service to Tiburon and Sausalito. Golden Gate Ferry , (415) 455-2000, has daily service to Larkspur and Sausalito; no service is available Jan. 1, Thanksgiving or Christmas. One-way rates to Sausalito are $10.75; $5.25 (ages 6-18, ages 65+ and the physically impaired). Rates to Larkspur are $10; $5 (ages 6-18, ages 65+ and the physically impaired).

The San Francisco Bay Ferry operates weekday ferries from Alameda to the San Francisco Ferry Building. One-way fares are $6.50 (cash) or $5 (Clipper card); $3.25 (ages 5-18, ages 65+ and the physically impaired). The Alameda/Oakland Ferry provides service to and from Alameda, Angel Island, Oakland and San Francisco. The Alameda/Oakland/San Francisco one-way fare is $6.25; $4.75 (Clipper card), $3.10 (ages 5-18, ages 65+ and the physically impaired). Phone (415) 705-8291.


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Essentials
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• Spend the day in Golden Gate Park (between Fulton Street, Lincoln Way, Stanyan Street and the Great Highway). Observe multicolored tropical fish and other marine creatures at The California Academy of Sciences (55 Music Concourse Dr.), contemplate great art at the de Young Museum (50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr.) or stroll through plantings from around the world at the San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum (9th Avenue and Lincoln Way).


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• Walk or bike across the Golden Gate Bridge (across Golden Gate Strait via US 101). Dress in layers for the 1.7-mile trek, and remember that you'll have to turn around and walk back. Parking is extremely limited in the north- and south-side parking lots, so take public transportation to the bridge (Golden Gate Transit or Muni buses).


• Explore the Sutro Baths (680 Point Lobos Ave.), the oceanside ruins (due to a fire) of what once was a lavish bathing spa complex with the world's largest indoor swimming pool. Then watch the sun set from the elevated vantage point of the nearby Cliff House (1090 Point Lobos Ave.).

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• Yes, Fisherman's Wharf (along The Embarcadero from Pier 39 to Ghirardelli Square) is touristy, but nibbling Dungeness crab or scarfing down clam chowder from a sourdough bread bowl is one of those things you just have to do. Stop by the flagship location of Boudin Bakery, watch the team of bakers do their thing from an observation window and don't forget to pick up a fresh loaf or two to take home.


• While at Fisherman's Wharf, take the sightseeing ferry cruise from Pier 33 to Alcatraz Island (in San Francisco Bay), site of the infamous federal penitentiary where the likes of Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly did time. Purchase tickets in advance to get the departure time you want.

• Definitely ride a cable car (just don't call it a trolley). The Powell-Hyde line begins at Powell and Market streets and ascends up and over steep Nob Hill before ending at Beach and Hyde streets. If you're interested in learning more about the massive engines and wheels that power this manually operated system, visit the Cable Car Museum and Powerhouse Viewing Gallery (1201 Mason St.).

• Climb the Filbert Steps (Filbert and Sansome streets) ascending the east side of Telegraph Hill (near the east end of Lombard Street) and then take the elevator to the observation deck at the top of 210-foot Coit Tower (1 Telegraph Hill) for panoramic views of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate and Bay bridges.

• The block of Lombard Street (between Hyde and Leavenworth streets) is often called “the crookedest street in the world.” The serpentine brick street, with its sculpted hedges and seasonal displays of pink and blue hydrangeas, is a prime photo op—and of course it's easier walking down than up.

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• Walk through the ornamental gate and explore bustling Chinatown (Bush Street and Grant Avenue). Duck into Grant Avenue's souvenir shops and bakeries, then cross over to parallel Stockton Street for the sensory overload of produce and meat markets and hordes of sidewalk shoppers.


• Grab a sidewalk seat and sip a cappuccino in North Beach (along Columbus Avenue), this town's Little Italy. Browse the tomes at City Lights bookstore, a Beat generation hangout, then have dinner at the North Beach Restaurant (1512 Stockton St.), an old-school Italian experience all the way.

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• The smell of incense still wafts along Haight Street (between Stanyan and Divisadero streets), which remains resolutely groovy nearly 50 years after the Summer of Love. Be sure to pick up a tie-dye T-shirt or a Grateful Dead button at a Haight head shop.




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Restaurants
Our favorites include some of this destination's best restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.

By Greg Weekes

San Francisco is one of the world's great food cities, offering globally inspired cuisine and restaurants that range from humble neighborhood joints to pillars of fine dining. People come here just to eat, because it's all good.


At the top end of the scale is Saison , where chef Josh Skenes creates culinary magic via tasting menus that take full advantage of the Bay Area's vast array of seasonal ingredients. This is French-influenced California cuisine with an emphasis on impeccable freshness and extraordinary flavors. And it's definitely a once-in-a-blue-moon dining choice: You'll be presented with up to 15 courses, dinner will last more than 3 hours (and the meal starts without you if you show up late), menus are not posted in advance and the check is guaranteed to be stratospheric. But you don't come here just to eat dinner; you come for a full-blown gastronomic experience, enhanced by an open kitchen that heightens the anticipation of what savory thrill is coming next.

Another foodie favorite is award-winning chef Gary Danko 's 75-seat Pacific Heights restaurant. The décor is a blend of relaxed California modern and Upper East Side NYC swank, enhanced by museum-quality paintings and dramatic pin-spot lighting. Service matches the setting—unfailingly professional but also genuinely friendly. The menu is seasonal and California inspired, with French accents. New England clam chowder with applewood smoked bacon isn't so much a creatively out-of-the-box appetizer as it is divinely delicious. Entrées like roasted pork tenderloin with vegetables, apples and chestnuts are similarly noteworthy. And a seasonal sorbet sampler with cookies is simple yet delectable. The extensive wine list includes more than 1,200 selections. Be advised that reservations are essential, and not easy to come by.

Another outstanding choice for special occasion dining is Boulevard . The waterfront Embarcadero location (in the French Mansard-style Audiffred Building) is classic San Francisco, and the décor—dark wood, decorative iron accents and mosaic floors—adds to the stylish ambience. Ahi tuna crudo, fresh and nicely seasoned, is a beautifully presented first course, and for an entrée you can't go wrong with grilled swordfish and steamed, lemon grass-scented mussels. For dessert the Meyer lemon ice box cake is almost too pretty to eat, but go ahead and indulge. Service is professional but friendly. Reservations are advised, and be prepared to pay top dollar for the experience.

San Francisco is synonymous with seafood, and some of the city’s best seafood restaurants are located at, appropriately, Fisherman’s Wharf. Of course clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl is a touristy Wharf staple, and it’s served at the Fog Harbor Fish House , on the second floor at Pier 39. The big windows and bay views will immediately put you in a maritime mood. Seafood cioppino is unsurprisingly the house specialty, brimming with crab, shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels and fresh fish in a tomato-herb broth. Other seafood winners (the menu is 100 percent sustainable) include grilled swordfish, fish and chips and whole Dungeness crab. Oh—and the blue cheese garlic bread is delish.

Another Fisherman's Wharf mainstay is Scoma's Restaurant , tucked away by the water at Pier 47. The vibe is vintage all the way—timeworn red carpeting, faded photographs of Hollywood celebrities on wood-paneled walls, white-jacketed waiters. And the menu is similarly old school. Start with lobster bisque or “black 'n blue ahi,” the fish crusted with spices, seared and served with a watercress salad. Swordfish piccata is beautifully broiled, the meat fresh and moist. Order one of the mixed seafood grills or Pasta Diplomatica (two small lobster tails, shrimp, scallops and clams with linguine) and you'll probably be taking leftovers with you. Scoma's is pricey, but you're paying for the experience as well as the food.

It's not by the bay, but that doesn't mean seafood lovers should pass up Swan Oyster Depot —not by a long shot. This tiny, family-run, super-casual place has counter seating only and a line that's frequently out the door. (Two-hour waits are not unheard of.) The reason? For starters, only the freshest of fish and sea critters make it to your plate. Clams or oysters should be liberally dunked in one of the offered sauces (we love the Thai chili sauce). Crab salad is a plateful of crisp lettuce heaped with fresh crab and served with a homemade dressing. Another winner is the Italian-style sashimi—raw tuna, salmon and scallops drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with capers. It isn't cheap and credit cards aren't accepted, so bring plenty of cash.

Tadich Grill has been in business more than 160 years, so they must be doing something right. Walking in here is a bit like stepping into a “Mad Men” episode—it's a classy joint frequented by business types who gather for two-fisted power lunches. Service can be on the brusque side, but you almost expect that in a place like this. Several San Francisco restaurants vie for bragging rights when it comes to seafood cioppino, and here it's done well; you'll be sopping up every last bit of broth with a crusty piece of sourdough. Other house favorites are crab Louis, a traditionally prepared oysters Rockefeller and, for non-seafood lovers, old-fashioned pot roast with mashed potatoes. Reservations aren't accepted, and there's frequently a line to get in.

Yet another seafood hot spot is Bar Crudo , in the North of the Panhandle neighborhood (NoPa if you're a hipster). We suggest going during happy hour, when you can get a break on prices ($1 oysters, for example). The menu is small and changes seasonally, although crowd-pleasing favorites like the lobster-beet salad with fresh burrata cheese and arugula are usually always available. The crudo sampler (arctic char, yellowtail, butterfish and scallops) is another popular choice. If you're not in the mood for raw fish, a bowl of piping-hot seafood chowder—fortified with potatoes and applewood-smoked bacon—is comfort food that's especially satisfying on a chilly day.

Two blocks south of Union Square, John's Grill is classic San Francisco. The oak-paneled walls and period furnishings ooze century-old atmosphere. It's no wonder author Dashiell Hammett made the restaurant a setting in “The Maltese Falcon”; you can almost imagine Sam Spade sitting at the bar. The menu of steaks, seafood, pasta and salads is basic but done right; try broiled salmon with hollandaise sauce or “John's Steak,” a thick, bone-in New York cut. Desserts are similarly no-nonsense—New York cheesecake or, for something less decadent, seasonal berries. John's is touristy, usually packed and as a result noisy, so this isn't the place for intimate conversation.

If you're a visitor to the City by the Bay, it's inevitable that you'll eventually make your way to Lands End and the Cliff House, perched atop a rock overlooking the Pacific. Of the two restaurants in this landmark building, the more casual choice is Cliff House-The Bistro . Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis and reservations aren't accepted, so whether you go for breakfast, lunch or dinner, try to arrive early in order to snag a window table (which you'll definitely want to do). Crab Louis is the signature dish; another fave is the Ben Butler, an open-faced Dungeness crab salad sandwich with melted cheddar cheese on sourdough bread. The accompanying popovers are scrumptious when slathered with butter and jam, and you can buy a package of popover baking mix to take home.

Chinatown is famous for its restaurants and dim sum emporiums, and many of them are deservedly popular, catering to tourists with standard plates of beef lo mein, sweet-and-sour pork and shrimp dumplings. But as its name makes clear, Lucky Creation Vegetarian Restaurant dispenses with animal products entirely. From “chicken” curry to fried rice, everything is strictly meat-free, although you'll swear you're eating meat. And traditional vegetarian dishes, like sautéed straw mushrooms with snow peas, are just as delicious. For dessert have a lotus seed cake—flaky and slightly sweet—with your tea. Lucky Creation is a hole in the wall, but you're not coming here for a ritzy dining experience, just good vegetarian cooking.

Ambience is also not a notable feature at San Tung Chinese Restaurant . The décor is utilitarian, the noise level high and service is just so-so, but regulars nevertheless flock to this Inner Sunset eatery for heaping quantities of tasty Chinese home cooking, and they all rave about the signature dish: fried chicken wings. These crispy, sweet, spicy morsels come both “wet” and “dry” (dry is the original), and either way you're given different dipping sauces to slather them in. The wings are a featured lunch special, along with string beans sautéed with garlic, shrimp and leek dumplings, noodles with peanut sauce and many other choices. This is the kind of place where everything coming out of the kitchen looks so good that you'll want to pull the server over and find out what it is—and the menu is large enough to encourage many return visits.

Mission Chinese Food epitomizes this city's hipster vibe: It's basically a Mission District dive that specializes in Americanized yet innovative takes on traditional Chinese dishes. First off, don't expect refinement. There's often a long wait at the door after you sign the clipboard (no reservations). The long, narrow, dimly lit dining room has a bare-bones ambience, the background music is loud, and service is on the inattentive side. The food, however, is full of bold, spicy flavors. General Tso's veal rib has a crispy exterior from being dry-fried and is topped with a thick, onion-filled sauce, while kung pao pastrami, strongly salty, incorporates potatoes, celery, roasted peanuts and chili paste. Lamb cheek meat, bok choy and pickles are the main ingredients in tingly lamb face noodle soup. Heed the dragon symbol denoting dishes that pack heat; they're not kidding.

There are more charming Italian restaurants than you can shake a breadstick at in North Beach, so narrowing the choice to one is a daunting proposition. But although it's off Columbus Avenue and thus misses out on that street's vibrant outdoor café atmosphere, Tommaso's Restaurant is deservedly popular. It's also quaint as can be, from the whitewashed walls to the straw-covered chianti bottles. The menu is straight-up traditional. Caprese salad—tomatoes, basil and mozzarella—is delicious simplicity. Spaghetti with meatballs is the real deal, homey and utterly satisfying. And the thin-crust pizza with mushrooms and Italian sausage, brought out piping hot from the wood-fired pizza oven, will not only have you singing Tommaso's praises but eagerly planning your next visit.

Delfina is in the Mission, not North Beach, but it is one of the best places for mid-priced Italian fare in the city. There are several reasons why it's packed almost every night. The space—hardwoods, fresh flowers, an open kitchen—is warm and inviting. The restaurant makes its own sausages, pasta and gelato, and the menu changes daily to take advantage of what's available locally. Servers are friendly and knowledgeable about the food. Insalata di Campo—field greens, pancetta, walnuts, Parmigiano Reggiano and a balsamic vinaigrette—is a nice starter course, while spaghetti with plum tomatoes, garlic and extra virgin olive oil is a simple primi course that nevertheless bursts with flavor. And for dessert, the buttermilk panna cotta is luscious.

Of course the Mission—the entire city, really—is brimming with Mexican taquerias. One of the oldest is La Taqueria . Things are done a bit differently here; the burritos are smaller than what you'll get elsewhere, and they don't include rice, just your choice of meat, beans and salsa (additional toppings like cheese and sour cream are extra). This puts the spotlight on the meat, and on quality as opposed to quantity. The carne asada burrito stands out for its deliciously juicy grilled beef—or order a taco, assembled in a crispy shell wrapped in a soft tortilla. Each bite also should be anointed with a splash from the squeeze bottle of salsa verde on the table. There's almost always a line, which moves fast thanks to the quick and efficient assembly-line operation. Bring dinero; it's cash only.

Like many San Franciscans, we're huge fans of Taqueria Cancun , and with good reason; their tasty, no-frills food totally rocks. The menu has no surprises, and that's a good thing. Get the carnitas plate, shredded pork that's moist and flavorful, with fried bits adding crunch. Mix the creamy pinto beans with some of the rice and pile it on a tortilla with a helping of the meat—YUM. The salsa fresca is nice and fresh, and the yummy salsa verde isn't too hot. A festive atmosphere, with a Mexican shrine on one wall and rows of rainbow-colored flag pennants hanging from the ceiling, completes the picture. Like La Taqueria, it's cash only. Note: The restaurant will be closed Tuesdays beginning in late October.

Gracias Madre , on the other hand, is anything but a hole-in-the-wall joint. Although located on a stretch of Mission Street thick with panaderías and produce markets, it stands out because the hip clientele and sophisticated take on Mexican food seem more suited to, say, SoMa. Subdued lighting, rustic wood tables and lovely art make for an inviting atmosphere. The exclusively vegan menu emphasizes organic, locally sourced ingredients; try the plate of seasonal greens, roasted butternut squash and a creamy black bean puree. Desserts change frequently, but if it's on the menu peach cobbler with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream is a tasty ending.

Another restaurant that deviates from typical taqueria fare (no burritos!) is Nopalito on 9th . Casual and contemporary in look, it emphasizes authentic Mexican flavors in intriguing ways. Snack on a bowl of complimentary garbanzo beans that have a spicy kick before sharing a plate of totopos con chile, thick tortilla chips topped with a spicy salsa (do you see a theme here?), onions, cilantro and a shower of cotija cheese, with sour cream on the side. Entrées are distinguished by creative sauces, like seared chicken breast enlivened with a Oaxacan-style sauce utilizing guajillo chiles, roasted tomatoes and pumpkin and sesame seeds. It's very popular, so don't expect to just drop in and snag a table; call ahead and get your name on the waiting list. There's another Nopalito on Broderick Street in the Lower Haight.

La Mediterranee is a favorite for lunch—and especially a lingering late lunch, if you've got the time—since this cozy Pacific Heights eatery is reminiscent of a Parisian bistro. We hate to lean on the word “charming,” but that's exactly what this place is; a vintage poster here, a Persian rug there, interesting art on the walls. The menu focuses on Mediterranean flavors with a healthy dollop of Middle Eastern influence. A salad of organic greens topped with grilled, marinated chicken, apples, almonds and feta is one of the lunch specials, as is lule kebab, a skewer of spice-infused, ground lamb meatballs with onions and tomatoes served over rice pilaf. For dessert, a cup of Moroccan mint tea goes well with the house-made baklava.

Get acquainted with Peruvian cuisine at Limon Rotisserie . This small, casual Mission restaurant specializes in pollo a la brasa, rotisserie chicken with a crispy skin that's moist, tender and flavorful, served with three dipping sauces (be forewarned; the rocoto molido is fiery). You'll also want to try such Peruvian specialties as ceviche mixto, a trio of fish, calamari and tiger shrimp that tastes fresh and has a chile kick. The sweet potato fries are thin, crispy and addictive, and tacu-tacu—mashed, sauteed rice and beans—is delicious. Service is fast and friendly.

Best burger in San Francisco? It's a subject that inspires almost as much debate as the best taqueria. When longtime institution Joe's Cable Car Restaurant closed in 2014 burger fans began checking out other options, and one place that earns their seal of approval is NOPA . The polar opposite of a greasy-spoon diner, this two-level space is graced with high ceilings and perpetually packed with beautiful people. Grass-fed chuck is ground in house for NOPA's thick, juicy burger, served on a grilled brioche bun. The pickled red onions on the side make a flavorful topping, and the accompanying fries are hot and crispy. A word of advice: Don't walk in without reservations, especially on a weekend; you'll wait forever for a table. Also try to sit upstairs, where the noise level is lower and there's a view of the goings-on in the open kitchen below.

The Ferry Building at the foot of Market Street is a San Francisco landmark—and a major destination for foodies. The city's biggest farmers market (the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, held on Saturday morning) sets up outside, and the building also houses Ferry Building Marketplace and several restaurants that draw devoted crowds.

The Slanted Door has a spacious interior with big tables perfect for groups, but the hipsters who pack this place (we recommend making reservations) are forever trying to commandeer one of the coveted outdoor tables for the awesome view of the Bay Bridge and lively waterfront vibe. If you're with a group, order “family style” to maximize the number of tasty dishes you'll get. The apricot tart with blueberry creme fraiche ice cream is a fabulous dessert. It's pricey, but the quality is undeniable. If you're in a hurry and want to grab an on-the-go lunch, order a steamed pork bun or chicken porridge and a Vietnamese iced coffee from Out the Door, the adjacent takeout operation.

The outdoor tables behind the Ferry Building are similarly sought after at Hog Island Oyster Co . As the name makes clear, oysters are the thing here, and you can get them freshly shucked, grilled or on the half shell as part of a sampler platter. The clam chowder is chock-full of Manila clams in the shell, potatoes, bacon and fresh herbs swimming in a briny broth. Hog Island serves Acme Bread Co. baguettes for sopping up every last bit of broth and cocktail sauce, and you can pick up some bread to go at Acme's Ferry Building location. It's massively popular at lunchtime and reservations aren't accepted, so plan accordingly; we suggest getting in line before it opens, especially on weekends.

The Niman Ranch beef patties at Gott's Roadside come in eight variations; try the green chile cheeseburger with grilled onions, salsa verde and charred jalapeño mayo on a toasted egg bun (you can also substitute a turkey patty for beef). Gott's regulars recommend the ahi burger—the tuna is seared rare and served with ginger wasabi mayo and Asian slaw—and sweet potato fries dusted with chile spice. The kid-friendly mini hot dogs deep-fried in batter are like potato chips; even adults can't eat just one. Although you'll contend with crowds, Gott's is a perfect spot for a nosh after a morning spent strolling along The Embarcadero.

Blue Bottle Coffee's shop in the Ferry Building is a perennially popular stop for java, but at Blue Bottle Cafe you can also have breakfast or lunch to accompany the specialty brew of your choice. A small, hard-to-spot blue bottle sign above the door marks this airy cafe's location at the rear of the Provident Loan Building, just off Mint Plaza in SoMa. The city made headlines a couple of years ago when The Mill, a café and bakery near Alamo Square, added a $4 slice of artisanal toast to its menu. You can get that here as well (thick cut and served with butter, but still), along with steel-cut oats, a Belgian-style waffle and an open-face ham sandwich with gruyère, pickes and a spicy cilantro sauce. Food is served until 2 p.m.

At Tartine Bakery & Cafe the twin aromas of brewing coffee and baking bread will suck you right in the door, and the array of breakfast pastries makes choosing just one basically impossible—morning buns, buttermilk scones and the pain au chocolat (translation: chocolate croissant) are all superb. Many San Franciscans swear it bakes the best sourdough bread in the city, which is really saying something; you can order it in advance for pickup or purchase a loaf from the counter after about 4:30 p.m. If you're lucky enough to snag a table (they always seem to be full, and there's always a line out the door), linger over a steaming bowl of café au lait.

The same folks who run Tartine Bakery are also behind Bar Tartine , which is a perfect fit for Valencia Street's hipper-than-hip vibe. A laid-back place to relax over a lunch sandwich (weekends only), the restaurant transforms into a sophisticated (and pricey) dinner destination, with candlelight softening the industrial décor. Menu choices—king salmon with squash, smoked potatoes enlivened with black garlic—are creatively prepared, and the oat porridge bread is well worth the carbs, especially when slathered with Kefir butter. The prix fixe “friends and family” menu features an assortment of small plates, a main dish and dessert.

If you decide to go out for breakfast on a weekend and choose Mama's , one thing is certain: You'll be standing in line. This North Beach institution is notorious for the seemingly interminable wait to get inside (it's not quite as crowded during the week). And once you finally do walk through the door there's another wait to place your order at the counter and pay before you're seated. The space is cramped but cheery—yellow walls, wooden tables and chairs, homey knickknacks, little vases of fresh flowers. And Mama's does come through as far as food is concerned. There's a full menu of omelets, benedicts and pancakes; we also like cranberry-orange French toast with a garnish of seasonal fruit (add a healthy dollop of homemade jam from the jar on the table). The Monte Cristo sandwich is another winner.

Another San Fran institution is Tommy's Joynt , which opened way back in 1947. You can't miss this mural-covered building at the corner of Geary and Van Ness streets. The clientele is a mix of tourists and longtime regulars, and the vibe is old-school all the way. Grab a tray, get in line and get ready to order at one of the carving stations where knife-brandishing cooks slice roast turkey, ham, beef brisket and pastrami for a no-frills sandwich served on a sourdough roll. In addition to daily specials, Tommy's offers house favorites like spaghetti and meatballs and buffalo stew over rice. There's also a classic saloon-style bar on the premises with a great selection of draft and craft beers, ciders, lagers and ales.

In business even longer—since 1849—San Francisco's Boudin Bakery is as famous for its sourdough as the city is for summer fog. At the original Fisherman's Wharf location of Boudin Bakery & Cafe watch bakers make the bread, then line up to purchase a loaf while it's still warm. Clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl is the signature menu item, but you can also order a Waldorf salad, vegetarian tomato soup or seafood and andouille sausage gumbo, all served with some freshly baked 'dough.

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Attractions
In a city with dozens of attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”

By Greg Weekes

San Francisco sits on a peninsula, bounded on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the east by San Francisco Bay. At the northern tip is the Golden Gate Bridge , the instantly identifiable landmark that is not only an iconic visual symbol of the city but a vital transportation link that connects it to Marin County and points north. For an up-close view of this AAA GEM attraction's mighty suspension span—not to mention dizzying views of San Francisco Bay and the Marin headlands—take a windy walk (1.7 miles one way) along the pedestrian sidewalk.


Golden Gate National Recreation Area

, one of the largest urban parks in the world, encompasses 59 miles of bay and ocean shoreline at both ends of the Golden Gate Bridge. Noted for expansive scenic vistas, it encompasses major tourist destinations like Alcatraz Island and Muir Woods National Monument as well as such city locations as Crissy Field, extremely popular with joggers, kite fliers and sightseers.


On any sunny afternoon, Golden Gate Park is one of the most popular places in San Francisco. This GEM has it all: botanical gardens, museums, sports fields, playgrounds—even a buffalo enclosure and a fishing pond. A verdant green rectangle stretching 3 miles from Stanyan Street west to the Great Highway, the park covers just over a thousand acres.

A Dutch windmill stands at the northeastern corner; the white, Victorian-style Conservatory of Flowers , an enclosed, humid jungle of tropicals, aquatic plants and delicate orchids, is located near the eastern end. In between are shady wooded areas, grassy meadows and man-made Stow Lake. The entire park is a quiet, peaceful oasis of exotic greenery, the legacy of Scottish landscaper John McLaren.

Otherworldly plants from Chile, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa make the 55-acre San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum an unforgettable walk. The Japanese Tea Garden , developed for the 1894 World's Fair, is a lovely, precisely landscaped haven at any time, but especially so when cherry blossoms bloom in the spring.

On rainy days, Golden Gate Park offers two outstanding museums. The burnished copper facade of the de Young Museum , a AAA GEM attraction, has an outstanding collection of American paintings and regularly presents notable traveling exhibitions. An indoor observation room on the ninth floor of the Hamon Tower has floor-to-ceiling windows offering fantastic 360-degree views of the surrounding neighborhoods—and you can take the elevator to the top without paying the museum admission if you choose.

Another GEM, The California Academy of Sciences , is noted for such sustainable architectural features as recycled steel construction and a living green roof. The Steinhart Aquarium and the all-digital Morrison Planetarium are both state of the art, while the domed, four-story Rainforests of the World replicates a tropical forest environment right down to the steamy humidity.

Nearby Lincoln Park is the location of another GEM attraction, the Legion of Honor . This Beaux Arts building is modeled after the 18th-century Palais de la Légion d'Honneur and was built to honor Californians who died in France during World War I. Standing in the museum courtyard is a cast of Rodin's famous statue the “Thinker”; inside is a notable collection of sculptures, paintings, prints and decorative art objects.

A little patch of wilderness at San Francisco's western edge, Lands End is all the more special for being part of a city notable for its dense urbanity. The California Coastal Trail, running the length of Lands End, makes for a wonderful hike along a wooded path high above the crashing waves and rocky shoreline. Then explore the Sutro Baths , the ruins of a lavish former bathing resort that burned to the ground in 1966 as it was in the process of being demolished. Another longtime San Francisco landmark, the Cliff House , overlooks the ocean and is a great place to have lunch with a view—if you're lucky enough to get a window table.

Bounded roughly by Kearny, Powell, Bush and Vallejo streets, Chinatown should be at the top of the list for first-time San Francisco visitors. This AAA GEM is part tourist destination, part workaday neighborhood. The ornamental gate arching over Grant Avenue at Bush Street is Chinatown's ceremonial entryway. Souvenir shops line Grant Avenue; Stockton Street, one block west, is a cacophony of bustling produce, meat and fish markets. For sensory overload hit Stockton Street on a Saturday morning, when Chinatown residents do their shopping.

A spectacular collection of Asian art spanning 6,000 years is housed at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco , a AAA GEM. Here are exquisite Persian ceramics, Cambodian deities, Indian temple reliefs, Thai daggers, Japanese textiles, Tibetan scrolls and one of the oldest Chinese Buddhas in the world. Don't miss the elephant throne, or howdah, an extravagantly decorated conveyance that once bore members of Indian royalty.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) exhibits a who's who of 20th-century masters: Picasso, Matisse, O'Keeffe, Pollock, Magritte, de Kooning, Lichtenstein, Rothko, Warhol. The building's exterior and striated skylight are artistic statements as well. Note: SFMOMA, which has been closed for a major expansion and renovation project, is scheduled to reopen in early 2016.

In contrast to this modernistic landmark, the Palace of Fine Arts resembles a Roman ruin. The classical rotunda, built as the entrance to the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, was meant to last only a year, but San Franciscans loved it so much they made sure it escaped the wrecking ball. A landscaped lagoon borders this palatial-looking structure; it's a serene place to take an early morning walk.

The palace was long home to the Exploratorium , a AAA GEM devoted to “science, art and human perception,” before the museum relocated to Pier 15 on The Embarcadero. Visitors of all ages will get a kick out of the interactive exhibits, which are meant to stimulate your thinking cap.

The Mission San Francisco de Asís is one of the city's oldest buildings; it still retains the rawhide lashings used by Spanish missionaries to secure redwood timbers. This GEM attraction, popularly known as Mission Dolores, withstood the 1906 earthquake while newer buildings fell. The adjacent church is a striking counterpoint to the simple mission, its lovely interior illuminated by stained-glass windows. The cool, leafy mission cemetery, protected by thick stone walls, offers a quiet haven for personal reflection.

San Francisco is chock-full of street art, and it's on particularly vibrant display in the Mission. Balmy Alley is one of the best places in the city to see a concentration of cool murals. Local artists use the alley's walls, fences and garage doors as a canvas, with the subject matter ranging from politics to cultural pride to pop culture icons (like a crotch-grabbing Michael Jackson), most of the designs executed in rainbow colors.

Sooner or later every tourist makes the pilgrimage to Fisherman's Wharf . San Francisco's northern waterfront bustles with sightseers and souvenir hunters. Adding to the fun are the gregarious sea lions that make seasonal appearances flopping on and off the floating docks at Pier 39 .

Among the attractions in the vicinity are Ripley's Believe it or Not! Odditorium , the Aquarium of the Bay and Boudin at the Wharf: Museum & Bakery Tour , where you can sample clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, a San Francisco culinary creation. Pose with historical notables like Janis Joplin, Al Capone and Harvey Milk at Madame Tussauds San Francisco , or experience the city's checkered past on a creepy tour through The San Francisco Dungeon . Then visit San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park for a look at historic ships docked at the Hyde Street Pier.

Alcatraz Cruises ferries depart from Pier 33 for Alcatraz Island and the former federal penitentiary that sits atop this lonely rock about a mile offshore. There were 36 escape attempts between 1934 and 1963, the year the penitentiary was closed, but none of the escapees made it to freedom, and many of them died in the attempt. This AAA GEM is a tourist must-do.

In stark contrast to the prison cells are The Gardens of Alcatraz , created by the families of corrections officers and now maintained by a corps of volunteers. Succulents and flowering plants adapted to the island's harsh natural environment grow among the crumbling buildings. National park rangers lead guided tours of “The Rock,” or you can explore it on your own. Ferry excursions fill up quickly during the summer months, so reservations should be made well in advance.

If you've ever ridden a San Fran cable car (and who hasn't?), the Cable Car Museum and Powerhouse Viewing Gallery is worth a visit. Displays at the Washington-Mason Powerhouse include the first cable car, built in 1873. In an underground gallery you can observe the intricate network of chains and pulleys that guide the cars from beneath the street.

If there's any time left to explore beyond the city limits, one noteworthy destination is

Muir Woods National Monument

, on the southwestern slope of Mount Tamalpais. The drive north from the Golden Gate Bridge on SR 1 is formidably twisting but grandly scenic; if you're not up to maneuvering the road's serpentine curves, take advantage of one of the many sightseeing tour companies that offer excursions to this AAA GEM.


Muir Woods preserves and protects one of California's last old-growth stands of coast redwoods. These ancient trees can grow more than 250 feet tall, have trunks up to 15 feet in diameter and live for hundreds of years. A paved walking trail leads from the visitor center to the aptly named Cathedral Grove, a majestic concentration of towering redwoods.

Traffic bound for Muir Woods can be heavy on weekends, so plan accordingly if you're driving. Continue north on SR 1 to reach the pristine beaches, grassy dunes and numerous hiking trails at spectacular

Point Reyes National Seashore

.


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San Francisco in 3 Days
Three days is barely enough time to get to know any major destination. But AAA travel editors suggest these activities to make the most of your time in San Francisco.

Day 1: Morning
Head out to San Francisco's northwestern corner and Lands End . Back in the 1870s this was wild and woolly country far beyond the city limits, but today it's a serene refuge from crowds, congestion and the ceaseless honking of car horns. Poke around the Sutro Baths , the ruins of a once-fashionable seaside spa, then stop by the Lands End Lookout for some educational background about the Lands End area (and to use the restroom facilities if need be).

Then tramp along the cypress-lined Coastal Trail—the views of the Marin Headlands and the rocky, wave-battered Pacific coastline below are stunning. You can follow the trail all the way to the end (at the junction with 32nd Street). At the approximate midway point, a signed detour off the trail leads down a winding series of steps to Mile Rock Beach . Watch waves crash against the rocks while sitting on a log at this lovely, secluded cove, then hike the dirt trail that winds up a steep hill to a vantage point offering spectacular views.

Contemplate the rest of your day at the Legion of Honor in company with a bronze cast of Pierre Auguste Rodin's “The Thinker.” This museum's impressive art collection includes paintings by such masters as Anthony Van Dyck, Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso, plus English and French porcelain and noteworthy Rodin sculptures.

Try and snag a window table at Cliff House-The Bistro , the more casual of the two restaurants in the Cliff House . This historic building overlooks the ocean and offshore Seal Rock, where sea lions occasionally hang out. Whether it's a late breakfast or an early lunch, order Eggs San Francisco—two poached eggs with Dungeness crabmeat and toasted sourdough bread—and make sure you try the signature popovers, which are delish with the addition of butter and strawberry or orange marmalade.


Day 1: Afternoon
You could easily spend an entire day at Golden Gate Park , the city's beloved, rectangular swath of green 3 miles long and a mile wide, so prioritizing what you want to see and do is paramount. Museum lovers should immediately head to the de Young Museum , which has outstanding collections of art from the Americas, Africa, New Guinea and Oceania, or The California Academy of Sciences , home to a state-of-the-art planetarium and numerous green-friendly exhibits (don't miss the undulating roof, a living carpet of native California plants).

The park's exuberantly lush gardens and woodlands are particularly enticing for nature lovers and gardeners. Meditate in the Japanese Tea Garden , a small, precisely landscaped retreat of still ponds, stone sculptures and shaded paths, or stroll among orchids, tropical blooms and bizarre-looking aquatic plants in the Victorian-style Conservatory of Flowers . Pause and reflect among redwood trees at the volunteer-maintained National AIDS Memorial Grove. Then wander past rhodies ablaze with blooms (May and June are the peak months) in the Rhododendron Dell, where there are also wooded paths to stroll. Adjacent to the dell is the Primitive Plant Garden, full of cycads and giant tree ferns.

For exercise walk around Stow Lake, actually a moat that encircles Strawberry Hill. A stone footbridge crosses the north end; from there you can hike to the top of the hill. It's a moderately strenuous trek, but the reward is lovely views framed by tall trees. Little Lloyd Lake, just off John F. Kennedy Drive, is a quiet spot with a couple of benches where you can relax and listen to the contented quacking of a resident flock of mallards. The group of stone columns standing at the edge of the water, dubbed Portals of the Past, was part of a Nob Hill house destroyed by the great 1906 earthquake.

The Inner Sunset neighborhood (just south of the park between 7th and 12th avenues) offers a number of lunch options. Park Chow (1240 9th Ave.) has a friendly vibe and a light menu (pizzas, salads, noodle bowls).

Day 1: Evening
“If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.” Heed the hippie anthem of the Summer of Love (that would be 1967) and head to Haight-Ashbury, the former epicenter of the counterculture that still has a groovy vibe. Check out the head shops, vintage clothing boutiques and funky gift shops along Haight Street, or search for obscure vinyl LPs at Amoeba Music (1855 Haight St.).

The Haight is known for the psychedelic art adorning many storefront walls and Victorian houses known as “painted ladies.” They range from expensively renovated to endearingly shabby and often display rainbow colors. The purple Victorian at 710 Ashbury St. (between Frederick and Waller) was once a communal pad where the Grateful Dead crashed back in the day.

From the Haight it's an easy walk (or board a 33 Muni bus on Haight Street) to the Castro. A constant and occasionally outrageous parade of people pass through the junction of Castro, Market and 17th streets, the Castro's focal point. Standing at the corner of Castro and Market is Twin Peaks Tavern, one of the neighborhood's oldest bars. In less liberated times the walls hid patrons who had to slip in unnoticed, whereas now big glass windows reveal a laid-back crowd of folks who congregate for drinks and socializing.

Burger joints, taquerias and other casual eateries abound. For yummy lobster rolls, crabcakes or fish and chips, try the Woodhouse Fish Company (2073 Market St.).

The Castro Theatre (429 Castro St.), a grand old movie palace, has a beautifully opulent interior complete with a Wurlitzer organ that rises from beneath the stage for a pre-show musical performance. Films run heavily to repertory series and revivals of old classics, with the occasional Hollywood blockbuster thrown in. Many special events and live appearances also take place; phone (415) 621-6120 or check the website for schedule information.

Day 2: Morning
Spend the morning hanging out along The Embarcadero, the waterfront street that hugs San Francisco's northeastern perimeter. Seagulls wheel and cry and joggers get in an early run against the scenic backdrop of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge , the city's other iconic span. Make your first stop Ferry Building Marketplace .

The Ferry Building serves as a busy ferry terminal for trans-bay commuters and also houses specialty food retailers and restaurants. Pick up a ciabatta loaf at the Acme Bread Company or locally produced jams and honey at The Village Market. Customers queue at Blue Bottle Coffee, popular local purveyor of individually brewed concoctions. The busy space was remodeled in early 2015, reducing the perennially long wait in line. Equally popular—and larger—is Peet's Coffee & Tea, well loved for caramel macchiatos, white chocolate mochas, iced coffees and other goodies.

Three times a week—on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings—the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market sets up in front of the Ferry Building. Saturday is the big one, with vendor stalls in the rear as well, all selling a bounty of organic fruits and vegetables, cheeses and prepared foods. Gorgeous bouquets of flowers stand in buckets of water, bunches of fragrant fresh herbs fill wooden bins and local farms offer free samples. It's one of San Francisco's most popular weekly events.

A wide sidewalk and lively maritime activity makes The Embarcadero a great place for a walk. If you're up for exercise that comes with a bonus of lovely views, head north on The Embarcadero to Broadway, turn left and walk four blocks to Sansome Street, then turn right and walk four blocks up to Filbert Street and the foot of the Filbert Steps . The steps ascend the east side of Telegraph Hill , past gardens and increasingly panoramic vistas of the bay as elevation is gained. It's a healthy climb, but once at the top you're at the base of Coit Tower , where there are more views—and the walk back down is a heck of a lot easier.

Day 2: Afternoon
Union Square is the heart of downtown San Francisco. This block-square paved plaza, fringed with date palms, is a popular gathering place where people meet, socialize or just spend an afternoon hanging out. During the winter months there's an ice-skating rink, and the annual lighting of an enormous Christmas tree in late November draws massive crowds and marks the official start of holiday season festivities.

The streets surrounding the square offer shoppers major retailers like Macy's, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Gump's and the flagship location of Williams-Sonoma, complete with a demonstration kitchen where you can take a cooking class. High-fashion boutiques are sprinkled along Geary, Post and Sutter streets and little Maiden Lane, a narrow alley that runs between Stockton and Kearny streets.

Even if you don't buy anything, Emporio Armani (1 Grant Ave.) is worth wandering through; it's housed in an early 20th-century building that was once a bank and retains that era's old marble columns, along with a contemporary minimalist layout highlighting metal and wood. Alessi (424 Sutter St.) features high-quality housewares that resemble—and are priced like—works of art.

Art galleries are on Geary, Post and Sutter streets. Check out the complex of galleries in the buildings at 49 Geary St. and 77 Geary St., spotlighting contemporary and emerging Bay Area artists, photography and the works of modern masters like Jasper Johns and Roy Lichtenstein. Many galleries are open late the first Thursday of the month.

Explore nearby Chinatown . On Grant Avenue shops sell everything from cheap souvenirs to fine jewelry. One block over on Stockton Street, crowds navigate past bulging sidewalk bins of produce and windows displaying whole fish, various animal parts, dessert buns and brightly packaged home remedies.

Eastern Bakery (720 Grant Ave.) sells mooncakes, a rich, dense pastry filled with sweet bean paste and one or two salty egg yolks. At the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in tiny Ross Alley, workers position fortunes and drape hot dough over steel rods to form that distinctive fortune cookie shape. Free samples are offered, and you can buy a bag to go.

Day 2: Evening
Stroll Washington Square, a small, grassy North Beach park shaded by cypresses and poplars, frequented by pigeons, dog walkers and practitioners of tai chi, and overlooked by the twin spires of the neo-Gothic Saints Peter and Paul Church. The cathedral has long served a parish of Italian immigrants, and baseball great Joe DiMaggio famously posed in front of it for wedding pictures with new bride Marilyn Monroe.

City Lights (261 Columbus Ave.), founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, is a landmark independent bookstore with a history of progressive politics. The era of tour buses pulling up for a glimpse of beret-clad “beatniks” is long gone, but this is still a place where book lovers and bohemians in spirit come to browse and attend regularly scheduled events and author readings.

There's more history next door at Vesuvio. Order the house drink (rum, tequila, and orange and cranberry juice served in a bucket glass with a lime) named after Beat Generation icon and “On the Road” author Jack Kerouac, who frequented the bar. Loaded with gritty atmosphere, the joint attracts artists, musicians, poets and all-around characters.

Columbus Avenue is lined with restaurants, and their sidewalk tables are perpetually filled. But take our advice and head to Tommaso's Restaurant , less than a block off Columbus on Kearny Street. Whitewashed walls and straw-covered chianti bottles exude charm, and the food is delizioso. Order a thin-crust pie that emerges piping hot from the wood-fired pizza oven with toppings like fresh burrata cheese, prosciutto, anchovies or sliced meatballs.

After dinner head to Caffe Trieste, on Vallejo Street between Columbus and Grant avenues. Dark wood walls covered with nostalgic old photos will put you in the mood to linger over espresso or a cup of the house-roasted coffee. If you hit this place on the right evening you'll be treated to poetry readings or live music.

Day 3: Morning
Alcatraz Island is one of the city's most popular tourist destinations. Purchase a timed ticket in advance (up to a week ahead during the summer months) at Pier 33, the only departure point for ferries to Alcatraz. If you board the first departure at 8:45 a.m., you'll be able to explore at leisure before the crowds start arriving.

Immortalized in movies like 1962's “The Birdman of Alcatraz” and the Clint Eastwood-starring “Escape From Alcatraz,” the infamous federal penitentiary that stood on this small, rocky island for almost 30 years has a reputation akin to myth. Today's reality is a bit more prosaic: prison facilities in various states of disrepair. The recreation yard is a dismal-looking, fenced-in concrete rectangle, and the cells in the main prison building—each equipped with a toilet, tiny sink and single bunk—are depressingly small and grim. A guided audio tour, narrated by former inmates and correctional officers, provides details about daily life on “The Rock.”

Adding unexpected beauty to the setting are The Gardens of Alcatraz , created and maintained by both inmates and the families of prison guards who resided on the island. When the penitentiary closed in 1963 the carefully tended landscape became overgrown and wild, but a dedicated group of volunteers has kept the gardens spruced up. Hardy, sustainable plants and flowers native to South Africa and the Mediterranean basin, regions with a climate similar to San Francisco's, thrive on the island. Since there are no natural predators, Alcatraz is also a bird sanctuary, and you'll see cormorants, snowy egrets and lots of Western gulls.

Day 3: Afternoon
Disembark the Alcatraz ferry and walk up The Embarcadero to Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf . The hodgepodge of restaurants and souvenir shops is a fun area to wander. Depending on the time of year, sea lions are crowd pleasers at the pier.

Eating clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl is a quintessential San Francisco experience, and there are several casual eateries where you can sample this treat. One place you won't find it, though, is the Crab House at Pier 39 , where the specialty of the house is “killer crab” roasted in a secret garlic sauce. Tureens brimming with crab cioppino, garlic-steamed clams or zuppa di pesce (seafood stew) are popular as well.

For more upscale dining, Alioto's has big windows with views of the bay and rows of docked boats, plus favorites like Sicilian-style fried prawns and pan-roasted rockfish with wild mushrooms. The restaurant opened as a fresh fish stall in the 1920s and still has a street stand where you can watch busy cooks cracking and packing heaps of Dungeness crabs turned ruddy reddish-orange from immersion in a pot of boiling water.

Chocoholics will want to savor the wares in the Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop at Ghirardelli Square , where there's also a display of original chocolate manufacturing equipment. Sourdough bread aficionados head to Boudin at the Wharf: Museum & Bakery Tour to pick up sourdough and other fresh-baked loaves to go at the on-site shop.

Burn off the calories at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park , where historic vessels are docked at the Hyde Street Pier, and then take a walk to the end of the Municipal Pier at adjacent Aquatic Park. Afterward, celebrate your fortitude with a glass of piping-hot Irish coffee. The whipped cream-capped brew was first introduced to American drinkers at The Buena Vista Cafe , at the corner of Hyde and Bech streets. If you're not in the mood for a jolt of whiskey-infused java order Pilsner on tap, otherwise known as a “pull one.”

Day 3: Evening
From the Buena Vista Cafe it's a stone's throw to the Hyde Street boarding area of the Powell-Hyde cable car line. Hop aboard (after waiting in the inevitable line) and hang on tight as the car lurches up Hyde to Lombard Street and a peek at the famously steep one-block section that winds in a series of sinuous S-curves down to Leavenworth Street.

This route passes the Cable Car Museum and Powerhouse Viewing Gallery , where visitors can learn about the massive engine-and-wheel system that powers the world's last manually operated cable car system. Take the cable car all the way to Market Street (via Powell Street), then walk down Market to The Embarcadero (or get on Muni at the Powell Street station and disembark at the Embarcadero station).

AT&T Park, at the south end of The Embarcadero, is home to the 2010, 2012 and 2014 World Series champion San Francisco Giants, much beloved by Bay Area sports fans. In addition to winning ways (23 National League pennants and 20 World Series appearances to date), the team boasts such notable Hall of Famers as Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry and the one and only Willie Mays.

If you don't have tickets, you're not a baseball fan or it's not baseball season—and you're in the mood for something special—have dinner at Gary Danko . (Don't, however, expect to just waltz in; advance reservations are essential.) The small space—only 75 seats—is exquisitely appointed. Danko, a James Beard Foundation award winner and critically acclaimed American chef, employs classic techniques to prepare extraordinary, seasonally based dishes. The five-course tasting menu and wine pairing is admittedly pricey, but the food and service are absolutely top notch. You'll want to dress up for the occasion.



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San Francisco in 3 Days
Three days is barely enough time to get to know any major destination. But AAA travel editors suggest these activities to make the most of your time in San Francisco.

Day 1: Morning
Head out to San Francisco's northwestern corner and Lands End . Back in the 1870s this was wild and woolly country far beyond the city limits, but today it's a serene refuge from crowds, congestion and the ceaseless honking of car horns. Poke around the Sutro Baths , the ruins of a once-fashionable seaside spa, then stop by the Lands End Lookout for some educational background about the Lands End area (and to use the restroom facilities if need be).

Then tramp along the cypress-lined Coastal Trail—the views of the Marin Headlands and the rocky, wave-battered Pacific coastline below are stunning. You can follow the trail all the way to the end (at the junction with 32nd Street). At the approximate midway point, a signed detour off the trail leads down a winding series of steps to Mile Rock Beach . Watch waves crash against the rocks while sitting on a log at this lovely, secluded cove, then hike the dirt trail that winds up a steep hill to a vantage point offering spectacular views.

Contemplate the rest of your day at the Legion of Honor in company with a bronze cast of Pierre Auguste Rodin's “The Thinker.” This museum's impressive art collection includes paintings by such masters as Anthony Van Dyck, Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso, plus English and French porcelain and noteworthy Rodin sculptures.

Try and snag a window table at Cliff House-The Bistro , the more casual of the two restaurants in the Cliff House . This historic building overlooks the ocean and offshore Seal Rock, where sea lions occasionally hang out. Whether it's a late breakfast or an early lunch, order Eggs San Francisco—two poached eggs with Dungeness crabmeat and toasted sourdough bread—and make sure you try the signature popovers, which are delish with the addition of butter and strawberry or orange marmalade.


Day 1: Afternoon
You could easily spend an entire day at Golden Gate Park , the city's beloved, rectangular swath of green 3 miles long and a mile wide, so prioritizing what you want to see and do is paramount. Museum lovers should immediately head to the de Young Museum , which has outstanding collections of art from the Americas, Africa, New Guinea and Oceania, or The California Academy of Sciences , home to a state-of-the-art planetarium and numerous green-friendly exhibits (don't miss the undulating roof, a living carpet of native California plants).

The park's exuberantly lush gardens and woodlands are particularly enticing for nature lovers and gardeners. Meditate in the Japanese Tea Garden , a small, precisely landscaped retreat of still ponds, stone sculptures and shaded paths, or stroll among orchids, tropical blooms and bizarre-looking aquatic plants in the Victorian-style Conservatory of Flowers . Pause and reflect among redwood trees at the volunteer-maintained National AIDS Memorial Grove. Then wander past rhodies ablaze with blooms (May and June are the peak months) in the Rhododendron Dell, where there are also wooded paths to stroll. Adjacent to the dell is the Primitive Plant Garden, full of cycads and giant tree ferns.

For exercise walk around Stow Lake, actually a moat that encircles Strawberry Hill. A stone footbridge crosses the north end; from there you can hike to the top of the hill. It's a moderately strenuous trek, but the reward is lovely views framed by tall trees. Little Lloyd Lake, just off John F. Kennedy Drive, is a quiet spot with a couple of benches where you can relax and listen to the contented quacking of a resident flock of mallards. The group of stone columns standing at the edge of the water, dubbed Portals of the Past, was part of a Nob Hill house destroyed by the great 1906 earthquake.

The Inner Sunset neighborhood (just south of the park between 7th and 12th avenues) offers a number of lunch options. Park Chow (1240 9th Ave.) has a friendly vibe and a light menu (pizzas, salads, noodle bowls).

Day 1: Evening
“If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.” Heed the hippie anthem of the Summer of Love (that would be 1967) and head to Haight-Ashbury, the former epicenter of the counterculture that still has a groovy vibe. Check out the head shops, vintage clothing boutiques and funky gift shops along Haight Street, or search for obscure vinyl LPs at Amoeba Music (1855 Haight St.).

The Haight is known for the psychedelic art adorning many storefront walls and Victorian houses known as “painted ladies.” They range from expensively renovated to endearingly shabby and often display rainbow colors. The purple Victorian at 710 Ashbury St. (between Frederick and Waller) was once a communal pad where the Grateful Dead crashed back in the day.

From the Haight it's an easy walk (or board a 33 Muni bus on Haight Street) to the Castro. A constant and occasionally outrageous parade of people pass through the junction of Castro, Market and 17th streets, the Castro's focal point. Standing at the corner of Castro and Market is Twin Peaks Tavern, one of the neighborhood's oldest bars. In less liberated times the walls hid patrons who had to slip in unnoticed, whereas now big glass windows reveal a laid-back crowd of folks who congregate for drinks and socializing.

Burger joints, taquerias and other casual eateries abound. For yummy lobster rolls, crabcakes or fish and chips, try the Woodhouse Fish Company (2073 Market St.).

The Castro Theatre (429 Castro St.), a grand old movie palace, has a beautifully opulent interior complete with a Wurlitzer organ that rises from beneath the stage for a pre-show musical performance. Films run heavily to repertory series and revivals of old classics, with the occasional Hollywood blockbuster thrown in. Many special events and live appearances also take place; phone (415) 621-6120 or check the website for schedule information.

Day 2: Morning
Spend the morning hanging out along The Embarcadero, the waterfront street that hugs San Francisco's northeastern perimeter. Seagulls wheel and cry and joggers get in an early run against the scenic backdrop of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge , the city's other iconic span. Make your first stop Ferry Building Marketplace .

The Ferry Building serves as a busy ferry terminal for trans-bay commuters and also houses specialty food retailers and restaurants. Pick up a ciabatta loaf at the Acme Bread Company or locally produced jams and honey at The Village Market. Customers queue at Blue Bottle Coffee, popular local purveyor of individually brewed concoctions. The busy space was remodeled in early 2015, reducing the perennially long wait in line. Equally popular—and larger—is Peet's Coffee & Tea, well loved for caramel macchiatos, white chocolate mochas, iced coffees and other goodies.

Three times a week—on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings—the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market sets up in front of the Ferry Building. Saturday is the big one, with vendor stalls in the rear as well, all selling a bounty of organic fruits and vegetables, cheeses and prepared foods. Gorgeous bouquets of flowers stand in buckets of water, bunches of fragrant fresh herbs fill wooden bins and local farms offer free samples. It's one of San Francisco's most popular weekly events.

A wide sidewalk and lively maritime activity makes The Embarcadero a great place for a walk. If you're up for exercise that comes with a bonus of lovely views, head north on The Embarcadero to Broadway, turn left and walk four blocks to Sansome Street, then turn right and walk four blocks up to Filbert Street and the foot of the Filbert Steps . The steps ascend the east side of Telegraph Hill , past gardens and increasingly panoramic vistas of the bay as elevation is gained. It's a healthy climb, but once at the top you're at the base of Coit Tower , where there are more views—and the walk back down is a heck of a lot easier.

Day 2: Afternoon
Union Square is the heart of downtown San Francisco. This block-square paved plaza, fringed with date palms, is a popular gathering place where people meet, socialize or just spend an afternoon hanging out. During the winter months there's an ice-skating rink, and the annual lighting of an enormous Christmas tree in late November draws massive crowds and marks the official start of holiday season festivities.

The streets surrounding the square offer shoppers major retailers like Macy's, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Gump's and the flagship location of Williams-Sonoma, complete with a demonstration kitchen where you can take a cooking class. High-fashion boutiques are sprinkled along Geary, Post and Sutter streets and little Maiden Lane, a narrow alley that runs between Stockton and Kearny streets.

Even if you don't buy anything, Emporio Armani (1 Grant Ave.) is worth wandering through; it's housed in an early 20th-century building that was once a bank and retains that era's old marble columns, along with a contemporary minimalist layout highlighting metal and wood. Alessi (424 Sutter St.) features high-quality housewares that resemble—and are priced like—works of art.

Art galleries are on Geary, Post and Sutter streets. Check out the complex of galleries in the buildings at 49 Geary St. and 77 Geary St., spotlighting contemporary and emerging Bay Area artists, photography and the works of modern masters like Jasper Johns and Roy Lichtenstein. Many galleries are open late the first Thursday of the month.

Explore nearby Chinatown . On Grant Avenue shops sell everything from cheap souvenirs to fine jewelry. One block over on Stockton Street, crowds navigate past bulging sidewalk bins of produce and windows displaying whole fish, various animal parts, dessert buns and brightly packaged home remedies.

Eastern Bakery (720 Grant Ave.) sells mooncakes, a rich, dense pastry filled with sweet bean paste and one or two salty egg yolks. At the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in tiny Ross Alley, workers position fortunes and drape hot dough over steel rods to form that distinctive fortune cookie shape. Free samples are offered, and you can buy a bag to go.

Day 2: Evening
Stroll Washington Square, a small, grassy North Beach park shaded by cypresses and poplars, frequented by pigeons, dog walkers and practitioners of tai chi, and overlooked by the twin spires of the neo-Gothic Saints Peter and Paul Church. The cathedral has long served a parish of Italian immigrants, and baseball great Joe DiMaggio famously posed in front of it for wedding pictures with new bride Marilyn Monroe.

City Lights (261 Columbus Ave.), founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, is a landmark independent bookstore with a history of progressive politics. The era of tour buses pulling up for a glimpse of beret-clad “beatniks” is long gone, but this is still a place where book lovers and bohemians in spirit come to browse and attend regularly scheduled events and author readings.

There's more history next door at Vesuvio. Order the house drink (rum, tequila, and orange and cranberry juice served in a bucket glass with a lime) named after Beat Generation icon and “On the Road” author Jack Kerouac, who frequented the bar. Loaded with gritty atmosphere, the joint attracts artists, musicians, poets and all-around characters.

Columbus Avenue is lined with restaurants, and their sidewalk tables are perpetually filled. But take our advice and head to Tommaso's Restaurant , less than a block off Columbus on Kearny Street. Whitewashed walls and straw-covered chianti bottles exude charm, and the food is delizioso. Order a thin-crust pie that emerges piping hot from the wood-fired pizza oven with toppings like fresh burrata cheese, prosciutto, anchovies or sliced meatballs.

After dinner head to Caffe Trieste, on Vallejo Street between Columbus and Grant avenues. Dark wood walls covered with nostalgic old photos will put you in the mood to linger over espresso or a cup of the house-roasted coffee. If you hit this place on the right evening you'll be treated to poetry readings or live music.

Day 3: Morning
Alcatraz Island is one of the city's most popular tourist destinations. Purchase a timed ticket in advance (up to a week ahead during the summer months) at Pier 33, the only departure point for ferries to Alcatraz. If you board the first departure at 8:45 a.m., you'll be able to explore at leisure before the crowds start arriving.

Immortalized in movies like 1962's “The Birdman of Alcatraz” and the Clint Eastwood-starring “Escape From Alcatraz,” the infamous federal penitentiary that stood on this small, rocky island for almost 30 years has a reputation akin to myth. Today's reality is a bit more prosaic: prison facilities in various states of disrepair. The recreation yard is a dismal-looking, fenced-in concrete rectangle, and the cells in the main prison building—each equipped with a toilet, tiny sink and single bunk—are depressingly small and grim. A guided audio tour, narrated by former inmates and correctional officers, provides details about daily life on “The Rock.”

Adding unexpected beauty to the setting are The Gardens of Alcatraz , created and maintained by both inmates and the families of prison guards who resided on the island. When the penitentiary closed in 1963 the carefully tended landscape became overgrown and wild, but a dedicated group of volunteers has kept the gardens spruced up. Hardy, sustainable plants and flowers native to South Africa and the Mediterranean basin, regions with a climate similar to San Francisco's, thrive on the island. Since there are no natural predators, Alcatraz is also a bird sanctuary, and you'll see cormorants, snowy egrets and lots of Western gulls.

Day 3: Afternoon
Disembark the Alcatraz ferry and walk up The Embarcadero to Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf . The hodgepodge of restaurants and souvenir shops is a fun area to wander. Depending on the time of year, sea lions are crowd pleasers at the pier.

Eating clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl is a quintessential San Francisco experience, and there are several casual eateries where you can sample this treat. One place you won't find it, though, is the Crab House at Pier 39 , where the specialty of the house is “killer crab” roasted in a secret garlic sauce. Tureens brimming with crab cioppino, garlic-steamed clams or zuppa di pesce (seafood stew) are popular as well.

For more upscale dining, Alioto's has big windows with views of the bay and rows of docked boats, plus favorites like Sicilian-style fried prawns and pan-roasted rockfish with wild mushrooms. The restaurant opened as a fresh fish stall in the 1920s and still has a street stand where you can watch busy cooks cracking and packing heaps of Dungeness crabs turned ruddy reddish-orange from immersion in a pot of boiling water.

Chocoholics will want to savor the wares in the Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop at Ghirardelli Square , where there's also a display of original chocolate manufacturing equipment. Sourdough bread aficionados head to Boudin at the Wharf: Museum & Bakery Tour to pick up sourdough and other fresh-baked loaves to go at the on-site shop.

Burn off the calories at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park , where historic vessels are docked at the Hyde Street Pier, and then take a walk to the end of the Municipal Pier at adjacent Aquatic Park. Afterward, celebrate your fortitude with a glass of piping-hot Irish coffee. The whipped cream-capped brew was first introduced to American drinkers at The Buena Vista Cafe , at the corner of Hyde and Bech streets. If you're not in the mood for a jolt of whiskey-infused java order Pilsner on tap, otherwise known as a “pull one.”

Day 3: Evening
From the Buena Vista Cafe it's a stone's throw to the Hyde Street boarding area of the Powell-Hyde cable car line. Hop aboard (after waiting in the inevitable line) and hang on tight as the car lurches up Hyde to Lombard Street and a peek at the famously steep one-block section that winds in a series of sinuous S-curves down to Leavenworth Street.

This route passes the Cable Car Museum and Powerhouse Viewing Gallery , where visitors can learn about the massive engine-and-wheel system that powers the world's last manually operated cable car system. Take the cable car all the way to Market Street (via Powell Street), then walk down Market to The Embarcadero (or get on Muni at the Powell Street station and disembark at the Embarcadero station).

AT&T Park, at the south end of The Embarcadero, is home to the 2010, 2012 and 2014 World Series champion San Francisco Giants, much beloved by Bay Area sports fans. In addition to winning ways (23 National League pennants and 20 World Series appearances to date), the team boasts such notable Hall of Famers as Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry and the one and only Willie Mays.

If you don't have tickets, you're not a baseball fan or it's not baseball season—and you're in the mood for something special—have dinner at Gary Danko . (Don't, however, expect to just waltz in; advance reservations are essential.) The small space—only 75 seats—is exquisitely appointed. Danko, a James Beard Foundation award winner and critically acclaimed American chef, employs classic techniques to prepare extraordinary, seasonally based dishes. The five-course tasting menu and wine pairing is admittedly pricey, but the food and service are absolutely top notch. You'll want to dress up for the occasion.



close


close