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1 Frommer's Favorite San Francisco Experiences
Cafe Hopping in North Beach: One of the most pleasurable smells of San Francisco is the aroma of roasted coffee beans wafting down Columbus Avenue. Start the day with a cup of Viennese at Caffé Trieste (a haven for true San Francisco characters), followed by a walk in and around Washington Square. Continue with lunch at Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store (a la focaccia sandwiches), book browsing at City Lights, more coffee at Caffé Greco, and dinner at L'Osteria del Forno or Moose's. Finish the day with a nightcap as Enrico Caruso plays on the jukebox at Tosca.
A Walk Along the Coastal Trail: Stroll the forested coastal trail from the Cliff House to the Golden Gate Bridge, and you'll see why San Franciscans put up with living on a fault line. Start at the parking lot just above Cliff House and head north. On a clear day you'll have incredible views of the Marin Headlands, but even on foggy days, it's worth the trek to scamper over old bunkers and relish the crisp, cool air. Dress warmly.
A Drive to Muir Woods, Stinson Beach & Point Reyes: If you have wheels, reserve a day for a trip across the Golden Gate Bridge. Take the Stinson Beach exit off Highway 101 and spend a few hours gawking at the monolithic redwoods at Muir Woods (people, I'm telling you, this place is amazing). Continue to Stinson Beach for lunch at the Parkside Café, then head up the coast to the spectacular Point Reyes National Seashore. Rain or shine, it's a day trip you'll never forget.
An Adventure at Alcatraz: Even if you loathe tourist attractions, you'll like Alcatraz. The rangers have done a fantastic job of preserving The Rock-just looking at it is enough to give you the heebie-jeebies-and they give excellent guided tours (highly recommended). Heck, even the boat ride across the bay is worth the price, so don't miss this one. A Stroll Through Chinatown: Chinatown is a trip. We've been through it at least 100 times, and it has never failed to entertain us. Skip the crummy camera and luggage stores and head straight for the outdoor markets, where a cornucopia of the bizarre, unbelievable, and just plain weird sits in boxes for you to scrutinize (one day we saw an armadillo for sale, and it wasn't meant to be a pet). Better yet, take one of Shirley Fong-Torres's Wok Wiz tours of Chinatown.
A Date in the Haight: Although the flowers of power have wilted, the Haight is still, more or less, the Haight: aging hippies, dazed Dead-heads, skate punks, and an assortment of young panhandlers mix with chi-chi stores that accommodate the new, wealthier alternative residents. Think of it as visiting a people zoo as you walk down the rows of used clothing stores and leather shops, trying hard not to stare at that girl (at least we think it's a girl) with the pierced eyebrows and shaved head. End the mystery tour with a plate of mussels at Cha Cha Cha, one of San Francisco's most festive restaurants.
An Afternoon at the Marin Headlands: San Francisco's backyard of sorts, the Marin Headlands are just across the Golden Gate Bridge to the west. They offer not only the best views of the city but also a wealth of outdoor activities. Bird watching, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding-the list goes on-are all fair game at this glorious national recreation area. Don't miss the Marine Mammal Center, a ward for injured or abandoned seals (cute little buggers) and sea lions.
A Walk Across the Golden Gate Bridge: Don your windbreaker and walking shoes and prepare for a wind-blasted, exhilarating journey across San Francisco's most famous landmark. It's simply one of those things you have to do at least once in your life.
A Cruise Through the Castro: The most populated and festive street in the city is not just for gays and lesbians (although the best cruising in town is right here). While there are some great shops and cafes, it's the people-watching that makes the trip a must. If you have time, catch a flick at the beautiful 1930s Spanish colonial movie palace, the Castro Theatre.
A Day in Golden Gate Park: Golden Gate Park is a crucial-and relaxing-part of the San Francisco experience. Its arboreal paths stretch from the Haight all the way to Ocean Beach, offering dozens of fun things to do along the way. Top sights are the Conservatory of Flowers, Japanese Tea Garden, Asian Art Museum, and Steinhart Aquarium. The best time to go is Sunday, when portions of the park are closed to traffic (rent skates or a bike for the full effect). Toward the end of the day, head west to the beach and watch the sunset.
A Soul-Stirring Sunday Morning Service at Glide: Preacher Cecil Williams turns churchgoing into a spiritual party that leaves you feeling elated, hopeful, and unified with the world. All walks of life attend the service, which focuses not on any particular religion, but on what we have in common as people. It's great fun, with plenty of singing and hand clapping.
An Early-Morning Cable Car Ride: Skip the boring California line and take the Powell-Hyde cable car down to Fisherman's Wharf-the ride is worth the wait. When you reach the top of Nob Hill, grab the rail in one hand and hold the camera with the other, because you're about to see a view of the bay that'll make you a believer. Oh, and don't call it a trolley.
A Visit to MOMA & Yerba Buena: Ever since the new Museum of Modern Art opened in 1995, it's been the best place to go for a quick dose of culture. Start by touring the museum, then head straight for the gift shop (oftentimes more entertaining than the rotating exhibits). Have a light lunch at Caffé Museo, where the food is a vast improvement over most museums' mush. Finish the trip with a stroll through the Yerba Buena Gardens and its slew of new attractions across from the museum.