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Frommer's San Francisco day by day

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Frommer's San Francisco Day-by-Day Guide is the complete up-to-date reference for visitors who want to maximize their stay in the smartest, most time-efficient way. With full-color throughout with hundreds of evocative photos, this invaluable guide offers reviews on a wide array of sightseeing, lodging, shopping, dining and entertainment options in all price ranges, and also includes thematic and walking tours of the city's best-loved neighborhoods with Frommer's trademark candid and accessible expertise.

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20 Favorite Moments

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Most of the great cities of the world are best seen on foot, and San Francisco is no exception. Unlike some sprawling metropolises, San Francisco is constrained by bay and sea to a mere 7 square miles (18 sq. km) of increasingly coveted real estate. Yes, you’ll have to walk up and down a few hills, but don’t let that deter you from leisurely strolling through this most walking-friendly city.

 

Do time on the Rock. Even if you loathe tourist attractions, you’ll love Alcatraz. Just looking at the Rock from across the bay is enough to give you the heebie-jeebies. Heck, even the boat ride across the bay is worth the price. Go to page.

Catch an early-morning cable car. 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. This view of the bay will make you a believer. Go to page.

 

1. The Best Full-Day, Two and Three-Day Tours

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This full-day tour introduces you to San Francisco’s best-known neighborhoods—Union Square to scenic Fisherman’s Wharf, historic North Beach, and vibrant Chinatown. Once you arrive at Fisherman’s Wharf, you can do the rest on foot, but public transportation options are listed, just in case. START: BART/Muni: Powell or Montgomery. Bus: 2, 3, 4, or 38 to Powell Street or 30 or 45 to Geary Street. Cable car: Powell lines.

 

Union Square. Start your tour at the retail hub of San Francisco. The square itself, named for a series of violent pro-union mass demonstrations staged here on the eve of the Civil War, is an oft-used art and music exhibition space. Restored for $25 million in 2002, all that remains from the old square is the 90-foot (27m) Victory Tower, dedicated by Theodore Roosevelt after the Spanish-American War. 15 min; best before 9am. Union Sq. is btw. Post, Geary, Stockton & Powell sts. BART: Powell or Montgomery. Bus: 2, 3, 4, 38 to Powell St. or 30, 45 to Geary St. Cable car: Powell lines.

 

2. The Best Special-Interest Tours: The Waterfront, The Golden Gate, Romantic San Francisco, Hippie Haight, San Francisco Literati

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Flanked by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the San Francisco Bay to the north and east, San Francisco possesses a rich seafaring past. It became a trading post in the early 1800s and harbored hundreds of ships after the commencement of the California gold rush. During 20th-century global conflicts, the city served as an embarkation point for Pacific-bound servicemen. Take 4 to 5 hours to enjoy this scenic walk through history, and don’t forget to bring a sweater—this isn’t Southern California! If your schedule allows, take this tour on a Tuesday or Saturday morning, when the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, a San Francisco favorite, takes place at your first stop—the Ferry Building Marketplace. START: Ferry Building (at the Embarcadero & Mission St.). Streetcar: F to Ferry Terminal. Bus: 2, 7, 14, 21, 66, or 71 to Steuart & Market streets.   Ferry Building Marketplace. Stroll through this gourmet market inside the Ferry Building, where tenants sell the best of Northern California’s bounty, from award-winning cheeses and pasture-raised beef to exotic mushrooms and artisanal chocolates. Then head outside to watch the ferries depart to Angel Island, Marin County, Oakland, and Alameda. Before the Bay and Golden Gate bridges were constructed, the ferry system included hundreds of boats shuttling both people and goods. If you are lucky enough to be here during the alfresco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market (Tues & Thurs 10am–2pm; Sat 8am–2pm, just outside the main doors of the marketplace; for more details, Go to page), you’ll want to add an extra hour to mingle with the locals and check out the stands hawking farm-fresh produce, flowers, and ready-made meals by local restaurants. 25 min. 1 Ferry Building (at the Embarcadero & Mission St.). Streetcar: F to Ferry Terminal. Bus: 2, 7, 14, 21, 66, 71 to Steuart & Market sts. After you explore the marketplace, hop on the F streetcar westbound toward Fisherman’s Wharf. Exit at Jones & Beach sts. & walk 2 blocks to Pier 45. Note: Be sure to have your camera out—the streetcar ride takes you along the scenic waterfront.  

3. The Best Neighborhood Walks: Chinatown, Russian Hill/North Beach, Pacific Heights/Cow Hollow, The Marina, Japantown, The Mission & The Castro

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Teeming with vibrant colors, exotic grocers, and surprising alleyways, Chinatown is endlessly fascinating. Its first residents arrived in the 1800s to work as servants; many more came during the gold rush, fleeing war and famine at home. By 1851, 25,000 Chinese were working in California, most of them living in SF’s Chinatown. But life was tough. First employed in the gold mines and later on the railroads, Chinese laborers were essentially indentured servants who faced constant prejudice. The 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed much of Chinatown, and Chinese refugees swamped relief camps outside the city center. An effort by city officials to permanently relocate them failed, and Chinatown continued to grow and thrive, in part because Chinese people were not allowed to buy homes elsewhere until 1950. Today, it remains a complete community where residents shop, socialize, attend school, exercise, worship, and play. START: Bush and Grant streets. Bus: 2, 3, 4, 15, 30, or 45 to BART/Muni at Montgomery Street.  

4. The Best Shopping

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Shopping Best Bets

 

Best Take-Home Gifts

Canton Bazaar, 616 Grant Ave. (Go to page)

Best Shoe Store

Gimme Shoes, 416 Hayes St.; 2358 Fillmore St. (Go to page)

Best Wine Shop

The Wine Club San Francisco, 953 Harrison (Go to page)

Best Scotch & Champagne Store

D&M, 2200 Fillmore St. (Go to Page)

Best Gallery of Local Artists

Hang Art, 556 & 557 Sutter St. (Go to Page)

Best Glassware

Gump’s, 135 Post St. (Go to Page)

Best Toy Store

Ambassador Toys, 2 Embarcadero Center (Go to Page)

Best Used Books

Green Apple Books and Music, 506 Clement St. (Go to Page)

Most Outrageous Clothes & Accessories

Piedmont, 1452 Haight St. (Go to Page)

Best Museum Shop

 

5. Great Outdoors

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The Golden Gate Promenade is a 3.5-mile (5.6km) paved trail hugging San Francisco Bay. Not only is it the city’s most scenic biking, jogging, and walking path, but it is also refreshingly flat. The promenade lies within the pristine Golden Gate National Recreation Area (one of the largest urban parks in the world), which is maintained by the National Park Service. Come at any time of the day, but note that in summer the mornings may be foggy, while the late afternoon is usually windy. START: Bus: 30 to Broderick and Beach streets.

 

Wave Organ. This is an amazing (and musical) piece of environmental art. Listen to strange humming sounds of the ocean currents, captured by tubes that emerge from the water below and pass through the concrete and rock structure. Marina Breakwater, Baker St. & Marina Blvd. Bus: 30 to Broderick & Beach sts.

Crissy Field Center. Stop here to pick up maps and information about Crissy Field. Volunteers from this community-run facility also lead walks through the area. 15 min. 1199 E. Beach St. (at Mason St.). 415/561-7690. www.crissyfieldcenter.org. Daily 9am–5pm.

 

6. The Best Dining

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Dining Best Bets

 

Best Celebrity-Chef Meal

Restaurant Gary Danko $$$$ 800 N. Point St. (Go to Page)

Best Chinese Restaurant

R&G Lounge $$ 631 Kearny St. (Go to Page)

Best Steak Experience

Epic Roasthouse $$$ 369 Embarcadero (Go to Page)

Most Local Ingredients

Fish & Farm $$$ 339 Taylor St. (Go to Page)

Best Burger Experience

Spruce $$$ 3640 Sacramento St. (Go to Page)

Best Seafood Experience

Waterbar $$$ 369 Embarcadero (Go to Page)

Best Raw Bar

Bar Crudo $$ 603 Bush St. (Go to Page)

Best Bakery

Tartine Bakery $ 600 Guerrero St. (Go to Page)

Best Dim Sum

Yank Sing $ 101 Spear St. (Go to Page) and 49 Stevenson St.

Best Pizza

Pizzeria Delfina $$ 3611 18th St. (Go to Page)

 

7. The Best Nightlife

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Nightlife Best Bets

 

Best Irish Coffee

The Buena Vista Café, 2765 Hyde St. (Go to Page)

Best Singles Scene

Americano, 8 Mission St. (Go to Page)

Best Happy Hour Food

The Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar, Fairmont Hotel, 950 Mason St. (Go to Page)

Best Speak-Easy

Bourbon & Branch, Call 415/673-1921 for address (Go to Page)

Best Beer Selection

Toronado Pub, 547 Haight St. (Go to Page)

Best View

The Top of the Mark, InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel, 1 Nob Hill (Go to Page)

Best Place to Watch European Soccer

Mad Dog in the Fog, 530 Haight St. (Go to Page)

Best Old-Time Bar

Perry’s, 1944 Union St. (Go to Page)

Best Neighborhood for Barhopping

The Mission, various venues (Go to page for minitour)

 

8. The Best Arts & Entertainment

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Arts & Entertainment Best Bets

Best Theater Company

American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.), Geary Theater, 415 Geary St. (Go to Page)

Longest-Running Comedy

Beach Blanket Babylon, Club Fugazi, 678 Green St. (Go to Page)

Best Inexpensive Shows

San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 50 Oak St. (Go to Page)

Best Broadway Shows

Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St. (Go to Page)

Best Uplifting Experience

Glide Memorial Sunday Service, 330 Ellis St. (Go to Page)

Best Foreign & Independent Films

Embarcadero Center Cinema, 1 Embarcadero Center (Go to Page)

Wackiest Place to Watch a Film

Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St. (Go to Page); and Red Vic Movie-house, 1727 Haight St. (Go to Page)

Best Comedy Club

Punch Line, 444 Battery St. (Go to Page)

 

9. The Best Lodging

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Lodging Best Bets

 

Most Luxurious

The Ritz-Carlton $$$$ 600 Stockton St. (Go to Page)

Most Ecofriendly Hotel

Orchard Garden Hotel $$$ 466 Bush St. (Go to Page)

Best Views

InterContinental Mark Hopkins $$$$ 1 Nob Hill (Go to Page); and

Mandarin Oriental $$$$ 222 Sansome St. (Go to Page)

Most Impeccable Service

St. Regis $$$$ 125 3rd St. (Go to Page)

Most Historic

The Palace $$$$ 2 New Montgomery St. (Go to Page)

Hippest Hotel

Clift Hotel $$ 495 Geary St. (Go to Page)

Best Fisherman’s Wharf Hotel

The Argonaut $$$ 495 Jefferson St. (Go to Page)

Best For Starving Artists

Hotel des Arts $ 447 Bush St. (Go to Page)

Best Union Square Bargain

Hotel Bijou $ 111 Mason St. (Go to Page)

 

10. The Best Day Trips & Excursions

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Eclectic Sausalito, a relaxed, quaint neighbor to San Francisco, contains fewer than 7,500 residents. Although this is a town with a fair quota of paper millionaires, they rub their permanently suntanned shoulders with a good number of hard-up artists, struggling authors, shipyard workers, and fishermen. This is a great excursion to admire the view of the lofty hills of Marin County that so stunningly frame the San Francisco Bay and to stroll Bridgeway, the offbeat, boutique-lined main drag in town. START: SF Ferry Building Downtown at the Embarcadero and Mission Street or Pier 41. Streetcar: F. BART/Muni: at the Embarcadero or Pier 41 (Fisherman’s Wharf). Bus: 30.

 

Ferry from San Francisco. Bundle up and skim across the bay from SF on the scenic ferry. Grab your camera and snap a perfect shot of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and downtown San Francisco. 30 min. one-way. From downtown at the SF Ferry Building (Go to Page), take the Golden Gate Ferry Service. 415/923-2000. www.goldengateferry.org. Tickets one-way $9.75 adults, $4.75 seniors, disabled & kids 6–18, free for kids 5 and under. Daily schedule varies. Streetcar: F. BART/Muni: the Embarcadero. Bus: 30. From Pier 41 (Fisherman’s Wharf), take the Blue & Gold Fleet. 415/705-5555. www.blueandgoldfleet.com. Tickets one-way $11 adults, $6.75 kids 5–11, free for kids 4 & under. Daily schedule varies. Bus: 10, 30, 47 to Van Ness Ave. & N. Point St. or 19 to Polk & Beach sts. Cable car: Powell-Hyde line to Fisherman’s Wharf or Powell-Mason line to Taylor & Bay sts. Streetcar: F to Jones & Beach sts. Note: To reach Sausalito by bus, bike, or car (via the Golden Gate Bridge), Go to page.

 

The Savvy Traveler

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Before You Go

Tourist Office

Contact the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau, 900 Market St., Lower Level, Hallidie Plaza, San Francisco, CA 94102-2804 ( 415/391-2000; www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com), for a free visitors’ information kit by mail (you’ll pay shipping and handling); you can also download a PDF of the kit from its site.

The Best Times to Go

September and October are “Indian summer” months and are a great time to visit the city—the weather is warm, and the fog disappears. The summer months from June to August are busy with fun fairs and festivals, but it’s usually cold and foggy. Winter is beautiful and mild, plus the city is decked out between November and January for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. Spring is pleasant but can be rainy.

Festivals & Special Events

SPRING Mid- to late April is the time for the Cherry Blossom Festival ( 415/563-2313; www.sfcherryblossom.com) in Japantown. Watch traditional drumming, flower arranging, origami, or a parade celebrating the cherry blossom and Japanese culture. Mid-April to early May is when the San Francisco International Film Festival ( 415/561-5000; www.sffs.org) takes place around San Francisco, with around 200 screenings and live events at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas (Fillmore and Post sts.) and at many other locations. Started in 1957, this is America’s oldest film festival. The Sunday before May 5 (or the Saturday before, if Cinco de Mayo lands on a Sun) brings the Cinco de Mayo Celebration in the Mission District (www.sfcincodemayo.com). This is when the Latino community celebrates the victory of the Mexicans over the French at Puebla in 1862; mariachi bands, dancers, food, and a parade fill the streets of the Mission. The parade starts at 10am at 24th and Bryant streets and ends at the Civic Center. The Bay to Breakers 12K ( 415/864-3432; www.baytobreakers.com; 3rd Sun of May) starts at the Embarcadero and travels through Golden Gate Park to Ocean Beach. More than 60,000 entrants gather—many dressed in wacky, innovative, and sometimes X-rated costumes, including good old-fashioned birthday suits—for the 7.5-mile (12km) run. The Mission District’s largest annual event, Carnaval ( 415/206-0577; http://carnavalsanfrancisco.org), is a day of festivities that culminates in a parade on Mission Street. More than half a million spectators line the route, and samba musicians and dancers continue to entertain on 14th Street, near Harrison, at the end of the march. It takes place on Sunday during Memorial Day (last Mon in May) weekend.

 

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