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San Francisco is a compact city of world-class culture, historical landmarks, award-winning dining, outdoor adventures and nightlife -- all wrapped up by a sparkling bay flanked by the famous Golden Gate Bridge, visible from historic cable cars that ply the hilly streets. Even the unpredictable fog adds to the beauty.
 
Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala discovered the inlet in 1775, but it wasn't until 1847 that San Francisco got its name -- just before gold was discovered in "them thar" Sierra Nevada hills to the east. In 1850, California became the 31st state in the union, and, by 1854, more than 500 saloons and 20 theaters graced the booming Gold Rush town. But the real "gold" to be found was in its seas. The area known as Fisherman's Wharf, on the San Francisco Bay, is still the center of Northern California's commercial and sport fishing industry.
 
Indeed, the City by the Bay reflects its roots: a morning stroll down Fish Alley -- Jefferson between Hyde and Jones -- offers a chance to view fishermen at work. The Saloon, (1232 Grant Ave.) established in 1861, still stands in the city's North Beach neighborhood with cracked barstools and a dusty wooden floor. (It's one of the three oldest taverns in San Francisco, which somehow survived demolition by man and earthquakes, including the major one in 1906 that resulted in fire and widespread destruction.)
 
But above all, today's San Francisco is playfully sophisticated, with a mix of distinct contemporary neighborhoods like the tie-dye-wearing, peace-loving Haight; the super-trendy Mission; swank Pacific Heights; and fabulously gay Castro, home to many of the city's LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) businesses and households.
 
If your voyage begins or ends in this colorful California port, consider a pre- or post-cruise stay. The treats of San Francisco command more than a few hours: mah-jongg parlors in Chinatown (with yummy samples from the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory on Ross Alley), cable car rides over Nob Hill, the staircase down the very steep and crooked Lombard Street, the ferry ride to enchanting Sausalito across San Francisco Bay, and, of course, an escape to Alcatraz.
 
Because San Francisco is part of the U.S., the currency is the U.S. dollar. International visitors will find it easy to access cash at numerous ATM's. Exchange bureaus, so common in Europe, are not in the U.S., but major banks also provide exchange services. Most banks are open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Some are also open Saturday mornings.
 
Where You're Cruise Ship Docked
Ships dock at Pier 35, located along the Embarcadero, the city's bustling downtown waterfront on San Francisco Bay; nearby are the restaurants and tourist attractions of Pier 39, the Ferry Building and Fisherman's Wharf.
 
A new cruise terminal -- the James R. Herman Terminal -- was completed on Pier 27. The structure first time be used as the hospitality center for the 2013 America's Cup yacht races. The complex  also include a 2.5-acre park.
Many of the city's major tourist attractions are located within steps of the port, including touristy Fisherman's Wharf. Hyde Street Pier, a historic ferry pier near Fisherman's Wharf, is part of the National Park Service's Maritime Museum; there, maritime buffs can board historic vessels, such as the 1886 square-rigger Balclutha and 1914 paddlewheel tug Eppleton Hall.
 
Nearby Pier 39 is a bustling marketplace boasting more than 110 stores, 14 bay-view restaurants, street performers and live daily entertainment.
 
The Embarcadero is great for strolling, with kiosks explaining the city's history and quotes or snippets of poetry embedded in the sidewalk.
 
Getting Around
Getting to the Port: The San Francisco Airport is located 14 miles outside the city, and the Oakland Airport is 21 miles outside the city. Public transportation is available from both airports, but there's no direct route from the airport to the pier. You'll need to switch lines (the local F trolley runs up the Embarcadero) or catch a cab once in San Francisco, so you might prefer to book your cruise line's transfer or take a taxi or door-to-door shuttle to minimize hassles.
 
At SFO, the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station is located on the Departures/Ticketing Level of the International Terminal. BART is also easily accessed from any terminal by riding the free air train. Trains leave the station every few minutes throughout the day. Travel time from the airport to the Embarcadero and other stops in the city is about 35 minutes. From OAK, take the AirBART shuttle between the airport and the Coliseum/Oakland Airport BART station. Travel time to the Embarcadero station is about 10 minutes.
 
By far, the cheapest way to reach the city from SFO is by getting on the SamTrans' (San Mateo County Transit District) No. 292 bus, running from about 5:30 a.m. until about midnight. It's inexpensive and takes about an hour. You can bring as much luggage as you want -- you just have to deal with it yourself. You'll find the buses at the north end of the lower levels. The route terminates at the Transbay Terminal, currently located in an area bounded by Folsom, Beale, Howard and Main Streets.
 
Door-to-door shared-ride vans are available at both airports and depart every 15 to 30 minutes around the clock. Try American Airporter or Super Shuttle.
 
Taxis are readily available at the airports at designated taxi zones located outside Baggage Claim at all terminals. From SFO, fares are metered, plus a $2 surcharge. The fare to the cruise terminal will run from $45. There is a surcharge of 150 percent (that's not a typo) for destinations 15 miles beyond city limits or the boundaries of the airport. From OAK, taxis cost around $70. Taxis can be shared and the price divided. A 15 percent tip is customary. Most taxis accept credit cards, but ask to be sure before boarding.
 
Amtrak does not offer rail service to San Francisco, but it does stop in Emeryville, just over the Bay Bridge. A shuttle will take you to the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero. There is no baggage handling for the bus portion, so consider if your luggage is too much to manage.
 
If you're driving, cruise parking is available at ACE Parking (55 Francisco St., 415-398-0208) and City Park (80 Francisco St., 415-398-4162). Both garages are a short walk from Pier 35. For other lots and to compare rates, visit www.BestParking.com.
 
By Car: All the major rental companies operate in the city and have desks at the airports. They include Avis, Alamo and Enterprise. Car-rental rates vary with daily rates, starting from about $50. Note: Parking is horrendous in the city, but if you're spending several days, you might want to rent a car to visit more far-flung sites, including Muir Woods and Wine Country. If you're lucky enough to find street parking, use the hand brake, and curb your wheels when facing downward on a hill and away from the curb when uphill. You'll get a pricey ticket if you don't. All parking meters operate Sundays, and some along the Embarcadero operate later than the usual 6 p.m. cutoff.
 
On Foot: There are distinct neighborhoods (e.g. Fisherman's Wharf, Chinatown, Nob Hill, North Beach, Pacific Heights, Russian Hill, Union Square, SoMa, the Haight, Castro, Mission, Marina, Tenderloin, Avenues). The city's main thoroughfare is Market Street, leading into the city from the Ferry Building; downtown is east, and the Golden Gate Bridge is north. San Francisco is a city perfect for walking, and it's fun to wander the hilly streets and even over the Golden Gate. Fact is, you can walk from Union Square to Fisherman's Wharf, passing Chinatown and North Beach on the way, and it will take you about an hour. Walking is the best way to travel for those not in a rush, and it's the only way to really see the neighborhoods.
 
By Rail: The San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni) runs the cable cars, buses and streetcars. You'll need exact change to ride. Service typically begins around 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. and ends around midnight or 1 a.m., depending on the route, but some routes do offer "Owl" service. You might want to consider a Passport, which gives you unlimited rides on all services for one, three or seven days. You can purchase the pass at the SFMTA Customer Service Center (Van Ness at Market), information booths at SFO baggage claim, the Powell/Market cable car booth, the Sutter and Hyde Streets booth, the Bay and Taylor Streets booth, and the Geary at Presidio booth. BART is mainly used for reaching the outlying areas like Berkeley, Oakland and the airport. Machines inside the stations dispense tickets. The trains run every 15 minutes or so, Monday to Friday from 4 a.m. to midnight, Saturday from 6 a.m. to midnight, and Sunday from 8 a.m. to midnight.
 
 A $69 City Pass ($39 for kids) gets visitors admission to several popular cultural and entertainment attractions without waiting on line: a Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise, California Academy of Sciences, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Aquarium of the Bay and either Exploratorium or the deYoung Museum and Legion of Honor (on the same day), plus seven days of unlimited transportation on the buses, cable cars and street cars. You can purchase it at any of the included attractions or online.

Be prepared for rough seas when you sail out into the Pacific Ocean. Also, San Francisco is the hilliest city in the United States, and its steep streets are best traversed by cable car; the views can be enjoyed standing on one of the outside platforms, but travelers should hold on tight (and keep extremities tucked away from oncoming traffic).
 
Things To See and Do
As with San Francisco, you can visit the rest of the Bay Area comfortably at any time of year, and it's especially nice in late spring and fall. Unlike in San Francisco, though, the surrounding areas are reliably sunny in summer—it gets hotter as you head inland. Even the rainy season has its charms, as hills that are golden the rest of the year turn a rich green and wildflowers become plentiful. Precipitation is usually the heaviest between November and March. Berkeley is a university town, so the rhythm of the school year might affect your visit. It's easier to navigate the streets and find parking near the university between semesters, but there's also less buzz around town.
 
Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is a California icon gracing San Francisco Bay. It is likely the most photographed site in the city, with the orange structure backed by blue water, or in many cases, peaking through low lying cloud. The Bridge has an interesting history and adds a unique charm to San Francisco.
 
Heralded as one of the world's most beautiful bridges, San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge attracts about nine million visitors each year. It's free to drive out of San Francisco over the bridge -- but to come back, it'll cost you $6 per vehicle. Pedestrians (including wheelchair-users) and bicyclists may access the sidewalks during daylight hours. Or, view it from afar on a Bay cruise or a ferry ride across to Sausalito. San Francisco's Cable Cars go "halfway to the stars," according to that famous song -- and it's just about true! There are only three lines of these mobile national landmarks remaining, but they take you over some huge hills, with stunning views of the bay. Add in the "tune" that each bellman plays, and it makes for great entertainment. The two lines that run from Powell and Market Streets are nearly always packed because they head down to the Fisherman's Wharf area. For a less-crowded ride, with nary a wait, hop aboard the California Street line at California and Drumm streets. Get on the north side of the car for the best views, and stand on the outside, if you dare! If you're interested in seeing how the whole system works, visit the fascinating Cable Car Museum. (1201 Mason St., a stop on the Powell Street line)
 
The Golden Gate Suspension Bridge connects San Francisco with Marin County and other districts further north. At one time, it was designated the greatest man-made sight in the United States by the U.S. Travel Service. Opened on May 28th, 1937, the bridge took four years to build and at the time of its completion it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. The bridge, flood-lit in the evening, is approximately 2 miles long.
 
If you want to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge the road is US Hwy 101, or SR 1. For a great view of the bridge, or for anyone interested in photographing the bridge, there are a number of great vantage points. From the San Francisco side, Nob Hill, an area known for its posh old mansions, offers some beautiful views over the bridge. On the opposite side of the bridge, in Marin County, is the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Also, if you are planning on taking a tour to Alcatraz, there are completely open views from the boat and island.
 
Alcatraz Island
The historic and notorious Alcatraz penitentiary, located on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, is one of America's most infamous prisons. It operated for almost thirty years, closing in 1963 and re-opening as a tourist attraction in 1973. While it operated it was known for housing some of America's most well known prisoners, including Al Capone and the "Birdman", who would later form the basis for the fictional movie The Birdman of Alcatraz.
 
Visitors take a ferry over to the island where they can tour the site while listening to a very well done audio recording. It offers a glimpse into life in the prison, rather than just an historical run through of the facts. The narration is even done by former inmates and guards of Alcatraz.
 
In the course of its 30 year existence the penitentiary received a total of 1,576 convicts. There were never more than 250 at any one time, even though there were 450 cells measuring about 10ft x 4ft. At times the number of guards and staff was greater than that of the convicts.
 
While most people come for the history or the novelty of seeing a former prison, the island is now a prominent area for nesting sea birds.Official site: www.nps.gov/alca/
 
Fisherman's Wharf
One of San Francisco's most popular tourist areas is Fisherman's Wharf. This old section, once the Little Italy of San Francisco, is an area known for its shops, restaurants, and beautiful setting along the waterfront. As the name suggests, there are fisherman who still operate out of here and visitors can arrange fishing charters. For something a little more relaxing there are also cruises that will take visitors on tours of the area, including sunset and evening cruises with spectacular views of the city.
 
Some of the main attractions in the area are the Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf and Ghirardelli Square. Restored 19th and 20th C ships line the waterfront at the Hyde Street Pier, which is now the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. The USS Pampanito is a WWII submarine that is today a National Historic Landmark and part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. Pier 39, located in this general area, is home to over 130 stores and many unique places to eat. There is always something going on here and a variety of entertainment options. In addition there are great views from the pier looking back onto the city.
 
This is usually the first place visitors head if they are new to the city. It's a fun place to stroll around and get a flavor for the city. For those with only a day or two to spend in San Francisco, Fisherman's Wharf is a good place to start.
 
Organized Tours
 
The 49-Mile Scene Drive
This self-guided drive is an easy way to orient yourself and to grasp the beauty of San Francisco and its extraordinary location. Beginning in the city, it follows a rough circle around the bay and passes virtually all the best-known sights, from Chinatown to the Golden Gate Bridge, Ocean Beach, Seal Rocks, Golden Gate Park, and Twin Peaks. Originally designed for the benefit of visitors to San Francisco’s 1939 and 1940 Golden Gate International Exposition, the route is marked by blue-and-white sea gull signs. Although it makes an excellent half-day tour, this 49-mile-long mini-excursion can easily take longer if you decide, for example, to stop to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge or to have tea in Golden Gate Park’s Japanese Tea Garden.
 
If you are in the area, the San Francisco Visitor Information Center (www.sanfrancisco.travel), at Powell and Market streets, distributes free route maps, which are handy since a few of the Scenic Drive marker signs are missing. Otherwise, you can download a great PDF map from their website. Try to avoid the downtown area during the weekday rush hours from 7 to 9am and 4 to 6pm.
 
San Francisco Segway Tours
Segways are those weird-looking upright scooters you've probably seen on TV. The two-wheeled "human transporter" is an ingenious electric-powered transporation device that uses gyroscopes to emulate human balance. After the free 30-minute lesson, riding a Segway becomes intuitive: lean forward, go forward; lean back, go back; stand upright, stop. Simple. The San Francisco Electric Tour Company offers Segway-powered narrated 2-hour tours—choose from Wharf and Waterfront, Golden Gate Park, Chinatown-Little Italy-Wharf night tour, and, for advanced riders, the Hils and Crooked Streets tour. For $70 it's not a bad deal, and it's the closest you'll come to being a celebrity (everyone checks you out). Note: You must be at least 12 years old, weight between 100 and 250 lbs., and can't be pregnant to join the tour. No heels, sandals, or flip-flops. For more information, log onto www.sfelectrictour.com or call tel. 415/474-3130.
 
Cable Cars
Cable Cars were introduced in 1873 to help locals contend with the many hills the city is built on. Today, the few remaining cable cars offer tourists a great way to explore the city in historic fashion. Since 1964 these tram-like vehicles have had the unique distinction of being the only public transport system to be declared a historic monument. The Powell-Mason and Powell-Hyde are the most scenic routes. The cable cars will also get you to the major attractions such as Fisherman's Wharf, Ghirardelli Square the Ferry Building, Nob Hill, and Lombard Street. If you are planning on more than a couple rides or are going to be sightseeing for a few days you should consider buying a pass.Official site: http://www.sfcablecar.com/

Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park is a fabulous green space in the heart of San Francisco, often considered the "lungs" of the city. It also contains a number of lovely gardens and museums. Before development began in 1871 this was an area of arid dunes. Nowadays visitors to the park enjoy a grand network of walking trails and cycling paths, more than 5,000 different kinds of plants and dozens of species of trees, several lakes, bridle-paths, and a buffalo paddock. The park also has three museums, a Japanese tea garden, greenhouses, a botanical garden, and considerably more besides. Golden Gate Park is one of those places that can just as easily take up a couple of hours as a couple of days. Bike rentals are available, and this can be a good way to explore the park, rather than trying to do everything on foot.
 
Chinatown
You may have been to Chinatown in other cities but San Francisco's Chinatown is a whole other realm. It is both the largest Chinatown outside of Asia and the oldest of its kind in North America. Almost completely destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, Chinatown was rebuilt entirely in the Chinese style and was soon even more attractive than before the disaster. Now with its temples, theaters, workshops, small businesses, stores, antique and souvenir shops, teahouses and pharmacies with their old nostrums, Chinatown has become one of the major sites of San Francisco. If you are traveling through San Francisco during an important Chinese holiday or event you can expect an elaborate celebration to be taking place. Chinese New Year celebrations are often considered the best in North America. The main street in Chinatown for tourists is Grant Avenue. At Grant Avenue and Bush Street is the Chinatown Gateway.Official site: http://www.sanfranciscochinatown.com/
 
California Academy of Sciences
The California Academy of Sciences, in Golden Gate Park, is an architectural marvel as well as a multifaceted museum. This state of the art "green" building with a sustainable design has a 2.5 acre Living Roof, covered with native plants and even rolling hills to match the natural surroundings. The roof also has solar panels to generate electricity, and the soil acts as natural insulation. The walls are largely made of glass allowing for natural light.
 
Inside is an incredible natural history museum, planetarium, aquarium, rainforest, and more. The Steinhart Aquarium includes some 38,000 live specimens, and a 25 feet deep coral reef. The rainforest is four stories high with all kinds of animals and amphibians in a fantastic layout. You can descend in a glass elevator to the deepest depths where you can look up through an acrylic tunnel to see fish swimming overhead. The Kimball Natural History Museum has skeletons of a T-Rex and blue whale and all kinds of interesting exhibits. Address: 55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park, Official site: http://www.calacademy.org/
 
De Young Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco
The De Young Museum is the oldest museum in San Francisco. While art and period interiors from North America feature strongly in the collection, there are also many exhibits from Egypt, Greece, Rome and the Near East. British art, and folk art from Africa, America and the Pacific Islands, are also represented.
 
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is housed in the War Memorial Veterans Building on the west side of the Civic Center Plaza. Its origins go back to the 1890s, but it was set on a firm footing only in 1916, thanks to the efforts of the San Francisco Art Association. The museum has transitioned over the years and today it is devoted exclusively to the art of the 20th century. Address: 151 Third Street
Official site: http://www.sfmoma.org/

Win Peaks
These two unique and uninhabited hills, almost 1,000ft high, are not in fact the highest of San Francisco's 43 hills, a distinction belonging to Mount Davidson which is 33 ft higher. However, they are easier to get to and offer what is perhaps the finest views out over the city and the bay.
 
Twin Peaks are the only hills in San Francisco not to have been built over and remain in their original state. The Spaniards called the twin peaks "Los pechos de la Chola" or the Breasts of the Indian Maiden. Even on warm days strong cool breezes blow in from the Pacific, especially in the late afternoon. Warm clothing is recommended.  http://www.sftodo.com/twinpeakssanfrancisco.html
 
Asian Art Museum
The Asian Art Museum is unquestionably one of the most important museums in San Francisco.
 
The museum opened in 1966, with the basis of the collection coming from art collector, Avery Brundage. Brundage, built up a private collection which, in 1959, he offered to the city of San Francisco "to bridge the gap between East and West". A museum building was constructed. On his death in 1975 at the age of 88, the museum also received the rest of his collection of works of art in the form of a legacy. Building on this, the museum has continued to amass various pieces and now contains an extensive collection of sculptures, paintings, bronzes, ceramics, jade carvings, and architectural fragments from Japan, Korea, China, India, Iran and other Asiatic cultures. The works cover a span of more than 6,000 years. Displays are rotated regularly. Address: 200 Larkin Street, San Francisco, CA 94102, United States
Official site: http://www.asianart.org/
 
Exploratorium
the Exploratorium is a premier science museum. It is largely targeted towards children and families but it can really be enjoyed by anyone. There are a huge number of diverse exhibits covering various areas of interest, all of which are designed to educate and entertain. Children tend to rate this museum very highly, with all kinds of experiments and interesting things to do. Surprisingly, whether they have kids or not, most adults also rave about the Exploratorium. it's a fascinating place for young and old. In 2013, it moved from the Palace of Fine Arts complex to Pier 15 to allow for eight times the exhibit space, stellar views of the bay and a restaurant by local Chef Loretta Keller. Plus it's an easy walk from the cruise terminal. (Pier 15, The Embarcadero; open Tuesday and Thursday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and also Thursday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. for ages 18+; closed Mondays Address: Pier 15 -- Official site: http://www.exploratorium.edu/

Palace of Fine Arts
The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco is the last remaining structure from the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition. The palace has been restored, along with the grounds. The Palace of Fine Arts Theatre seats approximately 1,000 patrons. Address: 3301 Lyon Street, San Francisco, CA 94123-1002, United States
Official site: http://www.palaceoffinearts.org/Welcome.html
 
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Golden Gate National Recreation Area is a huge area located across the Golden Gate Bridge from downtown San Francisco. Due to the similarity of the name, some visitors confuse this area with Golden Gate Park in the downtown area. Golden Gate Recreation Area, in Marin County, is home to a myriad of attractions but is also just a beautiful space to enjoy nature and relax. There are walking trails, campgrounds, picnic areas, and beautiful beach areas. Some of the beaches have fabulous views of the Golden Gate Bridge. The park is also a place of history. Fort Baker was a US Army post in the early 20th Century with many historic buildings. It is also the location of a children's museum and the Bay Area Discovery Museum, among other things. Similarly, Fort Barry contains a number of historic batteries. Overall, with some 600 square miles of park land there is lots to explore. Official site: http://www.nps.gov/goga/index.htm

Pier 39
Pier 39 is a collection of shops and dining places, which is also home to an aquarium and -- its most popular attraction -- sea lions, who've been taking over a number of boat piers. They're best viewed from the left-hand side of Pier 39. Younger kids will love the hand-painted two-tiered Venetian carousel topped with almost 2,000 twinkling lights. You can book whale-watching trips there and rent bicycles, too.
 
You can't visit San Francisco and not spend time at Fisherman's Wharf; check out all the crab stands near Jefferson Street. Look out across the Bay, and you'll see Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge.
 
Ghirardelli Square
Ghirardelli Square is located in a restored factory area, surrounded by shops, galleries, and restaurants in renovated industrial buildings. The square was inaugurated in 1964 and was the first of a number of projects
Ghirardelli Square started out as a factory in 1864, making Civil War uniforms, but it's famous for being a chocolate and spice factory from 1893 until the mid-1960's. These days, the factory is elsewhere and this place, though on the National Historic Register, is a multilevel mall filled to the brim with shops and restaurants. Look for the original 1860 cast-iron chocolate grinder from France on the lower level, and make sure you stop at the old-fashioned soda fountain down there, too. (900 North Point St.)
 
Sausalito
Pre or post of your cruise if you stay in San Francisco do not miss this hidden jam. Just across the Golden Gate Bridge from the city of San Francisco, sits the world-renowned waterfront community of Sausalito, California. The charming bayside city is home to a friendly, eclectic group of people that are passionate about the area in which they live, and is visited by tourists throughout the year. At www.Sausalito.com This scenic town, provide the most relaxed experience include restaurants, nightlife, shopping and upsacle Boutique hotels to stay.
 
Napa Valley
Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley are the two best-known and largest grape-growing areas in California. Situated at the southern end of the valley of the same name, some 52 miles from San Francisco, Napa is one of the largest Californian towns north of San Francisco. This is an incredibly scenic area with a drier climate than the coastal regions. It was founded in 1848 and bears the name of the long extinct Napa Indians. The western boundary is formed by the Napa Mountains. The Howell Mountains form the eastern boundary of Napa County and they also protect the valley from storms. Vine country distance to pier 1 hour 45 min about (59 miles / 94 km)
 
Free Things to Do
Take a Free Guided Walking Tour. With over 90 tours to choose from—Murals and the Multi-Ethnic Mission, Castro: Tales of the Village, or Gold Rush City, to name a few—San Francisco City Guides is one of the best deals in town.
Pretend You’re a Guest of the Palace or Fairmont Hotels. You may not be staying the night, but you can certainly feel like a million bucks in the public spaces at the Palace Hotel. The extravagant creation of banker “Bonanza King” Will Ralston in 1875, the Palace Hotel has one of the grandest rooms in the city: the Garden Court, where you can have high tea under a stained-glass dome (definitely not free). Running a close second is the magnificent lobby at Nob Hill’s Fairmont San Francisco.
Tour City Hall. Come see where, in 2004, Mayor Gavin Newsom made his bold statement to the country about the future of same-sex marriage in this beautiful Beaux Arts building. Free tours are offered to the public.
Cocktail in the Clouds. One of the greatest ways to view the city is from a top-floor lounge in hotels such as the Sir Francis Drake, or the venerable InterContinental Mark Hopkins. Drinks aren’t cheap, but considering you’re not paying for the view, it almost seems like a bargain.
Browse the Ferry Building Farmers’ Market. Stroll booth to booth sampling organic food. Buy fresh produce alongside some of the big name chefs of the Bay Area. People watch. It is always a party and always free. Held rain or shine every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, this is one of the most pleasurable ways to spend time the city.

Visit the Wells Fargo Museum. Have a look at pistols, mining equipment, an original Wells Fargo stagecoach, old photographs, other gold rush-era relics at the bank’s original location.
Hang Out in Golden Gate Park: Stroll around Stow Lake, watch the disco roller skaters who dance around the area closed to traffic on Sundays, hang out in Shakespeare’s Garden, or just find a sunny patch of grass to call your own. There’s tons to do in the city’s communal backyard that doesn’t cost a cent.
Take Advantage of Free Culture Days. Most every museum in San Francisco opens its doors to the public for free on certain days of the week.
 
Walking Tours
Do not miss the opportunity to take one of the 80-plus absolutely free walking tours offered in rotation by San Francisco City Guides (tel. 415/557-4266; www.sfcityguides.org), a simply terrific volunteer organization that runs up to a dozen tours a day, from 10am to 2pm, all around town. You don’t need to make a reservation; just show up at the place and time listed online on its home page, where the weekly schedule is kept up-to-date by the group’s single paid employee. Tours are free, but at the end your guide, who will be someone who loves and studies the city and wants to share that love, will pass around an envelope and hope for a few bucks. Some of the cooler tours include a walk through the historic Palace Hotel; City Scapes and Public places, on which you’ll discover hidden rooftop gardens and little-known financial museums downtown; a retelling of the history of the Mission Dolores neighborhood, one of the city’s most historic; and Gold Rush City, which takes in the stomping grounds of the original [‘]49ers. Most of the city’s great attractions, from Coit Tower to Fisherman’s Wharf, will have a tour dedicated to their explication. Tours are probably the city’s best bargain, and they’re an inviting way to see some windswept places you may not want to go to alone, including along the walkway of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Fort Mason complex. Some 21,000 people a year take advantage of this terrific service, and frugal city buffs could easily fill their vacations with two or three a day.
 
Cruisin’ the Castro (tel. 415/255-1821; www.cruisinthecastro.com; $30 adults, $25 children 5–12) is an informative historical tour of San Francisco’s most famous gay quarter, concentrating on the contribution of the gay community to the city’s political maturity, growth, and beauty. This fun and easy walking tour is for all ages, highlighting gay and lesbian history from 1849 to present. Stops include America’s only Pink Triangle Park and Memorial, the original site of the AIDS Quilt Name Project, Harvey Milk’s residence and photo shop, the Castro Theatre, and the Human Rights Campaign and Action Center. Tours run Monday through Saturday from 10am to noon and meet at the Rainbow Flag at the Harvey Milk Plaza on the corner of Castro and Market streets above the Castro Muni station. Reservations are required.

The Haight-Ashbury Flower Power Walking Tour (tel. 415/863-1621; www.haightashburytour.com; $20, free for kids 9 and under) explores hippie haunts with Pam and Bruce Brennan (aka “Hippy Gourmet”). You’ll revisit the Grateful Dead’s crash pad, Janis Joplin’s house, and other reminders of the Summer of Love in 2 1/2 short hours. Tours begin at 10:30am on Tuesdays and Saturdays, Thursdays at 2pm, and Fridays at 11am. Reservations are advised and you can buy tickets online.
 
To explore the less-touristy side, and get the hidden nooks and crannies of Chinatown, sign up with Wok Wiz Chinatown Walking Tours & Cooking Center, 250 King St., Ste. 268 (tel. 650/355-9657; www.wokwiz.com). Founded in 1984 by the late author and cooking instructor Shirley Fong-Torres, its guides today are all Chinatown natives, who speak fluent Cantonese, and are intimately acquainted with the neighborhood’s history, folklore, culture, and food. Tours run daily from 10am to 1pm and include a seven-course dim sum lunch (a Chinese meal made up of many small plates of food). There’s also a less expensive tour that does not include lunch. Since groups are generally held to a maximum of 15, reservations are essential. The tour (with lunch) costs $50 for adults and $35 for ages 6 to 10; without lunch, it’s $35 and $25, respectively. Tickets can be purchased online. Wok Wiz also operates an I Can’t Believe I Ate My Way Through Chinatown tour, which starts with breakfast, moves to a wok shop, and stops for various nibbles at a vegetarian restaurant, dim sum place, and a marketplace, before taking a break for a sumptuous authentic Cantonese luncheon. It’s offered Saturdays, takes 3 1/2 hours, and costs $90 per person ($50 for children 6–10), food included. The city mourns the loss of Shirley, who passed away in 2011.
 
Finally, for a tour of the areas where tour busses are forbidden, try Jay Gifford’s Victorian Homes Historical Walking Tour (tel. 415/252-9485; www.victorianhomewalk.com). As you might guess, the tour concentrates on architecture though Jay, a witty raconteur and San Francisco resident for more than 2 decades, also goes deeply into the city’s history—particularly the periods just before and after the great earthquake and fire of 1906. You’ll stroll through Japantown, Pacific Heights, and Cow Hollow. In the process, you’ll see more than 200 meticulously restored Victorians, including the sites where “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Party of Five” were filmed. Tours run daily at 11am rain or shine; cost is $25 per person (cash only).
 
Bike Tours
Several Fisherman’s Wharf companies compete for biking business and frankly, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between them, either in price or quality of the rental equipment. They are Blazing Saddles Bike Rentals and Tours (tel. 415/202-8888; www.blazingsaddles.com), Bay City Bike Rentals (tel. 415/346-2453; www.baycitybike.com), and San Francisco Bike Rentals (tel. 415/922-4537; www.bikerentalsanfrancisco.com). The last one also has shops at the Ferry Building and in the Haight.
 
Along with rentals, the first two offer identical, guided bike tours over the Golden Gate Bridge, and down into Sausalito ($55 for adults, $35 for kids 11 and under on both). The guided portion of the tour ends in Sausalito, and you are then free to ride more, eat lunch, browse the shops, and take the ferry back at your leisure. (Note: the $11 ferry ride back to Pier 39 is not included in the price, but the two companies can sell you the ticket if you want one—or you can ride back!). Tours start at 10am and take about 3 hours; helmets, locks, maps, and a safety training class are all included.
 
Boat Tours
One of the best ways to look at San Francisco is from a boat bobbing on the bay, where you can take in views of the skyline and the dramatic topography. There are several cruises to choose from, and land/cruise options available online. Regardless of which you take, bring a jacket; it can be freezing cold on the bay.
 
Blue & Gold Fleet, Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf (tel. 415/705-8200; www.blueandgoldfleet.com), offers a range of options including a 60-minute tour of the bay that follows along the historic waterfront, a 90-minute cruise around Alcatraz Island, and a “guaranteed to get soaked” bay adventure on the flame-covered RocketBoat. Prices for tours range from $28 for an adult on one of the cruises to $50 for a combo ticket of a cruise plus the RocketBoat. Ferries are available to Sausalito, Tiburon, and Angel Island for $17 to $22 roundtrip (adults), $10 to $14 (kids and seniors), free 5 and under.
The Red & White Fleet, established in 1892, departs daily from Pier 43 1/2 (tel. 415/673-2900; www.redandwhite.com), and offers a number of bay cruise tours including the 90-minute “Bridge 2 Bridge” ($36 adults, $24 kids 5–17, free 4 and under), 2-hour “California Twilight Tour” ($58 adults, $40 kids 5–17, free 4 and under), and “Golden Gate” ($28 adults, $18 kids 5–17, free 4 and under).
Bus Tours
San Francisco’s public transportation system can be hard to master for newbies, so these Hop On/Hop Off tours fill a niche, especially for those looking to see just the major sites. A number of different combinations are offered by a number of different companies, but none is significantly better than the others. So before you book think about what you want to see: Do you want a funky old trolley or an open double-decker bus? A tour that crosses the Golden Gate Bridge and visits Sausalito? Look, too, at how many stops are en route and how often the busses start. In the off-season, that might be just twice a day, making a hop-on, hop-off tour more of a "stay on," so study the bus schedules before booking. Companies to compare include Big Bus Tours (www.bigbustours.com), City Sightseeing San Francisco (www.city-sightseeing.us), and the San Francisco Sightseeing Company (www.sanfranciscosightseeing.com). Prices vary depending on the tour. Tip: A second day of hopping on and off can often be added for only a few more dollars, though many people find 1 day on these buses is more than enough.
 
Air Tours
San Francisco Seaplane Tours (tel. 415/332-4843; www.seaplane.com) is the Bay Area's only seaplane tour company, a good choice for thrill-seekers. For more than 60 years, this locally owned outfit has provided its customers bird's-eye views of the city, flying directly over San Francisco at an altitude of about 1,500 feet. Sights you’ll see during the narrated excursions include the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, Alcatraz, Tiburon, and Sausalito. Half the fun, however, is taking off and landing on the water (which is surprisingly smooth). Trips depart from Mill Valley; the company offers complimentary shuttle pickup at Pier 39. Prices range from $179 per person for the 30-minute Golden Gate Tour to $249 for the 40-minute Champagne Sunset Flight, which includes a bottle of bubbly and a cozy backseat for two, to $549, which includes a wine and cheese tasting and tour of a winery on the coast of Clear Lake 50 minutes to the North. Children's rates are available, and cameras most welcome. Call to reserve.
 
Equally thrilling (and perhaps more so if you’ve never been in a helicopter) is a tour of San Francisco and the bay via San Francisco Helicopters. The $175 ($135 child) Vista package includes free shuttle pickup from your hotel or Pier 39, and a 20-minute tour that takes you over the city, and past the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, and Alcatraz Island. After takeoff, the pilot gives a narrated tour and answers questions while the background music adds a bit of Disney-ride quality to the experience. Tip: The view from the front seat is the best. Picnic lunch and sunset dinner packages are available as well. For more information or reservations, call tel. 650/635-4500 or log onto www.sfhelicopters.com.
 
A Whale of a Tale
Not many people outside of California know about the Farallon Islands, nor do many people get to visit up close. The entire Gulf of Farallones National Marine Sanctuary is off-limits to civilians, so visitors must gaze from the deck of a fishing or whale-watching boat if they want a peek firsthand.
 
This veteran eco-tourism company offers trips (starting at $125) out to the desolate outcropping of rock off the coast of San Francisco that is home to birds, sea lions, seals, dolphins, and the ever-present great white shark. Typically on the search for migrating gray, humpback, or blue whales, expeditions leave from Pier 39 at 8am sharp and pass underneath the majestic Golden Gate Bridge on the 27-mile trip out to the islands. A crew of trained naturalists accompany each voyage, and will stop at the first sign of water spouts on the 5- to 6-hour trips.
 
For more information on the different tours offered, call tel. 415/331-6267 or visit www.sfbaywhalewatching.com.
 
Quack! Splash!
 
San Francisco Duck Tours—those weird-looking amphibian cars that drive around the city and then plunk into the bay for a water tour—have absolutely no historical importance or redeeming value. Oh well; judging by the grinning masses sitting inside blowing their duck whistles, no one seems to care. Try a tour on one, especially if you have kids in tow. 2766 Taylor St. (at Jefferson St.): tel. 877/887-8225; www. sanfranciscoducks.com; $35 adults, $25 kids (4-17).
 
GoCar Tours of San Francisco
If the thought of walking up and down San Francisco's brutally steep streets has you sweating already, consider renting a talking GoCar instead. The tiny yellow three-wheeled convertible cars are easy and fun to drive and they're cleverly guided by a talking GPS, which means that the car always knows where you are, even if you don’t. The most popular computer-guided tour is a 2-hour loop around the Fisherman's Wharf area, out to the Marina District, through Golden Gate Park, and down Lombard Street, the "crookedest street in the world." As you drive, the talking car tells you where to turn and what landmarks you’re passing. Even if you stop to check something out, as soon as you turn your GoCar back on, the tour picks up where it left off. Or you can just cruise around wherever you want (but not across the Golden Gate Bridge). There’s a lockable trunk for your things, and the small size makes parking a breeze. Keep in mind, this isn’t a Ferrari—two adults on a long, steep hill may involve one of you walking (or pushing). You can rent a GoCar for 1 hour (standard GoCar: $54; Sport GoCar: $59), or for as long as you want (every hour after the first is $44/hr., prorated in 15-min. increments. If you have the car for 5 hours, you’ll be charged the day rate of $200!). You’ll have to wear a helmet, and you must be a licensed driver at least 18 years old. GoCar has two rental locations: at Fisherman’s Wharf (431 Beach St.), and Union Square (321 Mason St.). For more information call tel. 800/91-GOCAR (46227) or 415/441-5695, or log onto their website at www.gocartours.com.
 
Eating Out
The restaurant scene in San Francisco is, quite simply, explosive. The new places, hot spots and exciting things to check out don’t and won’t stop coming. It’s too much for locals to keep track of, not to mention out-of-town visitors (fortunately you have the weekly tablehopper column to keep you posted). So where should you go to try the newest kid on the block? Here’s our handy guide of places that will be positively on fire.
 
Azalina's Malaysian (1355 Market St.)
Some of the best flavor-packed food around can be found at Azalina’s Malaysian pop-ups and stand at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Now, chef and owner Azalina Eusope has landed her first brick-and-mortar location in the Twitter (Market Square) building in the buzzy Central Market neighborhood. Eusope’s food has always stood out for its unique flavors and inventive style, so this is sure to be an exciting development for the neighborhood and the city. www.azalinas.com/  
 
Cockscomb (564 Fourth St.)
Chris Cosentino, Top Chef Masters and Iron Chef contestant and local restaurateur, made news last year when he and his partners closed their famed whole animal–focused Incanto in Noe Valley. But he’s just opened a new project in SoMa, called Cockscomb. It’s got everything you want: a wood-fired oven, raw bar, platters of meat you can share (pig’s head, anyone?), a killer grilled cheese sandwich with truffles and cocktails, too. And the place has a cool artsy-industrial look. http://cockscombsf.com/
 
Liholiho Yacht Club (871 Sutter St.)
Local industry darling Ravi Kapur’s pop-up LIholiho Yacht Club was one of the hottest tickets in town whenever he made an appearance. Now he’s taking his flavor-packed Hawaiian- and Asian-inspired cuisine to a brick-and-mortar location near lower Nob Hill and it is sure to draw the same crowds now that it has opened. There are great cocktails at the full bar, too. www.liholihoyachtclub.com/
 
The Perennial (59 Ninth St.)
Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz, the team behind local ventures Mission Chinese Food and Commonwealth, have a new (and ambitious) project opening in SoMa in early September. It’s called The Perennial and is looking at sustainability in a vertically integrated way. They’ll be utilizing hydroponics, perennial farming and energy efficiency in the restaurant’s operation as well as in the production of ingredients. They’re paving the way with this one. http://www.theperennialsf.com
 
The Progress (1525 Fillmore St.)
The second restaurant from Nicole Krasinski and Stuart Brioza, The Progress, opened to much fanfare in late 2014. If the buzz it created upon opening and the high regard for their debut State Bird Provisions is any indication, there is no doubt that The Progress will be one of the hopping-est joints around this coming year—reservations are already hard to snag. The family-style banquet format is a fun way to dine; go with a group if possible.  http://theprogress-sf.com/
 
Mourad (140 New Montgomery)
Mourad Lahlou brought modern Moroccan cuisine to new heights with Aziza, albeit in the sleepy Outer Richmond. With his newest project which opened in January 2015, Mourad, he’s bringing his food to SoMa, in modern new digs with a similar take on North African cuisine via California. http://mouradsf.com/
 
Hawker Fare (680 Valencia St.)
Oakland chef James Syhabout has, until this year, kept all of his restaurants in the East Bay, where he’s built a bit of an empire. But his original, Hawker Fare, moved west in early 2015 to the busy Valencia Street corridor. His exceptional and reasonably priced Thai dishes are sure to be a hit here in San Francisco. http://www.hawkerfare.com/
 
AL's Place (1499 Valencia St.)
Aaron London got a lot of attention when he helmed all-vegetarian Ubuntu in Napa, though it closed in 2011 and London has been rather quiet since. Not anymore. In early 2015 he opened a restaurant in the Mission. It’s called AL’s Place and though it will celebrate and highlight vegetable cookery, he will also offer seafood and meat dishes. www.alsplacesf.com
 
China Live (644–660 Broadway St.)
Chinatown is getting a huge new project in 2015 called China Live, from a team of partners including George Chen. The complex will clock in at over 20,000 square feet and is often compared to New York’s Eataly. It will include lots of interactive activities, vendors and a fine dining restaurant upstairs called Eight Tables. For lots of details and renderings. http://www.chinalivesf.com/
 
Tartine Bakery (18th St. at Alabama)
Tartine Bakery has gained national attention for its superlative baked goods and equally exceptional lines to buy them. The famed bakery has recently opened another Mission location in the most artisanal of spaces. They’ve taken over part of the large building that also houses the Heath Ceramics factory and warehouse and a Blue Bottle Coffee stand. The 5,000-square-foot space will be quite the destination with a restaurant, guest bakers and chefs, classes, and lots of other exciting happenings to be revealed later this year. http://www.tartinebakery.com/
 
PIER 39 is a 45-acre waterfront complex that is a gathering place for millions of San Francisco locals and visitors. In addition to its 14 full-service restaurants, 90+ shops and popular attractions, PIER 39 is home to a 5-acre waterfront park and a 300-berth marina. PIER 39 is known for its spectacular views of San Francisco Bay including the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge and Alcatraz, as well as the world famous California sea lions hauled out on K-Dock. http://www.pier39.com/
 
 
Shopping
San Francisco is a little like a consignment shop itself—if you look in the corners and do a little digging, you’re bound to find treasures. As diverse as the clientele itself, shopping options represent every style, era, fetish, and financial status here—not in sprawling shopping malls, but scattered throughout the city in the unique neighborhood boutiques. Whether it’s a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes, a Chanel knockoff, or Chinese herbal medicine you’re looking for, San Francisco’s got it. Just pick a shopping neighborhood, wear some sensible shoes, and you’re sure to end up with at least a few take-home treasures.
 
San Francisco has many shopping areas, but here’s where you’ll find most of the action.
 
Union Square & Environs -- San Francisco’s most congested and popular shopping mecca is centered on Union Square and bordered by Bush, Taylor, Market, and Montgomery streets. Most of the big department stores and many high-end specialty shops are here, including Bloomingdales (at 4th and Market sts.), Brooks Brothers (Post St. at Grant Ave.), Macy’s (at Stockton and O’Farrell), Neiman Marcus (at Stockton and Geary), and Nordstrom (Market at 5th sts.). Be sure to venture to Grant Avenue, Post and Sutter streets, and Maiden Lane. This area is a hub for public transportation; all Market Street and several other buses run here, as do the Powell–Hyde and Powell–Mason cable car lines. You can also take the Muni streetcar to the Powell Street station.
 
Chinatown -- When you pass through the gate to Chinatown on Grant Avenue, say goodbye to the world of fashion and hello to a swarm of cheap tourist shops selling everything from linen and jade to plastic toys and $2 slippers. But that’s not all Chinatown has to offer. The real gems are tucked away on side streets or are small, one-person shops selling Chinese herbs, original art, and jewelry. Grant Avenue is the area’s main thoroughfare, and the side streets between Bush Street and Columbus Avenue are full of restaurants, markets, and eclectic shops. Stockton Street is best for food shopping (including live fowl and fish) and walking is the way to get around, because traffic through this area is slow and parking is next to impossible. Most stores in Chinatown are open longer hours than in the rest of the city (see box), from about 10am to 10pm. Take bus no. 1, 9X, 15, 30, 41, or 45.
 
Jackson Square -- A historic district just north of the Financial District’s Embarcadero Center, this is the place to go for the top names in fine furniture and fine art. More than a dozen dealers on the 2 blocks between Columbus and Sansome streets specialize in European furnishings from the 17th to the 19th centuries. And here you’ll encounter earlier than usual with most shops only open Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm and Saturday from 11am to 4pm. Bus: 1, 3, 8, or 10.
 
Union Street -- Union Street, from Fillmore Street to Van Ness Avenue, caters to the upper-middle-class crowd. It’s a great place to stroll, window-shop the plethora of boutiques, try the cafes and restaurants, and watch the beautiful people parade by. Take bus no. 22, 41, 45, 47, 49, or 76.
 
Chestnut Street -- Parallel and a few blocks north, Chestnut Street is a younger version of Union Street. It holds plenty of shopping and dining choices, and an ever-tanned, superfit population of postgraduate singles who hang around cafes and scope each other out. Take bus no. 22, 28, 30, 43, or 76.
 
Fillmore Street -- Some of the best boutique clothing shopping in town is packed into 5 blocks of Fillmore Street in Pacific Heights. From Jackson to Sutter streets, Fillmore is the perfect place to grab a bite and peruse the high-priced boutiques, crafts shops, and contemporary housewares stores. (Don’t miss Zinc Details.) Take bus no. 1, 2, 3, 4, 12, 22, or 24.
 
Haight Street -- Green hair, spiked hair, no hair, or mohair—even the hippies look conservative next to Haight Street’s dramatic fashionistas. The shopping in the 6 blocks of upper Haight Street between Central Avenue and Stanyan Street reflects its clientele. It offers everything from incense and European and American street styles to furniture and antique clothing. Bus nos. 6, 7, 66, and 71 run the length of Haight Street, and nos. 33 and 43 run through upper Haight Street. The Muni streetcar N-line stops at Waller Street and Cole Street.
 
SoMa -- Although this area isn’t suitable for strolling, you’ll find almost all the discount shopping in warehouse spaces south of Market. You can pick up a discount-shopping guide at most major hotels. Many bus lines pass through this area.
 
Hayes Valley -- While most neighborhoods cater to more conservative or trendy shoppers, the few blocks of lower Hayes Street, between Octavia and Gough streets, celebrate all things vintage, chic, artistic, and contemporary. It’s definitely the most interesting shopping area in town, with furniture and glass stores, modern furniture shops, trendy shoe stores, and men’s and women’s clothiers. You can find lots of great antiques shops south on Octavia Street and on nearby Market Street. Take bus no. 16AX, 16BX, or 21.
 
The Mission -- Where Mexican wrestler masks meet new-age apothecaries meet trendy boutiques, the Mission offers an eclectic mix perfect for some entertaining browsing. In just the last few years a treasure trove of fashionable and funky stores have popped up on 16th and 17th streets in the Mission, as well as along Valencia Avenue. Find Mexican trinkets, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) paraphernalia, designer lotions and herbal remedies, trendy fashions, locally designed jewelry, funky art and home decor, and even taxidermy—all in the same quarter-mile stretch. Bus: 12, 14, 22, or 49.
 
Just the Facts: Hours, Taxes & Shipping
Store hours are generally Monday through Saturday from 10am to 6pm and Sunday from noon to 5pm. Most department stores stay open later, as do shops around Fisherman’s Wharf, the most heavily visited area (by tourists).
 
Sales tax in San Francisco is 9.5%, which is added on at the register. If you live out of state and buy an expensive item, you might want to have the store ship it home for you. You'll have to pay for shipping, but you'll escape paying the sales tax.Most of the city's shops can wrap your purchase and ship it anywhere in the world. If they can't, you can send it yourself, either through UPS (tel. 800/742-5877), FedEx (tel. 800/463-3339), or the U.S. Postal Service.
 
Amazing Grazing: The Ferry Building
 As much a sightseeing attraction as a place to buy and consume food, the Ferry Building Marketplace and its corollary Farmers' Market (one of the most highly acclaimed farmers’ markets in the United States) are tangible proof that people who live in San Francisco lead tastier lives than the rest of the nation (sorry, but it’s true!). The produce looks like it was taken from a still-life painting (it’s organic and sourced from small family farms), the meats and fish are super-fresh and the quality and variety of specialty goods—many of which you may never have encountered before (who knew balsamic vinegar is sometimes clear!)—will blow your mind.
 
Saturday morning is the best time to stop by, as the farmer’s market is in its full glory, playing host to local meat ranchers, artisan cheese makers, bread bakers, specialty food purveyors, and farmers. Some are picked for the 10:30am Meet the Farmer event, a half-hour interview created to give the audience in-depth information about how and where their food is produced. At 11am, Bay Area chefs give cooking demonstrations using ingredients purchased that morning from the market. (And yes, tastings are given out, as are recipes.) Several local restaurants also have food stalls selling their cuisine—including breakfast items—so don’t eat before you arrive.
 
The Marketplace is open daily and features Northern California’s best gourmet food outlets including Cowgirl Creamery’s Artisan Cheese Shop, Recchiuti Confections (amazing chocolate), Acme Breads, Hog Island Oysters, famed Vietnamese restaurant the Slanted Door, Imperial Tea Court (where you’ll be taught the traditional Chinese way to steep and sip your tea), and a myriad of other restaurants, delis, gourmet coffee shops, specialty foods, and wine bars.
 
The Ferry Building Marketplace is open Monday through Friday from 10am to 6pm, Saturday from 9am to 6pm, and Sunday from 11am to 5pm. The Farmers' Market takes place year-round, rain or shine, every Tuesday and Thursday from 10am to 2pm and Saturday 8am to 2pm. The Ferry Building is located on the Embarcadero at the foot of Market Street (about a 15-min. walk from Fisherman’s Wharf). Call tel. 415/693-0996 for more information or log onto www.ferryplazafarmersmarket.com or www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com.
 
Shopping Centers & Complexes
Crocker Galleria -- Modeled after Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, this glass-domed, three-level pavilion, about 3 blocks east of Union Square, features around 40 high-end shops with expensive and classic designer creations. Fashions include Aricie lingerie, Gianni Versace, and Polo/Ralph Lauren. Closed Sunday. 50 Post St. (at Kearny St.). tel. 415/393-1505. http://thecrockgalleria.com/shop/.
 
Ghirardelli Square -- This former chocolate factory is one of the city’s quaintest shopping malls and most popular landmarks. Though now dotted with tourist-centric shops, and is best known as the former chocolate and spice factory of Domingo Ghirardelli (say “Gear-ar-dell-y”), it actually dates back to 1864, when it served as a factory making Civil War uniforms. A clock tower, an exact replica of the one at France’s Château de Blois, crowns the complex. Inside the tower, on the mall’s plaza level, is its most popular attraction—the fun yet pricey Ghirardelli soda fountain. It still makes and sells small amounts of chocolate, but the big draw is the old-fashioned ice-cream parlor. Stores range from a children’s club to a perfumery, cards and stationery to a doggie boutique. The main plaza shops’ and restaurants’ hours are 10am to 6pm Sunday through Thursday and 10am to 9pm Friday and Saturday, with extended hours during the summer, and the square has free Wi-Fi. 900 North Point St. (at Polk St.) tel. 415/775-5500. www.ghirardellisq.com.
 
Pier 39 -- To residents Pier 39 is an expensive spot where out-of-towners buy souvenirs and greasy fast food. But it does have some redeeming qualities—fresh crab (when in season), stunning views, playful sea lions, fun street performers, and plenty of fun for the kids. If you want to get to know the real San Francisco, skip the cheesy T-shirt shops and limit your time here to one afternoon, if that. Located at Beach St. and the Embarcadero.
 
Westfield San Francisco Centre -- This ritzy 1.5-million-square-foot urban shopping center is one of the few vertical malls (multilevel rather than sprawling) in the United States. Its most attractive feature is a spectacular atrium with a century-old dome that’s 102 feet wide and three stories high. Along with Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s department stores and a Century Theatres multiplex, there are more than 170 specialty stores, including Abercrombie & Fitch, Zara, H&M, bebe, Juicy Couture, J. Crew, and Movado. The bottom level is sprinkled with probably the best food-court fare you’ve ever had (don’t miss the amazing array of grab-and-go eats at Bristol Farms grocery store). 865 Market St. (at Fifth St.) tel. 415/512-6776. www.westfield.com/sanfrancisco.

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