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San Francisco is a centrally located metropolis in Northern California's Bay Area. From within, San Francisco boasts an assortment of diverse districts and cultures that come together to create a variety of urban sites and attractions. From The Mission's Latino-based community and its colorful collection of restaurants and markets to the Asian-infused populous comprising the Japan and Chinatowns to Leidesdorff Street in the Financial District, named for the African-American businessman responsible for building the city's first hotel, there's plenty to discover and enjoy.

Rich in history for producing such landmarks as the Golden Gate Bridge and the fabled cable cars, which still run on select routes originally mapped out over a hundred years before, San Francisco has long been one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
San Francisco has a temperate marine climate and enjoys mild weather year-round. Fog rolls in during the morning and evening in the summer, but it doesn't stay long. Bring a light jacket, since the average high is only 62 F and seldom rises above 70 F, while the average low is 51 F and it is known to get breezy by the bay.

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The Cable Car Museum (1201 Mason St.; 415-474-1887; www.cablecarmuseum.org) gives an historical view of the importance of the cable car to San Francisco and a look into the daily operations of today's system. On display are mechanical devices such as grips, track, cable, brake mechanisms, tools, detailed models, and a large collection of historic photographs. The museum also houses three antique cable cars from the 1870s. Admission is free.

Within a two-hour drive from the city, visitors can witness the Old Faithful Geyser (1299 Tubbs Ln.; Calistoga; 707-942-6463; www.oldfaithfulgeyser.com) during one of its daily eruptions approximately every 30 minutes. One of three famous geysers in the world, Old Faithful's source is supplied by an underground river while hot molten magma provides the heat that together force the super-heated water and vapor to erupt skyward anywhere from 60 to 100 feet through fractures in the ground. Take a self-guided tour of the park or visit exhibit hall for more on the history of Old Faithful. Open year-round.
Zeum is a visual, performing and media arts center for young people and their families. Experience amazing hands-on fun and explore multimedia arts and technology. Zeum is located on the corner of Fourth and Howard Streets on the rooftop of Yerba Buena Gardens, which itself features an ice skating rink, bowling center and original 1906 carousel. For more information visit www.zeum.org or call (415)820-3320.

The city's popular Pier 39 is home to Aquarium of the Bay (The Embarcadero at Beach St.; 415-623-5300; www.aquariumofthebay.com) which offers visitors a "window to the bay" to explore the diverse aquatic life of the San Francisco Bay and its surrounding waters. The four-part journey includes see-through tunnels to "walk" among the marine life and touch pools for up close and personal encounters. It's a memorable and fun-for-all-ages experience. Children under three are admitted free.
Housed within the walls of San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts, the Exploratorium (3601 Lyon St.; 415-397-5673; www.exploratorium.com) features more than 650 art, science and interactive technology exhibits. Contributions from visual performing artists via films, 3-D collages and live theater ensure visitors an educational and true-to-life experience.

One of the oldest continuously performing theaters in the Bay Area is Lamplighters Music Theatre (469 Bryant St.; 415-227-4797; www.lamplighters.org). The only year-round musical theater company in San Francisco, they are known for producing the entire Gilbert and Sullivan canon as well as classics like The Merry Widow, Die Fledermaus and My Fair Lady. Lamplighters has been a theatrical production and cultural cornerstone in the city for more than 50 years.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (151 3rd St.; 415-357-4000; www.sfmoma.org) features a collection of nearly 6,000 paintings, drawings and sculpture, including pieces by Picasso, Matisse, Warhol, Calder, and other masters. Walk through the exhibit of 20th Century Photography or head to the Koret Center for some in-depth learning with a self-guided headphone tour and artist lectures.
City Kayak (Pier 40, South Beach Harbor; 415-357-1010; www.citykayak.com) allows visitors to explore the city from the bay and features spectacular sunset and skyline views. Choose guided or unguided trips from a number of pre-arranged tours including a City Kayak Tour along a scenic water route, Full Moon Kayaking with magnificent night views, or for slightly more advanced paddlers, there's the Alcatraz and Golden Gate Bridge tour under the bridge or around the island. Baseball fans can try to shag one in the infamous McCovey Cove just beyond the right field wall of PacBell Park, home of the San Francisco Giants.

Bike and Roll (899 Columbus Ave.; 415-229-2000; www.bicyclerental.com) does bicycle rentals and tours throughout the city. Go solo or ride with a guide through parks, across the bay, through challenging terrains, and along scenic trails on rugged, built-to-last bikes by name brands like Quality Trek, Klein and Fisher. Ride across the Golden Gate and back or return by ferry. Group tours and discounts are available. Riding maps detailing the top attractions and best routes are provided free.

Located on the Rooftop at Yerba Buena Gardens near the Zeum complex is the Yerba Buena Ice Skating and Bowling Center (750 Folsom St.; 415-820-3521; www.skatebowl.com) which offers public skating and bowling for individuals or groups. Lessons are available. Discounts are given for groups of 10 or more with advance reservation.
San Francisco's seaside location along with its many citywide attractions make it a popular destination for tourists who will also find more than 3,500 restaurants and more than 30,000 hotel rooms to suit every taste and budget.

Renowned for its beauty and panoramic city and bay views, Mandarin Oriental (222 Sansome St.; 415-276-9888; www.mandarinoriental.com), located in San Francisco's third tallest building, is located in the heart of the city within walking distance of Union Square and many famous landmarks. Guests are greeted by a beautiful black marble lobby before choosing from among the hotel's rooms and suites all bathed in sophisticated décor with accents of Asia. Dine in style at Silks, featuring flavors of the Pacific Rim combined with traditional Californian, or unwind for an afternoon tea or evening cocktail in The Mandarin Lounge.

The Argonaut Hotel (495 Jefferson St. at Hyde, Fisherman's Wharf; 415-563-0800; www.argonauthotel.com) is an unusual mixture of hotel and museum space, with 10,000-square-feet of the Maritime National Historical Park's Visitor's Center on the ground floor. The four-story, timber-and-brick landmark structure, built in 1907, houses 900 square feet of nautical-themed rooms and 13 suites many of which offer exceptional views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island. Accommodations are first-class at this luxury Kimpton Boutique Hotel in the heart of Fisherman's Wharf.
San Francisco and the Bay Area offer visitors a premier shopping experience beginning with the popular Pier 39 (Beach and Embarcadero streets; 415-705-5500; www.pier39.com). This two-level, 45-acre complex houses a marina filled with lounging sea lions and exquisite bay views, and features a festival marketplace with unique shops and restaurants, including The Cable Car Store, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Houdini's Magic Shop, and Treasure Ireland, as well as numerous games and attractions.

One mile west of Union Square visitors can experience all the sights, sounds and tastes of Asia on this side of the Pacific in San Francisco's historic Japantown and Chinatown.

With a history dating to the early 1860s, Japantown continues to thrive and expand its community. Highlighted by the Japan Center, which stretches three blocks outlined by Post and Fillmore streets, it's home to a variety of antiques and craft shops, art galleries, bookstores, restaurants, hotels, theaters, Japanese baths, and Karaoke bars.

Beginning with a dragon-crested gate at Grant Ave. and Bush St., crowded streets, bustling markets and busy restaurants mark San Francisco's Chinatown, the largest and most commercial in North America. With origins dating from the 1850s, it's a 24-block version of the real thing condensed into a community of pagoda-roofed buildings, Buddhist temples and shops aplenty.

Ghirardelli Square (900 N. Point St.; 415-775-5500; www.ghirardellisq.com) is most famous for its years as a chocolate factory beginning in 1893. In 1964 Ghirardelli Square became the country's first manufacturing complex renovated into a festival marketplace. In addition to fabulous views of the bay, landscaped gardens and a self-guided historic walking tour, it boasts more than 50 shops and award-winning restaurants. Be sure to request a Ghirardelli Square visitor discount pass for special offers and free chocolate.
Located in the heart of San Francisco's old Fillmore District, the Boom Boom Room (1601 Fillmore St.; 415-673-8000; www.boomboomblues.com) offers guests a sultry, swanky evening of Blues, groove and soul seven nights a week. Boogie down to the dance floor and soak in the sound, or sip a cocktail and lounge out in the low-lighted and hip atmosphere of this downtown staple.

The San Francisco Visitor Information Center (900 Market St., corner of Powell; http://onlysf.sfvisitor.org), operated by the San Francisco Convention and Visitor's Bureau, provides service and information in a variety of languages including Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Japanese. Their 24-hour special event and activities hotline is available by calling (415) 391-2001.

For travel values, the San Francisco City Pass features a book of discount admission tickets for attractions like the Blue and Gold Fleet Bay Cruise, Exploratorium, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and more. Also included is a week of unlimited cable car rides and public transportation (www.citypass.com).

The Go San Francisco Card allows access to more than 30 of San Francisco's top attractions, savings at shops and restaurants, savings on day tours and services, a personal guidebook, and more. Visit www.sfvisitor.org for more details.

Ana Mandara

A favorite celebrity haunt is the beautiful Ana Mandara in Ghirardelli Square. The sprouting foliage, grand curving staircase, expansive high ceilings, multi-tiered dining room, and gorgeous upstairs bar will make you feel like you've just stepped into Indonesia. But warm ambience and decor shouldn't distract you from your main purpose-the exquisite dining. A menu of modern Vietnamese cuisine with French accents includes delicacies such as spiced Mekong basa fish. Close out with crispy mango spring rolls with coconut or imported Vietnamese coffee or tea.

Ana Mandara
891 Beach St., Ghirardelli Square
(415) 771-6800
www.anamandara.com


Andalu

Those who care to make the trek to the trendy Mission District will find a number of noteworthy restaurants including the Iberian-oriented Andalu. The eclectic, ever-changing tapas-style menu, with dishes such as crisp-sauteed skate with garlic mashed potatoes, green salad with duck confit and hot polenta fries with a tomato dipping sauce, is perfect for sharing. The restaurant, open for dinner only, is long and narrow and is generally crowded and noisy, just the way you'd expect of some of the more fashionable and festive places.

Andalu
3198 16th St.
(415) 621-2211

www.andalusf.com


Chez Panisse

Those looking for an unforgettable dining experience should head to nearby Berkeley to partake of Alice Waters' famous cuisine at Chez Panisse. There are actually two restaurants set on two floors here and both are excellent. Downstairs is a more formal experience with one prix-fixe menu that changes daily and increases in price toward the weekend. The upstairs cafe is more casual with a variety of food and lower prices. Waters is famous for making simple dishes with the freshest ingredients available. Try penne with arugula and sheep's milk cheese, fresh figs or sliced tomatoes in vinegar. Reservations are a must for downstairs and waits can be quite long for the cafe.

Chez Panisse
1517 Shattuck Ave.
Berkeley
(510) 548-5525

www.chezpanisse.com


Coda

If you are in the mood for a little jazz, a fun atmosphere and casual, eclectic dining, head right to Coda, a supper club located at the edge of the Mission District. The menu is filled with American fare, appetizers to please and enough variety to keep everyone happy. Locals come here for the excellent local wines, which are half price from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and the great nightly jazz. There isn’t a bad seat in the house, which consists of a high, wood-beamed ceiling and slate floors, to enjoy the music and the cuisine.

Coda
1710 Mission St.
(415)551-2632

www.codalive.com


Foreign Cinema

Foreign Cinema was one of the first places to attract visitors to the Mission district. There is some very good California/Mediterranean bistro cuisine on the menu and delicious foreign and independent film classics being screened in the courtyard. Sit in the large dining room or at a communal table in the courtyard where drive-in movie speakers have been set near the tables. Chefs John Clark and Gayle Pirie have done wonders with the menu. Chances are good you won't even miss the popcorn.

Foreign Cinema
2534 Mission St.
(415) 648-7600

www.foreigncinema.com


Gary Danko

Restaurant Gary Danko is living proof that San Francisco's high-end dining experience is alive and well. Danko, who has won nearly every top chef's award since opening his upscale eatery, continues to create prix fixe menus that promise to make an evening here sublime. Scallop mousse, juniper spiced venison, roast lobster, and a decadent chocolate souffle are some examples of what's in store. Dress up for this special occasion restaurant. Make reservations far in advance; it's a sure bet everyone else did.

Gary Danko
800 North Point
(415) 749-2060

www.garydanko.com


Jardiniere

Whenever you reserve tickets to the San Francisco Opera House, make a pre- or post-performance dinner at Jardiniere part of your plans. This Traci Des Jardins restaurant has been famous for a long time and may be absolutely packed in the hour or so before the opera begins. Crispy chicken with applewood bacon, foie gras terrine, venison chop, and a very complex cheese plate are some of this well-known chef's specialties. The decor is playful with an avant garde curvaceous design and wavy iron railings. A jazz trio plays during prime dinner hours.

Jardiniere
300 Grove St.
(415) 861-5555
www.jardiniere.com


Masa's

Masa's sexy floor to ceiling white, gauzy drapes, red Chinese silk lanterns and white leather chairs offer visitors a tasteful and vibrant atmosphere in preparation for a positively pleasant dining experience. The highly regarded team, featuring executive chef Gregory Short and master sommelier Alan Murray, create Masa's blend of French and Mediterranean cuisine with a Californian kick. Masa features tasting menus that may include such favorites as chilled Maine crab, duck leg confit, or the vegetarian stylings of Ronde de Nice and Cepe "Mille Feuille." In all, it's superb food in a setting that is more exciting than ever.

Masa's
Hotel Vintage Court
648 Bush St.
(415) 989-7154

www.masasrestaurant.com


One Market

One Market offers upscale California cuisine at its finest, serving visitors cleverly presented plates and priceless scenery of the Bay Bridge from within the financial district. The New American fare emphasizes fresh fish and shellfish and products homegrown by local farmers and ranchers. Try to reserve a seat at the chef's table in the kitchen for a special tasting menu.

One Market
1 Market St.
(415) 777-5577

www.onemarket.com


Piperade

Owner/chef Gerald Hirigoyen warmly welcomes guests to this Basque inspired setting, where red, white and blue runners line each table, the oak floors shine and the menu encompasses authentic Basque food. Al fresco dining is available year-round at Piperade in a sheltered outdoor patio, a nice idea when weather permits. The Basque region, bordering France and Spain, is on display in the Basque classic dishes, which include braised veal sweetbreads with Madeira, seafood and shellfish soup (ttoro), duck confit with braised green lentils, and roasted pork tenderloin with braised cabbage and figs. There are plenty of fish dishes to enjoy in this comfortable, chic restaurant.

Piperade
1015 Battery Street
(415) 391-2555
www.piperade.com


Postrio Cafe and Bar

The Union Square icon Postrio was reinvented for its many fans in 2009 as the Postrio Cafe and Bar. The California cuisine with Mediterranean influences is served in elegant, low-key ambiance. Try the grilled baby octopus as a starter or the decadent macaroni and cheese made with five cheeses, pulled prosciutto and a Parmesan crust. The mains include a hickory smoked baby back rib dish or go for the signature wood-fired pizza—prosciutto and fig or smoked salmon with an Asian flair

Postrio
545 Post St.
(415) 776-7825
www.postrio.com


Slanted Door

The Slanted Door has a Vietnamese and Southeast Asia bent, and chef Charles Phan cooks up fresh spring rolls, green papaya salad, caramelized shrimp, and steamed bass cooked with just the right amount of spice. The dinner menu changes weekly to reflect the best seasonal offerings and to keep the cuisine as fresh as possible. The stunning Bay Area views and stylish, simple decor with a high-ceiling dining room and green-stained wood tables will make you feel as if you're dining in the tropics. Delicious!

Slanted Door
1 Ferry Plaza, #3
(415) 861-8032
www.slanteddoor.com





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