Thayer Allyson Gowdy

Follow our insider's guide to exploring cafes, coffeehouses, and Chinatown.

Text By Allison Serrell / Photography by Thayer Allyson Gowdy
August 14, 2008

If ever there was a city made for walking, San Francisco is it.Whether up, down, or around its hills, you can hardly go wrong withany direction you choose. And all that exercise makes indulging ineveryday pleasures a pastime of choice. Think custom lattes at thecorner java joint, catching fly balls at Pacific Bell Park, andferry rides across the sparkling bay. Top it off with a memorablemeal and wine at a neighborhood cafe, and you'll be ready to gonative.

Best Alfresco Act
A beloved Bay Area tradition since 1938, the Stern GroveFestival (19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard, 415-252-6252) drawsthousands of fans for free classical, jazz, and ethnic musicconcerts every Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m., mid-June through August.Performances, which range from the San Francisco Ballet to thesizzling Latin sounds of Los Lobos, take place in a lush meadowsurrounded by eucalyptus, redwood, and fir trees which serves as anatural amphitheater. Bring lunch and a blanket or reserve one ofthe shaded picnic tables. And to make a day of it, enjoy a pre- orpostconcert hike through the park's wooded trails.

Best Reason to Get Wet
Sailboats dominate San Francisco's stunning harbor, but oneof the best ways to get out on the water is in a kayak. For agentle ride around the Golden Gate Bridge, catch up with Sea Trek(Schoonmaker Point, Sausalito, 415-488-1000; $65 for a half-dayride). You'll paddle the five-mile-long waterfront of RichardsonBay. Watch harbor seals, cormorants, pelicans, and herons play asyou check out Sausalito's houseboats, which flaunt a funkyhodgepodge of architectural styles.

Best Farmers' Market
The Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market (Embarcadero and Greenstreets, Saturdays 8 a.m.-1:30 p.m.) holds near-religious statusamong the San Francisco food cognoscenti. Diehards show up justafter dawn to buy fresh produce and meats. How to begin a morningvisit? Wrap your hands around a steaming cup of café au laitand then stroll among the stalls, which overflow with edibledelights. Bundles of fresh herbs and flowers perfume the air; flatsof berries glimmer in the sunlight. Sampling is encouraged, so trysome of the artisanal cheeses or just-baked breads.

Best Sweet Spot
Linger over lunch or dinner at the modern industrial - styledCitizen Cake Cafe (399 Grove St., 415-861-2228) in Hayes Valley.While pizzas and salads make for tasty noontime options anddinnertime brings heartier fare, the cafe's real draw comes at theend of the meal, when diners can enjoy splurges like individualmolten chocolate cakes, freshly made granitas, or mojitoparfaits.

Best Japanese Day Spa
After trekking the formidable San Francisco hills, findrelief for aching muscles at Kabuki Springs and Spa (1750 GearyBlvd., 415-922-6000), an Asian-inspired day spa with a calming Zenatmosphere. A typical visit starts with a soak in theJapanese-style hot pool followed by a steam, sauna, cold plunge, orshower. Follow that with a shiatsu massage or a facial or bodytreatment. Kabuki provides bath products, chilled cucumber facecloths, and freshly brewed tea.


A popular neighborhood restaurant and wine bar, Eos (901 ColeSt., 415-566-3063) is celebrated among locals as much for its winelist as for its sparkling Asian fusion cooking. Eos offers winesfrom around the world, with a special emphasis on little-knownCalifornian and Alsatian vintages, which complement dishes likeThai-spiced grilled bread salad and tea-smoked Peking duck breast.Diners can choose from among 400 bottles, or taste up to 40selections by the glass. Wine flights, priced at $18 - $50, offerspecial tastings from a particular region, winery, or importer.

Best Wine Bar

Best Taqueria
The food at La Taqueria (2889 Mission St., 415-285-7117) inthe city's Latino Mission District is as fresh and authentic as itgets north of the border. This no-nonsense, homey eatery featuressimple wooden tables with leather benches and tile floorssurrounded by walls of painted murals. Locals line up for homemadetortillas filled with grilled steak or chicken, marinated andsimmered with tomatoes and chiles and topped off with fresh zestysalsas. Wash it all down with one of their agua frescas -- freshfruit drinks that marry well with the piquant food.

Best Day Trip
Head out on a breezy ferry ride (Blue and Gold Fleet, Pier 41and 41 1?2, 415-773-1188; $10.50 round-trip) across the bay toAngel Island, a federal and state wildlife refuge that is thelargest of San Francisco Bay's islands. Cars are not permitted onthis hilly grass- and forest-covered island, which served as animmigration station from 1910 to 1940. Miles of hiking trails leadto the peak of Mount Caroline Livermore, from which you can lookback across the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. This is also awonderful spot for wildlife viewing: Deer graze on the island, andan abundance of waterfowl feed offshore.

Best-Kept Secret
Most visitors to Chinatown come to eat or shop. Too bad theybypass the area's historic temples, which are well worth a trip fortheir architecture and serene ambience. Founded in 1853, the TinHou Temple (125 Waverly Place; no phone) houses an incense-infusedsanctuary decorated in traditional black, red, and gold lacqueredwoods. Dedicated to the goddess of heaven, the temple is open tothe public for prayer and meditation. Just around the corner, theKong Chow Temple (855 Stockton St.; no phone) offers a balcony fromwhich to observe bustling Stockton Street and the bay. To learneven more about Chinatown's history or culinary traditions, joinlocal Shirley Fong-Torres on a guided Wok Wiz walking tour ( www.wokwiz.com;415-981-8989). Book in advance, though; the tours fill up fast.

Best Java Joint
Famous for its full-bodied Italian coffee, Caffe Trieste (601Vallejo St., 415-392-6739) is a cozy spot to linger over acappuccino in North Beach, the city's lively Italian neighborhood.Open for nearly 50 years, Trieste still embodies the bohemianspirit of the beatnik generation that took root here in the 1950s.Today, opera music wafts from the jukebox, and patrons can sit forhours with a book and a cup of coffee. Trieste also sells itsaromatic beans by the bag -- a great souvenir or gift.

Best Urban Trek
San Francisco is a city of hills and neighborhoods, the mostscenic of which can be conquered on a challenging urban trek. For apicturesque climb within the city, hike up the famed 377 FilbertStreet steps. (Begin at Filbert and Sansome streets.) You'll wendyour way through historic Telegraph Hill, a residential area withlush gardens and 19th-century cottages. The climb leads to apanoramic summit at Coit Tower, a monument decorated with richlycolored murals created in the 1930s. Allison Serrell is a SanFrancisco - based writer whose articles have appeared in Health,Country Home, and Modern Bride.

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