San Francisco

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

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Best Wine Bar

 Best Taqueria 
The food at La Taqueria (2889 Mission St., 415-285-7117) in the city's Latino Mission District is as fresh and authentic as it gets north of the border. This no-nonsense, homey eatery features simple wooden tables with leather benches and tile floors surrounded by walls of painted murals. Locals line up for homemade tortillas filled with grilled steak or chicken, marinated and simmered with tomatoes and chiles and topped off with fresh zesty salsas. Wash it all down with one of their agua frescas -- fresh fruit drinks that marry well with the piquant food.

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

 Best-Kept Secret 
Most visitors to Chinatown come to eat or shop. Too bad they bypass the area's historic temples, which are well worth a trip for their architecture and serene ambience. Founded in 1853, the Tin Hou Temple (125 Waverly Place; no phone) houses an incense-infused sanctuary decorated in traditional black, red, and gold lacquered woods. Dedicated to the goddess of heaven, the temple is open to the public for prayer and meditation. Just around the corner, the Kong Chow Temple (855 Stockton St.; no phone) offers a balcony from which to observe bustling Stockton Street and the bay. To learn even more about Chinatown's history or culinary traditions, join local 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 (601 Vallejo St., 415-392-6739) is a cozy spot to linger over a cappuccino in North Beach, the city's lively Italian neighborhood. Open for nearly 50 years, Trieste still embodies the bohemian spirit of the beatnik generation that took root here in the 1950s. Today, opera music wafts from the jukebox, and patrons can sit for hours with a book and a cup of coffee. Trieste also sells its aromatic beans by the bag -- a great souvenir or gift.

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

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