File photo of the Golden Gate Bridge
Andy Kuno  /  Reuters file
The Golden Gate Bridge, is seen from Fort Point. The distinctive nearly 2-mile-long bridge connects San Francisco to the Marin Headlands.
By
Special to msnbc.com
updated 7/31/2006 1:01:11 PM ET 2006-07-31T17:01:11

Songs have been written, movies made and books penned all about how darn perfect a city San Francisco is. From its sweeping bay views to gingerbread Victorian houses to absurdly angled streets it’s eye-candy of the highest order. Add to that a world-class restaurant and shopping scene and you have the one city in the US that we’d all probably move to…if the real estate market there weren’t such a sick joke (sure, why not rent a 450 square foot studio for $1400 per month?!). In 24-hours you’ll get a small taste of why so many people would auction off their firstborn to live here (and why a couple may actually have done so).

8 a.m. - 9 a.m.: Get to Mama’s on Washington Square on the dot of 8 a.m., when it opens, if you want to avoid a daily line that can sometimes snake around the block. Exotic French Toasts are why you’re here, made with such seriously delicious breads as kugelpuph (a cinnamon-swirled brioche), banana nut, chocolate cinnamon, or cranberry-orange-walnut.  If you’re more into savory than sweet, there are half a dozen scrambles and benedicts on offer, with such luxe fillings as crab, avocado and prosciutto. Though it can take some stamina to snag one of the twelve tables in this homey (and tiny) place, once you’ve slathered your French Toast with Mama’s homemade preserves, or dug into the best home fries you’ve ever tasted, you’ll understand what all the fuss is about.

9:30 a.m. - noon:  Go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200. San Francisco’s most compelling sightseeing spot, Alcatraz is also its most somber, the maximum security prison that once housed Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly and Alvin Karpis. The tour, which will take you through much of the remaining facility (some of it is gone, thanks to fires and decay) from the actual cellblocks to the barracks that were used when the island was a military base, is a fascinating affair, capped with a video on the Native American occupation of the site from 1969 to 1971. Altogether, with the boat ride to and from the island, your visit will take two and a half hours; book well in advance as the ferry ride does sell out.

Hop one of the city’s famous cable cars (remember those famous Rice a Roni commercials?) for a rollercoaster-like ride to or from the Wharf where the ferries embark.

MORNING ALTERNATIVE

The tallest living beings on earth grow in Muir Woods and while the park is not as impressive as Redwoods National Forest, it’s much closer to San Francisco (a mere 12 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge) and has enough of those giant Redwood trees to impress even the most blasé of visitors. There are eight trails in all, ranging from easy half-hour strolls to challenging three hour treks through strands of live oaks, Douglas firs, big leaf maple and of course, Redwoods.

Noon-2 p.m.: Take your lunch in Chinatown at The House of Nanking , one of the area’s most popular eateries. Ask the waiter to bring what’s best that day—really, you’ll get the best meal that way. Sometimes it will be pancakes and prawns in a rich peanut sauce, other times crisp calamari, you just never know. Be ready for a wait to get in—you’ll know this nondescript little joint by the line down the block.

2 p.m. - 6 p.m.: When you’re in a city as lovely as this one, simply strolling the afternoon away is recommended. You could take a walk in the historic Mission district, through Chinatown or groovy Haight Ashbury (still filled with aging flower children, along with drug addicts, yuppies, and everything in between), but I personally can’t get enough of North Beach, San Francisco’s own “Little Italy”. Spend the afternoon shopping its trendy boutiques, browsing at the City Lights bookstore and whiling away the time over cups of fresh brewed espresso and Italian pastry. Be sure to take in the 400 block of Jackson Square where you’ll see some of the oldest commercial buildings in town, some of the handful that survived the 1906 earthquake and fire. Cap it off with a trip to the top of nearby Coit Tower for a panoramic view of the city. Be sure to take the time to study the murals at its base, created by 25 different artists (most of whom studied with Diego Rivera; you’ll see his influence), paid for by the WPA, and representing life in California in the 1930’s.

AFTERNOON ALTERNATIVE

Adults and children alike enjoy the Exploratorium , the city’s groovy, trippy science museum where physics, biology, geology and most every other ology you can think of is explained in fun, highly interactive exhibits. Not just for kids, the Exploratorium was ranked by Scientific American magazineas the country’s best science museum.

5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.: Beyond Alcatraz, there’s only one reason to go to the crassly touristic area that is Fisherman’s Wharf, and that’s to dine at the superb Restaurant Gary Danko . Danko, a James Beard winner, has created a coolly elegant dining experience in which each dish is a treat for both the eyes and the mouth, and the décor is the height of California chic, all polished woods and open spaces. Eat here, and you’ll be feasting on lobster salad, oysters with caviar, pancetta wrapped frog legs, pan roasted bison and other such exotic items.

8 p.m. - 10 or 11 p.m.: There are few theater companies in the US as revered as the American Conservatory Theater , so if you’re here during their season (September through July), be sure to get tickets. From classic plays (Hedda Gabler, The Little Foxes and the Imaginary Invalid in 2006) to original works, A.C.T. mounts thought-provoking, vividly performed productions and consequently is one of the most financially stable companies in the country.

11 p.m. -  on…Though the scene will vary night to night, the excellent sight lines, state-of-the-art sound system and elevated dance floor at DNA Lounge make it the place to choose if you really want to get your groove on. You’ll know you’re partying in San Francisco, the epicenter of the last dot.com boom, by the free internet kiosks that dot the club.

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Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer Guidebooks which will be debuting in bookstores this summer.

Mama’s on Washington Square, 1701 Stockton Street; phone 362-6421. Open Tues-Sun 8 a.m. - 3 p.m. It accepts cash only.

Alcatraz Prisonis located on Alcatraz Island and operated by the National Park Service. To visit you’ll need to hop one of the Blue and Gold Fleet of ferries, and it’s highly recommended that you get an advance reservation (call 415/705-5555 or go online to www.alcatrazcruises.com). Ferry tickets are $11.50, or $16.50 if you decide to purchase an audio tour of the site. Seniors pay $9.75 or $14.75 with the audio tour. No food is sold on Alcatraz.

The Powell and Hyde and Powell and Mason Cable Car linesbegin at the base of Powell and Market Streets; the California St line begins at the base of Market Street. Rides are $3.

To get to Muir Woodstake Highway 101 to Highway 1, the Muir Woods Exit. The park is open daily from 8 a.m. to sunset and admission is free. No picnicking is allowed in the park.

The House of Nanking, 1919 Kearny Street at Columbus Avenue; phone 415/421-1429, though they only accept reservations for groups of eight or more. Open Mon-Fri 11 a.m. - 10 p.m. and Sat-Sun noon - 10 p.m.

City Lights Booksellers and Publishers, 261 Columbus Avenue at Broadway; phone 415/362-8193; www.citylights.com

Coit Tower, at the top of Telegraph Hill. While it’s free to enter, adults will pay $3.75 to go to the top (seniors $2.50). Open daily 10 a.m. - 6:30 p.m.

The Exploratorium, 3601 Lyon Street in the Palace of Fine Arts; phone 415/563-7337; www.exploratorium.edu. Open Tues-Sun 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., admission $12 adults, $9.50 seniors

Restaurant Gary Danko, 800 North Point Street at Hyde Street (at the Southstreet Seaport); phone 415/749-2060 well in advance for reservations. Open daily 5 p.m. - 10 p.m. For more information go to www.garydanko.com

American Conservatory Theater, performances at the Geary Theater, 415 Geary Street; phone 415/749-2ACT. Tickets sell for between $11 and $68.

DNA Lounge, 375 11th Street; www.dnalounge.com. Cover charges range from $5 to $20 depending on the time of night and the live act or DJ on tap.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer Guidebooks which will be debuting in bookstores this summer.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

Photos: City by the Bay

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  1. City view

    The Transamerica Pyramid building is seen through the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge on June 20, 2007. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Cable cars

    A cable car makes its way up a steep hill on California Street in San Francisco on Oct. 8, 2008. The California cable car line is the least-crowded of the three working lines and is the one most often used by locals. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Alcatraz

    Seagulls fly over San Francisco Bay with Alcatraz Island in the background on April 24, 2007. The former federal penitentiary is a popular San Francisco tourist attraction. (Eric Risberg / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Cell block walk

    Visitors tour a cell block on Alcatraz Island. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. The scenic route

    A car makes its way along the 49-Mile Scenic Drive on March 25, 2005, in San Francisco. San Francisco's 49-Mile Scenic Drive was opened in 1939 as a guide for visitors to The City's 1939-1940 Golden Gate International Exposition. The route includes most of San Francisco's major sights as well as winding through many of the city's colorful neighborhoods, giving visitors a look into the diversity and beauty of the area. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Chinatown

    A pedestrian walks by the Ma-Tsu temple in San Francisco's Chinatown district on February 3, 2011. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. California Academy of Sciences

    The flooded rain forest exhibit is shown at the new California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco on Sept. 18, 2008. On the ground floor of the exhibit, tropical fish swim in the flooded roots of trees. Then an elevator takes visitors up into the canopy where birds fly free in a giant glass dome. (Paul Sakuma / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Sea lions

    A group of sea lions rest on a dock at Pier 39 on December 12, 2007, in San Francisco. The boisterous and playful mammals are a huge hit with tourists. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Victorian architecture

    The famous row of homes known as the "Painted Ladies" are seen from Alamo Square Park on Feb. 2, 2009, in San Francisco. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Surf's up

    A surfer walks out of the water at Ocean Beach on December 5, 2006, in San Francisco. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Palace of Fine Arts

    Birds fly in front of the Palace of Fine Arts. The building is one of many sites on San Francisco's 49-Mile Scenic Drive. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Lombard Street

    A single car drives down Lombard Street, San Francisco's most crooked street, on April 29, 2003. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Golden Gate Park

    A family rows a boat on Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park on June 21, 2011, in San Francisco. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Fisherman's Wharf

    Pedestrians walk through the typically crowded Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco’s most popular tourist attraction, known for its historic waterfront, delicious seafood, unique shopping and more. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Choose your dinner

    Tourists pick out their dinner at a local restaurant. San Francisco salutes the Dungeness Crab with its annual Crab Festival in February. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Ghirardelli Square

    San Francisco's landmark Ghirardelli Square is seen on May 12, 2003. The square was originally a chocolate factory but now houses retail shops and restaurants. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Angel Island

    A group of visitors take a segway tour on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay on June 3, 2009. Once known as the "Ellis Island of the West," the Angel Island immigration station, a historic site, was designed to control the flow of Chinese immigrants to the United States. (Jeff Chiu / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Japanese Tea House and Garden

    The Japanese Tea House and Garden is an attraction in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Today, 75,000 people visit the park on an average weekend. (Philip H. Coblentz / SFCVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Coit Tower

    The moon rises next to Coit Tower on September 22, 2010, in San Francisco. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: San Francisco Will Study Golden Gate Tidal Movement As Energy Source
    Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
    Above: Slideshow (19) San Francisco: City by the Bay - City by the Bay
  2. Image: Bridge Building
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    Slideshow (28) San Francisco: City by the Bay - The Golden Gate Bridge

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