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Favorite experiences in San Francisco

Frommer's oicks for the best authentic, offbeat and free things to do in San Francisco.
French skipper Olivier de Kersauson and
French skipper Olivier de Kersauson and his crew guide their boat, Geronimo, under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, June, 11 during their record breaking voyage from Yokohama, Japan to San Francisco, in 13 days, 22 hours, 38 minutes, 36 seconds. Kersauson broke the previous record held by Bruno Peyron - 14 days, 17 hours, 22 minutes and 50 seconds. Tony Avelar / AFP - Getty Images file
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An Early Morning Cable-Car Ride: Skip the less-scenic California line and take the Powell-Hyde cable car down to Fisherman's Wharf -- the ride is worth the wait. When you reach the top of Nob Hill, grab the rail with one hand and hold your camera with the other, because you're about to see a view of the bay that'll make you a believer. Oh, and don't call it a trolley.

An Adventure at Alcatraz: Even if you loathe tourist spots, you'll like Alcatraz. The rangers have done a fantastic job of preserving The Rock -- just looking at it is enough to give you the heebie-jeebies -- and they give excellent guided tours (highly recommended). Heck, even the boat ride across the bay is worth the price, so don't miss this attraction.

A Walk Across the Golden Gate Bridge: Don your windbreaker and walking shoes and prepare for a wind-blasted, exhilarating journey across San Francisco's most famous landmark. It's simply one of those things you have to do at least once in your life.

A Stroll Through Chinatown: Chinatown is a trip. I've been through it at least 100 times, and it has never failed to entertain me. Skip the crummy camera and luggage stores and head straight for the markets, where a cornucopia of sights you just don't see that often in America sits in boxes for you to scrutinize (one day we saw an armadillo for sale, and it wasn't meant to be a pet). Better yet, take one of Shirley Fong-Torres's Wok Wiz tours of Chinatown.

A Shopping Spree: Up your credit card limit and bring an extra suitcase, because you're sure to find hundreds of must-haves in the department stores and boutiques surrounding San Francisco's retail epicenter, Union Square. Boutique hounds should head to North Beach's Grant Avenue, upper Fillmore, and Hayes Valley for the best selections of chic women's wear.

Frommer's Best Authentic Experiences in San Francisco

Feasting at the Ferry Building: During Farmers Market days, this bayfront alfresco market is packed with local shoppers vying for the freshest in local produce, breads, and flowers -- or just mingling during their lunchbreak. But the building itself has become a mecca for food lovers who daily browse the outstanding artisan food shops and restaurants and linger over glasses of wine at the festive wine bar.

Cafe Hopping in North Beach: Join residents by lingering at a cafe as the aroma of roasted coffee beans wafts down Columbus Avenue. Start the day with a cup of Viennese at Caffé Trieste (a haven for true San Francisco characters) and follow it with a walk in and around Washington Square. Continue with lunch at Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store (à la focaccia sandwiches), book browsing at City Lights, more coffee at Caffé Greco, and dinner at L'Osteria del Forno or Moose's. Finish the day with a nightcap as Enrico Caruso plays on the jukebox at Tosca.

Frommer's Best Off Beat Travel Experiences in San Francisco

A Soul-Stirring Sunday Morning Service at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church: Preacher Douglas Fitch turns churchgoing into a spiritual party here that leaves you feeling elated, hopeful, and unified with the world. All walks of life attend the service at this Tenderloin church just west of Union Square, which focuses not on any particular religion, but on what we have in common as people. It's great fun, with plenty of singing and hand clapping.

A Cruise Through the Castro: The most populated and festive street in the city is not just for gays and lesbians (although the best cruising in town is right here). While there are some great shops and cafes, it's the people watching here that makes the trip a must. If you have time, catch a flick at the beautiful 1930s Spanish colonial movie palace, the Castro Theatre.

A Date in the Haight: It's not quite as groovy as it was during the Summer of Love, but the stretch of shops, restaurants, and bars along the strip between Masonic and Stanyan streets do make for good browsing and the vibe underscores the city's counterculture, including a good deal of homeless folks, contemporary hippies, and funky-clad urban kids.

AsiaSF: Rather than simply having dinner, this SoMa spot serves up great entertainment with gorgeous Asian transvestites serving baby back ribs and performing lip-synch ensembles throughout the evening. Trust me, it's pure fun.

Frommer's Best Free Things to Do in San Francisco

Meander Along the Marina's Golden Gate Promenade and Crissy Field: Join the joggers, windsurfers, dog-walkers, and frolickers in one of the city's favorite pastimes -- strolling the bayfront Marina in the Marina District. You won't find more fabulous views of the Golden Gate, Marin Headlands, beach, bay, and native flora and fauna anywhere else.

Stair Climb: Forget the gym. Get great exercise and catch some of the coolest city and neighborhood views by hoofing it up (or down) the Filbert Street Steps on Telegraph Hill or Lyon Street Steps in Pacific Heights.

Explore the Neighborhoods: The best way to experience San Francisco is to walk it and its vibrant neighborhoods. Take one of the walking tours in this book or just chart your own path. Try the Mission around 16th Street and Valencia for a mix of Latin culture and hip shops and restaurants, North Beach for shopping, cafe culture, and Italian restaurants, and Pacific Heights for stunning mansions and bay views.

A Cocktail in the Clouds: Some of the greatest ways to view the city are from top-floor lounges in fine hotels such as the Sir Francis Drake, Union Square, the Grand Hyatt San Francisco, and The InterContinental Mark Hopkins, Nob Hill. Drinks aren't cheap, but it beats paying for a dinner. Besides, if you nurse your drink (or order something like tea or coffee), the combo of atmosphere, surroundings, and view are a bargain.

For a complete listing of what to see and do in San Francisco, visit the online attractions index at

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