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San Francisco special

Songs have been written, movies made and books penned all about how darn perfect a city San Francisco is.
File photo of the Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge, is seen from Fort Point. The distinctive nearly 2-mile-long bridge connects San Francisco to the Marin Headlands.Andy Kuno / Reuters file
/ Source: Special to

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 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, 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 (remember those famous Rice a Roni commercials?) for a rollercoaster-like ride to or from the Wharf where the ferries embark.


The tallest living beings on earth grow in 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 , 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 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 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.


Adults and children alike enjoy the , 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 . 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 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 boom, by the free internet kiosks that dot the club.

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 Prison is 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 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 begin 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 Woods take 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;

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; 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

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; 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.