I admit to being something of a fanatic when it comes to San Francisco. Sure, SF has the Golden Gate Bridge and cable cars and a really crooked street. But what really makes this a great place to live (or visit) are all of the beautiful or charming or quirky places that the mainstream tourists rarely see. Here, in no particular order, are some of the reasons I'm glad I live here.

Blondie's is, IMHO, the coolest place to down a martini in San Francisco. At 540 Valencia in the trendy Mission, it's down to earth (at least during the week -- the 20-something hipoisie gets pretty raucous on the weekends) and has an incredible (jazz/blues/soul) jukebox.

Visit Tank Hill near Cole Valley for the best unknown but absolutely incredible view in San Francisco. Just don't tell too many of your friends. Take 17th Street to Shrader, head up the hill on Shrader until you hit Belgrave, then up the hill on Belgrave. Take the footpath at the end of Belgrave to the top of the hill, and prepare for those last couple of steps!

The Filbert Steps would have to be my number one SF tourist destination. An enchanting neighborhood garden surrounding beautiful Victorian cottages just a few steps from Coit Tower. The late Grace Marchant, a neighborhood resident, created the garden, which the Trust for Public Land helped rescue from development a few years ago. Park near the corner of Sansome and Filbert, and take the black iron stairs up the hill. Once you reach Montgomery, you can either turn back (but first turn around to see the white Art Deco building at the corner of Filbert and Montgomery) or keep climbing to reach Coit Tower.

One of the unique things about SF is its staircase streets -- streets that are so "vertical" that they're for walkers only. The best staircase streets other than the Filbert Steps: well, number two would have to be Vulcan Street (in the Upper Market neighborhood, between Ord Street and Lower Terrance, off of 17th Street (go to 17th and Ord, and head down Ord to the foot of the stairs). This is a Shangri-la of cottages and gardens, landscaped with the original paving stones from this area's 19th century streets. A close second is Macondray Lane on Russian Hill -- one block east of Union Street. Adah Bakalinsky has written a great book called "Staircase Walks In San Francisco," which links up staircase streets (including these) into interesting and charming city walks. It's generally available in SF bookstores.

For bookstores, City Lights (in North Beach, at 261 Columbus) would have to be my favorite. After you've purchased a book at City Lights, take it to nearby Vesuvio's Bar for reading, drinking, and people watching. For used books, try Green Apple Books in the Richmond neighborhood (506 Clement) or some of the dozens of used bookstores in the Lower Nob Hill/Polk Street neighborhoods.

It's not in Chinatown, but Eliza Restaurant on Potrero Hill (1457 18th Street) is my favorite Chinese restaurant in San Francisco. Don't let the real flowers and cloth napkins fool you -- this is not a Thai restaurant. ;-)

Pop in to Evensong at Grace Cathedral (1100 California Street) on Nob Hill for a bit of spiritual rejuvenation (or just some beautiful music) on Sundays at 3:30. The Grace Cathedral men's choir sings Gregorian Chants for about an hour. For a quick bite nearby before or after, try Nob Hill Grille (at the corner of Pine and Hyde) and go for the Chicken Tikka -- it's incredible.

Best place for a picnic -- the little grassy knoll at the end of Vallejo Street on Russian Hill (go to the corner of Vallejo and Jones, and walk (north) up the hill until Vallejo dead-ends -- the picnic spot is just over the stone fence at the end of the street). Incredible views of the City and the Bay. Continue down the stairs (the brown houses on your right are some of the few houses east of Van Ness to have survivied the 1906 fire) to a little park, or even further down to North Beach.

Best off-the-beaten track hotel/bed & breakfast would be any hotel by Joie de Vivre Hotels. This company is famous for creating hotels with character and personality -- there are 19 of them, ranging from the Phoenix (a retro-renovated motel where the LA/NY entertainment crowd stays) to the Hotel Rex (a small Union Square hotel themed on San Francisco's literary heritage).

Prettiest neighborhood that no one knows about would have to be Parnassus Heights. Wedged into the Sutro Forest, this tiny neigh- borhood (home of author Armistead Maupin) with its brick streets and beau- tiful Edwardians is lined with plum trees -- come in mid-February to see this neighborhood in bloom. There's a trail through the Sutro Forest that starts at the dead-end of Edgewood -- if you follow it and keep to the left, you'll end up on Clarendon Avenue.

If you're in town on a weekend, check out what's playing at the Castro Theatre (429 Castro Street between 18th and Market). The movies are always excellent and the theater is beautiful, but if you go on the weekend, you get to enjoy one of the minor camp pleasures of living in SF -- the Castro Theater organist. This crowd-pleaser gets his 15 minutes of fame every weekend evening -- he's been doing it for years, and the show always ends (as the organ dramatically sinks into the orchestra pit) with "San Francisco, Open Your Golden Gate", which always brings down the house.

If you want to sample some of San Francisco's unique sense of community, volunteer at one of Friends of the Urban Forest's Saturday morning tree plantings. Almost every Saturday morning at 9AM, this group is out in some neighborhood of the city, planting anywhere from 30 to 100 trees. Watch neighbors and volunteers transform a San Francisco neighborhood over three hours on a Saturday morning -- the karma is incredible! No experience is necessary, and volunteers are always welcome. An "only in San Francisco" event.

You want to pretend you're in Big Sur during a one-hour walk without ever leaving SF? The ocean trail at Lincoln Park is my favorite hike in the city -- except for spectacular views of the Golden Gate bridge, you'd never know you were in a city. Incredible views of the surf, ocean, Marin County and the Bay from every turn. Start at the ruins of the Sutro Baths near the Cliff House, and follow the trail that's just up the hill and to the left (with your back to the ocean) from the ruins. The path is very bikeable, too -- though last time I was there a washout in the middle of the trail made biking a little tricky.

Best place to imagine you're in Munich would be Suppenkuche in Hayes Valley (525 Laguna, at the corner of Hayes). A fun, youngish crowd, an unmatched beer selection and incredible German food (for those who don't find that to be a contradiction in terms). My German friends tell me this place is absolutely authentic, down to the big old pine tables that you're as likely as not to find yourself sharing, biergarten-style, with other patrons.

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Changes last made on: Sun Dec 22 16:02:10 1996