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NEARBY DESTINATIONS: SAN FRANCISCO

San Francisco—the fabled “City by the Bay” where Tony Bennett left his heart, Otis Redding sat at the dock of the Bay and the Mamas and the Papas wore flowers in their hair—is just a short drive north of the Peninsula. From the sweeping panorama of the Golden Gate Bridge to the vertiginously steep hills and rows of candy-colored Victorian houses, this alluring city overflows with natural beauty, scenic vistas, landmarks, museums, shops, restaurants and vibrant neighborhoods.

 

Neighborhoods

San Francisco’s diverse collection of districts makes for great sightseeing. Interesting neighborhoods to explore include Haight-Ashbury (Haight St. at Ashbury St.), once the ultimate epicenter of the ’60s hippie movement and now known for its high-end vintage boutiques, unique restaurants and cafés, and trendy clubs. With its colorful medley of markets, stores and restaurants dating back to 1852, Chinatown is the largest Chinese enclave outside of Asia. Its unique architecture includes pagoda roofs, lantern-draped balconies and charming alleyways redolent with the scents of exotic spices. Don’t visit without stopping for an authentic Chinese meal, and maybe a visit to the fortune cookie factory in Ross Alley (Grant Ave., between Bush and Washington Sts.; 415/986-1822). To sample some authentic Italian food, make a beeline for North Beach—San Francisco’s Little Italy. A lively nightlife that echoes the flavor of the city’s bawdy Barbary Coast days can be found here, as can a great number of cafes and a variety of unique boutiques filled with handmade clothing and imported goods. The Mission District is noted for its rich Latin culture, beautiful murals, hip restaurants and shops, and bustling nightlife. It’s also home to Mission Dolores, one of San Francisco’s two original missions. (Mission St., between 16th and 24th Sts.) With its eye-catching murals and bright rainbow flags proudly waving, the colorful Castro District is the core of the city’s gay and lesbian community (Market and Castro Sts.; 415/391-2000).

Shopping

For those with shopping on their minds, three destinations will fill your bill. Union Square is home to national brand department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Macy’s, as well as upscale shops like Tiffany & Co. and Williams-Sonoma. It’s also the city’s main theater district, where you can catch shows at the Golden Gate, Curran or Geary theaters. A few blocks from Union Square is Westfield San Francisco Centre, with Nordstrom and Abercrombie & Fitch. Ghirardelli Square, home of a famed former chocolate and spice factory, offers an array of shops, galleries and restaurants. (Union Square: At Stockton, Geary, Powell and Post Sts.; Westfield: Market and Powell Sts.; Ghirardelli Square: 900 N. Point St., between Polk and Larkin Sts.; 415/775-5500)

Neighborhood shopping districts are scattered throughout the city. Try Fillmore Street for higher-end clothes, popular beauty retailers and upscale design stores (at California St), or Hayes Valley for galleries and one-of-a-kind boutiques. (Hayes and Gough Sts.)