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In Golden Gate Park, both the Arboretum and the Japanese Tea Garden offer pleasant outdoor strolls and a wealth of horticultural displays. Mission Dolores (3221 16th St at Dolores St; 415-621-8203), officially Mission San Francisco de Assisi, is San Francisco's oldest building. Also in the Mission District is the San Francisco Women's Building (3543 18th St, at Valencia St; 415-431-1180), which hosts performances, workshops, and meetings devoted to women's, gay/lesbian, immigration, and other issues. It also has a spectacular mural on the exterior.
There are art galleries all over town; try the Circle Gallery (140 Maiden Lane), the only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building in San Francisco, and the San Francisco Art Institute (800 Chestnut St; 415-771-7020), whose Diego Rivera Gallery features a mural by the master as well as constantly changing exhibits by promising art students. Also notable is 49 Geary, home to several of the city's most high-profile galleries, like Haines Gallery and Fraenkel Gallery. The San Francisco Main Library (100 Larkin St; 415-557-4400) at Civic Center is worth seeing. Don't miss the changing displays in its two galleries, and the James C. Hormel Gay & Lesbian Center (415-557-4400; www.sfpl.org/librarylocations/main/glc/glc.htm).
San Francisco's City Hall (401 Van Ness Ave, between McAllister and Grove) was built in 1915 and badly damaged in the 1989 earthquake. It has been lovingly restored to its original Federalist/Beaux Arts style. The city took the opportunity afforded by this renovation project to remove all the old warren-like offices and cubicles built in the 1960s and 1970s. The results are nothing less than spectacular. The rotunda in the middle has been cleaned and is gleaming, the floors have been polished to a sheen and the finials re-gilded. It is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and is well worth visiting.
There's a fine line here between truly interesting and truly tacky, a line you can draw around Fisherman's Wharf. If you don't have your quota of refrigerator magnets and Christmas tree ornaments, then, by all means, head in that direction immediately. The best reason to pass through this end of town is the Alcatraz Tour (www.alcatrazcruises.com), exhilarating for the blustery boat ride to the island, fascinating and haunting for the prison isle itself, and romantic for the view of the city upon return. Boats depart from Pier 41, at the base of Powell Street at Fisherman's Wharf. You should allot about two hours for the whole tour and round-trip ferry ride.
A walking tour called Cruisin' the Castro (415-255-1821; $35) offers a historical perspective on how the gay community took root in San Francisco from the Gold Rush to the present. The two-hour tour of the Castro is peppered with personal conjectures and anecdotes, and is offered Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 10 a.m.
The Barbary Coast Trail is a 3.8-mile trail that threads together 20 of San Francisco's most significant historical sites, running from the old Mint all the way up to Aquatic Park -- and back! Just follow the bronze plaques in the sidewalk, or buy a copy "Walking San Francisco on the Barbary Coast Trail" for full interpretation of the stops.
The Gold Rush Trail is a self-guided walking tour of old San Francisco, spotlighting historical events and places from the Barbary Coast. A walk along the east side of the Embarcadero takes you along Herb Caen Way. Plaques in the sidewalk point out buried ships and other tidbits from times gone by, and the views of the bay are delightful.
Free, volunteer-led walking tours are offered by CityGuides, sponsored by the Public Library. CityGuides offers over 40 tours in neighborhoods around the city, including a Castro tour.
Learn about San Francisco's rich Victorian past with Victorian Home Walk (415-252-9485). The approximately 2.5-hour walking tour starts at 11 a.m. daily, all year-round and costs $20 per person. One of the best tours in San Francisco is the Culinary and Historical Walking Tour of Chinatown (650-355-9657; $45 per person includes hosted lunch) hosted by the gregarious, animated, and deeply knowledgeable Shirley Fong-Torres or one of a number of friendly tour guides.
For a fun (though not gay) and expertly guided tour of one of San Francisco's more colorful neighborhoods outside the Castro, take a historic walking tour of Nob Hill with Hobnob Tours (650-814-6303; $30 per person; breakfast, lunch, or high tea for an additional charge).
Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six
Part Seven | Part Eight
San Francisco: Introduction
San Francisco: Where to Stay
San Francisco: Where to Eat
San Francisco: Where to Play/Meet
San Francisco: Where to Shop
San Francisco: Resources