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Leave Your Heart, Not Your Wallet, in San Francisco

 The King George is a gem. Used with permissions: King George Hotel, 1999.Recently, I had an opportunity for a quick getaway to San Francisco. The number one NOT ON TIME airport in the United States is San Francisco International. Here is my first travel tip. Fly to Oakland! It's a compact airport that is easy to get around. What about getting into San Francisco? Easy. Save money: take the AirBart bus to the Oakland Coliseum for $2 (it's a ten minute ride) and then hop on BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) for $2.75 into the heart of San Francisco (only 20 minutes). This will save you at least $10 compared to a shuttle from SFO, plus no traffic and airport hassles. Don't forget, I expect you to pack light! Used with permissions: King George Hotel, 1999.


On this trip, I stayed at the King George Hotel. This newly renovated, full service, boutique charmer is located on Mason just off Geary, only two blocks from Union Square and cable cars, and conveniently close to the theaters (see map below). The hotel regularly offers specials and can be booked through its website (www.kinggeorge.com). Friendly staff, complimentary access to an off-site health club, and moderately priced breakfast and tea service make this gem a real value.

There are a couple of things to remember about San Francisco. To quote the Boy Scouts and Samuel Clemens, "Be prepared," and, "The coldest winter I ever spent was August in San Francisco." Plan on layers of clothes and take an umbrella. It is my favorite city for walking. You will walk a lot, so pack your best walking/hiking shoes.

Shopping is the number one vacation activity and San Francisco has it all: boutiques, shopping centers, department stores, and specialty shops. Post Street is San Francisco's equivalent to New York's Fifth Avenue. South of Market is home to a number of factory outlet stores. There are a number of publications that offer coupons and various discounts. The San Francisco Guide, Where, and Quickguide are just a few. These free, valuable booklets can be found at most of the hotels in the city.

Please drop by the conveniently located San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau Tourist Center, found at the foot of Powell Street at Market near the cable car turnabout. Their website is also a must for travelers to the Bay Area (www.sfvisitor.org). While at the visitor center, please pick up a copy of City Guides Free Walking Tours. It is a calendar featuring daily walks lasting 90 minutes to two hours. The guides are knowledgeable and well versed in SF lore. The best part is the tours are free! This visitor-friendly service is sponsored by the SF Public Library. Recorded tour information can be obtained by calling 415-557-4266.

Through the Golden Gates. Used with permissions: King George Hotel, 1999.

Since I mentioned cable cars earlier, let me make another suggestion. If you want to see the city, ride the hills, and visit Fisherman's Wharf by cable car, purchase the all-day ticket for only $6. Another bargain. If you have not traveled to San Francisco before, you will be amazed at the exciting choices of restaurants. There is everything from five star dining to fast food with all ethnicities represented.

Everyone has their favorites in the City, but let me recommend a couple of mine. These two eateries feature terrific food at great prices. Johnny Foley's Irish House is a neighborhood restaurant in the middle of the Union Square area. The proprietors, Mary and Marty Connelly from County Cork, opened this restaurant, bar and pub in June of 1998. Foley's is conveniently located at 243 O'Farrell. If you want nouvelle cuisine, stay away! Foley's features hearty food and large portions at very reasonable prices. The pub food is authentic and traditional Irish fare abounds. The curried potato wedges with mango chutney is a signature item. They have a wonderful beer selection and my favorite surprise is Guinness-flavored ice cream for dessert. Yes, you read that correctly. Irish music, great atmosphere, wonderful food at great prices, and a lively clientele. You will have fun at this place!

Next stop on my cheap eats in "Baghdad by the Bay" is the bar at Puccini & Pinetti's. The restaurant can be found at the corner of Ellis and Cyril Magnin Streets. I am a regular at this Italian grill and American bar. Although their entrees are most reasonable ($10.95-$16.95), my favorites are the bar specials. Every evening between 5 PM - 7 PM, selected beers and wines are $2, as are several of their appetizers. Usually this includes personal-sized pizzas, crostini, and nachos. A great value! The atmosphere is lively and they are very serious about desserts! Try it.

My next suggestion is no secret. For years Kuleto's has been on every SF dining "must go" list. I agree. Located at 221 Powell Street in the Villa Florence Hotel, Kuleto's is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This place is such a hit that they have their own line of food products (great gifts) including olive oil, flavored aiolis, vinegars, tapenade and marinara sauce. My favorites here are the homemade breads, creative salads, original pastas, and fabulous desserts. As you would expect, they have an extensive wine list. Definitely worth a stop, but you must make reservations (415-397-7720).

Night-time in SF is glorious - jazz and blues clubs, symphony, opera, theater of all kinds. For a complete listing of all arts and cultural events, Arts Monthly magazine is a must and can be found at the SF Visitor Center or online (www.sfArts.org). There are many free and low cost events.

There are two goofy shows that I would like to suggest. The first is Shear Madness (not sheer) and it is at the Mason Street Theater at 340 Mason, next to the King George Hotel. The setting is a unisex hair salon and a patron is murdered. During the wacky second act, the actors interact with the audience with hilarious results. This show is pure fun; call for reservations or visit their website (415-982-5463 or www.shearmadness.com). This year, Beach Blanket Babylon celebrates its 25th anniversary. This zany, fast-paced musical has never failed to make me laugh hysterically. Firmly entrenched in the Club Fugazi at 678 Green Street, BBB is a must see. Trust me, this show is not what Disney had in mind for Snow White!

Finally, I would be remiss not to remind you, as in all metropolitan centers, there are some dangerous areas near the hub of the city. Be careful and attentive. The homeless problem in SF has improved dramatically, but is still quite evident. Remember, overall this is a great city...

As you might guess, I fly a lot. I have come to the conclusion that the airlines have it all wrong when it comes to children and families. Instead of boarding families with children first, they should be last. The airlines should "count heads" of the number of children and families. Then save a bloc of seats (and bin space) for them in the back of the plane. This would allow the kids more time to play and have fun in the airport's wide open spaces until it is their turn to board. Boarding children first means an additional 15-20 minutes of "sitting still" and being quiet. That's asking a lot.

As if the summer isn't hot enough, I hope to give you the Practical Traveler's perspective from South Beach, Miami and Palm Springs, California, in my next two reports. Happy travels...