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Cities in the States

Three days in San Francisco

The Golden Gate Bridge’s main towers are 746 feet high.
The Golden Gate Bridge’s main towers are 746 feet high.bonnie tsui for the boston globe/Bonnie Tsui

Second in a series highlighting cities you can fly to nonstop from Boston.

Weather in the City by the Bay is famously fickle — foggy one moment, gloriously sun-splashed the next — but San Franciscans know how to enjoy the great outdoors (dress in layers). The waterfront beckons at every turn, and there are endless ways to take it in, whether it’s with a ferry ride around the Golden Gate Bridge, a surf session at the beach, or a bike excursion in search of neighborhood eats. Food fuels every activity, and Bay Area chefs and producers have long been leaders in how to eat local; an ever-excellent roster of restaurants means it’s high time for a taste test.



1. 1:30 p.m. The Rock Beckons: No visitor should miss the boat ride to Alcatraz Island with Alcatraz Cruises (Pier 33, Hornblower Alcatraz Landing, 415-981-7625, www.alcatrazcruises.com, $30). En route, day-trippers get knockout views of The Rock and the rust-hued Golden Gate Bridge. The cruise includes a terrific 45-minute cellhouse audio tour featuring actual wardens and prisoners (the personally guided night tour, Thu-Mon evenings for $37, is especially atmospheric).

2. 4 p.m. Water Walk: Get a sense of place with a leisurely mile-and-a-half-long stroll along the Embarcadero waterfront from Fisherman’s Wharf (Pier 39, 415-674-7503, www.fishermanswharf.org) to the Ferry Building Marketplace (1 Ferry Building, 415-983-8030, www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com), with its own stellar views of the newly beautified Bay Bridge. Built in 1898, the Ferry Building is now a skylit European-style food hall, with local specialty purveyors, restaurants, and culinary-oriented shops inside, plus an outdoor farmers’ market in Ferry Plaza that attracts more than 25,000 people a week. Sample the rich, creamy cheeses at Cowgirl Creamery’s artisan cheese shop (No. 17, 415-362-9354,

www.cowgirlcreamery.com), which sells award-winning handmade cheeses from two nearby creameries in Petaluma and Point Reyes Station. Then browse the handcrafted mid-century-style pottery you’d serve them on, at Heath Ceramics (No. 12, 415-399-9284, www.heathceramics.com), a design-minded tableware shop that has a live-video feed from the original Sausalito factory just across the Golden Gate.


3. 5 p.m. Cocktails Al Fresco: The outdoor patio at Americano Restaurant (8 Mission St., 415-278-3700, www.americanorestaurant.com), right on the Embarcadero, is one of downtown’s liveliest happy-hour spots. Chef Kory Stewart sources much of his menu’s local ingredients at the Ferry Building Marketplace; his specialty cocktails include the Miners Gold ($12), made with Casa Noble Crystal tequila, organic Vida Mescal, lemon juice, and agave ginger syrup.

4. 7:30 p.m. Fusion Flavors: James Beard award-winner Charles Phan serves up elegant, modern Vietnamese fare at the Slanted Door (1 Ferry Building No. 3, 415-861-8032, www.slanteddoor.com). In the last two decades, Phan has created a beloved mini-empire of restaurants around the city, but this location in particular wows with beautiful plates of bright, fresh flavors; among the best are the grapefruit and jicama salad ($12) and the grass-fed estancia shaking beef ($36). At sundown, you can view the glittering Bay Lights (www.thebaylights.org), artist Leo Villareal’s gorgeous new light sculpture on the Bay Bridge; officially launched on March 5, the art installation will shine from dusk until 2 a.m. each night for the next two years.


5. 8 a.m. Breaking Bread: Customers start lining up early for the gorgeous breakfast pastries — tea cakes ($3.75), double pain au chocolate ($4.50), morning buns ($3.85) — and organic Four Barrel coffee at the Mission District institution Tartine Bakery (600 Guerrero St., 415-487-2600, www.tartine bakery.com). Come back at 5 p.m. if you want one of baker Chad Robertson’s fresh-out-of-the-oven country loaves ($8.25).


6. 9 a.m. Building History: A survivor of the 1906 earthquake and fire that decimated much of San Francisco, Mission Dolores (3321 16th St., 415-621-8203, www.missiondolores.org, $5 suggested donation) is the city’s oldest intact building. Founded in 1776, the mission is dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi, with a historic cemetery — it’s the resting place of some 5,000 Ohlone, Miwok, and other “first Californians” who built the mission — and lovely gardens planted with native trees, roses, and a traditional Ohlone ethno-botanic garden. Mass is held at 9 a.m. in the Old Mission on most days, and in the basilica on Sundays at 10 a.m.

7. 11 a.m. Picnic in the Park: Grab some gourmet picnic fixings at Bi-Rite Market (3639 18th St., 415-241-9760, www.biritemarket.com) and head over to palm-fringed Dolores Park (19th and Dolores streets), where expansive lawns turn into a veritable urban beach on a warm day. A fabulous new playground (www.friendsofdolorespark
) beckons both young and old with climbing structures, a giant double-wide slide, and great views of downtown.

8. 1 p.m. See and Be Seen: Spend the afternoon among the hipsters on Valencia Street between 15th and 20th streets, and check out the string of independent boutiques lining the bike-friendly boulevard. You’ll find swingy dresses, vintage-style tees, and button-down shirts in smart prints at Density (593 Valencia St., 415-637-1435), and a cheeky collection of mermaid bait, moustaches, eye patches, and skull bracelets in the Pirate Store (826 Valencia St., 415-642-5905, www.826valencia.org), the pirate-supply retail arm of the writing-oriented nonprofit 826 Valencia. Find well-curated gems for wee ones — organic cotton onesies, creative, design-minded books from local publisher Chronicle Books — at Aldea Niños (1017 Valencia St., 415-874-9520, www.aldeaninos.com).


9. 5 p.m. Beer Tasting: At the newly-opened Abbot’s Cellar (742 Valencia St., 415-626-8700, www.abbotscellar.com, from $5.25 a glass, tasting menu and pairing $75) beer appreciation is happily elevated to the reverence normally accorded to wine. In addition to a changing selection of beers on draft, nearly three dozen beers are available by the glass in six-ounce tastings, plus more than 100 beers by the bottle. Pairings are offered every evening for seasonal dishes created in concert with local brewers.

10. 7:30 p.m. Sustainable Sushi: They’re not words that go together often, but “eco-friendly” and “sushi” coexist at Tataki South (1740 Church St., 415-282-1889, www.tatakisushibar.com), a Noe Valley sushi bar where only responsibly sourced fish is served, to delicious effect. Bright-orange slices of arctic char sashimi ($5.50 for two pieces) are fresh and gem-like; the albacore tuna ($5.50) is pole-caught in the Pacific; and the “faux-nagi” nigiri ($7), made with silky-smooth seared black cod, is so good that you’ll never miss the eel.



11. 9 a.m. Life’s a Beach: After a brisk walk along the Pacific (likely to be fog-shrouded) to watch the surfers and kiteboarders at Ocean Beach, the 4-mile stretch of sand that runs along the city’s western edge, cross over the Great Highway for breakfast and heavy-hitting Bloody Marys ($11) at the Beach Chalet (1000 Great Highway, 415-386-8439, www.beachchalet.com), a restaurant and brewpub with floor-to-ceiling views of the coast.

12. 11 a.m. Science Lessons: Head to Golden Gate Park and prepare to be amazed at the California Academy of Sciences (55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park, 415-379-8000, www.calacademy.org, $29.95), where a dazzling array of exhibits includes a four-story rain forest, a coral reef bursting with 2,000 reef fish, and the new “Human Odyssey” display, which traces our species’ evolution with skull casts and interactive touch-screen maps.

Bonnie Tsui can be reached at