Meander Along the Marina's Golden Gate Promenade and Crissy Field
There's something about strolling the promenade that just feels right. The combination of beach, bay, boats, Golden Gate views, and clean, cool breezes is good for the soul. Don't miss snacks at the Warming Hut.
Wake up with North Beach Coffee
One of the most pleasurable smells of San Francisco is the aroma of roasted coffee beans wafting down Columbus Avenue in the early morning. Start the day with a cup of Viennese on a sidewalk table at Caffè Greco, 423 Columbus Ave. (tel. 415/397-6261), followed by a walk down Columbus Avenue to the bay.
Browse the Haight
Though the power of the flower has wilted, the Haight is still, more or less, the Haight: a sort of resting home for aging hippies, ex-Deadheads, skate punks, and an eclectic assortment of young panhandlers. Think of it as a people zoo as you walk down the rows of used-clothing stores, hip boutiques, and leather shops. End the tour with a pitcher of sangria and a plate of mussels at Cha Cha Cha, one of my favorite restaurants that's a bargain to boot.
Pretend to be a Guest at the Palace or Fairmont Hotels
You may not be staying the night, but you can certainly feel like a million bucks in the public spaces at the Palace Hotel. The extravagant creation of banker "Bonanza King" Will Ralston in 1875, the Palace Hotel has one of the grandest rooms in the city: the Garden Court, where you can have high tea under a stained-glass dome. Running a close second is the magnificent lobby at Nob Hill's Fairmont San Francisco.
Sip a cocktail in the clouds
One of the greatest ways to view the city is from a top-floor lounge in hotels such as the Sir Francis Drake, the Grand Hyatt San Francisco, and the venerable InterContinental Mark Hopkins. Drinks aren't cheap, but considering you're not paying for the view, it almost seems like a bargain.
10 More Free & Dirt-Cheap Secrets
While you're frugally sipping your "17 Ft. Ceiling" espresso from your perch at Blue Bottle, plan your day with tips from Frommer's San Francisco Free & Dirt Cheap (Wiley Publishing, Inc.):
Tickets to the de Young Museum ain't cheap, but you can climb to the top of the museum's 144-foot observation tower for free. And if you can time it right, admission is free the first Tuesday of each month.
The Boudin Demonstration Bakery at the Wharf has a nifty little free museum hidden upstairs that explains the symbiotic relationship between San Francisco and its unique sourdough loaf. The story and science behind the "mother dough" is fascinating, as are their demonstrations. Bakery visitors can watch the entire baking process from a 30-foot observation window along Jefferson Street.
Hard to find, but worth the effort, is a funky little bar in North Beach called Specs'. It looks like a maritime museum that imploded, with walls featuring historically eclectic seafaring oddities brought back by long-dead sailors who dropped in between voyages (dried whale penis anyone?).
If you log onto www.calacademy.org/webcams/penguins you can see what the California Academy of Sciences' penguins are up to via their PenguinCams, which offer three real-time views of the new penguin exhibit. It's mesmerizing.
If you want to watch a Giants game for free, you can join the "knothole gang" at the Portwalk (located behind right field) to catch a free glimpse of the game through cut-out portholes into the ballpark. In the spirit of sharing, Portwalk peekers are encouraged to take in only an inning or two before giving way to fellow fans.
Free steak sandwiches! Well, kinda free. Every Monday through Friday, Morton's Steakhouse (400 Post St. at Powell St.; tel. 415/986-5830; pictured below) hosts a happy hour at their BAR 12•21, where you can stuff yourself on four Petite Filet Mignon Sandwiches at the bar for only $7.
Every second Thursday of the month, you can watch free movies in Dolores Park, located at 20th and Dolores streets. Bring a blanket and even your dog if you'd like, as well as a little cash to buy the world's best tamales from the Tamale Lady.
The Good Vibrations sex-toy shop on Valencia Street is worth visiting just to see their Antique Vibrator Museum. Who knew that vibrators have been around since 1869 and were prescribed by physicians to treat "hysteria"? Fascinating.
If you're looking for a buddy to ride bikes with, the 511 Bike Buddy Ridematch Service will pair you up with someone at your skill level at no cost. Log onto www.ridematch.511.org, click on "Bicycling," then click on "Bike Buddy Matching."
If city life is stressing you out, take some free tai chi lessons. Log onto www.sfnpc.org/tai-chi-in-the-parks for a list of places and times that the free lessons are offered. There's no need to register; just show up and dress comfortably.
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