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Dear Trip Coach...
My brother, Ken, and I are in the middle of planning a guys-only weekend in San Francisco. We've been there before and have done most of the touristy stuff. This time we'd like to focus on sites related to the city's history. We're interested in the culinary side of the city, too, so any restaurant recommendations would be appreciated. Sid Leckron, El Cajon, Calif.
"Since we found a great deal at a hotel in Hayward, outside of San Francisco, we'll be traveling into and out of the city each day. Any advice?"
There are two main driving routes between Hayward and San Francisco: One takes you across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, the other across the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge. Each bridge has a $4 toll for westbound traffic only, so your trip back to Hayward each day will be free. You'll want to build in travel time, because Hayward is a 40-minute drive from San Francisco. Avoid driving during rush hours, when the trip can take more than an hour via either bridge.
You can escape traffic and parking altogether by taking the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. There's a BART train from Hayward to the Embarcadero, in downtown San Francisco. The 30-minute trip costs $4.30 each way (bart.gov).
"Ken is a military-history buff. Does San Francisco have anything left from the Spanish era or the early-American period?"
The two significant remnants of Spanish history in the city (besides many street names) are the Misión San Francisco de Asís, an adobe chapel that's more commonly known as Mission Dolores, and the Presidio of San Francisco, a military post from 1776 to 1994 and now a national park.
Mission Dolores was the sixth in a series of nine missions founded by Father Junípero Serra. Constructed in 1791 and strong enough to make it through two major earthquakes, the mission is the oldest intact building in San Francisco. There are no official daily tours, but you can explore the chapel on your own. Check out the redwood ceiling beams, painted with the patterns of basket weavings of the Ohlone Indians, who were native to the area and helped build the chapel. The adjacent cemetery is the final resting place for several of San Francisco's early Mexican administrators, or alcaldes, and many Native Americans (3321 16th St., 415/621-8203, missiondolores.org, $5).
After being home to the Ohlone for hundreds of years, the 1,500-acre Presidio, in the city's northwestern corner, served as a military post, first for the Spanish, then the Mexicans, and then the Americans. In 1994, it was designated a national park. Anyone interested in military history should make sure to see the restored 19th-century U.S. Army buildings (including Fort Point, a magnificent Civil War¿era fortress directly beneath the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge), the San Francisco National Cemetery, and Crissy Field, once the center of West Coast military aviation and now a popular recreation area. The park is full of hiking and biking trails, along with several scenic lookouts. Pick up a free map at the main visitors center, in the Presidio Officers' Club (415/561-4323, presidio.gov, free).
"Are there old naval ships that we can take tours of?"
Do the self-guided audio tour of the USS Pampanito, a World War II submarine turned museum and memorial. You'll see torpedoes, the control room, officers' quarters, and engine rooms, and listen to Navy men's accounts of what life on the sub was like. The museum occasionally runs out of listening devices, so if you have an MP3 player, you might want to download the audio tour from the website before you go (Pier 45, Fisherman's Wharf, 415/775-1943, maritime.org/pamphome, $9).
Also at Fisherman's Wharf, on Hyde Street Pier, is the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, which has several ships dating back to the late-19th and early-20th centuries (415/447-5000, nps.gov/safr, $5 for access to ships; ticket good for seven days).
"Can you recommend any San Francisco sites relating to the gold rush?"
The San Francisco City Guides, an all-volunteer group, leads Gold Rush City tours through the Financial District on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays (415/557-4266, sfcityguides.org, free). The guides have lots of stories about the Wild West.
For a glimpse of the lavish exuberance of San Francisco's post¿gold rush Gilded Age, visit The Haas-Lilienthal House, in the Pacific Heights neighborhood. The turreted Queen Anne Victorian home, built in 1886 for entrepreneur William Haas, is exquisitely maintained by the San Francisco Architectural Heritage organization. The house is open for guided, one-hour tours during the afternoons on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays (2007 Franklin St., 415/441-3000, sfheritage.org/house.html, $8).
"We're always hearing about the Bay Area's artisanal food. Where can we find some?"
The Ferry Building Marketplace, on the Embarcadero at the end of Market Street, showcases northern California food. The market stalls and small restaurants sell fresh fruits and vegetables, cheeses, olive oils, smoked and fresh seafood and meats, and fresh pastas. Some highlights: Far West Fungi for specialty mushrooms, Cowgirl Creamery for the organic cheeses (try the Mount Tam), and Recchiuti Confections for the handmade chocolate truffles. There are also prepared take-out foods--grab lunch and step outside for one of the most amazing views in the U.S. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, a vast and bustling farmers market sets up shop outside (415/693-0996, ferrybuildingmarketplace.com).
"We'd like to know of any good--but affordable--restaurants."
San Francisco foodies love to claim that their city has more restaurants per capita than any other major U.S. city. (The residents of Boston and Seattle are quick to disagree; the three are neck and neck for the top spot.) There's a great range of restaurants along Polk Street, which traverses the Tenderloin, Nob Hill, and Russian Hill neighborhoods. A few favorites: Hahn's Hibachi, where you can fill up on Korean barbecue (1710 Polk St., 415/776-1095, hahnshibachi.com, entrées from $7); Le Petit Robert, a bistro with simple, tasty French fare (2300 Polk St., 415/922-8100, baybread.com, entrées from $12); and Swan Oyster Depot, a landmark that's been serving crab Louis at its raucous counter since 1912 (1517 Polk St., 415/673-1101, crab Louis $17.50).
In North Beach, south of Fisherman's Wharf, go to L'Osteria del Forno for rustic Italian (519 Columbus Ave., 415/982-1124, losteriadelforno.com, entrées from $10, cash only), or try The Stinking Rose if you're in the mood for garlic (325 Columbus Ave., 415/781-7673, thestinkingrose.com, entrées from $15).
If you take the Bay Bridge, you'll pass through Oakland, and you'd be crazy not to stop at Uncle Willie's Original Bar-B-Que and Fish. The tiny spot is known for its ribs (614 14th St., 510/465-9200, unclewilliesbarbq.com, ribs $14).
Bring along a copy of Historic San Francisco: A Concise History and Guide by Rand Richards. The book traces the city's history from 1542 to the present and includes several walking tours.