San Francisco: 5 best August values
SF Street Food Festival
San Francisco's second annual Street Food Festival is a chance to sample must-taste food from 44 different restaurants and food carts, all in one place. Featuring some of the city's best, like Delfina, the Slanted Door, Bi-Rite Ice Cream, Chez Papa, and 4505 Meats, this day-long block party in the Mission should definitely be on a visiting foodie's to-do list. Additionally, there will be creative cocktails from Beretta and Rye on the Road, plus games for kids. August 21, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., along Folsom and Treat streets, and in the adjacent Garfield Park.
Painted Ladies house tour
Located on Alamo Square, the colorful Queen Anne Victorian homes, also known as the Painted Ladies or Postcard Row, are much-photographed icons of the city. The view with the modern downtown skyline in the background, is a dramatic sight (maybe you recognize it from the opening credits of Full House). Currently, the oldest, largest, and most ornate of these homes is up for sale and open to the public for house tours—if you're willing to act interested in buying the $4 million home, of course! The beautifully restored interior features gas-lamp fixtures, fireplaces, and a large turret window. It has been 35 years since one of the houses was available for public viewing, so consider this a rare chance for a peek inside. 722 Steiner St.
The Oakland Museum
The Oakland Museum of California features exhibits on art, history, and natural science, and the recently completed $53 million renovation makes it worth a trip across the bridge. Now through January, the 25 Years of Pixar exhibit provides an insider's view of the creative process behind the Bay Area animation studio. See drawings and sculptures from computer-animated favorites including Ratatouille, Up, and Toy Story 3, plus screenings of Pixar's feature and short films. 1000 Oak St., one block from the Lake Merritt BART station. 510/238-2200, 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday; 11 a.m.–8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays (closed Monday and Tuesdays). $12 per person admission, and the Pixar exhibit is an additional $12 per person.
Free Film Nights
This month, Free Film Night in the Park is hosted right downtown at Union Square. The film, Alfred Hitchcock's classic Jimmy Stewart-Grace Kelly vehicle Rear Window, has the perfect level of suspense for the dramatic setting. August 28, 8 p.m., Union Square.
The new Levi's Workshop is a hands-on community print shop that's free and open to the public. Print anything from T-shirts to posters to notecards. Through August, visitors can sign up for classes on letterpress, screenprinting, and type-setting, and see posters by local artists and "pioneers"&mash; people like chef Alice Waters and skateboarder Tommy Guerro. If this social experiment goes well, Levi's plans to roll out similar workshops across the country. Sign up one week in advance either online or in person for DIY screen-printing. 580 Valencia Street, 415/522-0877, Tuesdays 12-5 p.m., Wednesdays-Fridays: 12-7 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Closed Mondays.
Paris: 5 best August values
August is an unusual month in Paris because such a large number of local people—including those who run my favorite restaurants—have left to holiday somewhere else. All is not lost, however. Consolation for visitors comes in the form of free concerts, outdoor films, and an urban beach along the Seine. Festival Classique au Vert (August 7-September 26) Free classical music concerts take place every Saturday and Sunday afternoon in the beautiful Parc Floral. This flowering garden inside the Bois de Vincennes (12th arrondissement) is a great place to picnic with friends before and during the performance. Entry to the Parc Floral is €5 ($6.60), but the concerts are free. YSL Retrospective (through August 29) This retrospective showing of fashion from designer Yves Saint Laurent has been of the year's most popular exhibits in Paris. This month is your last chance to see the collection of hundreds of gowns, covering 40 years of creation, at the Petit Palais. Avenue Winston Churchill, 8th arrondissement. Cinéma au Clair de Lune (August 12-22) The special thing about Clair de Lune is that their films are often screened in strange locations and on the sides of buildings. The shows begin around 9:30 p.m. and entry is free. I've listed a few selections below and you can consult the full program at forumdesimages.fr. • August 12 – The Hunchback of Notre Dame in the Place des Vosges (4th arrondissement) • August 14 – Two Days in Paris in the Parc de Choisy (13th arrondissement) • August 22 – The Science of Dreams screened against the side of Saint-Eustache cathedral in Les Halles (1st arrondissement) Fnac Indétendances (August 13-14) This concert series sponsored by the music retail giant Fnac brings music (and serious crowds) to the banks of the Seine. The big draw for Friday night's show is the English trip-hop musician Tricky, who will perform following the French electro star Uffie and two other supporting acts. The lineup for Saturday night includes Acid Washed, Danton Eeprom, Chloé, Pulpalicious and Mr Nô. Concerts on both nights begin at 5 p.m on the Parvis de l'Hôtel de Ville, 4th arrondissement. Festival Silhouette (August 28-September 5) This festival picks up where the Cinéma au Clair de Lune leaves off, screening free outdoor films in the Parc des Buttes Chaumont (19th arrondissement). The format for this one is short films, which are screened each night at 10 p.m. following free concerts that begin around 7:30 p.m. Plus, a few great summer events still running in August: • Paris Plages (through August 20) – an urban beach laid out along the Seine river (4th arrondissement) and along the Bassin de la Villette (19th arrondissement) • Cinéma en Plein Air (through August 22) – free outdoor films in the Parc de la Villette (19th arrondissement) • Fête Foraine du Jardin des Tuileries (through August 22) – the city's annual summer fair in the Tuileries gardens next to the Louvre (1st arrondissement)
Cool idea: Fine art fridges
There's no better way to chill out in Chicago than by checking out the city's newest public art exhibit, sponsored by ComEd. Chicago-area artists have turned old refrigerators in sculptures that now line the city's popular Michigan Avenue, a.k.a. the Magnificent Mile. Why? For one reason, to help promote local efforts to recycle unneeded refrigerators and freezers. For another reason, Chicago has a history of loving offbeat art projects. A decade ago, the city introduced "Cows on Parade," in which hundreds of fiberglass cows were decorated by artists and put out to pasture all over Chicago streets. The wildly successful project has since been mimicked around the globe. The fridges, on display until September 15, run the gamut from "Running Down, Out to Pasture," which consists of a fridge draped in a combo of greenery, old sneakers, and shoes, and "Recycled VooDoo Retro Rod," a fridge laid on its side and re-envisioned as a hot rod with four wheels, flame paint job, and the face of a zombie on the back. If you can't check out the exhibit in person, or you want a sneak peek before you get the chance to see the funky fridges on an upcoming visit to the city, take a look at Time Out Chicago's Fine Art Fridges photo gallery.
San Francisco: Decoding public transit
San Francisco is definitely a public-transit town—if locals aren't walking or biking, they are using the bus or train (anyone who has spent an hour searching for parking will wholeheartedly agree!). The city's easily accessible public transit is a positive for travelers, but understanding the options can be a bit tricky. First, let's wade through the acronyms: BART is our equivalent to the subway or underground, but it's much more basic than New York or London's systems. MUNI, confusingly enough, refers to both the orange city buses and the electric trains that run above and below ground. Then, of course, there are the cable cars, a San Francisco icon. Luckily, once you've figured a few things out, the public transit system is easy to navigate, particularly when armed with a map or a good app (see below). But as with any city, there are certain quirks that can be frustrating stumbling blocks for first-timers. So, here are my best tips to help you get around town like a local. I think the City Pass is a great deal for visitors relying on public transit. The seven-day pass offers unlimited rides on MUNI and the Cable Car (but not BART), plus tickets to the California Academy of Sciences, Aquarium of the Bay, SF MOMA, one-hour trips on the Blue and Gold Fleet cruises (excluding trips to Alcatraz), and a one-day pass to the Exploratorium or the de Young, all for $64 ($39 for kids under 12). Now, for the big question: When do you use BART, and when do you hop the MUNI or the cable cars? Use BART to get to Downtown, Union Square, the Mission, Berkeley, Oakland, and definitely the airport. BART is hands down the fastest way to get around town, but it only runs along one track, so keep that in mind when planning trips. Use MUNI to get to the Haight, the SF Zoo, the Castro, Japantown, and Ocean Beach. MUNI has an extensive network, so there's almost always a bus that will get you where you want to go for only $2. But, orange buses tend to be crowded, particularly during commute times and after-school hours, and there can be unexpected delays. Use cable cars to get to Fisherman's Wharf and the top of Pacific Heights. Or just to be romantic and nostalgic! Things to remember when riding BART The train goes directly to the airport terminal (similar to the Heathrow Express in London). All trains leaving the airport head toward the city, so there's no confusion, even for the most jet-lagged travelers. Best of all, it's only 30 minutes and $8 from the airport to downtown. Always hold onto your ticket—you need it to get both in and out of the station. You can "add fare" to your ticket at your destination before you exit, but those machines won't take any bills over $1. But all other machines accept debit cards as well as change and bills under $20. Trains stop running around midnight, so keep an eye on your watch, particularly if you are going to the East Bay or the airport. The last train from SFO is at 11:45 p.m. Unless there is an unexpected emergency, BART runs like clockwork, so check the schedule for train times. This is especially on Sundays and late nights, when there can be 20-minute waits between trains. Rides within the city are $1.75. Outside the city, prices range depending on the length of the trip. You can put any amount on your ticket and use it over time, but each traveler needs his or her own ticket. Things to remember when riding MUNI You can use both $1 bills and change on the buses and trains. Each ride costs $2. If you're the only one at the bus stop, you have to "hail" the bus; it'll only stop when someone is signaling to get on or off. Trust me on this—I can't tell you how many buses I missed when I first moved here! To open the door from the inside of both MUNI buses and trains, you have to step down the stairs, and then push down on the handle. Likewise, don't stand on the stairs if you aren't getting off; the bus or train can't leave if you're in the way! The same transfer tickets work on both the buses and the trains. Don't let these go,—transit police conduct random searches. It might be obvious, but when you are standing on a crowded bus, always move to the back. You will get fewer stink eyes from locals if you do this simple courtesy! Buses don't always stick to schedule, but many bus stops have a "next bus" sign that relies on GPS. For other stops, you can call 511 for the info, or get really tech-happy and download the Nextbus app on your iPhone. (see below) MUNI is the most-used form of transportation for locals, and thus it's the best way to get a "real" view of the city, both by staring out the window or by observing your busmates. There are some real characters. Check out locals' stories about their most outrageous MUNI experiences. Apps and helpful websites There are numerous apps to help you get around town, but the best are iBART Live ($4.99) and iCommute SF ($2.99). Both offer GPS information for the closest stops near you and can map out your trip step-by-step. With real-time arrival info for buses and trains, either app is worth the extra few dollars. I also like 511.org, HopStop.com, or sfmta.com to map out a trip. EARLIER For more tips, check out our cable car Q&A; with a Leonard Oats.
London: Buckingham palace opens its doors for the season
Visit the British Queen's residence on the Royal Day Out ticket, now available for visits through October. Buckingham Palace is one of the last remaining working Royal Palaces in the world. It's been the official home of British kings and queens since 1837 and is stuffed with treasures acquired at the height of Britain's imperial power. The palace is only open to visitors in the summer. Since July 27th the special "Royal Day Out" ticket has been available, giving access to the State Rooms (where the Queen greets foreign presidents and dignitaries and throws lavish banquets), the Royal Mews (the Queen's stables which houses the magnificent royal carriages) and The Queen's Gallery (currently showcasing paintings and works of art from Queen Victoria's personal collection.) Other of the furnished rooms visited on this ticket are hung with paintings by Europe's finest artists, including Rembrandt, Rubens, Vermeer, Poussin, Canaletto, and Claude. Royal Day Out ticket prices are as follows: $47.50 (adult), $43 (Over 60s and students with photo ID) and $27 (Children under 17). A family ticket (2 adults, 3 under 17s) costs $124. Children under 5 enter for free. From the 27th July the palace is open daily, 9 to 5:30 (last admission 4:30). Tickets are available at the palace door. For more information see royalcollection.org.uk or phone (011-44) 20-7766-7301. EARLIER London: Stylish, affordable hotels, from $87