48 hours in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO Fri Jun 8, 2012 7:36pm EDT

1 of 11. A cable car climbs Powell Street as it approaches California Street in San Francisco, California May 27, 2012. With its striking cityscapes and an eclectic offering of food, arts and culture, San Francisco captivates travelers and residents alike. Picture taken May 27, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Robert Galbraith

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - With its striking cityscapes and an eclectic offering of food, arts and culture, San Francisco captivates travelers and residents alike.

Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors get the most out of a short stay in the city on the bay.

FRIDAY

6 p.m. - Start your visit with a meal at one of the city's hot dinner spots, Zuni Cafe, a glass-enclosed space overlooking Market Street that offers Mediterranean-inspired dishes that change daily. Sample fresh local oysters at the downstairs bar or grab a table upstairs and try the signature roast chicken with bread salad.

8 p.m.- See what's playing at the American Conservatory Theater, which puts on a mix of classical and new productions. After a show, head to the Prohibition-era inspired speakeasy Bourbon and Branch. Make an online reservation at www.bourbonandbranch.com to receive a password that you'll need to walk through a nondescript door on 501 Jones Street.

Relax at a cozy booth and be transported to the 1920's. The mixologists will answer questions or create new cocktails to suit your taste. For a more local experience, try the former beat bar Vesuvio Cafe in North Beach, or wander up Columbus Avenue and take a right on Stockton Street to Tony Niks, a hip, friendly neighborhood bar.

SATURDAY

8 a.m. - Begin the day at the historic Ferry Building at the foot of Market Street and stroll through dozens of shops and restaurants that sell everything from fresh local fish to artisan cheeses to just-baked breads. Try a breakfast sandwich from Sidekick, the take-out café run by the Cowgirl Creamery, or pick up some chocolate from Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker.

Grab a coffee, some pastries and enjoy breakfast outside while watching the ferries dock. On Saturdays, the plaza teems with local farmers who set up stalls at a thrice-weekly Farmers Market to sell fresh California fruits, vegetables, jams, breads, cheeses and other locally produced foods.

10 a.m. - Jump on a street car or take a leisurely walk up the Embarcadero to Fisherman's Wharf. Head to Pier 33 near Bay Street and catch a ferry to Alcatraz, the rock island and former maximum security prison in the middle of the San Francisco Bay.

Its former inmates included Al Capone and Robert Stroud, better known as the "Birdman of Alcatraz." Visitors can roam around the island, including cells, the cafeteria and gardens once tended by prisoners. Nesting sea birds of Alcatraz are also an island attraction. If you're a bird lover, spend some time spotting cormorants, egrets, herons and pigeon guillemots.

12 p.m. - Head to the city center by way of North Beach. Jack Kerouac and the Beat poets called the cafes and bars of the neighborhood home and many of their favorite haunts still exist. For lunch, try Mario's Bohemian Cigar Bar overlooking Washington Square Park for its famous meatball sandwich slathered on locally-made focaccia bread. Head up Grant Street to check out the boutiques and then walk back to Columbus Avenue for a snack at Stella Pastry.

Turn the corner to Cafe Trieste for java coffee the locals swear by. Make a last stop at Lawrence Ferlinghetti's legendary City Lights bookstore to find radical political titles not available at mainstream shops. Climb the stairs to Coit Tower for views of the Bay and Lombard Street, known as the most crooked street in the United States.

2 p.m. - Stroll toward Union Square through one of the largest Chinatowns in the United States. Walk to Stockton Street and make your way through the shopping crowds. For souvenirs, meander down Grant Street, which is full of shops and restaurants. The end of Grant spills out onto the edge of Union Square, the city's most famous shopping district.

4 p.m. - Skip the Powell Street Cable Car for the less crowded California Street car. Clamber off at the top of Nob Hill and head to the Mark Hopkins Hotel for their traditional afternoon tea service. Ride the elevator to the famous Top of the Mark bar on the 19th floor for stunning 360-degree views of the city.

6 p.m. - Hop in a cab or take the city's BART subway to the Mission District for dinner. The traditionally working-class Latino neighborhood is now a mix of hip bars and restaurants that bump up against long-time taquerias and small stores. For some of the best tacos and burritos in town try La Taqueria at Mission and 25th Street.

For something trendier try Foreign Cinema, Bar Tartine or Delfina, which are neighborhood favorites. Bi-Rite creamery, across from Dolores Park, serves imaginative ice-cream flavors. Walk to the top of the hill in the park to take in a spectacular view of the city at dusk.

8 p.m. - After dinner, follow the crowds to the corner of 17th and Valencia and choose from dozens of bars for a drink. Blondies is a popular meeting spot. Etcetera wine bar showcases an impressive selection of wines with flatbreads and tapas. For some music, head to the neighborhood bar Amnesia.

SUNDAY

9 a.m. - Start the morning at Ton Kiang in the Inner Richmond district for dim sum. Get there early or be prepared to wait because it is always crowded. Or try pastries, fresh breads and gourmet pizzas at Arizmendi bakery.

11 a.m. - It's a short taxi ride to Haight Street for shopping in a neighborhood synonymous with the hippie generation of the 1960s. The few short blocks feature everything from second-hand clothing stores to high-end designer boutiques. A must-see for music lovers is Amoeba music at 1855 Haight Street. The massive store in a former bowling alley stocks more than 100,000 new and used CDs, vinyl records and audio cassettes.

1 p.m. - Walk to the end of Haight Street into Golden Gate Park. Built in the 1870s, the park stretches to the Pacific Ocean. Visit the Conservatory of Flowers, which is the oldest glass-and-wood Victorian greenhouse in the Western Hemisphere and home to more than 10,000 plants. Other popular attractions are the Japanese Tea Garden and the $200 million copper-clad M.H. de Young Museum, which houses American art from the 17th through the 20th centuries along with works of natives from the Americas, Africa and the Pacific.

Take a quick cab ride to Crissy Field, a former airfield now controlled by the National Park Service, to enjoy a cool California breeze and breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the city.

(Editing by Patricia Reaney, Bernard Orr)

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