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The Best of San Francisco | 2000

Philip Newton The Best of San Francisco

Photo: Philip Newton

Old–fashioned Luxury The Westin St. Francis (335 Powell St.; 800/917–7458 or 415/397–7000, fax 415/774–0124; www.westingstfrancis.com; family of four from $379), on Union Square (not to be confused with Union Street), is a bastion of marble and brass, with a fawning staff. Appropriate fuss is made over younger guests, who are welcomed into the nationwide Westin Kids Club, entitling them to a special children's menu, assorted freebies, and a choice of bedtime stories they can dial up on the phone.

Big, Comfy, and Convenient If you like to be right in the middle of the bustle, the Hyatt at Fisherman's Wharf (555 North Point St.; 800/233–1234 or 415/563–1234, fax 415/749–6122; family of four from $350) is your place. Kids will appreciate the large outdoor pool.

FOOD AND DRINK

Champion of Breakfast Doidge's Café [This restaurant is now closed] is set up like an English tearoom, withWindsor chairs and flowers on the well–spaced tables. But the portions are strictly American: Try the eggs Florentine while the kids assault the pancakes, as light as soaring Frisbees and almost as big.

King of the Seafood Alioto's (8 Fisherman's Wharf; 415/673–0183; www.aliotos.com; dinner for four $100) claims to be the oldest restaurant on Fisherman's Wharf, and its ground–floor Oysteria is surely one of the friendliest. The fried calamari ³steak² is great, but the star is Dungeness crab, the priciest, messiest, and tastiest item on any menu.

Crowd Pleaser Downtown, Swan Oyster Depot (1517 Polk St.; 415/673–1101; lunch for four $65) is a funky sliver of a place that's been serving crabs, oysters, and shrimp since 1912. There's always a wait, the stools are uncomfortable, and the food is not cheap. But once you sample the chowder (the only hot dish offered in winter) or the seafood salad, you won't want to leave. Fortunately, there's an incentive: See's Candies (1519 Polk St.; 415/775–7049) is next door. The black–and–white twenties décor is intact, andthe handmade caramels are a must.

Chinatown Pearl City Seafood (641 Jackson St.; 415/398–8383; dinner for four $80) is big, bright, and full of Chinese–Americans as well as tourists. The enormous menu contains enough familiar choices to keep kids happy, and enough serious food to please you. Or try Sam Woh's (813 Washington St.; 415/982–0596; dinner for four $16), a venerable dive whose two small dining rooms are on the second and third floors. The food is mild and inexpensive, and you may end up sharing a table with locals.

Square Meals Fog City Diner (1300 Battery St.; 415/982–2000; www.fogcitydiner.com; dinner for four $80) looks like the diner of your dreams–except that the blue plate specials are lamb shanks and crab cakes. The menu also has staples such as burgers and mac–and–cheese, but with a spin; the fries, for example, are tossed in truffle oil and Asiago cheese. If the kids finish before you, they can hang next door in a perfect little park called Levi's Plaza, with meandering paths, a waterfall, and great views of Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower.

The flagship branch of Mel's Drive–In (2165 Lombard St.; 415/921–3039; dinner for four $50, no credit cards), a small California chain, was featured in American Graffiti. Its period charm remains: stools at the soda fountain, jukeboxes at the tables, and food that makes up in enthusiasm what it lacks in finesse. The French toast is hearty, the BLT's superb. Plus, kids' meals are served in a cardboard box shaped like a hot rod.

Park Chow (1240 Ninth Ave.; 415/665–9912; dinner for four $80) offers comfort food for all ages. For you, Asian noodles, fresh fish, good house red; for them, individual pizzas served with individual slicers that will live on in family lore.

A Bar, for Good Measure You don't normally take your children to bars, but the Tonga Restaurant & Hurricane Bar at Nob Hill's grand Fairmont Hotel (950 Mason St.; 415/772–5278) has a Polynesian motif: riggings and masts, exotic drinks served in ceramic coconuts with paper parasols and fruit. There are non–alcoholic versions of the traditional tropical sledgehammers, pi150a coladas, and punches. In the middle of the place is a large pool–and it's here that one of San Francisco's wackier dramas occurs every night at 5:30 sharp: a simulated thunderstorm rumbles, ³rain² falls around the perimeter of the pool, a band floats out to the middle on a small barge, and a singer regales you with mellow classics. *


FOR THE TINIES

The Bay Area Discovery Museum (Fort Baker, 557 McReynolds Rd., Sausalito; 415/339–3900; www.babykidsmuseum.org), outside Sausalito, encompasses seven buildings on–yet another–old military installation. There's a large Brio train layout; a playroom that mirrors the San Francisco Bay with cargo blocks, a crane, and a crawling bridge; and a media–arts lab where kids can see themselves on TV.

After the kids tour the Basic Brown Bear Factory (Second flr. of the Cannery building on Fisherman's Wharf @ 2801 Leavenworth St.; 866/522–2327 or 415/409–2806; www.basicbrownbear.com), they can pick an unfinished animal from the bins of hollow bodies, fill it with polyester or beans (perfect for noses and feet), clothe and decorate it, and then take it home and love it to bits. This is the perfect rainy–day event.


WHAT TO TAKE HOME

Chocolate from the expensive but wonderful Ghirardhelli Square candy shop (900 North Point St.; 415/775–5500; www.ghirardellisq.com).

Custom–measured and –embroidered (or laser–painted) jeans, from the Original Levi's Store at Union Square (300 Post St.; 415/501–0100). You can sit in a tub in your 501's and have them shrunk to fit while you wait. For vintage jeans, head to Haight Street–try Wasteland (1660 Haight St.; 415/863–3150) and its surrounding competitors.

Sleight–of–hand props, juggling supplies, and joy buzzers from Misdirections Magic Shop (1236 Ninth Ave.; 415/566–2180; www.misdirections.com).

TEEN SPIRIT

Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights Bookstore (261 Columbus Ave.; 415/362–8193) in North Beach is the fountainhead of the Beat movement, and a relic of the days when people who loved books ran bookstores.

The murals of the Mission district, with their bold graphics and progressive themes, speak with special force to the young. The greatest concentration of these works of art is on block–long Balmy Alley.

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