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A Waterfront Walk: the Ferry Building to Fisherman's Wharf
One of the great pleasures of San Francisco is a stroll along the bay, with its briny scent, the cry of the gulls, and boats bobbing on the waves. The flat, 2-mile walk along the Embarcadero from the Ferry Building offers a chance to take in some of the city's blockbuster sights along with spectacular bay vistas.
The Ferry Building: Foodie Mecca
Standing sentry at the foot of Market Street, the Ferry Building offers organic, seasonal delights from such local treasures as Cowgirl Creamery and Prather Ranch Meat Company. Take your picnic to a bench out back and take in the bay and the Bay Bridge.
Embarcadero: New Life for Old Piers
Heading north on the Embarcadero as the piers go up in number, watch for a mélange of historical info on black-and-white pillars, engraved in the sidewalk, and on plaques. These line Pier 1, where the giant paddle wheeler San Francisco Belle docks. Pier 7 juts out far into the bay; an evening stroll here is lovely (if chilly) under the street lamps.
Just two blocks beyond at Pier 15, the city's excellent hands-on science museum, the Exploratorium, will reopen in 2013. Meanwhile, stop by local chocolatier Tcho, at Pier 17, for free samples and hot cocoa.
North Beach Detour: Levi's and Coit Tower
Near Pier 17, a left on Union and a right on Battery leads to Levi Strauss headquarters, where visitors can shop for jeans or peruse artifacts such as miners' jeans from the 1880s. Back across Battery, Levi's Plaza is one of the most manicured parks in town.
Consider heading west on Filbert or Greenwich and ascending one of the steep staircases clinging to Telegraph Hill for spectacular views and a peek into the lush stairway gardens along the way up to Coit Tower. Then return down the stairs to continue along the Embarcadero.
Embarcadero North End: Tourist San Francisco
Continuing north up the Embarcadero, Alcatraz Landing (Pier 33) is a good spot to pick up souvenirs even if you're not taking the highly recommended tour. Pier 39 is just around the corner, with its cornucopia of souvenir vendors; thankfully, sea lion-watching is still free.
A few blocks farther north is Fisherman's Wharf, at Pier 45. Bypass the wax museum and make a beeline for the fabulous vintage arcade Musée Mécanique (at the foot of Taylor Street). For crab- and bunny-shape sourdough loaves, stop by Boudin Bakery just down Taylor.
Last Stop: Historic Vessels at the Hyde Street Pier
Follow the towering masts to the foot of Hyde Street and the collection of exquisitely restored ships there. Afterward, head up Hyde to the cable-car turnaround, where you can grab an Irish coffee at the Buena Vista.
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