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  • Best Place for Kids

    Theater at the Children's Creativity Museum

    One glance in the Reality Check room at Zeum confirms it: They never, ever had anything like this when you were a kid. A handful of high-tech stations make up a whole production studio for creating media shows, all with controls so simple a child could use them (which is the point). During an afternoon, a 6-year-old could put together, say, a faux newscast complete with weather, guest interviews, green-screened field broadcasts, stop-motion animation, and theme music, all cut together... More >>

  • Best Contemplative Spot

    Legion of Honor Cafe

    Two famous meditative types have chosen this quiet hilltop retreat as their eternal musing ground: on celluloid, the mysterious Madeleine Elster in Hitchcock's Vertigo, and in bronze, Rodin's massive emblem of human cogitation, forever ruminating beside the museum's entrance. This Thinker is one of five in the world cast from the original mold, and was a gift to the city from sugar heiress Alma Spreckels, as was the palace itself. Designed by George Applegarth after the Parisian prototype to... More >>

  • Best Classic Murals

    Rincon Center

    Built as a Works Progress Administration project, the Rincon Annex post office is among the city's finest links to a glorious art deco past. When the Rincon Center shopping and office complex was built in 1978, developers were required to preserve the splendid murals depicting California's history as executed by Russian artist Anton Refregier. Begun in 1941, his lobby frieze was finally completed in 1948, after being interrupted by World War II. The gorgeous work speaks for itself, but... More >>

  • Best Parking Garage

    Royal Valet Parking Co.

    Remaining brand loyal to a parking ramp might seem a bit neurotic, until those panicked moments just before dusk on New Year's Eve, when the dinner reservations at a swish place near Union Square are scant minutes away and you've been circling the neighborhood for an hour. That night -- and many since -- we've found succor at Royal Valet, a tucked-away two-story garage that looks down on Jones Street. It's an easy place to pass by if you aren't... More >>

  • Best Metaphysical Travelers

    Golden Gate Pronaos Rosicrucians

    The Rosicrucians are an unusual bunch of self-helpists. We don't mean unusual in a Tony Robbins "I am a giant who could crush your skull but will instead proffer honey-tongued advice" kind of way, but rather in a "further man's evolution through the wisdom of the mystery schools of ancient Egypt and Europe" kind of way. The group believes in "self-mastery," and to achieve it draws from myriad religio-scientific practices that emphasize skills such as visualization, meditation, psychic enhancement --... More >>

  • Best Popcorn Vendor

    Metreon

    This performer puts the pop in popcorn. A fixture at the Metreon's weekend flicks, Rukus wheels his red concessions cart from theater to theater, belting show tunes and songs from TV (most recently, the theme to Gilligan's Island) and dispensing snacks and life lessons. He lists Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon among his influences; once he's inside a theater, he steps in front of the screen to perform his five-minute routine, a machine-gun monologue that changes every month and... More >>

  • Best Redwood Grove

    Transamerica Pyramid

    "From them comes silence and awe," John Steinbeck said of Sequoia sempervirens, the majestic, towering conifers that can grow well over 300 feet in height, 7 feet in diameter, and 2,000 years in age. Not native to San Francisco, they are nevertheless the fog-nurtured essence of Northern California. Nestled against the eastern base of the Transamerica Pyramid is a half-acre grove of young redwoods transplanted from the Santa Cruz Mountains, their hushed dignity imparting a bit of reflective quietude to... More >>

  • Best Place to Watch Pornos (and Be Considered Intellectual)

    Center for Sex & Culture

    Sex educator Dr. Carol Queen (author of Real Live Nude Girl and Exhibitionism for the Shy), with the Center for Sex & Culture, has created a safe public space where people can research issues pertaining to sexuality and participate in lively sex-positive events. The center's event calendar ranges from art auctions and nights deconstructing bad adult movies to theater performances and the upcoming "Masturbate-a-Thon" charity fund-raiser on May 28. The Web site contains a convenient "firecracker" system for rating... More >>

  • Best Place to Work on Your Laptop When You're Unemployed

    Atlas Cafe

    Unemployment sucks, no matter how much you overworked types may dream of "free" time. In reality, the long hours filled with shoulda-coulda-wouldas creep past excruciatingly slowly, as alienation and guilt set in; panic attacks often follow. But if you are unemployed, try spending your few dollars at the Atlas Cafe. The warmth of both temperature and temperament is comforting, and the wireless access is a boon if you own a laptop. Of all the places in the city with... More >>

  • Best Museum

    Cartoon Art Museum

    We were ordered, long ago, to start thinking of cartoons and comics as art, so stop fighting it. Seeing the work framed, labeled, and hanging on the walls of an austere gallery goes a long way toward legitimizing the form, but we also like the Cartoon Art Museum for its fascinating peek at the creative process. The size these artists work in is much larger than the strip or box you find in the newspaper, revealing otherwise hidden details.... More >>

  • Best Wooded Retreat

    MacBeath Hardwood

    MacBeath Hardwood Co. 2150 Oakdale (at Industrial), 647-0782, www.macbeath.com If your wife leaves you, you lose your job, or your computer crashes with your career-hinging afternoon presentation aboard, do the following: Drive out to MacBeath Hardwood. Walk past the sales area, across the loading yard, and into the old warehouse that stores the teak, bocote, rosewood, ebony, zebrawood, mahogany, and other exotics, and breathe as much air out of your lungs as you can. Now breathe in, gently, for 24... More >>

  • Best Cheap Date

    Ocean Aquarium

    The bankroll's low, the coin jar's empty, and your date's arriving in a few minutes; what to do? Escort your sweetie to Ocean Aquarium in the Tenderloin for some quality time among the cichlids, plecos, and goodeids. This friendly, hard-to-find hole in the wall carries a dazzling variety of tropical fish far more colorful and mollifying than your standard Hollywood shoot'em-up. Snowballs, green phantoms, rainbow fish, and bettas in lavender, gold, steel blue, and every color in between flare... More >>

  • Best Place for a Walk (Indoors)

    Limn

    For all their still-emerging hip grandeur, South of Market's growing high-rise neighborhoods are still a bit of a rat hole. Until the city does something to narrow and calm the one-way thoroughfares, reduce the number of car-magnet parking garages, and encourage bicycle commuting with additional and safer bike lanes, the area will remain more of a traffic sewer than a decent place to live, shop, or work. Amid the worst of the traffic, however, there does exist a solace-giving sanctuary... More >>

  • Best Public Place to Play Anagrams

    Midnight Sun

    Whether you're hitching a ride on the 12-step wagon or simply uninterested in the Castro bar scene (and really, how can you not be?), exercise your mind while having mischievous fun by using the Midnight Sun's marquee for a rousing game of anagrams. It's simple: Take a seat across the street from the video bar, pencil and paper in hand, and write down and rearrange the letters on the sign. For example, "The Simpsons" becomes "Shits on meps"; "Comedy... More >>

  • Best People-Watching Spot

    Dolores Park

    Ever noticed how Dolores Park seems to be, hands down, the warmest spot in the city? Aside from the weather, it's an idyllic place -- equipped with six tennis courts, two soccer fields, a stellar downtown backdrop, and a playground that even adults can enjoy. It has also been the neighborhood mecca for cultural and political activities since the 1960s, hosting anti-war rallies, Aztec ceremonial dances, and San Francisco Mime Troupe performances year-round. But the delicious dichotomies of Dolores Park... More >>

  • Best Place to Lose Your Heart

    Harry Denton's Starlight Room

    Draped with chandeliers and silk and done up in ruby red and gold tones to create a 1930s opulence, the Starlight Room (formerly the Starlight Roof) occupies the 21st floor of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, overlooking Union Square. It would be worth a visit for nothing else but the dazzling 300-degree views of the city and the bay, but then there's Harry Denton's Starlight Orchestra, which plays several nights each week (call for the current schedule), and to which... More >>

  • Best Extrasensory Experience

    Exploratorium

    The Tactile Dome is a splendid place to suspend your overutilized sense of sight and rely instead on more primal antennae. Housed in a large geodesic dome in the middle of the Exploratorium interactive science museum, the dome is itself the hands-on experience in extremis. The interior is a pitch-black maze of tubes, chutes, and chambers that you slide, crawl, and bump through, the surrounding shapes, textures, and circumstances changing at every turn. The experience forces you to depend... More >>

  • Best Place to Hobnob With a Ghost

    Queen Anne Hotel

    Planted on the outskirts of Pacific Heights, the Queen Anne Hotel is a decadent Victorian in shades of crimson and pink, pretty typical for a haunted house -- which it's purported to be. The hotel opened in 1890 and was originally Miss Mary Lake's School for Young Ladies; it passed through various hands (among others, church caretakers' and bordello owners') before 1980, when its current incarnation was born. According to one of the concierges, inexplicably sealed doors and ominous... More >>

  • Best (Affordable) Way to Impress a First Date

    Farallon

    So you have a hot date with someone you'd like to impress who doesn't know how poor you really are? Don't fret: Take her here. Not everyone can afford to eat dinner in this place, but most of us can afford to get appetizers and drinks, so pull up a comfy stool and hang out in the bar. The ambience is romantic and beautiful, like a soft-pink undersea Disney feature with a Cocteau Twins soundtrack, while the bar is... More >>

  • Best Place to Meditate

    San Francisco Zen Center

    Most of us are aware that San Francisco is a meditation cloud nine. Since Buddhism was popularized in the United States in the 1960s, monks, scholars, and peaceniks have flocked to the city to get in on the nonaction. The San Francisco Zen Center is perhaps the most established haven of the Buddhist community, maintaining the rigor, intellectual complexity, and elegance of classical Zen that its founder, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, intended, while keeping its doors open to laypeople of... More >>

  • Best Landmark

    Grace Cathedral

    Atop Nob Hill, surrounded by some of the priciest property in town, a space has been set aside for reflection and meditation. Just to the right of the entrance to Grace Cathedral, up a flight of stairs above the street, a circular labyrinth on the ground serves as a path, a resting place, and an art installation. The design is just complex enough to foil cheaters who want an easy visual solution, so you must walk it to unravel... More >>

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