Best Place to Learn a Romance Language

San Francisco Italian Athletic Club

1630 Stockton (at Union), 781-0165,

Put to rest your questions about what goes on behind the heavy wooden door and red-and-white facade of this North Beach institution and step inside for un po' di cultura e apprendimento. In the spring, fall, and winter, the San Francisco Italian Athletic Club offers weekly classes taught by instructors who are either native speakers or have more degrees than you do. Or both. Classes are a reasonable size, about 20 students to a room. Even better, they're cheap: around $150 per three-month session. The club has courses for beginning and intermediate students, who, after cramming their melones with vocabolario, can practice their new skills by strolling out to any of the cafes in the neighborhood and chatting up the well-dressed strangers sipping coffee outside. Religiously inclined folks may also want to listen to the Italian Mass every Sunday at Sts. Peter and Paul Church just across Washington Square Park.

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