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San Francisco City Guide

By: Amy Westervelt

Relaxing & Unwinding in San Francisco

©2006 Jack Hollingsworth What better way is there to relax in San Francisco than with an afternoon tea?

Aside from the traffic and the parking problem, San Francisco is a relaxing city. People love to take it easy here, as evidenced by the abundance of restaurants and spas, bike paths, parks, cafes, and lounges. Weekends here are all about taking it slow, enjoying good food, catching up with friends, and appreciating the beauty of the area.

Insider's Guide: The Best of Relaxing & Unwinding in San Francisco

Insider's Guide: The Best of Relaxing & Unwinding in San Francisco

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OK, here comes Golden Gate Park (101 California St) again, making the list this time for Stowe Lake and the Japanese Tea Garden, two of the best places in the city to relax and reflect. Paddle boats are available for rent at Stow Lake -- one of the few activities that is actually made better by a little San Francisco fog, which gives it an eerie, romantic feel. And the Japanese Tea Garden is not just for looking at -- tea service here is an experience not to be missed. 

Several other establishments throughout the city also serve tea, including a handful of traditional tearooms in Chinatown for a quiet, zen feel, Samovar (498 Sanchez St) in the Castro for an eclectic, modern take, Lovejoy's Tea Room (1351 Church St) for a "tea with Grandma" vibe, and the Ritz (600 Stockton St) for posh high tea.

The Presidio (102 Montgomery St) is always a popular place to unwind on the weekend, and now it has the added luxury of a massive new destination spa, right in the middle of the park. After the royal spa treatment, you can continue to unwind on any one of the park's nature walks, or go to the opposite extreme and hit the Presidio's awesome bowling alley -- the only place I know of that still serves Budweiser in bottles shaped like bowling pins. Strike!

One of the best ways to relax San Francisco-style is to spend the afternoon lolling about at one of the city's hundred-or-more cafes. Every neighborhood has at least a dozen, usually with good coffee and food, free Wi-Fi, and some sort of free reading material lying about (typically The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and an assortment of magazines). When night falls, treat yourself to a health-filled meal in the city that birthed the "Slow Food Movement," and then take in a movie at one of the city's historic theaters.

For great people-watching, do your best Otis Redding impression and sit on the dock of the Bay. You can watch the tides roll away from any one of a dozen great eateries in the recently renovated Ferry Building Marketplace (One Ferry St, located on the Embarcadero at the foot of Market Street). A historical building that has been beautifully restored, the Ferry Building today is a microcosm of the Bay Area, occupied by the retail outlets of some of the area's best-known restaurants, creameries, vineyards, and specialty foods suppliers.

The emphasis is on locally produced, organic fare, and the Marketplace also hosts a Farmer's Market four days a week -- Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Most of the eateries have outdoor tables on the waterfront side -- a great spot to stop for lunch or early dinner. On the Embarcadero side, the Ferry Building Wine Merchant is a popular Happy Hour spot for the nearby Financial District.

If you would prefer to have a guide show you around San Francisco rather than navigate it on your own, see the next section, where we provide an overview of organized tours.