An 18-point golfer's guide: Off course in San Francisco

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

SAN FRANCISCO - It's easier to leave your wallet here than your heart these days. The City by the Bay provides an unmistakable culture clash with homeless guys sprawled out near the entrance ways of shopping shrines. Don't be surprised if the golf becomes a second thought as you explore the varied wonders of this city with the 60-degree summers and 50-degree winters.

The golf will take you outside the city. Come back for the nights. Prepare to become a lifelong fan or leave disappointed. San Francisco produces a lot of feelings. Ambivalence is rarely one of them.

Hotel rooms

Place to stay if you're filthy rich: Ritz Carlton Nob Hill - Takes the usual Ritz glitz to even loftier extremes. Yes, that painting on your wall's an original.

Place to stay if you just want to feel rich for a weekend: The Fairmont Hotel & Tower - The lobby's a tourist attraction in its own right. Don't get lost in the towering marble columns.

Place to stay with a date: Hotel Boheme - Canopies over the bed, scented candles, light fluffy colors that O Magazine would approve of. Chicks dig it.

Place to stay with the family: Tuscan Inn - Right at Fisherman's Wharf (the tourist attraction only a kid could love), but not as likely to make the parents gag as nearby options.

Place to stay if you're looking for a deal: Omni Financial District - Shrunken rates (for San Francisco) for some super-sized rooms (for San Francisco). Just be sure to park in a non-hotel garage.

Place to stay if you're simpatico with the Original Cheap Bastard: San Remo Hotel - Tiny studio rooms, shared bathrooms, ceiling fans rather than AC. But $60 in San Francisco!

Dining scene

Single best dining experience: Chez Panisse - Technically not San Francisco (okay, it's Berkeley). But this unpretentious Alice Waters shrine to fresh seasonal ingredients makes any rules irrelevant. Just go.

The Jacques Cousteau hidden treasure award: Swan Oyster Depot - Almost a century old, freshest oysters in town, cash only.

Best new edition: Jack Falstaff - In the shadow of SBC Park, you can get food to take to the game that will make that gourmet hot dog look like a dish only fit for Fido.

Most mundane overrated restaurant ever: Michael Mina - Don't believe the hype. The Aqua magic doesn't transfer to Mina's new place.

Top cheap eats experience: Taqueria La Cumbre - Burritos to drool over in varieties you didn't even know existed. All for less than $7.

Place to get that sourdough fix: Arizmendi Bakery - Does the San Fran treat right while wowing with much more exotic tastes. Try the chocolate roll.

Drinking and sightseeing

Haven for a Republican in a liberal town: The Carnelian Room - On the 52nd floor of the Bank of America building, the Brooks Brothers set is literally above it all.

Spot to try and pick up a young business professional: The Bubble Lounge - More than 30 champagnes by the glass, a place where women hanging out of their dresses and guys in tight pants go to feel sophisticated.

Top way to spend a lazy Saturday morning: Farmer's Market at Ferry Building Marketplace - It's all here under on big roof. Great wines, exotic cheeses, homemade pottery.

Sporting experience not to miss: Giants game at SBC Park - With the water over the outfield wall, the best setting for baseball in the majors. Conversely skip the 49ers game, even Joe Montana worshippers are unlikely to be impressed.

If you must do something educational: Alcatraz - Its touristy sure, but still spooky. Plus the kids get a boat ride out of it.

Most overblown attraction: Fisherman's Wharf - Tremendously overpriced tourist trinkets and traps in a setting that's much seedier than the postcards make you think.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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