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Things You Need To See While You’re In San Francisco

With its myriad hills and spectacular bay, San Francisco beguiles with natural beauty, vibrant neighborhoods, and contagious energy. Whether or not you’ve already visited the City by the Bay, it can overwhelm visitors with its offerings. Of course there are the well-trodden spots including Alamo Square, with its Painted Ladies; Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39; and twisting Lombard Street, the “crookedest street in the world.” But there’s much more to see and do, so we’ve selected the 25 top things every visitor should experience in San Francisco. Whether you're visiting for the first time or the fifth, these recommendations ensure that you’ll have a great trip.

San Francisco's signature International Orange entryway is the city's majestic background, and about 10 million people a year head to the bridge for an up-close look. Walking the 1.7 miles to Marin County—inches from roaring traffic, steel shaking beneath your feet, and only a railing between you and the water 200 feet below—is much more than a superlative photo op (though it's that, too). Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge under your own power is exhilarating—a little scary, and definitely chilly. From the bridge's eastern-side walkway, the only side pedestrians are allowed on, you can take in the San Francisco skyline and the bay islands; look west for the wild hills of the Marin Headlands, the curving coast south to Lands End, and the Pacific Ocean.

Foodies, rejoice! The historic Ferry Building is stuffed to the brim with all things tasty, including cafés, restaurants, a farmers' market, and merchants peddling everything from wine and olive oil to oysters and mushrooms. The building backs up to the bay, so the views are great—but they're even better from the decks of the departing ferries. San Franciscans flock to the street-level marketplace, stocking up on supplies from local favorites such as Acme Bread, Scharffen Berger Chocolate, Cowgirl Creamery, Blue Bottle Coffee, and Humphry Slocombe ice cream. Slanted Door, the city's beloved high-end Vietnamese restaurant, is here, along with highly regarded Bouli Bar. The seafood bar at Hog Island Oyster Company has fantastic bay view panoramas. On the plaza side, the outdoor tables at Gott's Roadside offer great people-watching with their famous burgers. On Saturday morning the plazas outside the building buzz with an upscale farmers' market where you can buy exotic sandwiches and other munchables.

If there’s one place in San Francisco that feels like a city unto itself, it’s Chinatown. Here, people dash between small neighborhood stores, their arms draped with plastic totes filled with groceries or souvenirs. Breathe in the scented air as you watch the nimble hands at Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, then kick back with a cocktail at Li Po around the corner, rumored to be haunted by the ghost of an opium junkie still looking to score. At Tin How Temple, climb the narrow stairway to this space with hundreds of red lanterns, then step onto the tiny balcony and take in the alley scene below. And, of course, don’t skip a chance to have dim sum at Yank Sing.

There's not much south of Market Street that encourages lingering outdoors—or indeed walking at all—with this notable exception. These two blocks encompass the Center for the Arts, the Metreon, Moscone Convention Center, and the convention center's rooftop Children's Creativity Museum, but the gardens themselves are the everyday draw.Office workers escape to the green swath of the East Garden, the focal point of which is the memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. Powerful streams of water surge over large, jagged stone columns, mirroring the enduring force of King's words that are carved on the stone walls and on glass blocks behind the waterfall. Atop the Moscone Convention Center perch a few lures for kids. The historic Looff carousel twirls daily 10–5. South of the carousel is the Children's Creativity Museum, a high-tech, interactive arts-and-technology center geared to children ages 3–12. Kids can make Claymation videos, work in a computer lab, check out new games and apps, and perform and record music videos. Just outside, kids adore the excellent slides, including a 25-foot tube slide, at the play circle. Also part of the rooftop complex are gardens, an ice-skating rink, and a bowling alley.

Perched on a swan-filled lagoon near the Marina's yacht harbor, this stirringly beautiful terra-cotta-color domed structure has an otherworldly quality about it. Built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition and restored in 2008, the palace is a San Francisco architect's version of a Roman ruin, and it's been eliciting gasps for almost a century. The massive columns (each topped with four “weeping maidens”), great rotunda, and swan-filled lagoon have been used in countless fashion layouts, films, and wedding photo shoots. After admiring the lagoon, look across the street to the house at 3460 Baker St. If the maidens out front look familiar, they should—they're original casts of the “garland ladies” you can see in the Palace's colonnade.

It may be world-famous, but first and foremost the park is the city's backyard. Come here any day of the week and you'll find a microcosm of San Francisco, from the Russian senior citizens feeding the pigeons at Stow Lake and the moms pushing strollers through the botanical gardens to school kids exploring the fabulous California Academy of Sciences and arts boosters checking out the latest at the de Young Museum. Be sure to visit the park's iconic treasures, including the serene Japanese Tea Garden and the beautiful Victorian Conservatory of Flowers. If you have the time to venture farther into this urban oasis, you'll discover less-accessible gems like the Beach Chalet and the wild western shores of Ocean Beach.

San Francisco has no shortage of impressive, grand homes, but it's the tiny fairy-tale lanes that make most want to move here, and Macondray Lane is the quintessential hidden garden. Enter under a lovely wooden trellis and proceed down a quiet, cobbled pedestrian lane lined with Edwardian cottages and flowering plants and trees. Watch your step—the cobblestones are quite uneven in spots. A flight of steep wooden stairs at the end of the lane leads to Taylor Street—on the way down you can't miss the bay views. If you've read any of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City books, you may find the lane vaguely familiar. It's the thinly disguised setting for part of the series' action.

Take a look at the exterior of the store: the replica of a revolutionary mural destroyed in Chiapas, Mexico by military forces; the art banners hanging above the windows; and the sign that says “Turn your sell [sic] phone off. Be here now.” This place isn't just doling out best sellers. Designated a city landmark, the hangout of Beat-era writers—Allen Ginsberg and store founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti among them—and independent publisher remains a vital part of San Francisco's literary scene. Browse the three levels of poetry, philosophy, politics, fiction, history, and local zines, to the tune of creaking wood floors. Be sure to check the calendar of literary events.

Most people assume that this stubby white tower atop Telegraph Hill is supposed to look like a fire-hose nozzle. And considering that a fire truck–chasing, cross-dressing 19th-century socialite donated the funds to build it, maybe it is. The tower itself is of vague interest—it does house the history of San Francisco in murals—but the parking lot at its base and tiny park out back have fantastic views of the city and the bay. The tower sits at the top of Telegraph Hill's Filbert Steps, a steep stairway through glorious gardens with vistas of transcendent beauty, an only-in-San Francisco spot locals cherish.

Cotton candy and souvenirs are all well and good, but if you want to get to the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf—boats—there's no better place to do it than at this pier, one of the area's best bargains. Depending on the time of day, you might see boat builders at work or children pretending to man an early-1900s ship. Don't pass up the centerpiece collection of historic vessels, part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, almost all of which can be boarded. The Balclutha, an 1886 full-rigged three-masted sailing vessel that's more than 250 feet long, sailed around Cape Horn 17 times. Kids especially love the Eureka, a side-wheel passenger and car ferry, for her onboard collection of vintage cars. The Hercules is a steam-powered tugboat, and the C.A. Thayer is a beautifully restored three-masted schooner.

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Travel Tips

The Best Things To Do In Kansas City When Someone Visits

Kansas City sits at the center of an identity crisis. It’s a liberal oasis in the middle of two red states, and the state line divides the city itself between Kansas and Missouri. That’s good news for you though. Each day is a chance to explore cultures, worlds, and time periods the average visitor probably wouldn’t expect from a flyover state. Give yourself a weekend and you’ll be hooked.

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Various locations
You can’t come to Kansas City and not indulge in the primal joy of eating meat right off the bone. This is a BBQ city and your BBQ choices will get you judged. Q39 is the newest contender (39th Street), where you can get whiskey with an ice cube made of meat juice. Gates is an all-time classic (found all over town) and The Peanut (the original is downtown but newer locations abound throughout the city) is a city secret for killer wings, dating back to 1933 when it was a speakeasy. Joe’s, located inside a functioning gas station, was featured in the final season of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, so you know it’s worth a stop. And Arthur Bryant’s (also multiple locations) is the move if you’re looking for the most meat for your buck.

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Kansas City has an incredible history steeped in blues and jazz. Around 18th and Vine you’ll find the city’s jazz district, which is also home to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the American Jazz Museum, which are both excellent. But if you’re ready to get genuinely funky, head to the Blue Room for till-dawn drinking and music, or treat yourself to an equally late-night adventure (365 days a year) at the Green Lady Lounge.

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Various locations
One of the biggest draws of Kansas City is the music scene. In addition to the city’s blues and jazz roots, there’s always killer acts hitting up the city to break up the empty drive between tour stops in St. Louis and Denver. Riot Room, Uptown Theater, Knuckleheads, and Arvest Bank Theater are all fantastic venues that always seem to have a show worth checking out. recordBar is one of KC’s best, just-big-enough venues, where you can catch all your favorite medium sized acts as they travel through town (recordBar also has a flying-under-the-radar brunch that is to die for, should you find yourself hungover in the area the next day.) And tiny record shop Records With Merritt has gained a sudden prominence in the local music scene, hosting almost nightly multi-act lineups in an intimate space where just 30 people will pack the room and me it feel like a special show.

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The Plaza
As a kid I came here to gaze at the millions of dollars in Christmas lights. As an adult I'm still impressed, but I’m equally interested in cruising the bars. This 15-block area just north of the river is filled with nice shops and high-end restaurants.The yearly Plaza Art Fair in the fall brings in international artists of all mediums and draws a crowd of over 250,000.

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Various locations
Just off the Plaza, the nearby Nelson Atkins Museum of Art is the go-to stop in KC for high brow arts and culture. The exhibits range from the great masters to the new renegades, with a mile of gorgeous architecture that would be worth the trip even if there weren’t painting on the walls. There’s also a gigantic shuttlecock on the back lawn that has become an odd landmark in the city (it’s a must grab selfie while you’re here).

Not an art fan? Union Station is a historic train station built in 1914 with touring exhibits from around the world. It also sits across the street from the World War I Museum and Memorial, making it an excellent two-for-one destination.

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KC loves to get loose. Pawn & Pints is a bar and restaurant with a six-layered wall of board games that are available to you and your party. Take your pick from literally dozens of games, including Cards Against Humanity and Scattergories.

Tapcade and Up/Down are arcade-bar experiences with wildly different line-ins: the former being a combination movie theater and old-timey cabinet set-up, and the later being a balls-to-the-wall neon blowout. Both will reignite your inner child.

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Arthur Bryant’s (see the BBQ entry) is where most people love to stop for a quick photo, but if you want a selfie that the locals will respect you for, try to pose in front of the Western Auto sign. A gigantic glowing mainstay of the KC skyline, the sign has been unlit at night for decades, until now. Grab a shot of you and a friend outside one of the many local distilleries, with the huge glow of KC spirit behind you.

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7 Best Parks in NYC

New York City is the original concrete jungle, a bustling mass of skyscrapers, sidewalks, and subways.

Green spaces and gardens can be few and far between, making them especially coveted for residents and visitors alike – especially once the weather warms up.

Whether you’re searching for the perfect picnic ground, space to run and play, or simply a grassy knoll away from the teeming masses, here are a few of my favorite NYC parks (and a bonus one in Brooklyn!).

Not included in here are the riverfront greenways, but know that if you’re ever itching for a breeze and a tree-lined esplanade, heading to the waterfront is a good way to go.

Without a doubt, the most well-known park in NYC (if not the world). It takes up 778 acres in the heart of Manhattan: six percent of the total land area of the island!

There’s plenty to do in Central Park in all seasons: ice skating and sledding, bike riding or rollerblading, having a picnic in Sheep Meadow, or just wandering around to enjoy the leaves changing color or the magnolia trees blooming.

Although Central Park New York is a favorite place for New Yorkers to walk their dogs or play in a softball league, there are plenty of iconic sites as well. Have a drink at the Boathouse and watch the lovers row around the lake under Bow Bridge – or even rent a boat yourself.

You can splurge on dinner at Tavern on the Green, watch the kids (and adults) race model sailboats on the Conservatory Water, pop into the Metropolitan Museum of Art or see the view of Turtle Pond from Belvedere Castle.

Note that the farther north you go in the park, the fewer tourists you’ll see!

Washington Square Park is right in the heart of West Village, and only a few steps from the shopping madness of SoHo. The square is also lined with the NYU campus buildings, so it’s unsurprisingly filled with plenty of college kids.

Home to the most famous arch in the city – built to celebrate the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration as president – there’s also a fountain that is filled with playing children during the summer months.

It’s hard to believe you’re still on Manhattan when you’re in Fort Tryon Park: it starts at 190 th Street. It holds the city’s largest public garden, overlooking the Hudson River with a view of the George Washington Bridge.

It’s big enough (and far enough away from the center of the city) that you can always find a quiet corner to yourself.

Fort Tryon Park is also home to the Cloisters, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art that focuses on medieval art and is actually made up of ancient buildings that were transported from Europe and reconstructed on the site.

My favorite part of the Cloisters is the outdoor section: it has a herb garden with more than 250 species of plants that were grown during the Middle Ages.

Gramercy Park is arguably the most exclusive green space in New York City: you can only enter with one of 383 coveted keys to the park. It’s been fenced since 1833 and locked since 1844, with keys only granted to parkside residents, club members and hotel guests.

But even if you can’t wiggle your toes in the grass, it’s still a lovely and quiet tree-lined walk around the park.

I feel like Riverside Park is one of the best-kept secrets in NYC: it’s only a few blocks west of Central Park, but almost no tourists venture that way.

It stretches four miles (from 72 nd to 158 th streets) along the Hudson River, with a wide space to walk or bike that is completely lined with gorgeous towering elm trees.

There are a few select gardens, historical monuments (the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ is likely the most well-known), playgrounds and a skate park.

Don’t miss stopping at the Boat Basin for a drink with a view of the marina after a walk through the park!

Located in the East Village, Tompkins Square Park is reflective of the eclectic, sometimes-grungy, sometimes-hipster neighborhood that surrounds it.

On a sunny day, the limited grass area is packed with sunbathers and picnickers sipping champagne out of red plastic cups. It’s not a huge park, but there’s a dog run, playground, plenty of benches and picnic tables, and often community events.

Fun fact: it’s also home to the original Hare Krishna tree, although you’re more likely to see adherents of the religion in Union Square today.

Bonus Brooklyn park! I live in Brooklyn, so I may be biased – but what I love most about Prospect Park is that there aren’t very many tourists (not that we don’t love you!).

It was designed by the same person who developed Central Park, so there are a ton of similarities, but it’s full of locals!

It’s not quite as classically beautiful or as well-maintained, but it’s huge and green and full of wide open spaces.

If you’re looking for activity, try a bike ride around the loop (you can rent a CitiBike near Barclay Center) or a paddle boat around the lake.

It’s also worth checking out the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which is located right down the street: it’s especially resplendent during cherry blossom season, but there’s something blooming year-round.