GETTING AROUND: The cheapest way downtown from the airport is SamTrans (San Mateo County Transit District) buses: the fare is as low as 85 cents. The bus drops you at the Transbay Terminal, leaving a good hike or taxi ride to most hotels. It's best to take any of the many shuttle services, such as Airport Express or Super Shuttle, that drop travelers at their hotel: $9 or $10 a person. Public transportation - cable cars, Muni buses and Muni Metro streetcars - cover all of San Francisco. Cable cars are $2; buses and streetcars are 85 cents. Muni Passports good for all of the above are a great deal: one day $6; three days $10; seven days $15.
WHERE TO STAY: San Francisco Reservations (1-800-677-1550), is a free service that helps travelers find the best hotel value. In the $70-$100 range are the Hotel Bedford, the Kensington Park and the Cartwright, all near downtown. The San Francisco International Hostel is far from downtown but a bargain at $13 a person, in shared rooms.
WHERE TO EAT: The Chinatown and Mission districts offer good, low-cost restaurants. Places that seem crowded with locals are the best bets, although this often means a longer wait. For breakfast, try Sear's Fine Foods, within easy walking distance of Union Square. Other favored spots: Hunan Restaurant (Chinese, 924 Sansome); Little Joe's (Italian, 523 Broadway); Sanppo (Japanese, 1702 Post); and Khan Toke (Thai, 5937 Geary).
TOURS/WALKS: This is a great walking town. An organization, City Guides, offers more than 30 free walking tours of the city. Gray Line's motorized cable cars run a set loop, with narration, from Union Square to the cannery, near Fisherman's Wharf. Cost is $8 adults, $4 children. Cars depart from both locations every half hour between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
CHEAP & UNIQUE: Take at least one cable-car ride. The fare is $2, soon likely to be $3. Take a ferry to Marin County or to Alcatraz. Others sights: Golden Gate Park; Chinatown; Japantown; North Beach (Little Italy); the Mission District; free concerts in Stern Grove and Golden Gate Park, and street artists at Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf. Elevators at the Westin St. Francis and Fairmont hotels offer views as do the Greenwich Street steps from Sansome Street to Coit Tower. Hike in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the city's own piece of wilderness. Cross the Golden Gate Bridge - on foot.
INFORMATION: The San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau, P.O. Box 429097, San Francisco, CA 94142. Phone: 1-415-391-2000. The bureau 's guide, "The San Francisco Book," ($2) is a comprehensive introduction to the city.