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Walking the Streets of San Francisco

The best way to really get to know any city is to walk its main thoroughfares, ramble down its side alleys, and immerse yourself in the day-to-day activities taking place on the streets its locals frequent. San Francisco is no exception. Plus, as an added bonus, the city’s numerous hills will make you more fit in the process.

Do It Yourself with a Self-Guided Tour

If you want to do it yourself, the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau offers printable PDF files of five favorite walking tours in San Francisco including Union Square, Chinatown, and Fisherman’s Wharf. You can download these illustrated guides directly from their website, but you’ll need Adobe Acrobat Reader software to view the files. Another option is the Diverse City Destinations website, which offers a series of ten self-guided walking itineraries for tours such as “Jazz & Blues,” “Art to Architecture,” and “Soul of the City.”

If you’d rather use a “real” book as your guide to walking San Francisco, there are several good options. Walking San Francisco by Liz Gans (Falcon) guides you through 18 popular walks, including several in the scenic Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Lunchtime Walks in Downtown San Francisco by Gail Todd (Wilderness Press) shows you 33 short walks that offer a great way to see popular San Francisco areas by foot, even when you’re short on time. Stairway Walks in San Francisco by Adah Bakalinsky (Wilderness Press) offers detailed itineraries for 27 walks through San Francisco’s little-known stairways. These walks are a great way to get to know the “hidden” San Francisco and get a great workout at the same time.

Let a Guide Show You the Way

If you’re looking for a guided walking tour, San Francisco City Guides offers the best deal in town on guided San Francisco tours—they’re free. With over 30 different offerings, City Guides takes you to all the usual destinations such as Chinatown, Haight Ashbury, and North Beach as well as to other lesser known but equally intriguing areas of the city. Tours such as “Ghost Walk at City Hall,” “Bawdy & Naughty,” and “Gold Rush City,” reflect the city’s colorful past. City Guides is a non-profit organization sponsored by the San Francisco Public Library.

Another option is the Victorian Home Walk, takes you on a 2-1/2 hour tour past more than 200 Victorians and includes a visit inside a Queen Anne Victorian as well as a scenic cable car ride. Tour price is $20 per person.

The Chinese Cultural Center of San Francisco offers two docent-led walks of Chinatown. The Chinese Heritage Walk offers a guided cultural tour of Chinatown for $17 per person. The Chinese Culinary Walk emphasizes culinary Chinatown and includes a dim sum lunch for $40 per person.

Coffee lovers should appreciate Javawalk, a two-hour guided tour of San Francisco’s best coffeehouse culture at $20 per person. If the thought of all that java is making you hungry, check out the Wok Wiz tours. This tour company offers several tours including the Wok Wiz Daily Tour, the I Can’t Believe I Ate My Way Through Chinatown Tour, and the Ciao Chow – Chinatown and North Beach Tour. Prices vary based on tour.

Unique, Unusual, and Out of This World

Interested in visiting some of San Francisco’s most notorious haunted homes? The San Francisco Ghost Hunt just might be the ticket. This tour takes you on a three-hour visit of Pacific Height’s haunted past and includes an inside tour of one of the most famous “haunted mansions.” The tour price is $20 per person.

If San Francisco’s vampire lore intrigues you, give the Vampire Tour of San Francisco a try. Led by 127-year vampress Mina Harker, as portrayed by a local actress/playwright, the tour provides a guided visit of Nob Hill mixed with vampire fantasy. As legend has it, Mina was embraced by Count Dracula himself in 1897 and has lived in the tunnels under Nob Hill ever since. Played for entertainment value and popular with both locals and tourists, the tour costs $20 per mortal.

The Great Outdoors

If you’re interested in getting out of the city, check out the Sierra Club’s offerings. It offers hundreds of hikes and walks per year for all fitness levels, plus provides the opportunity to meet and mingle with the locals. A few of the scheduled hikes are in the city itself, like the city stairways hikes, but most take you to scenic locations outside the city such as Mt. Tamalpais or Pt. Reyes.

City Hikes arranges hikes of scenic San Francisco locations for groups of eight or more. Locations include Golden Gate Park, Presidio-Crissy Field, Fort Mason-Marina, Fort Funston-Ocean Beach. Occasionally, they also schedule public hikes for which individuals can sign up.

San Francisco is a great walker’s city, offering an eclectic mix of walking tour options. Whether you’re an urban aficionado, a nature lover, or a seeker of the unique and unusual, San Francisco will entertain you and keep you in shape at the same time.

Outdoor Adventures in Boulder

Boulder might be a small city, but it’s loaded with huge outdoor adventure opportunities. The city is home to a little under 100,000 residents but in the area’s 27 square mile borders are over 200 miles of hiking trails as well as 41,000 acres of open space. The city lies at the foot of the Rock Mountains and has an extensive park system not only within its boundaries but is also surrounded by national and state parks. The city also receives about 300 days of sunshine a year, providing ample conditions to enjoy these surroundings. With credentials like these, it’s easy to see why this city was recently named the “ Best Place to be an Uberjock” by Outside Magazine.

Here are a few of the outdoor adventures the city has to offer your inner uberjock:

Hiking

Many prime hiking can be found in Boulder as the area was one of the first cities in the U.S to establish an open space program in 1964. A popular and nearby destination is Chautauqua Park, where paths lead hikers into the foothills of the Flatirons, a mountain whose three primary formations stand out as a signature emblem for the city. There are miles upon miles of hiking paths in the park and a good place to start researching for specific trail paths in the area as well as in surrounding parks is at the City of Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks website. Here information on topics such as popular trailheads, basic trail information, regulations, hiking guides, and an overall summary of the Boulder Mountain Parks trail system can be found.

Biking

Riding up Flagstaff Mountain is a true test of endurance, challenging both heart and legs to the extent. The route is infamous for it’s rapid rise in elevation and might be painful going up, but riders will be rewarded with the journey back down.

Another option is Boulder Creek Path. This 16 mile path goes right through the middle of town so is a great opportunity to see the city, as well as local cyclists going about their business. With 35 miles of bike lanes, biking is a popular alternative to driving and many residents opt to get around the city by pedal power.

A good spot to start research on local routes is the Colorado Mountain Bike Web Search site, which gives descriptive information on biking trails around the Boulder and Longmont area. Also check out the Boulder Off Road Alliance site for additional options.

Rock Climbing

About 8 miles southwest of Boulder is Eldorado Canyon State Park: in short a climber’s paradise. The park offers some 500 technical rock climbing routes and is a mecca for enthusiasts around the world. Aside from climbing, the park is also overflowing with hiking and biking trails.

Both bouldering and rock climbing ventures can be based from the Flatirons. The mountain is divided into three sections north, south, and central and diverse climbing opportunities can be found in each area. A great place to practice sport or lead climbing is at Flatirons south.

For detailed information on routes available at both Eldorado Canyon State Park ,the Flatirons, and other nearby areas, check out Climbing Boulder.com. This site is an invaluable route database collection and provides up-to-date information on climbing areas and routes from around the state of Colorado.

Kayaking

Boulder Creek runs through Eben G. Fine Park, and kayakers can take on the 20 slalom gate kayak course west of the park all year round. Other areas to check out include Clear Creek as well as South Boulder Creek.

Kayaks can be rented from a variety of outlets including the Boulder Outdoor Center. This site also includes useful information such as drop in and take out points for river runs on South Boulder Creek, Boulder Creek, and Upper Boulder Creek.

Snowshoeing

When conditions are right, this sport can be enjoyed on basically any hiking trail. A great place to check out though is the Eldora Nordic Center, which is located at the county’s only ski resort, Eldora Mountain. On average, the mountain receives about 300 inches of snow a year.

The center has 37 miles of trails to cross-country ski and snowshoe on and is only about 20 miles from Boulder. The center is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. throughout the week and 8:30 a.m. to 4.p.m. on weekends and holidays. Trail maps and directions can be found at www.eldora.com.

Outdoor enthusiasts should have plenty to do in the Boulder, but just in case you might be looking for more terrain to conquer, Estes Park, which is Rocky Mountain National Park’s eastern gateway, is only around 30 miles away.

A Hiking Guide to Easter Island

Ask me which Pacific island has the most to offer hikers and I’ll probably answer Easter Island. Here on an island 11 km wide and 23 km long you’ll find nearly a thousand ancient Polynesian statues strewn along a powerfully beautiful coastline or littering the slopes of an extinct volcano.

The legends of Easter Island have been recounted many times. What’s less known is that the island’s assorted wonders are easily accessible on foot from the comfort of the only settlement, Hanga Roa. Before setting out see the sights, however, visit the excellent archaeological museum next to Ahu Tahai on the north side of town (the term “ahu” refers to an ancient stone platform). Aside from the exhibits, the museum has maps which can help you plan your trip. On online map is available at www.mapsouthpacific.com/easter_island.

The first morning after arrival, I suggest you climb Easter Island’s most spectacular volcano, Rano Kau, where Orongo, a major archaeological site, sits on the crater’s rim.But rather than marching straight up the main road to the crater, look for the unmarked shortcut trail off a driveway to the right just past the forestry station south of town. It takes under two hours to cover the six km from Hanga Roa to Orongo, but bring along a picnic lunch and make a day of it. (If climbing a 316-meter hill sounds daunting, you can take a taxi to the summit for around US$6 and easily walk back later in the day.) Once on top, you’ll find hiking down into the colourful crater presents no difficulty. It may also look easy to go right around the crater rim, but only do so if you’re a very experienced hiker and have a companion along as shear 250-meter cliffs drop into the sea from the ridge.

Another day, rise early and take a taxi to lovely Anakena Beach at the end of the paved road on the north side of the island (you should pay under US$10 for the 20 km). A few of the famous Easter Island statues have been restored at Anakena and you could go for a swim, although the main reason you’ve come is the chance to trek back to Hanga Roa around the road-free northwest corner of the island. You’ll pass numerous abandoned statues lying facedown where they fell, and the only living creatures you’re unlikely to encounter are the small brown hawks which will watch you intently from perches on nearby rocks. If you keep moving, you’ll arrive back in town in five or six hours (but take adequate food, water, and sunscreen). This is probably the finest coastal walk in the South Pacific.

Almost as good is the hike along the south coast, although you’re bound to run into other tourists here as a paved highway follows the shore. Begin early and catch a taxi to Rano Raraku, the stone quarry where all of the island’s statues were born. This is easily the island’s most spectacular sight with 397 statues in various stages of completion lying scattered around the crater. And each day large tour groups come to Rano Raraku to sightsee and have lunch. However, if you arrive before 9 am, you’ll have the site to yourself for a few hours. When you see the first tour buses headed your way, hike down to Ahu Tongariki on the coast, where 15 massive statues were reerected in 1994. From here, just start walking back toward Hanga Roa (20 km) along the south coast. You’ll pass many fallen statues and enjoy some superb scenery. Whenever you get tired, simply go up onto the highway and stick out your thumb and you’ll be back in town in a jiffy.

An outstanding 13-km walk begins at the museum and follows the west coast five km north to Ahu Tepeu. As elsewhere, keep your eyes pealed for banana trees growing out of the barren rocks as these often indicate caves you can explore. Inland from Ahu Tepeu is one of the island’s most photographed sites, Ahu Akivi, with seven statues restored in 1960. From here an interior farm road runs straight back to town (study the maps at the museum carefully, as you’ll go far out of your way if you choose the wrong road here).

A shorter hike takes you up Puna Pau, a smaller crater which provided stone for the red topknots that originally crowned the island’s statues. There’s a great view of Hanga Roa from the three crosses on an adjacent hill and you can easily do it all in half a day. A different walk takes you right around the 3,353-meter airport runway, which crosses the island just south of town. Near the east end of the runway is Ahu Vinapu with perfectly fitted monolithic stonework bearing an uncanny resemblance to similar constructions in Peru.

Easter Island’s moderate climate and scant vegetation make for easy cross country hiking, and you won’t find yourself blocked by fences and private property signs very often. You could also tour the island by mountain bike, available from several locations at US$10 a day. If you surf or scuba dive, there are many opportunities here. A minimum of five days are needed to see the main sights of Easter Island, and two weeks would be far better. The variety of things to see and do will surprise you, and you’ll be blessed with some unforgettable memories.