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Weekend Getaway: San Francisco

Enjoy the best the city by the bay and its lush environs have to offer this spring.
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It's prime time to schedule a day off work, pack your bags and get ready for a relaxing long weekend on the West Coast.

It's spring in San Francisco, and a beautiful time of the year to visit the city, especially for those who are still dealing with overcast days and a lack of green vistas.

However, no matter when you're planning on visiting San Francisco, be sure to pack a sweater, as the temperature can drop quickly at any given moment, especially at night when chilly Pacific winds sweep over the city.

There are countless options for lodging, but if you're looking to splurge, stay at the

Four Seasons. A standard room runs about $450 a night, but it's well worth it for the exquisite decor and service, as well as amenities like plush robes, in-room Sony PlayStations and complimentary admission to the adjacent Sports Club LA.

For a trendier hotel with a hip bar scene, look no further than the

Clift, where a standard room is around $250 a night.

Enjoy fusion cuisine at the hotel's Asia de Cuba restaurant and then drink a martini at the swanky Redwood Room, where beautiful people go to see and be seen.

Once you've dropped off your bags, explore the city's myriad culinary gems. You may only have a few days, but definitely check out the authentic Mexican offerings in the Mission District or grab a snack while wandering through the city's extensive Chinatown.

There's also

Universal Cafe for brunch (don't miss the toasted banana bread) and classic local fare at

Oola, seafood standout

Aqua, elegant Vietnamese at

The Slanted Door or the famed

Chez Panisse in Berkeley.

For activities, catch a baseball game, run along the water on the Embarcadero or take a stroll on Fillmore Street in Pacific Heights, where upscale boutiques and chic cafes line the street.

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And if you're the artsy type, take some time to visit

White Walls Gallery for unique urban pieces or the

Xanadu Gallery for a more worldly experience.

Outdoor enthusiasts should also take advantage of San Francisco's green spaces, such as the vast Golden Gate Park, which holds a stunning array of trees and flowers. Countless hiking trails are also found in the East Bay, including those at

Mount Diablo, a short half-hour drive from the city. It is said from the summit of the mountain, the Farallon Islands become visible on clear days.

For more information on area trails, check out

Bay Area Hiker.

Tuck Into Napa

Whatever you do, plan to spend at least a day in Napa Valley, about 50 miles north of San Francisco.

As you drive through the quaint countryside streets and take in the beauty of rolling fields overcome with mustard flowers and endless vineyards, you'll be happy you did.

Some wineries worth a visit are

Joseph Phelps, whose 2002 Insignia and 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon wines have received grand reviews;

Cakebread for delicious Sauvignon Blanc;

Domain Chandon for sparkling wine;

Barnett Vineyards, an unmapped, relatively small vineyard known for its Cabernets; and of course, the well-known

Robert Mondavi Winery.

As many wineries require tasting and tour appointments, be sure to call and set them up in advance, if necessary.

If you're going to be visiting and tasting many different wines, it's a good idea to

charter a private car or limo. Rates start at $55 an hour for a four-person vehicle and go up to $125 an hour for a 36-passenger coach bus. A three-hour minimum rental is required, except on Saturdays, when it rises to a minimum of six hours.

To avoid the crowds, try to go on a weekday or Sunday. And rather than pay $3 for a map of the Napa Valley wineries at a visitor information center,

download and print one for free.

While in Napa, also plan to take ample time to savor lunch or dinner.

For the ultimate dining experiences, head to chef Thomas Keller's

The French Laundry, which has been showered with numerous awards and continues to be one of the best French restaurants in the country.

Lunch is served only Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and dinner is available daily from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Dining options include two nine-course tasting menus, one chef-recommended and the other vegetarian, which change daily and are priced at $240 each.

Keep in mind, however, that reservations at this lauded spot are required two months in advance.

For a less expensive option, try the daily changing $45 four-course family-style menu at

Ad Hoc, also run by Thomas Keller. Another alternative is Italian eatery

Uva Trattoria, specializing in pastas and pizza -- try their addictive


(fried risotto balls) as an appetizer.

A little bit of country and a little bit of city will round out your weekend retreat just right. Indulge yourself and plan a few days away in San Francisco. You'll find it was just what you needed.

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