San Francisco's Russian Hill neighborhood is full of green discoveries

This month, 300 feet above downtown San Francisco, thelofty, leafy neighborhood of Russian Hill bursts into bloom. Tuckedaway in the alleys and steep stairways of the city's north side areseveral pocket gardens and green retreats that make for adelightful day of strolling.

Macondray Lane (off Taylor Street between Green and UnionStreets) is the area's most famous walkway, thanks to its allegedrole in Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City; it supposedly was themodel for Barbary Lane. A goldfish pond and cottages with gardensof hydrangeas line the two-block path hidden by buildings and lushfoliage. Maupin crafted his books while living on Havens Place (offLeavenworth Street between Union and Filbert Streets), a lessfamous dead-end stairway lined with gardens.

Molinari Mana Park, also called Marion Place (off Union betweenTaylor and Jones Streets), is a tiny pocket marked by a largeacacia tree. The steep, dead-end walkway has been targeted bybuilding owners as a driveway for a proposed garage, but so fargreen-space advocates have prevailed.

Poet's namesake Ina Coolbrith Park (off Vallejo Street betweenMason and Taylor Streets) rewards you with gorgeous views ofTreasure Island and the Bay Bridge after the blood-pumping climb upthe Vallejo steps.

Though Lombard Street isn't technically the most twisted routein the city, its hill is still the most popular with tourists.Weekdays, when the traffic is lighter, take a pleasant windingclimb on foot past hanging baskets and front gardens packed withimpatiens.

For a hilltop picnic, hit sleek Andrew & Company (closedSun; 2238 Polk St.; 415/447-4094) for take-out food. Or linger onthe west side of the hill to enjoy the many outstandingeateries-you can't go wrong with pasta at Antica Trattoria (closedMon; 2400 Polk; 415/928-5797), Spanish tapas at Zarzuela (openTue-Sat; 2000 Hyde St.; 415/346-0800), or the onion soup at LePetit Robert (closed Tue; 2300 Polk; 415/922-8100). Hyde and Polkare also lined with interesting boutiques.

For dessert, venture to the original Swensen's Ice Cream Shoppe(closed Mon; 1999 Hyde; 415/775-6818), established in 1948. OwnerRichard Campana has worked here since 1959 and says one thinghasn't changed after all those years: "The most popular ice creamflavor is still vanilla."

Just as beauty blooms eternal up on top of Russian Hill, below,it seems, old favorites endure.

REGARDING RUSSIAN HILL

WHERE: Russian Hill is bounded by North Point St., ColumbusAve., Mason St., Pacific Ave., and Van Ness Ave.

CONTACT: For more information, contact Russian HillNeighbors, www.rhn.org or (415)267-0575.

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