Take the N-Judah

Tour San Francisco from the breakers to the bay ― for $1.25
Tour San Francisco from the breakers to the bay — for $1.25
As a car-happy Californian, I thought public transit was a great idea ― for everybody else. Then I moved near San Francisco's N-Judah line and found a streetcar to love. Running from Ocean Beach across the city to the Caltrain station, the N-Judah isn't cable-car quaint. But for showing you the best of San Francisco, from breakers to bay to Barry Bonds, the line is in a class by itself.

I start the trip at the route's west end. (Starting at the east is more convenient if you're coming from the Peninsula or BART.) Here, sip a cappuccino or a Guinness at Buffy and Pat Maguire's Hibernian surf hangout, Java Beach (1396 La Playa St.; 415/665-5282). Up the street, the Sea Breeze Cafe & Restaurant (closed Mon; 3940 Judah St.; 415/242-6022) has an unpretentious atmosphere and good food. A block away, Marge Heard has assembled a lovely, idiosyncratic assortment of soaps and jewelry at her tiny shop, the Last Straw (noon-6 Tue-Sat; 4540 Irving St.; 415/566-4692). Heard began here 30 years ago after fleeing a career in banking. "I had to get out," she says. "It was necessary for me and for the poor bank."

Pay your $1.25 and ride east to Ninth Avenue and Irving Street and the once-dowdy, now-hip Inner Sunset. One could spend a whole day here, but two essential stops are Arizmendi (closed Mon; 1331 Ninth Ave.; 415/566-3117), for sublime pizzas and breads; and, for onboard reading material, Black Oak Books (630 Irving; 415/564-0877). Next, the N-Judah runs along Carl Street to carry you to Cole Valley. If it's after 5:30, toast your journey at sleek Eos Restaurant & Wine Bar (901 Cole St.; 415/566-3063). Or get burgers and milkshakes at BurgerMeister (86 Carl St.; 415/566-1274).

A few blocks farther east, the N-Judah briefly loses its uniqueness, diving underground to merge with other Muni routes. But it rises, triumphant, on the Embarcadero to carry you to SBC Park (Third St. at King St.; http://sanfrancisco.giants.mlb.com or 415/972-2000). It's a sunny September afternoon; the Giants are in town. You take it from here.

Streetcar time

The N-Judah runs from roughly 5 a.m. to midnight daily ($1.25, 35 cents ages 5-17 and seniors; transfers good for 1 1/2 hours; www. sfmuni.com or 415/673-6864).