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San Francisco's Literary History

Hidden Bay Area Book Treats

It's your fault really. You're the one who lives in the ultimate tourist destination, a.k.a. the San Francisco Bay Area.

Nobody forced you to come here, so when you get the phone calls: "I'm coming into town! Can I crash with you?," it's important to be friendly, stay gracious and have a game plan. Yes, these visitors may want you to show them those areas you never otherwise visit (Fisherman's Wharf anyone?), but you can also have some fun while you're at it.

Here are eight truly great ways to spend part of the day:

1. The Dashiell Hammett Walking Tour is in effect on Sundays during May and September. For $10 per person, Don Herron will show you every place Hammett is known to have lived in the City and the majority of locales from this renowned mystery writer's classic novel, The Maltese Falcon.

2. It's an oldie but still a goodie, and may already be on the "must visit" list of many: City Lights Bookstore, located in North Beach, is a literary landmark and home to decades of indie book spirit. San Francisco's first poet laureate, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, may be spotted walking or biking around.

3. You wouldn't know it, but Valhalla Books, tucked inside a nondescript office building on Mission Street, features an excellent selection of used and rare collectible books, a treasure-hunter's dream. In fact, it's such a secret I've been told not to reveal more information...

4. Book Bay at Fort Mason is a used bookstore operated by the Friends and Foundation of the San Francisco Public Library. The store features tons of contemporary lit at very cheap prices, as well as an interesting assortment of history, biographies, collectible books and more. My perfect day includes a stop here, take-out lunch from vegetarian Greens Restaurant and an hour on a bench overlooking the waterfront.

5. The Mechanics' Institute building houses the oldest library on the West Coast and one of the oldest chess clubs in the United States. It was organized in 1854 and still exists as a library today, and offers author events and cultural programming. This is a beautiful building to explore with anyone deeply interested in San Francisco history.

6. Founded by Andrew Hoyem in 1974, Arion Press publishes deluxe, limited-edition books, many of them illustrated by prominent artists and some accompanied by separate editions of original prints. Public tours of the production facilities, including the historic type foundry, are held every Thursday at 3 pm for $7 per person (students in school groups pay $3 each). Call ahead of time to reserve a space.

7. The Bermuda Triangle of Used Bookstores: Adobe Book Shop, Forest Books and Abandoned Planet somehow continue to survive while operating within less than a block of each other at Valencia and 16th Street -- this lively corner is also a lot more titillating than Fisherman's Wharf, while still providing a healthy dose of cheap eats and entertaining performers.

8. High-rollin' book collectors would be wise to pay a visit to the Pacific Book Auction Galleries during one of the often exciting live auctions, generally held on Thursdays. Items offered for sale, including ultra-rare books, prints and manuscripts of all genres may be previewed at the gallery during the Tuesday and Wednesday prior to the auction from 9 am to 5 pm or by appointment.

Keep in mind that these book goodies aren't just for tourists. If you're a Bay Area native or transplant, ensure you've checked these literary activities off your "to do" list.

Dashiell Hammett Tour: [url=http://www.donherron.com/tour.html]www.donherron.com/tour.html

City Lights Bookstore: www.citylights.com, 261 Columbus Ave., SF, 415.362.8193

Valhalla Books: 2141 Mission St # 202, SF, 415.863.9250

Books by the Bay: www.friendsandfoundation.org/bookbaystore.html, Fort Mason Center, Bldg C, SF, 415.771.1076

Mechanics' Institute Library: www.milibrary.org, 57 Post St., SF, 415.393.0101

Arion Press: www.arionpress.com, 1802 Hays Street, The Presidio, SF, 415.561.2542

Abandoned Planet Books: 518 Valencia St., SF, 415.861.4695

Adobe Book Shop: 3166 16th St., 415.864.3936

Forest Books: 3080 16th St., 415.863.2755

Pacific Book Auction Galleries: www.pbagalleries.com, 133 Kearny St., SF, 415.989.2665