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What is a great city? It's a city that, when you're in the heart of it, you know exactly where you are. New York is a great city. Boston is a great city. San Francisco is a great city. New Orleans is, still. Inside, we've chosen a few of America's best cities that are especially worthy of a trip and asked folks who know themfrom bell captain to movie director to make some recommendations. There are plenty of others (including, of course, Chicagoif we weren't already there). And we'll get to them. But first let us start with . . .
From Keith Lockhart, conductor, Boston Pops.
The essential experience: A Pops concert. Of course. "Come join 'America's Orchestra' on the 4th of July if you want to hang out with half a million friends. A close second would be taking in a game at Fenway . . . the way baseball should be. Like Chicagoans, we take our baseball seriously!"
But don't miss: "Boston's old neighborhoods, like Beacon Hill, or stroll down in the Harbor district, check out the aquarium and watch the boats come in."
Local delicacy: "I'm not much into baked beans or cod, so I guess I would have to choose the noble lobster. A close second: a great plate of pasta in a cozy North End restaurant."
Best big-bucks restaurant: "L'Espalier in Back Bay is certainly the place one thinks of . . . but my favorite is probably Barbara Lynch's spectacular No. 9 Park Street, in Beacon Hill."
Iconic neighborhood favorite: Beacon Hill is "a great place to stroll at twilight, and then hole up for a cozy bite in either the Beacon Hill Bistro or the wonderful Lala Rokh, a warm and friendly [Persian] establishment that is probably the best ethnic restaurant in Boston."
The perfect Boston walk: "Walking along the Esplanade [where the Pops plays on the 4th] is gorgeous [with the] sun setting over the Charles, sailboats and seagulls, and you can go for miles. Make a loop through Beacon Hill, back through the Public Garden. Boston is a big small town, and it's all right there at your feet."
Info: Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, 888-SEE BOSTON; www.bostonusa.com
From Hollywood director/writer/actor Garry Marshall.
The essential experience: The Hollywood Bowl. "Nothing compares to seeing your favorite artists under the stars while enjoying a picnic dinner complete with dessert and popcorn at intermission. I also shot two pictures there: 'Beaches' and 'Dear God.' If I could shoot a third, it would be 'Picnic Dinner Complete With Dessert and Popcorn at Intermission.' "
But don't miss: The live theater. "You say 'L.A.' and the first thought is traffic. Actually, there are more live stage productions each year in Los Angeles than any other city in the entire country! I have to go now to beat the traffic."
Local delicacy: It's a place. "The Smokehouse Restaurant offers great food, entertainment and a rich Hollywood history. Bing Crosby and Bob Hope took a break from the road to grab a bite. The Smokehouse is also a great place to take the kidsany kids, even if they're not your own."
Best big-bucks restaurant: Le Petit Chateau, in North Hollywood. "I go for the service, the ambience and the [French] cuisine. And it's in the Valley, like all my favorite restaurants except the Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills."
Iconic neighborhood favorite: "I cross the street from my Falcon Theatre [in Burbank] and go to Papoo's Hot Dog Show. And what a show! They have bean dogs, chili dogs, ham dogs, parmesan dogs, hot Polish dogs and quarter-pound avocado dogs. I get the fried egg sandwich."
The perfect Los Angeles walk: "There are a lot of great places to walk in L.A. The problem is you might have to drive to get there. One of my favorites is walking around George Izay Park in Burbank, where I play softball."
Info: L.A. Inc., the Convention and Visitors Bureau, 213-689-8822; www.lacvb.com
From Yakov Karboff, bell captain, Eden Roc Resort and Spa, Miami Beach.
The essential experience: South Beach. "It's not just the restaurants. It's culture things, it's shopping, it's everything. Daylight and nightlight."
But don't miss: Calle Ocho (8th Street), the traditional main street of Miami's Cuban district, though come with realistic expectations. "Cubans are moving out. It's just good authentic Cuban restaurants and nothing else."
The local delicacy: "Stone crabs are unique."
Best big-bucks restaurant: Joe's Stone Crab. "Famous people from New York come in to eat over there."
Iconic neighborhood favorite: Rascal House (North Miami Beach). "The best pastrami sandwiches. . . . I live right near there. Always a line of people there. Always."
The perfect Miami Beach/Miami walk: Lincoln Road. "It's art galleries, restaurantsit's a street with a musical life, especially Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday."
Info: Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, 800-933-8448; www.gmcvb.com
From Millie Ball, travel editor, New Orleans Times-Picayune.
The essential experience: "The French Quarter, dawlin', as you're likely to be called by some local women. We mispronounce lots of French words here, so Esplanade is Es-plan-ADE (like lemonade), Chartres is Charters, Burgundy is Bur-GUN-dy."
But don't miss: "To understand New Orleans and what people here are going through, take the Gray Line tour (or Tours by Isabelle), guided by people who have lost their homes, to see parts of the city devastated by Hurricane Katrina."
Local delicacy: Beignets (deep-fried, square holeless doughnuts; Cafe du Monde), po-boys (kind of a hero; Johnny's Po-Boys) and muffulettas (Italian cold cuts on round loaves; Central Grocery). "If you have a car, the best roast beef po-boy in New Orleans is at the Parkway Bakery & Tavern."
Best big-bucks restaurant: Galatoire's. "Lawyers send secretaries on Fridays to save a table, since you can only make a reservation for the upstairs room, where, trust me, you will miss the fun. Oh, about the foodlet your waiter order for you."
Iconic neighborhood favorite: "Where to begin? Upperline and Clancy'sboth upscale restaurants in Uptown serving contemporary Louisiana food. . . . In the French Quarter, there's no place like Napoleon House. Locals enjoy the patio or tables by the open doors and sip Pimm's Cups (a cool, gin drink with a cucumber garnish) and listen to opera."
The perfect New Orleans walk: Magazine Street, from either Jackson to Louisiana Avenue ("the rear border of the Garden District") or from Jefferson Avenue into Audubon Park.
Info: New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau, 800-672-6124; www.neworleanscvb.com
From Cristyne L. Nicholas, president, NYC & Company (the city visitors' bureau).
The essential experience: Central Park. "With 843 acres, the park offers something for everyonea world-class zoo, a skating rink, bridle paths and a lake. When Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux designed it in 1858, little did they know nearly 25 million people would enjoy the park each year."
But don't miss: Wave Hill in the Bronx. "It's a hidden secret on the northern tip of New York City. This public garden and cultural institution is located in a spectacular setting with scenic views overlooking the Hudson River and the Palisades. "
Local delicacy: A hot dog at Nathan's on Coney Island, then "stop at Astroland for a ride on the Cycloneone of the most unique roller coasters in the country and a New York City landmark."
Best big-bucks restaurant: Cafe Boulud, on the Upper East Side. "Daniel Boulud's French-American is a favorite spot of mine and where I bring family and friends for special occasions. The setting is cozy and intimate, and the staff strives to make everyone feel like a VIP."
Iconic neighborhood favorite: "Michael's Restaurant on West 55th Street, where along with the spectacular food some of the best people-watching can be enjoyed. The main dining room looks onto a private garden in the back, making for beautiful scenery in the middle of the city."
The perfect New York City walk: "Cross the Brooklyn Bridge and make your way to the Brooklyn Prom- enade in Brooklyn Heights. A leisurely walk on the promenade offers some of the most impressive and spectacular views of lower Manhattan, Staten Island, Governor's Island and the Statue of Liberty."
Info: NYC&Company, 800-692-8474 (to order brochures), 212-484-1222 (for consultation); www.nyc visit.com
From Ed Mauger, founder/guide, Philadelphia on Foot.
The essential experience: Independence Hall. "Accept no substitutes. If it is true the two most significant documents in America's history were forged there, if it is true the most significant decisions in the 18th century world took place there, this is the place to see."
But don't miss: St. Peter's Church, at 3rd and Pine Streets. "The only place in America you can still sit where President George Washington warmed his bottom."
Local delicacy: Cheesesteaks, "from the famous two, Pat's and Geno's, to the busy Jim's Steaks at 4th and South Streets, to the new upscale cheesesteak made with Kobe beef and served with a split of champagne at Barclay Prime on Rittenhouse Square."
Best big-bucks restaurant: Striped Bass. "A magnificent space, originally a bank, converted into a consistently fine and creative dining experience. My second choice is City Tavern, the only restaurant in North America without a freezer. They serve from colonial recipes, in colonial garb, in a perfect duplication of America's first gourmet restaurant."
Iconic neighborhood favorite: The Victor Cafe, in South Philadelphia. "Fine Italian food, wonderful singing waitresses and the largest private collection of opera recordings around, surrounded by autographed photos of everyone from Caruso to Pavarotti and Mario Lanza, who used to stop by his neighborhood restaurant and sing for a free meal."
The perfect Philly walk: From the "Rocky Steps" at the Philadelphia Museum of Art along Kelly Drive past the azalea garden, the sculpture garden and the great Remington statue to the "Playing Angels."
Info: Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau, 215-636-3300; www.pcvb.org
From Jon Miller, of ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball" and radio voice of the Giants.
The essential experience: The long-running musical review "Beach Blanket Babylon"especially when the female lead "comes out with this gigantic, ridiculous San Francisco headpiece on and sings 'San Francisco, open your golden gate. . . . ' It's a great night."
But don't miss: The Ferry Building, which opened in 1898 and is a survivor of the 1906 earthquake. "This is a local iconit's got a clocktower that, when it was built, was the tallest structure in San Francisco. It's still a working terminal today." It's also got restaurants, specialty groceries and shops, "all kinds of delights."
The local delicacy: Whole, chilled Dungeness crab. "You've got to put a bib on, and get the dipping sauce, and you have to have some sourdough bread to go with it that's hot and fresh out of the oven. It doesn't get much better than that."
Best big-bucks restaurant: Gary Danko. "The late [Oakland A's broadcaster] Bill King, who really was a gourmet, just loved it. It's an event." Also, "the Farallon is one of my wife's favorites."
Iconic neighborhood favorite: Perry's, on Union Street. "A bar is a major part of the action. It's not a sports bar per se. You can get anythingthey've got a great chefbut it's like a sports bar before there were sports bars."
The perfect San Francisco walk: West from the Marina Green in the Marina District. "You end up beneath the [Golden Gate] bridge where you can re-enact a famous scene from 'Vertigo' and hope Jimmy Stewart will save you. Or just walking across the Golden Gate Bridge. Either way. It's spectacular."
Info: San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau, 415-391-2000; www.onlysf.sfvisitor.org
From Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune columnist.
The essential experience: "Despite tightened security, Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court are still a political junkie's best show in a town chock full of political junkies. These days, you might be lucky enough to witness an elected official in the act of being handcuffed and read their rights."
But don't miss: The Smithsonian Institution. "Where else can you see George Washington's false teeth (no, they're not wooden, children), Archie Bunker's rocking chair and Judy Garland's ruby slippers in one afternoon?"
The local delicacy: "This city loves fresh crabs and crab cakes like Chicago loves deep-dish pizza and fully dressed hot dogs. Washington's best restaurants serve jumbo-lump crab cakes with sizable and recognizable crab meat. No filler."
Best big-bucks restaurant: "For the real 'power lunch' or dinner, the dry-aged steaks at the Capital Grille attract the big players."
Iconic neighborhood favorite: On the Senate side of Capitol Hill, the Dubliner. On the House side, the Hawk and Dove. "But 'official Washington' meets 'The District' at the non-alcoholic Ben's Chili Bowl on U Street [where you can] rub elbows with political activists, Du Pont Circle yuppies, Bill Cosby, college kids, former Mayor Marion Barry, a point guard for the Wizards or Senate staffers."
The perfect Washington walk: From Georgetown, along the Potomac or into Rock Creek Park. "Or wander the Washington Mall to the White House, the Smithsonian, the Capitol, the Tidal Basin with its famous cherry trees and the Mall's breathtaking war and presidential memorials. After all, as they say around here, your taxes are paying for it, citizen, you might as well enjoy it."
Info: Washington, DC Convention and Tourism Corp., 202-789-7000; www.washington.org