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Four Best Places to Chill Out 

What with the manifold opportunities for losing your job and getting evicted and being framed on a murder rap and running out of ice cubes, modern life can be downright traumatic. Sometimes the best solution is to get away from it all, if only for an hour. When the stresses of daily life have taken their toll, consider the soothing options proffered below.

Conservatory of Flowers

Golden Gate Park, John F. Kennedy Drive near the Stanyan Street entrance, 666-7001,

This stately old Victorian hothouse is an especially entrancing place to unwind. Palm trees, orchids, flowering vines, and arboreal exotica from 51 countries create a tropical atmosphere ideal for sultry contemplation. Lose yourself in the burbling aquatic settings and let the dazzling flora of Mauritius, Madagascar, Brazil, Borneo, Sumatra, Sri Lanka, and points between transport you to another, better place. The Conservatory was built in Ireland in the 1870s, shipped around the Horn, and eventually ended up in the middle of Golden Gate Park, where it has survived fire and earthquake and the inevitable aging process for 125 years. The building recently underwent a lengthy architectural restoration, and it's lovelier and more tranquil than ever.

The Sutro Baths at Sunset

100 yards north of the Cliff House, Point Lobos & Great Highway,

There's nothing like a good urban ruin to put everything into perspective. This elaborate Victorian amusement palace, built in 1896, featured six heated indoor pools fed by fresh ocean water at high tide as well as palm trees, restaurants, a live band, and 500 dressing rooms. It closed in 1952 and burned to the ground in 1966, leaving behind our very own Baths of Caracalla. The dramatic setting -- the crashing of the waves, the 200-foot cliffs, the mournful bark of the sea lions below, and the verge of limitless ocean -- adds dramatic resonance to the exposed pipes, the bit of algae, and the crumbling foundations that remain.

Imperial Tea Court

1411 Powell (at Broadway), 788-6080,

Despite its location near the bustling North Beach-Chinatown border, this quiet, wood-paneled venue is a thoroughly soothing getaway spot. The ceremonial manner in which the tea is served and sipped forces you to slow down, to relax, to let time pass unheeded. There are 32 varieties of tea to choose from, and you can replenish your cup at your leisure from a pot kept warm on a tableside hot plate. Several millennia of chill-out experience go into these restorative brews; there's no hurry, no hurry at all.

Golden Gate Ferry at Sunset

Ferry Building, Market & Embarcadero, 923-2000,

The city is shrouded in mist when you depart the ferry landing in Sausalito, but by the time you're sailing past Alcatraz, the skyline has emerged from its blanket, the pastel buildings are bathed in a pale pink, and the windows glitter from the setting sun. Off to the right the Golden Gate Bridge is silhouetted against the dusk, and you're reminded, once again, exactly why it is you live in this place. There's a feeling of tranquil distance out in the middle of the bay, the breeze and brume trumping the crises and cobwebs of urban life.


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