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Travel Bookshelf | Guides to amuse as well as inform

With the summer vacation season approaching, here are some destination guides that can help you plan trips to Central America, Hawaii and both U.S. coasts.

With the summer vacation season approaching, here are some destination guides that can help you plan trips to Central America, Hawaii and both U.S. coasts.

Belize to Guatemala and Tikal

The Artful Nomad Co.; $19.95

ISBN: 0-9788173-0-3

Follow the directions in this book, and somewhere between Belmopan and Benque Viejo del Carmen, you'll be riding a bus.

"Just when you think you either have to get off the bus or stick a pencil in your eye, you are almost there," writes author Steve Stratman. "Very soon, you'll pass the sign 'San Ignacio,' roll down a hill and cross the wooden bridge over the Macal River. It's important that you get off [the bus] in the parking lot by the Municipal Taxi Stand, next to the Belmarel Hotel, because this is San Ignacio. Or else you're off to the end of the line. . . ."

With instructions this specific, this practical and this lighthearted, this installment of the Artful Nomad guidebook series will keep you on track and entertained. The book takes a day-by-day, step-by-step approach to a nine-day adventure itinerary.

Beautifully rendered maps and lots of color photos and cultural sidelights make it a delight to navigate these 64 pages, all in a 51/2-by-10-inch format that takes up little room in your bag.

Maui Day by Day

Frommer's; $12.99

ISBN: 0-470-05398-4

Most travel books do a decent job of cataloging a destination's highlights and recommending hotels and restaurants. But only a handful organize the information as logically as Frommer's Day by Day series.

Here's a complete travel system with suggested itineraries based on length of stay - from three days to two weeks - and recommendations geared to special interests and needs, such as history, culture, adventure, golfing, shopping and family travel.

What makes this book, subtitled "17 Smart Ways to See the Island," so useful are 40 uncluttered, up-to-date maps. There's a map for every subject, pinpointing locations with numbers and icons that correspond to the adjacent text.

Another map in the overleaf shows Maui in context with the other islands. And then there's the pullout road map, also free of visual clutter, that stores in an attached plastic envelope.

BlackBook Guide

to San Francisco 2007

BlackBook Media; $9.95

ISBN: 1-932942-18-1

There aren't many guidebooks that would risk recommending both the Four Seasons Hotel and the Phoenix Hotel: the former admired for its fifth-floor lobby offering a "womblike retreat from the clatter of Market Street" and the latter a cluster of tropical bungalows recommended for "balconies that overlook a pool lit like a Ziggy Stardust concert."

This guide is both honest and outrageous, and it conveys a convincing sense of place in every description.

A typical entry: "HERBIVORE. Vegetarian. Only thing equal to the rainbow of vegetables is hair color of patrons. Herbal punks, bike messengers, hippie chicks. . . . Big beautiful salads, but do yourself a favor and sidestep the hemp dressing."

Other titles on Miami, Los Angeles and New York.

The Pratique Guide: SoHo & NoLita

The Little Bookroom; $18.95

ISBN: 1-892145-41-3

Shopping in New York is as exhilarating as it is daunting: so many stores, so many neighborhoods. You need a strategy so as not to miss a single exotic opportunity.

This guide to SoHo and north of Little Italy may make things easier. A booklet lists all the shops directory style, with brief descriptions.

A separate map locates all the stores on a large, easy-to-read, color-coded grid. Hotels and restaurants join shoe shops, fashion retailers, antiques dealers, and stores that sell everything from diaper bags to decorative fossils.

The directory and the map fit into a plastic-bound wallet. Another title zeroes in on the Meatpacking District and West Village.

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