If you want the best in restaurants, bars, theater, music or the arts, you come here, to Union Street, to Stockton Street or for a walk along Fisherman's Wharf.

If you want to know how to build a baseball team, you do not come here. You take a 20-minute subway ride across the Oakland Bay, walk five minutes to the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum and see what has happened to the A's since Charles O. Finley sold them five years ago.

That was when they resembled an expansion franchise. They had stopped signing draft picks, traded away much of their major league talent, ended marketing efforts and lost a huge amount of their radio coverage. In 1979, the A's had drawn the incredible sum of 306,763 fans to the coliseum, which would be embarrassing to the Cleveland Indians and maybe to the El Paso Diablos.

From nothing, the A's built something, what several baseball executives see as a marketing miracle. Owner Roy Eisenhardt brought in a young Harvard Law School graduate named Sandy Alderson to run the baseball operations, and a former Washington Capitals marketing whiz named Andy Dolich to run the business operations.

Now, Alderson can wave toward the coliseum and say, "It's a nice, comfortable place to watch a game."

He's being modest. The coliseum is an open, breezy place, made better because the A's have added about a dozen touches. If you're going to the coliseum to eat, you can have the traditional hot dog and popcorn, or you can have imported beer, Italian sausage, bratwurst or guacamole.

The public address system is plugged into stereo speakers, there is a giant Diamond Vision television screen, and the newest addition is an old-fashioned hand-operated scoreboard that lists scores and pitchers from every game going on in the major leagues.

"Geez, look at that," Orioles television announcer Chuck Thompson said recently, pointing to the scoreboard. "That used to be a lot of the fun of going to a game. You'd look up and see the Giants were changing pitchers, and think, 'Hey, the Dodgers might have something going.' You could follow a pennant race from a scoreboard like that."

The coliseum is only the most visible symbol of what the A's have accomplished. Under Eisenhardt, attendance has increased from 842,259 in 1980 to more than 1.2 million each of the last five seasons.

The A's now have a solid season ticket base of about 7,000, and before injuries hit this season, were expected to contend for the American League West championship, thanks to a team built around rookie Jose Canseco, shortstop Alfredo Griffin and veteran Dave Kingman.

Their route to success has been a slow, methodical one, which culminated two years ago in a new lease that runs through the year 2000 (with a 1990 escape clause).

The problem for the A's is that if the team on the other side of the Bay doesn't pack up and leave, they'll probably be forced to.

"We are the smallest area in the country with two teams," Alderson said. "I think it's possible it could support two teams if a number of things are accomplished. Both have to play well and, second, they have to play well consistently.

"The question is, what can a fan reasonably expect? To win every year? No. The goal is to be competitive every year, but there are so many things out of your control. You're seeing it with a half-dozen teams right now. What if the reliever you counted on gets hurt? What if the guy who drove in 110 runs last year doesn't do it this year?"

He means that if the A's aren't consistently close to first place, their fans may not come to games. Very few people argue with him.

"The Bay Area is basically National League territory," San Francisco Giants owner Bob Lurie said. "I think it's Giants territory."

Oh, yes, the Giants.

What must irk the A's is that the Giants have done almost nothing right in the decade since Lurie bought the grand old franchise.

Evidence: When baseball held its June draft of amateur free agents last summer, six of the highest picks were players who had been previously picked, but not signed, by the San Francisco Giants.

They've made one bad trade after another; they play in a cold, windy, inaccessible stadium, and they seem to have turned off a generation of baseball fans (drawing only 818,697 to Candlestick Park last season). Yet a lot of people here agree with Lurie that San Francisco, and the entire Bay Area, may be Giants territory.

They point to this year's Giants, who have a new and respected manager (Roger Craig) and general manager (Al Rosen) and sensational rookie first baseman Will Clark, who is, naturally, compared to Giants Hall of Famer Willie McCovey.

Off to a 30-25 start, they drew 493,635 to Candlestick for their first 26 dates and had an incredible one-day walk-up sale of 24,000.

At their current pace, the Giants would draw around 1.6 million to Candlestick, and many here said a contending Giants team would easily draw two million fans.

The city of San Francisco is moving toward building Lurie a new downtown stadium, one that will be near mass transportation and the city's vast nightlife. The A's won't say it, but more than a few people in and around their organization believe that if that stadium is built and the Giants keep winning, the A's would be forced to move.

"Ultimately, everything you try to draw people in the stadium is no more than an enhancement," Oakland's Alderson said. "The main thing is the quality of the product on the field, and that's a slow, steady thing unless you can spend a great deal in the free agent market for a one-time impact.

"We have certain advantages and the Giants have certain advantages, but they're all ancillary. It's what you put on the field."

Officials from both teams said the area will support both teams if both are in contention, and they point to 1982. The A's were coming off a first-place finish (during the strike-shortened year) and the Giants, under Frank Robinson, got hot down the stretch.

That season, one area supported two teams. The A's drew 1.7 million to the coliseum and the Giants 1.1 million to Candlestick.

"My general feeling is that if both teams are competitive, the area will support them," said Lurie, who said he has lost about $10 million in 10 years. Like Alderson, he said, "Marketing helps," but it's not the ultimate thing.

How close the Giants have come to moving the past few years may be forever open to speculation, but there is no doubt they have been close. There also appears to be little doubt that Lurie would like to keep them in San Francisco, his city.

He put the Giants up for sale in October 1984, but stipulated that any buyer would have to agree to keep them at Candlestick Park. No one came forward, and Lurie said he has wrestled long and hard with moving the Giants.

"I've gone through a lot of hell," he said. "Right now, I'm looking at this latest stadium proposal like it's going through. We support it, and we'll help pay for it. The mayor Dianne Feinstein has said it's the last chance to keep the Giants."

No one argues that a new stadium must be built if the Giants are to stay. A night at Candlestick Park can be hellish because the winds and fog swirl in and nightly chill factors dip into the 40s. Access to the stadium is severely limited, and there is very little parking.

The proposal Lurie and Feinstein both back is construction of a 42,000-seat open-air downtown stadium that Feinstein said can be built for $36 million.

But although Lurie and Feinstein agree on a site, dozens of hassles remain. Neighborhood groups oppose the construction. Voters must approve a $12 million bond issue. Lurie wants a bigger share of parking and concession revenues.

A city supervisor, Doris Ward, wants to study the feasibility of building a larger stadium and one that would accommodate a football team, even though the city is doing refurbishing at Candlestick for the 49ers. Other supervisors have said they don't want a downtown stadium, period.

If it is built, what happens to the A's?

"If both teams play well, I think they'll both get support," Lurie said. "If they don't, you have a problem because the population base would be small for two teams."