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Q&A: KIDS' GUIDE TO SAN FRANCISCO

QUESTION: We will be traveling to Sacramento and San Francisco in early June. What attractions in those places would be fun for our two small children?

ANSWER: Here are some suggestions. For children younger than the ages listed, admission is free.In Old Sacramento, with gas lights, cobbled streets and frontier-style wood buildings, is the California State Railroad Museum, Second and I Streets, (916) 445-4209, which has more than two dozen vintage engines and cars. From May 1 to Labor Day, train rides are offered on weekends. Open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $5; ages 6 to 12, $2.

The Sacramento Zoo, 3930 West Land Park Drive, (916) 264-5885, is in William Land Park, which also contains a small amusement park for children. Open daily 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $3.50; ages 3 to 12, $2; 50 cents additional charge on weekends. Across the street is Fairytale Town, 1501 Sutterville Road, (916) 264-5233, where fairy tales nursery rhyme figures are depicted. Open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $2.50; $2 for those 3 to 12.

About 10 minutes from downtown in the Cal Expo area, where the state fair is held each August, Waterworld USA, (916) 924-0555, has a huge wave pool and a 100-foot water slide. It is open Memorial Day to Labor Day, 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $11.95; children 48 inches tall or shorter, $8.95.

In San Francisco, at the southeast corner of Golden Gate Park is a fanciful 1912 carousel; rides are $1, and 50 cents for children. Open daily June through September. Also in the park are the Steinhart Aquarium, (415) 750-7145, (admission $2.50; ages 6 to 17, $3, and 6 to 11, $1) and the Morrison Planeterium, (415) 750-7141, which offers 45-minute presentations through the day; open daily 10 to 5 p.m. (admission $6; ages 12 to 17, $1).

Another carousel, this one a double-decker, can be found in the amusement area at Pier 39. In the Fisherman's Wharf area, mimes, magicians and other street performers provide amusement for children.

At the San Francisco Zoo, (415) 753-7061, Sloat Blvd. and 45th Ave., admission is $6; ages 12 to 15, $3. There is a children's zoo, admission $1.

The Exploratorium, 3601 Lyon St., (415) 563-7337, in the Palace of Fine Arts, is a hands-on science museum. Among the 700 displays are a three-sided box that freezes shadows people throw on its walls and a levitating beach ball that kids can chase. For the Tactile Dome, a totally dark environment in which visitors must crawl and find their way out by sense of touch, reservations, (415) 561-0362, are taken two weeks ahead for weekdays and 12 weeks for weekends, though last-minute openings are possible. Open Tuesday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Wednesdays to 9:30 p.m. Admission is $7; ages 6 to 17, $3.

Outside Sausalito beneath the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge is the Bay Area Discovery Museum, 557 East Fort Baker Rd., (415) 332-7674, for children ages 2 to 12. There are interactive displays on architecture and on the bay. Open Wednesday to Sunday (also Tuesday in summer), 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $5; $3 for children 2 to 12.

QUESTION: What happens if the price drops for an air ticket you have bought well in advance? Can you get a refund?

ANSWER: Getting a ticket rewritten at a lower fare (and thus a refund or credit on your charge card account) is not automatic. It is like buying the new fare for the first time. To qualify, your original flight plans must meet the requirements for new fare. That is, you must have been booked to travel within the time the new fare is in effect, on the days of the week called for in the new fare, and you must stay over for the minimum time, if any. Further, if the new fare requires that you buy the ticket, say, two weeks ahead of your trip, you must ask for the new fare at least two weeks ahead. And even though you may meet these requirements, there may be no seats left at the new, cheaper fare: there are only a limited number of seats designated for the lowest fare on any flight, and your now higher-priced seat does not count in the total available at the new rate.

Still, if you are told there are none of the cheapest seats left, you might try again: the number of seats designated for the cheapest fare may be expanded if the demand is weaker than the airline originally expected, so some new spaces may open.

QUESTION: I expect to be in Nantes near the Atlantic coast of France next summer and should like to take a train to the town of Sable-sur-Sarthe and return to Nantes. Can you give me the schedule?

ANSEWR: In summer, there is one direct train daily from Nantes to Sable-sur-Sarthe in the Loire Valley - departing at 6:39 a.m. and arriving at 8:10 a.m. - and two trains that require a change in Angers, leaving Nantes at 11:30 a.m. and 4:36 p.m., arriving at Sable-sur-Sarthe about an hour and 20 minutes later. On Friday there is an additional direct train from Nantes, leaving at 6:19 p.m. and arriving at 7:25 p.m.

From Sable-sur-Sarthe to Nantes there is one direct train daily, departing at 8:02 p.m. and arriving at 9:03 p.m., and four trains requiring making a connection at Angers, leaving Sable at 6:53 and 8:48 a.m. and 1:03 and 5:46 p.m. On Friday there are four additional direct trains from Sable-sur-Sarthes to Nantes - at 11:30 A.M. and 3:51, 6:44 and 8:22 p.m. all taking an hour and 10 minutes to an hour and 20 minutes.

One-way tickets are about $24 in first class and $16 in second class.