"South America Digest" by Charles and Babette Jacobs presents a broad generalization of what to see and look for in each country. It's more of an introduction rather than a travel guide and appears to concentrate on major cities. The digest should save the time spent collecting commercial puffs from local travel sources (Paul-Richmond/Palm Springs: $9.95).
Whether you drive, walk or take the trolley in the Bay City, "The Best of San Francisco" by Don and Betty Martin would be an excellent traveling companion. Using the "Top 10" format, it overflows with information about restaurants, pubs, hotels, browsing, etc. The observations include posh and budget suggestions so that a visitor can explore the full spectrum of enjoyment. It's a worthwhile addition to your San Francisco library shelf (Chronicle: $7.95).
Rick Steves has a good handle on offering lots of information in "Europe Through the Back Door." The visitor doesn't have to spend a bundle to enjoy the Continent away from the tourist crowd. The guide is a bargain for preparing to do your own thing (John Muir: $9.95).
South of the border and several miles off the usual tourist stops, the more adventurous will find themselves among the real people and experiences. "Backcountry Mexico--A Traveler's Guide and Phrase Book" by Bob Burleson and David H. Riskind outlines areas the unconventional tourist would enjoy exploring. Included is practical information about the culture, folkways, landscapes and language of the Mexican back country. For a vacation of exciting insights, it's worth the $12.95 tab for a look-see before going (University of Texas).
"Britain for Free--AA British Tourist Authority" is a compilation of see-and-enjoy opportunities from prehistoric and ancient to the modern. Yes, they're all free, including many unusual places; i.e., a lavender distillery, cider mills, kipper curers, etc. (Salem House: $9.95).
"INNSpiration--Northeast," edited by Robert A. Bendix Sr., is an above-average guide to small country inns in nine Northeastern states. Each of the 88 inns selected are profiled in two pages of clear text describing accommodations and amenities. The photos are good and the maps are marked for approximate locations. If your bookstore is out of stock, send $12.95 (plus $1 handling) to Innspiration Guides, P.O. Box 404, Newark, N.Y. 14513.
"Travel Wise, Smart and Light--A Common-Sense Guide to Vacation Planning" by Mary Nell York is just what the title says. It's a good step-by-step guide to making the right plans, suggesting what to take, luggage hints, health tips and much more, such as precautions about money, safety, documents, house watchers. It will save time, headaches and worry for $6.95 direct from Cobble & Mickle, P.O. Box 3521, San Diego, Calif. 92103-0160 (California residents add 36 cents sales tax).
The Poppy State buff will enjoy "Discover Historic California--a travel guide to over 1,500 places" by George and Jan Roberts. Ghost towns, Pony Express stops and gold mines are a few things suggested for readers. It's divided into 76 travel regions for easy reference and includes a brief history of each site. The guide is sure to inspire the traveler to stop and take a look. Most bookstores have it, but it's also available direct by sending $8.95 (plus $1.50 handling) to New Fortress Publications, 2332 Peck Road, Suite 268, Whittier, Calif. 90601.
There are lots of photos and easy-to-read text for Great Britain-bound travelers in "The Good Holiday Cottage Guide--1986." The various amenities and critical resumes of the best places to hang your hat are presented in a nuts-and-bolts manner (Swallow/Bradt Enterprises: $7.95).
Fodor's pocket-size guides for specific areas include "Singapore," "Chesapeake" ($7.95 each) and "New York" ($9.95). They offer basic practical information and occasional maps but no photos. The detailed facts-at-your-fingertips will put the traveler one-up on arrival. The stay, eat and see suggestions are above average.
Ashley Courtenay's "Hotel Guide--Let's Halt a While in Great Britain" is available in the United States. It contains more than 1,200 recommendations based upon regular visits by a team of 28 investigators. Each entry furnishes a good outline of the accommodations and includes a photo or professional sketch of each establishment, also cross-referenced on full-color maps. The guide has been justly described as indispensable to travelers (National Press--Maryland: $9.95).