Friday, I’m flying out to California for my younger brother’s college graduation (Stanford! Go Bro!). Anyway, I figured I’d stick around a couple days and check out San Francisco. I’ll be in the city Monday and Tuesday. I spent most of a day in the city last year with my mom, when she lived in NoCal. We briefly visited Chinatown, rode a trolley and walked around Ghiradelli square, but that was about it. What are the good art museums? Are there any brewery tours? Is it worth going to Alcatraz? What are the things that I shouldn’t miss?
I often hear the Embarcadero derided as a tourist trap, but it’s probably worth going there, especially if you like seafood. Alioto’s has a good view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
North Beach is a great place for barhopping; most of the bars have live bands, or did when last visited them. When I was there the bands were mostly blues and rock. For jazz I can recommend the Club Deluxe on Haight, near Ashbury on the south side. When I was there, at one point, the trumpeter from the band put on a Miles-style mute and it was wonderful.
I thought Alcatraz was worth it. If you don’t want to see the prison it’s still worthwhile, IMO, just for the boat ride and views that go with it.
Walk, lots. This is the best way to appreciate the culture of the city, which IMO is based more in the general look of things and in the way people live, rather than specific cultural assets, such as museums, that one can boast of. The city does of course have worthwhile museums, but they don’t compare to what you’d find in NY or even LA.
SFMOMA is great, and while it may not be on par with NYC’s MOMA, I believe it rivals The Guggenheim.
I wouldn’t do Alcatraz, but that’s just me. If you do, bring warm clothes. Make sure you have a coat or fleece anywhere you go, in fact. It gets cold in SF, even in summer.
Hit The Stinking Rose for dinner, it’s in (or close enough to) North Beach, which is the bar-hopping area.
Hang out, walk around, absorb the city. Have fun!
North Beach is good for bar-hopping, but there are many, many other good barhopping areas- Mission, Haight, Richmond… What kind of bars do you like? Apple Martini lounges with DJs, or dives with a bunch of taps and a jukebox that doesn’t have anything from after 1984?
Here’s a list of breweries in the City- it’s on the right, down a bit. I dunno who/when they tour, but I do know that Pyramid in Berkeley does do tours, seven days I think.
Another vote for The Stinking Rose. It’s only a very short walk out of chinatown. If you want some chinese food with a good view try The Empress of China in chinatown. Call ahead and reserve a table by the windows.
Haight-Ashbury is a hoot, IMHO, being a child of the 60’s.
The Legion of Honor musuem is well worth a visit. The grounds and views of the Golden Gate and town are worth the ride by themselves.
You can walk across the Golden Gate bridge.
While the Fisherman’s Wharf area is awfully touristified it is still fun just to see the sights and the street performers. Not to mention a couple hundred seals. And you can get good seafood there.
Alcatraz was well worth the time and money to me. You do need to call ahead and make reservations. It’s almost impossible just to show up during the summer and get a ticket.
I enjoyed driving around the Presideo the last time we were there. It’s very laid back after driving around the city.
Of course, you are required by law to drive down Lombard Street.
The view from the Coit Tower is good.
As mentioned before, just walking around the town is fun.
Or walking, again, is better. If you are in decent shape and have the time you can consider walking along the entire length of Lombard from near the Presidio to the financial district. You don’t need to be an athlete, but if you have even mild to moderate ailments of lung, foot, or leg, you will want to avoid it. The back slope of Lombard, i.e. on the other side of the famous corkscrew incline, is undoubtedly one of the steepest streets in the country, and it’s a long climb.
And Coint Tower is very near where you end up.
If you’re not so much a walker, the F Line (PDF map) is really great for getting from Fisherman’s Wharf to downtown(Market) and will take you all the way to the Castro, which has more great bars/dining. You can also take the cable car from Fisherman’s Wharf to Powell, which is right next to Market. And on Market you can take BART to lots of places. Also cabs anywhere in the city are pretty cheap. Your best bet is to pick up a little pocket map of the city and just start heading towards the closest place that looks interesting and move on from there.