Thins To Do In San Francisco When You're Dead (or on leave)

I’m going to be in San Francisco for a few weeks in the end of October while on mid-tour leave from Iraq. I’ve never been there and am trying to figure out what to do. I’m keeping a relaxed tempo, but still want to enjoy the city. I like art, architecture, and history. I’ll want to try some good restaurants. Anything quirky or out-of-the-ordinary could be fun. I’ll not have a car, but could rent one if something a bit further away (I plan on spending a few days in Yosemite) is worth it.

This is only my second trip to California. The first was to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin. I have to say, I wasn’t impressed with the state. On TV it usually looks green and full of movie stars. I only saw sand and rocks. I hope this trip reflects better on the state or I’ll have to give up on it entirely.

I know this crowd is good for the unusual suggestions, so don’t let me down.

The one time I was in San Francisco, I walked an entire loop around the city by myself in one day and had a great time. The city is unusually geographically compact by U.S. standards but the walk was still 20+ miles. You are a soldier though. You can do it ;). San Fransisco is not a good car city and it has pretty good public transportation but targeting specific it spots doesn’t work the same way that it does in other cities. The whole place is an attraction so you just need to move around freely.

Alcatraz is highly recommended. Fisherman’s Wharf is not. Golden Gate park is great and the Golden Gate bridge is beautiful to walk over. I found Haight-Ashbury pretty strange but a good place to walk through.

I would just move around freely and take it all in. If you like food, it has some of the best in the world. I could kick myself for not going in to the Crazy Horse strip club. If you just move around, you will find cool stuff to see and do.

Nah, we’re mechanized infantry. Give me a Humvee or MRAP. Gas is a bit pricey these days, though, isn’t it? Nuts. I’ll have to remember how the dismounted patrol works.

A walk through the city will be fun, though, Shag. I’m hoping to simply stumble into places unexpected. If anyone else can help guide my stumbling, I’ll be much obliged.

California has been the recipient of one of the great advertising campaigns of all time. If the ugly truth be known, it’s a long chain of coastal deserts which are kept partially green most of the year by collecting and saving as much rain & snow as humanly possible and irrigating the bejesus out of the entire state.

That said, I’d love to move back.

One thing to remember if you’re doing the touristy thing in SF: The cable cars are a transit system, not an amusement park ride. If there’s a two-hour wait to get on one at the hub down by the wharf, hike a few blocks up the hill and admire the scenery along the way, then get on once people have hopped off and enjoy the rest of the ride.

Is this something I can blame on Gov. Schwarzenegger, or does this perhaps predate him?

I envision a vast conspiracy by the major movie studios to lure unsuspecting Midwesterners to Los Angeles in order to corral them into low-paid movie-extra jobs. Poor dopes.

There are walking tours offered on various themes by City Guides. Free and Highly Recommended. They will also be able to give you sightseeing ideas.

Other ideas in the City:

Golden Gate Park, big & green, also has museums
Academy of Sciences–newly re-opened
Asian Art Museum
Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market, Saturday a.m., highly recommended
Cartoon Art Museum
Anchor Steam Brewery, offers tours weekdays only
Fort Mason frequently has shows or events, check website
Many ferries go between SF and other Bay Cities, make sure to take at least one, incredible views.

Ideas outside the City, requiring a car:

Muir Woods, in Marin–Highly Recommended. Very green, some rocks, no sand.
Bay Model, in Marin–Off the beaten trail, Highly Recommended
Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, in Marin–Off the beaten trail, incredible views
Tomales Bay, in Marin–beautiful, has oyster farming & kayaking tours
Nike Missile Site, in Marin–Off the beaten path
St George Spirits Distillery & Tasting room in Alameda, has tours on the weekend, get a designated driver
USS Hornet, in Alameda
Computer Museum, in Mountain View(?)–Off the beaten trail
Scharffenberger Chocolates, in Berkeley–chocolate tours & tastings. avoid the cafe, bad reviews.
Point Bonita Lighthouse, in Marin–Off the beaten trail
Point Reyes, in Marin–large recreational area
Sonoma County, Napa County–tons of wine tasting, many with tours.

And you will be much happier if you dress in layers and bring sweatshirts, light jackets, and pullovers. It is often windy and/or chilly. Sunny does not always mean warm, and we see a lot of tourists shivering in shorts and t-shirts. That said, you will be coming at one of the nicest times of year for weather.

Make sure to check the hours and times.

Sadly, no, this goes back to the WPA/PWA/Depression-era work. And, to be fair, the state is way successful at agriculture, much more so than it would be if it depended on rainfall more than a mile from the river. Might be able to grow a lot more cattle, though, but that would irritate the vegetarians, and we can’t have that.

Everybody expects Northern California to look like the vineyards where they filmed Dynasty, and instead, it’s more like where they filmed The Big Valley.

Check these out.

If the rainy season has started by at least a couple of weeks before your visit, you might get to see a bit of “green California.” California has only one rainy season - in the winter. Which means it is green and vibrant for about three-four months out of the year and the rest of the time it is sere and brown ( “golden”! ). Northern California is actually at its prettiest as a landscape in early spring, the desert anytime in the winter/spring after a very thorough and continuous rain.

An art museum not yet mentioned that is my favorite is here.

LouiseE, I’ll definitely check out the cartoon Art Museum, the farmers’ market, probably the brewery, and I’ll check on the feasibility of the coastal destinations; they look beautiful in the pictures. The Raptor Observatory sounds interesting, as well. As for layering, It’s still in the 110 degrees F range here, so everything will feel cold. First stop is somewhere to buy a good jacket and sweater.

Ethilrist, damn Roosevelt and his socialist ways. If it weren’t for him… Well, if it weren’t for him and the Okie migration during the dust bowl caused by the cessation of farming in the Midwest due to the Great Depression due to shady stock trading practices… I blame Schwarzenegger.

Troy, normally I don’t like tours, but those look very interesting. I’m actually going to plan on taking a few.

Tamerlane, that was already on my list. No reason to pass up a beautiful art collection in an interesting building. There’s a Rembrandt that I wanted to see in person as well. I actually like the desert quite a bit. It is clean. Fascinating namesake you have, by the way.