Mrs. Rancid and I will be headed to San Francisco in early June for 5 days. I’m looking tips, insider info., and so on to make our trip as great as possible. We’re staying at the Villa Florence, in case that matters. Here are my specific questions:
What can we not afford to miss?
What overrated event/sight should we skip?
What’s the best way to do wine country?
Best way to get around?
Restaurants we need to hit (not extremely pricey)?
Any local secrets you can share?
I really appreciate as much help as possible, as I want to make our 10th anniversary trip a special one.
First things first: don’t wear shorts. Yes, it’s California, but San Francisco is not Southern California, and does not have a shorts climate. The locals laugh at tourists, shivering in their shorts (even heathens from the East Bay, like me, laugh at the tourists in shorts). Your best bet is long pants and a short-sleeved shirt, with a lightweight jacket for when it gets cool (as it will at night).
Don’t eat at restaurants at Fisherman’s Wharf- they’re expensive and have mediocre food (at least the ones I’ve been to were like that). You’ll do much better in Chinatown or North Beach (the Italian neighborhood).
Don’t do it on a weekend, if you can help it. That’s when it’s really busy.
I like Sonoma better than Napa. What I like to do is to go to downtown Sonoma. There are a lot of wineries within a short distance of the town square. But don’t try to park on the square- look for street parking a block or so away, it will be much easier to find.
If you’re planning to go back to SF that day, and you don’t have a designated driver, I’d recommend hitting only two or (max) three wineries.
If you do go to downtown Sonoma, be sure to go to the Basque Bakery. They have wonderful breads, and reasonably priced wines by the glass.
BART, Muni, and walking within the city. Don’t try to drive between two places in SF- you’ll have major trouble finding parking.
You’ll need to rent a car to go to the wine country, but you might consider renting a car only for that day (or for that day and the next, so you don’t have to worry if you get caught in traffic and can’t return the car by the time the car rental place closes). If you drive around the Bay Area, particularly on any of the bridges or through the Caldecott Tunnel, expect to get caught in traffic.
Two things I did, which were free and the most memorable experiences of my trip there were going to watch a sunset on the beach, high tide was rolling in and ellyfish were washing up on the sand. Awesome!
If you like to walk, take a stroll across the Golden Gate bridge, the sights are beautiful, you get to really appreciate the architecture of the bridge. Take a jacket, it gets very very windy up there.
Whatever you choose to do, hope you have a great time!
Best Chinese food (insider SF native secret): U Lee on the corner of Hyde and Jackson. Start with the pot stickers - best in the City and that is saying something.
Go to 25th ave, and head all the way north into this little quasi-gated area called (oh god, my memory fails me) Seal Beach? There is an AMAZING view of the GG Bridge that is just wonderful. There is also a beautiful walk to take right by there…
Good advice from Anne Neville on wine country - go there on a weekday, spend more time in Sonoma, plan to visit no more than about 4 wineries and spend most of the time focused on having a great picnic (buy the stuff up there) and checking out the sites.
You won’t need rain gear. It almost never rains in California in the summer.
You will need a warm jacket if you’re planning to be out and about at night. It will probably get into the low to mid 50s, and the fog is damp, which makes it feel colder. The high temperatures will probably be in the 60s, maybe low 70s. Temperatures in the 80s are very unusual for San Francisco at that time of year.
The preceding paragraph applies only to San Francisco proper (and other places right on the coast), not to the surrounding area. The Bay Area has a lot of different climates in a small area. It’s not like the east coast, where the temperatures in New York are usually only a few degrees different from those in Washington.
Sonoma has hills between it and the coast, so it is likely to be hot and dry there- temperatures in the 80s and 90s aren’t unusual inland in the summer. That’s the day to wear your shorts. You should also take plenty of water along with you (dehydration and wine drinking don’t mix). The tap water in San Francisco is quite drinkable, by the way- in blind taste tests, a lot of people can’t tell it from bottled water.
You probably won’t want to swim in the ocean- the water is usually about 60 degrees.
Transportation - You can buy a Muni pass for the week at one of the Cable Car booths, (I can’t remember where exactly, sorry) just flash it and you can get on any cable car, I Line trolley (my family’s favorite) bus or MUNI train - not BART or CAL Train though).
Food - It’s pricey but dessert at Equinox, the rotating restaurant atop the Hyatt, was a memorable treat my kids still talk about. I agree about avoiding the places on Fisherman’s Wharf, in fact that whole place makes me cranky. My husband and I enjoy the Jazz Bistro which is within walking distance of your hotel. No cover, good local jazz and when money is short we just have appetizers and drinks.
Things to do/see - We have seen some good plays at ACT also within walking distance of the Villa Florence but go to Union Square to get tickets. They have a discount ticket outlet there and you can buy tickets more cheaply than at the box office.
Coit tower is a tourist thing to do, but I liked it.
The Museum of Modern Art (within Walking distance) sometimes has very interesting exhibits; sometimes they have corrugated steel leaning against a wall, you just never know but you might want to check it out.
We really enjoy the Fine art museum at the Palace of the Legion of Honor.
Where are you from? I was about to write up some restaurants to try, and then I realized I shouldn’t recommend anything you can get back home…
1. What can we not afford to miss?–A walk along Ocean Beach, the Sutro Baths, and Land’s End. Breathtakingly gorgeous views of the Bay and the Golden Gate.
2. What overrated event/sight should we skip?–Fisherman’s Wharf (except for the sea lions, who may not even be around in June)
3. What’s the best way to do wine country?–You can’t get to Napa from SF without a car, at least not in less than two hours. You might want to consider spending the night up there, or taking a tour, so you don’t have to worry about sobering up. I hear there are lovely spas in Calistoga. The Culinary Institute of America has a restaurant that’s supposed to be an amazing deal. Sure, it might cost $30 for a meal now, but once these chefs graduate it will cost you $60 for the same meal at one of their new restaurants. This is just word-of-mouth, though, I haven’t tried the place myself.
4. Best way to get around?–Walking and public transit (Muni). I would recommend buying a Muni Passport or Citypass. These will give you access to the cable cars in addition to the bus (but NOT the BART trains. Do not, for the love of God, rent a car to drive within San Francisco. I work in Pacific Heights and I’m about to go move my car–I have to do this every two hours when I drive to the city to avoid getting a ticket, because there is a two-hour limit on street parking and parking in lots or at meters is extremely expensive. Parking tickets are $50 each.
5. Restaurants we need to hit (not extremely pricey)?–Check out Chowhound.com for some good tips. More later…
6. Any local secrets you can share?–I remember being chided once by even sven for recommending Bombay Ice Creamery, in the Mission, to an out-of-towner. It’s not exactly a secret since it’s right smack on Valencia, but it’s worth a visit if you like Indian food and ice cream. You can get the most amazing flavors there–saffron pistachio, rose, cardamom… the only problem is then you won’t have room for the caramel crepes at Ti Couz.
Oh, as a restaurant suggestion: try Kiku of Tokyo in the Hilton. Not really a hotel restaurant, it was the scene of what was probably the best meal I’ve ever had. Authentic Japanese, evidently: the clientele is primarily Japanese-American.
I’ve heard that the Stinking Rose restaurant (they serve all sorts of garlic dishes) should be avoided even if you like garlic- it’s mediocre. I haven’t been there myself, though.
Ohhh, I love Healdsburg, too. But I’d only recommend it for someone who is used to the idea of paying $20-30 or more for a bottle of wine. I tend to drink less expensive wines, and I got some sticker shock there.
I love the sea lions. But you’re right- there might be a few big, fat, lazy sea lions around, but most of them will have gone elsewhere to breed in June.
That’s an excellent idea if it’s practical for you. Sonoma’s good for this, because there are nice hotels within walking distance of the town square.
Generally I’ll agree with this, though I really like Alioto’s near the wharf (Taylor and Jefferson), at least for lunch. $11 fish and chips is pricey, but I like them enough that it’s not a bad indulgence, something like the $5 milkshake. The rest of the wharf isn’t worth your money, though it’s not bad to walk through it once in a while. I’ll echo the Ferry Building as a nice place to eat.
The R&G Lounge in Chinatown is very tasty.
The Stinking Rose isn’t bad per se, just very highly overrated (and priced accordingly).
There’s another restaurant I meant to add, although it’s not in SF (actually neither is Dishdash, but a co-worker raved about it recently so it’s on ‘the list’), it’s in Berkeley. Jupiter - went there a couple of times and really loved it. Really good pizza and a great atmosphere. Actually, if you’ll be in SF for 5 days, Berkeley is also a nice destination and you can get there on BART.
If you are REALLY into wine, Copia in Napa is a nice stop, but mostly I found it to be a bit sparse and not all that interesting. Personally I’d skip it and stick to wineries. The Napa Wine Train is a memorable experience, but it’s a bit pricey, and while the food is good, it’s nothing to write home about.
And here’s where people will disagree with me.
I actually like Fisherman’s Wharf. We’re in the city once or twice a month, and every single time, we make it a point to stop at the crab stations for a quick sandwich or a bowl of chowder or some crabbie patties. And Musee Mechanique is there now, another one of my favorite places in the city. (It’s a fun place, but it has sentimental value for me, it’s the first place my now husband took me to when I flew out here to meet him, although at that time it was at the Cliff House.)
And I doubt I will ever walk the length of the GGB. I LOVE the bridge, and it takes my breath away every single time I see it. I’ve walked to about the middle and back. But I just don’t get the whole walking all the way across it thing. It’s cold and windy, and there’s nothing on the other side!