My employers very generously gave me a 4 day trip to San Francisco (March 31st to April 3rd) for Christmas this year, and the time for the trip has finally (almost) arrived.
So I am asking, keeping in mind the time of year that I am going, and that I have already been to Alcatraz, but have only ever been to San Francisco once, what are the 3 things that I need to do while I am there?
I am looking for unusual non touristy type things, but the activities can be anything. Great Restaurant/Bar/Nightclub suggestions are as welcome as sight seeing suggestions. I will be driving up, so if you have a suggestion for something great to do on the drive from LA to SF let me know that too. I also have a $500 travelers check, and access to a car, so money and distance aren’t too much of a concern.
So what are the 3 things that no trip to San Francisco will be complete without.
Top 3 only please, I don’t want to waste my time on anything less than awesome
1.) Eat at Postrio
2.) Drive accross the bridge or take the ferry to Sausalito and trip around the town. Very cool antique stores with lots of scrimshaw.
3.) See the Japanese Tea Gardens, which is conveniently situated between the DeYoung Museum and the Steinhardt Aquarium, all of which are well worth the pain of parking near and walking to.
Please do not eat at Postrio, it’s gone downhill and is way overrated. There are tons of better places to eat, one of my favorites is Boulevard (but you need reservations well in advance). For something more dressed-down, how about a real taqueria in the inner mission (there are about a dozen places on Mission between 24th and 25th, for example).
My main recommendation is to get out of your car, buy a Muni day-pass, and go around on buses or the Metro (light rail) to different neighborhoods and just walk around. SF is a place where ethnic diversity mixes with the neighborhoods to make some really unique walks. Chinatown is great, but so is lower Valenca, or the Russian community out in the Avenues, try Japan Center while it’s still there, or walk around Russian Hill and envy the people who can afford to live there. This is a great walking town, even with the hills. Walk along the Embarcadero and (if it’s Saturday) the farmer’s market at the Ferry Building, not to mention the pricey shops inside. City Hall is attractive, especially if you didn’t have to contribute to the taxes that went to restoring it.
I hope the weather improves by the time you get here (for my sake too). It’s been pretty cold and stormy for the past couple of weeks. Enjoy!
As far as i know, the Steinhardt and most (all?) of the other California Academy of Sciences buildings are closed and the whole area is undergoing a comprehensive renovation. When i was in SF over Christmas there was construction going on all over the place.
I heartily second this suggestion. The taquerias in the Mission are great.
And while you’re about it, take a walk around the Mission, zig-zagging back and forth from 26th all the way up to 16th or so. The area is lots of fun, and there are some amazing murals gracing the walls and alleys. In particular, check out Balmy St, which runs north-south between 24th and 25th, and between Treat and Harrison. Also, Clarion, an alley running east-west between Mission and Valencia, just south of 17th. Cesar Chavez Elementary School, on Shotwell between 22nd and 23rd is also great.
I’m not sure how energetic you are, but if i get good weather in San Francisco the first thing i do is rent a bike. There are places down by Fisherman’s Wharf, and by Stowe Lake in Golden Gate Park. Despite the hills, it’s a great way to see the city, and the ride over the Golden Gate and up into the Marin Headlands is lots of fun. You can then ride to Sausalito for lunch and hoop on the ferry to get back.
If you’re into that sort of thing, the city has some great thrift stores for clothes hounds. On my last visit i got some great stuff. A visit to Thrift Town (17th and Mission) yielded a pair of Nordstrom wool pants, a nice shirt, and a perfect-fitting tweed jacket for $24 total. Awesome!
If you decide to get out of the city, i endorse other people’s recommendations to see Muir Woods and Stinson Beach. Moneterey is a long way to go, especially if it’s just for the day. The aquarium is, of course, fantastic, but i was rather underwhelmed by the town itself. YMMV.
Go to City Lights, a bookstore on Columbus Avenue just down from Broadway. Buy a bunch of books by Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who co-founded City Lights in 1953.
The buildings in Golden Gate Park are closed, but there’s a new temporary (4 years is temporary?) exhibit building on Howard St. south of Market - I think it’s Howard and 9th. A lot less space than the Academy is used to, but still some interesting exhibits.
A word of warning: You will be surprised --nay, astounded-- at how quickly you can go through 500 smackers in the City By The Bay.
Nevertheless we were just there last weekend and had a fantastic time. If you’re staying in or near the Haight, (i.e. near Golden Gate Park), there’s a cool jazz bar called Club Deluxe right near the Ashbury intersection, if you’re into that. If blues and rock is more your thing, head up to North Beach; you can just barhop among several places there and hear different performers. While you’re up there you could have dinner at Mona Lisa; I only mention it because it’s where I last ate in North Beach. Natives will probably have many more recommendations.
Weather permitting, Golden Gate Park is wonderful to bicycle through; you can ride all the way out to the Cliff House, perhaps stopping to rent a boat at Stow Lake. IIRC bikes are available for rent at several places on or near Stanyan, the street that borders the east end of the park, not counting the Panhandle.
I did the walk across the GG Bridge on another trip; there’s a bus you can take from near the Civic Center that lets you off at the Sausalito end; and you walk back. Lots of fun, that; I think it’s the only way to really see the Bridge.
I envy you! I already want to go back. In the eternal SF/LA rivalry, being a native of the latter, I’d sum up the difference between the two cities cultures like this. While by this time L.A. undoubtedly wins out in the matter of museums, orchestras, and the like, being so much bigger, I think S.F. has a much more pleasing visual culture; in the sense of the everyday things you see around you when you just go out for a walk. They have preserved so much more of their past than we have in L.A., and they’ve had worse earthquakes than anything we ever endured.