What are the top 3 Must do things in San Francisco

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 :wink:

I won’t waste your time with tourist traps.

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.

If you’re an animation buff, hop across the bay and go worship at the front gate of Pixar Animation Studios. :slight_smile:

Drive to L.A.?


On a reasonably clear day, drive to the top of Twin Peaks and enjoy the view. You’ll recognize it by the a huge antenna structure on top of a hill.

Walk around North Beach, enjoy a restaurant or bar, a strip club, or City Lights bookstore, day or night.

Enjoy Golden Gate Park

On the drive, if you’re not in a hurry, take 101 North instead of 5 North. It’s a difference of about an hour or so, but better scenery on 101.

If you’re really not in a hurry, take Hwy 1 from Morro Bay to Monterey.

Otherwise, some good places to stop and tool around on or near 101 are:

Santa Barbara
San Luis Obispo
Santa Cruz

Grab an In 'n Out burger somewhere.

  1. Drive across the G.G. Bridge in a convertible with the top down. Look up at the towers. (Don’t hit anyone).

  2. Walk through The Presidio down to the Observatory. The smell of Eucalyptus will make your head spin and feel like you’ve just done an aromatherapy treatment.

  3. Walk along the bay through the Marina area to Ghirardelli square. Alcatraz will be to your left.

  4. Take the trolley from Whaler’s Wharf over Russian Hill and into downtown and back.

  5. Visit John Muir Woods (giant redwoods).

  6. Eat at Il Pescatore.

  7. Visit the Botanical Gardens.

  8. Watch the sun set on the Pacific Shore.

  9. See Stinson Beach.

  10. See Sausalito

  11. Monterey and Carmel.

  12. Check out the Castro and China Town.

Walk around Chinatown all day eating dim sum, go to Grace Cathedral to walk the labyrinth, then head for the Castro and pick up a rent-boy.

Go to the Exploratorium. It’s like a hands-on science expirimentation center, only way, way moreso. You could spend all day in there and not see all of the cool stuff.

Take a cable car ride from Powell and Market to the Wharf

Drive or walk across the Golden Gate Bridge

Go to Chinatown

I’d third or fourth a trip to Monterey. Cannery Row has become gentrified but the fishermans’ warf is still cool; you can watch the sea lions haul out on boats and jetties and yell at each other.

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!


I would number this 1, 2 and 3. The exploratorium is one of my favorite places on the planet. There’s at least 15 exhibits that I wish I could install in my house.

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.

drink anchor steam and eat sourdough…that’s my plan on Saturday morning when I stopover between Shanghai and Vegas :cool:

Really? That’s distressing. In that case, please change this to the California Culinary Academy on Polk St. It’s also less expensive.

Mhendo, the DeYoung Museum (the reason for all the construction) has re-opened. I don’t like the new building design, but they still have some wonderful collections.

Oops. And the aquarium is downtown til the new one’s built.

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.

Way cool, and unlike any other bookstore.

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.

I went last summer, and posted a similar thread right here.

The highlights of my trip, that I will definately do again next time I’m there are:

  1. walk across the Golden Gate Bridge
  2. Go to Sonoma Valley (check out post #13 from Anne Nevile, I especially liked Sebastiani and Ravenswood winerys)
  3. Quoting Icarus from the above mentioned thread:
  1. Plan for some do-nothing time. One of the highlights of my trip were walking along Columbus (?) street at night and just having a beer or coffee at one of the many sidewalk cafes/taverns.

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.