What to see in the Bay Area for a former resident who's lost his way?
August 2, 2009 6:38 AM   Subscribe

Fun/Geeky things for me to do in the Bay Area next week either by myself or with my (retired but adventurous) parents? Details in extended.

I grew up in California, went to high school in Berkeley, and a few years of college in Santa Cruz/Monterey until, in 1989, just after the earthquake, I relocated to the MidAtlantic and currently live in Baltimore, MD.

Each time I visit the Bay Area, I feel more and more out of touch with the area and my old haunts keep disappearing or changing. I sometimes have a completely inaccurate idea, too, of neighborhood safety when I visit (usually I am too cautious).

Every couple of years I make it out for a week or two to visit family and a few close friends. It turns out that this trip (Wednesday to Tuesday, starting 8/5/2009) is overlapping with friends' other family visits, so I may have a lot more time than I had anticipated to spend alone or with my parents.

I'll be staying with them very near the Ashby BART station. (Thank G-d, it sounds like BART will not be shut down during my visit.)

When I was living in the area, I liked various geeky attractions (Lawrence Hall of Science, Exploratorium, Dark Carnival, various comic book and book stores) and used to hang either in North Berkeley with various friends or would walk to Telegraph Ave or College Ave or through UCB campus and window shop. Sometimes I'd also explore various neighborhoods in SF (The Castro, Market, the Ferry terminals, Golden Gate Park, etc.) I'm also half Chinese which is relevant because I also find a lot of comfort and interest in going to and exploring the various Chinatowns around the bay.

I am now quite the food snob, and still a science/computer geek.

My question is for area residents. I am interested in foodie destinations and other geeky destinations I might not have heard about to visit by myself or with my parents. Can you help enlighten me and let me know about your favorite spots like this around the Bay Area?

The limitation is that it needs to be public transit/walking accessible for the most part, but my parents and I are adventurous with Bay Area public transit and can walk 2 or 3 miles comfortably on any journey's walking leg.

Oh, I should also say I'm not interested in wineries but might be interested in microbreweries, depending. :)

Thanks very much in advance for any answers. Also, I did search for previous questions, but nothing I could find quite fit my quesion/sought answers, but please let me know if I missed something!
posted by kalessin to Society & Culture (23 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The Computer History Museum in Mountain View is an excellent geeky destination, especially now during their exhibit of one of only two existing Babbage Difference Engines, which they crank up several times a week. It is about two miles (via shuttle, it's not a pleasant walk) from the Castro Mountain View Caltrain station. Have lunch or dinner at one of the very good restaurants on Castro Street in downtown Mountain View. My husband's favorite is Amarin Thai, but use yelp to see what matches your tastes.
posted by espertus at 7:23 AM on August 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Gourmet Ghetto has expanded in the last few years; The Epicurious Garden might be a nice foodie destination. A small hike from Berkeley BART, but you can whet your whistle along the way at Triple Rock Brewery.
posted by Mountain Goatse at 7:52 AM on August 2, 2009

The California Academy of Sciences has re-opened in Golden Gate Park and is pretty cool. Get tickets in advance to avoid the lines.
posted by chbrooks at 8:39 AM on August 2, 2009

As a foodie, you should not miss the new Berkeley Bowl West, very near to where you're staying.

I too am a former resident of the Bay Area and headed out there this week for my yearly visit. I plan to hit the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market (probably on a Thursday), taquerias in the Mission, dim sum (on either side of the Bay), maybe the Swan Oyster Depot , and great sushi (also near you is Kirala, one of the best IMHO.)
posted by picklebird at 8:52 AM on August 2, 2009

We like the Bay Model visitors center in Sausalito. Huge scale model of the bay area, focusing on the waterways. With real water and working tides! In the same building, there is also a very nice display about the Liberty ships from WWII.
posted by jvilter at 8:59 AM on August 2, 2009

The immigrant station on Angel Island has re-opened. If you haven't hiked around Angel Island, that's a nice way to see the Bay. The museum is in the buildings used to house the (mostly) Chinese immigrants to the US and really well done. Includes the poems carved in the wooden walls. If hiking the whole way around is too much, just make the trip from the ferry to the immigration center and back.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:44 AM on August 2, 2009

Ferry Building SF, right next to Embarcadero BART
posted by rhizome at 10:13 AM on August 2, 2009

Thank you all so far for your answers and suggestions.

I'll use this space to comment on the suggestions, and will mark some particularly good answers so far, but please keep 'em coming!

I'll see if I can make the Computer History Museum. Normally it wouldn't occur to me to go to that area, but it's a fair suggestion, and I'll see if I can make it work.

The Epicurious Garden is one I've visited some times prior, but it's great to see that it looks like it's fully populated again. Where's the Gourmet Ghetto? Is that the one on Telegraph?

It's also great to hear about the California Academy of Sciences. I'll try to hit that and get tickets in advance, thanks for the tip, chbrooks.

I totally know about Berkeley Bowl and will certainly not miss it. I also agree with you, picklebird about Kirala. I love robata!

I've heard about the Bay Model visitors center. If I can get there, I will!

Also it's cool to hear about the immigrant station on Angel Island. I'm sure my grandfather came in through there. That sounds really interesting, and Dad might enjoy it too! Thanks, gingerbeer! (not only do I like to drink gingerbeer, but I like what you have to say!)

The Ferry Terminal Building IS an awesome destination and I will very likely go there on my trip, but unfortunately it's not new to me. Got any other similar suggestions, rhizome?

Does anyone know if Japantown in SF is still worth the visit? I used to buy piles of washi there when I lived closer by.
posted by kalessin at 10:42 AM on August 2, 2009

If you go to the Academy of Sciences, you'll be right in 9th/Irving land. I'm sure you've been there, and I'm sure the Ebisu line has been crossed many times (if not, it's the hoity-toity sushi option in that hood), but I would recommend going to Pluto's. It's the only place I know of to get a steak Caesar with onion rings. Total regular-food pig-out spot with good ingredients. In fact, for the CAS trip I'd recommend (depending on your walkability, but you can take the N Judah along the park) going out to 25th or so and picking up some banh mi for lunch, go to CAS, then Pluto's for dinner. Pretty cheap day, foodwise, and good SF foodiness.

Japantown is still the same. Everybody has their preferences for Kinokuniya food, but there's also good Korean across the street (I forget what the name of the place is with the big wooden doors).

If you want dim sum there are a ton of options, but Ton Kiang out at 22nd-ish/Geary is always good (to me) and Yank Sing is nice and formal (if, y'know, parent-friendly). Thanh Long out at 46th/Judah is great. All of this stuff is Yelp-able. If you want more dim sum adventure, near Ton Kiang are several dim sum spots where nobody speaks English, which is always fun.

The best Indian is in the Tenderloin, so I'll leave that up to you, but Indian Oven in the Lower Haight is fine.
posted by rhizome at 12:43 PM on August 2, 2009

Thanks, rhizome! What Indian would you recommend in the Tenderloin?
posted by kalessin at 3:22 PM on August 2, 2009

Shalimar is the classic option. There are now also a couple of Southern Indian restaurants at 20th? on Valencia. DOSA (next to Herbivore) and Udupi Palace (where Firecracker used to be).
posted by rhizome at 3:40 PM on August 2, 2009

You make me feel very out of touch, but in a good way. Thank you for all your suggestions, rhizome.
posted by kalessin at 4:02 PM on August 2, 2009

I'm also a former Bay Area resident. I grew up there and have been living on the East Coast for the past ten years. A fun geeky thing to do is to visit Fry's Electronics. It's the mecca of electronics stores. You could also take a tour of SLAC - the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. My suggestions have a South Bay bias since that's where I grew up.
posted by qmechanic at 4:44 PM on August 2, 2009

Shalimar has a couple of locations, all good by my experience.

More info on Angel Island.

Dosa has a second location on Fillmore, across from the Kabuki.
posted by gingerbeer at 5:27 PM on August 2, 2009

Thank you both!

It almost feels like with what I was already planning on and all these wonderful suggestions I may have enough to do while I'm out there. But please keep 'em coming if something occurs to you.

I think Dad will enjoy Angel Island if I can get him out there (it was his father who immigrated to the U.S. from Tai Shan), and I also think he might enjoy the CAS and the Planet-arium. ("I love my job!"), so I'll see if he thinks he'll like it and maybe get advance tickets for later in the week. Also I will see what else he might like to explore with me.

It sounds like I'll at least have a chance to have a meal with my two friends that I want to see, but I think the full-on exploration activities will be on my own or with my Dad (or maybe Mom, if I time it right).
posted by kalessin at 5:48 PM on August 2, 2009

I'll update this post after the trip with what I did do and what my impressions were. For, you know, posterity.
posted by kalessin at 4:38 AM on August 3, 2009

I said I'd update the post, and it turns out I'm doing a bit of computer setup and maintenance for my parents so I figured I'd post about what I'd done so far.

I got in yesterday, spent a little time having a quiet break at SFO while I waited for my Dad to show up (he was running late). We immediately went to the Ning Yung Cemetery, where my Dad's parents are buried. This is emphatically not a tourist destination, though it is open to the public. We did an abbreviated Autumn Festival, which in my family is celebrated like Ching Ming.

After heading home and dropping off my bags, my Mom and I walked to Berkeley Bowl East, where I got a quart of juice and a carnitas burrito and I took care of being parched and hungry. We checked out their excellent produce section, but they still did not have the (longshots) mangosteen and wax apple I've been trying to find in the U.S. Still as always an excellent place to go.

In the evening (perhaps 3-4 hours later), Dad and I braved the crowd and walked to Kirala. We signed up for a table (I wanted their excellent robata) and had some specialty (non-filtered sake) at the bar while waiting. Dad ended up having Unaju and I had a selection of robata: duck and chives, chicken gizzards and grilled mackerel with crunchy skin. Om nom!

We stopped by Walgreens on the way home so I could get some sundries, then I went to bed (after being up for about 24 hours).

This morning, Mom and I headed out to the North Berkeley BART station, there to walk West down Delaware to 4th Street, to a cute and tidy pedestrian mall area with shops and restaurants. We checked out teance and I bought some of their more affordable teas (I am a tea snob, yes). Then we went to Cafe Rouge for lunch. Cafe Rouge does their own butchery, dry aging and charcuterie (another of my budding passions!). I had a very good Steak frites (a very tasty hanger steak grilled and served with red wine shallot butter and fries). Mom had the Sirloin sandwich and didn't like it that much, mostly because the presentation and cut of meat clashed with her expectations of it, but she doesn't really fault them and feels like she should have exercised more her ample opportunity to ask questions prior ordering. Anyway, I thought it quite good. We finished up with a creme brulee raspberry tart which I quite liked. Another Om nom!

Tonight, Dad and I plan to visit my old haunt, La Val's on UCB northside (on Euclid) after I finish up with all the computer setup/maintenance, etc.

I'm not entirely sure what's going on the rest of the visit. Looks like probably the CAS on Saturday with one of my friends and possibly Dad. Maybe Angel Island and then the Ferry Terminal Market with Mom and Dad tomorrow. Dim Sum will likely be Sunday morning in San Francisco Chinatown. And I don't know about the rest of Sunday or the entirety of Monday, but we'll see what happens.
posted by kalessin at 4:04 PM on August 6, 2009

There was mangosteen at the Alemany Farmers Market last Saturday.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:34 PM on August 6, 2009

Wow, gingerbeer! Maybe I'll make it, but this Saturday looks like it may be a Berkeley tour with my friend who lives near Golden Gate Park.

I went to Angel Island with Mom today, because Dad figured getting up that early would just about kill him. Mom and I got out of the house around 7:30 and got to the SF Ferry Building by 8:30, bought tickets and got hot chocolate and waited to be able to board the 9:20 a.m. "ferry to Angel Island" from the SF Ferry Building which turned out actually to be a ferry to pier 41 where we transfered to the real ferry to Angel Island. But I loved the trip. I love ferries. Very nice. We got to Angel Island port and walked up the hill and along Perimeter Road (about a mile) to the Immigration Station. It was a good time. Very educational and interesting. I bought a book that had the poems carved in the walls of some of the dormitories reproduced in Chinese and translated to English as well as a video of Carved Silence, which is a documentary about Angel Island for the immigrants who stayed there.
All very interesting and informative and the island is beautiful. Beautiful to be on, and beautiful to look out from. Many scenic scenes.
We lunched on La Val's leftovers from last night and we returned to Fisherman's Wharf (which I personally don't enjoy - and why is there a 30 foot tall Anibus there?) on the 2:00 ferry out of Angel Island.

Afterwards Mom and I walked from Pier 41 to the SF Ferry Building (and she left for home) and I got a gelato at Ciao Bella to cool and snack on (2-scoop cup with the Lebanese yogurt flavor and lychee gelato flavor. Good combo! Then I hit Recchiuti confections to pick up their Pates de Fruits and a rather large box of their assorted chocolates to bring as a housegift and contribution to a friend's dinner party I was attending.

I got a ride from there to Civic Center BART, and I got back home about an hour ago (at 10:30 p.m.).

Tomorrow I'll do a grand tour of Berkeley shopping/sightseeing - which to me is a pedestrian explore through old haunts around UC Berkeley - my friend from this evening will be joining me. I need to pick some places to eat or have snack. I think one place may end up being Crixa Cakes on Adeline, which is rather near where my parents' house is.
posted by kalessin at 11:51 PM on August 7, 2009

Got busy enough with doing things that I didn't have time to complete the updates, but now that I'm back to normal I may have time to complete the updates now.

Saturday 8/8: Went on a walking tour of my old haunts around UC Berkeley with the same friend I visited on Friday evening. Highlights: Gecko Gecko Thai on Milvia. Very tasty. The duck, green apple and papaya salad with fish sauce was the highlight, I think, but we also shared duck and green onion rice noodle rolls and another dish that was good, but I can't remember exactly what it was. We also visited Games of Berkeley, which was as good as always, and inspected what I thought was the Epicurious Garden (but which was not - what we investigated there was a little courtyard that had Jupiter Beer on one side and another pub/restaurant on the back-end that faced Allston Way). Then we walked through campus up to Telegraph Ave and walked that out to Dwight Way, then back into campus, walked across campus to North side to inspect the various businesses there. Next we headed west down the part of UCB campus that parallels Hearst to Oxford, further to Shattuck and north on Shattuck to the gourmet ghetto proper. We headed into the epicurous garden and hit Ciao Bella in there as well as Alegio Chocolates, where we bought some various chocolates from barcelona (expensive, but quite the experience) for my friend's household to try.
After that we walked to Berkeley BART and I rode the train with my friend to Montgomery station, but didn't actually get off until I rode it back to Ashby station and went home. Later in the evening, Dad and I checked out Kip's/Sun Hong Kong, which is apparently related to the old Sun Hong Kong (now New Gold Metal in Oakland China town), but definitely in student-ghetto-food land, which is good but not really haute. We gave it a try because the old Sun Hong Kong was a family favorite for family banquets years ago.
posted by kalessin at 5:59 AM on August 13, 2009

Sunday 8/9: I'm having trouble remembering what I did Sunday morning or for lunch, which means I probably spent it doing computer maintenance and setup for my Mom and Dad. In the afternoon, I spend most of it with my friend from Saturday and her household, mostly playing Worms 2: Armageddon on their XBox 360. For dinner, though, weh ad a magnificent feast of having bits of different take-out dishes from Nopalito. I thought the food very tasty!
posted by kalessin at 6:14 AM on August 13, 2009

Sunday 8/9: (Continued) Duh - for the morning, I met my other friend that I was there to meet (and her husband and daughter) at a decent seafood and dim sum joint on Hollister and Folsom called Canton Dim Sum. It was a good meal and it was great to see my friend again, and see that her husband and daughter were doing well. The dim sum itself was good, I thought. Snobbily, I must say I still prefer my old haunts of the Jade Villa and Tin's Tea house in Oakland Chinatown, but I understand Tin's is no longer there! This is probably just cussedness and familiarity talking anyway. Yelp gives Canton Dim Sum higher stars than Jade Villa.

Monday 8/10: I was starting to flag at this point. Lunch was with Mom in the Gourmet Ghetto in Berkeley at Trattoria Corso. I had a really good meal here, starting with ziti with lamb ragu, including a raspberry soda and ending with panna cotta with cherry preserves. Really good, and it was a great panna cotta (which are tricky to get right). Mom also really enjoyed the Bucatini con salsiccia (pasta with house-made sausage, clams, fennel broth and chilies). For dessert, she had Pistachio semifreddo (frozen custard, candied pistachios - yum!) We really enjoyed ourselves there.
For dinner, I met my other friend from Sunday's Dim Sum at Namu (we went on the suggestion of my other friend upon finding out that Zuni Cafe, my intended destination is closed on Mondays), which is a Korean-Japanese-California fusion restaurant. Dishes are small-plates-style and very tasty. We had a bunch of different dishes there and they were all good. Highlights were the shitake dumplings in broth, the complimentary pickles (kimchi, mung beans and carrots), the non-complimentary pickles (seaweed, radishes and cauliflower/onions), and the crudo (hamachi sashimi, seasoned and served on very thin slices of lemon). But it was honestly all extremely tasty.
We didn't feel like having their desserts, so instead drove like mad-creatures to Mitchell's for ice cream. I had two flavors: Lucuma and Jackfruit.
posted by kalessin at 6:30 AM on August 13, 2009

Monday 8/10 Evening: When I got home from Mitchell's and hanging out with that friend, I walked Dad through the setup of his computer on the home network and walked him through checking his e-mail, etc.

Tuesday 8/11: I finished up Tuesday with the flight back home and only had the morning to work with. I spent the time finishing up computer maintenance and just hanging out with my parents, and I went to Berkeley Bowl East to pick up various snack foods for the flight, then came home to prepare them in various zip-locks and packed up my bags. At noon, Mom and I headed over to SFO to get me prepped and checked in for my flight.

Wednesday, I stayed home, recovered mostly from jet-lag and am now at work again. Yay!

It turned out that my friends made a lot more time for me than I'd anticipated.

Thank you all for your suggestions, even if I did not get to them. I will check them out on future visits.

Final score:
Things suggested by mefites that I did: 4
Things suggested by mefites that I did not do and will have to do next time: 12
posted by kalessin at 6:40 AM on August 13, 2009

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