Advice for quickie vacation in San Francisco?
January 4, 2010 9:23 AM   Subscribe

Taking a three-day visit to San Francisco in mid-February. I’ve already bookmarked some of the excellent previous AskMe answers, but I’ve got some specific questions…

Getting around: we’re not renting a car, and we will probably get a multi-day transit pass. Are there any specific areas you would recommend not going via public transit, for safety or convenience reasons?

Location: we’re staying at the Triton, near Chinatown. Any can't miss places for food, shopping, or culture nearby? Places to avoid?

Food: Mr. Arkham is a pescatarian, I'm an omnivore. The two things on the "must have" list are raw oysters and dim sum. Recommended places?

Tourist stuff: not too interested in anything super-touristy, but is there something that everyone does that’s actually worth seeing? Note, I am 100% not going on an Alcatraz tour, or anything involving getting on a boat.

Museums: We’re planning on going to Nightlife at the California Academy of Sciences. Has anyone ever been to one? What is the general dress/vibe like?

We’re also planning on going to MOMA, unless there is a lesser-known place we should be spending our limited time visiting. We are somewhat spoiled with good (free!) museums here in DC so seeing a Warhol or two is not as high a priority as seeing something really unusual.

Photography: I’m interested in historic cemeteries and classic architecture. Where should I go to take photos?

Live music: I’ve been looking for a list of small live music venues, but I’m mostly finding DJ nights and places with larger mainstream acts. Our tastes run to garage, punk, rockabilly, alt-country. Neo-surf music would be spectacular.

Thank you for reading all of this, and I look forward to your insight!
posted by JoanArkham to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (31 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
You absolutely must visit the Jejune Institute. Do not google around or you will spoil it. Just go to their office during open hours and you will find out what to do. Allow about 2 hours and wear comfortable walking shoes.
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:34 AM on January 4, 2010 [5 favorites]

Chinatown is right near Union Square for shopping (just south or basically downhill) and North Beach to the north (uphill mostly ;-)

Raw Oysters you must hit Swan's oyster depot Dim Sum is really particular and not really my thing so I'm not jumping into that one.

Honestly Alcatraz is pretty cool and a very mild boat ride I'd kind of recommend it despite your misgivings. Other than that Coit Tower is cool too and maybe ride a bike across the Golden Gate Bridge. The view is spectacular.

Nightlife is very casual and fun no real dress code I've gone in jeans but seen some people more "dressed up" I'd also hit SFMoma

SF doesn't do much in the way of cemetaries most of them are outside SF in Colma though the Pet Cemetary in the Presidio is kind of cool.

I'm about 10 years out of the music scene right now so I don't have much to recommend but I think The Bottom of The Hill in Potrero and Thee Parkside both do cool music (Thee Parkside does rockabilly fairly frequently I think - and yes it's two "ee"s)
posted by bitdamaged at 9:35 AM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Eat at House of Nanking (very close to your hotel). Let the waiter/waitress order for you.
posted by JakeWalker at 9:39 AM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Splurge on dim sum at Yank Sing in the Rincon Center.
posted by handful of rain at 9:41 AM on January 4, 2010

Best answer: Mission Dolores has a pretty (but quaint) old walled cemetery behind it and a pretty exterior (I never went inside, as it was closed and I had to beg the shopkeepers to let me into the cemetery after hours).

Also, I really liked the Jewish Contemporary Museum.

Also, check out the SF Weekly for show listings, if you haven't already.
posted by greta simone at 9:42 AM on January 4, 2010

Best answer: Nightlife is AWESOME! The vibe is science dorks with drinks, and 20somethings out for an inexpensive and different-from-the-usual evening out. Be sure to stop by the docents' table where they have penis bones - the docents are great, and the penis bones are very interesting! Wear whatever you like.

Can't help with neo-surf music specifically, but check places like Bottom of the Hill, Slim's, Cafe du Nord - other folks will have more recommendations.

I haven't been in ages, but the last time I went, the dim sum at Yank Sing was great.

If you won't get on a boat, but still want a We Went to San Francisco and [did touristy thing] experience, you can always walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. Or rent a bike and ride across, and go into Sausalito or up into the Marin Headlands, if you like that sort of thing.

As for places to avoid, there really aren't many in central SF. The Outer Sunset and Richmond neighborhoods are residential and somewhat dull if you're looking for Things To Do. Bayview/Hunter's Point is not awesomely safe, but it's pretty off the beaten track, and again, there isn't much To See or Do, so you wouldn't go there anyway.

The Mission and the Tenderloin both have their crime/gang troubles, but both are also filled with good, cheap places to eat, bars to hang out in, and so on. Don't go stumbling around blind drunk at 2 am and you'll be fine.

And don't forget to call for a meetup when the time gets closer, if you want to. We love 'em!
posted by rtha at 9:43 AM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

The best dim sum is in and around Daly City - Koi Palace, or HK Flower Lounge across from the Millbrae BART station. Yank Sing is way way overpriced and touristy, though some items can be good. I'd also do PPQ Dungeness in the Richmond, since their crab is amazing and cheap, and you'd get to see one of the more residential sides of SF, also home to Pizzetta 211, another recommended hole in the wall spot.
posted by kcm at 10:00 AM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah you didn't metion if you're renting a car or anything so I'll also throw this out there for Oysters.

You can drive up the coast (HWY 1) to Tomales Bay (Tomales Bay Oyster Co.) and get right off the boat fresh BBQ'd Oysters. The drive up 1 is beautiful and you can hang out at Stinson Beach or Point Reyes station.
posted by bitdamaged at 10:18 AM on January 4, 2010

Best answer: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts across the street from SFMOMA focuses on more contemporary and local art - I like 'em. They're closing the current show at the end of January and not opening the next one until February 20, so it might not work for you. For smaller, cool art and performance spaces I recommend ATA, The Dark Room, Minna Street. The Squid List is a good place to check for really SF flavored events.

There are no cemeteries in SF, but there is a columbarium that is worth checking out if you are out in the Richmond neighborhood (a good spot for Dim Sum too). If you're super into cemeteries you should go to Colma.

Do take the F Line (to the Castro, which is a touristy destination worth visiting - not Fisherman's Warf, which is worth avoiding.) It's cheaper than the cable cars.

Have fun!
posted by serazin at 10:22 AM on January 4, 2010

I second visiting Mission Dolores and the old cemetery there. It famously appeared in Vertigo. The adjacent church is the oldest part of San Francisco.

For Oysters you can go to Hog Island.

MOMA is worth it. Its a small well-designed museum and won't swallow much of your time anyways. There are several museums next to it such as Yerba Buena, the Jewish Museum, the Cartoon Museum which you may want to check out as well.
posted by vacapinta at 10:31 AM on January 4, 2010

Some of the other big museums are the Museum of the African Diaspora (MOAD), the new Jewish Museum, and the Asian Art Museum. MOAD and the CJM are right next to MOMA and Yerba Buena. Asian Art is in the Civic Center.

My favorite local music venue is the Great American Music Hall.

Nightlife vibe is Geeks on Dates, both the 20-ish and the 50-ish variety. Wear whatever you want, and get there early to get tags to get in to the planetarium show.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:45 AM on January 4, 2010

Farallon and The Tadich Grill, both within walking distance of the Triton.

For miscellaneous stuff, I tend to recommend areas rather than specific attractions.

  • Take the F Market to Pier 39 and walking up to Fort Point and back is a nice hike. You can catch a cab up at the Golden Gate Bridge Tourist Center back to downtown if you don't want to hoof it back.
  • Golden Gate Park, the Academy of Sciences and Conservatory of Flowers is nice. Walk straight down to Market St. from the Triton and get on the 5 Fulton bus and get off at Arguello (just past Stanyan). There's a street that goes up into the park from there and you should be able to figure out where to walk from there.

  • posted by rhizome at 10:46 AM on January 4, 2010

    Best answer: Also, the Chinatown Alley Tours always looking interesting, even for natives and locals. Let me know if you try one out.
    posted by kcm at 10:59 AM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

    I'm just going to keep posting here as I think of things ;-)

    If you're going to Nightlife you may want to get to the Park a few hours early and spend sometime at the DeYoung Museum. Right across from the entrance to the Conservatory.
    posted by bitdamaged at 11:05 AM on January 4, 2010

    I post this in most of these threads, but the San Francisco Walking Tours are great (and free).
    posted by gingerbeer at 11:14 AM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

    There are actually two cemeteries in San Francisco (and the colombarium). The rest are all south of here in Colma. The Mission Dolores one mentioned above is the best for your purposes, I would think, and the other one is the military cemetery in the Presidio. It includes the pet cemetery.
    posted by gingerbeer at 11:20 AM on January 4, 2010

    Response by poster: Thanks, all! I always feel weird about marking "best" in these, as they are all great suggestions.
    posted by JoanArkham at 11:27 AM on January 4, 2010

    Best answer: Have you booked your travel yet? I'm also planning a trip to SF in February (as the most interesting snow-free place that's a nonstop flight away from Toronto) around the Noise Pop festival starting February 23. Looks like at least a few good bands, as well as a film fest and other indie goodness.

    Also, the San Francisco CityPass can be a great deal - it includes admission to the MOMA, Academy of Sciences, Aquarium, and Exploratorium, a bay cruise, and a 7-day transit pass for $59. I've got more than my money's worth out of it on my last two trips.
    posted by Gortuk at 11:30 AM on January 4, 2010

    Our tastes run to garage, punk, rockabilly, alt-country. Neo-surf music would be spectacular.

    Haven't lived in the Bay Area for four years, but if those are your musical tastes, you probably want to go Bottom of the Hill. I know they've had Wanda Jackson, and I saw Fred Cole & Dead Moon there a while back.
    posted by jonp72 at 11:40 AM on January 4, 2010

    FWIW, the most convenient place to get your multi-day transit pass (with or without the City Pass) is at the cable-car turnaround at the 'bottom' of Market Street. There's a kiosk there that sells them. When we were in SF in Sept it appeared to be the ONLY place to buy the thing (but I could be wrong). Pick up (er, buy - they're about $3) a transit map at the same booth - it will show you where the major lines run, and how often/how late.
    posted by dbmcd at 11:49 AM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

    Response by poster: OMG, Polkacide! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Is Bottom of the Hill in a decent neighborhood, or should we plan on cabbing it?
    posted by JoanArkham at 12:00 PM on January 4, 2010

    the 22 Fillmore bus goes right near the Bottom of the Hill. Just get off at the park (across from a bar called Thee Parkside, which you may also like) and look for the BotH sign a couple blocks down. If you miss the stop, just get off at the next stop after it turns right, up Connecticut. It's not a bad neighborhood. I'm not sure how late the 22 runs, but there tends to be plenty of cabs there available after shows.
    posted by rhizome at 12:14 PM on January 4, 2010

    Oh, and to get to the 22 you would take any westbound Muni train and get off at Church St., which is right after you get out of the tunnel for the N & J, while the LKM stops at the underground Church St. Station. The F is surface, so if you take that you get off at the big intersection by the big Safeway grocery store.
    posted by rhizome at 12:19 PM on January 4, 2010

    Best answer: I made a messy little general guide for my neighbors who were visiting SF that can be found here. It has a simple map with destination and transit links and other stuff.
    posted by vapidave at 12:28 PM on January 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

    You can get the City Passes at (some?) museums, including - I think - the De Young. I don't know that they'd have transit-only, but when my parents got them, I believe they found the entire City Pass useful. I know I barely saw them, so that says something.
    posted by kcm at 1:03 PM on January 4, 2010

    Best answer: Hey JoanArkham, depending on what your dates are, the SF Bluegrass and Old Time Music Festival happens in mid February. That could be a good gateway to some smaller venues in SF.

    Woodhouse Fish Company was doing $1 oysters on Tuesdays for happy hour for awhile (double check) and their Market Street location is in the midst of a great SF neighborhood -- the Castro. And El Rio, another fine little music venue, had free oysters on Friday for happy hour, last time I checked (located in another great neighborhood -- the Mission).

    I had dim sum at Great Eastern on Christmas Day. Best I'd had in some time.

    Mission Dolores, as others have suggested, is great. A fine mid - late afternoon might involve a visit to the Mission, a brief diversion to Tartine for pastry or ZOMG seasonal fruit bread pudding, a rest in super scenic Dolores Park, and then a stroll over to El Rio for your happy hour brew and some spontaneous live music. It's ambitious, but hey -- it's a new decade.

    Have a fun trip!
    posted by missmobtown at 3:53 PM on January 4, 2010

    Pick up (er, buy - they're about $3) a transit map at the same booth - it will show you where the major lines run, and how often/how late.

    I don't think buying a map is necessary. Every MUNI shelter has a map of the entire city, with every line and their schedules. It's good to have a backup, but I think the $3 would be better spent on some avocados. SF is an easy enough city to navigate.

    My list of architecture highlights. I'll try to skip the obvious stuff (and I'm sure I'm forgetting lots of things):

    Ferry Building (go inside!)
    Hyatt Embarcadero (go inside!)
    PG&E and Southern Pacific buildings
    One Maritime Plaza
    Customs House (Battery Street between Jackson and Washington)
    Old Transamerica building (don't go inside!)
    Contemporary Jewish Museum
    Palace Hotel
    the dome at Neiman Marcus (the new facade is hideous, but it still looks nice from inside)
    the Fairmont, Mark Hopkins, Stanford, and Huntington hotels
    Pacific Union Club
    the frieze on the Masonic Temple
    Grace Cathedral
    wandering around Russian Hill playing "Spot The Consulate General"
    St. Mark's Church
    Asian Art Museum, City Hall, and the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium
    War Memorial Opera House
    Maritime Museum
    The wave organ at the Marina
    Palace of Fine Arts
    Temple Emanu-El
    Palace of the Legion of Honor
    Cliff House and the remains of Sutro Baths
    the Wilhelmina Windmill
    basically all of Golden Gate Park (landscape architecture!)
    lots of good old buildings at the zoo
    Forest Hill Station
    Mission High
    Mission Dolores
    and the old U.S. Mint
    posted by clorox at 5:48 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

    Response by poster: Thanks again, everyone. This is a treasure trove, and much better than any guidebook. I'm starting to really regret not having more time to explore.
    posted by JoanArkham at 6:50 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

    quite right about the cemeteries at the Presidio and Mission Dolores - sorry for the misstatement!
    posted by serazin at 9:18 PM on January 4, 2010

    you just have to go to Musee Mecanique. I went three times when I was in San Francisco.
    posted by Nufkin at 5:43 AM on January 5, 2010

    Response by poster: Well, thanks to Snowmageddon our trip has been postponed indefinitely. Now I need to figure out what the best time is to plan for our second attempt.

    posted by JoanArkham at 2:07 PM on February 9, 2010

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