I like to fly
September 18, 2011 1:50 PM   Subscribe

What was originally a mileage run to SFO and back has now become a 12 hour vacation in San Franscisco. What would you do in the city if you were me?

For purposes of meeting airline loyalty program tiers, I have to fly a few thousand miles before my upcoming anniversary reset date. Between work, airfare, flight times and connection options, turns out a mileage run with a 12 hour layover in SFO this Tuesday works best. This is effectively my summer vacation

I'll be flying in from the east coast and arriving at noon but given my flight's historical on-time records and what the BART planner says, I can expect to alight at Powell St. or Embarcadero no earlier than 1:00p. My flight out is at 11:30p but I'd like to be at the airport around 8:00p before tiredness from walking all day and jetlag kicks in. So altogether, I'll only have 6+ hours in the city proper.

It's my first time in SF but with the hours I have, I'm not looking to do much other than to eat, people watch and enjoy my time off. There are two things I'd to do though:
  • try the ahi tuna burger at Gott's Roadside
  • try out and most probably purchase a Nook Smple Touch ereader (they don't sell these where I live)
I want to get a B&N store to get the Nook and to try it out on the spot to make sure it works before leaving but it seems to follow the big-box model of store placement?

For reference, things that sound interesting from previous threads:
  • Asian Art Museum
  • California Academy of Sciences
  • Palace of Fine Arts
  • Union Square
  • Fisherman's Wharf
  • Happy hour oysters
I have a Clipper card and I've been to many other cities with a similar system, so I'm comfortable with travelling by MUNI. What would you do if you were me? Good food that SF does well?

Small note: coming from Toronto and being HK chinese, I haven't any interest in Chinatown or trying SF Chinese food on this extremely short trip.
posted by tksh to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
My broken record refrain: If you head to Fisherman's Wharf and have either a mechanical tinkering or a "history of video games" bent, do not miss the Musee Mechanique (warning, autoplay sound).

It's been a while since I've indulged but, yes, happy hour oysters at the Ferry Building are great, and there's lots of other good food there.

Other than that... well... your list is more than 12 hours of stuff the way I'd do it... Are you looking to prioritize from that? Union Square seems mostly like what you get in the shopping/downtown districts of any other city. Google Maps tells me that B&N is up by Fisherman's Wharf, so you could easily take BART to the Embarcardero stop, hop on the F line (old restored street cars) and be right there...
posted by straw at 1:59 PM on September 18, 2011

Not an SF resident but an occasional visitor. If you are interested in Asian art (primarily Japanese and Chinese, but also Indian and Southeast Asian), the Asian Art Museum is world class, on par with the Musée Guimet in Paris. Not on your list, but also worth considering, is the Legion of Honor museum--itself very American in that it's an oversized copy of the Palais du Legion d'honneur in Paris.... The California Academy of Sciences is also worth a visit. I enjoyed the aquarium there and could easily spend half an hour watching the circular aquarium with its run of ocean fish going round and round and round. It's both calming and interesting at the same time.

You can't do everything so I'd pick one or two things from each category and do those.

If I were going there now, this Tuesday, I'd bring or rent a bike and spend the day cycling over the Golden Gate and into Marin County, but that's just me.
posted by brianogilvie at 2:11 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would skip Cal Academy/De Young and the Palace of Fine Arts. Your transit time there and back will take up too much of your trip.

Land. BART to Embarcadero. Eat at Gott's at the Ferry Building. Walk or take transit to the Asian Art Museum. Spend a few hours there. Admire SF City Hall. Walk or Muni or BART back to the Ferry Building for your happy hour oysters. Take BART back to Colma. Walk to the B&N there and play with the Nook. Back on BART to SFO.

Or you could stop at Colma on the way in to SF. The B&N near Union Square is closed, so your options are a bit limited. One of the other ones in the Bay Area may be closer to a BART station, but further away from the airport.
posted by gingerbeer at 2:25 PM on September 18, 2011

gingerbeer's plan is pretty good, but I personally would not want to spend so much time at the Ferry Building. One of the things that San Francisco does well is amazing cocktails, so if you're into that maybe head to Absinthe for oysters at the bar and cocktails. (not happy hour oysters, but Hog Island at the Ferry Building only has happy hour on Monday and Thursday. They are awesome oysters, though). Absinthe is walking distance from the Asian Art Museum, in Hayes Valley.

I don't care much for either Union Square or Fisherman's Wharf- too tourist-facing.
Ferry Building=good, touristy but caters to locals. Great view of the Bay, easy from BART.
Hayes Valley and the Mission (on the BART line) are more SF-y, with Hayes Valley a bit more upscale and the Mission more egalitarian (and by the Mission I generally mean Valencia between 16th and 24th st). Both have lots of good food and drink, including the other thing the City does well, coffee. Try Blue Bottle or Four Barrel if you are a coffee drinker.

For transit needs, I use the 511.org trip planner to go from place to place on transit.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:58 PM on September 18, 2011

Thanks for the quick replies!

If I were in SF for a few days, then I would do everything on that short list and more. SF looks so small on the map that I couldn't tell what's not doable on that list from transit time alone. (Thanks gingerbeer on the tip.)

It sounds like I'll only reasonably do one thing leisurely without dropping one of Gott's, B&N and oysters (and frankly, food wins). Got any recommendations for oyster bars where a single guy wouldn't feel out of place or be placed into the outside cold? Would 15% gratuity be 'OK' for good service?
posted by tksh at 2:58 PM on September 18, 2011

here is the big todo list by neighborhood:


there are some hella cool little shops and things down along valencia in the mission such as: paxton gate and a myriad of others. then go grab some eats and have a beer or two in the neighborhood. another SF favorite is http://samovarlife.com/
posted by specialk420 at 3:10 PM on September 18, 2011

Mayes Oyster House is a short walk from the Asian Art Museum.

Hog and Rocks is a mefite favorite. We ended up there after at least one meetup. Walkable from either 16th or 24th St BART.
posted by gingerbeer at 3:20 PM on September 18, 2011

15% is fine. I routinely tip 20%, as a data point.
posted by gingerbeer at 3:27 PM on September 18, 2011

I'd BART to 24th+Mission, jog over to Valencia, walk up to 20th, over to Church, admire the view from the top of Dolores Park, walk down to 18th, back over to Valencia with a stop by Bi-Rite for ice cream + people watching, maybe dinner at Delfina or any of the myriad places along your route, up to Hayes Valley / Civic Center for City Hall/museums, then BART from Civic Center back down to Colma for B&N (be warned it's a good mile each way from BART to B&N in Colma), and then back to SFO. You could also take the J from the Embarcadero down to 20th + Church and then walk back up if you wanted to start with the Ferry Building (see below).

I agree on the touristy aspect of Fisherman's Wharf, and the Ferry Building, but I've been in SF for years and years and work nearby and still go to Gott's on occasion for the people watching and fantastic weather/views. Don't be TOO hasty to avoid a weekday Ferry Building trip and walk on the Embarcadero.
posted by kcm at 3:42 PM on September 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Now that I think about it, the San Bruno B&N is really almost next to the San Bruno BART station. I'd probably do that instead of Colma.

Bonus idea: stop by In N Out if you do make it up to the B&N in the Fisherman's Wharf area, or if you rent a car and have time to stop by the one next to SFO in Millbrae on the way back.
posted by kcm at 3:46 PM on September 18, 2011

Good call on San Bruno -- it does look like that one's closer to a BART stop. There is no B&N at Fisherman's Wharf.

Revised itinerary: BART to Embarcadero, lunch at Gott's, head to Asian Art Museum, walk up to Mayes for oysters/walk or Muni to Hog & Rocks for oysters, back on BART to San Bruno for Nook, BART to SFO.
posted by gingerbeer at 4:41 PM on September 18, 2011

What does your budget look like? If you can afford it, I might recommend a taxi instead of BART. I don't think you specified the day of the week, but if it is a Sat/Sun, a taxi could save you significant time over BART (20 mins to downtown instead of 40). With just 6 hours, every minute counts.

Would NOT rent a car - the time it takes to pick it up, return it, etc is a real drag.

I've done mileage runs myself. Personally, I just take it easy. Avoid the museums (maybe SF MOMA since its downtown) - don't over do it.

Assuming you need to go straight back to work, remember that you don't want to go home exhausted and pooped.
posted by bluelava at 5:42 PM on September 18, 2011

Speaking of exhausted and pooped it's 'Leather Week' in SF and, if you want to wiggle dates a bit, the Folsom Street Fair is this Sunday.
posted by okbye at 6:09 PM on September 18, 2011

Thanks guys(+gals)!

eTickets have been issued for all my segments so it's this Tuesday for sure. Rain or shine, I am flying those five thousand miles and seeing a bit of San Francisco in the process.

I really appreciate the help with getting to a B&N. I'm just surprised there's no location at Union Square or at some other prominent mall on the BART line. It's just so counter-intuitive. Is there a reason why I shouldn't go to San Bruno on the way from the airport to the city, rather than on the way out?

I don't plan on taking the taxi unless I really overrun my schedule. I enjoy wandering around and people watching a fair bit. gingerbeer's proposed itinerary sounds good to me so that will be my basis, with the other suggestions on my scratch list depending on how much I enjoy Ferry Building.

(Oysters isn't a definite todo, but $1 oysters just seems too good to pass up on.)
posted by tksh at 6:46 PM on September 18, 2011

Your call on B&N in to the City or out. Don't think it matters much, other than when you want lunch. There was one in SF but it closed last year. Borders had a big store right on Union Square until they closed, too.

You have other museum options, too. These are all right off the Market Street corridor and all close to each other:

Museum of Modern Art
Cartoon Art Museum
Museum of the African Diaspora
Contemporary Jewish Museum

The weather should be good next week. Enjoy our lovely city!
posted by gingerbeer at 7:46 PM on September 18, 2011

I support some combo of gingeerbeer and kcm's plan's - the Asian Art Museum is truly spectacular, and I love Mission Dolores and Valencia Street madly. Fisherman's Wharf and Ferry Building are touristy but also nice. Academy of Sciences and Legion of Honor are great but not super convenient.

If you get out at Powell Street, you will see a mall. You may think, "oh hey, a mall, I bet they have a bookstore in there," but you will will be wrong. Do not waste your time! (This is from experience.)
posted by naoko at 12:22 AM on September 19, 2011

The most convenient Barnes and Noble may actually be the El Cerrito store, which is 20 minutes beyond San Francisco on the BART (take the Richmond line to the El Cerrito Plaza station -- B&N is visible 200 yards from the station). You'd then have the option of exploring Berkeley on your way back (real bookstores on Telegraph Avenue, UC-Berkeley campus, all sorts of cafe options). I love San Francisco, but it's a big tourist trap on the surface, and it may take more than twelve hours to penetrate the surface. An afternoon in Berkeley might be more memorable!
posted by FLAG (BASTARD WATER.) (Acorus Adulterinus.) at 8:13 AM on September 19, 2011

I'll probably hit San Bruno on the way in for the B&N stop, it looks quite walkable from the BART station. As long as I eat at least two good meals, I'll already be happy.

And yeah, this isn't really visiting San Francisco and more like "breath some city air and fly out".
posted by tksh at 10:15 AM on September 19, 2011

Err meant that as in, do B&N at San Brunch, fall back to Colma or El Cerrito, and then enjoy myself at an attraction or two. As long as I can fit good food in, I am happy.
posted by tksh at 10:17 AM on September 19, 2011

Got back earlier today in one piece.

Overall, gingerbeer's plan worked out very well. BART was very easy to use, if showing a lot of its age. My flight arrived on time just before noon, so I managed to get to San Bruno, try out a Nook, buy one, set it up, catch the next train to the city, and step out at Embarcadero at 1:10.

The rest of the day was spent wandering around Ferry Plaza and up Market Street to Civic Center for Asian Art Museum. I stayed there until closing (very nice indeed). Fatigue caught up with me and I didn't do oysters after all. I ended up walking to Union Square anyways and people watched for the rest of the afternoon.

In the end, I actually could've had 8+ hours in the city if jetlag and fatigue from a red-eye flight on a later timezone didn't work against me. I'm glad I took the advice to take it easy in San Francisco. The overnight flight to Chicago and then Toronto, pushing through the timezones in the other direction, meant I only got four hours of sleep on the plane.

Thanks for all the help guys, especially on such a short notice!
posted by tksh at 5:50 PM on September 21, 2011

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