Going to San Francisco and Portland; what am I doing?
July 27, 2012 7:14 PM   Subscribe

Planes and Trains and Bikes, oh my! or, Going to San Francisco and Portland for a week and a half; what should I do and see and eat?

I'm flying into San Francisco on Sunday (29th) until Thursday night (about 4 and some days), taking a 17-hour train to Portland, and then staying around Portland (another 4 and some days) until Tuesday (7th) night.

I like museums and gardens, except for most art museums. I'm also interested in general sightseeing. Not particularly interested in going to stores unless they are really nifty in some way or another. (Things that generally make that list: bookstores of a certain size, tiny stores that really focus on one thing). Money isn't exactly an objection for anything, but I'm also not inclined to spend a lot for something that won't be amazing (or at least memorable).

I'll have my bike with me, so I'm interested in general logistics (how do drivers react to cyclists, how important it is to really lock the sucker up, etc) and also places I should bike to. I hear that biking the Golden Gate Bridge is a thing, and that Portland is really bike friendly, but what else? I am not super fit, but I've recently done 50-mile rides and can bike indefinitely at a leisurely pace, for what it's worth.

I'm also very interested in food recommendations, with the two restrictions that I am vegan and also 21, so drinking isn't a thing for me. Places with communal tables are extra interesting to me, as are other things that might get me to meet people in the area.

Lastly, what do I need to know or do or bring to prepare myself for a 17 hour train? My parents insisted that I get a room, so ... I have a room. The cheapest one, with two beds, so I guess I'm sharing with some stranger.

I've been to San Francisco before, but 10 years ago and I remember nothing; Portland is a total blank slate to me. This is also my first time really traveling by myself, so I have no idea what I'm doing at all. I've read some of the previous asks, but was hoping for a few more datapoints.
posted by vulgar_wheat to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You can get a bike map of San Francisco. You should do that. It shows all the steep hills, of which the city has many.

I enjoyed Muir Woods (outside of SF) and Alcatraz (audio tour was good). City Lights Bookstore was nice. Lots of good coffee to be had in the city too. Didn't care for SFMOMA too much.
posted by backwards guitar at 7:25 PM on July 27, 2012

The Oakland Museum of California in downtown Oakland is a short train ride, and is a *fantastic* local history & natural history museum.
posted by colin_l at 7:34 PM on July 27, 2012

My wife and I were in SF in May and had an awesome time biking around and eating stuff. Drivers were pretty receptive to cyclists as far as we experienced. At least in comparison to NYC. Keep an eye out for railcar tracks in the middle of the road. We were on some chunky tired rental mountain bikes and were fine. We also had these rinky dink u locks and they seemed to do the job. But you'd probably have to be pretty dumb to steal a rental bike. Everyone else seemed to have standard kryptonite u-locks, but not the mega crazy NYC series. Definitely a bunch of heavy kryptonite chains though.

Biking the bridge was a fantastic experience. We continued on, stopped in Sausalito for lunch and then finished up at Tiburon where we grabbed the ferry back.

Here's a foursquare list of things we did and ate. https://foursquare.com/zackola/list/sf-2012

Coffee here was fantastic. https://foursquare.com/v/four-barrel-coffee/480d1a5ef964a520284f1fe3
This was one of the best cocktail bars I've ever been to https://foursquare.com/v/big/4f8a5d33e4b0bae897ee788d
Check menu here but this was one of the best meals we've ever had. https://foursquare.com/v/bar-tartine/464348def964a5206e461fe3
Breakfast at farm:table
and Brenda's was great. Brenda's was a brunch scene but if you're by yourself and you find something to eat on the menu you are interested in, you can probably snag a counter seat quickly.

Definitely go here for veggie/vegan food. Fake meat style, also good veggies. http://www.yelp.com/biz/golden-era-vegetarian-restaurant-san-francisco. Oh. But it's also a cult. So don't get sucked in too far.

We felt more comfortable biking in SF than walking most places. The BART was pretty useful too. For the love of all that is holy do not walk down Turk near Market. That was the worst street I've ever been on. It was like Hamsterdam from The Wire AFAICT.

We had fun eating and drinking out in the Mission. Check out Mission Dolores park. Lots of young people hanging out and relaxing. Bike to the TOP. Woo!

I hope you have some gears on your bike. Those hills are amazing and fun!
posted by zackola at 7:51 PM on July 27, 2012

Best answer: Regarding bikes in San Francisco, you definitely need a good strong lock, especially if you plan on locking it up outside museums. If you leave your bike unlocked on the street, you should be prepared for it to "walk away" by the time you get back. The cars are fairly friendly for a big city, just be mindful of MUNI buses, taxis, and the Muni tracks down Market.

The California Academy of Sciences is always a fun museum to go to and it's a super fun bike ride through Golden Gate Park to get there (major plus!). I would also hit up the De Young and the SFMOMA but I love art museums of all kinds and shapes. There is also the Exploratorium, geared towards kids but still super fun and another nice bike ride along the water to get there.

You're in luck regarding vegan food in that San Francisco/Berkeley/Oakland have many many vegan restaurants. The first place I would go is Rainbow Grocery, a wealth of amazing natural foods and many many vegan goodies. Not being a vegan myself, I only know a few vegan restaurants, those being Gracias Madre, Cha-ya, and Udupai Palace. All of these places are in the Mission. I have noticed though, having lived with vegan roommates in the past, that most places I have been in San Francisco have vegan options. It's a good place to be vegan. Unfortunately I don't know off the top of my head any restaurant with communal tables and most of the socializing I and my compadres do around here involves drinking of some sort. If you are staying in hostel, there will be young friendly people to hang out with and go on adventures with.
posted by ruhroh at 7:59 PM on July 27, 2012

Best answer: Biking to Sausalito, getting brunch there, and taking the ferry back is a great idea. (The ride back to the bridge involves a long climb with a headwind and no shoulder and not great traffic). If you want a long climb though, I'd suggest going over the bridge, and then up Hawk Hill, and around the back. It's a big climb, but if you have good gears, and you're able to do 50 mile rides, you can probably do it. It gives you a great view of the city, it goes past some old forts, and it's likely the weather will be great. You can then continue on to Sausalito or bike back over the bridge.

One of my favorite places in San Francisco is Sutro Baths. It's on the west end of Geary Street, right north of Ocean Beach (which itself is at the end of Golden Gate park). It's the ruins of a public swimming pool - it only burned down in the 60's but it's definitely ruins. You can walk around in it, and it's on the ocean. It's a very nice place to enjoy watching the sun set over the Pacific.

I don't know where you're coming from or if you've biked much in large cities before. Drivers are relatively aware of bikes here, but you definitely need to stay alert and if you aren't already comfortable biking with traffic you should probably read up on some on how to do it safely.

You should lock up your bike in any city, San Francisco and Portland included. Use a U-lock, and be sure you're going through the triangle of the frame. People sometimes steal wheels or seats, so quick-release stuff is not the best. Many people get locking skewers so a special key is needed to remove the wheels. Otherwise, take them off and lock them to the frame and to the bike rack or parking meter or whatever. You might also want to avoid quick-release stuff for your seat as well. It's a a good practice to remove your lights, and anything that just unclips, and bring them with you when you leave your bike outside somewhere.

Depending on where you're staying, you may end up doing more walking than biking, in San Francisco. It's not a large city, and the neighborhoods are small and close together (so you can go through several while only walking a mile).

Re backwards guiar's suggestion: It is possible to get to Muir woods on a bike, but it's a long ride with not much shoulder and a LOT of hills. I don't recommend this unless you are seriously hardcore.

I do like and recommend Alcatraz, but during the summer it sells out pretty quick. In fact, already availability during your visit is limited.

As for the train, I bet you'll have the room to yourself. The rooms in the sleeper cars have no beds at all until you fold the seats into one, one of which is above the other, and it's not a lot of space. I got mine through an upgrade (the regular car was having some trouble I guess) so I don't know for sure how it works if you buy the ticket. You will be able to get some food on the meal car, during certain hours, but it may be difficult to find something vegan. I suggest bringing some snacks and a bag lunch. There will be places you can fill a refillable water bottle. Do bring a book or some other way to entertain yourself.
posted by aubilenon at 9:00 PM on July 27, 2012

Best answer: I'm frankly amazed that no one on Metafilter of all places has come in to give you suggestions for Portland. I haven't been home for more than a week's visit in years, but if things haven't changed too drastically, the Japanese Gardens are beautiful, as are the Arboretum and the Rose Gardens. Last time I was there Portland was still very friendly to bike traffic. The restaurants have undoubtedly changed since I lived there, so I can't give you any help there, but I'm sure some Googling would give you helpful vegan places by the score. It's a very vegan and vegetarian friendly city. Enjoy your trip!
posted by Meep! Eek! at 9:17 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

The current SF Bay Guardian is the "Best Of" issue, so pick one of those up. Gracias Madre got best vegan. Ride throughout Golden Gate park, go see the bison and rehabbed windmill, then ride down the beach path and get coffee at Java Beach down by the Zoo on Sloat. Ride around the Presidio if you're feeling climbish, and also know that both routes on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge involve sorta challenging climbs (but both also have great rewards), so if you don't feel like climbing, you can just chill out and turn back from the parking lot.
posted by rhizome at 9:47 PM on July 27, 2012

Best answer: There's a pretty good list of vegan places in Portland here.

I also recommend the Japanese Garden, the Rose Garden, and Hoyt Arboretum. There's also Lan Su Chinese Garden downtown. For bookstores, of course there's Powell's (the downtown branch is the big one).

Portland's a bike-friendly city compared to many, and there's a decent network of designated bike boulevards and bike paths (maps are here), but exercise caution when sharing the road with cars as you would anywhere.
posted by treblemaker at 10:11 PM on July 27, 2012

I can't say much about what to do in Portland or San Francisco, but I can tell you that your sleeper ticket is for the whole compartment. Amtrak won't put anyone else in there with you; you paid for the whole thing.
posted by yomimono at 8:44 AM on July 28, 2012

You have received some good answers thusfar...I spent a week in SF late June. Alcatraz tix were sold out when I was there, but I heard it is an amazing thing to do and it was my one regret...biking will be a great way to see the city. Great Italian food available in Little Italy, and wonderful seafood at Fisherman's Wharf. Chinatown offered an authentic China experience (I have spent a lot of time in China)...if you are biking be sure to bike Lombard Street (street with seven turns). The cable car ride is a must...best part of my trip, however, was the train ride from SF to LAX along the coast. I have heard that you can go the opposite direction to Oregon and Washington States also coastal and I have heard it is also breath-taking!
posted by mdn31 at 11:55 PM on July 28, 2012

Portland is a great city to bike in and almost all drivers are very respectful of bikers. My only major suggestion is to make sure to wear your lights at night. People here park right up to the stop sign at many intersections, and if you are coming into a two-way stop without lights, it can be really hard to drivers to see you.

My favorite vegan eats in Portland:

Bye and Bye (great cocktails too)
Red and Black Cafe
Sweet Pea
Hungry Tiger Too
Paradox Cafe

A lot of great places here that aren't strictly vegan have great vegan options, however.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:17 PM on July 30, 2012

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