Where to stay and what to do in SF?
August 23, 2012 7:55 AM   Subscribe

Where to stay and what to do in San Francisco for our honeymoon?

My lovely fiancee and I are getting married on September 22nd (yay!), and in the week after that we're going to San Francisco for our honeymoon. We fly in on the 24th and have to leave on the 28th in the afternoon, so we don't have a ton of time.

Part of the reason we're going to San Francisco is that I have relatives up in Kenwood who will let us stay there and tour the wine country for a day or two. We definitely still want to spend a couple of days in the city though, but I'm having trouble planning because it's been a long time since I was last there (and I have never been there as an adult). I've perused some questions like these, but more current advice (including events going on that week) would be great.

Where should we stay and what's a reasonable price for hotels? For reference, we're both giant nerds and enjoy museums and the like. That said, we still like to go out to cool and interesting bars in the evening, and enjoy walking around and exploring during the day. Chinatown seems interesting and somewhat centrally located - would that be a good place to start?

Which leads me to my second question: what should we do? The only things I have any ideas about right now are going to see the Golden Gate Bridge, going to the Japanese Tea Garden/Botanical Garden in the park, and doing touristy crap at Fisherman's Wharf. Any other suggestions would be really helpful.

Also, any suggestions on where to eat would be great. We're up for pretty much anything and would be especially interested in more authentic Asian food that's more difficult to find where we live in DC.

posted by malthas to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (12 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Where should we stay and what's a reasonable price for hotels?

I'm a big fan of the San Remo Hotel in North Beach - walking distance to the bars / restaurants there and in Chinatown, easy access to public transit, reasonably priced, and lots of character.

. . . doing touristy crap at Fisherman's Wharf.

Avoid, avoid Fisherman's Wharf - it's bland industrial tourism at its worst, and time taken away from other much more interesting, more uniquely SF sites nearby (e.g. Coit Tower and its stunning WPA murals, the Martime Museum and Aquatic Park Bathhouse and Fort Mason - where you get an amazing take out lunch from Greens, look at the Golden Gate, and then check out the great SF Friends of the Library bookshop).

Which leads me to my second question: what should we do?

If I had one day in SF right now, I'd go for a long walk at either Lands End or in Glen Canyon Park, see a movie at either the Roxie or the Castro, then finish up with tacos and beer at Taqueria Cancún.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:21 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

The Red Victorian is super fun, not expensive, and right in the Haight Ashbury district within walking distance to Golden Gate park.
posted by ian1977 at 8:24 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

While I'd avoid Fisherman's Wharf in general, Musee Mechanique is there and absolutely worth it. They have old automata, old and modern pinball machines, and old and modern arcade games. It'd be worth it as a walking destination from Fort Mason, for example. In fact, there was a walking tour/event held the past couple years called Mechanicrawl that combined several really cool things in that area, including Musee Mechanique and the Long Now Museum. You could certainly recreate part of it by yourself!

Late September is a great time to be in San Francisco, weather-wise, btw.
posted by zsazsa at 8:39 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

We spent quite a lovely honeymoon at the Parc 55 hotel. The hotel was absolutely fabulous and even gave us an upgrade when they heard it was a honeymoon (even though our reservations were through a deals site.) The room was absolutely goregous. It's downtown near Union Square so it'll be closer to the Asian Art Museum, if museums are your thing.
posted by ninjakins at 8:40 AM on August 23, 2012

The Clift Hotel is on the spendier side but very nice, centrally located near Union Square and stumbling distance from lots of great bars. I've recommended this here before, but if you like walking, consider walking the Barbary Coast Trail, which will give you lots of great SF sights--the downloadable audio tour will teach you the valuable lesson that San Francisco used to have considerably more brothels. If you can, eat dinner at Zuni on Market or splash out for Benu by the MOMA. Go to the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park and maybe the DeYoung across the way.

Go hang out on Valencia in the Mission and get a burrito. Join or mock the hipsters at Boogaloos. Get ice cream at Bi-Rite.
posted by Kafkaesque at 10:01 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

For walking around I highly recommend San Francisco City Guides tours (current schedule here). They're free although you're encouraged to make a donation at the end. I've taken a bunch and even though I've lived here over 20 years I still learn stuff. The Chinatown tour is particularly good, and I'd actually suggest not exploring Chinatown on your own until you've taken the tour - there's a lot of history that's not apparent to the casual visitor and you'll come away with quite a different understanding.

SF is a great eating town. It's hard to get a bad meal here, although they won't all be stellar. For Asian food a good rule of thumb is to choose restaurants which are crowded with mostly Asian customers. (I suppose that works for any ethnicity, actually.) Ambience isn't much of a guide - some of the best food is served in utterly utilitarian places. I've been disappointed with most of the Szechuan and Hunan restaurants here - the ones on the East Coast are generally better. Stick with Cantonese food, which is pretty much the default "Chinese" here.

And to re-ignite the Holy War of the One True Mission Burrito, I'd say you need to go to El Taco Loco on Mission and 24th, a few doors down from the 24th St BART station. Order anything with carne al pastor (spit-roasted seasoned pork); their other stuff is good but their carne al pastor is outstanding.
posted by Quietgal at 11:21 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Here's my suggestion for a fun little day adventure (full disclosure: I live in the neighborhood about to be mentioned and did this exact excursion a couple of weekends ago - it was very fun!)

1. Take the NJudah MUNI train outbound, toward Ocean Beach. Get off at the Cole and Carl stop in Cole Valley.
2. Have delicious brunch at Zazie.
3. If hippie kids / Haight & Ashbury are your thing, stroll four short blocks down to Haight Street. Wander around, check out shops. (As noted above, I live around here so would skip this step - but I'm jaded.)
4. Walk down Haight to the Haight and Stanyan entrance to Golden Gate Park.
5. Cruise down JFK Drive to the de Young Museum. Make sure to go up in the Observation Tower. You can also visit the California Academy of Sciences.
6. Continue your stroll further down JFK to Stow Lake. Explore the lake either by taking a lovely walk around it - or rent a paddle boat and see it from the perspective our fowled friends.
7. If you still feel like walking, keep on down JFK Drive to Ocean Beach. (The entire walk from the park entrance to OB is only about 3.5 miles.)
8. After your beach stroll, have a beer at Park Chalet to refresh yourselves. If it's a Tue, Sat or Sun you might see some live music! Note: the food here is not super great. Fries are okay if you just want a snack.
9. Walk a couple of blocks down the Great Highway to Judah street and hop on the inbound NJudah MUNI train back toward downtown.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 11:27 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

We spent our honeymoon in San Francisco and you're going to have a wonderful time. We stayed in the Financial District on the edge of Chinatown, which is fascinating - actually, we were in the hotel that's seen in the opening shot of Dirty Harry, with the swimming pool on the roof. It's a nice central location. The Hotel Abri, on Ellis Street in Union Square, is a lovely small hotel. I stayed there last time I was in the city and liked it very much. It's about 50 yards from the Apple Store, Market Street, and the Powell Street cable car turnaround. From there you can catch BART to anywhere in the area.

I second the thoughts about Chinese/Cantonese food. Eat where there are Asians. The Giants are playing the Diamondbacks while you're there, and you must go, even if you're not a baseball fan. Trust me.

I like Fisherman's Wharf and Ghirardelli Square–one of the things you must do is get a fresh steamed crab and eat it right there. But don't just walk into the TransAmerica pyramid building and try to go to the top without an escort. Security doesn't like that. Trust me on that, too. ;-)
posted by lambchop1 at 2:16 PM on August 23, 2012

The Claremont in Oakland is a great place to stay. Wonderful pool. Dinner at Chez Panisse upstairs on North Shattuck. A short drive across Bay Bridge to San Francisco.
posted by madstop1 at 6:39 PM on August 23, 2012

Chinatown is interesting for a few hours. I don't think there's any particularly good food there, though, except maybe Z and Y for spicy Szechwan. We often have drinks at the Empress of China- not because they are great but because the bar has a great view and the cheesy ambiance of a place that was hip 30 years ago. I think SF has better Vietnamese, Burmese and Thai than Chinese at this point. There are good food suggestions in this recent thread on Chowhound. Japantown is further afield but would be more interesting to me as a local- Kinokuniya Bookstore, Ichiban Kan dollar store, and Daiso are all fun to browse. Look at the Squid List for events.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:21 AM on August 24, 2012

I came here to recommend Musee Mechanique, but @zsazsa beat me to it.

Also, if you're going to be in the Fisherman's Wharf area anyway, the Rodney Lough Jr gallery has some stunning photography, in a beautiful setting.
posted by jeri at 5:09 PM on August 24, 2012

Thanks so much for the responses! I hate marking things as best in these travel AskMes, because all the answers are always great, but I think ryanshepard really hit the nail on the head in terms of what we want the trip to be like. Still have to figure out exactly what hotel to stay in, but I have a much better idea than I did before.
posted by malthas at 6:27 AM on August 27, 2012

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