Five or six hours in downtown San Francisco.
April 16, 2013 8:05 PM   Subscribe

What is your ideal San Francisco spring afternoon for the uninitiated? (more inside)

I've seen much of the region over the years but can't claim to really know the city. This will be my wife's first visit.

We'll have five or six hours on a Saturday, midday. I'd like her to experience the character of the city, without spreading the time too terribly thin. Standard tourist checklist optional. We won't have a car and expect to leave the city via Larkspur ferry.

Castro? Marina? North Beach? The Wharf? Other?

Other considerations?

posted by methinks to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (20 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
If its your wife's first visit and the weather is somewhat decent (no low fog), I would walk across the Golden Gate Bridge . Or at least part of it.
posted by gt2 at 8:37 PM on April 16, 2013

Where's your starting point? Are you arriving to the city via ferry, too?
posted by gnutron at 8:59 PM on April 16, 2013

My favorite SF walk is to start in the Financial District, then walk up Grant through Chinatown and North Beach. Hike up to Coit Tower for the sunset, then come down the Bay side, ending up with dinner and drinks on the waterfront, say at Pier 23.
posted by ottereroticist at 9:02 PM on April 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

Where's your starting point? Are you arriving to the city via ferry, too?

We can start anywhere, probably arriving by car (through family) then returning late afternoon to Marin by ferry.
posted by methinks at 9:16 PM on April 16, 2013

I would ride a cable car and visit tcho factory. Well at least that is what I did last week for my first time in San Francisco!
posted by Jaelma24 at 9:30 PM on April 16, 2013

Fishermans warf and pickup a picnic and head to the Presidio.
posted by blueplasticfish at 9:43 PM on April 16, 2013

Since you'll be heading out by ferry, the Ferry Building is the natural place to end your trip, though it's always mobbed, doubly so on Saturday, especially during the farmer's market, which runs from 8-2. Since San Francisco is a big food town, that means There are a number of good places to eat there, depending on what you're interested in. The Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant has excellent wines (duh), though the list may be a bit short on local selections for your purposes. The cheeses and bread represent the city well, though. I've also enjoyed The Slanted Door, whose take on Vietnamese cooking and heavily Germanic wine list were revolutionary a decade ago, though reservations well in advance are obligatory. Hog Island Oyster company doesn't take reservations, so there's just an interminable line, so I would probably skip that given your limited time.
The Delica Japanese deli has unusual (and unusually delicious) variations on traditional Japanese dishes (wasabi mashed potatoes, anyone?) that is among the best food to go, so you could sit out on the waterfront.

OK, here's my itinerary. Drive from Marin across the Golden Gate Bridge, no need to stop. (The bridge is truly beautiful, but you can see it just as well from the car.) Head through Golden Gate Park (be sure to check for street closures). Yes, head through the crooked section of Lombard Street. Have your family drop you off at Coit Tower, for a grand overview of the city (be sure to check out the murals inside). Depending on your tolerance for walking, head down the Filbert Street Steps through the Financial District, heading east via Levi's Plaza to the Embarcadero. If you're hungry, I would second Pier 23, which is a dive bar where the cooking got out of hand. A far better place to get seafood than anywhere on the benighted "Fisherman's" Wharf. The heated patio has stunning views. Catch the F-Market streetcar, which runs a dazzling array of restored historic streetcars from many cities, down to the Ferry Building, where you'll enjoy your meal.

You could also make a case for doing a completely different itinerary through the Castro, Dolores Park, and Mission neighborhoods, but hopefully someone else will come up with something along those lines.
posted by wnissen at 10:50 PM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you're foodies, one of the best destinations is the Ferry Terminal Building which you'll be right on top of when taking the Larkspur Ferry. The Ferry Terminal building focuses on food and food related shopping. Most of the vendors inside and out (if you are there during a farmer's market day) provide free or mostly free samples of their wares and it's a great time, especially on Saturday, when the farmer's market wraps around the whole building. There's also a decent merchant's market across the street in the area between Stewart and Lincoln Highway.

The Ferry Terminal Building is safe, sophisticated, filled with well heeled mostly white folks and sometimes hipsters and sophisticated, cosmopolitan people of color. It's a bit spendy but quite a good time and has enough going on in and around it to easily take up 2 to 4 hours of exploration for a new person, especially if they're into food-related, cultivation-related, cooking-related shopping.

Or you could areas that specialize in particular cuisines:
- Japanese: Japantown
- Italian: North Beach
- Chinese: Chinatown, there's also a smaller Chinese population in The Richmond District.
- Mexican/Latin: the Mission District
- You could spend the afternoon chasing food trucks.
- There are also various off-the-grid meetups (usually of a few food trucks and random other services) you can find, as well as some sort of central parking lots/food courts for food trucks you can possibly find, depending on what's scheduled on your day of exploration. I'll leave that to you to find if interested.

Aside from food, these areas all (except the food trucks) have the expected culturally-focused shopping areas. Some are a little gritty but none is actively dangerous in the middle of the day/afternoon.

Unfortunately, the new popular locavore cuisine in SF is more spread out. There's the Northern Panhandle (aka Western Addition aka Divis), with NoPa and a bunch of other restaurants.

Other more single food destinations that might pique your interest:
- Ice cream: Mitchell's for the tropical, Humphry Slocombe for the locavore/gourmet
- Chocolate: TCHO, The Chocolate Lab, Recchiuti Confections (in the Ferry Terminal Building),
- Coffee: Sightglass, Philz Coffee (the original, as far as I know, is in the Mission District), Blue Bottle (There's one with two counters/two lines in the Ferry Terminal Building)

For a long foodie/shopping afternoon I would either focus on a particular area and explore both the food and the non-food shops. Maybe check out some interesting groceries/markets and experiment with unfamiliar or exotic fruits and drinks I found there. Or if I wanted a more pastoral setting, I might go to a particular place or area, get takeout (a Chinese "bakery" that also did takeout dim sum would be ideal for me) and then take my picnic out to the Golden Gate Park and hang out and people-watch or maybe the Palace of Fine Arts (though that's harder to get to and away from, but

I can research/provide links for other similar delights if this stuff strikes your fancy.
posted by kalessin at 6:29 AM on April 17, 2013

Oops, paragraph/editing fail. The Palace of Fine Arts is probably too far out and far from other destinations to be worth it to you if your Larkspur Ferry stop is the Ferry Terminal (and indeed I can find no other stops for that one). Golden Gate park is also a bit of a stump around, but Google and Google maps may tell you of other park-y destinations to hang out in.

As you might expect, the smaller municipal parks can have folks camped out in them who are there for the long haul and might spoil the view of what's nice and good about the city, since it seems like you're selling that aspect to your wife.

I once had a porchetta sandwich from Roli Roti while they were at the Ferry Building's farmer's market on a Thursday and then ate it quite pleasurably in the park across the plaza, but I had a lot of company and not all of it was wildlife. Still, it didn't bother me and if it wouldn't bother your wife, all the better.
posted by kalessin at 6:41 AM on April 17, 2013

Start in Chinatown for lunch. I like Woey Loy Goey for cheap and yummy Chinese food, but Dim Sum is a good choice too. Then check out the little stores, etc. Then get on the bus (I think the Muni 1 or 45) and head towards Polk Street.

I like walking around on Polk street. Off board at Polk and Sacrament and start walking towards Pacific. People will be out with their dogs, lots of neat shops to poke your head into and lots and lots of yummy places to have a bite.

When done there, head over to Top of the Mark (Mark Hopkins) enjoy a cocktail while watching the fog roll in.

You're not going to hit all the touristy stuff, but you'll get a real flavor of the city and it's a very nice, easy afternoon.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:49 AM on April 17, 2013

Well if you're taking the ferry over, make sure to plan some time to hang out at the ferry building. It's really beautiful and there are a lot of great shops. Get some Blue Bottle Coffee, that's very SF!
posted by radioamy at 7:32 AM on April 17, 2013

If you follow RB's suggestion, it's the 1-California that will take you to Polk St.
posted by radioamy at 7:33 AM on April 17, 2013

Oh and confusingly enough, the 1-California goes down Sacramento in that direction, and Clay back towards downtown. (I have never actually taken it on California St, which is where it runs on the West side of the City.)
posted by radioamy at 7:34 AM on April 17, 2013

Also if you don't have to, I don't recommend driving or parking in SF. Take the ferry!
posted by radioamy at 7:35 AM on April 17, 2013

The Exploratorium just opened in their new space on the waterfront. Timed tickets highly recommended. I'm eager to go see it myself.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:45 AM on April 17, 2013

Taking a bike across the Golden Gate Bridge and up to Sausalito is lovely, and an easy ferry ride back to the city afterward.
posted by horizonseeker at 4:39 PM on April 17, 2013

If the weather is nice, I'd suggest picking up lunch at Greens to Go and eating it at the Wave Organ. (That's Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey's voice you hear first in the video; we happened to be having lunch (from Greens to Go, in fact) one day when a guy with a video camera who was making a film about the Wave Organ struck up a conversation.)
posted by Lexica at 6:20 PM on April 17, 2013

Thanks, everybody! Excellent ideas to go with.
posted by methinks at 4:40 AM on April 19, 2013

We started briefly at Union Square, spendy and urban; took the trolley to Fisherman's Wharf, all energy and spectacle; and spent the last couple of hours thoroughly enjoying the vendors at the Ferry Terminal. We'd recommend that for any food lover. Thanks for your guidance here, it really did help us make a nice afternoon.
posted by methinks at 5:17 PM on April 20, 2013

Btw, we happened across the Musee Mecanique at its current location. I'd stumbled across it a decade ago at Cliff House and was glad to see it again, greatly expanded if now posed as a somewhat conventional Wharf attraction. It's a must-see for eccentric pop cultural history.
posted by methinks at 8:37 AM on April 26, 2013

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