San Francisco for teenagers.
August 19, 2013 3:24 PM   Subscribe

My younger brother, a rising senior in high school, will be visiting me in the Bay Area next week. We will have 2-3 days to spend in the city (really, any place accessible by Caltrain). I need an itinerary of fun places to check out. The main criteria are that anything you recommend should be easily accessible by public transport, not too remote, and also immediately spectacular for teenage boys and other people without particular interests. Yes: museums with minimal reading, weird architecture, cable cars, great views, robots and video games, and so on. No: major league sports, "funky boutiques," "must-eat restaurants." The rest of our week will be mostly spent outdoors, so indoors is OK. Thanks for suggestions!
posted by Nomyte to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (36 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
The Musee Mecanique? It's near Fisherman's Wharf tourist stuff. It's free to get in and will only cost you whatever you want to spend on games.
posted by oneear at 3:28 PM on August 19, 2013 [6 favorites]

Pick a neighborhood and do a tour of the secret stairs?
posted by rtha at 3:29 PM on August 19, 2013

The newly moved and remodeled Exploratorium, on Pier 15, is awesome. We spent the day there and could have easily spent another. Lots and lots to do, and easily accessible by public transit (we took the bus from our Union Square Hotel).
posted by dotgirl at 3:34 PM on August 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

In San Francisco proper and not indoors but... what about a stroll along Marina Green / Crissy Field, culminating in a walk across Golden Gate Bridge?

Lots of cool stuff to look at (beyond the obvious): 1) giant Mark di Suvero scultptures, 2) wind surfers, kite surfers and regular surfers, 3) attractive people in general (i.e., lots of cute girl/cute guy watching), 4) dogs frolicking, 5) boats. Etc.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 3:38 PM on August 19, 2013

2nd the Musee Mecanique and the Exploratorium. During the day, the Exploratorium is filled with little kids, so if your brother is 18, I'd recommend the "after dark" events.

If you don't mind the expense, and can make reservations ahead of time, there's always Alcatraz or Chinatown ghost tours.
posted by tinymegalo at 3:39 PM on August 19, 2013

If he is there on a Sunday, rent bikes to ride through Golden Gate Park..they shut down JFK to car traffic on Sundays so its safe and lively!
Also hike through Lands End to the Sutro Baths.
I can't think of much indoor fun that isn't either too adult or too "for little kids" though..does he like improv comedy? BATS might be fun..
posted by hellameangirl at 3:41 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

I say this every time a similar question gets asked, but my grandad and I had a really nice time at Alcatraz, way better than we expected (our expectation was basically tourist trap). We lucked out and there was a walking tour with a park ranger starting right when we arrived, which was actually better than the audio tour of the cell block. Irritatingly, they don't have a schedule online of what time the tours are. We went on the first ferry of the day (because it was slightly cheaper).

I'll second the Exploratorium. I've not been to the new one, but I went to the old one twice as an adult and enjoyed it both times. Fairly pricey, though. (I didn't pay either time--one time I went with an employee's spouse and the other on a field trip--so it's hard to know whether I'd have thought it value for money.)

I just went to the California Academy of Sciences for the first time this week. It's cool, but incredibly pricey (I guess because of the aquarium). If you're likely to go more than once (say if you're expecting more visitors), a membership pays for itself in two visits (of you plus a guest).

The California Academy of Sciences beat out the Oakland Museum of California (which is the person I was visiting's favourite museum) because it had hours that worked better for us, but that's another idea.
posted by hoyland at 3:47 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Two old cool ships on the water, close to the F muni line:

SS_Jeremiah_O'Brien (old liberty ship from ww2 and where they filmed the engine scenes in Titanic)
USS PAMPANITO (WW2 submarine)

Chinatown is always fun for kids that age, esp if you get a wooden sword.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 3:47 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

My girlfriend and I just visited the Cable Car Museum this weekend. It's free and awesome. Go do it. Then go to the Top of the Mark and have a drink, alcoholic or not, with a great view of the City.
posted by kdar at 4:01 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have lunch at Woey Loy Goey in Chinatown for authentic dive Chinese food. 699 Jackson St. . War Won Ton soup!

Or do Dim Sum, if they've never done it, it's an experience.

I like Polk Street for a funky neighborhood. Pacific and Polk is a good area to start. Lots of donut shops.

The Haight is funky. I've never liked it, but teens might.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:02 PM on August 19, 2013

Yes, Top of the Mark has an awesome view! Just make sure he dresses up..I don't think they allow guys in if they are clad in ballcaps, sneakers, shorts etc.
posted by hellameangirl at 4:05 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I liked the Computer History Museum in Mountain View.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 4:10 PM on August 19, 2013

2nding Musee Mechanique and Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory is pretty cool too.
posted by jabes at 4:20 PM on August 19, 2013

Since you will be coming into Soma, you should go to the SOMA StEat Food Park tons of different eats to satisfy basically any desire. Food trucks are really fun if you haven't done them before- and SF does them the best, in my opinion.
posted by rockindata at 4:23 PM on August 19, 2013

As a kid, I always though Ripley's... Believe it or Not Museum down at Fisherman's Wharf was awesome. It is probably cheezy now, but still good for that age!
posted by lil' ears at 4:25 PM on August 19, 2013

The Yoda Statue and Lucasfilm lobby in Building B at the Letterman Digital Arts Center?

Superman exhibit at the Cartoon Art Museum?

Good views from the Potrero Hill library.
posted by JDC8 at 4:26 PM on August 19, 2013

Do not spend time going all the way down to the Silicon Valley unless you have a specific amusement in mind. The various big companies (Google, Microsoft, Apple) have office buildings, but no public spaces nor attractions. It's a long way for nothing.

Alcatraz has no reason to be as good as it is, but you'll need reservations immediately if you have any chance of getting onto the island. Only one company has access to the island; the rest just sail around it to tease you.
posted by blob at 5:13 PM on August 19, 2013

Response by poster: To add a bit: a lot of these plans will be made on the spot, so please flag things that need advance reservations.

Also, I have no idea how Bay Area transit works and how far away things are from each other.

We will be starting in Silicon Valley, because that's where I live. We will be taking Caltrain to get into the city.

Finally, remember: we do not care about landmark restaurants. We do not care about landmark restaurants.
posted by Nomyte at 5:24 PM on August 19, 2013

I would second the Marina Green/Chrissy Field/Golden Gate Bridge walk, especially if you can time it for an America's Cup race. Even if you're not huge sports fans, it's a blast to see the big boats and free to watch. (You can also download a free app to listen to the commentary if you want to hear what's going on.)

I also recommend wandering around the Mission...grab some coffee and pastries at Tartine or another good bakery, eat them at Dolores Park, walk up Valencia and wander into any shops that seem cool. When I have friends in town, we always enjoy doing this.

Finally, the Cal Academy of Sciences is a great choice -- lots of cool marine animals in the aquarium, and you can walk around Golden Gate Park to see the sights there as well.
posted by rainbowbrite at 5:27 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

The San Francisco Maritime National Park is pretty cool too, with old boats you can board and walk around on (calendar of events and prices on the site linked).
Also, Angel Island State Park is a cool place to day trip to, with killer views of the whole bay area (go on a clear day). The hikes are long-ish (2-3 hours), but great on a bike
Here's a list of rentals on Yelp, pick on on the waterfront and save yourself the hillclimbs to/from the ferry.
posted by dbmcd at 5:30 PM on August 19, 2013

-The glass elevators of the St. Francis are always fun
-Since you mentioned neat architecture, the (interior) glass elevators at the Embarcadero Hyatt give a great view of a very neat building
-The Sutro Baths are a bit out of the way if you don't have a car, but being able to wander through ruins like that is really neat
-Cable Car Museum is good
-There's also the SF Railway Museum near the Ferry Building, which is pretty small but is still cool, especially with the historic streetcars running on the F line just outside
-I've only been on the USS Pampanito for an overnight stay so I don't know what the normal tours are like, but it was awesome. How often do you get to go on board a real submarine?
-And, of course, taking a walk or a bike ride across the Golden Gate Bridge is not to be missed
posted by clorox at 5:31 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: We'll have a rental car, but will it be more trouble to take it into the city than it's worth?
posted by Nomyte at 5:33 PM on August 19, 2013

Depends on where you're going. If the stuff you're most interested in is downtown or along the Embarcadero, then taking the train should be fine as you'd probably just leave the car in a garage all day. If you want to go anywhere outside of downtown (i.e. GG Bridge, GG Park, Sutro Baths, Twin Peaks, the Zoo) then a car is much easier.
posted by clorox at 5:44 PM on August 19, 2013

If you've got more than one day in the city, then try to group stuff together geographically, and I'd vote for only bringing the car if you're going to roam around the GG Park and Land's End parts of the city. It's totally not worth driving and parking if you're just going to hop from a spot along the Embarcadero to Chinatown to the Mission (just e.g.) - you'll spend more time looking for parking than doing stuff.
posted by rtha at 5:45 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thought of a couple more:

-Coit Tower and Telegraph Hill. Approach from the east up the Filbert or Greenwich St. steps if you like a challenge (and keep an eye out for the wild parrots!). Great panoramic view of the bay at the top.
-Yerba Buena Gardens is probably the best concentration of weird/modern architecture. You have the Contemporary Jewish Museum on one side and SF MOMA on another, the park itself has all sorts of strange features all over the place, and has a great lawn for a picnic or a nap.
posted by clorox at 6:35 PM on August 19, 2013

Rent a bike, go across Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, then take the ferry back.
posted by salvia at 6:46 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Consider the one day or three day muni pass. They're $14 and. the cable cars are $6. will help you with public transport. The waits are much shorter on the California line. China town.
posted by notned at 8:39 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're doing public transit, you can figure out approximately how long things take and when busses/trains run using Google Maps. Then use an app like Routesy (there are similar apps for other phones that use the same NextBus data) to find out when the damn bus will actually arrive. And just to be safe, install Sidecar or Lyft in case you get stuck somewhere or are just too damn tired to take the bus.
posted by radioamy at 9:15 PM on August 19, 2013

The Wave Organ. Check when the tides are, as the pipes sing loudest when the tide is high.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:26 PM on August 19, 2013

TheHouse of Air does require a reservation (I ink they do have days where they accept walk-ins, but I'm not certain), but they're easy to get fairly last minute online. They also require a waiver signed by a parent or guardian for anyone under 18. If he was at all interested you could have his parents print it out and sign it ahead of time, just in case you felt like using it.

But all those trampolines....SO. MUCH. FUN.
posted by JuliaIglesias at 4:23 AM on August 20, 2013

I wouldn't bother with a rental car in San Francisco. Parking will be hard and expensive. You can take Caltrain into the city (the train is fun!) You can get good coffee and pastry at the train station. The train drops you off at 4th and Townsend, where you can get any of a number of busses all over the city.

Taking busses and Muni in San Francisco is totally fine. Everyone does it.

Here's a Trip Planner.

Transit in the city is very easy to use. Get a Muni map at a kiosk and an all day ticket. This will let you ride around on any Muni conveyance all day.

Here is a Muni page that explains how everything works.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:28 AM on August 20, 2013

From the SF Caltrain station, it is a moderate walk (~15 minutes) to the Yerba Buena Gardens, Cartoon Art Museum, and SFMOMA.

You may also want to get a Clipper Card(s), to allow for transit payments across Caltrain, BART, some ferries, SFMuni, VTA and other Bay Area transit agencies.
posted by JDC8 at 10:41 AM on August 20, 2013

SFMOMA is closed for renovations at the moment.
posted by rq at 11:11 AM on August 20, 2013

Aviation is always a good draw for most young men and boys. The Hiller Aviation Museum is at the San Carlos Airport, about a mile from the San Carlos Caltrain station, and just off the 101 freeway. Lots of hands-on stuff, flight simulators, historic aircraft, 747 cockpit tour, etc. And the Sky Kitchen Cafe (also on the airport) is a really cool place for plane watching while eating lunch.
posted by phliar at 11:35 AM on August 20, 2013

Re: MUNI Passports and Clipper Cards

Like JDC8 says, Clippers are good on multiple systems, but you still have to pay for each ride individually and AFAIK they are not accepted on cable cars. The MUNI Passports that Ruthless Bunny linked to are good only on MUNI and cable cars, but are completely unlimited. Unless a Clipper will give you a significantly better price on your planned activities I recommend the passports as the ability to just hop on any bus, streetcar, or cable car really changes how you can visit a city.
posted by clorox at 7:36 AM on August 21, 2013

Response by poster: We ended up only spending one day in the city. When we got off Caltrain, the cartoon art museum was still closed, so we walked to the Powell turntable and then up the hill to the cable car museum (my brother said he "doesn't do" public transport, so we basically walked everywhere). We passed Lombard Street and then visited the Musee Mechanique arcade at Fisherman's Wharf. I think we spent over an hour at a gift store that sold wooden puzzles. We finished up the day by walking down Embarcadero to the Exploratorium.

He wanted to come back another day to see the Academy of Sciences, but he also wanted to visit UC Berkeley and badly underestimated how long it takes to get there from Palo Alto. It also turns out that there's a lovely botanical garden in the hills behind the Berkeley campus.
posted by Nomyte at 7:12 PM on August 31, 2013

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