SF weekend = super fun weekend?
December 10, 2013 9:53 PM   Subscribe

2 whirlwind days in San Francisco -- please help me figure out an itinerary!

I'll be visiting San Francisco this weekend for a quick trip. Please help me put together a great itinerary that covers as much of the following as possible, but without being exhausting.

Things I want to do:
- Get some serious Christmas shopping done. Target audience: vaguely WASP-y (in the nicest way) middle aged folks. I'm from Canada, so there's presumably a lot of stuff in SF that I wouldn't be able to get back home.
- Go to a place that's very much about wine. (For me so I can drink some, and maybe also to gift to the above.)
- Get a bit of RnR. This can be in the form of a spa-type thing, or a vigorous (but, er, non-sexy) massage, or taking in a great play / comedy show / concert, or shopping for unabashedly girly stuff.
- Eat. I love seafood (oysters!), Asian foods, traditional Italian, tapas ... basically all of the foods.
- And of course, see sights, hear sounds, and smell smells that make San Francisco what it is!
Things I like:
- Food. Booze (scotch!). Cooking. Cheese. (I know cheese is a food but it deserves its own category.)
- Jazz. Preppy/poppy indie rock. Bluesy stuff.
- Venues/exhibits where I get to do things -- like, museums are ok, but science centers (even if they're for kids) are better.
- The silly/absurd: see where Full House was filmed? Cool! See where The Room was filmed? Even better!
- General geekery, used book stores, places to find Good Deals
- Lists, clearly.
Things I don't like:
- Uber pretension.
- Uber granola-ness.
- Ultra touristy things (which can actually be kind of amusing, really, but I'll be too tired from a long week to deal).
- Being cold.
- Exercise. (I mean, walking's cool, but I'm not going to go scuba diving.)
Please assume that I'm traveling alone, and that I won't have a vehicle. Please also assume that I'm on a budget -- I can do 1 or 2 splurgey things, but am trying to keep it wallet-friendly.

Thank you!
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (14 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: - Venues/exhibits where I get to do things -- like, museums are ok, but science centers (even if they're for kids) are better.
The Exploratorium is one of the best museums in the world for this.

used book stores
I'm fond of Green Apple Books. yelp should work fine for finding others.

I've a favorite hole-in-the-wall Japanese restaurant in the Japantown mall. (I can't remember which one it is non-kinesthetically.) This is a good place for lunch and shopping - it's fun looking at art, craft, and anime/manga books at the Japanese-language bookstore and hitting the other odd shops, including loading up on sweets at the grocery. There appears to be a good massage parlor thereabouts.
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:02 PM on December 10, 2013

Best answer: Kabuki Springs is at the Japanese Mall too. I LOVE it. Very nice onsen with a hot and dry saunas. If you walk north up Fillmore Street from the Japanese Mall there are is great WASP shopping - lots of coffee shops and boutique stores... clothing, kids stuff, fancy bath stuff, a Paper Source, etc... all very cute, nice tree lined street. Across from the mall is a really awesome Japanese hardware store. It's where I go when I go to SF (and I used to live there).

Lots of cool finds in Chinatown and Little Italy too.

The Exploratorium is great, and just renovated and re-opened.

The Ferry Terminal has an amazing farmers' market on Sat PLUS many many great boutique foodie shops inside (permanent fixtures).

Ghiradelli Square has the chocolate factory and some other 'nice' shopping too.

San Francisco is really compact. Often travel advice is 'don't pack your schedule, don't plan too much in a day' but SF is great in that you can do more than you think - especially if you're in good shape and don't mind walking, and are comfortable with maps. Wear good shoes and dress and layers.

Take the trolley!

I would spend one day going to Kabuki Springs, wander around the mall, up and down Fillmore Street, and dinner in the area. Very do-able. If you have extra time, you could wander around Union Square or Pier 39 (Tacky, but... ya gotta, right?)

I'd spend the other day going to the Ferry Terminal in the morning (get pastries and Blue Bottle coffee for breakfast, picnic food for lunch, gifts?) and go to the Exploratorium in the afternoon. Order in if you're tired, head to Little Italy/Chinatown if you're not.
posted by jrobin276 at 11:57 PM on December 10, 2013

Best answer: On the food front:
Swan Oyster Depot - so old school it hurts, great shucked oysters and crab louie salads

Ferry Building has a very good wine shop and Cowgirl Creamery organic cheeses - their blue and red hawk are particularly good. There is also an excellent bakery and charcuterie and blue bottle coffee as mentioned above.

Chinese food is not partularly good in SF - but some very good Italian places. I love going down to the Mission. Delfina (modern italian), Delfina Pizzeria, and Tartine are all located within the same block - Tartine has fantastic baking - killer morning buns (laminated bun with citrus sugar).

If you are looking for vaguely waspish things - then SF is perfect since it is vaguely waspish itself. Ha!
Just joking - but if you head to Kabuki springs - then Japantown Mall, which jrobin276 has noted, is pretty awesome for gifts. Really good and easy pack small japanese things - the incense shop in there is particularly good.

Walking up Flimore from Japantown will take you into Pacific Heights - the granddaddy of all WASP neighbourhoods. Some interesting shopping and unique stores.

If you keep going up Filmore - and crest the hill past Pacific - you'll get a great view and then go downhill into the Union Street shopping area - again, great small stores.

If you continue down Filmore and cross Lombard - you'll hit Cow Hollow and Chestnut Street (another shopping street). In this neighbourhood you'll find the Palace of Fine Arts - which frankly looks best at night. This walking excursion will take up a good afternoon and should leave you pretty pooped out.

I know it's a bit of cliche - but I love Beach Blanket Babylon musical revue in little italy. It's is crazy camp and super funny. It's a great show.
posted by helmutdog at 12:47 AM on December 11, 2013

Best answer: Walk down the Embarcadero from Market Street.

You will hit, in order:

1) The Ferry Building, which houses Cowgirl Creamery (cheese), Hog Island Oysters, and plenty of good food/wine places.
2) La Mar Cebicheria Peruana, which has a good selection of ceviche and pisco drinks.
3) Hard Water Bar, which has a wonderful selection of brown liquors
4) Exploratorium
5) Fisherman's Wharf, which mostly sucks, but contains the Musee Mechanique, which redeems it.

I'd do one day on Embarcadero and one day on Valencia. Valencia has Paxton Gate (odd plants and skulls), a Pirate Supply Store, Borderlands Books (excellent science fiction), Bi-Rite Creamery (ice cream), and Hog and Rocks (gastropub) all within a few blocks. More info and linkyness in previous thread.
posted by benzenedream at 12:50 AM on December 11, 2013

Best answer: Seconding benzenedream's Embarcadero walk.

I'd recommend you keep going through Fisherman's Wharf. It gets quieter again. There's a nice beach at Ghirardelli Square. Stay on the walking path and walk to Fort Mason. The views of the Golden Gate bridge open up here. Stop briefly at the House of Days. Fort Mason has a nice used bookstore run by the San Francisco Public Library.
posted by vacapinta at 1:17 AM on December 11, 2013

Best answer: First of all, get yourself a MUNI pass. If MUNI doesn't go there, it's not worth seeing. Now you've got your transportation squared away, you're ready to hit it!

For shopping, I'd recommend Gumps. To me it's just the dernier cri of haute shopping in San Francisco. When Union Square had all the stores do animated windows, they had Humane Society animals in theirs. They forever have my heart.

It's kind of like Harrods in that many of the things are just far out fantastically out of price range, but then they have little bibelots that are PERFECT for gift giving. I have two things from Gumps that I've had for years. Little ramikins and a bronze bud vase.

Another awesome shopping place is Cost Plus (World Market) a MUCH cheaper place to shop for Christmas, and there are TONS of cool things. This is the place you'd visit when you'd get your first apartment. They still sell Papasan Chairs! But they also have really neat stuff, coffees, wines, table linens, habachi grills shaped like pigs, I am SO glad they have a smaller version here in Atlanta! I got tons of stocking stuffers and cute toys for the kiddos I know here!

It's down by Ghiradelli Square, so if you're going there, it's easy enough to hit.

Chinatown will also have interesting shopping. This is a daytime thing. I've found that the streets roll up after dark these days. If you want a cheap, traditional Cantonese meal, check out Woey Loy Goey on Jackson St. They have Rice Plates. They also have the "other menu" the one in Chinese (I don't know if it's Manderin or Cantonese) we used to get Wo Choy for four. (Notice it's Woey Loy Goey they're recommending?) Note, the restaurant is in the basement. Also note, the bathroom is very small, cold and although it's been rehabbed, you'll probably prefer using the john in Gumps.

Nthing the Exploratorium. I was there for the first day it opened in the 70's and it's always been fantastic.

Get a Cioppino somewhere. It's about $25 in little places in North Beach, I am just not a fan of Fisherman's Wharf. Or Pier 39.

Ask any San Franciscan their favorite places, and you'll get a variety of answers. When we converge, you KNOW it's a thing! So enjoy the Exploratorium!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:28 AM on December 11, 2013

Best answer: San Francisco is a great town for drinking. If you can make a reservation at Bourbon and Branch (a speakeasy) I would try that. Great atmosphere and not loud, which I very much enjoy. For a louder bar with good selection, there's the venerable Whiskey Thieves which has a nice selection, good bartenders, and on-the-fly tasting flights.

Yes yes yes to the Exploratorium. It's been a favorite since I was a kid.
posted by komlord at 8:31 AM on December 11, 2013

Best answer: Oh, for wine, if you have the time (and you may not) I'd put in a recommendation for the great cluster of wineries and wine shops in Dogpatch at 22nd and 3rd, conveniently close to the KT line: Dig Wines, Yield Wine Bar, Sutton Cellars, and Dogpatch WineWorks. The Ferry Building is not bad and may be more convenient, but is pretty crowded and hectic; the Dogpatch area is a much calmer off the beaten path stop where the wine guys will have more time to talk to you.
posted by phoenixy at 1:09 PM on December 11, 2013

Best answer: Yes to the Exploratorium. Yes to Cowgirl Creamery. Yes to Bourbon and Branch (make sure you call ahead). These people are recommending you the right places, for sure!

I'd add: There's lots of great shopping in the Union Square area, but be prepared to pay out the nose. Eat at North Beach Pizza. If you have time, check out the Palace of Fine Arts - it's lovely. Or Land's end, all the way on the other side of the city; you can take the Muni there pretty easily, and it's a great little walk/hike next to the Pacific.

Bring your most comfortable and hardiest walking shoes. You will need them.
posted by Cycloptichorn at 1:43 PM on December 11, 2013

Best answer: The Dickens Fair could be fun and had some shopping, depending on what you're looking for.

In addition to the Exploratorium, the California Academy of Sciences is good.
posted by bmar at 2:04 PM on December 11, 2013

Best answer: I'm going to suggest a rough triangle that encompasses Union square, The Ferry Building and Ghirardelli Square, passing through North Beach.

First off, you *don't* actually have to go to Pier 39. It's crowded, ultra touristy and there's nothing interesting there except sea lions. The sea lions are cool, but it isn't worth the time just to see them. San Francisco has so much more to offer that's better to spend your time on.

Ordinarily, I wouldn't send people to Union Square unless they're interested in shopping or theater. Shopping is first on your list, so to Union Square you go. I'd recommend just staying near Union Square. There are lots of hotels, and the immediate area meets a bunch of your requirements.

Obviously, you're splitting this over a couple of days, but this is in rough order of how you would do it.

Do your shopping first. Union Square is mostly corporate-type stores with a lot of high-end stuff, but there are lots and lots of them. Not really the place for unique gifts, but the place for lots of different choices. (Get some serious Christmas shopping done.)

Both Eno and Aquitaine are well-regarded wine bars are right in the Union Square area, so you won't have to go far. (Go to a place that's very much about wine.)

Union Square is also home to Biscuits and Blues, which is a blues/r&b club. (Jazz. Preppy/poppy indie rock. Bluesy stuff. Get a bit of RnR.) Union Square is also home to ACT, a local San Francisco Theater company, as well as three nearby theaters (Orpheum, Curran and Golden Gate) that do traveling Broadway shows. I've never been to an ACT show I didn't like.

There are several highly regarded spas in the immediate area. No specific recommendations though.

Walk (or cab/transit) down to the Ferry Building and enjoy some cheese, wine, olive oil, etc. This is the place to get food gifts, if you're so inclined. As others have mentioned, go to Hog Island Oyster company (highly recommended) from here. You'll see the Bay Bridge from here.

TCHO is a local chocolate company about a 1/2 mile walk down from the Ferry Building that does free tours, has excellent chocolate and has a nice gift shop, for a uniquely San Francisco gift.

Right next to TCHO is the Exploratorium, San Francisco's hands-on science museum, which just moved locations into this new space (museums are ok, but science centers (even if they're for kids) are better).

Walk (or cab) to North Beach, where you should walk down Columbus and go to one of the many traditional Italian restaurants in this stretch. Also, make sure to stop at City Lights bookstore in North Beach, where Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs worked and/or hung out (Bookstores, San Francisco sights).

Go up to Coit Tower, pay for the ticket to the top and admire the view (San Francisco sights). You'll see both the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge from Coit Tower.

From Coit Tower, make your way over to Ghirardelli Square, have a chocolate and take a picture of the sign. You'll see Alcatraz from the water here. If you want to ride a cable car (which is awesome), you can wait in a very long line to ride one back toward Union Square from Ghirardelli Square.

Make time to walk through Chinatown, which is just a few blocks from Union Square. Also, the San Francisco City Guides are donation-based, all over the city, and are a good way to meet and talk with fellow travelers.

The Golden Gate Bridge will be cold, windy, possibly foggy this time of year, and it's out of the way without a car. Good for a third day or return trip in the Spring or Fall.

I think this hits a lot of your wish list while giving you some unique San Francisco experiences. Hope that helps!
posted by cnc at 5:43 PM on December 11, 2013

Best answer: Google map of "The Room" locations (Oh, hai Mark!)

Other San Francisco film locations
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 6:16 PM on December 11, 2013

Best answer: Oh, and if you really want to see something unique, stop by Schein and Schein. Close to Coit Tower, super cool.
posted by Cycloptichorn at 8:00 PM on December 11, 2013

Response by poster: This is all amazing, thank you!! I mapped out this great itinerary, hitting up almost all of these cool spots. I was just getting really excited about the trip, and then I found out that it's been cancelled. (It was going to be a work trip.) Heartbreak!

But, I'm sure I'll be back down there in new year, so I'll just save all these great ideas for then. With the added bonus that the vaguely WASPish shopping will just be for ME. ;)

Thank you again for all your thoughtful answers. Can't wait to put 'em to use!
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 6:53 AM on December 12, 2013

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