Yet another San Francisco question..
January 8, 2014 3:24 AM   Subscribe

We're headed to San Francisco next week just for a couple of days. We'll have a little additional time there, and we would like to do some shopping, see Chinatown and maybe Alcatraz. Any suggestions on shopping, and how to see Chinatown?

We'll probably have 2 weekdays during the day to do excursions. We'd love to go into Chinatown, but feel a bit overwhelmed - any tour suggestions, or self guided tour stop suggestions? I looked at the walking tours, but they are doing that only on Saturday, and we likely have other plans then.

We have tentatively planned to do Alcatraz, and the some of the Fisherman's Wharf stuff - maybe the sea lions, and the Musee Mecanique/arcade. Also, of course, Golden Gate Bridge, possibly the tea garden, Ferry Building, etc. How far away from each other are the different piers?

We'd also like to do some shopping - primarily leather/kink stuff and stuff we can't see here (we like hippy/Asheville stores, unique stuff, oddities, coffee, etc) Is Valencia still a good area for fun shops?

Am thinking of maybe hitting up Dark Garden Corsetry, just to look, but I'm not sure. We've done some web searches, and come up with Mr. S Leather and Leather Etc, but otherwise plan on maybe just hitting the Folsom street area to see what is there.
posted by needlegrrl to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (18 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
You have to buy tix to alcatraz well in advance, keep in mind.
posted by empath at 3:42 AM on January 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yes, Alcatraz sells out 2 months in advance; you might want to literally check Stub Hub or maybe Craigslist to see if anyone is scalping tickets.

It's about a 3 mile walk from the Musee Mechanique area down to the Ferry Building (with the sea lions and Pier 39 in between), or about 12 km between the Ferry Building and the Golden Gate Bridge landing. So you can easily see the Fisherman's Wharf stuff and the Embarcadero stuff in a single afternoon; make it a long afternoon or even a full day if you want to walk over the bridge. The Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park is not near any of these things, to be clear.

Valencia is still good for random shopping, though for leather stuff you should probably check out the Castro whether you're gay or not. Although now that I look, I guess both Mr. S and Leather Etc. are indeed on Folsom so there you go.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 4:03 AM on January 8, 2014

Response by poster: I keep checking the website, & it looks like there are still times available next week - is there an additional ticket requirement, or should I be looking elsewhere?
posted by needlegrrl at 4:51 AM on January 8, 2014

I recommend getting a Muni pass for the days you'll be in San Francisco. Public transportation is safe and convenient 24 hours a day. The visitor pass is also good for cable cars (a thing a person should do occasionally.)

I'm not sure a tour of Chinatown is a thing. Just take the 30 Stockton and get off after the tunnel at Stockton and Grant. Voila! Chinatown. Just walk around and go into stores and poke around. This is a daytime thing. It used to be you could shop in Chinatown in the evenings, but the last time I went, they rolled up the sidewalks after dark. It can get crowded in Chinatown, and it can be pushy and shovey, just roll with it.

Our family Chinese joint in Chinatown is Woey Loy Goey. It's a mix of hard-core, serious local dining and straight up Mandarin/Cantonese cooking. We've been going there since 1967. We used to get "Wo Choy" which was the meal of the day. I couldn't exactly tell you what all it was, but it was DAMN tasty! Some things to order there, War Won Ton soup (Won Ton soup with all kinds of critters in it, back in the day my sister and I used to argue over who got the abalone,) Potstickers, noodle dishes or the lunch special rice plate. It's a hole in the wall, but cheap and good. You'll have to go downstairs, it's a basement thing. There's a bathroom in there, but bring your coat with you, it's COLD!

Alcatraz is great and WELL worth going! It can get cold and the schlep up the hill will challenge even the most in-shape person. Plan for early in the day and do something restful in the afternoon.

When in Golden Gate Park for the Japanese Tea Garden, you might want to hit the DeYoung Musuem, or the Stenhart Aquarium. Make a day of it!

As for shopping, it depends. Union Square is the place to find Macy's, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. Also other posh shops. Frankly, you can get that anywhere. Polk Street between Union and Jackson is chockablock with donut shops (I have no idea why, it just is) and adorable little shops and restaurants. Another option is the Mothership of Cost Plus (World Market) down by the Wharf and Ghiardelli Square on Taylor Street.

Another option for shopping is to go the Haight (around the same time you're going to Golden Gate park). It's hippie, but it's TOO hippie for me!

If you're going to the Ferry Building, take the Ferry to Sausalito. You can see the bridge from there, and it's a nice ride back and forth.

If you tell us where you're staying, we can make recommendations for great eats!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:57 AM on January 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Valencia st. has lots of nifty little shops, and you can refresh yourselves with cocktails all the way from 14th st. to 24th if you wish.

Yes, god, go to Dark Garden. I mean, why not? Maybe leave the credit card elsewhere though if you're afraid of impulsive purchases.

I hate the Haight, but maybe that's just me. Lower Haight (around Haight and Fillmore) has fewer but better shops, IMO. If you're in need of cool tshirts or hoodies from an indie shop, hit up Upper Playground on Fillmore just below Haight.

Can't advise on Chinatown because I haven't been in ages, but it's not huge - you can just wander. And then OOPS you're in North Beach and can wander more (City Lights books, Vesuvio for beer, Specs across the street for more drinks in a classic SF bar).
posted by rtha at 6:01 AM on January 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Re Alcatraz, you might be OK if it's low season, but I'd still say to book earlier rather than later.

I was there 2 years ago, and my folks were there late last year. The official cruise operator (which is would sell out of tickets in advance, but tickets would still be available (for a higher price, naturally) from re-sellers either online or on street corners in SF. So you'll most likely be able to get tickets once you're there, but you'll pay more than if you book through the official site ASAP.
posted by pianissimo at 6:12 AM on January 8, 2014

Here are some ideas (having trouble linking this morning):

Chinatown Alleyway Tours

Precita Eyes Mural Tour (you can do this one on your own)

Walk from Fisherman's Wharf (arguably not really a local hotspot...) to Crissy Field. Takes about an hour, just keep walking, keep water on your right and you'll get there eventually.

I agree to skip Upper Haight unless you want to visit Amoeba Records.

When we have visitors, sometimes we walk from the Ferry Terminal to the Ball Park, it's become super fancy but is really lovely.

Treasure Island if you will be here during the Flea Market. There's a bus from downtown that goes directly there.

Ferry to Sausalito or Tiburon if you decide not to go to Alcatraz, or maybe in addition.

TaKe the N Judah train to the end, along Judah near the beach there is a lovely community with some excellent places to eat. No intend to offend, but it's kind of like Santa Cruz in SF. In an excellent way.
posted by mamabear at 7:10 AM on January 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, and Dark Garden relocated to Hayes Valley (that ages me, it was a while ago) and is surrounded by fanciness now. Great place to visit.

Upper Haight also has an Odditites Store that's awesome closer to the end of Haight, maybe at Cole?
posted by mamabear at 7:16 AM on January 8, 2014

One more post, I promise:

Newish oddities store at Cabrillo between 8th and 9th Avenues looks great, FrankenArt Mart on Balboa at 6th Avenue when it's open, and Clement Street (start at around 6th Avenue and walk to Arguello, which is like 1st Avenue). New stores opening all the time along Clement (Park Life is great) and then there is Burma Superstar, my favorite restaurant of all time at 5th and Clement. Genki has a small selection of Japanese trinkets and food.

SF Columbarium is at Anza between Arguello and Stanyan. Really lovely place to walk around.

So, you'd take the 5 Fulton bus from downtown to Golden Gate Park, get off at 8th Ave and walk around, take the 38 or 38L Geary back downtown.

Also, the Divisadero corridor between Waller and Turk, or walk up to Geary, is another place to visit. Interesting shops and places to eat (ages me again, but it has really changed in the past 20 years!)

Have a great trip!
posted by mamabear at 8:17 AM on January 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also recommending Clement Street -- the New Chinatown. Get there with your Muni pass -- parking is impossible. Then get back on the bus and keep riding west, to the ocean.
posted by Rash at 8:28 AM on January 8, 2014

Response by poster: We're staying at the Metro Hotel.

Thanks for all the suggestions - we will likely get Alcatraz tickets tonight, and I'll check out the shopping recommendations.
posted by needlegrrl at 9:26 AM on January 8, 2014

Definitely go by Dark Garden! They have some ready to wear stock on hand, but can also measure you and you can try on different styles for future purchases. Most of their corsets are made to order in standard or custom sizes. The Hayes Valley area, including the park at the end of Octavia, is good for wandering around. Smitten.

There's not a lot to see on Folsom St. Mr/Ms S and Leather Etc. are kind of it for actual stores. I'd add Good Vibes to that list -- any of their locations. A few of the leather bars are still there -- the Eagle and the Lone Star -- but otherwise there's not a lot of physical presence of the leather community there.

If you're at the Metro, that section of Divis is really hopping these days. Lots of new restaurants and so on. I used to live in that neighborhood, but a lot has changed since I lived there -- it still has my favorite game store, though! A favorite nearby is Nopalito. If you can get a seat at Nopa as a walk-in (early is easier), by all means do it! The second Bi-Rite grocery store is open there now, and that's quite a SF experience. You're also a short walk from the Upper Haight from there, so you might as well go poke around. There are some decent shops there; it's the crowds of tourists that make me dislike shopping there.

A few quibbles with other posts -- I would not plan on relying on Muni 24 hours. I take it daily, but buses run less frequently or not at all at night. And Steinhart Aquarium doesn't exist as an independent museum -- it's part of the California Academy of Sciences, which is absolutely worth seeing if you like that sort of thing. And if you do, may I also suggest the Exploratorium?
posted by gingerbeer at 9:52 AM on January 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, I recommend these a lot, but City Guides tours. I've been on a bunch, and they've all been good.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:55 AM on January 8, 2014

For a fun Thai dinner in a good atmosphere, try Another Monkey at 280 Valencia St in the mission. It's about 1.25 miles away, so if you're up for a trot, you could walk, or take a cab if you're not.

A couple of places to check out if you're in Union Square. Hubert Keller's Burger Bar in Macys. And Colibri for really interesting Mexican food on Geary.

Another of my haunts, a place I used to be addicted to in my youth was a Pizza/Brazilian place called DePaula's on Filmore. It closed, moved and changed its name to Mozzarella Di Bufala. The pizza might be good, I have no idea, it's the BRAZILIAN chicken (Frango a Brasileira) that I crave. It's in West Portal, a place I think of as "you can't get there from here." But hell, I've just worked myself up into a serious craving for the shit that I might just fly to San Francisco to eat there. It's a pretty straight shot from where you are though. About 4 miles. Cab it, or walk to the Castro MUNI station, catch the L train towards the SF Zoo, then off board at West Portal station, it's .4 miles from there. Still some walking, so you can decide if it's worth it. (IT'S WORTH IT!)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:16 AM on January 8, 2014

Another Monkey closed about a year ago.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:24 AM on January 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you decide to do a Hop On Hop Off tour with Big Bus Tours, they provide free walking tours of Chinatown, Northbeach etc with your ticket.

*disclaimer, my partner leads a lot of those walking tours.
posted by politikitty at 11:37 AM on January 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I lived in North Beach which is adjacent to Chinatown. There are kind of two Chinatowns. One on Grant and one on Stockton. They are parallel and one block apart [though slightly offset]. Stockton street has a lot of markets where mostly asian people buy fresh vegetables, meat [frequently live], canned goods, herbs and spices, other flavorings and general cooking paraphernalia. I think it's worth a visit to Stockton to see how another culture eats at home [as opposed to the Americanized versions of their native cuisine that you find in restaurants].

I would start at Bush and Grant and make my way along Grant to Sacramento and then take a left uphill, zig-zag through the the narrow alleys till you get to Stockton and head toward all the people you'll see. And then, as noted above, you are in North Beach where you can wander around. Coit Tower is worth a visit if not for the views from atop Telegraph Hill then for the murals. You can catch the 39 Coit up the hill which is really only one longish block but very steep.

Have fun.

Edited duplicate sentence.
posted by vapidave at 3:39 PM on January 8, 2014

If you want to do leather/kink stuff, you'll definitely want to do this. Check yelp for a cheaper deal. I did this a few days ago and it was really awesome, plus it's in the Mission area with lots of good bars, shops and restaurants nearby.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 4:29 PM on January 8, 2014

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