Help my SF itinerary
February 21, 2015 8:50 PM   Subscribe

I have family coming to visit me here in the San Francisco vicinity and I need help putting together an itinerary including restaurants and such. Please help?

Goals for trip are to take in the beautiful nature, Pacific ocean, all the greatness SF has to offer as a city, and delicious restaurants. Some walking is good but must avoid long and/or strenuous hikes. Maybe a guided tour one day?

I'm new to this area myself so I don't know a whole lot about how to do this. Running out of time and energy to think about this.

Here is as far as I got:
Tuesday - Golden Gate & Muir Woods (I've been here)
Wednesday - Beach / Golden Gate Park (I've been to GGP but never to any beach or that far west)
Thursday - Berkeley? "Gourmet ghetto"? (I live kind of near here and it seems like a "meh" area, not that interesting)
Friday - Lunch in SF / Alcatraz/ "take it easy" day (Alcatraz tour tickets already booked for 3pm)
Saturday - Go to SF & see where my job is (I have also been here. near Union Square.)
Sunday - Richmond Rose the Riveter museum (where I live)

They're coming on Monday so if I need to make reservations at any fancy places I would like to do that soon.

Please help in whatever way you can!
posted by bleep to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (22 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
The reddit AskSF subreddit has a good FAQ.

The almost canonical answer for San Francisco is Stu Dudley.
posted by blob at 9:02 PM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Kokkari. A delicious Greek tapas restaurant. I would eat there every weekend if I could
posted by ellerhodes at 9:03 PM on February 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Here's a few quick things:

1) You're right that the Gourmet Ghetto itself is not that interesting. But, for a low key dawdling half-day, you could do this: Start at the Cheese Board Pizza Collective and get a slice of pizza. It's a coop so very Berkeley, and the pizza's great. Next door is their cheese shop, and it can be fun to poke around in. Then maybe walk south on Shattuck to the Half Price Bookstore -- another fun place to waste an hour. This would be easy because it's near you, and it would give them a sense of Berkeley flavour.

2) Two SF restaurants worth the trip. Zuni Cafe near Hayes Valley is terrific for its famous roast chicken served on bread salad. Great cocktails, great service, an institution. If you want to go there book it soon: they book up early. Or, try Burmese Superstar on Clement. They don't take reservations: you go there, leave them your cell number, and then walk over to Green Apple Books for browsing until they phone you. The wait is long (like, often 90 minutes) so get there well ahead of when you want to eat otherwise you'll all get hungry and mad. It's delicious and not intimidating (not spicy, accessible for English speakers) and has great upbeat energy: very good for out-of-towners. Don't drive though: the parking on Clement is disastrous.

3) Day trip idea. Drive down to Pescadero to Harley Goat Farm, where you can pet the adorable goats and sample (and buy) excellent fresh goat cheeses, as well as other goat products like lotions and socks. It's really fun. Then buy artichoke bread and other stuff at the Arcangeli deli and take them to Butano State Park, where there are picnic tables and a wide variety of hiking options, easy to hard. On the drive back, Half Moon Bay has good Mexican food and a couple of touristy-but-good fish places. That's a super-pleasant day trip: I do it all the time.

Have fun!
posted by Susan PG at 9:11 PM on February 21, 2015 [6 favorites]

For Wednesday, you could poke around the park a little bit, then head to the Beach Chalet for a bite. I wouldn't plan just beach/park as a full day of sightseeing unless you include one of the museums. They might enjoy the de Young and/or the Academy of Science. Note for your planning purposes that Academy of Science adult admission is $34.95/person (a fact that will be remembered when we're all behind the barricades).

Also available in/around the park are Segway tours, which can be fun if your group is into that sort of thing. I like the guy at Segway SF Bay for straight rentals (with lessons first naturally). There are other outfits that do group guided Segway tours, but I don't have personal experience with them. Bike rental is another possibility.

If your group includes kids and/or people who like science and such, the Exploratorium is closeish to the Alcatraz boat dock and is awesome. Another possibility in that area is the Ferry Building. You could eat lunch there and stroll down the Embarcadero (or take the F-Market) to Pier 33.

One area you haven't really included are views and hills. Options include Coit Tower, Twin Peaks, and Corona Heights, among others. Also in that general category: the curvy part of Lombard St.

Another neighborhood missing is The Mission. Good for visitors interested in, among other things, walking an unusual neighborhood, design, non-chain shopping, murals, and stuffing their faces with glorious burritos.

A few restaurants where I like to take visitors:
- Delfina: Italian. A personal favorite. Reservations absolutely required. Dinner only
- Zuni Cafe: Icon of California Cuisine. Fantastic roast chicken for 2. Reservations required. Lunch/dinner.
- Dim sum: I usually do either Yank Sing at Rincon Center (highest quality, highest price) or Great Eastern. Great Eastern is also good for a Chinese food dinner, especially if you guys like seafood. There are also great options further afield in the Richmond.
- Dosa. Indian. Nice place serving delicious South Indian food. The one on Fillmore is fancier and larger than the Mission location. While exotic, the dosas are really just bread with potato, cheese, and such, so it's not too intimidating.
- In-N-Out: Burgers. While not nearly as gourmet as the options above, if they've never been, it's kind of part of the experience.
posted by zachlipton at 9:21 PM on February 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

The very best meal we had in SF was at Sotto Mare In North Beach. Very easy to get there from several of the places you listed. It's very small, but SO worth the wait.
posted by raisingsand at 10:07 PM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Depending on how in shape people are, a common Golden Gate Bridge touristy thing to do is rent bikes and ride across the bridge into Sausalito, which ends up at an over the top little shopping area on the water. But the ride is nice, and at very least you can get some Lappert's ice cream. There's a ferry you can take back and I think most bike rentals are set up for retuning your bikes on the San Francisco side. If you search for biking over Golden Gate there's tons of suggestions.
posted by aspo at 10:46 PM on February 21, 2015

For Wednesay -- I would suggest the Japanese Garden in Golden Gate Park, it's beautiful and restful. I'm assuming you have a car... once you make it through the park and hit the coast, don't stop at the big wide open beach, it's not the nicest place, instead turn right and go up the hill and look for the big white building on the left -- this if Cliff House which has a bistro and a posh restaurant and would be a good stop for lunch. There's parking a bit past it. . You might need reservations to eat at the posh restaurant. This area is called Land's End and it's gorgeous - there are hiking trails and the ruins of Sutro Baths right there, where the waves crash into the rocks - definitely spend some time here. Then you can drive up north and visit Baker Beach, which is the nicest beach and which has a view of the golden gate bridge. There are some nice lookouts and memorials and parkland and ruins of old gun emplacements all around there, and the coastline is beautiful. I think you've got a full day here easily.

For Friday - you'll probably catch your boat from Fisherman's Wharf, and if so, go to the end of Pier 39 and look at the sea lions. They'll be hanging out on the floating docks. There is a spot to view them. The fisherman's wharf area is a tourist zoo so I would not recommend a restaurant meal here, but you can get fish and chips or chowder here. Alcatraz is great. Get the audio tour. Also, spend some time exploring the coastline of the island, away from the buildings, if you can.

Saturday is a bit thin. Can I suggest walking through Chinatown, and perhaps up Nob Hill? It can be a bit strenuous getting up the hill but the views are great. Also, from Union Square it should be pretty easy to catch a sightseeing bus, and I bet your legs will be tired. Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill is another great spot to visit.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:06 PM on February 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

And as someone who lived in the gourmet ghetto (man is that name out of date...) for a decade and who misses easy access to Cheese Board bread and pizza at least weekly, there's almost no reason to make a trip out there as a tourist unless you really really care about food tourism. Yes, Cheese Board is an institution. Yes Chez Panisse is there. (And the first Peets.) I mean don't get me wrong, it was a great place to live, but it's mostly a residential area and Berkeley really isn't all that interesting for a short visit.
posted by aspo at 11:11 PM on February 21, 2015

If the weather is nice on Tues, you can stop for a cocktail and snacks on the porch at Cavallo Point. Great views of the City...

If Burma Superstar is of interest, they have a place in Oakland as well (Telegraph at 48th?). The decor isn't as charming as the original, but it's still totally tasty.

Berkeley: I can't say enough good things about the food at Los Cilantros. They do breakfast & lunch every day, plus dinner on the weekends. Seriously delicous regional Mexican food. Maybe visit 4th Street instead of Gourmet Ghetto? Quirky shops to browse plus a Cafe Rouge burger and a glass of bubbles makes for a nice few hours.

Friday: Dosa on Fillmore would be a great option for lunch. Go early and wander around Japantown.

On Sunday, maybe visit Hong Kong East Ocean for dim sum before the museum? It's on the water in Emeryville, at the end of Powell. If you get there right when they open (10:30), you can score a window seat.
posted by jenquat at 11:59 PM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Just going to the beach in SF and looking at it isn't super exciting, IMO. If you do go there, you should hike the Lands End Trail, which is easy and flat and might be the best way to see the ocean while in the city. (Other good ocean-viewing spots in SF include Fort Point and Twin Peaks.) For deeper appreciation of the Pacific, outside of the city, I really like both Point Lobos State Park and the Ohlone Bluff trail in Wilder Ranch State Park.
posted by phoenixy at 12:25 AM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Maybe I missed it, but where is your family from? What are they interested in? And... uh... how street savvy are they? (city mice or farm mice?)

>Another neighborhood missing is The Mission.<>
Is very true. I'm there a lot. Valencia St has lots of neat things going on. Lots of great food. Hipster culture. That said, some parts could be interesting or run-away-scary. (Go during the day though: 2 people were just shot at Mission & 17th earlier this week at the late hour of 7pm.)

It's not for everyone... but it could be worth it.

> Also available in/around the park are Segway tours<>
A friend of mine did one of those Segway city tours. Sure you look like a total dork, but it's fun and if your guide is good, you learn a ton. The tour they did covered Chinatown, Fisherman's wharf (started there), and many other places. Better than walking some of those hills!
posted by dogcow2015 at 12:40 AM on February 22, 2015

Best answer: Tourists love the Ferry Building, so I would definitely include a stop there for lunch. Lunch on the day of your Alcatraz tour could work. You could also stop by when the Farmer's Market is going on, which is 10-2 on Tuesday and Thursday. On weekends it will be busy, but depending on how your family feels about crowds, the hustle and bustle could be part of the appeal.

Tourists love Fisherman's Wharf, but I frankly do not see the appeal. You can take your family through if you want. You have a good view of Alcatraz from there if you go all the way in toward the water. The nearby Boudin is the coolest Boudin I've ever seen if you want some easy lunch.

If your family hasn't been to San Francisco, I personally strongly recommend taking a hop-on, hop-off bus tour. It will take you all around the city to all the sights you want to see, and save you on a lot of aimless walking around or cabs, since you'll also be able to use it as transportation by picking it up at its various stop points. You'll be able to see all the main attractions of the city in about 90 minutes or so if you don't get off. My family did Big Bus Tours and loved it. Also included in the price was a night time tour, where they take you to Treasure Island for a night-time view of the skyline. It also included a ride into Sausalito, if you're interested.

There are tons of restaurants all over. Personally what I would do is, when you start to get hungry, check out what's nearby and highly rated on Yelp or something. That said, if you like good Mexican food, I would go into the Mission and hit up Lolo. I've heard the Mission can be a little sketchy if you leave that main strip, but there's also a very fancy gourmet chocolate shop not to far either if you want a little dessert after.

Do make sure at some point you take a cable car and or trolley with your family. They don't need to hang off the side of the trolley, but it is a novel and unique old-timey experience that is quite cool. They supposedly cost money, but honestly they almost never ask for payment. We would hop on to go up a big hill and then hop off. More than being novel, they can get you where you want to go. Google Maps on your phone is going to be your friend. It will tell you which cable cars, muni, etc. can take you were you want to go.
posted by AppleTurnover at 1:13 AM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Any insight into what kinds of things your family likes in general and any kind of budget info would be way helpful in making suggestions. Also if it's just adults or kids too.

Urban Safari is my favorite for a local SF tour.

If you end up at Fishermans Wharf the Musee Mechanique is fun and cheap - just the quarters you spend on the machines.

If you're going anywhere between Fishermans Wharf, the Embarcadero or up and down Market Street there is the f-line with the historic street cars. Here's a live map that shows exactly which cars are on the line right now.

btw if you are getting a cable car it's easier to board one stop up from the end. They don't totally fill the cars at that first stop and unless you really want a specific seat you can usually board at the next stop as long as your group isn't too big.

The Ferry Building is always good, lots of great food and some days they have a farmers market. Acme Bread and Cowgirl Creamery are awesome.

Union Square is good for shopping if they'd be interested. If I had to pick I might go to Amber India for the lunch buffet, or Bun Mee closer to the financial district.

Not too far away is the Cartoon Art Museum.

Will you have a car? People usually don't last that long at the beach tbh. Don't forget that depending on the weather the fog may roll in and really cool things off in the late afternoon.

If you're doing the park you could consider going to the Academy of Sciences or the De Young.
posted by oneear at 1:57 AM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you want natural beauty, I recommend Fort Funston. That is a jump off point for hang gliders. It's amazingly beautiful. I also recommend the Marin Headlands. Also amazingly beautiful.
posted by gt2 at 2:10 AM on February 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have some notes.

Alcatraz is a SCHLEP! It's all up hill. So good instincts for making it a rest day. If you're in Richmond, perhaps dinner at Nations that night would be in order?

If you want to do something cool in Berkeley check out Takara Sake. They do tastings, and it's really interesting. It's right next to Spanger's, if you want to eat some sandabs. Although that looks like it's been taken over by McCormick and Schmicks. Another recommendation I have is Skates on the Bay. This place has been around for over 30 years, and it's always been a favorite of mine. Great views of the city. If you need a little something more, Golden Gate Fields, gambling, racing. Could be a thing.

I have three recommendations for lunch near Union Square:

Burger Bar, in Macy's. Hubert Keller's hamburger restaurant. So freaking yummy!

Colibri Mexican Bistro on Post/Geary. Really great food!

The Oak Room in the Westin St. Francis. My mother and I would lunch here every Saturday after doing some shopping or getting our hair done. It's absolutely lovely and old-school.

If you'd rather breakfast than lunch, Sears Fine Foods has sourdough, pecan French toast. I need say no more.

If you want to do the beach, check out Cliff House and the Sutro Baths. You could have lunch at Cliff House, but I'd rather eat at a Russian place on Clement St. Check out Red Tavern or any other place that looks good. There's also a Burmese place on Clement, Burma Superstar.

If there's a call to do something touristy, rather than Fisherman's Wharf or Pier 39, I think Ghirardelli Square is actually worth looking around. You get a great view of the bridge from there. Have an ice cream sundae at the ice cream shop. Watch them conch chocolate (my favorite thing when I was a kid.) I'd have advised lunch at Maxwell's Plum, but it's long gone. Honestly, although those places are total ripoffs, you could go further an fare worse than Cioppino or a Crab Louis at Aliotos.

SusanPG suggests going to Pescadero. If you do, have lunch at Duarte's Tavern. Artichoke soup, cioppino and O'lallie Berry Pie. I mean, yes. Do that!

If you're in Chinatown, and you decide not to do Dim Sum, then check out a real hole in the wall, Woey Loy Gooey. Very respectable Cantonese food.

Have a wonderful time!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:43 AM on February 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Marin Headlands is a great suggestion - your'e getting fantastic answers here and I like your proposed schedule. I personally find the Mission kind of dicey and would not take older people there but that's a judgement call. (I do not feel particularly safe walking around there by myself, which is why I don't hop on BART for a burrito/whatnot - again, this is subjective.)

How old are your parents? I'm glad you have an easy day in there - YMMV but they may need some zoning out time, just relaxing. However you know your parents best so disregard if they are full of pep and like to be on-the-go every day.

Sounds like hella fun - hope they have a great time!
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:43 AM on February 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

wrt filling out the Berkeley day: might they enjoy the UC Berkeley campus as a pretty and somewhat historic -- protests etc -- place? It's pretty walkable. You can go up the Sather Tower for cheap -- elevator most of the way, 1 flight of stairs -- fantastic 360° views from the top.

Hiking around Berkeley tends to be hilly, but I'd recommend Tilden:
  1. Nimitz Way is high up on the top of the ridge, paved, and largely flat; views over the Bay. Parking at Inspiration Point on Wildcat Canyon Road, although on busy days it spills over onto parking on the roadside.
  2. The miniature steam trains are a blast -- lots of kids but totally fun as an adult too -- but they're on winter schedule at the moment and only open weekends and a couple of Mondays.
  3. The Botanic Garden / Little Farm / Lake Anza / Carousel area is down in a valley and also is reasonably flat easy walking; nice groves of eucalyptus.

posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 8:27 AM on February 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

You should check out the San Francisco City Guides schedule to see if there are any walking tours during your visit that seem interesting. I've been on several and they've been good to excellent (the tour of Chinatown was outstanding). No reservations required, just show up. Tours are free although they ask for donations at the end, but I think they're well worth a few bucks. Enjoy your visit!
posted by Quietgal at 3:53 PM on February 22, 2015

Near the Wharf is The Italian Homemade Company and it is so good. Not too pricey. Nthing Wharf and Pier 39 and the Sea Lions and Ghirardelli! We didn't get to Alcatraz because it never stopped raining, but I heard there is an amazing exhibit going on there now.

The best breakfast I've ever had was at Mymy in Nob Hill.
posted by getawaysticks at 1:06 PM on February 23, 2015

I'm just going to throw this out there: "Oh God, Your Parents Are Coming to Visit You in San Francisco"
posted by toofuture at 1:29 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for all the great answers! Wow, very overwhelming number of options here! I'm marking AppleTurnover's as best just for linking to BigBusTours - we did that today and it was fabulous, a great intro to the city and I would have been way too overwhelmed to figure out how to do those tours without that link. And now on to day 2...
posted by bleep at 7:27 PM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

So glad you enjoyed Big Bus Tours! I actually did it twice with my family two separate times and we all loved it.
posted by AppleTurnover at 7:46 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

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