How do I Bay Area?
March 11, 2015 2:36 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to be hanging out in the Bay Area for 5-6 days in late April/early May, for a mix of seeing family in Menlo Park and fun/touristing. I will probably stay with said family for 1-2 nights, but I want to be in closer to city things and public transit the rest of the time. Where should I stay, and while you're at it, what other activities should I consider? More about what I hope to do under the fold.

When I'm not hanging out with my extended family, I would like to:

-Hike around in the ruins of the Sutro Baths. (Is this public transit accessible?)
-Go to one of the Thursday 'adult nights' at the Exploratorium
-Call a metafilter meetup, possibly in conjunction with the Exploratorium adult night, possibly as a stand-alone thing.
-Find a place or places that might consign the zines I make. (The Long Haul in Berkeley is the obvious candidate--are there other possibilities?)
-Go to Monday night shape note singing in Berkeley. (Address listed on web site.)
-Do some general neighborhood wandering. I like good local coffee/beer, yarn stores (especially if they have local yarn I can't get in Philly), bookstores (especially used or with a lefty/radical bent), parks where I can laze around in the sunshine, interesting old architecture to take in.

Really though, this trip is mostly about doing all the low-key fun things I can before I start a super-intensive degree program; I don't want a grueling sightseeing agenda.

Where should I stay for best public transit access to the various things I want? I am very good at public transit and actually love figuring out new systems, but I don't want to spend huge chunks of each day in transit. I tried figuring this out with google maps, but the interactions or lack thereof between BART, MUNI, AC Transit, and Caltrain were really confusing. Also, are there other can't-miss sights or neighborhoods you can think of based on my list above?

I am planning to find a place to stay through couchsurfing; assume I can find someone in almost any neighborhood. It would be nice if there were interesting walkable things near wherever I stayed, but if there happens to be somewhere that's very centrally located but dull that would be fine.
posted by ActionPopulated to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco Bay Area, CA (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: An afternoon walk around Lake Merritt might be nice. It's a lovely park, with the nation's oldest wildlife sanctuary, as well as some interesting architecture to look at as you walk around (the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center has amazing decorative sculptures above the arches on the side facing the lake, plus there's the Scottish Rite Center, Children's Fairyland, the trompe l'oeil painting on the side of this building, the Grand Lake Theater, a nice-looking church that may be playing the carillon if you're lucky, and more).

For beer there's an embarrassment of riches. The Trappist is my favorite and is conveniently located in Old Oakland, not far from 12th Street BART. Some people like Beer Revolution, but it's way too low-ceilinged and loud for my taste. Linden Street is nice but not convenient to transit. Moving more Uptown, there's Woods Bar & Brewery, Diving Dog Brewhouse, Commonwealth, and more that I haven't checked out. (If you want a beer while circumnavigating the lake, Heart and Dagger near the Grand Lake Theater is nice, as is Portal — their courtyard has a lovely view of the lake.)
posted by Lexica at 2:59 PM on March 11, 2015

Needles and Pens in SF for zines. And they'd have ideas about where else.
A Verb for Keeping Warm and Imagiknit for yarn.
posted by mollymayhem at 4:30 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

You can get out to the old Sutro Baths on the 38 Geary bus, which will be a long but interesting ride, as goes the whole width of the city.
posted by rtha at 4:55 PM on March 11, 2015

The SF Arboretum is worth seeing. Go south to Pescadero, one mile inland from San Gregorio Beach. Eat seafood at Duarte's Tavern, (pronounced doó-arts) it does not get better. Take the Stage Road north from in front of the tavern, go north up onto La Honda, redwoods, views, back to town. Stage Road is the old stage coach road, a quintessential bay area ride. That time of year, look to the calla lilies out front of Duarte's. They have Cream of Artichoke Soup.
posted by Oyéah at 4:56 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Have you ever been to San Francisco before? It's not clear from your question how much you've seen of it. If not, I'd buy a pass for a hop on-hop off bus tour and use that as transportation for a day. You will be able to see literally all the sights, but it won't be a grueling itinerary because the tour does all the work for you. It's actually a relaxing ride. You can also get off and pick it up later at its various stop points, so you can use it as transportation for a day and avoid aimless wandering or cab fares. It was a very big hit with my out-of-town guests. 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, and a ride into Sausalito, which is a cute little city overlooking San Francisco across the water.
posted by AppleTurnover at 5:34 PM on March 11, 2015

Best answer: For planning jaunts on public transit, this online trip planner is very good. It figures out good connections between the various transit agencies around the Bay Area. (Last time I tried the mobile version, it sucked, though.)

You might find the Sutro Baths kind of disappointing - there's not much left, and the ruins are sort of boring modern-ish construction. There is interesting old architecture in the form of Victorian houses in many parts of SF, and the original Spanish mission, Mission Dolores, is the oldest building in SF. There are some neat old houses on Telegraph Hill, ranging from Victorian cottages to Art Deco apartment buildings. Great views, and a lovely secret garden on the Filbert steps. Close to transit but you'll have to climb up and down a lot of stairs. If you're lucky you'll see our famous wild parrots there!
posted by Quietgal at 6:10 PM on March 11, 2015

Maker Faire Bay Area is May 16 and 17. You can take Caltrain.
posted by LiverOdor at 6:44 PM on March 11, 2015

Best answer: While you're at Sutro Baths, check out the old camera obscura, which is at the top of the hill. Totally worth it on a sunny day, when you can see the light sparkling on the Pacific. I actually like taking the N-Judah train to Ocean Beach and then walking up the rest of the way; it's fun riding a streetcar, and it turns around right in front of the sand dunes. I would stay somewhere near a BART stop, maybe the Mission. I live in Berkeley, which you might enjoy as a place to stay, though it's quieter here. The Embarcadero's very easy to reach by BART. If you stay in Berkeley, let me know, and maybe I can give you a ride to the beach (I can't resist the camera obscura).
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:20 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In regards to this item:

-Do some general neighborhood wandering. I like good local coffee/beer, yarn stores (especially if they have local yarn I can't get in Philly), bookstores (especially used or with a lefty/radical bent), parks where I can laze around in the sunshine, interesting old architecture to take in.

You can visit my neighborhood, the Haight-Ashbury, and drink good local beer at Magnolia, which is right across the street from Bound Together, our awesome local historic Anarchist bookstore. The neighborhood is full of fabulous old architecture (the fire after the 1906 earthquake didn't reach us) and the panhandle is two blocks away, where you can laze about in the sun if it's out, perhaps with a sandwich from Haight Street Market, one of the best little delis around (and serves Blue Bottle coffee if you like).

You get to the Haight from Downtown or the Civic Center BART by taking the 6 or 71 or 71L bus.

For yarn, Imaginknit on 18th and Sanchez in the Castro is fabulous. You can get there from the Haight by taking the 33 bus from Haight & Clayton. This bus ride has the bonus of a beautiful ride up over the hills including the most amazing hairpin turn in the world. If you take the 33 to Imaginknit, you can easily walk down (or continue on the bus) to Valencia Street and visit Needles and Pens the zine shop. Needles and Pens is renovating their old space on 16th near Guerrero, I don't think they've moved back yet, you might want to check as your trip comes close.

The 38 Geary bus will get you to the cliff house and Sutro Baths. If it's a beautiful day you'll want to go out there for sure.

Besides the Exploratorium night event, there is the similar Nightlife at the Academy of Sciences (it has an aquarium and penguins) in Golden Gate Park; be sure to buy tickets in advance, it sells out. You can get to the academy of sciences by walking from the Haight - a 20-30 minute walk through Golden Gate Park - or you can take the N Judah Street car to 9th Ave. from Cole Valley - a few blocks up from Haight street.

Have fun!
posted by gyusan at 3:25 PM on March 12, 2015

Reinforcing that Sutro Baths are kind of underwhelming, although if you combine it with a light hike around Lands End it's a nice few hours. (Or Sutro Heights Park; not worth a special trip, but pleasant). The 38 Geary ride out there isn't as bad as it looks; take the 38L (limited) for a faster trip. Definitely see the Camera Obscura while out there, pay the $2 or whatever. The restaurant Sutro's at the Cliff House is quite nice fine dining if that's your thing; there's also a more casual restaurant at the Cliff House and Louis' isn't bad.

For taking public transit be sure to sort out a Clipper Card for payment. Also consider using Uber/Lyft/Sidecar as a supplement.

I encourage visitors to go to Alcatraz. It's surprisingly beautiful out there and not nearly as touristy as you'd think. And the boat ride is quite pleasant. This requires advance planning, you have to reserve tickets a few weeks ahead. An alternate thing that requires no planning is taking a ferry out to Sausalito for lunch. It's a nice thing to do on a pretty day.
posted by Nelson at 4:12 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I tried figuring this out with google maps, but the interactions or lack thereof between BART, MUNI, AC Transit, and Caltrain were really confusing.

They are indeed really confusing, it's not just you. This map of high-frequency service should help. To clear up at least one bit, Caltrain only interacts with the N and T on Muni and does not interact with BART at all within San Francisco (there's a connection at Millbrae near the airport), but is only useful for getting to and from the South Bay, so you won't need to rely on it when you're in the city or the East Bay.

I don't want to spend huge chunks of each day in transit

To be honest... coming from the Northeast Corridor, you may be surprised at just how slow and unreliable transit is within SF proper. (BART is great but does not go to very many places within SF.) The ways I've seen people deal with this problem here involve driving, calling car services, biking/walking, or adjusting their expectations about how much time they will be spending on transit.

The weather is great here, so renting a bike may be a great option for you. In my experience biking is nearly always faster than Muni (biking from my office to Sutro Baths, for instance, would take around 55 minutes, with stretches through very pretty areas; Muni is 80 minutes depending on transfers); there are big hills, but also ways to avoid them, and there are also a lot of bike lanes and the drivers are in general more tolerant than what I've encountered on the East Coast. So yeah, biking's a great way to see SF, just get a good lock system and a helmet.

For Muni, I highly recommend you install an app that scrapes NextBus info, like Quicky for Android; Google Maps' predictions about when bus services run are useless here. Also do get a Clipper card as per Nelson; it works on BART, Muni, and Caltrain, and I think also on AC Transit (?).

For lazing around in the sunshine, Dolores Park in the Mission (right on the J, also a totally reasonable walk from BART) is well worth a daytime hangout if the weather is nice (and it often is there).
posted by en forme de poire at 4:28 PM on March 12, 2015

I always come into these threads to recommend the amazing and wonderful San Francisco City Guides. They're a great nonprofit that offers free walking tours every day. (Donations accepted.)

They have dozens of tours; you can see what they're offering at the end of April.

Here's one you could do before or after your walk around the Sutro Baths: Land's End: Sutro Heights at 2 pm on Saturday, April 25 (and, apparently, every Saturday at 2 pm).

If you're interested in neighborhoods, there's
Nob Hill
North Beach

plus, obviously, a bunch more, including lots that are in or around downtown San Francisco.

Welcome to this gorgeous city - have a great time!
posted by kristi at 1:25 PM on March 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hey everyone, thanks for all the lovely suggestions! I am excited for so many neat walking opportunities, and holy shit, Needles and Pens looks fabulous!

On the off chance that anyone's still looking at this thread, if you have recommendations for a good neighborhood near BART to stay in, that would be lovely. Also, watch for an IRL thread real soon!
posted by ActionPopulated at 6:54 PM on March 19, 2015

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