What to do and where to stay in San Francisco in early April
March 6, 2017 11:21 AM   Subscribe

My best friend and I will be taking a vacation together to San Francisco in early April. Neither of us have ever been before. We will have pretty much 2 entire days in the city. Where should we stay and what should we do?

The only must-see item on our list is the Golden Gate Bridge (the only reason its a must see is because it's the main thing we've heard of).

Being near public transportation is a must. (Is there a train or something that goes to Berkeley? We are attending a concert at the Greek Theatre one night and are trying to work out how to get there.)

We enjoy all kinds of things (art, outdoors, shopping, sightseeing, etc.), but are interested in unique things. Unique as in off the beaten path: hidden murals, strange museums, Atlas Obscura type stuff. Famous touristy stuff is good too. Sorry about being so broad, we just have no knowledge of San Fran at all really.

What are your recommended must-do/must-see in the city?
posted by LizBoBiz to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (21 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
There are two main forms of transit in SF: Muni, which is buses and some light rail and which is entirely within the city, and BART, which is the (occasionally above-ground) subway system that you can take out of the city.

You can take BART to Berkeley, but be aware that it's a bit of a hike from the Downtown Berkeley station up to the Greek (totally doable - which I know because I worked very near the Greek and walked from BART daily), but it's close to a mile uphill - there are buses that run that last mile or you can grab an Uber/Lyft if you don't want to walk it.

And as for my best touristy recommendation: Musée Mécanique. Entry is free but bring cash you can turn into change so you can play everything. It's wonderful.

Depending on what you guys like, I recommend doing Coit Tower. I love getting the view-from-above of any city I'm in, and the murals in it are themselves almost worth a trip.
posted by brainmouse at 11:36 AM on March 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

You should go to Pier 45, Shed A for the Musée Mécanique. It's my favorite place.

From there you can walk around Fisherman's Wharf (in the Cannery are some art student galleries that are kind of cool) and Aquatic Park, which has a view of the bridge if it's clear. You can catch a cable car from over by the Ross/Starbucks/Cost Plus area without too much waiting. The Cable Car Museum is free and worthwhile, on your way to Union Square. Or you can get the historic F train downtown.

Or, you can get a quick Lyft ride over to the bridge-- or you can take a hike to where the 29 bus picks up and ride over to the bridge. I don't suggest walking over it because there is no public transit that goes over it, and it's a long-ass walk (though there is an In-N-Out on the Marin side.)

You might also like doing the crazy long steps down from Coit Tower... there's a bus that goes uphill from Fisherman's Wharf, you can check out the murals in the tower for free, and then head down the steps, which is a great view of both the sea and people's cool little yards. Your legs will be jelly at the bottom and there's nothing that picks up right there, so once again, catch a Lyft to your next destination.

The de Young is worth it, so is the tea garden next door. Golden Gate Park is a lot of fun-- there's hidden sculptures and bison and a dog park and scenic lakes and all sorts of neat stuff. If you make it all the way to Ocean Beach, you can see the Sutro Bath ruins and a little bit of the bridge from the other side. The diner at the top of the ruins is worth it, so is the restaurant at the hotel right there, especially breakfast. If you want a really good view of the bridge without going right up to it, China Beach is gorgeous and less well-known. The Legion of Honor is a great museum. I haven't been to SF MoMA since before it renovated, so I can't advise. I personally think the science museum across from the de Young is too expensive for what you get, but I still enjoyed myself.

Green Apple Books is the best bookstore ever. The neighborhood has great restaurants, too. Tia Margarita at Clement and 21st has strong margaritas the size of your head. The Taco Shop at Underdogs has excellent tacos-- it's below the park, like Geary and Irving? Check out Valencia between 14th and 30th or so for cool little shops. Rainbow Grocery at 12th and Fulton has groceries as well as unique souvenirs.

Bring cardboard for a slide down the Seward Street Slides near Castro. (Come during the day or the neighbors will yell at you for being too loud.) If you do this and the rest of the Castro (Cliff's Variety is the best souvenir shop/hardware store of all time) you can get the F train towards Fisherman's Wharf or it's kind of a cool walk with little shops and such if you head down Market towards City Hall (which itself is kind of cool-- it's a nice City Hall and you can watch people get married but you have go through a metal detector. The vegetarian restaurant, Ananda Fuara, on Market near the library is killer.)

I used to live there and I miss it, so please memail me if you have additional questions.
posted by blnkfrnk at 11:47 AM on March 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

We stayed in a vrbo apartment close to Garibaldi Square and it was convenient to everything and right on the bus line.
posted by raisingsand at 12:00 PM on March 6, 2017

1. Do not call it San Fran. It is either "SF" or "the City". :)

2. SF has a ton of off-beat things to do! It's also an extremely walkable city (with lots of hills) so plan to wear very comfortable shoes. Also plan on wearing layers - there are many micro-climates as you move through the city, and the evenings are (almost) always pretty chilly. Smart sneakers, jeans, t-shirt, thin zip-up hoodie, warm jacket tends to be my suggest attire for tourist (I wear lots of wool, but I also run cold). April CAN be one of the warmest and most pleasant months in the city, but be ready for chilly fog, rain, and wind. Do not be one of the tourists shivering at Pier 39 in flipflops and shorts, buying overpriced fleece.

3. I suggest you spend an afternoon in the Mission district. This is a good basic itinerary (although you should get a carnitas burrito from La Taqueria. Here's more detail on the Mission murals. A few of the oddball SF shops listed here are also in the Mission.

4. Think about SF in terms of its different neighborhoods, and make a decision to spend either a morning or an afternoon walking around in the ones you find most interesting. The Mission, Haight Ashbury, Pacific Heights/Fillmore/Japantown, Chinatown, Alamo Square, Fisherman's Wharf, North Beach, and the Castro tend to be popular with different segments of tourists.

5. Golden Gate is great! I recommend tourist plan to bike across it from SF to the small town of Sausalito or Tiburon, then take the ferry back to SF. This is very popular with many tourist for good reason, and there are plenty of companies that will outfit your for this activity. Here's a good guide.

6. For getting around the city, there's the Muni (buses and light-rail trains), BART (subway), and Lyft (or Uber, if you must). There are various transit passes you can get that are aimed at tourists - I'm not sure of the details, but you can check out their websites for more info. BART to Berkeley will be your best bet. Google maps gives very good directions via mass transit in the Bay Area, so just use that.

7. If you're interested in nature, consider checking out the redwoods in Muir Woods, just north of the city. There are shuttles and tour buses for tourists. If that eats up too much of your time, I recommend checking out Golden Gate Park and Land's End.

8. There are tons of other Asks here about visiting SF. Read through all of those!
posted by Jaclyn at 12:37 PM on March 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

If you're staying in a hotel, I would advise you to stay in the Union Square area because there are a large number hotels there, and transit from that area is easy to other parts of the city and to Berkeley. Be careful not to stay in a hotel in the Tenderloin, which is next to Union Square, or near 6th and Market.

This is mostly the touristy tour, but it includes a bunch of must-dos on your first trip!
* Golden Gate Bridge - It's a 3.5 mile round trip to walk across the bridge, which is less than 90 minutes with stops. Definitely worth doing the walk. If you take a Lyft, have them drop you at the Golden Gate Bridge visitor center on the San Francisco side.

* Mission mural tour and explore the Mission District and then lunch/dinner. Consider eating lunch at Mission Delores park. SF City Guides does a tour, as does a local group. Needles and Pens is a fun little zine store in the Mission.

Potentially combine these two with a walk on the Embarcardero:
* Boat tour under the Golden Gate Bridge (You may want to book this now, because the tours fill up.)
* Ferry Building - Lots of great places to get a delicious snack or lunch here.

Walk from Union Square:
* Ride a cable car
* SFMOMA - Make sure to do the audio tour, and allow 3-4 hours to see everything.
* Top of the Mark for a drink - Super touristy, but a beautiful view.
* Chinatown - The SF city guides tour here is excellent. Go during the day, as Chinatown pretty much shuts down after dark.

Chinatown to Coit Tower isn't far:
* Coit Tower - Beautiful Diego Rivera murals downstairs, along with an amazing view from the tower. Not open at night.

I wouldn't recommend spending much time in Fisherman's Wharf, except for Musee Mechanique and (maybe) Ghirardelli Square and the views of the bridge from there.

To get to Berkeley, you can take BART from the Union Square area to the Downtown Berkeley station and then either Lyft from there or walk the slight uphill about 20 minutes through the UC Berkeley campus to the Greek.

Are you going to see Regina Spektor or Sigur Ros? We're actually going to both shows at the Greek. If you're planning on sitting, buy or take a fleece blanket or extra sweater to sit on. The concrete seats at the Greek are hard and cold. Dress warm. It gets cold and windy there at night. Get there an hour before the show to get the first few rows of seats above the standing area.

Other things to consider if you have more time:
* Exploratorium
* Alcatraz
* de Young Museum
* Conservatory of Flowers
* Ocean Beach
* Twin Peaks (which is a bit of a hassle to get to without a car)
posted by cnc at 12:48 PM on March 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

One of my favorite things to do in SF is the Eagle Point Labyrinth, which is close enough to the Legion of Honor museum that you could see both of them on the same day. Eagle Point is very windy, and the walk around Land's End has one of the best benches in SF, with an awesome view of the Golden Gate Bridge. The Legion of Honor also does organ recitals every Saturaday and Sunday at 4pm, and they're currently showing a ton of Rodin and they also have an exhibition of early Monet going on if you pay extra.

The de Young Museum is also awesome, as is the MoMA. The 16th Ave. Tiled Stairs are cool, too.

I used to walk over the Golden Gate Bridge every week. It's about a 2 mile walk, and you can take the bus to the far side, walk over it, and take the bus back from the near side.
posted by alphanerd at 12:58 PM on March 6, 2017

I found the tour of Alcatraz to be very interesting and educational.
posted by mmascolino at 1:00 PM on March 6, 2017

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions. It's going to be a pretty tough to choose from all this. And thanks for the weather tips too. I'm a cold person so I could have been really unprepared.

We're going to see Regina Spektor (I would do both, but my companion would not and they're coming to Atlanta in May anyways.)
posted by LizBoBiz at 1:04 PM on March 6, 2017

Most people BART to Downtown Berkeley and walk up to the Greek Theater for concerts. There is really limited parking and they usually close off the road in front of the theater, so traffic tends to be really bad on concert nights. I would not bother with a Lyft from BART, but I walk around campus every day so it's just normal. It usually not a bad walk and you get to see the campus with loads of other folks. It's uphill, but not a steep climb.

I really like wandering around the Outer Sunset/Ocean Beach, which you can ride Muni to. It's also fun to check out Sausalito/Tiburon. You might consider a ferry ride back?
posted by kendrak at 1:14 PM on March 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

-It's touristy, but as a local I had a ton of fun at the SF Dungeon on Fisherman's Wharf. It's like an interactive play featuring SF history.
-I don't recommend riding a cable car, but if you do, do not wait in line at Union Square. Catch it at another stop along the route, you won't have to wait.
-FunCheapSF is a great resource
-Urban Putt in the Mission can be fun. It's an adult indoor mini-golf place that serves cocktails. The courses are pretty interesting/high-tech. It gets crowded on the weekends (like everything).
-Picnicking in Dolores Park in the Mission is a thing, especially on the weekend
-Everyone will tell you to get a burrito in the Mission. They're good, but I highly highly recommend checking out this torta place Torta Los Picudos if you make it far enough into the Mission (it's kind of deep). The carnitas torta with everything and queso fresco is my favorite food. Ever. The vegetarian one is also amazing if you like mushrooms.
-Golden Gate Park is really fantastic. The Japanese Tea Garden is awesome, but if you don't want to pay money, hanging out/picnicking in front of the Conservatory of Flowers is pretty nice.
-If you're into music/record collecting at all, definitely check out Amoeba (in the Haight, you can stop by on the way to Golden Gate Park)
-Also, the Alembic is a phenomenal cocktail bar (in the Upper Haight, right down the street from Amoeba/the park)
-If you plan on going to any restaurants that aren't fast-casual, I highly recommend trying to make reservations. I usually take people from out of town to Limon (there are 2 in the Mission), they have excellent food, yummy sangria and it's affordable.

For orientation:
-If you want to explore the Mission the most lively areas for restaurants/shops are Mission & Valencia, between 15th-25th-ish
-You can walk from the Lower Haight (Haight & Fillmore-ish) to the Upper Haight (ends at Stanyan which is the beginning of Golden Gate Park). There's also a lot of stuff on Divisadero between Page & Fulton.
posted by ad4pt at 1:42 PM on March 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

You've got a ton of good ideas already for a two day stay.

Two resources you may find useful:

FuncheapSF for hyper local events, shows, outings, etc.

EaterSF for restaurant recommendations.
posted by notyou at 1:45 PM on March 6, 2017

The Tonga Room is a little bit touristy and tacky as hell, but it's awesome. It's an elaborate tiki bar where you drink liquor out of an enormous vase. There's either canned music, or a live band that floats on the pool! One of the cable cars goes right by there.

I would personally not bother with a transit pass-- I'd put my money into Lyft (Not cabs. Cabs are unreliable in SF.) It takes an hour and a half to cross a distance on transit that takes 15-20 minutes in a car, and it's much harder to get lost with a driver. Other than the cable cars or the historic F train, short hops of ten minutes or less between attractions, or potentially the 38 Geary (because it's a 24-hour line, consistent, and kind of an interesting trip) you might want to budget for cars. Lyft is better than a rental car because parking is a pain in the neck (all that time you saved by driving? Gone.)
posted by blnkfrnk at 2:24 PM on March 6, 2017

seconding the tonga room! pagan idol is a newer tiki bar but also really fun (not as kitschy as the tonga room though). if the weather is nice, i'd recommend brunch or happy hour at the ramp in mission bay; it's right on the water. also just for you cafe in the dogpatch has awesome beignets.

the legion of honor is my favorite sf museum, even though it's a bit of a trek to get to. if you're out that way, the bitter end (an irish-ish bar in the richmond) has a great pub quiz on tuesday nights. the de young and the academy of sciences are also wonderful, and the botanical gardens are spectacular especially when the weather is nice.

definitely bart and walk to the greek - the berkeley campus is really pretty (i'm biased though as an alum). and most importantly wear like three more layers than you think you need to and maybe even bring some mittens or something!! it gets soooo cold in the upper seating areas.
posted by burgerrr at 2:43 PM on March 6, 2017

I found this free map super helpful: The Best Walks in San Francisco
posted by ringu0 at 2:56 PM on March 6, 2017

Two fun bus rides:

The 1-California, which goes from near the Ferry Building at the end of Market, through Chinatown, Nob Hill, up and down some famous steep hills, and eventually to the aforementioned Legion of Honor/Land's End labyrinth/Sutro Baths ruins. Stop in the Inner Richmond for Green Apple Books and food.

You can ride the 38 or 5 to connect back to...

The 33-Stanyan, from the Inner Richmond to the Mission. Also goes up and down, passes by Golden Gate Park, through the middle of Haight-Ashbury, up around Twin Peaks through some neat residential neighborhoods (with great views), down through the Castro and into the center of the Mission.
posted by alexei at 3:21 PM on March 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

Are the two of you interested at all in food? The food and drink scene in SF and its environs is world class (unlike the architecture, public transit, cleanliness, night-owl-ness, etc...).

I can think of a dozen places that would, by themselves, be worth coming to the bay area for. Not just fine dining but all levels--e.g., we have a place that was named best restaurant of the year by Bon Appetit AND the winner of Nate Silver's burrito bracket. I would also say that there are even better examples than either of those two, in their respective categories.
posted by danny the boy at 4:03 PM on March 6, 2017

As a fellow tourist, I'll just Nth strong recommendations for the Tonga Room, the Seward St. Slides, Muir Woods, Land's End (best combined with a greasy breakfast at Louis'), and add BBQ Pork Buns at dim sum take out joints in Chinatown.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:23 AM on March 7, 2017

La Taqueria is highly overrated. They don't toast the tortillas for their burritos, which IMHO should be punishable by death, or, worse, permanent exile to Arizona.

Which burritos you should eat is it's own enormous thread, but I tend to suggest Taqueria Cancun as a good starting place for visitors. If you go with your friend, I recommend getting one super burrito and 2-3 tacos to share.

Social Kitchen and Brewery has incredible beers in the Inner Sunset, probably a 15 minute walk from the deYoung. Their food is merely fine, so I recommend going to Marnee Thai or Mana for Korean afterward.
posted by Aizkolari at 5:01 PM on March 7, 2017

Response by poster: As it turns out, I will be spending another day in California, this time in Sacramento. I don't know if this should be a different ask, but if you have any suggestions for Sacramento, I would be so grateful!
posted by LizBoBiz at 7:52 AM on March 8, 2017

You *need* to go to the Italian Homemade Company for lunch, and Mymy for breakfast/brunch.

We stayed at the Coventry Motor Inn which is in the Marina/Cow Hollow district and was clean, quiet, and had free parking.
posted by getawaysticks at 2:36 PM on March 8, 2017

Oooh Sacramento! The zoo is pretty good, but the Railroad Museum is AWESOME. From the museum, you can walk to the historic waterfront which has cute little shops and restaurants.

Sacramento also has the California Governor's Mansion, which is pretty neat, and lots of other Capitol-related stuff.

Rent a car in Sacramento. They have some transit, but it's not San Francisco.
posted by blnkfrnk at 4:34 PM on March 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

« Older Best travel gadgets/accessories for frequent...   |   Reusable Grocery Bag Nirvana Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.