how to business trip, San Francisco edition
March 27, 2019 6:41 AM   Subscribe

Hi Hive Mind! I'm confirmed for a business trip in San Francisco for the end of April (21-29, not counting travel). I'm from Central Europe, this is my first business trip and my first US trip. I have questions.

Can you please 1) give advice on business trips in general and 2) spending free time in SF / California in general?

We will arrive on the 20th of April and have 21st for sightseeing. This will be organized by our local(ish) colleagues. Still, it'd be nice to have some ideas on what to do on a Sunday in SF. Are there unique events happening on that day, that I shouldn't miss?

From 22nd on to 26th, we'll spend every day in the office, so we can plan only for after hours activities. The office is not in SF proper, but in Pleasanton, our hotel will also be here. I already spotted the Lawrence Livermore Labs next door, but are there any other attractions nearby, that we can check out after office hours?

After the work week, we opted to spend some extra time in CA on our own budget, heading back home on the 30th of April. For Saturday we already planned checking out Yosemite National Park, but for Sunday and Monday, we have nothing fixed yet. I'm thinking about driving around California to check out interesting sites, and find AirBn'B or some motels on the way. But if that's not a good idea for some reason, then we could stay at the same hotel and do excursions on both days.

Do you have any advice how to organize this trip? What to check out on the first sightseeing day, what to do on the work week, what to visit on Sunday and Monday? Some preferences of mine (not necessarily the same as my colleagues):

  • I'd like to check out Kenji Lopez's Wursthall, while I'm there. Should I book way in advance, or can someone just walk in? By the way, should we go there, or are there better, more unique places you recommend. Mind you, we are pretty opinionated on the sausage, sauerkraut and lager front.

  • Sunday is Easter Sunday - is there an Eastern Catholic church somewhere around SF?

  • Are there any good bookstores especially with an eye towards science, math and leftist politics? Not necessarily in the same shop, though that would be interesting.

  • I'd like to know more about the history of SF, and it's social and labour movements and it's connection to the history of science and technology. (not just SV, obviously..) What should I read and what should I check out once I'm there.

  • Where should I go look for souvenirs and gifts for the family at home? Simply go for the airport shops or is there a better place?

  • What to expect in terms of culture shock? What are the expected behaviours in SF, both in a business setting, and outside of the office? What are the big no-nos? What would be the most shocking, weird thing for someone from CE?

  • While we are at the culture thing: what to expect on the border, and how to behave on the streets? For instance, what to do in case of a traffic stop, or in case police would like to see our ID? Perhaps we get only the worst news from the US, but one cannot be cautious enough if there are so many guns around.

  • What else should one look out for on a trip like this? Are there any suggested checklists that I can use? Generic travel advice?
  • posted by kmt to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (37 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
    Best answer: Welcome (soon) to California. Firstly, you won't find people carrying guns in San Francisco except the cops.
    One of the most striking things to me about San Francisco is the very high homeless population. This will upset anyone with a conscience. Mental health and housing resources in SF are scarce. It is problematic. I wish I could say something positive about it, but I can't.

    If you're planning Yosemite, it's a 3 1/2 hour drive from SF. I'd plan for somewhere to stay the night in the area, especially during easter week. A lot of people are traveling and you might have a difficult time finding a place.

    I tend to think of Europeans as being more travel savvy than Americans in general, so I tend to think you'll be better prepared than you think.

    Others will be more helpful with the other questions.
    posted by Sophie1 at 6:56 AM on March 27, 2019 [6 favorites]

    Oh, and with the cops, just stay as calm and still as you can and follow directions carefully. Keep your hands visible. Unfortunately, that's the best advice I have.
    posted by Sophie1 at 6:57 AM on March 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

    Don't forget to factor in jet lag. You may not be awake enough to do much for your first few days.
    posted by k8t at 7:06 AM on March 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

    Best answer: Are there any good bookstores especially with an eye towards science, math and leftist politics?

    Go checkout City Lights which is historic and socially important. They're celebrating Ferlinghetti's birthday right now The bookstore itself is pretty much at the intersection of Chinatown and North Beach and a great place to walk around and just get a sense of the city.

    What to expect in terms of culture shock?

    Yeah, Europeans I know come back shocked at the number of homeless people living on the streets, especially in such a wealthy city the contrast is shocking.
    That said, San Francisco is among the more 'European' of American cities and very liberal and so many of the worst stereotypes of America (gun-toting, flag-waving, etc) are not to be seen there.

    Expect people on the street, in shops, elevators, etc. to just start talking to you. This is usually just Americans being friendly and much more common in the US than in Europe. Americans are chatty.

    What are the expected behaviours in SF, both in a business setting, and outside of the office?

    No cheek-kissing or hugging when greeting, like in Europe. Only handshakes. Also avoid casual touches, especially touching a member of the opposite sex. In Europe, casually grabbing someones shoulder and such is much more common, in the US it is not to be done, particularly in the workplace.

    Saturday we already planned checking out Yosemite National Park, but for Sunday and Monday, we have nothing fixed yet.

    If you like Nature, you can also drive north along the coast to Muir Woods (to see Redwoods) or Point Reyes or south to Big Sur too or, since you are next to the Pacific Ocean, grab a whale watching tour as you are there at the start of the humpback whale migrations.
    posted by vacapinta at 7:14 AM on March 27, 2019 [7 favorites]

    Beware of the tipping culture- you don’t just round up in the US and tips are a significant income component for people working in the service industry.

    2nding that Yosemite is not really a day trip, at least if you don’t want to spend the whole, very long day, in the car. I would recommend both Alcatraz and a trip to Muir woods. Easter is not a four day weekend like in parts of Europe but may well be busy regardless.
    posted by koahiatamadl at 7:16 AM on March 27, 2019 [4 favorites]

    Best answer: re: tipping - you will see places in SF that add charges to your bill which may be described as "SF employer mandated health fee" or the like - THIS IS NOT A GRATUITY - it is an itemization of money collected by employers required under SF city law to provide healthcare. Some places will explicitly say if they include service, but most places dont - in general a 20% tip (on the total amount of the bill before tax) is the norm, though some people live in the past and think its 15%. most americans acknowledge that our tipping culture is weird and bad - if you have colleagues its would not be odd to remark on it/ask them for a reality check.

    agree with sophie that yosemite isnt a day trip, seconding others who have suggested muir woods for some easy-ish to get to nature (i believe you can no longer drive there and musts park at an off site lot and take a bus, its worth looking up but also worth doing).

    mission dolores should be having a do for easter sunday - its the original spanish church for which colonial SF was founded.

    eat a burrito, it sort of doesnt matter where (i am a native sf-ian who could have a 5+ hour debate on the merits of various burrito spots but for your purposes most/any would be serviceable - though its touristy La taqueria is famous for a reason).

    wursthall is casual and i easily walked in for lunch the one time i was there - its semi-destination bc of kenji but honestly its a neighborhood type place in an upscale bedroom community/suburb (with a cute enough downtown). food was terrific and its definitely worth your visit although it isnt the most san franciscan feeling menu i could think of - for me i'd send you to Rich Table, The Progress, or maybe Delfina. its also directionally very far from pleasanton, and bay area traffic is no joke.
    posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 7:29 AM on March 27, 2019 [6 favorites]

    A lot of the stereotypes about America are true. Americans are LOUD, there is a lot of plaid, lots of things are fried, there is a different sense of personal space, and there is just so. much. stuff.

    For cultural fieldtrips, I would 100% genuinely suggest going to a WalMart and a grocery store.
    posted by DarlingBri at 7:29 AM on March 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

    One day barely gets you out to Yosemite - it's 3.5 hours drive, as mentioned above. If you can't find a place to stay over night and feel adventurous, consider sleeping in your car in the park.
    posted by notsnot at 7:32 AM on March 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

    Best answer: This is my personal bias, but I'd double down on the Yosemite trip - it's one of my favorite places on the planet and I'd say plan to spend 1-2 days there, enjoying the drive over, spending at least the night, and then enjoying the drive back. It will still be early season, but the valley should be open even though the Tioga Road will be closed. So I'd take that trip and mix it in with the "driving around California" - it's my home state, and it is so changeable and so beautiful and that whole area will be amazing - the drive from SF to the park is already a broad view - you go through agricultural areas, you go through foothills, you see real mountains, it's all just...really great. I'd do *that* as a 2-3 day loop and really feel like you've seen something.
    posted by annabear at 7:35 AM on March 27, 2019 [10 favorites]

    Firstly, you won't find people carrying guns in San Francisco except the cops.

    Also the criminals! Signed, someone who knows multiple people who have been robbed at gunpoint (some of whom were shot or pistol-whipped) within San Francisco/Oakland city limits. I agree there is not a lot of legal gun carrying going on in the city, but there is a higher-than-US-average amount of gun-related crime in the bad parts of the city (and even the good parts at night).

    OP, the gun crime you need to worry about as a tourist in America is really just muggings. You are not going to encounter a mass shooting (which mostly happen places where the shooter has some connection), or a police-involved shooting unless you are miraculously unlucky. And the odds of you being mugged in SF are extremely low—probably lower than many European cities!—but the muggings are more likely to involve a gun than Europe, which means each individual mugging is incrementally more dangerous. But muggings don’t happen in broad daylight in tourist areas, even in SF. Just keep your wits about you, don’t go into neighborhoods that feel “rough,” don’t wander around drunk and alone at 3 am, and you will be absolutely fine.

    Echoing the recommendation to hang out in Yosemite for as long as you can, especially this time of year!
    posted by suncages at 7:52 AM on March 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

    Best answer: San Francisco is an international city. Think of it as Amsterdam, but with slightly more casual dress in the offices. Nothing will be hard.

    Livermore isn't really a thing to visit, especially as a non-citizen. (At least it wasn't when I was there ten years ago. Unless you've already got a badge as part of the trip.) If you want a science museum experience, the Lawrence Hall of Science and the Chabot Space Center are better choices. (They're both pretty kid-focused, but they have some neat historic things.) At the risk of offending people in Pleasanton, there's nothing in Pleasanton worth visiting except some nice bike rides. But, it's a quick BART ride to SF, Oakland, or Berkeley. I'd suggest getting out of town as much as possible.

    Spending one day in Yosemite without at least a night in the park seems like a very long day of driving, but I guess in principle one could do it. There are lots of other parks - Muir woods, the Marin headlands, Tilden, at a larger distance Point Reyes, that are much more reasonable day trips and will show you natural beauty that's at least 80% as fantastic as Yosemite.

    Is "Eastern Catholic" the similar to "Eastern Orthodox" or "Greek?" There are some beautiful examples of both in SF. Holy Trinity in the Russian Hill (north central SF) is beautiful, and I'm sure they'll have a midnight service. There are many others.

    For souvenirs, Paxton Gate is spendy but genuinely local and neat. Sourdough bread is expected. Random artwork from the street vendors on Telegraph avenue in Berkeley also works.

    My only real advice is not to under-estimate the size of California. It takes as long to cross the Bay Area as it does to cross Ireland. One can easily spend three full days just walking around SF itself and eating good food.
    posted by eotvos at 7:54 AM on March 27, 2019 [5 favorites]

    California is roughly as big as France, obviously not the same shape. There is a mountain range along the coast, another range inland, creating a Long Valley. I lived in SF briefly, have visited and traveled there, and geography defines a lot about the state. If you get a chance to take the Pacific Coast Highway even part of the way, the scenic beauty is spectacular. Monterey has a lot to offer. Distances in the US, esp. in the west, are great, and we're mostly used to it; most Europeans are not. It takes longer than you think to get places. I agree that spending more time in Yosemite makes sense.

    I enjoyed a visit to Coit Tower, with views of the city and labor-inspired murals. City Lights Bookstore, definitely. You may find the United Farm Workers of interest. You will go through the Valley and will be in the areas organized by the UFW, on your way to Yosemite.

    For souvenirs, ask work colleagues where to get the promotional swag that all the big tech companies give out; SF should be hip deep in that stuff. Backpacks, keychains, mugs, office gadgets. You'll likely want to go to Fisherman's Wharf where there are many places to get gifts.

    Have an excellent trip.
    posted by theora55 at 7:57 AM on March 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

    Hmm. On reflection, you're definitely not going to find Greek Easter church services on April 21. You should ignore all my advice about churches.
    posted by eotvos at 8:05 AM on March 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

    eat a burrito, it sort of doesnt matter where
    Maybe everyone else knows this already, but I learned recently that "burrito" is Spanish for "small burro", or "small donkey". It is so named because a donkey can carry many different kinds of load, so, by extension, you can put many different kinds of ingredients in a burrito.

    Carry on.
    posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:13 AM on March 27, 2019 [4 favorites]

    Pleasanton is 40 miles outside San Francisco. Given traffic, you're not going to be driving into San Francisco after work on your Pleasanton work days, and the only things nearby that will be open in the evening are restaurants and bars, maybe a bookstore if you're lucky. BART back into SF will take about an hour each way. It's your standard American corporate suburb; the office you're going to will likely be in one of those office parks where there's nothing nearby of interest and you have to hop in your car just to go find lunch. Beyond having to stay at your Pleasanton hotel for work, I would strongly recommend finding different hotels for your actual "vacation" days.

    How I would do this:

    April 20th: Arrive. Presuming you're flying into SFO (and not OAK or SJC), book a hotel in San Francisco proper.
    April 21st: Store your luggage with the bell captain at your SF-based hotel, and do whatever touristy things you were planning to do in SF on this day. Have an early dinner, then make the transfer from your SF-based hotel to your Pleasanton hotel for work. It will either be a very expensive taxi ride, or BART with one transfer, plus getting a taxi from the BART station closest to your work hotel.
    April 22-26: work during the day, find East-Bay-based restaurants for dinner. It'll probably take you 45 minutes to get up to Berkeley, but I would say it's worth it for at least one dinner.
    April 26-29: drive to Yosemite the evening of the 26th - yes, traffic will be awful, it always is on Friday nights, but better to already be in the park and able to get an early start on whatever you want to see on the Saturday - and then return the morning of the 29th to avoid the equally awful Sunday traffic on the 28th.
    Yosemite: this is, as others have mentioned, not a "day trip" thing. You want at bare minimum two full days in the park to walk, bike, hike around to the things you want to see in a semi-relaxed manner.
    April 29: return to SF, drop your bags at your SF-based hotel, do one more day of SF-based things that you didn't get to see on Sunday the 21st. Or if you want to check out Berkeley, make it a Berkeley-based hotel and do Berkeley-based things! Berkeley and SF will both have cheerfully leftist (Moe's in Berkeley, City Lights in SF) bookstores. Science and math-based bookstores will be harder; maybe the Cal Student Store four blocks away from Moe's will have science and math textbooks for courses, at least? Cody's is, alas, long gone.
    April 30: presuming your flight is not a morning flight, enjoy SF. If Wursthall is a priority, this is when I would try to do it, either for lunch or for dinner, because San Mateo is relatively close to SFO.

    HOWEVER - when you say that you are "Eastern Catholic," does that mean that you will be observing Easter on the 28th (which in the US will generally be referred to as "Eastern Orthodox" Easter), rather than on the 21st (which in the US will be the non-qualified just-plain "Easter")? If that's the case, I think you're going to have to make a choice between observing Easter in an Eastern Orthodox church and going to Yosemite. The closest Eastern Orthodox churches to the Yosemite Valley are all at least two hours drive away from the main part of Yosemite.
    posted by Pandora Kouti at 8:14 AM on March 27, 2019 [4 favorites]

    Im back to cop to knowing very very little about religion, and not fully comprehending your request for an Eastern Catholic church - Mission Dolores would be very much Latin (i had to read up about the difference between Eastern/Latin Catholic and Eastern Orthodox to even kind of get a basis for saying this).

    That said, if your flexible enough that you do end up checking it out, and you want some decidedly a-religiousity to follow that experience, the Hunky Jesus Contest as part of the 40th annual Easter in the Park hosted by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. It may not be typically american but its one of the most distinctively SF experiences you could hope for - as the article says theres a family friendly portion and then some slighlyt more risque parts. The cross dressing nuns have separate bags of easter-eggs filled with either candy or condoms+candy depending on the age of the person theyre handing them out to. its a real scene.
    posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 8:16 AM on March 27, 2019 [5 favorites]

    Best answer: That's a lot of questions! They are good questions though.

    Just so you don't have the wrong idea; Pleasanton is not San Francisco. It's not even really a suburb of SF. Expect an hour+ drive to get anywhere in SF or on the Peninsula, like the Wursthall. The good news is for SF you can take BART (a commuter train), so you don't have to drive. I would definitely recommend renting a car for this trip though. I'd also consider spending 4/20 and 4/21 in a hotel / AirBnB in San Francisco itself. And get out of Pleasanton as soon as you can on 4/26 or 4/27. It's not a bad town, but you will be bored of it after several days.

    I don't believe Livermore Labs is set up for visitors. They do offer some tours but they take some advance scheduling.

    You say you arrive April 20; that happens to be an unofficial holiday of sorts, 4/20 day, where tens of thousands of people gather in Golden Gate Park to smoke marijuana and hang out. It would be a great introduction to SF in some ways. OTOH I avoid the whole area like the plague that day myself; too many people. It would probably be a bad idea to plan a visit to that the day you arrive and are jet lagged. But it is a special event, so I mention it.

    If you had several days in SF I'd recommend going to visit Alcatraz. It's an interesting tour, an excuse to take a boat on the water, and it requires advance planning for tickets. But you really only have one day so I'd follow the lead of your local colleagues instead, go where they suggest. SF has enough interesting neighborhoods you can spend the whole day just walking around. North Beach / Chinatown / Coit Tower is a good day, for instance. City Lights Books will definitely meet your desire for a bookstore. So is the Embarcadero / Ferry Building combined with a visit out to the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park or something.

    San Francisco has several Orthodox churches, mostly to serve the local Russian population. And there's more in the Bay Area in general. The big landmark Russian church in SF is the Holy Virgin Cathedral. I have no idea what services are like there, but I think it's a big congregation.

    I've yet to be to Wursthall yet and am curious myself. But if I were coming from Middle Europe it's the last place I'd go; it's a simulation of what you live with every day. I'd expect not to need a reservation on a weekday, probably not on a weekend either.

    I take your cultural question about guns and police with some shame, but I don't blame you for asking. In practice it's not nearly as bad as you'd think from the headlines. Hopefully you're doing immigration in San Francisco: that's usually a pretty good experience. It's very unlikely you will interact with police at all. As several people have said SF does have a serious homeless problem. Most of the homeless people are harmless but it's wretched and depressing. And a few have violent outbursts on the street, particularly in some of the tourist areas. It's safe enough, but pay attention and steer around anyone who looks dangerous. There's parts of SF in the Tenderloin I'd avoid at night, ask your local friends for advice if you need it.

    Yosemite is an excellent idea. I'd recommend spending the night in the park or nearby; you need to book a place right now if you want to do that. One nice trip from Yosemite is to drive up 49 through the old Gold Country. Sutter Creek is a nice little tourist town, so is Columbia. Also nearby up in the hills is Murphys, CA. That's got a lot of good tourist hotels and restaurants, a wine tasting circuit in the town itself, and puts you near Calaveras Big Trees State Park. That's a good dose of beautiful California for you without too much driving. (Google Maps shows several Orthodox Churches in this area, but I have no idea what they are.)
    posted by Nelson at 8:18 AM on March 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

    Best answer:
    eat a burrito, it sort of doesnt matter where
    This is true. But, if you're going to make a specific trip for it, go to Puerto Allegre on 16th and Velencia in the mission district, a block from 16th street BART. They make the best burritos in the known world. The wet pork one with crema is worth crossing the country for. (The others are also good, including the veggie options.)
    posted by eotvos at 8:30 AM on March 27, 2019 [4 favorites]

    Response by poster: Wow, thanks for all the answers so far! I'm digesting all of them and discussing it with colleagues, and I won't threadsit, but I noticed one thing that could cause some confusion. The Eastern Catholic Churches are a weird bunch: they are in communion with Rome, but have a mostly orthodox rite, with married priests and a healthy outlook on life. They are mostly found in Eastern Europe. I'm not particularly religious, but usually attend to service on Easter and Christmas out of habit and tradition, and just wanted to check out if they can be found in the SF area. They celebrate Easter according the Gregorian calendar (21st this year) hence the question for the first Sunday sightseeing.

    Again, thanks for all the wonderful answers and advice, please keep them coming!
    posted by kmt at 8:39 AM on March 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

    Best answer: Redwoods and Giant Sequoias are only found on the US West Coast and are amazing trees. Muir Woods is the best known place to see Redwoods in the SF Bay Area, and therefore is an extremely crowded place. Other options include Big Basin State Park south of SF or Armstrong Redwoods State Park in Sonoma County north of SF (can be combined with wine tasting if you are into that). Those parks can get crowded too, but not as much as Muir Woods IMHO.

    Giant Sequoia are a Sierra Nevada tree -- if you go to Yosemite, south of Yosemite valley is Mariposa Grove which has a lot of Sequoias. There is also a Sequoia National Park, but it is even farther away from the SF Bay Area than Yosemite.

    Hope you have a great trip!
    posted by elmay at 8:59 AM on March 27, 2019 [4 favorites]

    Apologies for mixing up Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches. We do have a few Eastern Catholic options. I believe Our Lady of Fatima in SF qualifies, it's out in the Richmond District near the museums in Golden Gate Park (like the De Young, which is worth a visit). Their website also lists some nearby Eastern Catholic Churches.
    posted by Nelson at 9:14 AM on March 27, 2019

    I live on the Peninsula and frequent Wursthall. The menu is quite interesting but for a visitor from Eastern Europe, moreso for the "experimental" items (e.g. Kenji's take on Korean fried chicken) than the sausage/sauerkraut/lager front (still good, but probably not better than back home).

    Wursthall doesn't take reservations for parties smaller than 10. There's a wait at peak dinner hours on weekends (6-8pm), but I went there recently on a Monday night and just walked in.

    +1 to make sure you check Google Maps commute times at peak hours. Pleasanton is usually over an hour's drive to both SF and the Peninsula.
    posted by serelliya at 9:28 AM on March 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

    Best answer: So it's true that Pleasanton is more like being at, say, Charles de Gualle Airport rather than the heart of Paris. However there is quite a bit that I feel like a visitor from Europe would find interesting. First, the Asian food! Sri Venkatesh in Pleasanton is great for southern Indian food, which is worlds different from the curry shops you see everywhere. Dosas, idli, uthappam, sambar, it's all incredible and very affordable. A new shopping center opened up, Pacific Pearl, that has ramen, sushi, bubble tea, dim sum, all well done for the local clientele (English is obviously the lingua franca here). Hit the 99 Ranch Market, a pan-Asian supermarket that is worth seeing just for the seafood tanks. For real corn-fed American meat, try Hap's Steakhouse in Pleasanton. In general the restaurants and sights are not up to the standards of San Francisco but the Asian food is. The "San Francisco" Premium Outlets are next door in Livermore, where I have heard visitors say they found American brands like Levis and Coach at reasonable prices to take back. Certainly that will have better prices for commodity goods, even high-end ones, than you'll find either in SF or the airport. Livermore Labs has a visitors center but there's not that much to see. I would skip it.
    posted by wnissen at 9:44 AM on March 27, 2019 [7 favorites]

    Best answer: The other thing you might be interested in is San Francisco's Chinatown. Chinese immigrants came to San Francisco in the 1850s doing a huge amount of the labor on the transcontinental railroad in the west. The history of the Chinese in SF is devastating and amazing. There are several museums and historical sites on this site that you may want to visit. Also, eat Chinese food in Chinatown!
    posted by Sophie1 at 10:58 AM on March 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

    I'd like to check out Kenji Lopez's Wursthall, while I'm there. Should I book way in advance, or can someone just walk in? By the way, should we go there, or are there better, more unique places you recommend. Mind you, we are pretty opinionated on the sausage, sauerkraut and lager front.

    My phone suggests "serious eats" as soon as I type "s", so I get being a Kenji fan, but as a semi-frequent SF area visitor I would pass on Wursthall; I'm sure it's good, but San Francisco is one of the great food cities in the world, and has endless great things to eat - Northern California cuisine, everything Latin American based, everything from Asia. Wursthall isn't close to where you're staying, and not close to anything I would put on the short list for a first time visitor (except the airport). You'll pass literally a thousand restaurants as interesting on the way there.
    posted by Homeboy Trouble at 11:06 AM on March 27, 2019

    If you're seriously concerned about guns, there's really just two smallish, connected parts of SF to avoid, they are where you'll find the most prevalence of drug dealing / taking going on, which you will see on the streets if you go there. They're called the Tenderloin, and SOMA (for South of Market), but really only the few blocks between 5th and 9th that are close to Market, the street that divides the TL from SOMA. That part of Market can get pretty gritty too, particularly around the BART stations.

    I've seen a gun not on a police officer twice in my 6 years of living here, one in the TL and one in SOMA, and the first one only because I volunteer there with a transitional housing program. Most weekdays I transit through both neighborhoods and never really worry about guns. SF essentially outlaws anyone but the police and sheriffs to carry here. The rest of CA is a bit more lenient with its laws/enforcement, people can generally get concealed carry permits, but you would be hard pressed to ever find someone open carrying unless they were actually on a hunting trip. Unlike Texas.

    I'm generally of the opinion that you're best off not engaging with SFPD at all if you can avoid it. It's no Chicago police department, but it doesn't exactly have a great record either. I would assume if you're non-white that this goes triply so, at a minimum.
    posted by allkindsoftime at 11:12 AM on March 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

    Best answer: For some interesting labor history, hit up Coit Tower. Also, the city has some great free walking tours if you want to have someone guide you around and educate you on the history of places here.
    posted by allkindsoftime at 11:17 AM on March 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

    Best answer: OK, more thoughts. +1 on the Coit tower murals and view of the city. ++1 on traffic. I have taken 2.5 hours to get into SF from Pleasanton. The traffic does follow predictable inbound/outbound rush hours in this area at least, so you can get into the city in the evening in probably a bit less than an hour. But I would really not recommend driving up to Berkeley for dinner. You can spend your entire time driving/BARTing.

    There's a light bulb in Livermore that has been burning for a century, that's probably the major tourist attraction. Pleasanton has a number of nice wineries (Ruby Hill is historic, decent wines), though the prices will probably shock you given cellar door prices in Europe. Weirdly in the US the winery charges the highest price of any store! You can go to the Costco, a (literally, physically) oversized American cultural experience all itself, and buy alcohol without a membership under California law, if you explain that is what you're doing. They have by far the best prices on wines, way better than the duty free anywhere.

    I am not at all sold on the superiority of Mission (SF) burritos. Find out where your co-workers go. One tip, the burrito (though fully adopted as a California food at this point) is Tex-Mex in origin, as are pretty much anything made from a flour tortilla. But almost every taqueria or "Mexican" restaurant has at least a couple dishes on the menu that are region Mexican specialties. You will have to ask, but often the are rendered with exceptional faithfulness. For instance the place near us has a skirt steak and cactus platter that is truly spectacular, that originates from Tamaulipas just south of Texas. Or all the "moles", which are ground spice mixtures that vary all over Mexico and are served over a variety of dishes. But tip 20% at a restaurant. The nicer places, good service is edging toward 25%. Europeans are notorious for bad tipping, you will really put your server at ease if you let them know at the beginning that you understand the system. It's a bad system, few dispute that, but it's the system we have. The tip is not an optional gratuity for unusually good service, it is half their wage or more.

    I would skip Yosemite unless you really, really like those stark Western vistas. There are so many places to see iconically Californian trees and landscapes that don't involve a long drive in traffic. Heck, there is a nice grove of redwoods in Redwood Regional Park less than 30 minutes from Pleasanton. Or go up to Marin around Point Reyes and see the pines on the ocean.
    posted by wnissen at 11:47 AM on March 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

    Best answer: Many good points upthread. A couple I would add:

    Under no circumstances should you ever leave anything valuable in your rental car, especially when you're in San Francisco. Go to any lengths to avoid that -- automobile break-ins are rampant all over the Bay Area and it just isn't worth the risk. Not even in a parking garage!

    While you're in Pleasanton, you're within striking distance of some excellent restaurants in the East Bay, which would be rather closer than San Francisco. It might be worth booking a table at Dyafa or Nido or Duende for one of your weeknight dinners.

    You should give Yosemite no less than 2 days, you'll want it.

    As an alternative to Alcatraz, you might consider Angel Island State Park, which has views equal to Alcatraz and a lot more opportunities to stretch your legs. The ride out on the ferry is lovely, and you can rent a bike to ride around, or hike to the summit for the views. (Just make sure you look up what Poison Oak looks like beforehand...)
    posted by suelac at 12:46 PM on March 27, 2019 [5 favorites]

    Best answer: A note regarding taxis -- SF is no longer a place (well, it never was to be honest) where you can catch an available taxi on the street in a reasonable amount of time. This goes double for outlying areas like Pleasanton. Everyone here uses either the Uber or Lyft app, which are safe, reliable, and will arrive in just a few minutes. BART (the subway system) is a good alternative, especially if you're trying to go into the city during rush hour. Also note that the local bus and light rail service (MUNI) is different from BART. You will need a separate ticket to ride buses and light rail, though concurrent trips will allow transfers in some cases. If you plan to use public transit, you will need exact change ($2.25 per person in cash, which will get you a 2 hour ticket). Google Maps will give you travel times for public transit as well as driving, and tell you what train or bus to catch.

    Also, be prepared for a variety of temperatures depending on where you are and what time it is. The coastal areas are quite chilly, and expect a temp drop in SF proper around 3-4 pm when the fog rolls in. Inland areas are warmer, but it's not the endless summer you get in places like Los Angeles. I see a lot of tourists shivering in summer clothing between April and August, and the street vendors selling sweatshirts generally get good business from this common mistake.

    If Yosemite seems like too much for such a short trip, an excellent alternative is to visit the Chabot or Redwood Regional parks which are beautiful and unique and have lots of great hiking at all levels. Also they're free.

    The Bay Area in general has an amazing foodie culture, and you can get excellent food in pretty much any cuisine type you want here, in SF and the East Bay. Yelp is a decent way to poke around and find out what's good. If you have the budget for a fancy meal, Chez Panisse in Berkeley is a local icon: the foundation of both California cuisine and the farm-to-table / "slow food" movement. You will need a reservation. Very worth it.

    Enjoy your trip!
    posted by ananci at 1:00 PM on March 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

    Best answer: To answer some more of your questions, one of the culture shocks may be that absolutely nothing is closed for Easter. Certainly not any museum or retail establishment that you would want to visit. A state or government office might have it as a holiday.

    Or maybe the cost of health care. Be sure you have some kind of supplemental policy. My wife cut her finger, not badly but we couldn't fully stop the bleeding so we went to the emergency room (A&E in UK English). By the time she was seen, the bleeding had stopped so they put a bandage on it. Took about 2 hours. The initial price was $1500 for the exam and bandage! We have insurance, I think they negotiated the price down so it was "only" $500. You can get treated at a hospital for any serious or life-threatening condition without insurance or payment, but don't risk it.

    Or the casual clothing? You could go all day without seeing someone in a suit, even at work. Unless your company is very formal, they are going to laugh at anyone wearing a tie. Not that you can't (I do, for fun).

    The history of Silicon Valley is quite interesting. The usual book is "Hackers" by Stephen Levy, but I also like "Accidental Empires" by Robert X. Cringely. If you're really into computer hardware, the Computer History Museum in Mountain View is comprehensive.

    I forgot to mention the layers. Pleasanton is very nice the time of year you're visiting, but San Francisco and anywhere right on the coast is a totally different story. It can easily be shorts and t-shirt weather in Pleasanton then, and cool and foggy in the city. Don't be the person having to buy an overpriced sweatshirt to stave off chattering teeth.
    posted by wnissen at 1:41 PM on March 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

    Best answer: In SF: Head to the Marina and work your way toward Fisherman's Wharf. Chinatown and North Beach make a good combined excursion too. You could start at Golden Gate Park, head over to the Castro, proceed through the Mission (have a burrito), and end up at Union Square for fancy brand shopping. Don't bother with Alcatraz if you're only there for a day. I really like the area around Geary/Clement street, especially Japantown and the Russian neighborhood (Holy Virgin Cathedral is beautiful and the staff is very nice), to me that's what SF "feels" like, not so much the touristy or newer parts (oh, and there's a fantastic bookstore there, Green Apple Books). To end the day I recommend you watch the sunset at Fort Funston.

    (I'm not going to advise that you visit the Tenderloin, but one of my favorite memories of San Francisco will always be the extremely polite and friendly crack dealer I met in the Tenderloin. Your crack dealer experience may vary.)

    Work nights: Explore nearby East Bay towns for their notable restaurants, bars, breweries, and other after-hours spots. You might hit some duds if you take a random approach, but you will not lack for options and interesting experiences.

    Yosemite: No. A day trip? Don't do this to yourself. If you took 3 days that'd be enough but I think you would get more out of using those 3 days to explore the Bay Area a bit more. You could easily spend all of your free days just poking around SF. Or check out Oakland! IIRC the Oakland Museum covers a lot of science, tech, and labor/social stuff.

    Souvenirs: Fisherman's Wharf will have all the "classic" garbage souvenirs you could possibly want. Other than that, well, it really depends on what you're looking for.

    Traffic stops: Drive slow and pull over at the first safe spot, hand over your license and registration when asked, sit still and be boring and wait patiently when the cop goes back to their vehicle and spends what feels like an hour calling in your ticket or whatever. Just treat it like the unremarkable and unavoidable administrative inconvenience that it ought to be and don't stress out.

    Guns: You are unlikely to encounter armed citizens in San Francisco. Our drivers are far more likely to do you bodily harm.
    posted by prize bull octorok at 2:22 PM on March 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

    Our drivers are far more likely to do you bodily harm.

    This can't be emphasized enough, SF has been trying unsuccessfully for a long time to reduce the rate of car-on-pedestrian injuries and deaths in SF. I walk a lot in the FIDI and SOMA for work and I'd say I have a near-miss in a crosswalk (where I have the green light) at least once a week with a reckless driver. CA state law gives the pedestrian the right of way at any crosswalk where there is no light, and on green lights in crosswalks where there are lights. Do not trust any driver even when you have right of way, particularly if you are crossing more than one lane of traffic.
    posted by allkindsoftime at 2:58 PM on March 27, 2019 [4 favorites]

    Best answer: San Francisco has the Exploratorium, a hands-on science museum, aimed at kids but good for anyone who likes science and doesn't mind noise. (There are kids. It's loud. Much fun.)

    Borderlands Books has science fiction (and fantasy, mystery, and horror) new and used books, and is attached to a café. The evening of Sunday the 21st has a meeting of their SF & Fantasy Book Club, discussing New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson. I have no specific info on their approach to science/math/leftist politics, but me and all my leftist friends love the place.

    Livermore has wineries. I grew up in Livermore, but left before I was old enough to partake. Some of them, I gather, produce famous wines; several have gift shops.

    Seconding "DO NOT LEAVE VALUABLES visible in your parked car at any time." This applies everywhere in the Bay Area - Pleasanton is notably safer than SF, but as an outsider, you don't know what the sketchy neighborhoods are, and what areas are plenty safe for a person but not for unattended objects.

    The SF Bay Area is used to international visitors, both tourists and business. That doesn't mean there's no chance of an asshole cop, but for the most part, nobody is going to be shocked that you don't know the details of local behavior patterns. The SF area is also home to enough mixed cultures, and enough counterculture groups, that there's no way for you to figure out if a particular encounter was "this is how the locals act" vs "wow I met one of the local freaks."

    For transit between SF and other areas, BART is much faster than cars or buses. (Don't drive into SF if you can avoid it; parking costs are horrendous.) It's faster in SF, if where you need to go is near a stop. If you plan to ride it more than a couple times, get a "Clipper Card;" it costs $3 and some of the ticket machines issue them. (Paper tickets cost half a dollar more per trip.) BART's also usually crowded, and likely to be confusing to outsiders. If you're not sure which train or which stop will get you to where you need to go, ask any rider who looks bored for help, or call a question into the crowd. is the local public-transit trip-planning site. It used to be much better than Google for transit options; these days, they're about equal, but will include more info about bus schedules and transit companies.
    posted by ErisLordFreedom at 6:18 PM on March 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

    Re-reading the question and noticing the social and labour movements part of the question:

    Most of the labor history of SF is in books rather than on the street. But, there's some pretty cool vaguely-labor-related public art. On the city-authorized list is Coit Tower as mentioned above, murals at the Bank of America building at Mission and 23rd (yes, it's a working bank; yes, it's really weird.), at the Beach Chalet at the western most edge of Golden Gage Park, the Palace of Fine Arts, and The Mechanics Monument at Market and Battery. I'm a big fan of the last. . . but, nobody else I know finds it at all interesting. Chances are you will be underwhelmed. Frankly, I can't think of any labor-related sites worth making a trip for. But, if you happen to be nearby, they're worth seeing.

    The not-authorized list is big and variable, though graffiti art in Mission District alleys is probably high on the list and search engines will be more up to date than me. There are plenty of historic places where big organizing events happened, such as People's Park in Berkeley, the Sand Lot in front of city hall in SF, and sites of big labor rallies in downtown Oakland, Fruitvale, and West Oakland. But, you'll have to bring your own story to get much from them, as there isn't much to see or anything to read.
    posted by eotvos at 3:08 PM on March 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

    Best answer: The Oakland Museum does have a fair amount of labor art, but it's not really near anything except the Oakland Chinatown, which is neat but not as cool as the SF one.
    Two final Pleasanton / Livermore recommendations. Range Life is a Livermore restaurant from a chef/bartender who left San Francisco's renowned Tartine Manufactory. True, it is wedged between a vacant storefront and a glass shop, but once inside you would swear that you're in the city. They have a cocktail made from indigenous "coyote mint" and bourbon that is truly California in a glass. I joke that it is San Francisco food at San Francisco prices. Reservations are essential. The Hopyard has quite a few local beers on tap, and "takeovers" on Tuesdays where a craft brewery visits for the evening. Highly recommend the beer sampler there, good burgers as well.
    posted by wnissen at 9:24 PM on March 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

    Best answer: I'd suggest Radhaus or Suppenküche instead of Wursthall, depending on where in the city your travel takes you. I made the trip down to San Mateo to visit Wursthall and it was fine, very much an okay place, but not really worth the travel time (and I live in San Francisco). Any time spent traveling between San Francisco and San Mateo that isn't part of some already-necessary trip (e.g., to Stanford or the Computer History Museum) will probably be regretted. On second read, if you're driving to and from Pleasanton, maybe San Mateo isn't terribly inconvenient. But it remains boring.

    I'd encourage you to ditch the rental car at a BART station parking lot, take BART into SF, and walk around. Get off at the Embarcadero station, take a detour to check out the Ferry Building, then head to Columbus Avenue and walk down Columbus to City Lights bookstore, then Washington Square Park (stop by Mario's overlooking the park if you need a drink or a rest), then take Filbert St. up to Coit Tower. You can then walk down Telegraph Hill from Coit Tower in a north-westerly direction and you'll reach the waterfront; you can glance over at Fisherman's Wharf to see a true SF tourist trap, then make your way along the waterfront to Fort Mason, home to Radhaus or, if you're not hungry, The Interval.

    I've incompetently annotated a map for you. I hope you enjoy your trip!
    posted by L0 at 8:13 PM on March 31, 2019 [3 favorites]

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