San Francisco - where to spend visitor time & money
February 11, 2022 7:55 AM   Subscribe

What are the must-see places? What are the not-worth-it places?

Looking for fun stuff to see and do. Interests include: gardens/nature, casual hikes, interesting art and museums, window shopping, offbeat stuff, tasty food, activities like mini golf or railroad rides.

• We (two adults) will have a car. How is parking/driving -- any tips there?
• Neighborhoods for safe and modestly-priced accommodations? MUST HAVES: kitchenette, generous cancellation policy (so probably commercial lodging only)

What are your favorite things to see/do in the area that align with our interests? Where do you take visitors?
posted by dancing leaves to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (54 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Take a walk along the Embarcadero and then eat lunch at the Ferry Building! It’s a fancy food market with lots of different storefronts and things to eat. And the Embarcadero has beautiful views of the bay and great people-watching.

Then, if you want, you can take the vintage F streetcar to keep going north up to Fisherman’s Wharf. Fisherman’s Wharf is VERY touristy but fun if you’re into that kind of thing.
posted by mekily at 8:15 AM on February 11 [6 favorites]

I love the wonderful art collection at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor.

There's a small, very moving memorial to victims of the Holocaust nearby, which I always try to visit when at the museum.
posted by anadem at 8:20 AM on February 11 [3 favorites]

One of the better pieces of advice I got about visiting SF, back in the beforetimes when we could travel, is: "The market for San Francisco sweatshirts exists entirely because tourists don't realize it gets cold by the ocean at night." So, be ready to dress warmly if you're going to be walking around at night, it gets cold and windy.

Also, make it your mission to find and eat a Mission Burrito. This is key.
posted by mhoye at 8:34 AM on February 11 [20 favorites]

Your car may be a liability. Find accommodations with free parking (they do exist), like the motels along Lombard, or near the ocean; then get a pass and use MUNI buses and streetcars to get around. (BART may also be useful for that Mission excursion; and note the cable cars require a separate, more expensive ticket, and they're very crowded because they hold off on departure until they get a full load of tourists.) My offbeat museum suggestions are the Randall Museum; and the Asian Art Museum in the Civic Center. Don't bother with Alcatraz, but allocate some time to relax and 'decompress' in Golden Gate Park. You could access the latter from the western end of Haight Street (and if you're into vinyl and CDs don't miss the Amoeba, there -- plus there's a free restroom across the street, at the park's southwest corner).
posted by Rash at 8:48 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]

Yes definitely to the Mission burrito… and also be sure to have a banh mi in the neighborhood that may still be called Little Saigon.
posted by sesquipedalia at 8:49 AM on February 11

Leave the car in the hotel garage. It will only make you miserable.

Food: Puerto Allegre, Khan Toke, Bissap Baobab.
Hikes: the Presidio, Land's End and Sutro Baths, (The Albany Bulb if you want to cross the bay)
Museums, galleries, and art spaces: The Lab, Musee Mechanique, The Mission (the building, not the neighborhood), The Castro Theater, Artist's Television Access. (Damnit, it seems my favorite weird taxidermy store has closed!)

Don't bother with North Beach, the tourist piers, or Union Square. Golden Gate Park is actually worth seeing. As is Portsmouth Square (which is small, but surrounded by really cool stuff.)
posted by eotvos at 8:52 AM on February 11 [10 favorites]

My favorite place is Golden Gate Park, and you'd probably like the botanical garden, Japanese garden, and the museums there (and more random things, like the local bison, a paddle boat ride in the lake, or walking to the ocean end of the park and then up to see the little camera obscura building, which is great). The neighborhoods near the park would be good places to stay if you're willing to use Airbnb (I would, and many people do have flexible cancellation policies on there.) How long will you be in SF? Depending on what you decide you want to see, it may be much less stressful to forget the car and use public transportation and just walk.
posted by pinochiette at 9:01 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]

If you're willing to cross the bay and go into Berkeley, a great walk can start just south of the UC Berkeley campus (say, Bancroft and Telegraph), walk north through the campus up to Euclid, and then keep walking till you arrive at the Berkeley Rose Garden. It faces west, so arrive at sunset for a lovely view.
posted by brainwane at 9:01 AM on February 11

The Mission (the building, not the neighborhood)

More accurately, Mission Dolores, which is the oldest building in the City.

As for things Asian, yes, Portsmouth Square (with its replica of The Goddess of Democracy) which is adjacent to the original Chinatown. The latter has its charms, but nowadays I find Clement Street a lot more satisfying (and looking at a map you'd think, "Well, we should drive there" but maybe not, 'cause parking's so difficult.) Japantown, on the other hand, is smaller and newer, mostly just a big mall.
posted by Rash at 9:05 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]

I have been absolutely dying to go to Stagecoach Greens, an outdoor, SF-history-themed miniature golf course. It's attached to the Spark Social food truck park, too.
posted by assenav at 9:05 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]

Also, if you drink and enjoy drag shows, Martuni's is the MOST San Francisco experience possible. The drinks are good. The music is good. The staff are kind.
posted by eotvos at 9:16 AM on February 11 [4 favorites]

Last summer I went to San Francisco as a first-time tourist, but with my partner who'd lived and worked there for years, albeit a long time ago. I can relay my thoughts: Alcatraz I actually enjoyed very much -- walking around the island is actually a nice little hike (it's pretty steep) and has great views of the bay, along with interesting plants scattered all around. Apparently the descendants of the gardens prisoners were encouraged to grow? It also has the museum aspect of talking about the island's history as a military fort, prison, and then the Native Rights occupation which I was pleased to see they gave a lot of attention to.

Being something of a ship enthusiast, for museums I really enjoyed Hyde Street Pier, the USS Pampanito, and over in Oakland there's the USS Hornet which was really right up my alley.

I was profoundly disappointed by Pier 39 even knowing ahead of time what sort of place it was and trying to judge it on that level. On the other hand for food, just a few blocks away there's a place called Scoma's that my partner was incredibly eager to show me, and was happy the place was still open. They are, and the food is just as good as he hyped up. Pricey though but that's SF these days.

In the Castro district there was a small garden with a pink triangle made of rose quartz that I found very moving -- a memorial to the victims of the holocaust for "pink triangle" reasons. As a queer guy from flyover country that sort of thing is almost a pilgrimage so YMMV but it sure got to me.

The car: if you're comfortable driving in a dense city, you'll be ok. You will pay for the privilege of parking if you can even find a place though. And if you're not ok with that sort of driving it'd be a heck of a place to try. This is another area where I relied on my partner not just for the local knowledge of the good routes to get around, but for being a former commercial driving instructor who could back a bus into a compact spot with room to spare and without breaking a sweat. I don't know how he does it.

But even then for most of getting around we relied on bicycles and uber/lyft services. That was just way easier and more reliable.
posted by traveler_ at 9:27 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]

Another voice saying that public transportation is great, keeps you street level and gives an endless front seat to the weirdness of the city. There's a week-long MUNI pass that you can buy that I think includes streetcars, which is pretty great since individual streetcar rides are pricey.

Honestly I like North Beach, but only in the mornings, when you can get a pastry and coffee and walk up Grant Street. Don't miss City Lights bookstore!

Clement St. has Green Apple Books, lots of food, and Park Life, which is a combination art gallery and bookstore and design-y store, I like it. Eat dim sum out there. Then get on the Geary bus and head out out out to the end of the world at Ocean Beach/Land's End. Stand in the cold wind and watch the pelicans and think about your life.

Museums I like:
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
DeYoung Museum
Cal Academy of Sciences
Legion of Honor

Figure out which ones have exhibitions you might like and budget 1-2 days just on that.

Museums I haven't been to much, that you might like:
California Historical Society
Museum of the African Diaspora
Contemporary Jewish Museum (they have a good deli, Wise Sons, and you can stop in for lunch without going to the museum)
Asian Art Museum (great sculpture collection!)

Otherwise, I like to just keep moving in the city. That's one reason public transportation is good, you can use it to get from neighborhood to neighborhood, hop off the bus and walk around as much as you like without having to backtrack to your parking spot. I use bookstores and restaurants as goals - Dog Eared Books in the Mission is another one to orient yourself on.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 9:39 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]

I second going to Golden Gate Park. The Japanese Tea Garden and Conservatory of Flowers are great; you can get free tours of both if you go at the right time (provided by the SF public library). If you're already there, I also recommend the Ferris wheel on the music concourse (next to the Cal Academy of Sciences and De Young museum)—it's kind of cheesy/touristy but the views are great.

Food near GGP:
Breadbelly (bakery, lunch hours only)
San Tung (famous for their fried chicken)
Pineapple King Bakery (get the pineapple bun with guava butter)
Home Coffee Roasters
Arsicault Bakery (they also have a location downtown)

I also recommend coming to the Mission Dolores neighborhood. As mentioned above, come see the eponymous building, but also enjoy a picnic in Mission Dolores Park. The Mission is stacked with great food:
- Mission Burrito: my favorites are La Taqueria (which is mobbed by tourists) and El Castillito at 17th and Mission
- Prubechu, an excellent Guamanian restaurant
- Good Good Culture Club (sort of...pan-Pacific? very good and creative and run equitably for workers!!)
- Ramenwell
- Craftsman and Wolves bakery

Much of Valencia Street in the mission is closed Friday and Saturday evenings, which makes it very pleasant to walk around.

If you are comfortable indoor dining, you will need to have a booster to do that after Friday Feb 15th.

Enjoy your visit!
posted by Maecenas at 9:41 AM on February 11 [5 favorites]

at the park's southwest corner).

I meant the South-EAST corner, sorry!
posted by Rash at 9:49 AM on February 11

Cannot second enough Breadbelly and Arsicault. YUM. Also Thoroughbread in the Castro for amazing sandwiches and delicious pastries, with a lovely patio. Arizmendi in the inner Sunset (it's better than the Mission one IMO). The Japanese Tea Garden in GGP is lovely, and free to visit I believe MWF before...9? The free walking tours associated with the library are amazing, depending on tour guide. But usually amazing.
posted by bookworm4125 at 9:51 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]

I highly recommend getting a S'more and some drinking chocolate from Dandelion Chocolates in the Ferry Building down along the Embarcadero. You'll feel invincible until the sugar high wears off.

We actually stayed in the Mission, in an Airbnb apartment across from Dolores Park, when we visited SF and other California locales a few years ago. I agree with the comments to ditch your car somewhere because SF is highly walkable and public transportation is plentiful.
posted by emelenjr at 9:56 AM on February 11

I loved the Aquarium of the Bay. Tickets are fairly expensive but you can spend as long as you want inside.
posted by neushoorn at 9:57 AM on February 11

Also Thoroughbread in the Castro for amazing sandwiches and delicious pastries, with a lovely patio.

Came to recommend Thoroughbread, as well. The missus and I always walk over for a light breakfast whenever we visit family in SF. As a bonus, Thoroughbread is also a baking school. And, that little patio is so peaceful.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:03 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]

As an SF resident... Parking sucks, so much so when my car died a few years back I did not bother with a replacement, and get by with public transit, Lyft, and occasional ZipCar rental. Things are even worse near tourist-y spots that you may want to visit, unless it's a spot with dedicated tourist parking (like Palace of Legion of Honor)

You may be better off buying a Muni day-pass and take transit all day (unlimited rides). There are also hop-on/hop-off tour buses that will go around the city that you can ride all day for a fixed price. Plan your route with Google and have fun.
posted by kschang at 10:10 AM on February 11

SFMOMA is probably my favorite art museum and I would strongly recommend planning at least half a day there.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:22 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]

If you are garden fans with a car, Filoli is a worthwhile visit outside of the city. Inside the city, the SF Botanical Garden is quite good as well.

Yes on the Mission Burrito. My favorites are La Taqueria at 25th St (though, now that it's famous the lines are horrendous sometimes), or Pancho Villa on 16th near Valencia. Every San Franciscan believes their favorite burrito is the best in town.

Chef Traci Des Jardins used to run a number of amazing restaurants in SF, but these days the only one that is still open is Public House. It's worth a visit, though hours may be quite limited right now. I'm kind of excited to hear what she decides to do post-pandemic, because the experimental stuff she was running just before everything blew up was exciting.

Burma Superstar on Clement may be the only place that you'll ever see Burmese food. It's pretty amazing.

Way off the beaten path is Champa Garden, with fairly authentic Laotian food. Sakisan Sushi and Robata is down the street from them on Ocean, and so is the Ocean Ale House, which may have the best pub food in town.
posted by toxic at 10:25 AM on February 11

I would def listen to folks regarding not using the car unless you really have to. Taxis, scooters, bikeshares, etc or Muni/BART. Driving isn't difficult except for maybe downtown, but parking can be and car break-ins, especially near big tourist destinations like Alamo Square, are unfortunately crazy common/frequent so please don't leave anything in your car if you care about it at all.
posted by flamk at 10:37 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]

Take these two with a grain of salt as large as you can lift; I'm not a local:

. For food, I have long made it a habit to eat at the Tadich Grill every time I'm within range of the 200 block of California Street. That's not often enough that I can promise you it's the local's choice or anything, but I've never been disappointed. (They have a website and a gift shop, so maybe not 100% what you have in mind.)

. For looking-at-stuff (and for having a challenging walk destination from pretty-much-anywhere), I like Coit Tower. Not just because even I can find it without a map (which is a nice feature) but because the murals are (art + economics) x politics. I never got there when a tour was going on, but you can skulk and lurk and see tons through the windows. This may be too obvious, but I didn't see it listed in the encyclopedic list of excellent suggestions above, so there you go :)
posted by adekllny at 11:31 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]

When I first visited San Francisco I spent a day following the Barbary Coast Trail - and that turned out to be a very good idea. It's a walking-tour historic-landmark trail that takes you through several of the neighborhoods and directs you to several landmarks; and happily, one of the landmarks was the site of the boarding house where Emperor Norton lived. It was a perfect "first taste" of the city.

The link above mentions that they have audio guides and a guided version of the tour; I picked up the paper guide (it's about ten bucks now) and followed it myself. I actually recommend going that route in general, because that always lets you skip the bits you're not that into and staying as long as you like at the places that really catch your fancy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:43 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]

For the literary-minded, visit City Lights and head upstairs to the poetry room.
posted by JohnFromGR at 11:51 AM on February 11

Seconding a Mission burrito—specifically from Taquería El Farolito.
posted by General Malaise at 12:42 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]

When I visited, one of the big highlights was Nightlife at the California Academy of Sciences. The views from Coit Tower were worth the trip, too, and the mural and its history are fascinating.
posted by Lexicographer at 12:52 PM on February 11

I love three things in North Beach - the aforementioned City Lights books, but before you go there, consider a coffee at the city’s oldest espresso shops, Caffe Trieste, then after the bookstore have an Anchor Steam beer (or whatever floats your boat) at Vesuvio. That right there is my Holy Trinity for SF.
Also worth a trip, and better than Alcatraz (IMO) is Angel Island, I took a bicycle there years ago and it was lovely.
posted by dbmcd at 1:26 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]

I'm about to make two recommendations that appear to contradict each other, but don't:
- the only parts of San Francisco proper where driving is a good idea are the parts that don't have much of an attraction for visitors, and if you are arriving by car you might consider parking at an outlying location;
- if you'll have a car, you should go to Muir Woods (which is not in the city proper), where they have Very Large Trees.

I haven't lived there for nearly a decade, but some things that come to mind:
- "Chinatown" is for tourists, go to Clement Street. Stop at one of the many dim sum bakeries. If you like books, stop at Green Apple.
- go to the Mission, have a burrito. You might want to walk this off, so walk around the Mission and look at some murals. You might walk past a spot where I made out with my now-wife on our first date, but you'll never know if you did because I don't remember exactly where that was.
- there is no reason to go to Haight-Ashbury.
- Pier 39 is a tourist trap, but they have sea lions, which is cool.
posted by madcaptenor at 1:57 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]

Chinatown is for tourists because there’s nothing quite like it, go there. (Same with North Beach, imo.) The vibes are amazing. I don’t recommend Fisherman’s Wharf but if you do end up there, walking down Columbus all the way to Good Mon Kok (super cheap, enormous, delicious dim sum) in Chinatown is one of my favorite walks in the city. It’s super dense with restaurants and shops, the views are incredible and you will see some awesome architecture. On a sunny day it’s just stunning.

Seconding the Embarcadero, first place I went when I moved here and I fell in love. I run there three times a week because it so beautiful. But yes, bring a coat. I had to stop at Levi’s and buy a jacket (which I still have to this day).
posted by stoneandstar at 2:19 PM on February 11

Arsicault and Dandelion are great dessert spots and I love Arizmendi pizza (toppings change every day so check out their website before you go).
posted by stoneandstar at 2:20 PM on February 11

I've always enjoyed the Exploratorium but that's because it appeals to the nerdy kid in me. YMMV
posted by TimHare at 2:31 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]

Thirding Coit Tower, and also recommending the Greenwich stairs and the Filbert stairs next to it. These are beautiful stairs that descend through a greenway, with privately maintained gardens off of both sides. If you are lucky, you may see some of the colonies of feral parrots around the tower or stairs too.
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 3:27 PM on February 11

If you are lucky, you may see some of the colonies of feral parrots around the tower or stairs too.

There is a charming documentary called 'The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill' (or, as I like to call it, 'The Wild Paragraphs of Telekeet Hill'.)
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 3:37 PM on February 11

I thought the Exploratorium was fun, but I wouldn't call it a unique to SF experience. (There are lots of great science centers out there, of which Exploratorium is one of them). If I went again, I'd probably do their "After Dark" event just so I didn't feel like I was "competing" with small children to interact with the exhibits.

I'd put in a plug for the Cable Car Museums and riding in a cable car.

Also on my worth it list: renting a GoCar and renting a bike to cross the golden gate bridge.
posted by oceano at 3:40 PM on February 11

I think the Ice Cream Bar is really cool - very detailed 1950s style soda fountain cafe.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 3:44 PM on February 11

The Musée Mécanique is super fun if you end up at Fisherman's Wharf.
posted by doift at 3:57 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]

If you want to ride a cable car, do not go to Powell Street, where there is a long line year round. Go to the intersection of California and Market Street, right outside the Hyatt Embarcadero. You can go up California Street on a much quieter trolley, and get some great views, and stop at Grace Cathedral to walk the labyrinth.
posted by suelac at 4:12 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]

Another local checking in, trying to respond to your original curiosities.

I would also strongly recommend Clement St., and the Richmond more generally, for Chinese (and Korean!) food, specifically over Chinatown. There are specific good places in and around Chinatown, but the good restaurants are generally much more plentiful out in the Richmond. Take Muni, don't drive.

In terms of nature/hiking/gardens, you've already got a number of recommendations. Golden Gate park is obviously great, and I would specifically recommend the botannical gardens. It's pretty free form, so you could get a picnic lunch and hang out there with a book for a few hours if you wanted - highly recommended.

However, there are some other excellent hiking areas within SF proper. Maybe my favorite is the Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve, which is the area around the TV tower near the middle of SF. It's incredibly natural for a space in the middle of a major US city.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 4:15 PM on February 11

I always recommend the free walking tours by San Francisco City Guides - they really are free (although they welcome donations and suggest $15), the guides are usually excellently trained and informed, and they have a huge variety of options, including great ways to get acquainted with a neighborhood, like the Castro and Haight-Ashbury, and all kinds of fun topics like Hitchcock's San Francisco and 1850's San Francisco: Paris Of The Pacific and Silent Film San Francisco.

I strongly nth taking the F line - you can take it to Fisherman's Wharf OR down Market Street to the Castro; either way it's just a fun ride on a great old vintage streetcar.

I always recommended people catch the cable car at Van Ness - way less of a crowd there.

And for a much overlooked public transit option, the 38 Geary starts at the eastern edge of the Financial District and ends up all the way out at the ocean, if you care to ride it that far, and the 1 California starts there at the eastern edge of the city and goes through Chinatown and Nob Hill and the lower part of Pacific Heights, ending up out in the western avenues, for a great little trip through some iconic neighborhoods.

Finally, art: some of my favorite San Francisco art is the collection of sculptures by Ruth Asawa at the de Young in Golden Gate Park. There are also some Andy Goldsworthy works, including Spire at the Presidio (along with Wood Line and Tree Fall), and his Drawn Stone is also at the de Young.

Have fun!
posted by kristi at 4:28 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]

As for coming to Chinatown or not... There are a LOT of culture in Chinatown, but you may need a guidebook to point that out, or a guided tour. I believe Sidewalk Food Tour has a Chinatown version, (as well as a North Beach and Mission versions) where you walk through the area in a few hours, enjoy a couple restaurants (small portions) while the guide talks you through the area, interesting bits of history, and so on. Like Tin How Temple was established in 1852 by the earliest Chinese in San Francisco, or there are TWO temples worshipping the same goddess in Chinatown (some people don't know about the Matzu Temple, which is the same goddess as Tin How), or how Imperial Palace, formerly known as the Golden Dragon, was the scene of a gang massacre back in 1977 where 5 innocents are killed and lead to creation of SFPD Gang Task Force that destroyed one of the gangs in Chinatown forever, or how the Chinatown Phone Exchange (now it's a bank) used to have operators that physically plug and unplug phones...

While Clement is the usually mentioned "2nd Chinatown", it has none of the heritage or such. It's basically one street of shops and restaurants (from 3rd all the way to Park Presidio)

I will be the first to admit Chinatown food isn't what it used to be. But there decent food around, and fine dining is coming back. Mister Jiu's is famous, and Empress by Boon will re-open soon (hopefully when you get here). And China Live is not bad, from what I heard.
posted by kschang at 6:16 PM on February 11

Nthing Thoroughbread, which is not only delicious and charming, but also staffed by really, truly lovely people - they are my neighborhood bakery!
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 7:25 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]

No one's recommended Montesacro's Roman-style pizza, so here you are. It's at I personally haven't been there, but many people whose opinion I value have and love it.
posted by morspin at 7:32 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]

I haven't lived in SF for many years and this recommendation thread is making me miss it. :)

Consider posting an IRL MeFi event so you can meet some MeFi locals!
posted by brainwane at 9:54 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]

Sf-born and a current, if temporary, resident. I lived for over a decade in NYC and I think it would be very generous to call SF’s public transit system good-to-fair. Parking isn’t fun but if you’re going to have a car anyhow, muni isn’t where it’s at - the best served area of town is downtown and that’s currently messed up because of massive expansion of a new line so it runs above ground/busses replace streetcars and things run in shorter segments.

Also, car break ins are endemic, particularly in touristy areas. Do not leave ANYTHING in a vehicle unattended for any amount of time. I can speak from both personal experience (visitors w a rental car we walked up on it happening) and from being around town and seeing the volume of glass on the ground next to parking spots.

Golden gate park is a solid plan - I’d also put in a strong recommendation for Lands End, particularly in the afternoon or evening as the views and sun are great. It’s not an easy hike but it’s hardly strenous (very fit people run it, I’m told).

There is a wine and sandwich shop just on the other side of golden gate park, maybe 5 minutes from sutro baths/lands end, called Palm City. The shrimp salad sandwich is amazing. It’s in the outer sunset which is a neighborhood most notable for being kinda sleepy and remote out at the western edge of town by the beach, but it has an almost neighborhood/small town vibe because of it.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 8:01 AM on February 12

I actually think the Legion of Honor is kinda boring unless you really love art. De Young is more accessible for the casual visitor, and they have better rotating exhibits. Plus the observation tower gives you 360 views of the City which is cool.

I love the California Academy of Sciences. It's an aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum, plus they have a rainforest biome with amazing birds and butterflies, and a cool 1906 earthquake exhibit.

Agree to avoid Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf, but the Musee Mecanique is very cool, as is the tour of the USS Pampanito submarine.
posted by radioamy at 6:11 PM on February 12

Head out to Ocean Beach (to remind yourself you’re on the Pacific Ocean) and have lunch at Java Beach Cafe.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:37 PM on February 12

If you do go to USS Pampanito, also visit SS Jeremiah O'Brien right next door, one of the two functional Liberty Ships left in the world, that actually participated in D-day campaign. AND the nearby Maritime Museum.

If you have interest in this area, USS Hornet (the aircraft carrier CV-12) is across the Bay in Alameda, crammed full of Apollo and naval aviation displays.
posted by kschang at 7:53 PM on February 12

We had something like this 7-Day passport when my wife and I visited. It was great to just be able to jump on whatever bus, cable, car, street car. It makes getting around with public transit easy and/or shamelessly ride a cable car a block because those hills are steep and you have no shame. Couldn't be me. :)

I most enjoyed:
-A Chinatown walking tour (we asked our tour guide for a dim sum recommendation and were not disappointed)

-California Academy of Sciences: Night Life. They open for adults only on Thursdays and there's a bar.

-The Exploritorium: I like science museums and this is an extremely good one

-Drove a bit outside the city to get on a bus to Muir woods. We rented a car only for this one day of our 7-day stay in San Francisco.

-Dungeness crab in a restaurant by the bay. I like to think I ate that crab in sight of it's family. It's kind of horrible and silly but I feel what I feel.

-I even liked all the tourist trap stuff. Everywhere has tourist trap stuff, San Francisco has cool San Francisco tourist trap stuff.

-Tour of Alcatraz, at the time these tickets had to be booked weeks or months in advance.

PS: If you do end driving your car around and might parking on the street. Review ALL the guidance about parking on hills and *take it seriously*. Some of the hills are so steep people have to park sideways.
posted by VTX at 8:21 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]

We visited SF ten years ago, so ymmv, but here's what stood out to us:
1. California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. Plenty of folks upstream have sung its virtues, so...
2. Walt Disney Family Museum - if you have any interest in Walt Disney, this is a must visit. It's telling the story of his life. Obviously, the mouse plays a role but it's definitely not kid-targeted.
3. When we were going to the WD Family museum, we had to enter the Presidio and pass through a guard gate - it's a formality, nothing serious. The guard looked us over (2 adults in their mid 30's, 2 kids under 5) and asked if we had a few minutes to see something cool. We said yes, and he gave us directions... which led us to the lobby for Lucasfilm. Sadly, they don't open to the public currently due to Covid but you can see the Yoda Fountain.
posted by neilbert at 8:23 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]

I volunteer as a history interpreter for the National Park Service at Alcatraz. In my opinion, there are two kinds of visitors:
* those who want the guided audio tour and a brief walk, then leave for some more interesting place.
* those who are open to exploring the views, the flora, the history, and just walk around the island.
It's a beautiful island, with a historically interesting prison which was pretty awful for the inhabitants.
Hint: ask questions of anyone in uniform. The ranger, park conservancy, garden conservancy folks each have their own special knowlege of the island, and it's all cool.
posted by blob at 8:34 PM on February 12 [4 favorites]

A lot has been covered. Personally as a local from across the bay I really like Musée Mechanique at Fisherman‘s Wharf. Quirky and charming if you like old weird things. Combine with Alcatraz or a walk up to Coit Tower.
posted by The Toad at 8:27 AM on February 13

Response by poster: So many fantastic ideas - thank you, all! I love the sense of having way more things to do than I have time to take them all in.
posted by dancing leaves at 7:23 AM on February 16

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