Magical San Francisco moments
September 5, 2006 6:38 PM   Subscribe

San Francisco first-timer

I'm heading to SF next week for 2 weeks. I've got the travel guides and I'm ploughing through those now, but ultimately I want to relax and was wondering what favourite places, perhaps off the beaten trail you folk who have been or live there think i might like, be it music (no preference really, but some techno one evening would be a great start), art, sculptures, architecture, a lay down in a park with some friends and some rum, a football game, a chilled afternoon of people watching.

In short, what's your favourite memory of SF, and can i find it?
posted by urbanwhaleshark to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (32 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Growing up in the Bay Area, I say:

1) Exploratorium

2) Go to Berkeley
posted by falconred at 6:41 PM on September 5, 2006


The Haight-Ashbury
posted by clh at 6:51 PM on September 5, 2006

Best answer: Take a hike in the Marin headlands, just over the Golden Gate Bridge.
posted by handful of rain at 7:01 PM on September 5, 2006

Best answer: You didn't mention food, but I love the Cheeseboard... wonderful wonderful pizza. It's in Berkeley and quite well-known. It's pretty easy to get to Berkeley by the BART system (train/light rail/something like that).

And of course San Fran Mission burritos.

The Sentinel Building in the "little Italy" area is pretty cool. Godfather I and II was edited there, but that's not a little-known fact. There is a plaque there. Sooo many coffee shops in that area, good places to relax.

As clh said, Haight-Ashbury. If you are into that stuff, you can probably search up significant buildings like where Janis Joplin lived.

Muir woods is beauuutiful with the giant redwoods, but you need a car to get there.
posted by bread-eater at 7:05 PM on September 5, 2006

SF MOMA, Muir Woods, the Gap at Haight and Ashbury then to Rosamunde and Toronado, walk up to the Civic Center BART station to get to Berkeley and walk around campus / Shattuck, drive down to Monterey / Santa Cruz, drive up to Tahoe/Truckee, etc.
posted by kcm at 7:12 PM on September 5, 2006

Best answer: Ditto on the hike, if you've got time. The new DeYoung museum in Golden Gate Park is among the best new architecture I've seen -- and I see a lot. Go all the way up into the tower for a spectacular/romantic view of the city that simply didn't exist a few years ago. (Note that in the park you can also do the rum/football/people-watching thing, too.) Dolores Park in the Mission is also a great people-watching area, with a great view as well.

*Also, you must get a taco/burrito at La Taqueria on Mission at 26th. Carne Asada or Veggie, it'll be the best you've ever had.
posted by turducken at 7:13 PM on September 5, 2006

Best answer: I've lived here @ 19 years, since after college. The SF MOMA is cool, and is situated in this great urban green area with fountains called Yerba Buena. You can do the museum, hang in the park, sometimes there's live music. It's also right near the Metreon, a huge movie theater. Right near the Powell Street Bart.

Another cool area is Mission-Castro -- you can get great food on 18th Street between Dolores & Guerrero (Delfinos, Tartine, Dolores Park Cafe), and before or after go hang out in Dolores Park, a huge gem of an urban park with dogs and kids and events and sunbathers and hippies and everyone. From there you can walk over to Castro -- great LGBT neighborhood, huge old-style movie theater, Starbucks, bagels, etc., etc. To get there take BART to 16th Street or take the J Church to Church & 18th.

I also love North Beach for coffee and atmosphere and breath-taking views. If you are feeling athletic, the Filbert Street steps are AMAZING. There's great pastries in North Beach, especially Stella Pastry (or something like that) on Columbus between Valencia & Green. Of course, North Beach is right next to Chinatown, which should be seen once, I think.

Not to be contrary, but I would not vote for the Exploratorium or Haight-Ashbury or Berkeley particularly. I mean, they're all fine, but not at the top of my list (I could be jaded, I've been around them too long, probably).
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 7:15 PM on September 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

I moved away four years ago but have many relaxing memories: Bonfire on the ocean after dark (they're legal there). Tea Time in the Japanese Garden in Golden Gate Park.

I believe you can still take the Ferry to Sausalito from the Embarcadero. That is a relaxing trip on a sunny day, and then when you get there you can relax some more. No car required.

If you want great pakistani food go to Pakwan, 501 O'Farrell St, Tenderloin, order the chicken tikka masala. You will not be sorry you did! Food coma = relaxing, however, Tenderloin after dark = not so relaxing

Speaking of which, Ton Kiang (not sure of spelling), 5821 Geary, provides a very food-coma inducing sunday dim sum brunch. Reservations needed 415-387-8273

Great people watching: Cafe Triste in North Beach, just off Columbus St. if it's still there.

I think the SF MOMA is showing the new Matthew Barney movie now -- saw the second one there, what a trip that was! Talk about a memory. SF MOMA is a must-see.

You know, I lived in Berkeley and I have to say, it is not at all relaxing if you are trying to get around there without a car, bike, or knowledge of the area. But, it is a fun city, too.
posted by Eringatang at 7:49 PM on September 5, 2006

Ride the F Market streetcar line from Embarcadero to the Castro. I echo ClaudiaCenter: the Haight is no great shakes (I mean -- The Gap???) Definitely take a walk through Golden Gate Park (especially the Arboreteum, which will lead you to the DeYoung Museum). Have a burger at the SF Brewing Company (Calif's first brew pub) on Columbus at Jackson. Do the Golden Gate Bridge (bring a jacket!) and wander along the Marina's waterfront. Avoid Union Square (the Gap, again) and Fisherman's Wharf. Lots of good eats in the Mission. Find the bar called The Palm out there. Also the bar Casanova, on Valencia Street between 16th & 17th Streets, is fun. There's usually decent music at the Elbo Room in the Mission (Valencia, near 17th). If you want a steak in a funky old SF place, go to Alfred's Steakhouse near the Pyramid. And don't forget Chinatown and try to make it up to Coit Tower AT NIGHT. But sculptures? You've picked the wrong town for that!
posted by Lockjaw at 7:51 PM on September 5, 2006

Stay away from Pakwan in the Tenderloin (dangerous neighborhood). There is a location in the Mission on 16th near Guerrero and another on Clay Street near Montgomery.
posted by Lockjaw at 7:52 PM on September 5, 2006

Went to SF for the first time two weeks ago. Only had two days, but loved it.

I was pretty much reliant on my Lonely Planet guide to California, and it didn't steer me wrong. I loved just wondering around and seeing the different neighbourhoods, and being spontaneous. I highly recommend it - played ultimate frisbee in one park, played HORSE against some dude somewhere else - and it's really fun just finding your way about. Of course, you can't do this for two weeks, but it's nice.

turducken - White building, counter on the left as you go in? If so, second that recommendation.

Also agree that the Tenderloin looked dodgy, and that the Mission is cool (stayed in Elements hostel there).

Oh, and San Franciscans - enjoy the BART! After the underground, it was a pleasant change!
posted by djgh at 8:31 PM on September 5, 2006

wondering = wandering


posted by djgh at 8:32 PM on September 5, 2006

Oh, man! I wish I had an hour or two to comment here, but basically heed ClaudiaCenter's advice (I've been here even longer than she (he?) has, but the recs are right on.)

Random points:

Lockjaw has some good suggestions, too, but anyone with "urban" in their username shouldn't worry about the Tenderloin neighborhood at all. There's a pretty good new soul food restaurant there called Farmer John and the drinks are terrific, as is most of the food. (Also, I'm not a fan of Pakwan.)

If you take the (excellent) suggestion to visit Dolores Park (there's a marvelous view of the City from the upper stretches), you might want to visit Mission Dolores itself a few blocks away. The cemetary there is one of only two left in San Francisco (the other is in the Presidio), and is a nice place for a contemplative hour or two. (Also featured in Hitchcock's "Vertigo".)

What the heck... I'm out of time, but feel free to send me an email if you want more specific suggestions. Enjoy your time in San Francisco, you've picked an excellent time of year to visit!
posted by trip and a half at 8:35 PM on September 5, 2006

Best answer: SF is a great city for walking. Here's an entire day worth:

Starting at Fisherman' Wharf or so (which is worth seeing for the sea lions only, otherwise its tourist hell), walk west along the coast toward the Golden Gate bridge. You'll soon enter the Marina district. Watch for the yuppies jogging in their fancy jogging clothes and walking their dogs along the beach. past the Marina on your left is Chrissie field, an airstrip where some early aviators used to fly from. You'll see the bridge loom above you and the path will fork - right, along the water, to Fort Point, a civil war era fort that protected the bay. i've never actually been there but always wanteed to. and left, up the hill through beautiful wooded parkland, eventually to the Golden Gate bridge. On the way up you'll see overgrown fortifications looking down into the bay that date from the Spanish era.

You should walk across the Golden Gate bridge halfway and back (or more if you want). I did this twice and once I could see porpoises jumping in the water below. It is a deecent walk so you get so much time to appreciate the view. (bring a sweater - windy!)

when you return you can explore the Pacific coast along the western edge of the city through the Presidio park. this too is beautiful woods. there are trails along the cliff edge and down near the water that feel amazingly untouched by man since the vegetation grows so thick. also in this area are many more old fortifications and batteries, some dating from the WWII era. you can go exploring. if you want to know more about them, visit the artillery museum in baker beach nearby where you can talk to some of the veterans who once manned them. baker beach by the way is lovely. the north edge is a nude beach.

also along the coast, near the Cliff House at the north tip of Ocean Beach, is the ruins of the Sutro Baths. This was an old bathhouse that had saltwater and freshwater pools. I believe it closed in the depression and there is not much left but the foudnation and the odd staircase and tunnel. a very cool place.

I highly recommend Golden gate park - the DeYoung Museum, the Japanese tea Garden, and the big hill where all the hippies hang out and smoke weed and play frisbee. Also in the southeastern corner there is a really cool old stadium called kezar field, i think; sometimes people jog laps aroudun the track. that's a cool placec to sit.

as you can tell I like history and the whole city carries echoes of the past hidden away in little corners.

have fun! by the way this is the best time of year to visit. fewer tourists and the best weather.
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:04 PM on September 5, 2006

Oops that restaurant is Farmer Brown.

On preview: also what PercussivePaul said.
posted by trip and a half at 9:08 PM on September 5, 2006

I echo lockjaw on taking the F-line "all the way" one way or the other, and also the Valencia street bars (Elbo Room, Casanova). Another alcoholic possibility -- The Mint on Market & Dolores. Karaoke, sushi, drag queens, American idol wannabees -- can't go wrong. (Hmmm .... MeFi karaoke meet up?) Restaurants are a whole 'nother topic -- there are amazing restaurants in every category. One example -- Thep Pnom (sp?) at Waller & Fillmore, more or less between Haight-Ashbury and the Castro -- high-end/excellent Thai. We could have a whole thread just on brunch places. One example -- Town's End at Townsend & Embarcadero, great eggs benedicts (one with salmon), can be combined with a walk along the bay.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:41 PM on September 5, 2006

Are people still going to the Buena Vista for the Irish coffee's? I thought they were quite yummy, but was warned that it was an ultra-touristy thing to do. Had fun anyway!
posted by PsychoKitty at 9:52 PM on September 5, 2006

1) eat a burrito every day, or at least try a few.
2) laying down and enjoy people watching at dolores park on weekends!
3) rent a bike and ride around.
4) go to angel island.
5) farmers market on embarcadero on weekends.
6) check out parrots that hang around near coit tower
7) walk across the golden gate bridge
8) definitely check out: blue bottle coffee in hayes valley (on linden @ gough) and phils coffee (there's one on 24th and folsom, and a new one on 18th and ...sanchez?). blue bottle also has a booth in ferry building serving coffee.
9) go to alamo square for the view, and while you're at it, go shopping in upper haight and hayes valley.
10) oh well, ride the cable's touristy but hey.
posted by grafholic at 10:16 PM on September 5, 2006

Walk. Take the stairs. Have a cappucino at Ritual Roasters and enjoy the Web 2.0 scene.

Read: Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, Virtual Light, Vineland, anything by Philip K Dick or Armistead Maupin, Martin Eden, McTeague.
posted by rdc at 10:37 PM on September 5, 2006

If you are going to have access to a car, go out to Fort Funston and watch the hang gliders. The view is spectacular. It tends to be pretty windy - bring a coat. I also second going over the Golden Gate Bridge and hiking around the Marin Headlands. Go all the way up to the top to Hawk Hill.
posted by gt2 at 10:40 PM on September 5, 2006

I really enjoyed 826 Valencia when I went, which is exactly where you'd expect to find it, and the whole street was full of fantastic shops.Recommended...
posted by Jon Mitchell at 11:19 PM on September 5, 2006

I really enjoyed the Asian Art Museum (in the former SFPL main brainch, next door to the new one, no longer in Golden Gate Park) and wandering the Presido. The hardware store in Japantown has all kinds of interesting tools, "normal" tools, dishes, small appliances, etc.

Second the ferry to Sausalito, and the Ferry Buliding (where you catch it) is fun to wander, especially if you like food.

Couldn't get out of Haight Asbury fast enough, and the Exploratorium was too loud, crowded and busy for my taste.
posted by QIbHom at 11:20 PM on September 5, 2006

If you make it to the Golden Gate Bridge and have time for a foot crossing, try a (relatively) low traffic period and stand behind one of the towers to further block traffic noise.

If the wind is right (and it usually is) you can hear the bridge sing. The view is real nice, too, from either tower.

Also, there are (or were) "secret" tours of the bridge if you talked to the right park/bridge official.
posted by loquacious at 11:25 PM on September 5, 2006

If you have car access, head up to the top of Twin Peaks and take in the view. And I would also pick walking around the Mission and the Castro over Haight Ashbury any day of the week. Unless I was going there to watch a movie at the Red Vic.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 6:29 AM on September 6, 2006

Lived in Berkeley for a eighteen months and hosted numerous visitors in that time. Regular faves were:

Cycle the Golden Gate Bridge - Hire a bike near Pier 38 and cycle over the bridge and down to Sausilito. Get the Ferry back.

Coit Tower - Unmissable views.

Alcatraz - If you've got to go, try and do an evening tour. The place is that much more atmospheric once the sun goes down.

And as no one's covered football yet, go for the Raiders across the bay in Oakland rather than the souless 49ers. Likewise, Oakland A's ahead of SF Giants for baseball. It's just my opinion, but sport is the one thing San Francisco doesn't do very well.
posted by MrMustard at 6:34 AM on September 6, 2006

We were in SFO for 3 days and had a fun time. Some tips: Make sure you get to SFMoMA while the Matthew Barney show is still up. Budget an entire day to spend walking around Telegraph Hill, and rent the parrot movie before you go. Do a sunset booze cruise around Alcatraz and the GGB with Adventurecat. Skip Pier 39 and Ghirardelli Square, unless you like collecting Hard Rock Cafe t-shirts, but don't miss the sea lions on the pier. Avoid the cable cars (insane lines and obnoxious tourists) in favor of the trolley cars and Muni bus system. Eat lots of sushi.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 7:03 AM on September 6, 2006

Lot's of good suggestions... I just want to make sure you skip Pier 39, Ghiradelli Square and Fisherman's Wharf. There are so many other, wonderful things to do.

Angel Island is a really nice day trip, and the Marin Headlands are wonderful. Among the touristy things worth doing are a trip to the top of Twin Peaks, if it's clear.
posted by YoungAmerican at 7:52 AM on September 6, 2006

Best answer: I second the Sutro Baths, and while you're there, visit the park above, Sutro Heights. It's often near-empty, and has great views of city, ocean, baths, highway, mountains.

I'm also very fond of sauna and cold plunge at Kabuki Springs and Spa, followed by sushi and sake in Nihonmachi (Japantown), including a stroll through the little malls. Poking through aisles of imported domestic goods may not sound delightful, but it is.
posted by Riverine at 10:16 AM on September 6, 2006

Best answer: As a life long resident here's a couple of favs.

For dining you can try Foreign Cinema, for a unique experience (get a seating after dark so you can catch some of the movie) right next door is Medjul, which is on the yuppy side but the rooftop deck has an absolutely amazing view on a nice night.

Other Dining Favs/Classics are The Slanted Door (make reservations a couple of days ahead) and Andalu.

Second the Filbert Steps, you should be in shape but they're a unique experience.

For Sport I have to heartily disagree about the lack of sport in SF, (Raiders, Niners, Giants, and A's all perrenial playoff teams?) Niners are more brie eating but Raider game attendees tend to be complete Neadrathals (really the whole Raider Nation thing has become a joke). Personally if you want to do a sporting event go to a Giants game. The ballpark alone is worth the price of admission.

For Drinks on a nice day I'd check out Zeitgeist its a bit of a biker (as in bike messenger) bar with a huge patio to hang out with a bunch of tatooed and pierced types, smoking bowls outside if that's okay with you. For techno/dancingI'd check out Mighty or 111 Minna (dance club/art gallery) which does Qool from 5pm to 10pm on wednesdays, the perfect way to party after work but still make it to work the next day. But parties like regular on Fri/Sat.
posted by bitdamaged at 10:35 AM on September 6, 2006

Response by poster: I really appreciate all the responses to my question. I shall take a printout of this with me, work out what to do, do it, then mark some answers when I get back.

MOMA, Muir Woods, Berkeley, a Giants game, the parrots, Alcatraz at night, and burritos are definately on the list. Damn, i'll try and do it all. No. If i do that, I'll have no reason to go back :)

Many thanks to everyone.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 4:29 PM on September 6, 2006

Lots of excellent suggestions here, to which I'll add two words: Tank Hill.

The most spectacular all-round view of the city, from the bridges in the south bay to the ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge and Point Reyes. Closer in, Cole Valley and Haight-Ashbury neighbourhoods. And best of all, no hordes of tourists and tour buses. If it's not too windy, you can sit in the warm sunshine on the rocks and listen to neighbourhood sounds coming up amazingly clearly.

(Oops! I hope I don't get in trouble for talking about that jewel on a global forum!)
posted by phliar at 6:20 PM on September 6, 2006

Better page about Tank Hill.
posted by phliar at 6:23 PM on September 6, 2006

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