What should I do in San Francisco?
February 5, 2007 10:34 AM   Subscribe

What should I do in San Francisco next week?

I'm surprised that I can't find more AskMe threads about what to do in San Francisco, so here goes …

We're a couple in our mid-twenties traveling to San Francisco for the first time this weekend, and we'll be staying for most of next week. We're staying in Union Square. We'd like to eat wonderful food, bar hop, bike, be immersed in the culture, and do whatever else there is to do in San Francisco. We also want to rent a car for a day to see the redwoods and the surrounding San Francisco area to get a true northern California experience. What shouldn't we miss?

Oh, also, I'm a little bit bummed out that weather.com is predicting rain on the 10-day forecast. Can you provide me with contingency plans and/or well-wishes?
posted by TurkishGolds to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (30 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
We did this in August and had a blast: a 10 day trip, including 3 days SFO, 3 days Napa, 3 days Redwood National Park, and a travel day.

You really need more than a day to travel north of the city. But if you are tied to the city and need a day trip, visit Muir Woods. Otherwise, the hidden jewel of the north coast is Trinidad, a six hour drive, but convenient to both Arcata (a neat hippie college town) and the redwood parks.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 10:50 AM on February 5, 2007

If you're foodies, stop by here:
We've enjoyed everything we've tried from the various stores there, be it cheese, chocolates, or the pasteries from Miette. It's in an old ferry building off of the Embarcadero.

Within walking distance from the marketplaces is the Cartoon Art Museum: http://www.cartoonart.org/, which is fairly small but quite nice. The afternoon we were there it was virtually empty, which was wonderful.

And a longshot, not knowing if either of you are remotely crafty, but since you're staying in the area I'll mention Britex Fabrics in Union Square. Their remnants and notions floors have caused me to go over our luggage weight limit more than once.
posted by librarianamy at 10:53 AM on February 5, 2007

I've really only spent an afternoon in San Fransisco, but can heartily second the Ferry building Market at the Embarcadero. It's a lovely spot, some cool cafe/restaurants, and great specialist food stores.
posted by darsh at 11:00 AM on February 5, 2007

I always point tourists, gay, straight, and whatever else, to the Castro. You really can't have the experience of being completely immersed in gay culture (or at least one aspect of it) anywhere else. Also, the Castro has some of the best bars.

Check the bike coalition website for bike maps and bike events (although the weather may screw up any biking plans).

For food try this list of amazing restaurants. There's also a lot of quality food that is on the cheaper side. The Guardian Cheap Eats column will give you some ideas, and their site will also give you ideas of things to do while you're here.

For being immersed in culture, I'd say don't spend much time in Union Square where you're staying. The Mission is a neighborhood with lots in the arts, theatre, food, bars, etc dept. Chinatown is also cool and, although touristy, still a real neighborhood community.

There are many wonderful museums that you can easily google. The Asian Art museum and the SFMOMA are two faves. And if the weather is good, you should go to Golden Gate Park and check out the Japanese Tea Garden and teh deYoung Museum

Have a great time!
posted by serazin at 11:03 AM on February 5, 2007

Please try to make the time to visit at least one of The City's deservedly famous and fabulous art museums! Then there is the SF Conservatory of Flowers, the SF Zoo, Fisherman's Wharf; oh my goodness, the possibilities are endless!
posted by Lynsey at 11:05 AM on February 5, 2007

If you go to Haight Ashbury check out a beer bar called the Toronado. One of the all-time best micro brewery taverns anywhere.

posted by SMELLSLIKEFUN at 11:08 AM on February 5, 2007

The Exploratorium is an awesome science museum that shouldn't be overlooked as a "kids' attraction". The Palace of Fine Arts where it's located has some amazing architecture, too.
posted by contraption at 11:10 AM on February 5, 2007

North Beach. Go spend time (and money) at the wonderful City Lights bookstore, and then take your purchases next door to Vesuvio, where you can drink beer and read through your books. Sit upstairs, at a table that looks out on Columbus Ave.

(Don't drive to North Beach, though - parking is heinous. From Union Square, take the 30 Stockton bus, which will take you through Chinatown. Or you can take a cablecar, if it isn't raining.)

(And I second Toronado - go next door and order a sausage at Rosamundes, then take it to the Toronado and eat your fantastic sausage and drink your excellent beer.)
posted by rtha at 11:16 AM on February 5, 2007

Also, if you find yourself in the Outer Sunset at any time and you like Indian food and pizza, you should get an Indian Pizza at Golden Gate Pizza & Indian Cuisine. We stumbled on it by chance when visiting a friend in the neighborhood, and my girlfriend and I like it so much that when we passed through SF last weekend, we made a point of stopping there and ordering one pizza to eat on the spot, and a second to bring home to Santa Cruz.

(We later discovered that Indian Pizza is something of a trend in SF and have tried one other place, but Golden Gate is our fave so far. Plus they have online ordering)
posted by contraption at 11:19 AM on February 5, 2007

If you visit the places mentioned above, you will find that in the course of your travels to and from - San Francisco just happens. You'll find that everything you listed that you want to do will unfold right in front of you. You can't say that about most any other American city, but with San Francisco, it's compact enough to see and feel the vibes of the city simply by being there. If this sounds like an easy "out" to your question, you'll soon find out what I mean. You'll love San Francisco. Have a great time!

posted by Gerard Sorme at 11:29 AM on February 5, 2007

I strongly second John Muir Woods. In addition to the redwoods, there are lots of other strange and beautiful trees, and the drive there can take you across the Golden Gate, through Sausalito (fun for lunch), and over amazing steep foggy ridges before you get down to the park.

And Gerard Sorme is right, too. I spent a wonderful day just walking around with a map and found myself in Chinatown, at City Lights, on Lombard St, and down at Fisherman's Wharf, along with all the less famous nooks in between. It's a very easy city to wander in.
posted by hippugeek at 12:05 PM on February 5, 2007

When my husband and I went to San Francisco a few years ago, I found suggestions on this website. I printed out a couple of itineraries and we used them as a loose guide.

Weather permitting, I also recommend Muir Woods and Golden Gate State Park. I absolutely loved the Japanese Tea Garden.
posted by mamaquita at 12:13 PM on February 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ocean Beach and the Park Chalet are also neat places to see and relax in out in the Outer Sunset (especially in fair weather). The best view of the city is to be had at Twin Peaks. There's a fabulous tiki bar in the Fairmont Hotel. Live acts on a floating bamboo boat!

But to prioritize, I would second SFMOMA (Give it ~3 hrs) the Conservatory of Flowers (~1 hr) and the Exploratorium (3-6 hrs ) as key attractions.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:17 PM on February 5, 2007

Expect a lot of things in the Financial District to be closed on weekends, though. I've found things in the Ferry Bldg to be closed on weekends too. I was just down there on Saturday night and couldn't find a coffee shop open anywhere!

If you have a half day, consider the Angel Island tour.

Don't worry about the rain too much. It's usually pretty light.
posted by drstein at 12:27 PM on February 5, 2007

If it does rain, like others have said, the SFMOMA is an excellent option. Heck, I love it even when it doesn't rain!
posted by Meemer at 12:32 PM on February 5, 2007

Toronado, Rosamunde, and SFMOMA (at least just the gift shop) thirded.
posted by kcm at 12:36 PM on February 5, 2007

I'm surprised that I can't find more AskMe threads about what to do in San Francisco,

Really? There seem to be tons of threads about SF.









Cripes. And that was just back through July 2006.

And as drstein says, the rain is usually really light. Persistent, but light. And we need it!!!
posted by otherwordlyglow at 12:36 PM on February 5, 2007 [2 favorites]

Crap. Those are meant to be links. Sorry, not enough coffee today - but you get the idea. Do a search for "sanfrancisco" not, as you've tagged here, with the two words separate.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 12:38 PM on February 5, 2007

You should totally wander into an indie show while you're in the indie music capital of the west coast, btw. Slim's, The Make Out Room, The Independent... I don't know every spot in town, but those are three. Also, for barhopping, Hemlock Tavern's a cool bar/venue with a smoking room, and MarsBar has a covered? I think? patio, you smoker.

And I seem my Tonga Room link above is 404.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:38 PM on February 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

There is so much amazing food here. A lot depends on how much money you want to spend - there are amazing cheap and amazing expensive places.

For expensive our favorites are Boulevards (California), and Farallon (seafood). For medium priced meals, Helmand (Afghani), Chenery Park (California), Minako (organic Japanese), Spiazzo (Italian), Cha Cha Cha (Caribbean). For cheap, walk around the Tenderloin neighborhood for Vietnamese places, visit the good old USA Restaurant for cheap Italian food in North Beach, or walk around Haight street.

For entertainment, checkout the squidlist calendar or the SF Chronicle entertainment guide.
posted by jasper411 at 12:39 PM on February 5, 2007

Not the greatest weather for it, but take the long way along the coast and stop in Bolinas for lunch on your way north. And go through Berkeley on your way back. Chez Panisse, maybe?
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 12:39 PM on February 5, 2007

I would second serazin's nomination of the Castro, but also, be sure to wander. Though there's lots worth seeing there if you've never been, the Castro proper (roughly bounded by Market, Castro, 18th, and Noe) is frequently best described as a zoo for tourists.

The "real" Castro neighborhood is off the beaten path: walk north on Noe Street toward Duboce Park. Or walk south on Noe (over some high hills!) toward Noe Valley.

In fact, the best microcosm of SF life I can think of is Duboce Park, along with the several blocks of cafes, pokey restaurants, novelty stores, music shops, ramshackle Queen Anne homes, and cubbyholes surrounding it. Dogs, dogwalkers, kids, people enjoying the sun, people waiting for the MUNI underground to come past ..... unbeatable slice of real SF life.

Just walk ..... and walk ..... and wander. No better city in the world suited for that sort of thing, in my opinion.

Also, for unforgettable city views, you can't beat Corona Heights.
posted by blucevalo at 12:42 PM on February 5, 2007

Add: a Duboce Park link.
posted by blucevalo at 12:43 PM on February 5, 2007

Stay faaar away from Pier 39 and that area (except to briefly see the sea lions) it's a complete tourist trap.

You can roller skate in Golden Gate park on the weekends, that's always fun.

North beach is an awesome place to go for dinner, dancing, bar hopping on a weekend. Just walk around in the little streets above broadway and experience it.

Also, try to find the wild parrots of telegraph hill while you're in North Beach.
posted by aacheson at 12:54 PM on February 5, 2007

Take in a reading at City Lights, drive down the World's Crookedest Street, hike up Mount Tamalpais, walk the Golden Gate Bridge. If you have time, drive that rental car up to Point Reyes.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 1:06 PM on February 5, 2007

If you're in Haight + Ashbury, stop at the mouth-watering Cha-cha-cha tapas mecca. (Hint: come around 7, sit at the bar, order your tapas, try their sangrias and please don't drive home).

Also, for San Francisco's "surrounding areas", this tag might help. :)
posted by ruelle at 1:26 PM on February 5, 2007

if you find yourselves wandering around 16th street, and you're both interested in art galleries, be sure to stop in to creativity explored and needles & pens.
posted by antitext at 1:28 PM on February 5, 2007

Here's how I'd spend at least one day. Start with the best cup of coffee you'll ever have at Philz Coffee on 24th & Folsom (Mission District). For a big and hearty breakfast, surrounded by stunning murals, walk a block to the restaurant El Delphin. Or if you're in the mood for a pastry, walk a bit further to La Victoria Panaderia. A block or so away from La Victoria, drop by Precita Eyes to get a map of the Mission's famous and fabulous murals.

Most of the murals are around the 24th street area; when you've seen enough, head down 24th toward Valencia. Take a right (toward 16th) for shopping/food/more coffee/etc. Don't miss Aquarius Records. Even if you're muralled-out, you owe it to yourself to make a short detour to the jaw-dropping MaestraPeace Women's Building mural on 18th street. Continue down Valencia and take a left at 16th (toward Market).

On 16th, see if anything interesting is playing at The Roxie, and browse for awhile in the overwhelming but endlessly fascinating clutter of Adobe Books. Keep on going down 16th. At the corner of 16th & Dolores, visit the oldest intact building in San Francisco, the Mission Dolores basilica (and cemetary, which played a central role in the film Vertigo). Walk down Dolores to Dolores Park at 18th; climb the hill for the one of the most magical views of the city.

Keep going down 18th until you get to the Castro, stopping for tea at the Zen-ish Samovar Tea Lounge. Spend the rest of the day/evening in the Castro and Duboce Triangle areas for all the reasons mentioned above. Plan on eating dinner in or near the Castro -- there are endless wonderful options. And I'd highly recommend catching a movie at the magnificent Castro Theater where, if you're lucky, you'll get to hear fully-functioning Wurlitzer organ being played before the show.
posted by treepour at 2:28 PM on February 5, 2007

Looks like I'll be the first to mention it: Zeitgeist located @ Valencia and Duboce, Mission District.

World's best dive/ gay/ straight/ bike messenger bar. Sit outside, order a pitcher, and immediately make friends. Show up early enough to get an outside table on a weekend (weather permitting), prepare to stay for six hours or better.

If you're feeling the effects of the previous night, make sure to order the best bloody mary in the city.

Recently a friend of mine moved to SF from Europe, Zeitgeist was our first stop!
posted by vaportrail at 6:15 PM on February 5, 2007

I ate at Jai Yun. As far as I'm aware it's the only market driven Chinese restaurant in the US. You choose dinner based on what you'd like to pay and wait for food. If I recall correctly, I received about ten courses comprised of about sixteen separate items. Michael Bauer, the SF Gate food critic, rates it very highly.

I've eaten at A16, Campton Place, Zuni Cafe, Chez Panisse (and Cafe, both in Berkeley), Yank Sing, Koi Palace, Ton Kiang, Saigon Sandwich, La Tartine (Oakland), The Slanted Door, Ad Hoc (in Napa Valley), Canteen, Santa Ramen (San Mateo), Ramen Halu (Berkeley), Suzu (ramen), Bette's Ocean View Diner, Manresa (Santa Cruz), Pizzaiolo (sp?, Oakland), Tacubaya (Berkeley), Taqueria San Francisco and Than Long (garlic crab).

I would enthusiastically recommend Jai Yun, Saigon Sandwich (banh mi ), Santa Ramen, La Tartine (bakery), Canteen (diner), Manresa. Some others were good or even very good but I've only visited them once and can't recommend them. However, I'm personally looking forward to returning to Chez Panisse, Zuni, Ad Hoc, Tacubaya, Pizzaiolo. As for the rest, there's just too much competition in San Francisco.

I have a long list of other restaurants that I'm excited to try on my next trip but I got them from Chowhound or the SF Gate food section and can't really add to what you could find on your own. I found a lot of appealing restaurants in Zagats that I don't remember from the Gate. And I'm planning to consult burritoeater.com for my next trip.

As far as attractions, I've done Coit Tower, Alcatraz, Golden Gate Park ( the Japanese Tea Garden and the de Young sculpture garden, including the Tully skyscape and Claes Oldenburg's safety pin sculpture), the Palace of Fine Arts, Muir Woods, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Sutro Baths, the Hungry Hippy tour of Haight-Asbury, the Berkeley campus (including the entomology museum where the didn't really seem prepared to deal with an actual visitor), Indian Rock and the surrounding resdential neighborhood (in Berkeley), the farmers market at the Ferry Building, Chinatown.

I was very sorry that I couldn't fit in a tour of the artist in residence program at the city dump. I think it's the 3rd Saturday of each month so it might fit into your schedule. And I was also sorry that I didn't get to the hydrological model of the Bay Area. These were both recommended to me when I asked a similar question last February.
posted by stuart_s at 11:00 PM on February 5, 2007

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