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Vacation to San Francisco: Local Recommendations

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eugenefl

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Greetings TRFers. I bet no one on this forum has ever been to San Francisco. ;) That's why I'm fishing for recommendations on things to do from a local's perspective that are non-touristy (since we're already going to do a few touristy must-do things). My traveling job takes me to Sonoma next month and I figured I'd make a weeklong vacation out of it. My lovely high school sweetheart (now my girlfriend after 15 years of being apart) will be joining me for what will be our first stay there, her first visit to CA ever. I visited briefly last year and looked forward to returning this year on a vacation.

Here's the plan so far:

Monday - fly in late. (Hotel stay at the Clift in Union Square through Thursday.)
Tuesday - 9AM Alcatraz tour, mid-day nap (jetlag), drive on Lombard St, Chinatown in the afternoon.
Wednesday - Pretty much open, but thinking about Golden Gate Bridge park (photo ops) and dinner at Scoma's on Fisherman's Wharf in the early evening.
Thursday - Wide open. Maybe stroll and let the lady shop some, depart around 3PM for hotel in Sonoma.
Fri - Work all day, evening is open for a dinner. (Any good recommendations?)
Sat - Work 'til 2PM, Napa Valley Wine Train for their dinner & wine tasting
Sun - Work all day, no time to play, depart

Some recommendations I've received so far: Take a water ferry in the afternoon for a dinner in Sausalito, use the BART & trolleys instead of moving a rental car around, Red/White Sunset cruise around the bay.

Looking for: Must-do/"Can't afford to miss out" opportunities, excellent dinner/cuisine experiences, recommendations on galleries/museums, etc.

Thanks all.

- Eugene
 

WillMarchant

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There are visitor's centers at the North and South end of the Golden Gate Bridge. Park at one of those and walk over the bridge. It will be miserable if the bridge is foggy, but it is really neat if it is relatively clear.

While you're in the area you should try and visit the http://www.nps.gov/goga/nike-missile-site.htm Nike missile site. I was there a couple of years ago and they let us into the underground storage magazine and we got to ride on the reload elevator. The http://www.nikemissile.org/site_sf88.shtml site says there have been some complaints about the site being closed during posted hours. You should probably call ahead.

The Hiller Aviation museum http://www.hiller.org/ is just south of SFO. Lockheed built a lot of the early Corona spy satellites here.

If you don't mind crossing the bay you can visit http://www.uss-hornet.org/ and celebrate the 40th anniversary of the lunar landings.

If you don't burn up all of your "east bay time" on the Hornet, the http://www.oaklandaviationmuseum.org/ at the Oakland airport is nice. They have a Short flying boat used in one of the Indiana Jones movies.
 

JoeLaunchman

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That sounds like a great itinerary already. I've been to each of those attractions but only seen the wine train, not ridden it. You could easily fit in a few more things:
1. On Tues., try to fit in a trip to Coit Tower:

http://www.sftravel.com/coit-tower-san-francisco.html

This will provide you with a great scenic overview of the city and many great photo ops.

2. On Tues. or Thurs. set aside time to ride the cable cars, just note the line up of tourists at the start of the line is usually long, so get there early and ride it to the end at the wharf area. You can also work in a stop at the Cable Car Museum and see the working powerhouse, equipment, etc.:

http://www.cablecarmuseum.org/

3. On Wed. make sure to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin County side. There's a side road that takes you up the Marin Headlands overlooking the bridge for the best scenic views of the city and bay area.

4. Before or after dinner on Thurs., cross the street to Ghirardelli Square, get your free samples of chocolate at the chocolate shop and buy something for your gf:

http://www.ghirardellisq.com/ghirardellisq/index.htm

5. If you eat lunch in Chinatown look for a place that advertizes "dim sum." This is a type of cuisine that allows you to sample many different things from a cart that is pushed around the restaurant. Especially good if you're not sure what you want. Note: there's also a Japan-town in SF, last time my wife and I filled up at an all-you-can eat sushi buffet, sorry I don't remember the name of it.

Have a great trip!
 

AKPilot

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Eugenio,

SFO and the Bay Area is where I grew up. Given the amount of time you have, your plans are solid and well based on your interests.

I agree with your itinerary and to what Joe added, about crossing the Golden Gate as you head into Sonoma. Also, just across the Golden Gate, on your way up there are the redwoods, so don't forget those. Impressive!

You might also want to consider skipping the nap and head to the Haight-Ashbury district, as well as Post Card Row (victorian style homes always seen in the movies). You can also call the tourist bureau and they'll point you to all of the fun places you see in the movies (e.g. Dirty Harry, Mrs. Doubtfire, etc.).

Enjoy it!

P.S. Am headed back to your neck of the woods next month again. If you're still around lets meet up for dinner again.
 

talkin Monkey

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I lived in San Jose for 22 years but never got to Alcatraz, tried going before I left but couldn't get tickets due to no reservations. Check into it if you haven't already.

Maybe jump in your rental and be-bop south on Highway 1 for a trip down the coast to Half Moon Bay for lunch or even to Ano Nuevo Park and see the seals.

Here- http://www.parks.ca.gov/ -is pretty cool too but if you hit traffic wrong you'll spend a lot of time getting there or back.
 

bobkrech

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You might consider a visit to the US Army Corps of Engineers Bay Model Visitor Center in Sausalito. http://www.spn.usace.army.mil/bmvc/ They have scaled working models of San Francisco Bay and other Corps watershed projects.

Another interesting stop north of SF is the Muir Woods. http://www.nps.gov/muwo/ Huge redwood trees in a temperate coastal rain forest.

Bob
 

TWRackers

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Looks like you lost your bet, Eugene.

I've been there twice for several days each trip, and I loved it both times. The first trip we (three engineers and myself from work) were in Alameda for software training, and we spent our evenings exploring Fisherman's Wharf, one of the science museums, and Mount Tamalpais (sp?) across the Golden Gate Bridge. The second trip I went by myself to attend a three-day workshop at The Exploratorium, which in itself is a terrific place to visit.
 

eugenefl

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Wow - all good suggestions. I didn't realize the redwoods were that close. I'll definitely pencil that in. I may rearrange the itinerary a tad so that we minimize pulling the rental car our of a parking lot but to the one day when we depart. Perhaps on Thursday we'll ride on Lombard St, drive over the GG Bridge & make the stop, and hit the redwoods @ Muir or on the way to Sonoma. The cable car museum sounds like a winner too. talkin monkey, already got our Alcatraz tickets purchased/reserved as I figured it'd be a popular attraction in the summer. I guess living in Florida prepares you for crowds.

Any quaint or intimate restaurants off the beaten path to enjoy? Someone mentioned a water ferry to Sausalito for dinner. Anyone can vouch for that experience? I just noticed there is a Scoma's on Fisherman's Wharf and another in Sausalito. Last year the group I was with waited over an hour to get seated at the Fisherman's Wharf location.
 

spacecadet

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I can vouch for Sausalito; problem is the Golden Gate ferries are really for commuters so they don't run very late- maybe a long lunch instead? Someone else will have to help out with names- it's 20 years since I was there- but if you can get to Tiburon, Guaymas is still there.
Your mileage may vary, but we wouldn't consider an itinerary which didn't allow for frequent liquid refreshment, which can be a problem anywhere 1) involving large distances and 2) lacking in public transport, viz. the bits of the US we know about.
 

Peartree

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Your mileage may vary, but we wouldn't consider an itinerary which didn't allow for frequent liquid refreshment, which can be a problem anywhere 1) involving large distances and 2) lacking in public transport...
This pretty much describes all of the United States except New York City and downtown Chicago. Very often, tax money designated for public transportation is used to make the interstate highways wider.:p
 

bobkrech

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A wonderful restaurant but possibly a bit out of the way if you're staying in SF.

Skates on the Bay in Berkeley, CA. http://www.skatesonthebay.com/

Great view of SF from across the bay. Great food as well. Actually went there because I received a gift certificate for dinner for two as a wedding present 24 years ago. I'd go again if I was in the area.

I combined a paper presentation at the International Shock Tube Symposium in Berkeley in 1985 with a honeymoon. (3 1/2 days of meetings allowed a 15 day leisurely coastal tour of CA from SF to SD with partially paid airfare, car, hotel and meals. Not a bad deal.) This symposium always has a half-day social scheduled so it's a nice conference to bring the wife along. The social started out with a bus trip from Berkley to Muir Woods with a return to the SF Bay model in Sausalito where we meet a charter boat upon which we had a 3 hour sunset dinner cruise around the bay returning to pier 39 and a bus back to Berkeley.

This was only one of my two business trips that my wife actually wanted to go on. Needless to say we both had a great time.

Bob
 

spacecadet

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Those interstates are great, though. And since every imaginable place has a liquor licence (except Utah- very disconcerting, even though we were prepared for it!) you can always make up for it in the evenings.
The cable car network is a bit limited though, and I've only seen the BART as a ruin in that science fiction movie.
 

RimfireJim

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One thing you want to consider is that the weather in SF is still pretty cool in June, especially if you are right on the bay. Bring a jacket!

When my son and I were on a Boy Scout bicycle ride from Marin County to San Luis Obispo County in July a few years ago, we just about froze our heinies off on the Golden Gate Bridge - cold, foggy and windy.
 

JoeLaunchman

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"The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco."
- Mark Twain
 

AHansom

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"The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco."
- Mark Twain
You beat me to that one. Thats one of my favorite quotes when somebody comes to visit us in the summer. Even if San Francisco is cold and foggy Sonoma could be around 90. Once you leave the ocean and head inland just a little the fog goes away temps really go up.
 

bobkrech

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Amen. SF has the strange weather and temperature spreads I have ever seen. I remember driving down the coast from the Golden Gate to Santa Cruz. Temperature at the GG bridge 55 F, temperature in Santa Cruz 90F. On the other side of the Oakland Hills and in wine country, it was over 100F. Dress in layers and bring a jacket.

Bob
 

mach7

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You have Alcatraz covered.

When in the east bay try:

http://www.heinoldsfirstandlastchance.com/

In Jack London square.

In San Fransisco try Tommy's Joynt at Geary blvd and Van Ness. Great food, lots of beer.

Ride the cable cars, but the line can be LOOONG.

Jacks Cannery bar has good food at fishermans wharf.

The In-n-out burger is there also.

The aquarium is nice (pier 39 I think)

They have some nice maritime museums, Tall ships and a ww2 sub.
 

GuyNoir

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For a great historical overview of the city and its neighborhoods, do the Grey Line bus tour. Four hours, you go everywhere and get a good "flavor" of the town.
 

Peartree

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A wonderful restaurant but possibly a bit out of the way if you're staying in SF.

Skates on the Bay in Berkeley, CA. http://www.skatesonthebay.com/

Great view of SF from across the bay. Great food as well. Actually went there because I received a gift certificate for dinner for two as a wedding present 24 years ago. I'd go again if I was in the area.

I combined a paper presentation at the International Shock Tube Symposium in Berkeley in 1985 with a honeymoon. (3 1/2 days of meetings allowed a 15 day leisurely coastal tour of CA from SF to SD with partially paid airfare, car, hotel and meals. Not a bad deal.) This symposium always has a half-day social scheduled so it's a nice conference to bring the wife along. The social started out with a bus trip from Berkley to Muir Woods with a return to the SF Bay model in Sausalito where we meet a charter boat upon which we had a 3 hour sunset dinner cruise around the bay returning to pier 39 and a bus back to Berkeley.

This was only one of my two business trips that my wife actually wanted to go on. Needless to say we both had a great time.

Bob
If that's the one I'm thinking of (right at the Berkeley end of the bridge) I can second this recommendation. On my only business trip to CA (or second if the US Army counts as a business trip) we had a computer class in Berkeley and ate there one evening. The food was good and the view was fantastic. We ate and watched the fog roll in slowly from the ocean to the Golden Gate and on in until we couldn't see anything, but then it was getting dark anyway. A much nicer dinner than I ever expected on a business trip.
 

chanstevens

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Probably too late to change, but Alcatraz offers special evening tours that are much cooler/spookier.

I'd second Saulsolito, but maybe a half day to allow a walking tour of the funky town. Stop by an ice cream stand and wrap up with dinner in any of the great seafood joints along the shore. There are some good pizza places on the main drag as well.

I'd also second the acquarium. Nice tours, not too overpriced.

I'd "browse" Fisharman's Wharf, but avoid eating there. Way too touristy/overpriced.I think my wife & I stayed in the financial district, and I'm an early riser, wound up strolling Chinatown each morning, caught great breakfasts at a different joint every day for under $6.

Can't remember the name of the place, but there was a tiny Fortune Cookie plant literally in an alley between main streets in China Town where you could get good/fresh fortune cookies. Also, might be thinking way too far out on this, but they can plant your own custom fortunes for you, as in, say, a marriage proposal.

The cable car museum is excellent.

As you look over all the advice, two thoughts will emerge--there's simply no way to cover such an amazing city in a week, but there's also almost no way to do anything boring/wrong in a week either.

Oh yeah--do yourself a favor and read a Christopher Moore book or two before you head out. A Dirty Job, You Suck or Bloodsucking Fiends are all laugh-out-loud hillarious and based in SF with lots of local color. I especially love the emperor of SF, based upon a real life homeless guy.
 

AKPilot

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I have to vouch for the fog. I too have cycled all of Highway 1 from Northern to Souther Cal a couple times and the fog is the reason Sir Francis Drake didn't discover the bay during the summer.

For me, and our family, Golden Gate Park and the museum is a must. Fantastic exhibits and seen in lots of movies. I still remember the Gary Larsen, Far Side, exhibit where you entered and stood on a glass floor - only to find out you were on the slide of a microscope. When you looked up, there was a giant eye peering down at you, through the microscope.

The restaurant in Berkley is a great. I did another one for my Senior Prom, but it's the same effect, seeing San Francisco at night from across the pay.

On your way there, stop at Treasure Island and get some good pics of the city.

If you're going to Berkley, you may also want to stop by People's Park and see where all of the peace rallies took place during the 60s/70s. I still remember all of the protests, etc. As a matter of fact, many of my middle and high school teachers were Berkleyites. Made for an extremely fun school experience. I still remember our English/Spanish teacher telling us where to buy mary-jane for theraputic purposes.
 

Pippen

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Eugene, it looks like you need to add another week or two onto your trip. :)
 

bobkrech

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If that's the one I'm thinking of (right at the Berkeley end of the bridge) I can second this recommendation. On my only business trip to CA (or second if the US Army counts as a business trip) we had a computer class in Berkeley and ate there one evening. The food was good and the view was fantastic. We ate and watched the fog roll in slowly from the ocean to the Golden Gate and on in until we couldn't see anything, but then it was getting dark anyway. A much nicer dinner than I ever expected on a business trip.
Probably.

It's 2 miles North of the Bay Bridge on Seawall Drive at the end of the University Drive Weat exit of the 80/580 Interstate that runs on the East side of the bay.

Bob
 

AKPilot

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It is a fun area to visit.

I still remember growing up there, when most of the Bay Area was simply orchards, fields, or green houses.
 
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