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San Francisco Travel Tips?

Discussion in 'Off The Beaten Track' started by kylet3, Apr 21, 2014.

  1. kylet3

    kylet3 Well-Known Member

    Hi All,

    I'm looking at doing a San Francisco trip for four or five days come in October possibly for my birthday. I've done some preliminary research and it looks like this is what I've found so far:

    Union Square (For the shopping, looks like it's pretty good? And Dior Homme! Very rare :)
    The Castro (including gay bars/nightlife, and any LGBT history museums that may be in the area)
    Alamo Square
    Market Street
    Fishermans wharf
    Pacific Heights

    I'm looking at the upscale shopping and it looks like Union square had me covered. And of course being gay, the Castro looks like an absolute must-see and do. Are there any LGBT points of interest other than the Castro that anyone can suggest? Anything else that I'm missing that anyone else can think of?

    Thanks much!
  2. UMBS Go Blue


    Just got slammed with lots of work so may take a while to respond more fully, but for context, are you coming from a big city or small town? Even if the latter, there's not that much shopping-wise here that you can't already get anywhere else, except maybe for specialty stores, other high-end boutiques, and local names.

    Also, what are your personal travel / lifestyle / transit preferences? For example, as far as travel is concerned, do you like to do the things most tourists usually do, or do you like to dig deep and do offbeat things frequented by locals? Same goes for what I call "lifestyle" - any specific cultural (even within the LGBT world, there are lots of specific "scenes" or subcliques if you know what I mean), arts, music, or cuisine preferences? Also, as for transit, are you reasonably mobile, between walking on foot and/or using public transit? Also, will you have a smartphone with US data access on you? It'll be very helpful, on top of a printed map, because you should be able to pull up public transit directions on the fly, if you're tired of walking all those SF hills.

    A quick commentary:

    Union Square - yes, the shopping hub, with lots of individual stores spread throughout a 10-12 block radius, plus a gigantic indoor Westfield mall on Market Street. There are also many pretty boutiques and high/low-end designer shops in gentrified neighborhoods throughout the city.

    Alcatraz - a touristy thing to do, but I guess that's what you're here for ;)

    The Castro (including gay bars/nightlife, and any LGBT history museums that may be in the area) - there is an LGBT history museum, Google it, not sure if it's any good; just perusing the main several blocks of Castro stretching south of Market Street plus the bars along the side streets in this corridor; as well as Market Street between Castro Street and Church Street, should be flavorful enough. Keep in mind that there are awesome bars everywhere in the city, the LGBT population is thoroughly integrated into almost all neighborhoods, and you don't have to stick just to gay bars or the Castro to have a good time or to feel comfortable with a same-sex partner or date.

    Alamo Square - absolutely recommended both for touristy value and for a nice picnic with a gorgeous view. As it's on the top of a hill, bring layers - it's super windy - and get there by public transit or tourist doubledecker bus. There is a new branch of Bi-Rite Market - a local favorite - on Divisadero Street nearby, for all your picnic and self-catering needs.

    Chinatown - only touristy value, not really noteworthy Chinese food at all

    Market Street - it's a loooong street. The main downtown corridor, closer to Embarcadero, is the financial district with mostly skyscrapers and high-end restaurants, while closer to Powell Street station is the Westfield mall and Union Square, as described above.

    Fishermans Wharf - tourist trap with tourist flavor, not real authentic SF flavor. Go here only if you're boarding a ferry to Alcatraz or for (very highly recommended in good weather) a Bay cruise going underneath either the Bay Bridge or Golden Gate Bridge.

    Pacific Heights - very hilly but stunning views of the bay, and $20-30 million mansions all around.

    Other LGBT points of interest - there are lots of bars along Folsom Street in the SoMa (South of Market) neighborhood, all of varying degrees of sketchiness. ;)

    Again, let me know what your specific tastes are and I can recommended some more specific spots. Edited to add: besides right this very second, October should be the best time of year to come here, weather-wise! :40beers:
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2014
  3. UMBS Go Blue


    Also, there was this old thread:

    I still recommend every step of the Cole Valley - Haight Ashbury - Lower Haight - Hayes Valley walking tour I laid out. Between one gentrified neighborhood (Cole Valley) to another (Hayes Valley), you'll get more flavor for what SF is really like than, say, Alcatraz or Fisherman's Wharf. The only caveat is in step 4, this sentence should read:

    From A, continue down Hayes Haight, turn left at Fillmore, and turn right at Hayes, or from B, continue down Haight Hayes, and keep going into...
  4. luenatic

    luenatic Well-Known Member

    Excuse me! The egg tart and macaroon are da bomb at Golden Gate: http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUser...den_Gate_Bakery-San_Francisco_California.html
    I really like the spicy food at Z & Y Restaurant. My whole mouth goes numb with all the Szechuan peppers! Warning: This restaurant is very 'Chinese style". Most American would think the service is rude and unorganized. But that's how it rolls in Hong Kong too. I guess you really get the authentic Chinese experience there.

    De Young Museum is a great place to visit.

    There are also drag shows and such if you're interested. (No, I'm not talking about Beach Blanket and Babylon!)
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2014
  5. dardar1126

    dardar1126 Well-Known Member

    One quirky stop that I love is The Filbert Street Steps on the backside of Telegraph Hill. Wooden steps lead down one of the loveliest little neighborhoods...funky little wooden cottages, lush greenery, numerous cats and feral parrots! A hidden jewel in the city...just be sure you choose to walk DOWN rather than up...unless you are in good condition and like exercise. :D



    If you visit North Beach and the Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill, the steps could be a nice little side trip.
    skateboy and (deleted member) like this.
  6. myhoneyhoney

    myhoneyhoney Well-Known Member

    Do your best to walk Lands End. Gorgeous views and a nice hike/walk. There's the ruins of the Sutro Baths, a labyrinth, you can even go down massive stairs to a small hidden beach!
  7. Spun Silver

    Spun Silver Well-Known Member

  8. Artemis@BC

    Artemis@BC Well-Known Member

    Beach Blanket Babylon. OTT and FAB-u-lous musical about San Fran. Campy good fun.

    I wish I could remember the name of the restaurant I went to in the Castro when I was there a couple of years ago. It was veg-friendly (or possibly all veg) and utterly delish.
  9. UMBS Go Blue


    Disagree. Very disappointed by Golden Gate, which is average at best.

    For cheap Chinese bakery items, Napoleon Bakery in Oakland's Chinatown is far better. There is another one in SF Chinatown that I either can't vouch for or don't remember visiting. In general, for an authentic Chinatown experience, Oakland's Chinatown in general is far better. I'd recommend the newly renovated Peony Seafood Restaurant in Oakland for dim sum, to the extent that you don't have the means to get out to Koi Palace in Daly City.

    SF's Chinatown is more noteworthy for photo-snapping opportunities and for various stores selling all sorts of touristy junk.

    For Chinese bakeries specifically, for a more expensive, higher-quality experience, try assorted locations of Sheng Kee or Kee Wah Bakery.
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2014
    PeterG and (deleted member) like this.
  10. myhoneyhoney

    myhoneyhoney Well-Known Member

  11. luenatic

    luenatic Well-Known Member

    I agree Oakland Chinatown is cheaper and better in a way. Went to Legendary Palace for dim sum during the week and it was CHEAP! It was so old-fashioned (aka dated), it's like the early 80s Hong Kong was re-created right in front of your eyes.

    If you want to see something really bizarre in SF Chinatown... Try New Asia on their 'dancing nights'. The dinner food was just mediocre (dim sum during the day is MUCH better). But the dancing scene and the outfits are BEYOND! http://www.yelp.com/biz/new-asia-chinese-restaurant-san-francisco San Francisco is BURNING!
  12. 4rkidz

    4rkidz plotting, planning and travelling

    I know total tourist things but I LOVED alcatraz.. it was so interesting and affordable and I never realized how close it is to the mainland.. the Redwoods park outside of San Fran was fantastic - there are really easy hikes too that show off these majestic trees and on your way you can check out the houseboats.. some great ones. I loved the wharf for the sea lions and the atmosphere was fun but can check that while you get the ferry to Alcatraz. There was also a really cool restaurant we liked was the Cliff house - food was good too. Finally we really enjoyed taking hwy 1 south from San Fran to some really cool little towns and the views were amazing.. Love San Fran - I was there for work so did a lot by myself and really enjoyed it and worth renting a car for a few days to check out the places around San Fran.
  13. Vagabond

    Vagabond Well-Known Member

    I would agree that the best Chinese food in San Francisco is not to be found in Chinatown, but it isn't as if there aren't some entirely adequate restaurants there. Great Eastern Restaurant and R&G Lounge are worth a visit if one is in the area.

    Are there any major Chinese communities left in North America where the best Chinese food is to be found in the original Chinatown? That's certainly not the case in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Vancouver, or New York, and I have the impression that it isn't in Toronto either.
  14. UMBS Go Blue


    Great Eastern - OK, added touristy value because Obama visited for takeout the other year
    R&G - again, just OK

    SF: some good places in the Richmond and Sunset districts of SF (all accessible from downtown via a long ride on Muni), but yes, not the original Chinatown
    LA: yes, it's all about the San Gabriel Valley now instead of the original LA Chinatown
    Vancouver: I'm guessing Richmond and Burnaby are where the action is, not the original Vancouver Chinatown
    Toronto: should be some good places in Toronto Chinatown, but my parents and I have stayed several times with friends in suburban Markham where there are tons of fantastic places, as well as in Richmond Hill next door
    NYC: still some good places in Manhattan Chinatown, but there's a newer, bigger Chinatown in Flushing (Queens) where there are many good places; also, last I remember, a budding Chinatown in Bay Ridge (Brooklyn)
    Boston: the best hole-in-the-wall places are still in Chinatown, still a (somewhat) limited suburban scene.

    Also re: Alcatraz, yes, do it if you're a tourist, it's definitely an only-in-SF thing and you should enjoy it greatly.
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2014
  15. Vagabond

    Vagabond Well-Known Member

    UMBS: Definitely Richmond, B.C., not the original Chinatown.

    kylet: You might consider going on a walking tour of Chinatown and/or the Castro (or other places, like North Beach): http://www.sfcityguides.org/
  16. IceAlisa

    IceAlisa discriminating and persnickety ballet aficionado

    I second the Sheng Kee and Mitchell's ice cream suggestions. To this I will add Bi-Rite creamery in the Mission: http://www.yelp.com/biz/bi-rite-creamery-san-francisco

    It looks like there is another Bi-Rite near Alamo Sq. http://www.yelp.com/biz/bi-rite-market-san-francisco-3

    My understanding is that trips to Alcatraz have to be booked in advance, so get on that ASAP.

    And please don't call San Francisco San Fran--it rubs us wrong.
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2014
  17. Anita18

    Anita18 Well-Known Member

    My sister lives in SF and knows some cute out-of-the-way things. She has a membership to the California Academy of Sciences and loves the Exploratorium, but we're a bunch of nerds who are not into touristy things. :p

    One of the ones that I really liked was Museé Méchanique, which is on Fisherman's Wharf. It's one of the oldest, most extensive collections of coin-operated automatic machines I think in the country. It's free admission, but you do have to feed the machines coins to watch them at work. ;) The more amazing ones are the bands contained in a single glass box.

    Second Mitchell's Ice Cream. It doesn't matter how cold it is, there's always people there!

    As Chinese folks, we were not that impressed with SF's Chinatown. :p
  18. kylet3

    kylet3 Well-Known Member

    Wowza! Tons already. Just in response to your questions UMBS Go Blue:

    I'll be coming from a reasonably large city (Metro area of over a million people quite easily), but I'm in Canada and Edmonton is quite a blue-collar city. The decent high-end shopping is about three hours away, but that's only one small part of my trip really. It looks like Union Square will have my covered quite nicely for what I'm looking for in any event.

    As far as travel, I don't drive, so everything I do will have to be navigated by cab or public transit. Of course I would prefer to take public transit as that will cost way less in the long run in just a few days, I walk a ton and have an Iphone so anything that I can use for navigating public transit will help me in terms of schedules and such.

    In terms of Chinatown, I'm not even looking around so much in terms of food/restaurants, I just want to look around and explore and see what's there.

    For cuisine, I know that there's probably a lot of good seafood/sushi places but to be honest, I'm not a big fan, I tend to consume a lot of pasta, chicken, and beef dishes. So anything from the classic fare to a bit less "traditional" as it were.

    In terms of a specific LGBT subculture? That's interesting because I never really thought of it that way. There's only two gay bars here in a city of a million plus people so we just kind of all kinda come together. I travel by myself but if there are any gay sports bars or gay country bars I'd love to check those out! That being said, Any "traditional" type of club, with good beats and good top 40 music with some remix thrown in? If that makes any sense. I'm under 30 and can usually relate with a crowd around my age or just slightly above that!

    I'm not opposed to seeing not just the "touristy" stuff but if there any any fun, off the-beaten-path things to do I'm always up for checking that out too.

    Can you get to the redwoods if you don't drive? What about going to get a good view of the Golden Gate Bridge?
  19. Vagabond

    Vagabond Well-Known Member


    The alternative would be to find a one-day tour.
  20. all_empty

    all_empty Well-Known Member

    I second the Ferry Building. Start your Market Street trek there with coffee and a meat cone lol.

    There's actually good food in Chinatown, but go where the Chinese people eat, not the tourist traps (doesn't sound like you're into Chinese food that much, anyway).

    I love Alcatraz. The boat ride can be very windy and cold, so be prepared. Finish with dinner at Fisherman's Wharf and ice cream at Ghiradelli's Square (the specialty sundaes are amazing and the entire place smells like chocolate).

    I love Golden Gate Park: boating around Stowe Lake, visiting the Rose Garden, and the Academy of Sciences is world-class (and expensive).

    The Castro club scene is a dud, in my opinion. Folsom is definitely more what people expect when they think Gay SF. I used to go to The Cafe back in the day (lol), totally mixed crowd and crowded, but good Top 40.

    I think the fun bars are in North Beach. As others have said, gay is okay everywhere in the city and every bar is pretty mixed.

    Muir Woods is beautiful, as is Napa.
  21. manhn

    manhn Well-Known Member

    Kyle, although not a SF institution per se, it's not like you go to California all the time. I think you'd enjoy In 'n Out--there was one in Fisherman's Wharf when I last was in SF almost 2 years ago. I also enjoyed a diner/sandwich place near AT&T Park called HRD Coffee Shop.

    Union Square should meet your shopping fix, although I am not much of a fashion icon (the biggest shopping memory I have of SF is the 3-story Old Navy). I heard that SF now has a Uniqulo.
  22. myhoneyhoney

    myhoneyhoney Well-Known Member

    If you like pasta visit North Beach. Lots of campy cheesy but fun and yummy Italian restaurants, cafes, clubs, and bars. There's also small shopping boutiques and my favorite part: City Lights bookstore!
  23. Really

    Really I need a new title

    The Exploratorium was very neat to see! So was Alcatraz. We did the evening tour, which made it even creepier. Worth the trip.

    If you like garlic, you'll have to check out The Stinking Rose restaurant. A friend took us there and it was pretty decent -- intriguing to see all the different ways they used garlic. Then just down the street from there was an Italian coffee shop that had most decadent tiramisu. I think I gained about 40 pounds that night! (thanks, Ivan).

    I really enjoyed visiting SF and want to go back again but not confine ourselves to the city. I'm sure you'll find lots to keep you entertained, Kyle!
  24. IceAlisa

    IceAlisa discriminating and persnickety ballet aficionado

    I am sorry to say North Beach Italian restaurants are tourist traps. Probably the worst Italian in my life was eaten (or rather not eaten) there. If you are interested in quality Italian, steer clear of North Beach. Head to A16 in the Marina instead or Sociale in Laurel Heights.

    However, North Beach is worth a walk through because it's interesting, cool and fun and very SF, the Vesuvio Cafe is a landmark as is the City Lights bookstore.

    One of the most charming bookstores, if that's your thing, is Green Apple Books in Inner Richmond. I do love Clement street anyway for its bustle and a smattering of restaurants representing so many cuisines.
  25. Vagabond

    Vagabond Well-Known Member

    You're suggesting Sociale to someone who is traveling alone, doesn't drive, and is unlikely to have any other reason to be in the vicinity? :eek:

    And that's not even reaching the question of whether he wants to pay $60 or more for dinner for one.

    Kyle, The Stinking Rose is, indeed, very touristy. If you want something a bit more down-to-earth in North Beach, try somewhere like Forence by Night, lBocce or the Mona Lisa. They may not be up to certain posters' exalted standards, but they're fine. :p
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2014
    IceAlisa and (deleted member) like this.
  26. IceAlisa

    IceAlisa discriminating and persnickety ballet aficionado

    Sacramento street is a cute walk and is close to Pac Heights and Pac Heights seem to be on the menu.

    I must have missed it where the OP shared his budget for a night out. He IS talking about high end shopping on Union Sq. and I don't think he means Macy's. :shuffle:
  27. jl

    jl Well-Known Member

    SF! I love the Mission district. Grungy, artsy, and you may not see it this way in 10 years as it's being built over (there was a huge article on tech sites that detailed the crazy rush to build apartments and how SF's subdivisions hinders a cohesive approach to affordable urban development).

    Outside of SF, maybe go to Berkeley? I just love walking around the area - again, the culture is extremely different. Very student-oriented, quite a unique set of shops. The Cheeseboard makes some of the best pizza I have ever had, though I wouldn't quite call it authentic Italian (which it seems you're a fan of?). Stanford is also quite a majestic campus - I love the red bricks. Reminds me of Spain, for some reason.

    Re: Italian, I would suggest maybe Delfina or Flour and Water. Both are in the $40-50 range for dinner but the food is great! Delfina pizzeria is also great.

    Napa is very fun and the wine is spectacular, but best to go with friends. It's also an hour and some out of the city so it may not fit into your schedule.

    Funnily enough, my friends in SF are getting married in October and I'm going there to celebrate my 30th at the same time! So maybe we'll run into each other.

    As a side question, has anyone ever eaten at the restaurant at Meadowood (particularly their counter menu)? I was thinking of trying it, as I went to the Laundry a few years back, which was the best total experience I've ever had at a restaurant.
  28. IceAlisa

    IceAlisa discriminating and persnickety ballet aficionado

    French Laundry is :swoon: but you'd have to kill someone to get a reservation on a short notice.

    The Mission has some great restaurants that are fun and different. I've had some good times there. You can forget about parking though.

    Second on Delfina, Flour and Water, Napa.

    Berkeley is not my thing unless the Mariinsky is visiting.

    Does Stanford still have the Rodin exhibit? It was great when I saw it years ago.
  29. myhoneyhoney

    myhoneyhoney Well-Known Member

    Laundry can be tough to get into. Quince (off Montgomery IIRC) is a nice Italian French restaurant. I've eaten there several time and really like it.

    BTW, yes the Rodin garden in Stanford is still there along with many pieces inside the Arts Center! I remember going in the evening and it was fairly lit.
  30. IceAlisa

    IceAlisa discriminating and persnickety ballet aficionado

    Quince is nice but I haven't tried Cotogna which is a sister restaurant but more casual IIRC. It always sounded good.