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San Fransisco accomodation tips

Discussion in 'Off The Beaten Track' started by Japanfan, Mar 23, 2013.

  1. Japanfan

    Japanfan Well-Known Member

    We are in San Fransisco for three days/five night in early May, then have a few days leisure to explore the area and drive to Reno to visit family before zipping back to fly home Vancouver. We've been advised not to rent a car while in the city, so will rent only when we've left.

    First, I'd appreciate any accommodation tips. We like typical mid-range chain hotels and would prefer to pay not much more than $100 per night but I realize that this San Fransisco and we may need to pay more than that, closer to $150.00. I checked airport hotel prices and they were in that range. Where we stay isn't important, so long as it is decent and transit access it good.

    Second, I'd like any tips of what to do. We'll probably take a city tour and other than that, just walk the city and see what we can in three days. We're not big on museums and restaurants, and Chinatown and Fisherman's Whorf may not be at the top of our list, given that we live in Vancouver.
    Dr.Siouxs and (deleted member) like this.
  2. manhn

    manhn Well-Known Member

    Japanfan, I stayed in the Hotel Metropolis in Union Square. It was nice. Including taxes, I think I paid about $125 per night (I used Priceline). It edges the Tenderloin District, which has a sketchy reputation, but I was hardly scared. Despite the fact I was on a high floor, I could still hear people from the street.

    I know our interests tend not to coincide (what--no restaurants!?!?), but what about the Golden Gate Bridge and Golden Gate Park? The Haight-Ashbury was probably my favourite neighbourhood (although I am liking the gentrification of SOMA--so many coffeeshops!). And if you like coffee even a little bit, I do have to recommend Philz Coffee.

    You can leave the city and go to Napa?

    I went in July and I was freezing my Canadian butt off at night. Bring layers.

    Have a fun time!
  3. Anita18

    Anita18 Well-Known Member

    My sister lives in SF and took me to the Musee Mechanique, which is on Fisherman's Wharf. It's free and you only pay to operate the machines, which can be over 100 years old! The giant music players (that contain tiny pianos and cymbals) are particularly amazing. :D Some of the other moving dioramas, not so much. :lol: It's kind of a museum but it's interactive!
  4. Anita18

    Anita18 Well-Known Member

    Other than that, I'm not sure what else we can steer your toward. We're big in museums. My sister has a membership to the Academy of Science and the Exploratorium. (And I'm the scientist out of the both of us!)
    The Exploratorium is just moving from the Palace of Fine Arts, which is always beautiful to walk around.

    She also took me to the Oakland Art Murmur, which is the first Fri/Sat of each month. It's fun, with art and local food, but don't stay out after the crowd too late. It's Oakland....
  5. barbk

    barbk Well-Known Member

  6. Vagabond

    Vagabond Well-Known Member

    Walking is always a good thing, but, since it's San Francisco, bring pitons!

    In addition to what has already been said....

    • Jackson Square, North Beach and Telegraph Hill are great for walking. Fisherman's Wharf is exceedingly touristy, but if you do some planning beforehand, you can see the historic part and avoid the tourist traps.
    • The Crissy Field and Ft. Point area of the Presidio has spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, a restored tidal marsh, and good people-watching.
    • You can walk along the waterfront all the way from Ft. Point to China Basin.
    • The Ferry Building, where Market Street meets the Bay, has food shops, restaurants, and a farmer's market on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and (especially) Saturdays.
    • Pier 39 is a tourist trap. Take a look at the sea lions if you want, but then walk on by.
    • Getting out on the water is always a good idea. Take a commuter ferry (preferably to Sausalito or Tiburon), go out to Angel Island State Park or Alcatraz, or simply take a bay cruise.
    • If you have got a car, head over the Golden Gate Bridge to Muir Woods and, if you have time, Pt. Reyes National Seashore.
    • Feel free to send me a private message if you have any questions or want other suggestions.
  7. Allskate

    Allskate Well-Known Member

    I definitely would recommend not staying at an airport hotel. The airport is not that close to the city and it won't be very convenient. I'd suggest looking for a boutique hotel within a couple of blocks of Union Square.

    As for things to do, it's hard to know what to suggest because you've mostly said what you are not interested in rather than what you are interested in. I'd start with Vagabond's suggestions and check and also see if there are any events, concerts, plays etc. going on while you're going to be in San Francisco.
  8. luna_skater

    luna_skater Well-Known Member

    Airbnb is also great if you are open to non-hotel accommodations. You can find everything from just a couch to sleep on to swanky condos to rent. It might give you more options in terms of location.
  9. snoopysnake

    snoopysnake Well-Known Member

    The Mosser, which is just south of Market Street and close to the Yerba Buena skating rink. Best value in the city!
  10. UMBS Go Blue


    Agree with all of Vagabond's suggestions as a starting point, especially avoiding anything in or near Pier 39 / Fisherman's Wharf, unless you are swinging by there quickly to jump on a Bay sightseeing cruise.

    SF has been spectacular and gorgeous, as usual, lately, with highs in the 70s but lows quickly approaching 40 at night, so definitely bring lots of layers. It should still be sunny in early May (as opposed to foggy, overcast, and windy for much of the summer), but be prepared, just in case.

    More tips on what to explore to come later, but more on hotels first:

    Also agree with Allskate's point about not staying at an airport hotel. Via BART, it takes 30-45 minutes from downtown, costs at least $8 each way per person and you will likely have to wait for/sit through a slow hotel airport shuttle. Don't do that every day; just put the difference towards a slightly higher-priced hotel in the city. I met up with a bunch of friends last weekend in SF and I steered them through the following advice on Priceline.

    1) First, visit:

    - OR -

    for more info on how the Priceline auction feature works. In particular, read the FAQs to make sure you understand the stars, zones, and free re-bids that are allowed.

    2) Stick towards bidding for 3.5* or 4* hotels.

    The core zones you want to bid FOR are:
    * Financial District - Embarcadero
    * SOMA - Moscone Center
    * Union Square East
    * Union Square West - Nob Hill

    All of these are on/near BART, MUNI bus, or MUNI light rail lines. (Keep in mind MUNI is SF-only public transit and is completely separate from BART).

    Once you have exhausted the above 4 zones, you can add the following zones for free rebids because there are no 3.5* and-up hotels here:
    * Civic Center South - Hayes Valley
    * Japan Town - Civic Center North
    * Marina - Lombard Street
    * Richmond
    * SFO North - San Bruno
    * South San Francisco

    Don't bother with these areas:
    * Fisherman's Wharf (you can try it if you want, but it's seriously jammed with tourists, and a bit out of the way as far as public transit goes)
    * SFO International Airport - Burlingame (it's the airport, $8 each way on BART, waste of time and $, better to just pay up and be inside SF)
    * San Mateo (far far away)

    For example, I'd try the following bid pattern if you can go up to $120 base price (which would involve up to $20/night additional taxes and fees). Start by bidding for 4 stars only. If you exhaust the following pattern, then retry it for 3.5 stars with the same prices.

    1) Bid $75 for Union Square West - Nob Hill
    2) If rejected, try $80 and add Union Square East
    3) If rejected, try $85 and add SOMA - Moscone Center
    4) If rejected, try $90 and add Financial District - Embarcadero
    5) If rejected, try $95 and add Civic Center South - Hayes Valley
    6) If rejected, try $100 and add Japan Town - Civic Center North
    7) If rejected, try $105 and add Marina - Lombard Street
    8 ) If rejected, try $110 and add Richmond
    9) If rejected, try $115 and add SFO North - San Bruno
    10) If rejected, try $120 and add South San Francisco

    Using these tips, my friends were able to score a pretty good deal for the Hotel Zetta, a newish boutique hotel right next to the Westfield mall on Market St. in downtown SF, at the Powell BART/MUNI station.

    Keep in mind that the best Priceline deals don't show up until a few days before your desired travel date. Until then, you can use the above strategy to bid and rebid every 24 hours.
  11. UMBS Go Blue


    Here's one suggested walking itinerary if you don't mind lots of walking up and down steep steep hills. More to come later as it's incredibly gorgeous out and I want to be... outside.

    You also said you didn't want to do museums, Fisherman's Wharf, or Chinatown - all of which I'd agree with because they're not even all that good, especially when SF has so much to offer (food, wine, nightlife, parks, recreation) that's world-class.

    If you get winded, just pause for however long it takes to catch your breath and stretch out for a bit. Frequent stretching definitely recommended.

    Also, bring a detailed SF-wide (not just downtown SF) city map if you don't have a US-enabled smartphone with mapping features.

    Oh, and bring lots of cash or your credit cards. You'll seriously need them both. ;)

    Cole Valley - Haight-Ashbury - Lower Haight - Hayes Valley walking/foodie tour
    (4-8 hours, depending on how much you want to stop, eat, and/or linger)

    1) Tank Hill, Cole Valley. You've probably heard of the panoramic viewpoint atop Twin Peaks. It's a nice view from a good altitude, and you can take a MUNI bus up, but in my opinion there's a far better view, with no clueless/annoying tourists, at Tank Hill.

    From your hotel (likely downtown), walk to a BART-MUNI underground station and take the MUNI "N"-Judah light rail line to Stanyan Street. More details here:


    2) Cole Valley. Come down from Tank Hill the way you walked in, and head to the tiny, but gorgeous, neighborhood of Cole Valley. Here are some suggestions, some of which might be dated:


    ...but one of my new favorite places in the city is the Ice Cream Bar:

    http://spottedsf.com/2013/02/28/spotted-san-francisco-cole-valley-2/ - just ogle all the food p0rn here

    They're not open until 12 noon, but they have a huge menu that includes solid food plus desserts, floats, ice cream, and other treats. You mentioned "we" in your original post so if you're with one (or more) people, each of you should order something really, really different than the other, and then share it all and make a merry time of it.

    If you do the Tank Hill hike early in the morning and the Ice Cream Bar isn't open yet, then there are a number of cute places up and down Cole St. where you can grab brunch.

    3) Haight-Ashbury. From the Ice Cream Bar on Cole St., walk north to where Cole St. ends at Haight St. Marvel at the sudden change, over the course of 2-3 blocks, from affluent, yupster Cole Valley to grungy, counterculture throwback Haight-Ashbury. Turn right and walk east along Haight St., towards the famous Haight St. and Ashbury St. intersection, and further east towards the Magnolia Brewery, one of the city's better-known craft breweries (with pretty good pub fare too).

    4) Lower Haight/Painted Ladies. Keep walking down Haight Street as it starts to go downhill. You'll pass a section of Buena Vista Park on your right where, on about any day, lots of young wannabe hippies will be smoking pot openly. Once you hit Divisadero, either:

    a) keep walking on Haight past Divisadero towards a pretty, gentrified, several-block-long commercial strip called the Lower Haight. There's a beautiful, dark, sexy, but surprisingly airy and high-ceiling lounge called Maven:


    b) turn left on Divisadero. "Diviz" used to be a gritty street until recently, but the recent opening of The Mill, an outpost of the famed Four Barrel roastery in the Mission district, and a new branch of Bi-Rite, a celebrated Mission district food store and ice creamery, has transformed the neighborhood. Pick up some light snacks from Bi-Rite and continue on Diviz up to Hayes, where you turn right and walk up the hill to Alamo Square Park, a gorgeous (if windy) park that is home to the iconic Painted Ladies, with the SF downtown skyline as a stunning backdrop. Have a picnic with all the other yupsters cavorting there every day.

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

    5) Hayes Valley. Another gorgeous and suddenly-gentrified-and-very-expensive neighborhood just behind / before you hit SF City Hall.

    Too many cute restaurants and outlets here to name; go onto Yelp or Google all of these:

    * Suppenkuche - moderate-upscale German restaurant.
    * Timbuk2 - makes the messenger bags everybody in SF wears.
    * Ritual Coffee Roasters kiosk - a branch of the Mission District original. Best coffee in the city. Fronts the Hayes Valley dog park.
    * Smitten Ice Cream kiosk - next to Ritual. Like a middle-school science experiment. Serves up seriously expensive, but made-to-order ice cream that's frozen before your eyes using their proprietary liquid nitrogen machines. Very light and airy.
    * Food trucks - behind Ritual and Smitten and directly underneath the "lighter brighter faster" mural on certain weekend days.
    * Blue Bottle coffee kiosk - tucked in a garage doorway in the alleyway behind Smitten.
    * Biergarten - outdoor beer garden across the alleyway from Smitten.
    * Absinthe - one of the nicer restaurants in this neighborhood.
    * Schulzie's Bread Pudding - yes, this neighborhood is affluent enough to have a shop specializing in bread pudding.
    * Chantal Guillon - same goes for macarons.
    * Rich Table - a lot of buzz in the press.
    * Jardiniere - one of the finer restaurants around, and has a Michelin star.

    6) SF City Hall / Civic Center. Keep walking east on Hayes and you'll hit Van Ness, surrounded by SF City Hall, the SF Opera house, the SF Symphony, and Herbst Theatre, if any of these interest you. From here, it's about another 10 minute walk through the Tenderloin back into downtown.
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2013
    Dr.Siouxs and (deleted member) like this.
  12. IceAlisa

    IceAlisa discriminating and persnickety ballet aficionado

    I second checking out Philz coffee and staying in a boutique hotel. Also second avoiding the Fisherman's Wharf. I also strongly advise against staying in an airport hotel--rather far from the city.

    Fancy a ride on a cable car down California street? A tour of the Japanese tea garden in the GG Park? Drive down Lombard Street?

    And yes, I cannot over-emphasize wearing layers. Even if it's 65F and sunny during the day, the temp drops to 50s and even 40s at night all year round.

    And while you are in Hayes Valley, check out Christopher Elbow chocolates. :swoon: My friends and I usually buy a box before a night at the ballet or the symphony and after dinner at Absinthe.

    Dr.Siouxs and (deleted member) like this.
  13. Dr.Siouxs

    Dr.Siouxs Well-Known Member

    SF Museum of Modern Art -a wonderful, comprehensive collection (and its right next door to an indoor skating ring if you're in the mood :)). If you're in the mood for an awesome 1950's style burger joint, go to Mel's Drive just a block away. The shakes are :swoon:

    Chinatown is a pleasant walk if you don't mind the occasional :scream: smell or shop after shop carrying very much the same merchandise. :lol:

    If you like Japanese cuisine and a laid-back, jazzy environment, visit Yoshi's located at 1330 Fillmore St. It often features live performers in the evenings.

    Coit tower makes for nice picture taking...

    Wonderful homecooked Italian in the Italian district (Columbus ave)...I've been to 7 or 8 of them and they're all wonderful and unique, ranging from pizza pie to luncheon cafes to the more spendy, high end. It's all worth it. Seafood is a particular strong point.

    If the weather is :cool:, there is a lovely boat tour around the bay and under the Golden Gate bridge. The "tour" is optional (they give you headphones) but its cheap and they limit the amount of passengers make it a more cozy, less touristy experience.

    ETA: Oh and don't forget to try the clam chowder served in fresh sourdough bread bowls! You can get these at the Pier or many of the Italian joints

    ETA2: Ok I just read that you didn't want museums or restaurants. :wuzrobbed :drama:
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2013
  14. IceAlisa

    IceAlisa discriminating and persnickety ballet aficionado

    I looked over the thread and am feeling a bit bad. Between the bread pudding, ice cream and chocolates, I worry about Japanfan's fat and sugar intake. :shuffle:
  15. Dr.Siouxs

    Dr.Siouxs Well-Known Member

    Meh, she can go jogging later. :p
    IceAlisa and (deleted member) like this.
  16. Vagabond

    Vagabond Well-Known Member

    Make sure it's the Richmond District in the City and County of San Francisco. The City of Richmond can be :yikes: :eek: :scream:

    You have been warned. :)
  17. UMBS Go Blue


    That's why I suggested a day-long walk, with plenty of steep hills, that will be at least 4-5 miles long. Also, Japanfan mentioned "we," so checking out a lot of places and sharing appetizers/small dishes/desserts with someone else lets you explore more places and tastes while offloading at least half the calories to someone else. ;)

    Yes, it's the SF Richmond district. No 3.5* and above hotels here, so a safe "free re-bid zone."

    I've added a few more places to my original post. With respect to coffee, I'd skip Philz - too much of a "chain" already - and try any branch of Blue Bottle (the original garage-door kiosk is in Hayes Valley, another branch at the Ferry Terminal), Ritual (kiosk in Hayes Valley and a larger one in the Mission), Four Barrel (personification of the hipster establishment, located in the Mission), and Sightglass (gorgeous new two-level space in SoMa).

    Ritual and Four Barrel are south / north bookends to the lively Valencia St. corridor in the Mission which will warrant its own post / itinerary later.

    I'd skip Chinatown altogether as a destination to eat/buy, unless you do enjoy some touristy window-shopping. Japanfan is from Vancouver where there's great Chinese there already, and as someone of Chinese descent myself, I can authoritatively say that there's no good Chinese in SF I've yet discovered. There is good Chinese in suburbs like Fremont/Milpitas and Daly City/Millbrae though.

    Yoshi's is a good recommendation. It's probably the best jazz club around, but it's by no means the only one in that Fillmore St. arts corridor. I'd go to Yoshi's just for the jazz. The food is massively overpriced and nothing special, besides the fact that if you have a ticket for that night's show, then being a restaurant patron beforehand gets you priority, reserved access to front-row tables for the concert.
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2013
  18. IceAlisa

    IceAlisa discriminating and persnickety ballet aficionado

    How dare you, I worship Philz! :drama: I get monthly home delivery.
  19. Vagabond

    Vagabond Well-Known Member

    Ah, yes. Hard-core caffeine addicts lined up in Linden Alley at 6:50 a.m., waiting for the place to open, and then ordering rosemary shortbread and using the code word "Gibraltar" to get their own special fix. :2faced:
  20. UMBS Go Blue


    IMHO, Philz is like the Sarah Hughes of coffee - good all-around but not at all spectacular or endearing - while there are so many other Michelle, Sasha, Yuna, or Mao-worthy establishments like (in my order of preference):

    1. Ritual Coffee - the best in San Francisco
    2. Blue Bottle Coffee - a very, very close second; enough of a cult following that they've expanded to Brooklyn and Chelsea in NYC
    3. Sightglass Coffee - an incredibly gorgeous space that will hopefully help gentrify an otherwise bleak SoMa block
    4. Four Barrel Coffee - hipsters swear by it; I was less impressed with the coffee than I was the atmosphere of the space - long lines and lively networking/conversation at all hours. So hipster, in fact, that they make no apologies for having no wi-fi, no power outlets, and insisting on quiet in their back alley overflow space
  21. IceAlisa

    IceAlisa discriminating and persnickety ballet aficionado

    Alright, I pass Hayes Valley on the way from work and will check out Ritual if you promise it's the Sasha Cohen of coffee. :D
  22. UMBS Go Blue


    Do Ritual and Blue Bottle back-to-back; they're only 1/2 block away from each other. Almost like a Michelle and Sasha duo - both very good, and different people will prefer one over the other. Ritual is the big kiosk fronting the dog park, while Blue Bottle is tucked away in the alley behind the Ritual/Smitten kiosks.
    IceAlisa and (deleted member) like this.
  23. Vagabond

    Vagabond Well-Known Member


    What about Simple Pleasures in the Outer Richmond? I'd say it's the Anastasia Gimazetdinova of coffee.

    Dr.Siouxs and (deleted member) like this.
  24. UMBS Go Blue


    Bookmarked. I was just nearby, up/down the entire length of both Geary and California, the other week. Do they roast their own beans or get them from elsewhere?
  25. IceAlisa

    IceAlisa discriminating and persnickety ballet aficionado

    Then what kind of skater is Starbucks?

    :lol: If you see me posting at 3 am next week, you'll know why.
  26. Vagabond

    Vagabond Well-Known Member

    They roast their own. The roastery is in the same block as the cafe.

    JoJo Starbuck.

    Don't look at me like that.
    snoopysnake and (deleted member) like this.
  27. IceAlisa

    IceAlisa discriminating and persnickety ballet aficionado

  28. Anita18

    Anita18 Well-Known Member

    Walking in SF is definitely exercise! My sister is down in LA to visit me and we went hiking today. She says the walk up the hill to her apartment in Haight-Ashbury was steeper than the hike, and I was already huffing pretty hard! :lol: I'm not exactly out of shape either (I can full squat more than my body weight), but I'm definitely not a cardio person!
  29. Anita18

    Anita18 Well-Known Member

    Also, my sister's bf is like, the biggest coffee snob I know. She says he switches between Ritual and Coffee Bar. Philz is okay, she likes their tea combinations better.

    He doesn't care for Sightglass or Four Barrel. :lol:
  30. Japanfan

    Japanfan Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the all the replies. I'm getting tired just reading all the recommendations. I have to get serious now and find one hotel, then make a short list of activities.