On the horizon: San Francisco!

Two of my friends and I are planning to visit San Francisco for a week in June.  I have not been to California before, and I’ve long been interested in that hilly, foggy city.  Its cool summer temperatures will hopefully be a nice break from the usual D.C. hot mugginess.  We have some ideas of where we want to go in the city and the Bay Area, but are still in the beginning stages of the plans.  If you know San Francisco, what are some tips and recommendations for places to stay, can’t miss destinations, or don’t-bother places?

More in the literary vein, what are some recommendations for books that are set in San Francisco?  From non-fiction to crime to supernatural, or whatever, what books should I read to get some pre-trip flavor of the city?

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21 responses to “On the horizon: San Francisco!

  1. Wow, I’ve been on quite the blogging break…but San Fran, I lived around there for a bit…

    Eat at Osha (Thai food) and get the pumpkin curry and the sashimi salad. Yum!! Two locations, downtown and in the Mission. Crepes on Cole (in Cole Valley) is my brother’s favorite. Burritos and awesome Mexican are everywhere, but I’m partial to Farolito Taqueria on 24th & Alabama…you could hook up a trip to the Taqueria with a Precita Eyes Mission Murals Tour if you like that kind of thing.

    Rent bikes (Blazing Saddles) and bike over the GG Bridge to Sausalito or even on to Tiburon if your butt doesn’t hurt too much and take the ferry back.

    Two really awesome things I recommend are Alcatraz and the newly update California Academy of Science (but it’s seriously expensive, so keep that in mind). Cheaper things that are awesome are just plain walking around GG Park 🙂

    Pier 39 is okay, but really the only thing there are the sea lions and lately the sea lions have been more absent than present so I’m not convinced of its worth.

    • Erin! It has been a long time since I’ve seen you around the blogosphere! I hope you have been doing well! Thanks for all the food tips (making me hungry). I think we are going to bike across the Golden Gate bridge. Good to know that Pier 39 is a bit overrated.

  2. Jason

    Bay Area authors or literature? Well, Jack London hails from there (even if most of his books don’t take place there); you can cross the bay to Oakland to see Jack London Square, which has his Klondike cabin. Mark Twain spent some time there, but I can’t think of anything he wrote about the city. You might see if anyone knows any good books on the Great San Francisco Fire of 1906 (105 years ago last week) or the California gold rush in San Francisco.
    I’ve never read Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”, but I believe part of the book takes place in San Francisco, where he spent time in the 1950’s. Also, Jennifer 8. Lee’s non-fiction “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles” spends at least one chapter in Chinatown hunting down the elusive source of said cookies (IIRC) in her entertaining book on Chinese food in America.
    If you’ve read anything about John Muir, you may appreciate a trip north of town to Muir Woods (beautiful redwood groves). If you head south as far as Monterrey, you might think about picking up John Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row”. Also, don’t know if you’ve read the Percy Jackson series, but Mount Othrys in the books (where the Titans come back to power) is actually Mount Tamalpais, just across the Golden Gate bridge from San Francisco.
    That’s about all I can come up with for now. Sounds like a fun trip!

    • Thanks for all the literary connections! I knew about Jack London and have read Mark Twain’s famous quote about the climate in SF. I definitely do want to visit Muir Woods.

  3. You MUST read Tales of the City if you’ve never been to SF. You’ll love it. I agree with everyone’s suggestions. North Beach is always good for dinner/dessert/stroll.

  4. Have fun! Have really good fun! The Haight is good fun to visit if you like vintage clothes and other super pretty things. There were shops with crinolines! And dirndls! 😀

  5. Visiting SF during a steamy DC summer is the best thing in the world.

    I think the Ferry Terminal is not only picturesque, but has lots of good places to eat. You can also get ferrys here (surprise) which can be a fun way to see the city. Take one out to Sausulito and back if the weather is nice.

    Delfina in the Mission is a restaurant you must look into. Yum. http://www.delfinasf.com/

    Hayes Valley is a great neighborhood to wander.

    • Thanks for the recommendations! The menu for Delfina definitely makes my mouth water. Hayes Valley hadn’t popped up on my radar yet, so thanks for mentioning it.

  6. I spent a wonderful week in San Francisco in August – I was on vacation by myself and therefore got to fill my time with all the things I like best: good coffee, good food, bookshops, a museum or two, and very long walks.

    I second the recommendation of the California Academy of Sciences; also, SFMOMA is great if you like modern and contemporary art. (Also, the SFMOMA rooftop cafe has amazing desserts that are both delicious and artistically inspired, like, an ice cream sandwich named after an Agnes Martin painting in which the cookies use the same colors as the painting.) The whole Fisherman’s Wharf area is horribly touristy, but it’s worth elbowing your way through the crowds to get to the Musee Mechanique at Pier 45 which is full of antique arcade machines that still work.

    Bookstores bookstores bookstores: Forest Books, Dog Eared Books, The Green Arcade, Get Lost Books, Modern Times, Book Bay Fort Mason, Book Passage in the Ferry Building … I wrote a post here that has links to their websites and a little more info about each of them.

    Parks/walking: Buena Vista Park earlyish in the morning is really peaceful, with lovely views. Mission Dolores Park – have a picnic or just sit and read and people-watch. The walking trails along the water are beautiful, if slightly exhausting because you go from water-level up to cliffs looking down on the water then back down again – but so worth it. If you just keep walking from Fisherman’s Wharf you can walk all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge and beyond. I meant to go to the Wave Organ but missed it … next time. (http://www.exploratorium.edu/visit/plan_your_visit/wave_organ/) The ruins of the Sutro Baths are really lovely – http://www.sutrobaths.com/.

    Food/drink: If you like coffee, Blue Bottle Coffee (they have several locations) is really really really good. Most of their locations just do coffee + pastries, but their Mint Plaza location also serves a full breakfast that is really delicious. The Ferry Building has lots of good food, and the farmers market there on Saturdays is stunning.

  7. When my sister and I went to SF we spent some time down at the pier (I think that’s what it’s called). Wherever the Ghiradelli factory is. We also did a Bay tour by boat, which was awesome.

    • Ghiradelli is definitely on my radar, and while I’m not sure we’re going to do a Bay tour, I think we are going to try and make it out to Alcatraz.

  8. Vikram Seth’s ‘The Golden Gate’ is set in San Francisco. It is a love story told in verse, but it is very readable and is beautiful. If you do get around to reading it, I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

    Hope you have a great trip to San Francisco with your friends!

  9. Cori

    That’s only an hour and a half from me! 🙂

    I’ve been to SF more times than I can count. I would skip Pier 39 — it’s so touristy and unless you want to buy a lamp made of seashells, there’s so many other things to see. I love North Beach, which has delicious Italian food (think the North End in Boston, if you’ve ever been there), and there are a lot of good restaurants in Chinatown (try one with the locals…the food is divine). My favorite “tourist” sites are the Japanese Tea Gardens, the new California Academy of Sciences (I think that’s what it’s called), and DEFINITELY Alcatraz. Alcatraz is one of the best tours in the US, in my humble opinion. I also love going to the top of Coit Tower because the views of the city are breathtaking. My absolute favorite thing to do in SF, however, is drive across the Golden Gate away from SF, and pull off in the viewing area on the other side. Then you can walk out onto the bridge. Standing on the Golden Gate is one of my favorite places on Earth. But bring a coat…it’s almost always foggy and chilly. 🙂 Oh! And City Lights bookstore is probably a must-see for a reader.

    • Thanks for adding to the great recommendations! Despite several warning me off from Pier 39, I think it’s inevitable that I will go, if only to add my voice to those calling it too touristy. And we are definitely planning on Alcatraz!

  10. It sounds like you’re planning on Alcatraz, so I have to chime in and add my encouragement to go. It’s fascinating, and you can wander around a bit on your own with the audio tour. There’s a solitary confinement cell you can walk into (I couldn’t do it…couldn’t get past the what if the door shut feeling, even though the door was bolted open!).

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