The Essential Travelers’ Guide To The City By The Bay
San Francisco is not the type of city where you can just show up and wing it.
Instead, it’s more like going to see a girl you want to impress. Treat her right and she will reveal part of her inner soul and let you in on some of her best secrets. Go in as if she’s just another stop on the circuit and she’s likely to give you the cold shoulder. And here, that’s literally as well as figuratively.
So here’s PubClub.com’s choices of where to snuggle up to a warm and friendly San Francisco.
1.) It’s San Francisco Or ‘The City,’ Not San Fran Or SF
Locals are very picky about this one – never refer to San Francisco as “San Fran” or “SF.” To them, it’s the full pronunciation, San Francisco. To really fit in, call it what they do, which is simply “the City.”
2.) San Francisco Is The Most European U.S. City On The West Coast
San Francisco is fairly compact, has hundreds of small restaurants and cafes and people actually use public transportation. These attributes are more in line with European cities than American cities, and it provides for a refreshing change of pace from other destinations in the USA.
3.) The Weather Is Chilly – Even In The Summertime. The Best Weather Is In The Spring And Fall
When packing for, and dressing in, San Francisco, remember this key word: layer! Even if it’s warm and sunny when you leave your hotel (or Airbnb) room, have a jacket or sweatshirt with you. Especially in the summertime; when the fog rolls in at about 4:45 it can turn to downright bone-chilling chilly within a matter of five minutes.
The winters are not too bad but the best time to visit is the spring and fall when it’s sunny and in the mid-70s nearly every day and the fog is not as consistent. Still, always layer when dressing in San Francisco (and anywhere along the California coast, for that matter).
Across the bridge, however, it can be hot, so keep that in mind if you go into Marin and the wine country.
4.). Know The San Francisco Neighborhoods
PubClub.com’s favorite neighborhood in San Francisco is the Marina District. It’s along Lombard Street (not the curvy part) and is where many of the city’s singles live and play. Chestnut Street and Union Street are two prime areas to patrol at night if you’re single.
Our second favorite area is basically a smaller version of the Marina District called Pacific Heights.
Haight/Ashbury is a stuck-in-time-60s neighborhood, the Mission District is full of techy folks and Market Street is where to find the artsy, “free spirits.” Downtown and Union Square has business people during the daytime, shoppers nearly all the time and youthful singles and fun couples filling up New York-style long and narrow bars.
5.) Know These Cool Secret Spots
Perhaps no place, certainly in a city that’s really not all that big, has as many cool hidden spots as San Francisco. It’s as if the city is almost challenging you to find them. If you don’t know about these places, you’ll walk right by them without even knowing they exist. But oh, the rewards!
Here’s a few of PubClub.com’s favorite “secret” spots:
• Brazen Head. This is a dark and late-night restaurant in the Marina District where the city’s chefs go to drink and blow off steam from a busy night.
• Forbes Island. Thanks to Laurie Armstrong of San Francisco Travel for letting in us in on this secret. It’s a cool little restaurant not on the bay but under the bay! It’s like eating in a submarine. What’s even better is you get to it via a pontoon boat at Pier 39 that seems to be huffing and puffing its way to the “island.” We like sitting at the bar because the bartender is as entertaining as the atmosphere. Be sure to walk up to the top of its lighthouse, too.
• Cha, Cha, Cha. This is a great Cuban restaurant in the Haight that can turn lively at the back bar for those who have a couple pitchers of their sangria.
• Fog Harbor Fish House. This Pier 39 restaurant is a jewel in the middle of a sea of tourists. It makes great cocktails and its fireplace patio is the perfect place to drink them.
• Tonic Bar. A hip little bar with a touch of a quirky edge at Polk and Union.
6.) Pier 23 Is The Best Sunny Afternoon Bar
San Francisco is a financial city and each sunny afternoon, workers get off at about 3 and head for drinks on the back patio of Pier 23, a seafood restaurant and hangout bar on the bay. It’s at its most lively, however, on Sunday afternoons when a band plays inside the restaurant.
But for the best bar on Sunday afternoon, jump on the ferry to Tiburon and go to Sam’s. Just be sure you catch the ferry back to San Francisco!
7.) The Tonga Room Is Not The Best Tiki Bar In San Francisco
The Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar in the Fairmont Hotel is one of San Francisco’s most famous bars, in large part because of its five-star location attracts high-rolling businessmen and celebrities. And it’s definitely a cool place with its upscale Polynesian decor and tropical drinks.
But for a true tiki bar experience, head over to the city hall area to Smuggler’s Cove (650 Gough St). This is like walking into the belly of a pirate ship. It’s dark, somewhat cramped and has a multi-page menu of various drinks involving lots and lots of rum.
8.) Tips On Visiting The Key Landmarks (Golden Gate Bridge, Cable Cars, Lombard Street, Pier 39)
You can drive ($7.50, payable on the way back into San Francisco), bike or even walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. Two great viewing places are the lookout on the right just past the bridge and on a hill on the opposite side in an area known as the Marin Highlands.
There are three Cable Car lines: California Street, Powell-Mason and Powell-Hyde (going up or down Hyde Street is the most thrilling ride; you may want to stop in the Buena Vista at the turnaround afterward to catch your breath and have an Irish coffee in the place that created it). It’s a whopping $7 for a single ride, so you’re better off paying $20 for a full-day ticket. And yes, you can hang over the side while riding the car.
Get off the cable car at the top of Hyde Street and walk down curvy Lombard Street. It’s just as you’ve seen it, a twisting, colorful road. It connects Hyde Street to Levinworth Street and it’s curvy because it’s so steep. Residents live on either side of it so be respectful of them. If you’re in reasonable shape, you can continue walking, down to North Beach or Pier 39.
And of course, you can drive down it, as many a rental car has in the long tourism history of San Francisco.
Some – well, locals anyway – will never go to Pier 39 because it’s “too touristy.” Yes, it is touristy, but it’s also where you can see crabs stacked up in glass cases of restaurants, see seals stacked up on the docks by the fishing boats, have chowder in a bowl of sourdough bread, and even have a good Cable Car Cocktail (keep reading).
9.) You Don’t Need A Car In ‘The City’
The only time you’ll need a car in San Francisco – other than to drive down Lombard Street – is when you’re leaving it, so don’t bother with one while in it. Traffic is tight – especially downtown – and you’ll pay $35 a day to park in a narrow garage.
Public transportation is good and if you’re downtown or around Pier 39, you can use the Cable Cars and street cars. Also, use your feet.
Or ride a bike. PubClub did this from Blazing Saddles (and not just because we’re fans of the Mel Brooks movie of the same name!) and it proved to be a great way to get around, see the city and even get outside of the city.
10.) San Francisco Has A Signature Drink, The Cable Car Cocktail
Yes, San Francisco has a signature drink! Naturally, it’s called the Cable Car Cocktail and while there are various versions of it, it’s an orange rum drink served in a martini glass. There are a few places that specialize in it, from Pier 39 to downtown. Here’s a list of Cable Car Cocktail bars.
San Francisco Bonus Tips!
Here’s a few other tidbits that are useful things for tourists to know about San Francisco.
Several museums have special events primarily for singles that include cocktails. PubClub.con has this list of museum nights and another great source of information is the San Francisco Travel events website…Take one of the hop-on, hop-off sightseeing buses. PubClub.com did the Big Bus Tours and it was great (and we know ‘The City’ really well, too). Heck, it’s also great just for getting around town and bar-hopping…If you want to go to Alcatraz, get your tickets well in advance because the tours are almost always sold out…The best place for a good run (or walk) is from Fort Mason along the water, past Chrissy Field to under the Golden Gate Bridge. This is about six miles round trip and is flat and scenic…The last Friday of the month, all the downtown bicycle delivery people ride around late afternoon clogging traffic in an event known as Critical Mass. Don’t attempt to drive during this time…The Giants no longer have a crab as a mascot...The “shrub guy,” the man who hid inside a makeshift bush and would jump out and scare tourists for tips along Pier 39, has passed away, much to the disappointment of many, even those of us who were his “victims.”