10 Things to do in San Francisco
by Johnny Marr of Murder Can be Fun
Tourism is San Francisco's #1 industry. Separating the traveler from the traveler check is a major civic priority. From the shores of Fishermans Wharf to the depths of Union Square, there's no shortage of t-shirt vendors, tour bus operators, and tourist trap owners out to do their civic duty. But San Francisco has much more to offer than a patented Schlocky Tourist Experience. When you're not attending Tease-O-Rama, consider whiling away your hours in San Francisco as follows:
1) Ride a Cable Car:
Contrary to popular tourist belief, riding the cable cars is not worth a two hour wait. But, contrary to popular local belief, they're blast. They're cool, they're old, and they go through some of the most picturesque parts of town. The Powell/Beach car even stops near Bimbo's! Tips: lines are only a problem afternoons on the two Powell Street lines. Mornings and evenings on Powell Street, and any time on the California Street line, you shouldn't have to wait more than 10 minutes for a car. Ride on the running boards, or at least the outside seats for maximum effect. If you're lucky, the conductor won't even collect your fare! And if retro transit is your thing, check out the F-line historic streetcars on Market.
2) Have a drink at the Tonga Room
The minimal use of the tiki motif doesn't keep the Tonga from being the most celebrated exotica bar in town. It feautures an over-the-top South Seas decor heavy on palm fronds and nautical gear, complete with faux thunderstorms, simulated lightning and real rain. In the evenings, a cheesy bar band floating on a raft in the middle of the "lagoon" (formerly the hotel swimming pool) entertains the well lubricated crowd with covers of Carpenters songs. Not cheap, but well worth it.
3) Go for a walk
It's not just the lack of parking that makes San Francisco a walker's town. Unlike many cities, urban renewal didn't hit here very hard. Outside the Union Square and Financial District areas, the town is filled with cool old buildings. It's not too hard to find a block that looks pretty much the way it did almost 100 years ago. The Nob Hill/Russian Hill/North Beach areas are best for soaking up the post-earthquake architectural ambiance of the 1910s and 1920s. Fans of Victoriana will need to venture into the Mission and Western Addition areas. Fun fact: Haight Street proper may look like a bad take of the summer the '67, but the surrounding area is one of the best preserved examples of a 1890s-vintage "streetcar suburb" in the country.
4) Enjoy the views
San Francisco isn't America's most narcissistic city for nothing. Between the hills, the ocean and the bay, there is no shortage of stunning vistas and convenient vantage points from which to admire them. The effort to walk up any hill in clear weather is amply rewarded with a panorama of picture postcard views--Alcatraz, the bay, the bridges, the skyline. Our favorites include Broadway @Taylor on Russian Hill, Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill, and for those equipped with cars, the top of Twin Peaks. Don't forget the camera!
5) Shop at Amoeba
Upper Haight Street is the alterna-youth mall of San Francisco, lined with vintage clothing stores, alarmingly hip boutiques and other retail establishments dear to the hearts of teenagers with funny haircuts everywhere. If you've ever set foot in a college town, you know the drill. But even if this makes you blood run cold, it's worth braving the mobs of pan-handling teens to shop at Amoeba Records. The biggest music store in Northern California is simply titanic. Housed in a converted bowling alley, they have more new and used CDs (and records!) than should exist. On weekends, the clatter of people flipping through CDs is almost deafening. Come prepared to spend more than you can afford.
6) Eat different
A good meal in San Francisco doesn't have to cost you an arm and a leg. The town is lousy with ethnic eateries where the food is good and cheap, especially of the Asian persuasion. Japanese, Korean, Thai, Malaysian, Indonesian, Cambodian, and all varieties of Chinese. The burritos of the Mission District are cheap, delicious, and enormous. What are you doing eating fast food? Were you born in a mall?
7) Go to Japantown
Japantown may be a mall. But it's an all Japanese mall, filled with dozens of stores stocked with cool stuff from the country that's always at the cutting edge of popular culture. Our favorite browsing destinations are the bookstore and the stationary shop (no one does notebooks better!). And when you get hungry, there is no end of Japanese restaurants, sushi and otherwise. We suggest trying one of the noodle restaurants. Remember, in Japan it's OK to slurp your noodles.
8) See a movie at the Castro
If the bill sounds even vaguely interesting, check out the Castro Theater. A fabulously restored 1920s-era movie theater complete with a Mighty Wurlitzer, it isn't the most revered theater in this movie-mad city for nothing. The repertory programming is adventurous, the decor is fabulous, and the organ concerts during intermission are not to be missed. The multiplex back home will never look the same.
9) Have a drink in North Beach
We're sure you'll find yourself wandering through North Beach and working up a thirst at some point. And chances are you'll find yourself in front of a cafe. But not all cafes in North Beach are created equal! A long-time local favorite that dates back to the beat era without succumbing to the temptation of becoming a tourist trap is the Cafe Trieste (601 Vallejo). Their potent espressos have fueled more than one flight of poetic fancy. A great favorite with the post-beatnik North Beach residents is the North End Cafe (1402 Grant). And if you prefer more adult beverages, you can't go wrong at Spec's (Adler Alley) where they have yet to hear about Kerouac's death and Tosca's (242 Columbus) with its wonderful 1940s style red linoleum and chrome decor.
10) Check out Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate park is artificial as hell--without a diligent Parks and Rec. department, it would be nothing but sand dunes. But if you crave the outdoors, you can't go wrong out here with endless acres of lawn and trees and trails make you forget you're in the middle of the most densely populated city west of the Mississippi. Highlights include the Japanese Tea Garden and the Buffalo Paddock's disgruntled occupants. If you feel the urge for exercise, the vendors on Stanyan near Haight will be happy to rent you a pair of roller skates or a bicycle.