Favorite thing For a nice illustrated, paperback travel guide to the City: 'Eyewitness Travel Guide to San Francisco and Northern California (revised)' by Linda Williams. Here's a sample page from this book. (Click to enlarge.) Most of your touristing in this City will be in the Districts highlighted on this sample page: Chinatown, Fisherman's Wharf, Marina, Presidio, Golden Gate Park. With this book, you'll know the City better than most natives. This book will orient you to the City's colorful history, culture and landscape.
Fondest memory I survived the earthquake of 1989. Oh, and about that earthquake of 1906, the history can be found online (copy & paste this in your browser) http://quake.usgs.gov/info/1906
Favorite thing Starring Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, this movie does a fairly accurate and highly acclaimed portrayal of the life and death of San Francisco's first gay supervisor, Harvey Milk. Thanks to the efforts of Mayor Moscone, who was also killed by former supervisor Dan White (who later committed suicide after release from jail), Harvey Milk, and others the San Francisco gay community has become an established part of the city community. Their martyrdom also spurred the movement for gay rights in the USA and throughout the world. Go to Milk for more information on the movie, or History of Harvey Milk
Favorite thing I can't understand why a city like San Francisco can't arrange for undergroung parking in its most touristy places. At the Embarcadero, where thousands of tourists flock all year, they have this huge parking eye-sore across the street.
Favorite thing From the Beats and their jugs of cheap red to the hippies and their 3-letter cures to the Crystal Meth-fueled gay dance scene, SF has always been a great place to get f*cked up.
But in spite of (or, more likely, because of) this, SF has a wealth of resources available to the sober traveler. There are over 600 - that's 600! - AA meetings every week in the city alone! There are also chapters of Rational Recovery, CA, NA, and just about every other A. Check your phone book for the contact #s, or just call 411.
For AA in San Francisco, go to http://www.aasf.org/.
Their phone# is 415-674-1821
Favorite thing Although San Francisco is a compact and well developed, an assortment of wildlife roam the City. Most wild animals in the City tend to be nocturnal. Enough open space and hideaways exist for these creatures to find refuge during the day. Whether you will see any will depend where you are, when you are there, and how hard you look. For the most part, these animals are harmless if given the proper respect. If you keep your distance, they should not present a problem should you encounter any of them.
Raccoons rule the night. I've seen them in about every neighborhood, even Fisherman's Wharf. They can get quite large, for a raccoon. These city slickers can be on the aggressive side. They will attack dogs if provoked and in certain circumstances, may even charge towards people. They can be found both alone or in small family groups. If you see any, it is best to give them a wide berth.
Skunks are another common creature of the night in the City. These also can be found throughout the City and can ruin your evening if you happen to get too close to one. Opossums are more illusive, but can occasionally be seen.
Seals have occupied the Bay long before the founding of San Francisco. Some of them decided to regain some lost turf and took over some boat slips at Pier 39. These intruders have since become a tourist attraction.
At dusk, bats can be seen and heard in some locations like Mount Davidson. These rare creatures are fairly harmless. Although some may find them a bit creepy.
Coyotes recently re-inhabited the City. Keep your distance from these guys or scare them away with a lot of noise if they approach. Under no circumstances should you attempt to feed them. They have been sited in the Presidio, Golden Gate Park, Twin Peaks, on the bluffs above Ocean Beach, and even in the Potrero Hill district. It is unknown if they ventured up the beach and associated bluffs from San Mateo County or traversed the Golden Gate Bridge from Marin (without paying the toll). Either way they are there. They usually come out at night and are rarely seen. This illusive animal is the only critter on this list that I have not yet seen within the City. In the summer of 2007, two coyotes in Golden Gate Park became too aggressive and were destroyed by state wildlife officials.
Grey Fox are very rare. I have only seen them in the late afternoon on the bluffs above Ocean Beach near the San Francisco and Daly City boarder. They are sometimes seen in the Presidio.
Birds are abundant in San Francisco. You can see seagulls, pigeons, robins, hummingbirds, crows, parrots (yes the flock of parrots does exist), ducks, snowy plovers, heron, and occasional birds of prey like hawks. Alcatraz Island in the Bay is a major breeding ground for seagulls.
Some reptiles may crawl under a rock here. A garter snake is a rare find and is also pretty harmless. Lizards can be found in some open space areas.
In San Francisco you can find squirrels where you can find trees. Gofers burrow under manicured lawns, while field mice and other rodents scurry about. For a well developed City, quite a few wild creatures are about.
Favorite thing One of the smartest things I did before our trip was to write to fellow VTer, CALLAVETTA, who lives in the San Francisco area and ask for advice on what to see or do there. Along with her suggestions and some extended research on my part, our family enjoyed a very exciting and fulfilling week!
Loaded down with two maps and a guidebook, we rode the trolley and cable car, cruised the Bay to Alcatraz and then Sausolito, traveled over the Golden Gate Bridge several times, rented a car to enjoy wine country and lastly experienced the beauty of Yosemite. The preparation was the key--we saw all that we had planned, plus a few added extras.
Guidebook on Northern California published by AVALON TRAVEL PUBLISHING--ISBN 10-1-56691-555-4
Favorite thing I always like to watch movies and read books about the location I'm visiting, I didn't find time to read any books for this trip but I did manage to sneak in a few movies, the three I watched were all filmed in San Francisco and featured parts of it prominently
The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, a 2005 documentary about the wild parrots who've made Telegraph Hill their home and the man who spent years tending to the flock
Bullitt a 1968 thriller starring Steve McQueen, famous for the car chase scenes through the hills of San Francisco, all the more impressive after you realize that the car chase is real and Steve McQueen did most of his own driving.
Escape from Alcatraz, a 1979 movie starring Clint Eastwood as Frank Morris, one of the three men who escaped from Alcatraz in June 1962 and was never seen again. They filmed it almost entirely at Alcatraz so you can get a good look at the prison before you visit. The escape was almost anticlimatic, but I enjoyed the look at what the prisoners faced on "The Rock".
There are lots of other books and films set in San Francisco, here's a list from Wikipedia
For a guidebook, I picked up Fodor's San Francisco and while some of the prices/times/opening hours were off, I found that it was a good comprehensive guide and appeared to have been written by a local, not someone who visited for a few days or even worse, had never been there at all
Favorite thing My Travelogue Page dedicated just to online travel sources.
-- 1800cheapseats.com: full-scale service, live reservationists and Internet technology. Phone 1-800-CheapSeats, available almost around the clock, seven days a week. They have a database of Internet and airline airfares. The prices of its airfares, cruises and hotel rooms are great.
-- CheapFlights.com: For people seeking flights within the United States (it also books hotels). It surveys traditional carriers, cut-rate upstarts, and major "consolidators" (discounters) of airfares. Its main menu shows the pattern of fares on various airlines for a continuous period. Click on that pattern and it displays access information.
-- Applefares.com: Devoted to ascertaining the fares and available seats of many new cut-rate airlines that now fly from city to city in Europe. Reveals spectacularly low rates that are frequently offered for travel within Europe.
Favorite thing I highly recommend purchasing a box of the City Walks: San Francisco cards by Christina Henry de Tessan featuring self-guided adventures on foot around 40+ neighborhoods in the city. My hostess for my most recent trip had a set that I was going to borrow, but I decided I wanted my own set to carry and bang around and mark up.
I was researching locales for a novel I'm working on, and these cards proved to be invaluable. There's a level of detail in each neigbhorhood description that you don't always find in tour guides. Most importantly, the layout is compact and quite handy; the cards are pocket/purse side, with one side of each card features a close-up map of a given neighborhood and the other side tells you step-by-step which streets to take on your walking tour, which sites to stop for, the difficulty level of the walk, which bus to take to get to the starting point, and places to eat and shop.
You can find the cards at bookstores like Barnes & Noble. I'm hoping the series will make a set for Los Angeles soon.
Fondest memory My other tip is that you get an SF Weekly and a Guardian. They seem to come out on Thursdays, and you can grab them just about anywhere. I would recommend getting both because I think the club listings in SF Weekly are more extensive, but the Guardian seems to have more alternative/funkier listings for places to go.
Favorite thing Coming in from Oakland you might want to rent a car at the airport the first day and then drive over to the hotel. You could then do your ride down the coast line the next day and then drop off the car at one of the rental facilities in downtown San Francisco when you are finished with it. On our last trip we did the wine country, Yosemite and then San Francisco. We picked up an Avis rental at SFO and then returned it to an Avis facility near our hotel with no extra charges. You could choose one of the major car rental companies for that option. Having a car I would suggest going out to Golden Gate Park, the Presido and take in the Cliff House above the Pacific Ocean. You could have a nice dinner or lunch out there. You will need a car to get to Muir Woods and as long as you are on that side of the bay check out the town of Sausalito also.
We did the night Alcatraz tour on our last trip which we really enjoyed. Get tickets far in advance as they will sell out. Before you board the boat you will go through a line where they will want to take your picture in front of a fake backdrop and then if you want 2 5 by 7 pictures will charge you $22. Skip the picture (you don't have to have it taken) and have someone take you and your husbands picture with the real Alcatraz in the background.
Another thing we really enjoyed last time was an architectural tour of the financial district. Rick Evans is the tour guide and was very interesting. The tour was about 2 hours long and was $20 cash. You can check out my tips with pictures it you click on my VT name and go to my San Francisco travel page.
I would skip the Yosemite trip even with the tour bus. That's a whole day affair and you really won't get the true flavor of Yosemite packed on a bus with other people and only making timed stops. Save that for another trip. If you are like me you will fall in love with SF and want to go back many times.
That being said some people don't like San Francisco because of the homeless and people on the street. There are a number of these people around town, but they will not bother you if you keep on walking by.
Favorite thing This is where most of the Latino community of SF reisdes, so here is where you will find the best Mexican, El Salvadorian, Equadorian and Columbian food in SF.
There are loads of bars, nic-nac shops, Latin music outlets, dancing and shows.
Revolution Cafe --bar none, (no pun intended) the best bar in the Mission. It's a cafe posing as a bar, live jazz music, art, open air seating and smoking allowed. Beautiful people to watch, great location. Hands down, best.
Zeitgeist --rough around the edges, this bar poses as hard ass, but behind the tatoos and piercings are a group of people who love to ride their bikes (and are allowed to bring them into the bar and store them on a rack outside). Great outdoor area with many picnic tables for large, noisy crowds, great angus beef burgers and pool. The famous Tamale Lady makes her appearance with a chest of $4 tamales. Don't wear the patchouli; they won't let you in.
Restaurants: there are so many and I have not been to them all.
El Farolito --Do you want to taste real Mexican food? This is the best Mexican food in SF. Promise.
sushi in the Mission? Yes!
Tokyo Go Go --conservative, casual, clean space with a great price for fresh sashimi and warm sake.
Vintage by the Pound --pretty good price if you're looking for unique fabric
Good Vibrations --clean establishment with plenty of online and in store products...condoms at the register.
Therapy --whimsical and cool urban men and womens' clothing and gifts.
Favorite thing We came across those funny little vehicles several times in fact. They seemed to have a sort of audio guide included, giving information about the main attractions in town. And I thought it must be very convenient to rent one of them. Back home, I found some information about them on the website mentionned below.