Most of my life I’ve lived 3-and-a-half hours away from SF in the heart of the Central Valley. But now that I call the Bay Area my home, I thought I would let my fellow ONA12 attendees in on knowledge I wish I knew when first coming to San Francisco.
I still want to post another SF guide for those with spare time in the city. If you find yourself with spare time in the Bay Area beyond the conference, be it a few hours or a few days, here’s my recommendations on what to do in SF.
This, my friends, is the Fleece of Shame.
It’s what tourists are forced to buy when they think they’re travelling to sunny California and the sky looks bright out their hotel window and their weather app says 70 degrees so therefore they don’t need a jacket. In two hours it will be a windy 55 degrees and they will fork over $50 for fleeces from some random tourist stand with horrendous tacky logos that will haunt them in every photo they take.
Do not be caught with the Fleece of Shame. Be caught with the much-lesser sin of tying your jacket around your waist.
Compared to my country bumpkin upbringing, the transit is amazing. But compared to cities like New York, D.C. and Chicago, our transit sucks. The BART shuts down around midnight on weeknights and the MUNI light rail doesn’t travel everywhere you need to go. And that electronic sign that says the bus is coming in two minutes has been lying to you for the past twenty.
Yet it’s still better than driving. So we soldier on.
Your survival tool is the Google Maps app. I use it constantly everywhere in the Bay Area without major problems. You can also call 511 from your mobile for live arrival times, or visit 511.org.
One helpful navigation tip: The sidewalk corners in SF are all embedded with the street names, in case you can’t see a sign or you never, ever want to look up from your phone.
San Francisco is built on three separate grids, some at weird angles that can confuse the hell out of newcomers. Plus, the city has so many impossible one-way streets and no-left-turn rules and steep-hill challenges. And then you have to park and spend longer finding a decent spot than you do driving. Plus the tight parallel parking and the remembering to turn your wheels on hills and… ugh.
If transit isn’t an option, just pay other people to drive for you. Taxis may not be plentiful everywhere in SF, but they’re around the touristy areas. You might also want to try Uber. It’s more expensive than a regular cab, but I’ve heard from reliable sources that an Uber car arrives within seconds.
Another option: If you’re a member of Zipcar, there’s a few lots by the hotel. You will have to drive, but you won’t have to find parking. That’s half the battle.
Be prepared to pay $12-15 for basic lunch at most places in the Financial District, $15-25 for dinner. Dining by the waterfront can be $30+.
Or San Fran. Or anything else. The only acceptable spoken words are “San Francisco” or, if you’re anywhere in the area, “The City.” SF is acceptable in type, sometimes in speech. Just don’t call it Frisco. This bitterness goes back a long time.
The BART, the trolley and the cable car all stop right in front of it. It’s attached to the Embarcadero Center, with four buildings full of shopping and dining. It’s on the waterfront. It’s accessible from everywhere. From a tourist’s point of view, it’s ideally situated.
“Hey dad, what was that place grandma used to take us to every time we were in San Francisco? The place with the glass elevators?”
“Oh yeah, the Hyatt,” my dad said.
And a really terrible video of it here. The Exploratorium always has great stuff and we’re lucky to see some of their exhibits in the lobby. If you have an extra day in SF, you should go visit, preferably while they’re still in the gorgeous Palace of Fine Arts. (They’re moving in spring 2013.)
Read more details from the ONA website about the union dispute with the Hyatt hotels. Please read and consider all the information. If you are OK with knowing this, and you still plan to attend ONA, continue with the rest of this guide.
It’s actually both. The Financial District is San Francisco’s downtown skyscraper area, where the only people who’d be caught dead wearing a suit hang out. And the Embarcadero is the area all along the eastern waterfront. But usually when someone refers to “the Embarcadero,” they typically mean the area around the Ferry Building and the Justin Herman Plaza. Exactly where the hotel is.
No, seriously. The place shuts down around 5 p.m. on weekdays, and you’re lucky to find much of anything open on the weekends or late night – with the exception of the 24-hour Subway. For those reasons, I haven’t spent a whole lot of time there before I knew the conference would be there. But in recent weeks I’ve discovered some gems in the neighborhood, so it’s still possible to have a good time. (Though you can have an even better time a 15-minute walk away.) Speaking of…
Many of my fellow East Bay residents refuse to go anywhere more than a minute’s walk from a BART stop. Do not be like them.
Everything in red is where you want to avoid at night.
Except if you’re joining us for karaoke Saturday night. In that case, suck it up, travel in a group, take a taxi if it’s past 10 p.m. Because, come on, karaoke.
A world-class free symphony concert is happening just outside the hotel at the Justin Herman Plaza on Friday at 5 p.m. Plus, as it happens every weekend, a farmers market takes place at the Ferry Building. If you’re a big foodie, you might see celebrity chefs like Alice Waters grazing through the market. And the only-in-SF, not-for-the-faint-of-heart Folsom Street Fair [NSFW] is on Sunday, a short bus ride away. Just thought you should know!
For more journalism-y non-ONA events: On Wednesday the NorCal chapter of SPJ will have a meetup on digital security (but you must register by 10 a.m. Sept. 19). If you have an extra day on Monday evening, you have options: You can go learn how to solder your own circuits at Noisebridge (a must-visit place if you’re a hacker or geek), or Transmedia SF is having a meetup called From Coding to Stories.
This is the Bay Bridge. It is grey. It has more than two vertical towers on it, therefore not the Golden Gate.
This is the Golden Gate Bridge. It is red. Well, OK, “international orange.” It has only two vertical towers. It is not visible from the hotel.
And now you know!
Walk out of the hotel toward the waterfront and turn left into Sue Bierman Park. That squawking you hear are San Francisco’s famous wild parrots. They don’t look quite like Iago, but they are cool. Bring your telephoto lens.
Remember, most everything shuts down after business hours, so while your lunchtime options are numerous, your dinner options are not.
My favorite dinner place in the area is Pizza Orgasmica. The pizzas are heavenly, and it’s a rare place in the neighborhood open until midnight, 7 days a week. Warning: It’s also a theme restaurant, so you can order the Doggy Style, Kama Sutra, Kinky Cow… or if love isn’t your thing, you can also order a Divorce.
For something more low-key, there’s a trifecta of pubs around Front and Sacramento streets: The Royal Exchange, Harrington’s and Schroeder’s. (The latter is beating the other two on Yelp by a half star.)
You can dine at ritzy places on the waterfront, but for the most part, the long waits and the high prices aren’t worth it to me. But hey, it’s your money. Knock yourself out.
Local Edition. It’s a newspaper-themed bar. I don’t care if it gets packed to the gills, I’m not going to list any more bars because there are no other bars worth listing. Just don your fedora, get on the streetcar in front of the hotel, and ride two minutes to Montgomery Street to the Hearst Building, where the old Examiner print room now serves you cocktails among relics of the print era gone by. IT’S A NEWSPAPER-THEMED BAR, PEOPLE. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
Here’s a very limited but recommended selection of events happening while ONA is going on. Or, you can visit here, here and here to do some searches yourself. Just make sure they don’t conflict with any of the ONA after-parties you’re dying to attend.
Wednesday, Sept. 19
Thursday, Sept. 20
Friday, Sept. 21
Saturday, Sept. 22
Autumn Moon Festival, Saturday and Sunday, Irving St. and 22nd Ave. in the Sunset District. A Chinese cultural event kicks off with an 11 a.m. parade on Saturday. Events through 5 p.m. both days. There will be lanterns. Sounds epic.
Sunday, Sept. 23
Folsom Street Fair, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Folsom and 7th. This is one of the top “Only in SF” festivals, behind Bay to Breakers and… well, gay pride parades aren’t only in SF. In any case, you should go see Folsom. Because you will never, ever unsee it.
Monday, Sept. 24
Do the following at your own peril:
The only place to get Rice-a-Roni is in every grocery store in the nation. Please, say no to marketing gimmicks.
I may make enemies with this statement, but once you East Coast people stop calling my home state “In-N-Out-Land,” then we can talk. Also, until their fries stop tasting like Styrofoam.
Unless you really really want to see the sea lions. But save yourself the time, crowds and overpriced everythings and just watch the live webcam.
It’s cold. It’s windy. Sand blows in your face. I don’t want your opinion of California beaches to be sullied. You’ll have to go either all the way up to Stinson Beach or all the way down to Half Moon Bay, and neither of those are easy trips without a car. Even then I’d say you can’t get a truly great beach until you hit Capitola. But I’m not a big beach person, so take all this with a grain of… sand.
It’s because I hate fun and youth. And because it’s someone’s actual house. And because Full House was filmed on a set much, much wider than that narrow Victorian house. And because everything that happens on that show would never, ever happen in San Francisco. I actually forgot the show was set in SF until someone asked about it last time ONA was here. So, just, no.
On a positive note…
You may not know just how excited I am about this year’s ONA. The first hint is this blog post, I suppose. I mean, I wasn’t about to just repurpose someone else’s travel guide content and call it a day. I saw this as an opportunity to show off a city I love to colleagues I don’t get to see more than once a year. So yeah, I may have stayed up a bit too late, and yeah, I may have even more stuff up my sleeve, but trust me. It’s all worth it.
See you in a few days!
[Edit: I had originally written a nod to the 24-hour Subway as a last-ditch late-night option, and then somehow managed to copy and paste that in to the cheap eats section. It's been re-edited to my original intention.]