A Northway tour of San Francisco

San Francisco
Originally uploaded by apes_abroad.

Yes, the Northways came back to SF for three months, which as Colin says fits us like a glove. We’ve got to move on to BC in July, but I’m already planning our next SF visit for GDC 2012. A friend asked us for advice on what to see and do in San Francisco, and listing out all the best places for him has made me start to miss the city already. Here are, more or less, our favourite things to do in SF:

If you’re going to be there on a Thursday, start by planning that day around the Academy of Sciences nightlife event – adults-only cocktails in an aquarium! That starts at 6:00pm in Golden Gate Park, so you can spend the day in and around Golden Gate Park. Start by taking the N Judah MUNI train (here’s a bus map), get off at Carl & Cole (great sushi for dinner there) and walk down to Haight & Ashbury and Magnolia’s brewpub for brunch because it’s never too early for a beer.

Stroll down to the park, check out the drummers on hippie hill, and make your way to the museums. Across from the academy is the De Young which has awesome creepy skulls and fetishes from New Guinea, and a sweet tower that’s free to go up with a view of the city. Nearby on 9th is the new Social Kitchen brewpub and Arizmendi which has delicious pizza and other baked yum you can pick up for later.

If you have time, come back to the park on a Sunday when they close the first half of JFK drive for people to ride their bikes (rent bikes at Haight & Stanyan). If the weather is warm (March-April is best; in July-August expect sunny mornings and chill windy afternoons), go all the way to Ocean Beach and follow the walking trails north through the ruins of Sutro Baths to Golden Gate Bridge. The trails continue east from the bridge along the water all the way to pier 49 but it’s a long way; better to head in to Geary to catch the 38 bus back. But first stop at the Russian importers for some sausage and poppyseed pastries. It’s always good to have snax for later.

I think Alcatraz is overrated and pier 49 is a tourist hell hole, but it’s worth going just for the Musee Mechanique. Then you can walk from there to check out the best parts of North Beach and Chinatown. Hike up to the base of Coit Tower then walk down the paths on the east side to Embarcadero. Follow that south along the water south to the Ferry Building which is cool in a yuppie kind of way, especially when they have the farmer’s market on Sunday.

In terms of museums the Exploratorium is my favorite, but it’s best if you can go to their monthly after dark event so you don’t have to share all the cool interactive science stuff with the dumb kids it was designed for. Colin likes the SFMOMA and YBCA art galleries just south of market near 4th, and there’s a comic book museum and other little galleries nearby that are cool, and free the first Tuesday of every month.

That’s it for downtown though. I wouldn’t bother with the area around powell, market, and union square because it’s just commercial tourist blah, and busy. Avoid wandering into the Tenderloin west of union square around 6th + market unless you’re looking to buy some crack or converse with crazy people.

The cable car museum near chinatown is free and cool, and if you must take a cable car, the California line is the easiest to get a seat on. You can take it to the end then walk down to Van Ness to hit up Tommy’s Joynt (or perhaps somewhere classier).

Take the BART to the Mission to find all kinds of good restaurants, urban culture and people speaking Spanish. Wander between 24th and 16th, Valencia and Mission st. It’s what I think of as the “real” San Francisco, and it’s a little grimy. It can’t be denied, SF is a stinky city and inhabited by a lot of homeless people. That’s part of the… charm? Head up to the Castro for a break; it’s much trendier and whiter and gayer.

If you have a car and can organize who gets to drink and who has to drive, our favourite outside-the-city thing is to do a day of wine tastings around the Russian River area to the north. It’s a couple boring hours on the highway to get out there but once you do the roads meander and the countryside is lovely. There’s a burger place called Mike’s At The Crossroads that’s great for loading up on grease first, and another brewpub in Santa Rosa for when you’re sick of wine. If you don’t want to go so far, buy some $5 wine from Trader Joe’s and have a picnic on the hills just north of the Golden Gate bridge (if it’s not too foggy – earlier in the day is better).

And of course before you go, take a look at what events are going to be on, maybe take in a concert or a play. I love a good street fair or craft fair, and then there’s Bay to Breakers, Gay Pride, LoveFest, the Folsom Street Fair (scary!), etc. SF likes to throw big, weird parties.

For those who might not know, we started a new development blog at NorthwayGames.com for game and work-related stuff. We’ll continue posting here again when we’re “abroad” once more in French Polynesia this fall.


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