Wednesday, May 20, 2009

San Francisco Quickie Tour

Like many who live in tourist cities, I rarely visit the area’s more popular attractions. They’re overly crowded and commercial, goes the conventional wisdom.

But it's a mistake for the amateur tour guide to assume that visitors want an "authentic" San Francisco experience on back roads and byways. (I first absorbed that haughty attitude, I think, in my home town of Honolulu, where in the Fifties and Sixties all of us cool kids stayed away from ticky-tacky Waikiki.)

When playing host to Asian businessmen, I was disabused of that notion. They wanted to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. They wanted to sip a cocktail at the Top of the Mark. They wanted to ride a cable car.

Recently I was asked to put together a one-day sightseeing tour of San Francisco. Below is this man’s plan. It's based on over 25 years of getting stuck in traffic, arriving at attractions after they've closed, and darting back and forth across the City, compounding the problem of anthropogenic global warming. I have coldheartedly crossed stuff off the list because they take too much time; for example, a wine country tour will take at least one day.

(A city map will make directions much easier to follow.)

First stop, Chinatown: park at the underground Portsmouth Square lot, walk up Washington, make a right on Grant, then Broadway up one block, back along Stockton. Visit the Cable Car Museum (free), which is up the fairly steep hill on Washington. Walk down back to the car.

Drive up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower and park. Visit the display and ride the elevator to the top if you feel like paying the fee to see the view (not worth it in my opinion).

Head towards Lombard and park at the base of the "crookedest street in the world". Walk up and down along the sidewalk. Take pictures.

The seals at Pier 39.

Fisherman's Wharf: if it’s your first and only day in SF, I suppose you have to do it. Start at Pier 39 where you can see the seals. Walk toward the round marker at Taylor & Jefferson that's been there for half a century. Lunch at one of the many restaurants--one of my favorites is Scoma’s—or, if you’re in a hurry, grab a crab sandwich or shrimp cocktail from a sidewalk vendor.

Palace of Fine Arts. One of the most photographed SF venues, although first-timers don't know it by its name.

Golden Gate Bridge: Another obligatory destination. I like the view from the Marin Headlands instead of the view parking lot at the end of the bridge on the Marin end. Stop at both places if there's time. If you have even more time, you can walk across the bridge and hopefully arrange for your friendly tour driver to meet you on the other side.

Ghirardelli Square: Walk around. Buy chocolates. If you're lucky, they're giving samples.

Cable Car: walk a couple of blocks to Aquatic Park and get on the cable car (all go to the same place) that will take you to Powell & Market. If there's a long wait, forget the cable car and drive to Union Square.

Union Square. If the shopping there's not enough for you, see the new San Francisco Centre (French spelling means it’s expensive) on Market (Bloomingdale's, Nordstrom, plus many more stores). There are dozens of restaurants choose from; half of the Chronicle’s top 100 Bay Area restaurants are in San Francisco so I’m sure you’ll figure something out.

Destinations that did not make the list because they would have taken too much time:

Golden Gate Park and museums
Grace Cathedral & Nob Hill
Museum of Modern Art
Asian Art Museum
Moscone Center
Ferry Building
Ferry to Sausalito
Muir Woods

Cliff House
AT&T Park
City Hall, Opera House, and Civic Center
Wine country tour (Napa & Sonoma)
North Beach (Italian section)
Haight-Ashbury © 2009 Stephen Yuen

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