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Ten Things to Do in San Francisco the Way the Locals Do

Ten Things to Do in San Francisco the Way the Locals Do
by Paul McLellan on 05-19-2015 at 7:00 am

 DAC is in San Francisco, of course, and perhaps you have a day or two to do explore the city. Guidebooks will tell you to visit most of these places but there are much better ways to see them than they typically recommend. Follow these instructions and pretend you are a local.

1. Ride a Cable Car. But don’t wait in line for 45 minutes at Union Square or Fisherman’s Wharf like you are a tourist. Instead, go to the cable car barn on the corner of Washington and Mason. This where the whole system is driven from and you can watch the motors hauling the miles of cable under the streets. And then when you have finished, you can just get on a cable car without needing to stand in line, and go back downtown (or to Fisherman’s Wharf, if you insist). Be like a local and stand on the outside and hang on.

2. See Chinatown. Here’s the best way to do it. Go to Union Square. Go shopping if that’s your thing. Then leave Union Square on Stockton Street and walk through the Stockton Street Tunnel. When you come out at the other end you are in the back of Chinatown and it is like you have landed in another country. Stockton Street is the non-touristy part of Chinatown, full of food shops and the like. Go down the hill one block to Grant Street if you feel the need to buy the sort of things tourists like to buy in Chinatown. Or walk up Washington Street to the cable car barn and ride the cable car back down without standing in line. See the above paragraph.

3. Get a tour to Alcatraz. Warning: you must book well in advance. You will not get tickets if you just show up. Or be like a local and book the night tour, which leaves around 6 and gets back around 9. There are fewer people on the island and you get to watch the sun set through the Golden Gate. The ferry leaves from pier 33. You buy tickets online.

4. See the Golden Gate Bridge. The best way is to rent a bicycle and cycle over the bridge (no toll). There are lots of places on that side of the city that will rent you a bike (if you were a local you would already own one). You can then go down the hill into Sausalito. There is a scheduled ferry back from Sausalito to San Francisco and you can take your bike on it.

5. Take a Tour of the Bay but ignore the official tours of the bay. Just take the ferry to Sausalito (from the Ferry Building or from pier 41), have a drink on the boat, and get the ferry back. Cheapest bay tour available and voted the #2 most exciting ferry ride in the world by the Association of American Travel Writers (the Star Ferry from Kowloon to Hong Kong is #1, so rather a long way to go and imho rather less impressive). Or cycle across the bridge and get this ferry back, see the above paragraph.

6. Walk around Golden Gate Park. The most interesting things are the Conservatory of Flowers, the de Young Museum (closed on Monday) and the Japanese Gardens and tea room. The California Academy of Sciences is also in the park but at $35 entry per adult it is very pricey. If you are feeling like a long walk and have lots of time, walk all the way to Ocean Beach.

7. The Exploratorium is the original hands-on science museum. It has moved and it is now on Pier 15. I’m sure you have heard of it already. Almost anyone attending DAC would find it interesting despite it being somewhat centered on science education of children. In its new location it is just a ten or fifteen minute walk from Moscone or pick up the F-line on market street and ride an historic streetcar too.

8. Go for a rum drink at Smuggler’s Cove. It is at 650 Gough Street. Make sure to take the address or you will walk past it since there is no real sign. Look for red and green navigation lights. The highest rated bar in San Francisco (#16 in the world), 400 rums and over 100 different rum-based cocktails. It is a small tiki bar, so go early to avoid standing in line.

 9. Get around town the way the locals do and use Uber. Or Lyft or Sidecar. Just download the apps to your smartphone and you are set to go. Alternatively, if you are feeling sorry for the real taxis, use Flywheel on your phone instead of standing beside the road hoping to see an empty one.

Number 10 would be going to see the Giants baseball but I’m afraid they are on the east coast the entire week of DAC so you can’t. Or the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) but that is closed until next year for construction. So the last minute substitute into the rotation will have to be Yerba Buena Gardens.It is just a few steps from Moscone. In fact, it is on top of the North Hall of Moscone (DAC will be in the South Hall). Five acres of public park filled with sculpture, in the heart of the city. Bordering it are a couple of art galleries and the Jewish Museum. There is even a bowling alley.

And if you are a local yourself, feel free to add other ideas in the comments.

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