San Francisco: Places to see in 2 full days?

I’m taking my wife’s brother and his wife to San Francisco next weekend. I’ve been there once, and seen a lot of it, but this time the plan is to live in a hotel in the city and walk around and use the trolley to get to all the places if possible. Is that possible? Or should I plan on using the rental car for a lot of places?

The places I vaguely had in my head should solidify into a more solid list with your help.

I remember:
Pier 39 (what to see here? Food maybe?)
Alcatraz (where does the boat leave from? Pier 39 or closeby?)
China Town
Good Pakistani Restaurants
Good Restaurants generally
Presidium (I think that’s what it was called, big place with roman-looking architecture)
Botanical Gardens?
Golden Gate Bridge (from Northern side, right?)
That tall lighthouse looking building
Twin Peaks (loved this place last time, especially near sunset and at night) overlooking city

What did I miss? Any and all suggestions are welcome, including suggestions on transportation and what type of places we can visit by walking or by trolley.

I’ll be there on Friday night, so we’ll have all of Saturday and Sunday to explore as much as we want. I was thinking Monday would be a good day to go down Highway 1 and show them Monterey, etc. But I could also use a third day for San Francisco if you think it deserves one.

As artificial as Disneyland. Skip.

Alcatraz (where does the boat leave from? Pier 39 or closeby?)

Pier 39, unfortunately. Best to buy your tickets in advance, like an airline flight. It gets busy.

China Town

Always good. Tastiest Chinese Food in the country, too. Go figure.

Good Pakistani Restaurants

Try My Tikka Masala on Ellis.

Good Restaurants generally

No shortage of good restaurants in and out of the city, though, again, reservations important. Very foodie town.

Presidium (I think that’s what it was called, big place with roman-looking architecture)

That’s the Palace of Fine Arts. You can hit it while hitting the Presidio and GG Bridge. It’s mainly an empty shell, though they did renovate it a year or two ago. Pretty grounds.

Golden Gate Bridge (from Northern side, right?)

Marin Highlands. Pretty spectacular. And if you keep going West, there is a road that you will hate if you despise heights.

That tall lighthouse looking building

That’s Coit Tower, a memorial to firefighters. Pretty nice view.

What did I miss?

Golden Gate Park has a fuckload of cool shit. The DeYoung Museum (which has an observation deck that has pretty damn good view of the Western half of the city). The California Academy of Sciences is also insanely good, with a ridiculously state-of-the-art digital planetarium that would make Picard envious, along with an aquarium and a terrarium.

Land’s End/Sutro Baths in the NW corner of the city. Land’s End has the Legion of Honor, the most out-of-the-way of the big museums. Also, take the coastal cliffs path around Land’s End.

Shalimar on Jones Street, in the Tenderloin. It isn’t pretty, but it is tasty.

The Exploratorium, if you’re a nerd at all. Bonus: it’s right by the Palace of Fine Arts, near the Presidio.

And if you come on a Sunday, you can hang out with the dancers boogying down to swing classics at Lindy in the Park.

There are folks that take a Segway tour of the park. You can also rent a bike and enjoy the park that way. So much cool stuff to see in and around the park.

Also in Golden Gate Park is the Japanese Tea Gardens, where you can sit by a koi pond and drink tea. That was one of my favorite places I visited there.

The park would be nice if there weren’t so many bums.

Just for walking around, Haight-Ashbury and the Mission district aren’t bad. Lots of quaint shops and interesting quirky little sights.

Borderlands is a great science fiction bookstore in the Mission district.

The SF Museum of Modern Art is one of the best in the country; I even prefer it to the Modern in NY.

+1 for the Exploratorium if you’ve never been to a hands-on science museum. However, if you have, it’s no longer all that special. The space it’s in is nice, but IMO it used to be a much cooler and more unusual experience than it is now. It might still be the best in the country of that type.

Unfortunately Julius Castle is no more, or it would be a fine choice for a summertime dinner beneath Coit Tower, watching the fog roll in. But perhaps there are other restaurants with similar views on Telegraph Hill?

And yeah, skip Fisherman’s Wharf and the other gimcrack tacky tourist things around there.

Ghirardelli Square if you like chocolate…and tourists. ;)

I’ll second Woolen and El Guapo’s suggestion of spending time in Golden Gate Park. You can actually spend all day wandering up and down it, it’s got all sorts of fun little areas ranging from the Tea Gardens to Paddle Boats to its own herd of Bison.

I haven’t been there in a while though, and there weren’t any of the bums Miriam mentions hanging out in the old days, so maybe it’s now a lot less fun than I remember.

In Berkeley there’s a bookstore called Dark Carnival that I think is WAY better than Borderlands. If you want to visit a top-end all-around used and new bookstore (which also sells music, comics, games, et al.) try Green Apple Books.

There is one good thing on the touristy part of Fishermen’s Wharf: the Musee Mechanique, which has a big roomful of mechanical arcade machines, including stereopticons and those peep-show viewer things, going back past 1900.

On the way to the Golden Gate bridge stop off at the Starbucks in the Presidio, conveniently located on the bottom floor of the Lucas Arts office complex, and get your picture taken with the Yoda statue

As someone who lives two blocks off GG Park, I can’t say there is a bum problem.

I mean, yeah, you will have to walk by a few if entering from the haight ashbury side, but big deal; it’s no different than any other park in a major city.

They aren’t going to bother you or anything. Of course, if mere sight of a homeless person bothers you, don’t go, but you would miss out on a world class park.

Well, from the H-A side last year, there were dozens of bums – really – occupying most of the area that I could see around the entrance.

And yes, I’m a New Yorker, well, used to be; these people don’t shock or frighten me. However, when a large section of park is converted to a messy campground, it doesn’t appeal to me as a recreation area.

YMMv, but I didn’t see a single bum in GG park. Though I admit, I’ve seen so many bums in my life they all look like mailboxes to me now.

Haven’t been there specifically in years, but pretty sure Miramon is referring to the Panhandle. I remember seeing how many bums would hang out at the McDonalds in the area.

Others have made lots of good points. Golden Gate Park has a lot going for it; I tried to take my kids to the Academy of Science but didn’t realize they changed the Free Day program and we ended up going to other gardens and stuff instead. The only really notable things about Fisherman’s Wharf are Alcatraz and Bush Man.

For some more local flavor, you can hang out with hipsters at Dolores Park and bask in the straightforward simplicity of COLD BEER COLD WATER Guy.

What kind of food/restaurants are you looking for? House of Prime Rib is a reliable favorite. I can go as highbrow as Benu or down to HRD (as featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives). Just today I read a list of the best Chinese food in the country and that pointed me to this crazy sounding place.

Thanks for the great suggestions so far everyone. I’m taking lots of notes.

Unfortunately, dietary restrictions are severe in this situation. Me and my wife don’t eat pork or anything pig related, same with our two guests. But the guests additionally don’t eat any other kind of meat except fish, unless it’s been specially prepared (halal). So I was thinking a big city like San Francisco might have halal restaurants that serve halal chicken, which is something they really like. (They could also eat Halal beef or lamb, but even though they’re not Hindu, being from India, they still have this idea that red meat “smells” and “does not taste good”. I’ve tried to get my wife to try Steak, and I’ll eventually succeed, but it’s hard to overcome lifelong cultural impressions). Otherwise we’ll stick to vegetarian or seafood. But then, there should be lots of good vegetarian and seafood options in SF too, I hope.

Having been to New York and often to SF I can say that SF has a much greater “bum” problem. Walking around downtown SF you have to step around bums camped on the sidewalks. I don’t remember having any problems with them there or at GG Park though.

I do recommend GG Park, the DeYoung and the Steinhart.

I simply give the brutes a right good thrashing with my walking-stick!

I’m vegetarian (which apparently makes my diet severe?) and didn’t even have to think about it the last time I passed through San Francisco.

There are some very good vegetarian places in San Francisco; Millennium is awesome for instance. Hell I’m the redmeat type and I love that place.

— Alan