What we did and what we reckon you should do too…
Regularly named as one of the world’s top oyster towns, you can’t come to San Francisco without sampling this iconic dish. If you’re anything like me, you tried an oyster aged about 13, decided it tasted of sea water and snot and have refused to touch the things ever since. Trust me: it’s time to have another go.
There are dozens of bars and restaurants vying for the coveted top spot and if you’re interested in trying out more than one, there are some good round-ups HERE and HERE. I’d have loved to do the research for you but I was already on a mission to review every coffee shop in SF so the oysters had to take a back seat. We went to the Hog Island Oyster Co. housed in the old ferry terminal on the Embarcadero where a dozen mixed oysters for $36 (£23) slipped down a treat.
Were you really expecting us to say anything else? For Franki’s full guide to San Francisco coffee houses, see HERE. A special mention also goes to breakfast cocktails, as detailed in Rob’s recent Booze of the World post. From Bucks Fizz to more potent combinations, we found that no weekend brunch was complete without a cheeky tipple.
Try: Cycling up a hill.
The locals make it look easy but don’t be fooled. We rented bikes for $25 (£16) each a day in order to see the city parks and to cross the Golden Gate Bridge – a thoroughly awe-inspiring experience which we sincerely recommend – but even our supposed ‘flat route’ was chest-clutchingly difficult in parts. I’ll be honest, we got off and pushed more than once.
It was well worth the effort, though. We picked up our bikes from San Francisco Bike Rentals in the morning and headed straight to the bridge before making our way back, via the Beach Chalet brewery and restaurant at the Pacific end of Golden Gate park where we stopped for lunch. The afternoon was then a leisurely meander back through the park to Haight-Ashbury and the bike shop.
Buy: Shoes. A MUNI pass.
SF is undoubtedly a good place to buy shoes but on reflection we felt the transport tip was of more use to the general travelling public. A boring one, admittedly but getting a week’s travel card on the MUNI public transport system really opened up San Francisco for us. Seven days costs $29 (£18) and covers all buses, trams (Franki’s personal favourite – see HERE for details) and cable cars. The network is excellent and you really can get to pretty much any part of town – and that’s coming from a Londoner!
And if you do happen to find yourself in a footwear emergency, Haight Street is the place to go.
Do: Familiarise yourself with the local sports team.
We were lucky enough to be in town to see the San Francisco Giants win the World Series. As someone who’s never had more than a passing awareness of baseball, it turned out to be a truly fantastic experience and a privilege to witness. For Rob. who’ll watch pretty much any sport as long as it isn’t American, learning the rules and getting into the strategy of it proved engrossing. Plus, asking about the rules helped endear us to people in bars.
The impromptu street party in Lower Haight:
And in the Mission District:
Don’t: Say no when people offer to pay for your drinks.
I’m not saying this will definitely happen, but on two occasions – TWO – the people we were talking to insisted on buying our drinks. And you know when I say insisted I mean it because we’re British and “oh no, please, you really mustn’t, honestly no, please, don’t be silly, that’s quite unnecessary… [ad infinitum]” is something we don’t tire of easily.
Overall San Francisco was a place where we really witnessed the renowned American friendliness. We met people from New York, Boston, somewhere in Philly (in town for a Pearl Jam gig), a couple who’d just moved to SF from Cambridge, Mass, (envy!) an elderly couple who’d lived in the city all their lives, and countless groovy bartenders, waiting staff and baristas. And most of these seemed genuinely happy to help us out, give us tips, share their own stories and occasionally get the drinks in. As the first stop on a round-the-world tour it was a fantastic lesson in shaking off the characteristic reserve and getting stuck in chatting to people.
Plus it meant we had conversations with people other than each other which can only be a good thing for our sanity.
And not forgetting…
…when a man got on the bus with a live snake in his bag. It started out innocently enough. An odd-looking chap in dirty clothes, a slightly vacant air, and apparently talking to himself under his breath, sat down opposite us on the Number 5. So far, so San Francisco. But then he proceeded to fiddle with the zip of his holdall from which we suddenly realised was protruding a rather long, pale yellow, and distinctly reptilian tail. Next to me Rob, whose one major phobia is snakes, tangibly froze in horror.
Mumbling words to the effect of “better put him back in” the man then proceeded to ineptly stuff the curling lengths into the holdall while fellow passengers looked on, half in fascination, half in mounting terror. Finally he got the thing contained and zipped up but it’s safe to say we couldn’t get off that bus fast enough.
Til next time, friends!