ONLY in SAN FRANCISO: 7 Things You Should be Avoided
San Francisco, officially the City and County of San Francisco, is the cultural, commercial, and financial center of Northern California. Set along the ocean, with rolling hills and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the United States and the jewel of Northern California. However, you should bear in mind those things to get the best expriences when coming there.
7 things should NEVER DO in San Francisco
1. Unless you're stuck in 1968, don't look for counterculture on Haight Street
|Haight Street (Photo: Pinterest)|
In case you hadn't noticed, nobody has worn flowers in their hair since the 1970s—even on Haight Street, where packs of 16-year-olds in their Jim Morrison phase shop for tie-dye, and drug-addled former hippies crouch in doorways begging for spare change. The 'hood has become a parody of itself, a sort of '60s theme park with too many head shops and frat-boy bars, not to mention a Ben & Jerry's franchise occupying the storied corner of Haight and Ashbury streets. It's not all bad—there's great thrifting and shoe shopping, but you'll have to overcome the stink of patchouli to do it.
_Instead: _Explore the Mission District. For the real San Francisco-now experience, explore the gritty Mission District. Before the dot-com boom, the Mission was the last ungentrified central San Francisco neighborhood, historically the heart of the city's Latino community and the stomping ground of underground artists. Today weekend hipsters with day jobs in biotech have moved in, but the vibe remains decidedly experimental. Explore the Mission's famous murals in Clarion Alley with Precita Eyes Mural Tours, fuel up on $4 tacos, and then wander down Valencia Street (from 24th to 16th Sts) and pop into only-in-S.F. boutiques. At Paxton Gate you can peruse housewares like glass terraria and vintage taxidermy; Good Vibrations is ground zero for the latest in sex toys. Make love not war: That's the real way to channel the hippie Haight spirit.
2. If you're serious about fish, don't eat seafood at Fisherman's Wharf
|Fisherman's Wharf (Photo: Only in your state)|
We’re not saying you should miss out on Fisherman’s Wharf entirely. The ocean views are fantastic, and you can spot sea lions off Pier 39 from the end of July to mid-May.
But the area is geared up for tourists. The food is overpriced, and not of the best quality. Spend your money elsewhere and you’ll not only get more bang for your buck, but a more delicious meal too.
The old adage holds true: The better the view, the worse the food. Oh, you'll spot plenty of enticing-looking raw bars, with beefy-armed men in white aprons cracking open freshly boiled crabs, but no self-respecting San Francisco food-lover would dream of eating at any of Fisherman's Wharf tourist traps. We thought parsley-sprig and orange-wedge garnishes disappeared with the disco years, but apparently we were mistaken. It's not that the seafood isn't fresh, but in the hands of the assembly-line chefs, it's generally overcooked, badly sauced, and overpriced.
Instead: Eat at Swan Oyster Depot. For fresh-off-the-boat shellfish, queue up beside the locals at Swan Oyster Depot, a century-old landmark with just 20 stools lining a marble counter. With the exception of a creamy New England-style chowder, the entire menu is cold—oysters on the half shell, cracked crab, smoked fish and shrimp salad tossed in Louie dressing (a sort of Thousand Island without pickles). It's perfect picnic food to take to nearby Sterling Park, atop Russian Hill, where you can gaze out at the glittering blue bay as you lunch. But get there early: Once the lunch rush ends and the fish runs out, Swan Oyster Depot closes up shop. For a special-occasion white-tablecloth seafood feast, you won't find better than Aqua. On a par with New York's famed Le Bernardin, Aqua expertly blends French technique with New American sensibilities, using fresh-off-the-boat ingredients in such signature dishes as Moroccan-spiced tuna tartare and Alaskan halibut with licorice jus. Unlike at the Wharf, you won't soon forget what you ate.
3. If you want to explore the San Francisco gay scene, don't cruise the Castro
|The Castro, the historically gay neighborhood (Photo: Culture Trip)|
A giant rainbow flag flies over the intersection of Market and Castro streets, marking the gayest spot in the entire world. Trouble is, it's tired. Blame it on gay marriage, blame it on the Internet, but hardly anybody cruises Castro Street anymore. The bars have become decidedly mixed, with trashy suburban girls puking on their Payless pumps outside the bars, killing the cruise-y vibe. Don't get us wrong, the Castro is fun, but it's just not sexy anymore—unless your idea of hot is a rainbow-ring necklace.
Instead: seek out the locals scene. The gay scene is a moving target, and you're going to have to do your homework once you get here. Chat up local boys catching rays at the southwest corner of Dolores Park (near Church and 20th streets) on any sunny weekend afternoon, spring through fall. If you're here on a rare, hot beach day, you've got one choice: Marshall's Beach (aka Marcia's Beach), the nude strip under the Golden Gate. As of this writing, the hottest neighborhood bar is Blackbird, a former Market Street gin joint, now a slick spot for mixology and guys in tight tees. (Check out the decoupage murals made from gruesome and lurid newspaper headlines.)
On Sundays, get started early with the afternoon beer bust at the Eagle Tavern; later, join the art school hotties bumping and grinding to queer DJ collective Honey Soundsystem, which spins everything from b-side disco to obscure German techno at Paradise Lounge. For classic drag, you can't go wrong on a Friday or Saturday night at Aunt Charlie's Lounge, when Gina La Divina (aka the $65,000 Silicone Wonder) and Vicki Marlane (aka the World's Oldest Living Drag Queen) host the Hot Boxxx Girls.
4. Don’t wait to buy tickets to Alcatraz
|Alcatraz Island (Photo: Norwegianreward)|
Sitting on a small, rocky island in the middle of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz is a former federal prison that’s housed some of America’s most notorious criminals. Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud (the ‘Birdman of Alcatraz’) and George ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly were all inmates there.
These days Alcatraz is one of San Francisco’s most popular tourist attractions. Hop on a ferry from Pier 33 and take the self-guided audio tour. Narrated by former inmates and guards, you’ll hear about the various escape plans, solitary confinement, prison riots and other chilling tales of prison life.
Tickets sell out weeks in advance. So if you turn up expecting to get right in, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Book in advance, or risk missing out, according to Norwegianreward.
5. Don’t catch a cable car at Powell & Market Turnaround
|You can wait in long queues to get your turn (Photo: Norwegianreward)|
When San Francisco’s cable car network was at its peak, there were 23 routes. These days, there are quicker and easier ways to get around town, but riding on one of the three remaining lines is a unique experience.
That said, be warned: you can wait in long queues to get your turn. It can be an hour or more if you’re planning to hop aboard at the Powell/Market turnaround. If you’re heading to Fisherman’s Wharf, try to catch a car further along the line where the waiting times are generally much shorter.
Tip: If you just want the cable car experience, take the California line. It runs from the Financial District to Chinatown, which is a fascinating place to explore. Just stay away from touristy Gant Avenue. Head to Stockton Street to experience Chinatown like a local.
6. Don’t Shop at Union Square
|Union Square (Photo: Travel guide)|
Yes, Union Square is the shopping mecca in San Francisco. It’s bursting with name brand stores and shops…that you can find in any urban city in America. I’m not saying skip visiting Union Square altogether.
There are highlights like the spiral escalators and stained glass ceiling inside Neiman Marcus. In addition, their Macy’s is the biggest of the outfitter’s stores on the West Coast. But for unique San Francisco shopping head out to Hayes Valley or the Fillmore neighborhood.
7. Don’t Pack for the Wrong Trip
You might think since you’re traveling to California you should pack your beach gear. But you’d be wrong. Even though San Francisco is a coastal city, it’s northern proximity means you’re better off bring scarves and jackets than boardshorts and bikinis.
Even during the summer season, the city tends to stay cool and foggy. With that in mind, skip the flip-flops and tank tops and pack clothes that can be layered instead. Need more suggestions? Use our San Francisco packing list for inspiration.
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