When you live in a city as vibrant as San Francisco, it’s easy to forget about how other folks see it. Every day, tourists pour into town armed with itineraries compiled from travel guides and flyers found in the hotel lobby to have their own adventures. Too often, SF residents’ only interaction with them is standing behind them in the Blue Bottle coffee line at the Ferry Building, grumbling while they take Far! Too! Long! with their orders.
But taking a moment to pause and see our city through the eyes of the visitor reveals a variety of fab only-in-SF experiences…
I can hear you now, dear reader. “Alcatraz? Seriously? Why don’t you just suggest I wear a fanny pack?”
But the trip to Alcatraz is outstanding. Following the ferry ride over the bay, you have the chance to learn the combined history of an island prison, its inmates, and a native American protest occupation.
The cellhouse tour is conducted by an excellently-produced audio-tour which guides you around the prison with tales narrated by former guards and inmates of The Rock. I normally turn my nose up at audio-tours, preferring to adventure on my own, but I was blown away by the quality.
Pro-Tip: Book the evening tour. The last trip of the day has additional tours, plus astounding views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge, and city at sunset.
San Francisco Zoo is a real hidden gem. Nestled in the Outer Sunset, the zoo is home to hundreds of animals, from the vast mass of a Nile Hippopotamus to the tiny moustachioed Emperor Tamarin monkeys.
The Zoo is a conservation center, housing the most successful breeding colony of Magellanic Penguins of any zoo. In addition, the keepers and docents are eager to answer questions.
A great place to walk around, combining opportunities to gawp at cute animals and learn interesting facts about the wild. (My favorite fact: Though the Grizzly Bear is the official state animal of California and is featured on our flag, they’ve been extinct in the wild here since the 1920s!)
Pro-Tip: SF residents get discounts on entry, so remember to show your IDs at the ticket counter.
The Buena Vista is a great experience for three key reasons:
- You get to learn the history of “Irish coffee.” After a trip, you’ll understand why slopping some Jamesons into your Peets isn’t enough.
- Watching the bartenders in action is great fun. As they line up the glasses and pour, splosh and stir, you’re seeing a show better than any of those wanky shaker-throwing “cocktail” merchants.
- It’s, duh, an excuse to consume booze, sugar and caffeine combined in a manner 300% more delicious than Red Bull & Vodka.
Pro-Tip: A great way to spend your Sunday is to have brunch in the Castro then ride the full distance of the Muni F line—it drops you off a couple of blocks from the Buena Vista Café.
Rod Begbie is co-founder and CTO of Sōsh. He has no desire to ever go to the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company.