7 Taboos in San Francisco That Visitors Should Avoid
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.
Even on Haight Street, where gangs of teenagers in their “Jim Morrison” phase shop for tie-dye and drugged-out ex-hippies beg for alms in doorways, no one wears flowers in their hair like they did in the 1970s. Too many head shops and frat-boy bars, as well as a Ben & Jerry’s franchise on the historic corner of Haight and Ashbury streets, have turned the neighborhood into a caricature of itself. It’s not all bad, though; if you can get past the patchouli, there are some fantastic second-hand stores and shoe stores in the area.
Visit San Francisco’s Mission Neighborhood instead. Visit the Mission District for a taste of modern San Francisco at its rawest. The Mission was the historic center of the city’s Latino community and a haven for underground artists before the dot-com boom swept through San Francisco. Weekend hipsters with regular jobs in biotech have moved in recently, but the scene is still very much in its infancy. Take a Precita Eyes Mural Tour of the Mission’s famed murals in Clarion Alley, fuel up on $4 tacos, and then shop local on Valencia Street (between 24th and 16th Sts). Household items like glass terrariums and antique taxidermy can be found at Paxton Gate, while the hottest new sex toys can be found at Good Vibrations. The true spirit of hippie Haight can be accessed by focusing on making love, rather than war.
We’re not suggesting you never visit Fisherman’s Wharf. The ocean views are breathtaking, and from the end of July until about the middle of May, you can see sea lions off Pier 39.
However, it is designed with visitors in mind. The prices are excessive, and the quality of the food is subpar. If you look elsewhere, you can get a better meal for the same price, if not less.
The old adage that “the view is only as good as the food” is always accurate. No self-respecting San Francisco foodie would dare eat at any of the Fisherman’s Wharf tourist traps, despite the fact that you’ll see plenty of tempting-looking raw bars, with beefy-armed men in white aprons cracking open freshly boiled crabs. We were wrong in thinking that garnishes like orange wedges and parsley sprigs went out of style with the disco era. It’s not that the seafood isn’t fresh; it’s just that the assembly-line chefs tend to overcook, poorly sauce, and overcharge for it.
Try Swan Oyster Depot instead. Swan Oyster Depot is a century-old landmark with only 20 stools lined up along a marble counter, where locals and visitors alike queue for fresh-off-the-boat shellfish. Oysters on the half shell, cracked crab, smoked fish, and shrimp salad tossed in Louie dressing (a kind of Thousand Island without pickles) are just some of the cold items on the menu. It’s the ideal fare for a picnic in nearby Sterling Park, atop Russian Hill, from where you can take in breathtaking views of the bay. But you better hurry, because Swan Oyster Depot closes up shop as soon as the lunch crowd leaves and the fish is gone. Aqua is your best bet for a formal, white-tablecloth dinner of seafood.
Signature dishes like Moroccan-spiced tuna tartare and Alaskan halibut with licorice jus use fresh-off-the-boat ingredients and expertly blend French technique with New American sensibilities, putting Aqua on par with New York’s famed Le Bernardin. The food here is much more memorable than that at the Wharf.
The gayest location in the entire world is marked by a huge rainbow flag flying over the intersection of Market and Castro streets. Its fatigue is the problem. Blame the Internet or gay marriage for the decline in Castro Street foot traffic. The atmosphere in the bars has become decidedly less cruise-y as a result of trashy suburban girls throwing up on their Payless pumps outside the establishments. Don’t get us wrong, the Castro is fun, but it’s simply no longer seductive—unless wearing a rainbow-ring necklace is your idea of hot.
Find the local scene instead. Once you arrive, you’ll need to do your research because the gay scene is a moving target. Any sunny weekend afternoon, spring through fall, chat with local boys basking in the sun at the southwest corner of Dolores Park (near Church and 20th Streets). There is only one place to go if you’re in this area on a hot beach day: Marshall’s Beach (also known as Marcia’s Beach), the nudist area beneath the Golden Gate. As of this writing, Blackbird, a former Market Street gin joint that is now a chic hangout for mixology and men wearing tight t-shirts, is the hottest local bar. (See the decoupage murals created using grisly and graphic newspaper headlines.)
On Sundays, start out early at the Eagle Tavern’s afternoon beer bust before joining the art school hotties at Paradise Lounge to dance to queer DJ collective Honey Soundsystem, which plays everything from b-side disco to obscure German techno. When the Hot Boxxx Girls are hosted by Gina La Divina (a.k.a. the $65,000 Silicone Wonder) and Vicki Marlane (a.k.a. the World’s Oldest Living Drag Queen) at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge on a Friday or Saturday night, you can’t go wrong for classic drag.
Alcatraz is a former federal prison that once held some of the most notorious criminals in the history of the United States. It is located on a small, rocky island in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Robert Franklin Stroud, also known as the “Birdman of Alcatraz,” were all prisoners there.
Alcatraz is currently one of San Francisco’s most visited tourist destinations. From Pier 33, take a ferry to the self-guided audio tour. You’ll hear about various prison escape plans, solitary confinement, prison riots, and other terrifying tales of prison life as they are related by former prisoners and guards.
Weeks in advance, tickets are sold out. Therefore, you will be greatly let down if you show up expecting to walk right in. Norwegianreward advises making reservations ahead of time to avoid missing out.
There were 23 routes in the San Francisco cable car network at its height. Although there are more efficient and convenient ways to get around town these days, taking one of the three remaining lines is still a special experience.
However, be aware that long lines may form before your turn. If you want to board at the Powell/Market turnaround, allow an hour or more. Try to catch a car further along the line, where the waiting times are typically much shorter, if you’re going to Fisherman’s Wharf.
Take the California line if you simply want the cable car experience. It travels from the Financial District to Chinatown, a place worth exploring. Simply avoid crowded Gant Avenue. For authentic Chinatown experiences, go to Stockton Street.
Yes, San Francisco’s Union Square is the ultimate shopping destination. It’s bursting at the seams with name-brand shops and stores that you can find in any American urban city. I’m not advocating forgoing all trips to Union Square.
Inside Neiman Marcus, there are notable features like the spiral escalators and stained glass ceiling. They also have the largest Macy’s of the outfitter’s stores on the West Coast. But visit Hayes Valley or the Fillmore district if you want to shop at a local San Francisco store.
You might assume that since you’re going to California, your beach gear should be packed. But you’d be mistaken. Even though San Francisco is a coastal city, you’re better off packing scarves and jackets than boardshorts and bikinis because of how close it is to the northern hemisphere.
The city typically stays cool and foggy throughout the summer. Keeping this in mind, pack layered clothing in place of flip-flops and tank tops. More ideas required? Take inspiration from our San Francisco packing list.
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