November 8, 2016

How to treat your family when they come to town

November 8, 2016

How to treat your family when they come to town

Are your folks headed here for the holiday weekend? Are they staying for like a whole week? Have you run out of ideas for places to take them that they haven’t been? Some of the below may seem like obvious choices, but others, we hope, are destinations or activities that haven’t been on your list, but should be. Because there is more to this city than cable-car rides and loud, smelly sea lions.

Though Ocean Beach gets a lot of visitor attention, it’s Baker and China Beaches that pack the most blow-away-your-guests punch. Tucked on the north side of the city, Baker is known for its warm(ish) waters, its view of Golden Gate Bridge, and its nude side (not necessarily in that order). China is even more of a “find,” a cosy secluded beach hidden past the stately mansions of Sea Cliff. For a real treat, wait until low tide and take a walk between the two beaches, marveling at the abundant sea life clinging to the cliff sides. — Eve Batey

Bernal Heights Park
This one is for the lovers of great views, the outdoors, and doing something on the cheap. Everyone visiting San Francisco wants to be wowed with all the vistas our city offers — and with so many wonderful hills, there’s a lot to chose from. Bernal Heights Park holds a special place in many a San Franciscan’s heart, though. It doesn’t get the postcard treatment that so many other spots receive, however the sweeping views of the city and the Bay are spectacular. Bring a blanket (the “grass” up there is uncomfortable to sit on), some snacks, and a cheap bottle of wine and your day is taken care of. — Jack Morse
access via Folsom and Ripley Streets


Bourbon & Branch
The secret password-required, speakeasy-themed Bourbon & Branch provides the perfect opportunity to entertain your tourist pals all the while showcasing some of the fancier, craft cocktails our city has to offer. The Tenderloin bar also gives you a chance to actually catch up with guests at one of the reservation-required tables, as you’ll actually be able to hear each other talk over the muted din of the other patrons. Located on the site of what was once an actual speakeasy, this works as a visit for both the booze and history inclined. Plus, it’s just plain fun. (And for greater cocktail geekery in an even more intimiate and quiet setting, there’s also the bar within the bar called Wilson & Wilson, which also requires reservations.) — Jack Morse
501 Jones Street at O’Farrell Street


The Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market
I hear you already, “Oh, god, the strollers! The tourists!” I know, but take a deep breath and relax, because your out-of-town guests are likely used to strollers and they, themselves, are the tourists. And, it’s totally worth a trip, as folks from more agrarian locations will have PLENTY to say about how much we’re willing to pay for a bunch of organic carrots, while wannabe urbanites will repeatedly ask why you don’t go to this marvelous place every Saturday. The views can’t be beat, the samples are plentiful, and eating Primavera’s chilaquiles while sitting on one of the Plaza’s outdoor benches is one of life’s greatest pleasures. — Eve Batey


Land’s End and Sutro Baths
One of my favorite things about taking visitors to the far-west-side area of Land’s End and Sutro Baths is the infinite customizability of the experience. Crankypants who need a cup of coffee or a snack can get one at the Land’s End visitor center (also a great spot to pick up gifts to being the folks back home), antsy hikers can work some of their energy off with a lengthy hike along the Coastal Trail, and folks who want to see some sights without putting on too many miles can clamber down the hill to check out the ruins of the once grand Sutro Baths, all that’s left after it burned down (under questionable circumstances) in 1966. Unlike many tourist experiences, it’s not a one-size-fits-all location, making it a perfect place to split up, take a break from each other, and explore on your own. — Eve Batey


The Ramp
Waterfront bar The Ramp is cool for multiple reasons. First off, any out-of-town family will immediately be intrigued when you tell them that the bar and restaurant offers you the opportunity to sit right next to the Bay (like, literally right next to it). In addition, the east of Third Street spot is blessed with some of the best weather in the city — so your guests will get the sunshine and heat that is so often lacking during SF’s summer months. The food works to your advantage too. It’s good, but not exactly challenging, which means that any picky eaters in your group won’t have anything to complain about. Lastly, and while certainly not the most important factor still a crucial one, the sixty-year-old establishment serves booze. So when mom and dad ask when you’re finally going to get a place of your own and stop living with roommates, or if you’re ever going to get married/have kids, you can simply smile and put back a Bloody Mary. — Jack Morse
855 Terry A Francois Boulevard at Illinois Street


The Speakeasy
Currently in previews in its new incarnation at a new (undisclosed) location in North Beach, and with many September performances already sold out, The Speakeasy is easily one of the more fun and unique theater offerings you can find to impress out-of-town guests. The immersive theater piece was originally produced by the Boxcar Theatre at a temporary location in 2014 (see SFist’s review here), using a large cast of characters who perform a repeated cycle of scenes in multiple rooms of what is supposed to be an underground, 1920’s cabaret in San Francisco. Patrons get to order drinks from waitress-actors and bartenders and wander between a cabaret area and a saloon, as well as to a small casino room where they can play actual craps with actual chips. The new version is likely to be a bit more polished and perhaps even expanded, given that the creators already had a successful original run — though if your parents go more for Borscht Belt humor on current-event topics with zany costumes, you might steer toward Beach Blanket Babylon instead. — Jay Barmann


Tilden Park in Berkeley
I had to throw an East Bay destination in here, and as far as nearby free hikes with views go, the Seaview Trail in Tilden Park can’t really be beat. On relatively clear days you’ll be treated to sweeping views of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Bay, and if you’re there on a sunny day when major fog rolls in around 4 or 5 p.m., you may even find yourself magically strolling just above it, before you have to descend down into it. This, of course, requires that your parents or out-of-town guests are in decent hiking shape, as the trails are well cleared but there’s still a lot of uphill climbing involved. — Jay Barmann


Telegraph Hill
San Franciscans who walk around a lot are way better at bounding up our many hills than our out of town guests might be. That’s kind of cool, so maybe show off how fit you by exploring a prime piece of San Francisco, Telegraph Hill. Lead your heavily breathing guests on a hike up Telegraph Hill to Pioneer Park and Coit Tower, maybe starting at Washington Square Park for a taste of North Beach and then ascending via Filbert Street and the Filbert Street steps. If you’re approaching from the Embarcadero, the Greenwich Street steps are lovely to, if more grueling. If you’re lucky and there at the right time of day, you may even see some wild parrots. Your guests might want to know why this miniature mountain is called Telegraph Hill: It’s named for a semaphore, built in 1849, that would send messages to ships. You’ll also field questions about Coit Tower, so prepare some remarks on the cigar-smoking, trouser wearing, fire-chasing socialite Lillie Hitchcock Coit and the apocryphal story that the tower built with her bequest was made to resemble a fireman’s hose nozzle. —Caleb Pershan


The Tonga Room
The Tiki temple beneath Nob Hill’s Fairmont Hotel has been timeless since it opened in 1945, and that’s the point — because other than the era of its birth and Polynesian pop’s popularity in the ’40s, Tiki kitsch gestures to no particular era or island, just kind of all of them at once. Even so, the Tonga Room has come back into mainstream popularity, inspiring trendy new cocktail bars in the Polynesian pop category and experiencing increased popularity. Maybe your out-of-town guests have seen the place on travel programs with Anthony Bourdain, or, depending on their age and experience, they’ve galavanted there before and might enjoy returning to reminisce. The drinks are still sweet, though maybe less cloying than before a 2013 refresh, and it still “rains” ever hour. —Caleb Pershan
California Street between Mason and Powell


Twin Peaks
I’ve written enough about Twin Peaks to know that it can be a dangerous place, populated with criminals eager to prey on tourists who don’t know what they’re getting into. Thank god your out of town guests have you! So as you and your visitors take in the truly breathtaking views of the city, keep a close eye on your surroundings and don’t leave anything of value in the car. Allow your guests to relax and enjoy the sights, as you remain vigilant on their behalf. That’s life in the big city! — Eve Batey


Known for its incomparable views of the Bay Bridge (and the Bay Lights) and its $1 oysters every afternoon until 5:30 p.m., the bar and lounge at Waterbar is the perfect spot to end a day of tromping around the city — especially in the late fall and winter months when the Bay Lights come on earlier, i.e. while the oysters are still cheap. The dinner menu is good, too, if on the pricey side, though visitors to San Francisco typically want to know where to go for seafood, and this is where I usually send them. But even just for cocktails and the raw bar, with a view, you can’t really beat it. — Jay Barmann
399 Embarcadero near Folsom

Honorable Mentions:

Night Tour at Alcatraz

The Castro (especially if you’ve got a gay uncle/cousin)

Ferry Ride to Tiburon and/or Angel Island

Climbing to the Tower at the deYoung Museum

Mural Tour of the Mission or Haight

The Planetarium at the Academy of Sciences