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My wife and I will be visiting San Francisco in November. We've never been there (or in California) before, so we're very much stoked!

We'll be there for 8 nights and will rent a car, because we'd like to explore the surrounding area as well.

We like nature and we like diving a bit deeper into an area, instead of just running past the Instagram-pics.

Any insider tips for those two almost-50-year-olds would be great!
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Many things show up in the typical SF tourist guidebook. You can ignore most of them. Pier 39? Run away. Cable cars? They're kind of meh. Lombard street? Please leave those poor people who live there alone. It's not even the twistiest street in SF. It's just the one in all the tourist guidebooks.

The one thing that I personally think stands out as worthwhile -- in spite of the fact that it is a major tourist attraction -- is the Alcatraz tour. I think they do a good job of giving you a sense of the history that went on via their guided audio tour.

I do believe you need reservations well in advance, though.
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Someone asked the same question a couple months ago - give search a shot.

San Francisco is surrounded by monumental nature. Yosemite is like 5 hours away. You should definitely go there in your life - up to you if you wanna go in November (it is mountainous), or save it for a warmer part of the year.

The California coast has basically the same weather all year. The fog keeps it cool in the summers. (Apparently this is a feature of all west coasts, not just ours.) If you're up for a road trip, head north through Jenner, Pt Arena, Fort Bragg, Avenue of the Giants - there's so much up there. I did Crater Lake and back on a Vespa in under two weeks - you can def take a trip in a car.
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On a sunny fall or winter day, a walk (or even a bike ride) across the Golden Gate Bridge is... well, not the worst way to spend the afternoon. You'll get a nice view of the city and a sense of the grandeur that is the namesake Golden Gate.
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I like to watch movies and read history books about a place before I visit and if this kind of thing appeals to you, be sure to watch Vertigo. There's a great line where a guys says, "Well, San Francisco's changed. The things that spell San Francisco to me are disappearing fast." Which is how I feel there now, and yet this was in 1958!

A great history book about the city is Imperial San Francisco by Gray Brechin. It's a bit of a heavy read and if you want a lighter view that might be better for touristing there are plenty of others out there, but it really makes you see how the place got to be what it is.
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If you have never seen it in person the Golden Gate bridge is a must see IMHO. I worked on the retrofit of the Golden Gate bridge in the mid 90's and I can tell you if you get lucky and get it on the right day when there is some fog but not too much it is just breathtaking.

If you like to walk and its a bit of a hike you can park around Crissy field/palace of fine arts and walk all around there out onto the bridge and then walk back. Again if you are lucky and you may very well be in November its great walking weather if you like to do that. Also there is Fort point which is also just under the south abutment of the bridge. The Marin headlands where the north abutment is located is also just a beautiful spot to see the bridge. Did I say it was breathtaking?

Then there is Golden gate park and the Conservatory of Flowers there is a must see, world class arboretum and the Japanese tea gardens there is a touristy spot but still wonderful to go for a cup of hot tea in a beautiful setting on a cool day. All of Golden Gate park is just awesome you may even be able to rent bikes or bring your roller blades.

Then if you just like to people watch go to the ferry building and walk up into the city a bit and look for a bar or cafe with spots on the sidewalk. I was going to recommend the Rincon Market for lunch but it is closed now but something similar in that area is great for people watching and drinking coffee or beers. Years ago when I was working in downtown a group of us would go to Rincon Market every day and we were there in the fall and I was really looking forward to Halloween and that's when it hit me that Halloween is just another day in San Francisco! The costumes and characters you see any day rival most places Halloween costumes.

Lastly you have to go to Red's Java house right under the west abutment of the Bay Bridge for a hamburger and your beverage of choice. Red's is an old time hangout for the locals there and it is a dive bar/hamburger joint (that's all they serve want a hamburger for breakfast go in the morning) right on pier 30-32 which is where the 1999 X-games were held.

Those spots and activities will give you the tourist stuff that is actually cool and a view of the seamy side of the city which I happen to love. Don't ever leave anything in view inside of a parked car! Any bag almost guarantees broken windows. The bad guys know how to spot the rentals and tourists and you are fair game but if you have any street smarts and keep your wits about you it will be fine.
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Mopmop wrote:
We'll be there for 8 nights and will rent a car, because we'd like to explore the surrounding area as well.

I wouldn't rent a car, this is more than 'urban legend'
I have friends that have family there and know SF well, last weekend their vehicle was broken into and their mini vacation cut short.

Also don't forget this
https://www.thrillist.com/news/nation/human-wasteland-map-plots-all-of-san-franciscos-poop

Also you might want to leave any expensive cameras at home
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Yeah it might not be a bad idea to forego the rental and just get taxi's or uber/lyft. But you should still go to all of the spots I suggested to get a feel for the most Eurocentric City in North America.

I would also look up bicycle rentals for exploring some of the areas. If you are there towards the end of the month and you are experienced cyclists critical mass is also a lot of fun. I took my two oldest kids when they were young and it was a really good time.

https://www.sfcriticalmass.org/
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My wife enjoyed the Disney Family Museum in the Presidio. I'm not a fan of D, but this is the history up until Disneyland. Nearby is a good view of one end of GG Bridge.
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I expect you're already aware of Atlas Obscura, but if not, they do have a pretty good collection of offbeat stuff to see and do in SF.

https://www.atlasobscura.com/things-to-do/san-francisco-california/places

These are generally not must-see attractions, but oddball (and often obscure) bits of quirky SF.
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Speaking of oddball and obscure, there is a functional scale model of the SF Bay that was actually used to simulate currents in the days before supercomputers. It has a regular cadence of high and low tide, with water coming in from the "ocean" and then flowing out again. And despite being a scale model, it's actually huge.

Fascinating stuff for, ummm... nerds like me.

It's in Sausalito:
https://www.oursausalito.com/fun-sausalito-activities/bay-model.html
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I grew up in the Bay Area and lived there into my late 30s. I would highly recommend going to Mirwood's and Yosemite if you have the time. If you like wine, I would definitely go through Sonoma and Napa Valley. Driving along route one heading south you can get to Monterey and Carmel. If you go a little further south to San Simeon, you could see Hearst Castle. Alcatraz Island is also a nice day trip. Now if you really want to make your wife's day or maybe even her year drive to LA which is eight hours away and take her to Disneyland. The website visit a city is worth taking a look at. I used it to get suggestions while in France and Italy.
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Van wrote:
If you like wine, I would definitely go through Sonoma and Napa Valley.
Napa Valley has become almost completely inaccessible. The traffic is a nightmare, the tasting rooms are charging an arm and a leg, and hotels (if you choose to stay in Napa) are outrageous, even by California standards.

I would honestly say to anyone who likes wine: go to Sonoma. Don't waste your time or money in Napa Valley -- it will be a big disappointment.

(And even Sonoma is getting difficult -- the price of success, I guess).
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Feb 1967 I hitch-hiked from Mass to Calif. to see the Big Sur when I was 18. (Baez album cover)
Thumbing with my guitar case and back-pack found me a lot of rides with wary drivers. Many adventures - but nary a problem - except for 2 San Diego HW-Patrolmen.
Coming up out of the roadside shrubs on the PCH @ Big/Sur a red Ford hardtop convertible stopped and asked where I was headed. I was thinking I'd go back down to LA and see that girl down there...! But it was such a cool car - sunny day, top down! that I joined him into San Fransisco!
He took a hotel room 2 blocks off Union Square. Let me sleep on the floor. I spent my time with all the 'nice' people who populated Union Sq., day and night! (much the same as I meet now on the Group W bench in Y.S.)
I was bummed when he told me he was moving - but he asked "can you cook?"
"Why?"
He'd rented a 2nd floor apartment on a street named 'Haight' 2 blocks from GoldenGate Park, for he and his girlfriend. She was a nice girl from Ohio - a stripper so always worked nights.
"Sure, I can cook!"
"Grab your stuff and put it in the car."
So, I spent the Summer of Love in the eye of the ...whatever it was....making up dinners with the $ he gave me. I'm 18 - so we had a lot of spaghetti and grilled cheese sandwiches on sourdough bread.
Had a blast - especially if you stayed straight! - played my Martin for the tourists - on Nob Hill & at Fisherman's, etc. I'd knock off 'work' when I had $2 or so in the cup.
Waved at the tour busses and tolerated the "Week End Hippies" who showed up every w/e along Haight st.
Saw some great 'groups' playing free in the pan-handle.
Things started getting rough on the street around early Sept. A lot of us were leaving - to communes in Idaho, etc. So I headed back down to LA to see 'that girl' I'd met. (we married,18 & 19yrs old - 13 mos later I was a conscientious objector training to be combat medic in Vietnam - so I missed Woodstock - but
collected the other 2 biggies of my generation)

Highlights:
Gathered around the plastic kitchen radio in our 2nd fl apt on Haight listening to the first airing of Sgt. Pepper's at the stroke of midnight.
Going barefoot everywhere!
Falling asleep in the sun on the grass in Union Sq. .....and finding my expensive Martin guitar was still beside me when I woke up!!!
A hell of a lot of nice gentle young people!
The 'dented can store' in the tenderloin.
'Frisco sourdough bread!!
Cable cars.

Tips:
lose your shoes
she'll need flowered underwear to go with the mini
don't say 'Frisco out loud
smile a lot

I've nothing but fond memories of the time I fell smack into the very middle of San Fransico's Summer of Love.

O.S.

ps: my 6 kids have asked, "Pop, how would have survived in that big city, if that guy hadn't taken you under his wing?!"
"When you're 18, facing the draft you don't worry about stuff like that!"
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Hope you have a great trip! I lived in the Bay Area a few years and loved taking visitors to Portola Redwoods State Park. If you are feeling very energetic (or just have a full day) you can do the Peter's Creek trail there that leads to an old growth redwood grove. The hike itself is relatively bland but the redwood grove is practically magical. Here's the catch: the hike is about 12 miles round trip. On the plus side: the distance scares people off, so you might be alone with some gigantic, ancient trees.
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Thank you all for the comments!! We are certainly going to check them out before deciding. The Peter's Creek Trail looks very promising!

Regarding crime and rental cars, we'll ask the owner of the AirBNB if that neighborhood is particularly risky. We'll sleep close to the SE corner of Presidio.

Oh, and Alcatraz has been booked already, we'll be on the first boat in the morning as to escape the busiest moments. Even though in November, I hope it won't be high season.
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One more question, we're definitely also going to visit the Apple Campus. Besides the visitor center, I have not seen any particular tours there.

Suppose someone has a backdoor and would like to show us around, it would be absolutely magical to get a taste of the work ethic there .

Hey, it never hurts to ask, right?
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Mopmop wrote:
One more question, we're definitely also going to visit the Apple Campus. Besides the visitor center, I have not seen any particular tours there.
Retired Apple employee here.

There are no official tours. Tour buses (run by outside tour agencies) regularly show up at the visitor center on Tantau and disgorge their tour groups. There's a coffee shop and a VR exhibit of the new Apple Park campus, and an observation deck that (weirdly) has the view of Apple Park blocked by trees.

Tour buses used to be a thing at Infinite Loop, too, but I think they've shifted to the Apple Park site (they're only a few minutes away from each other).

When my desk was at Infinite Loop, it was surreal to come to work every day and dodge tourists taking pictures in front of the building. At Apple Park, I drove through security gates and parked inside the secure perimeter, so I didn't really see the tourists unless I had to walk over to the Apple Store / Visitor Center to pick up a purchase.
Mopmop wrote:
Suppose someone has a backdoor and would like to show us around, it would be absolutely magical to get a taste of the work ethic there .

Hey, it never hurts to ask, right?
I can say with some certainty that this is not possible. Apple Park is locked down to such a degree that I couldn't even get my wife on campus for lunch when I worked there. She never got to see the inside of Apple Park for herself. The level of security there is just unreal.

The Infinite Loop campus is slightly less rigid, and you can actually drive into the parking lot, park, and walk around the loop. If you knew someone who worked at Infinite Loop, they might be able to sign you in as a visitor and get you into the cafeteria, and maybe the main lobby and the quad, but that's about it. And I'm not even sure about that -- I don't know to what degree they've lifted the COVID restrictions that were in place during the pandemic.

But definitely take a picture in front of Infinite Loop, or at the Apple Park visitor center.

Even now, I'm restricted from posting any photos from inside the building at Apple Park. Heck, we weren't even supposed to snap photos inside the building, except using a special secure iOS app. I do have many photos inside Apple Park, but outside the building.
Departing for retirement
Departing for retirement
The mythical rainbow
The mythical rainbow
⚠️ Last edited by jess on UTC; edited 1 time
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Ah, thanks Jess!

Even though seeing the inside won't be possible, we can still sniff up the atmosphere. I still use a small piece of Steve Jobs' iPhone presentation in presentation trainings I give, as the ultimate example of how to do things right.

We're also going to drive past the famous garage where it all started - even though it's just a regular house now, if I'm not mistaken. But just feeling it up close seems nice enough already.

I hope the AirPods Max with USB-C have been released by then. They would make for a nice souvenir when bought at the campus.
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Mopmop wrote:
I hope the AirPods Max with USB-C have been released by then. They would make for a nice souvenir when bought at the campus.
The last time I was there, you could get stuff at the Apple Park Apple Store that you couldn't buy anywhere else -- T-Shirts, posters, and some other mementos.

Here's one of those posters that my VP (who was my direct manager for many years) left on my desk on my last day. Obviously, this one's been modified.
Forum member supplied image with no explanatory text
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... 30 years!!
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OldSchooot wrote:
Feb 1967 I hitch-hiked from Mass to Calif. to see the Big Sur when I was 18...
Great story. I was a little kid back in those days and whenever we saw people like you we'd say, "There's some hippies, give 'em the peace sign!" from the back seat of the family car and if they flashed it back, it made our day. Right on par with giving big trucks the "pull the air horn cord" arm pump motion to get them to honk their big loud horns to some kids walking to school.

By the time I was a ramblin' young'un it was the punk rock days and we were outside of everything, including hippiedom, and we would stay at the Sam Wong Hotel in North Beach, which was more of a residential skid row kind of place at the time and priced accordingly, and read entire books standing in the aisles of City Lights and there were a lot of dark bars that opened at 6:00 a.m. I then drove a fine art transport truck between LA and SF once a month for a lot of years and would give people rides (keep that under your hat). I used to bring chunks of 4 x 4 wood to use as chocks when I had to park on really steep hills and work the clutch to get the truck going uphill without rolling backward into the car that parked right behind me while I was making my delivery. I'd just leave the chunks there for the next guy. I won't go on, but I could.
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For car rental, use turo:
https://turo.com/us/en/car-rental/united-states

You hire from private individuals, much like vrbo for accommodation. We've used it a number of times, and never been disappointed.

It also gets around the obvious rental car thing.
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Hi Jim,

I've never heard of that service before, but we'll check it out. Thanks!
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Well, we arrived in San Francisco two days ago and we're loving it! Today we're going to rent bikes and cross the Golden Gate Bridge and see how far into Marin County we get.

I'm amazed by the amount of Vespa's around by the way. I think I've seen about 10 yesterday. Wasn't expecting that.
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Mopmop wrote:
I'm amazed by the amount of Vespa's around by the way. I think I've seen about 10 yesterday. Wasn't expecting that.
Yeah, definitely. San Francisco is (mostly) a perfect city for scooters. It's fairly compact, the top speeds aren't very high, traffic is bad, lane splitting is legal, the hills are a bit too steep to walk, and San Franciscans mostly aren't interested in leaving the city for any reason. Thus, scooters have found a perfect niche there.

That said, Vespas get pretty beat up in SF. It's pretty easy to replace plastic body panels. Steel monocoques, not so much.
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jess wrote:
San Franciscans mostly aren't interested in leaving the city for any reason.
Getting out of the city was one of the best things about having a Vespa in SF.

It's a reasonably navigable city by bike and metro, but an absolutely atrocious place to own a car. Parking is exorbitantly expensive, and the dual antagonists of frequent street cleaning closures and driveway-perforated curbs incent you to spend more time moving your car than driving it. However, sacrificing a car also sacrifices regional transportation: It's easy to get to the Ferry Building without a car. It's hard to get to Jenner.

It's unfortunately still a challenge to get to the Sierras, but weekend Vespa trips are one of the best parts of 🛵ing in the Bay Area! The region is monumentally gorgeous!
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I hope you get a chance to go to Yosemite., well worth the trip. Getting around is easy with a clipper card which we did not use all that much, but good to have. As for my wife and I, we walked at least 3 to 4 hours every day - Pacific ocean thru Golden Gate park, all over Sausalito, up the Greenwich Steps to Coit tower and then back down, a couple half day hikes at Yosemite and at the end of our stay, Fleet week went on so we walked to the Golden Gate Bridge from Union Square. Weather was perfect in the high 80s, good food every where, got some fantastic Dim Sum and was able to avoid the circus atmosphere at Pier 39.
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