Eleven days ago I asked for readers' recommendations of places for us to stop on our long drive across the American continent, and I promised that I would write this post about our favorite "not in the guide book" things to do in San Francisco. The responses to that post were brilliant and overwhelming, and I thank everyone who e-mailed us. Given that this week is the BlogHer conference, and so many people are going to be visiting the Bay Area, I thought I'd do this now in case any readers are going to be up in the city, looking for something to do. Wood, Juniper and I will all be down at BlogHer, so if you're coming you should say hello. I may not go into the conference (Wood will be there Saturday, but I fear my extremely masculine genitalia might make me feel a bit out of place), but I will be hanging around the hotel minding Juniper and maybe making an excursion to see the sights of San Jose. Are there any other BlogHer widows planning to loiter about menacingly?

Sweet Juniper's Top Ten Things to See and Do in San Francisco

Here's a promise: When we move away from this place, I won't write, ad nauseum about how much I miss San Francisco. Missing this city is inevitable. Having spent more than four years here, it is clear to me that it's one of the greatest cities in the world, and arguably the most beautiful. It seems like every week one of the ten or so local publications list and rank the "top" attractions of the city, and like the tourist guide books, these lists hardly reflect what I've found so special about San Francisco. So we've done our own list. And we're going to miss every one of these places. Keep in mind this is not a comprehensive list, just a few of our favorites. I'm going to start with our favorite neighborhoods, because I think visiting the outlying neighborhoods is the best way to get a sense of this city.

1. Clement Street.

I take everyone who visits us to Clement Street. Simply put, it's everything I love about San Francisco on twelve short blocks. Among many other things, it has Chinese junk shops and restaurants that smell like rank hutongs in Shanghai, French baby-clothes boutiques, old-school pizza parlors, Russian thrift stores, and the greatest ramshacke independent bookstore in a city full of great independent book stores. I've already created a Flickr adventure extolling the virtues of this stretch of San Francisco, but the street is so much more than just the wild stuff you can find in the shops. It's worth a visit for the Asian restaurants alone, or you can just compare the dim sum at a dozen different storefront dim sum counters along the block.

To get there: Take the 38 (or 38L) Geary from downtown, get off at Arguello and go one block north. Alternatively, take the 1 California, 2 Clement or 4 Sutter. From The Mission, Castro, or Haight, take the 33 Stanyan.

2. 9th and Irving

There's nothing really all that spectacular about this completely untouristed neighborhood, except that it simply shows what makes all San Francisco neighborhoods so spectacular: there is no shortage of coffee shops, pizza parlors, sushi bars, Indian, Korean, Middle-Eastern and Chinese restaurants, in addition to bars and lots of quirky shopping. The feeling you get walking the streets in this area is that this is what every town, every neighborhood in America wants to be. People are outside, businesses are thriving. Plus, it sits right on the edge of Golden Gate Park at its point most dense with not-to-be-missed attractions, such as the arboretum (check out the geezer band that plays Sousa standards on Saturday mornings), Stowe Lake, the Japanese Tea Garden, and the De Young Museum (all of which should already be on every tourist's checklist---particularly the De Young).

To get there: from any MUNI metro station, take the N Judah outbound. Or the 71 Haight Noriega MUNI line. Get off at 9th Avenue.

3. Dogpatch/Mission Bay:

By the end of the year they are threatening to begin light-rail service to this long-isolated working class neighborhood of San Francisco. This whole area has been steadily changing every year it seems in preparation for that event: real estate speculators, architects, and hipsters have all followed the artists and original pioneers that resurrected this area from the blight that followed the demise of the shipbuilding and shipping industries in San Francisco. Along the waterfront and up to the slopes of Potrero Hill there are old dry docks, warehouses, empty factories and abandoned piers. Many of the old industrial buildings were long ago converted into cool live/work loft spaces. There are also several blocks of beautiful pre-quake Victorian housing that is a little more proletarian than what you'll find in other parts of the city. These were worker's houses and cottages. I like to just walk around down here. The buildings are really old and beautiful. It is still a bit gritty and dingy and you should see it before the inevitable yuppification completely swallows its character.

Along the bay in Dogpatch is also a great place to go for graffiti pictures. Particularly Warm Water Cove (AKA Tire Beach), down by the MUNI graveyard where 24th meets the bay. That's one of the coolest places in the whole city.

To get there: take the N-Judah past the ballpark, continue up 3rd Street along the light rail tracks.

4. Hayes Valley

When Wood and I first moved to San Francisco, we lived in Hayes Valley. It was the first place I was ever mugged, so it holds a special spot in my heart. This neighborhood's main drag on Hayes Street is now so gleefully extravagant that I can't really hold its ridiculous prices against it. This is the place to go for a pair of $120 Japanese socks that will make your kid's feet look like lizards, a $240 bra, and a $300 pair of Italian pumps designed by a local Italian. Half of Juniper's wardrobe comes from the sale rack at Lavish. There's a nice little park for kids to run around in at Hayes and Octavia. The off streets of Hayes Valley, too, have their charms: hidden off Hayes Street are yarn shops, a custom corset manufacturer next door to a really cool back-alley coffee shop, great Italian restaurants, and little clothes boutiques. For food, Suppenkuche on the corner of Hayes and Laguna is loud, kid-friendly and fashionable. We love the brunch menu there.

Hayes Valley has a pretty dense concentration of locally-made stuff for sale in its shops. No one I know can really afford it, but it's there and fun to look at. There are quite a few design stores with unique, interesting furniture well out of the Design Within Reach mid-century mold. One time when Wood's mom and stepdad were visiting we took them into one of the tony home design shops and her stepdad accidentally bashed his bare shin (right above his white knee socks and sandals) into a piece of uber-modernist clear-plastic furniture and he started bleeding profusely. The fashionably-gay owner of the store looked up from his internet browsing and I swear I read the word "shit: lawsuit" pass his lips. He rushed out of the store and looked in the glove box of his Ferrari parked out front for a band aid, then went to the convenience store across the street to buy him one. This is the kind of service you can expect when you travel with two lawyers.

To get there: Take the 21 Hayes, the 5 Fulton from Market Street, or get off at the Civic Center BART stop or the Van Ness MUNI stop.

5. Jackson Square Historic District/Upper Grant

You can't avoid a visit to Chinatown or North Beach if you come to San Francisco (nor would I advise avoiding them---both are fun), but you can easily miss two great spots that sit on the edge of each. Jackson Square is a rare part of downtown San Francisco where many of the buildings survived the 1906 fire, and it gives the best sense (other than photographs) of what the city looked like before the rebuilding. This was the area known as the Barbary Coast, and there's a great book of that name by Herbert Asbury that describes what this area was like in the early wild days of the city:

"The upper part of Pacific Street, after dark, is crowded by thieves, gamblers, low women, drunken sailors, and similar characters, who resort to the groggeries that line the street, and there spend the night in the most hideous orgies. Every grog shop is provided with a fiddle, from which some half-drunken creature tortures execrable sounds, called by way of compliment, music. . .These ruffian resorts are the hot beds of drunkenness, and the scenes of unnumbered crimes. Unsuspecting sailors and miners are entrapped by the dexterous thieves and swindlers that are always on the lookout, into these dens, where they are filled with liquor---drugged if necessary, until insensibility coming upon them, they fall an easy victim to their tempters. In this way many robberies are committed, which are not brought to light through shame on the part of the victim. When the habitues of this quarter have reason to believe a man has money, they follow him up for days, and employ every device to get him into their clutches. . . .These dance-groggeries are outrageous nuisances and nurseries of crime. . . ."

How can you stay away from a neighborhood that was once filled with "nurseries of crime?" It's now one of the quietest parts of the city, and I walk here nearly every weekday to get away from my office. I love the old brick buildings, now occupied mostly by design and architectural firms and upscale antique and home design shops. There's a great architectural bookstore at Montgomery and Jackson. It's hard to imagine all the actual whoring that took place on Pacific Street in the old days, but not entirely impossible.

When you go to Chinatown, try to walk down any street but the main thoroughfare, Grant Avenue. On the side streets and in the alleys you are less likely to get accosted with menus from lousy restaurants, and more likely to see some lady doing something crazy and Chinese, like washing her hair on her fire escape. If you do end up on Grant Ave, stop in the Empress of China restaurant's elevator lobby and check out the photos of all the celebrities from the 70s who made this restaurant a stop on their San Francisco jet setting circuit. Go upstairs for an overpriced drink. This place is totally old-school touristy, but I still love it. They have this pamphlet that describes their chef as:

"A cookery authority from China with a repertoire of great depth, [who] personally selects the best products of land, sea, and air. He presides over a corps of chefs, each an expert of his native regional fare. They ply their culinary arts in hygienically clean, air-conditioned stainless steel kitchen. The 71-foot Chinese wok oven range is the largest in the Unites States."

The pamphlet also describes the kinds of drinks that Sammy Davis Jr. and Eric Estrada probably enjoyed during the restaurant's halcyon days:

BREATH OF THE EMPRESS: "a whisper of events to come."
EMPEROR'S WHIM: "two will make you an emperor, three a conqueror!"
TIGER'S TAIL: "a portentous drink, will increase what you have, regenerate what you might have lost!"

The wait staff is exclusively tuxedoed octogenarian Chinese men who all look as though they could use a few quaffs of Tiger's Tail. Sadly, if you actually order anything more exotic than a mai tai the bartender will have no clue. I showed the bartender the pamphlet that was being distributed less than twenty feet from his liquor shelves, and he just looked at me and shrugged.

If you continue down Grant and cross Columbus into North Beach, keep walking uphill on Grant street. We've had clothes made for Wood at Al's Attire, and I love browsing for medical curiosities and old French photographs in Aria, and the Asian antique importer next door has more cool stuff in two huge rooms than the ten blocks of mass-produced gewgaw shops in Chinatown put together. If you continue on Grant up Telegraph Hill, between Francisco and Chestnut streets are a bunch of steps that lead up to a little park that this guy created all by himself back in the 1960s. It's one of the best views of the city and there's hardly ever anybody there.

Back in North Beach, stop by Molinari's Deli (est. 1896) for a sausage sandwich.

To get there: Go to Chinatown, walk towards the bay (downhill) on Jackson or Pacific.

6. The Columbarium:

I discovered this place by accident walking around our neighborhood three years ago, and it is still one of my favorite places in San Francisco.

San Francisco doesn't have any real cemeteries. There's a small one next to the Mission Dolores and a military one in the Presidio, but that's it. That wasn't always the case. All of Lone Mountain where the University of San Francisco now sits was once called the Laurel Hills cemetery, and it was surrounded by a huge Masonic cemetery (Masonic, the street, is named after the cemetery) and well as an Odd Fellows cemetery.

None of those were planned with proper perpetual care agreements. After the money ran out there was no way to pay anyone to mow the lawns, plant the flowers, repair or replace broken tombstones. Crypts were raided, mausoleums vandalized. Columns and obelisks were turned over and shattered everywhere. Neighborhood folks would hear clanking sounds coming from Lone Mountain, the muffled echo of sledge-hammers, vandals looting the vaults of bronze flower urns, silver coffin handles. The cemeteries were havens for drifters and hobos and bootleggers. College fraternities held their secret rites in the vaults and mausoleums.

San Francisco decided to do away with the cemeteries, and all burials were stopped in the city in 1901. In 1916 or so the city fathers ordered the disinterment of thousands of bodies to be moved down to the necropolis of Colma. Nobody with any sense truly believes that they moved all the bodies out of San Francisco. A few years ago, down at the Legion of Honor, they were doing some digging and they came across hundreds of bodies. That area had been the Golden Gate Cemetery where they had moved many of the graves from the old downtown pioneer graveyards. They found 300 gold rush era bodies in a potter's field. They found a tiny box that contained a human heart. They unearthed a dude still wearing an original pair of Levis in good condition. The Levis Corporation tried to buy those jeans for their museum.

I bring up all of this history for a reason: on the edge of where the long-gone cemeteries were, at the end of an innocuous cul-de-sac and hidden from busy Geary Blvd by a Kinkos and a '76 Station sits an neoclassical domed building (built in 1897) that houses the mortal remains of 30,000 San Franciscans that is the last vestige of the sprawling Odd Fellows cemetery that once covered this peaceful neighborhood. The word Columbarium means a building with little niches where doves live before being sent out with messages. In this building, there are thousands of little shoebox sized niches where people's ashes rest in urns. People also put little things in there to tell you a little bit about who they were, distilling their whole life down to a little bottle of Johnny Walker Black, or a mug shaped like Elvis Presley. There's a lot of tacky shit in there. There are a lot of faded bittersweet photographs. Many of those buried there are men who died during the 1980s AIDS crisis. I have spent entire afternoons walking around this beautiful neoclassical building, which gyres up four levels, with little rooms filled with urns and light streaming through stained glass. Two things I have seen there have haunted me more than anything else: a photograph of twin boys from the 1920s, in one niche, filled with two urns, one of which is occupied and the other is still waiting to be filled; the other is a little notebook hanging from a niche where a girl has been writing notes to her dead mother for years.

There is something about this place that fills me with a sort of quiet philosophy. None of the bullshit that we think is so important (jobs, money, technology) seems all that important after you've spent some time in the Columbarium.

If you're lucky, the caretaker Emmit Watson will be there and he can tell you about some of the "people" he takes care of. The place is full of his stories. I learned almost everything above about the history of the area from him. Emmit is a real character, he's proud of the work he's done to the building and will not hesitate to talk about how it was virtually abandoned for much of the 20th century, how before he started restoring it there were raccoons and birds living in it and mushrooms growing on the old metal niches. He keeps one unrestored to show how much work he's done. He told me there were many anonymous cremations in one of the top rooms for which no provisions were ever made, piled in small white boxes that had long rotted together and the dust of dozens of people commingled. And he told me he still finds human bones once in awhile when he's digging in the lawn.

To get there: The 38(38L) Geary stops at Arguello and Geary. You can see the dome of the Columbarium behind the old Coronet Theater. Walk one block south on Arguello, turn left on Anza. Walk two blocks to Lorraine Court. The Columbarium is behind the tall fence at the end of the street. It's only open until 4:00 p.m. [there's a Columbarium in Oakland, too]

7. Exploratorium/Palace of Fine Arts/Wave Organ:

When they moved the cemeteries, they brought some of the granite tombstones down to the bay to make piers and jetties (they also used them to make the sidewalks and drains in Buena Vista Park on Haight street: some of them were installed face up and you can see people's names). Some of those tombstones were taken down to the Marina, close to the Palace of Fine Arts (a worthwhile tourist destination) to build a jetty. If you're going to the beautiful Palace of Fine Arts (a Romanesque folly of ruins built for the 1915 World's Fair) or the hands-on Exploratorium kid's museum, check out the Wave Organ on the jetty out in the bay by the marina. The Wave Organ is a wave-activated acoustic sculpture created by artist Peter Richards. There are 25 PVC pipes sticking out of the old cemetery stones at various levels and angles and in conjunction with the tides they emit this low level wail when the waves hit the pipes. It's pretty spooky. The view down there is the best part, with the full vista of the Golden Gate Bridge to the west and Alcatraz to the northeast.

To get there: I have absolutely no fucking idea. We drive.

8. MUNI:

You see a lot of visitors touring the city in double decker buses or fake gas-powered cable cars or duck boats or even on the dreaded segway. This always astonishes me, because the best way to see San Francisco is on its unfairly-maligned, amazing system of public transportation, known as MUNI. I will take off my jacket and my spectacles and raise my fists against anyone who complains about it. You clearly have never sat on Woodward Avenue in Detroit watching a crack whore with a giant blue wig scratch at her crabs with four-inch fingernails for an hour and a half waiting for a chugging diesel 53 bus to take you 4 miles down the road." Neither have I, honestly, but if you think MUNI's really all that bad you've either got an enormous sense of entitlement or you've just never experienced how miserable the public transport is in other cities with a population of 750,000.

MUNI is the single thing I will most miss about this city. I love getting everywhere I need to go without worrying about a car, or parking. I fucking love MUNI. Even the 1 California. The 38 Geary will take you all the way from downtown to Land's End. And the drivers all have those awesome poop-brown uniforms.

I am partial to two MUNI lines that I would recommend as a tour, primarily because both will show you the highs and lows and in-betweens of San Francisco like no other tour will.

9. The 33 Stanyan:

You can pick the 33 Stanyan up either in Potrero Hill at one end or at Clement Street on the other (technically it starts out in front of the hospital where Juniper was born, but for convenience I'd suggest picking it up at Arguello and Clement). This bus line is also one block away from the Columbarium, discussed above). From there is heads south on Arguello (past our favorite sushi restaurant and the coffee shop where Wood gets coffee every day) and up around the corner of Golden Gate Park. From there the 33 turns left on to Haight Street, stopping directly in front of a McDonalds. This is where you stop if you want to buy marijuana of dubious quality or go next door to one of the best record stores on the planet. The 33 continues along Haight street, but I would suggest walking this part and hopping on the next 33 that comes along 20-30 minutes later. There's lots of shopping on Haight, and you could spend hours here. The 33 turns uphill at the famous corner of Haight and Ashbury (now home to a Ben & Jerry's and The Gap) and goes past the Grateful Dead house, and further up the hill, an inconspicuous house a friend of mine once lived in; she told me that back in the 1960s Charles Manson had rented her room. The 33 climbs past Ashbury Heights and heads over to Upper Market. Enjoy the amazing view of the downtown area from the bus as it approaches the wacky turn onto Market. The 33 then dips down into the Castro, San Francisco's gayest neighborhood. When he visits, I take my dad here so he can have something to tell all his homophobic friends when they sit around fixing cars on Saturday afternoon. You can ogle the homosexuals in their native environment from the bus, or, even better, get off at 18th and Castro and walk around. They won't bite (unless you want them to). From Castro along 18th you can hop back on the bus or just walk: you'll get to Dolores Park and eventually the heart of the Mission, San Francisco's petri dish of uber-gentrification. Get off the bus and get a burrito. Every asshole out here has a favorite taqueria. Ours is El Toro at 17th and Valencia. There's fun shopping on Mission Street, too. I tried doing one of my photographic adventures here, but abandoned it because it felt mean to pick on the Mexican stuff. The graffiti murals in the Mission are famous but a bit underwhelming to me. I like my street art a little less legit. Still, if you want to see them, after popping in to replace your CyberSkin double-dong dildo vibrator's batteries at Good Vibrations, duck around the corner to Clarion Alley. Then walk up Mission to 23rd Street, go left past Folsom and check out Balmy Alley. If you stay on Valencia, there is some of the more fun shopping in the city as you edge up closer to the 20s. One of my favorite stores in the city is X21 at 20th, it's like a museum of wacky-ass mid-century shit. Juniper loves to stop in Paxton's Gate to look at the taxidermied animals, and it's next door is Dave Eggers' pirate supply store at 826 Valencia. My favorite store to buy clothes for Wood is Dema, at Valencia and 22nd, and if you like the clothes there check out Minnie Wilde around the corner on 21st between Mission and Valencia. If you are with a kid, there are decent playgrounds on Hoff between 16th and 17th street (Kid Power) and between Valencia and Guerrero on 19th street. You can catch the Stanyan again at 18th and Valencia. From there, it's on to Potrero Hill, which is mostly residential but you can slog over it to get to the Dogpatch (above) or get off at Portrero and 18th and catch the 22 Fillmore going the other way.

10. The 22 Fillmore:

The other bus I recommend for a tour is the 22 Fillmore, which highlights this city's stratified class structure if nothing else. It can be picked up in Potrero Hill, at 3rd and 20th. The 22 goes through the Mission, along 16th Street, avoids the Castro and veers towards Market at Church Street. The 22 heads up around Dubose Triangle and into the Lower Haight, a decidedly seedier (and better) part of Haight Street than the more heavily-touristed gutterpunk version up the hill. There are decent restaurants and good bars down here and some shopping. Haight and Fillmore is where Wood and I almost bought a condo two years ago. The 22 heads up Fillmore and a good place to get off is at Hayes. From here you can go down the hill into Hayes Valley (see above), or you could head up Hayes to Alamo Square Park so you can see where Danny, D.J., Stefanie, and the Olson Twins romped in that opening sequence of Full House. Good playground there. If you're hungry, the Alamo Square Seafood Restaurant at Fillmore and Hayes has one of the most unusual menus in the city: cheap French food, particularly the prix fixe before 6:30 p.m. and no corkage Wednesdays. The 22 drops down into the neighborhood known as "the Fillmore," an area famous for its history of jazz and being one of the few places in San Francisco where black people still live. Across Geary, the 22 goes past Japantown up into Pacific Heights, where far fewer black people live, but enough white people have shopped at "Shabby Chic" to have kept that wretched hive of scum and villainy in business for years. Pacific Heights is full of beautiful women who can smell a man's bank account from two blocks away. There's a brand new playground a few blocks west of Fillmore in Alta Plaza Park, where you can see plenty of examples of what those women turn into when they sink their teeth into the right bank account and have a kid. Or, at least, you will see the quality of their nannies. The 22 crests the Fillmore hill, the ocean comes into view, and the bus labors down into Cow Hollow and the Marina. I confess I don't know much about the Marina. I guess the Marina is nice if you really like white people. The 22 ends its route there, having traveled through some of the city's most interesting areas to sit idling just a short walk from the glorious Palace of Fine Arts/Exploratorium and the bay, discussed above.

I know I cheated. Really there's only nine things on this list. I think I'll update it someday with a tenth, when I'm really missing something that I didn't even think I was going to miss.

And now, locals, here's your chance to offer some input as to all of the incredible shit I don't know about or forgot. What are your favorite off-the-tourist-trail things to see and do here?