Last week, San Francisco was mentioned in the New York Times -- we were honored, naturally. A Brooklyn woman with a scant four hours between flights at San Francisco International queried the paper's travel section on how to best fill that time here in the city.
This sounds like an interesting project for locals to argue about -- but I'm not sure anyone would be pleased with the suggestion offered by the Times. We actually phoned the letter-writer in Brooklyn to attempt to warn her -- but to no avail. So, Marian Berelowitz, if you get this message before you disembark from New York City -- WARNING! I do not think you have the time to pull off the Times' suggested layover plan without missing your next flight -- and why in the hell would you go to Pier 39 when you've only got a few hours to kill? It'd be like foregoing all the myriad pleasures of New York City for the sole goal of taking the Weehawken Ferry. It makes no sense. Marian! Listen to us!
In a nutshell, here's the Times' suggestion: Take BART to Embarcadero, ride the F-Line to Pier 39, walk to Fort Mason, take the Cable Car back to Powell with pit stops at Ghirardelli Square and the Buena Vista. I am a risk-averse person, but I'm also a San Francisco-born local -- this sounds like cutting it awfully close, time-wise, all objections to Pier 39 aside. Here's what I'd do:
First off, check beforehand when trains from and to the airport are scheduled to run; if you have to wait more than 20 or so minutes before leaving SFO, your best bet might be to catch up on your reading (unless, of course, you're willing to pay for a cab).
But let's say you're hell-bent to get out of the airport. Good for you! Live a little. So, by checking 511.org or nextmuni.com or calling 511, you can see when the next airport trains are coming (and when the train you hope to return on is supposed to disembark).
If you must take BART to the Embarcadero, don't jump the F-Line for Pier 39 -- a cesspool of tourists sporting tank-tops and shorts in 50-degree weather and sucking down overpriced clam chowder bread bowls or Chinese-caught crab. It's a goddamn carnival; don't be a mark.
So, like many of the astute commenters pointed out on the original Times article, you could do worse than enjoy the Ferry Building. For a tourist with only four hours to prop up the sagging local economy, the prices aren't so bad and the food really is exceptional. And, on a good day, a scenic walk along the Embarcadero -- in either direction -- is preferable to a terminus of Pier 39. You could do worse than hiking up to Coit Tower and then down to Montgomery or Powell Street BART, swooping through Chinatown (the major distinction between San Francisco and your native Brooklyn that you'll glean in a scant four hours are those huge hills and the sightlines). The cable car is pretty -- but it costs three times as much to ride it as the F-Line. Everyone loves the cable car -- but I can't say it's thrice as thrilling as the trolleys.
You could also take the F-Line the other way, and peruse the Castro or march up to Corona Heights. Or hop off at Church Street, walk to Dolores Park and take a look at the Mission -- and Mission District.
You could ride the 71 and head up to Haight-Ashbury or Golden Gate Park.
It's hard to see San Francisco in four hours -- transit included (Brooklynites may also quickly notice that trains don't run as rapidly here as they do back home). But here's the important part: Avoid Pier 39 (and Union Square, too, while you're at it).
Enjoy your trip, Ms. Berelowitz. Please let us know how things went.
Photo | Mila Zinkova