I would use this to get around: BART. Trains run all over town and out to the ‘burbs, as well as the airport, for under $10. Tickets can be purchased using cash or credit card from automated tellers located inside the stations, but be warned – the most change they will give you is $5 and it will all be in coins.
I would stay here: Hotel Shattuck Plaza, Berkeley. My room smelled like an Aveda salon and the staff were so friendly you would think you were in Winnipeg. Its location just next to the downtown Berkeley BART station and on the main drag means it is not only the nicest hotel in Berkeley, but also the most convenient. I’m sure there are great hotels in San Fran proper, but we only stayed one night in the actual city and it was at one of the obvious, kind of swank choices, like the Sheraton or Hilton or something. It was nice, but you don’t need me to tell you that.
I would eat here: Venus, Berkeley. It’s small and intimate with a modest menu that strives for quality above all else. They make a solid effort to use local, organic ingredients and their bar menu boasts a wide variety of craft beers and California wines. They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, 7 days a week, all of which are guaranteed to knock the socks and sandals right off your feet. (We spent three days in Berkeley and I ate there once a day… sometimes twice.)
I would drink here: Again, if you are in Berkeley, head to Jupiter for beer and pizza in their courtyard patio. With a fire pit, patio lanterns and live music, it shouldn’t even matter what you’re eating and drinking. On the other hand, the craft beer and wood-fire pizza are so good, it shouldn’t even matter where you’re sitting. I seriously just want to swear right here in the post so you understand how much I love spending an afternoon/evening at Jupiter when I’m supposed to be marking papers. So good. If you’re in San Fran, head to Mr. Bing’s Cocktail Lounge. I’m not even going to say anything about it because it’s better if you go without hesitation or expectation. Just get over there and have a Mai Tai or three. And be nice to Mr Bing. He’s had a long day.
I would do this: Alcatraz – it is actually all it’s cracked up to be. The ferry ride from Fisherman’s Wharf is a trip all on its own offering gorgeous city views and, weather permitting, seats on the top deck. On the island, there is a self-guided audio tour that takes you through several buildings including, obviously, the jailhouse, with recorded accounts of life on Alcatraz by guards and prisoners alike. I dug it in a pretty big way.
I wouldn’t do this: Go to Fisherman’s Wharf. I guess it’s probably awesome if you’re into stores full of porcelain mermaids and I ♥ SF tshirts, but I’m way too cool for either of those things. What I’m not too cool for, however, is watching a massive collective of sea lions lying around on floating docks at Pier 38. Their schtick generally consists of sleeping, mating and fighting, in no particular order and all of which are fun to watch for various reasons. (Random fact via Google: A group of sea lions is actually called a colony, while a group of seals is called a harem. Much more sexy to be a seal than a sea lion, as it turns out.)