Over the next two years, San Francisco will be host to the America’s Cup. Beginning in the summer of 2012, there will be 4 yacht racing events, culminating in the 34th America’s Cup in September 2013. Our bay will be full of white racing yachts, our bars full of pastel-clad folks, and we’ll all get to pretend that we were yacht racing fans all along.
Here’s my guide to the America’s Cup in San Francisco, from which public parks offer the best views to advice on where to stay and how to get around on crowded race days.
Where to Watch the Race
America’s Cup plans to host four separate race events during the course of 2012 and 2013. The scheduled dates are:
August 11 – 19, 2012
August 27 – September 2, 2012
July 4 – September 1, 2013
September 7 – 22, 2013
Last week, officials revealed the San Francisco Bay race course, and it will stretch from just north of Crissy Field in the Marina to Pier 27/29 just east of Fisherman’s Wharf.
You may also be able to see yachts cruising south, past downtown and SOMA, to the proposed Yacht Club Station at Pier 50 in China Basin/Mission Bay. Those plans are dicey, though.
In the Marina
The Marina will be the center of it all. The America’s Cup start line will be right near Crissy Field. The plans call for spectator viewing areas to be set up in Crissy Field, Marina Green, and Fort Mason. Some of these fields may be accessible only by America’s Cup ticket holders, though, and expect tickets to run near $850/couple.
If you want to get away from the crowds, I recommend crossing Crissy Fields and heading up into the cliffs of the Presidio. You could even pick up cheese and sandwiches at Lucca Delicattessan (on Chestnut Street) or Spuntino di Ottimista (on Union Street) and have yourself a picnic overlooking the bay.
You could also get stunning views off the Fort Mason piers…if they aren’t barricaded or reserved for ticket holders.
Those who aren’t in the Marina will be at Fisherman’s Wharf, where plans call for taking over the Aquatic Park for exhibits, boat displays, and gift shop stalls. The Hyde Street Pier, Pier 45, and Pier 39 all jut out into the bay, but are likely to be mobbed.
Just around the bend at Piers 27/29 will be the America’s Cup finish line and the new James R. Herman Cruise Terminal. For the races, the new Cruise Terminal will be the America’s Cup Village and will feature more boat displays, a grand public plaza with a food court, and media hubs.
Along the Embarcadero
Further south of Fisherman’s Wharf, the Embarcadero is lined with piers in various states of structural integrity. The race itself won’t extend this far into the bay, but you may be able to catch yachts passing through on their way to the Yacht Club Station at Pier 50 south of the Bay Bridge.
The pedestrian Pier 14 is a highlight.
Leaving the crowds behind
So, now you know all the official viewing areas. Here are the spots where you’ll find those of us hoping to stay above the fray.
Charter Boats – There are a number of great ways to view the races right from the water, including the Adventure Cat catamaran. You can almost be a part of the race, right in the water with these charters.
Alta Plaza Park – an enormous grass lawn perched on the edge of Pacific Heights, you’ll have a fantastic view of the bay while being able to easily sneak away to Fillmore Street for some shopping and low key restaurants.
Inspiration Point, Presidio – with a low stone wall to sit on and sweeping bay views, this could potentially be a great spot for a picnic. If the crowds don’t find out about it first.
Jack Early Park – this park only holds a handful of people, but is so hard to find that you might have it all to yourself. From its cement perch, you can see the entire bay stretching from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Bridge.
Treasure Island – An old Navy base in the middle of San Francisco Bay, you’ll have outstanding views of the races and yacht terminals from its flat, grassy coast line. There will likely be no crowds because even locals have never been here. Drive or take the 108 Treasure Island to get here, and hit up The Winery afterward for some warmth.
Angel Island – This island is also located in the middle of San Francisco Bay but is a bit further away from the action. On the plus side, it has a population of 57 with direct ferry service from San Francisco.
How to Get Around
If any of you have experienced Fleet Week here in San Francisco, you might have an inkling of the congested madness were in for.
Please don’t drive a car into San Francisco for the America’s Cup. Imagine sitting in stop-and-go traffic on a steep incline, auto fumes swirling all around you, while your beloved in the passenger seat sings Bad Romance a cappella. Only to reach your destination and find that all parking spots are full within a 5 mile radius.
Ok, fine, so you want to drive. What you need to know: Chestnut and Bay Street in the Marina and Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhoods will be shut down to auto traffic. The plans also leave room for the possible closure of the northern section of Embarcadero, the area north of Bay Street, and all of Jefferson Street. The plans also call for “satellite” parking, areas where you’ll be able to park and take a shuttle to the events. This is all still in the planning stages, though.
You’ll also need to download the SFpark app. The app provides real time information on parking space availability, either at metered spaces throughout the city or at 15 out of 20 parking lots around the city. You might want to check it before you leave your hotel or home, though.
Now, if you decide to drive, you might want to sneak in to San Francisco rather than try to maneuver across the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge into the Marina. Sneaking in through the south is the best way to go, in order to avoid the bridges. If you can only access San Francisco from the Golden Gate Bridge, don’t take the Marina exit — choose instead to head into the Richmond. From the Richmond, you can enter the western reaches of the Presidio at 14th Avenue and hopefully find somewhere to park in or near the Presidio. From the Presidio, paved hiking trails with outrageous views will take you down into Crissy Fields and the Marina.
From the Mission and SOMA, you can attempt to park and walk along the Embarcadero, hitting up the Yacht Club Station at Pier 50 before getting to the main race viewing areas by foot or street car.
You will want to have a copy of the San Francisco MUNI Bus Map on you before you head into the Marina or Embarcadero.
MUNI is planning on increasing service on the 30 Stockton (Union Square to Fisherman’s Wharf and Marina) and 47L Van Ness (Civic Center to Marina), and possibly also the 22 Fillmore, 43 Masonic, 45 Union-Stockton, 29 Sunset, 44 O’Shaughnessy, and 108 Treasure Island.
The problem with buses, though, is that they don’t have dedicated lanes in our city. So, the likely auto congestion will slow the bus network down as well.
The San Francisco Bay area has a few rail transit operators: MUNI, BART, and CalTrain. MUNI operates the street car metro lines as well as the iconic cable cars. BART operates a regional subway/commuter rail line that connects the southern and eastern suburbs to six subway stops in the city. CalTrain connects towns along the Peninsula, down to San Jose, to a rail station in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood. Use the trip planner app at 511.org to figure out how to use a combination of the services to get to where you want to go.
Although San Francisco is known for its hills, the 4 mile stretch along the waterfront is absolutely flat, making bicycling one of the best ways to get around during the America’s Cup. Starting in Spring 2012, San Francisco will launch a pilot bikeshare project with 50 bike sharing stations in downtown San Francisco. It will operate similar to Boston and Washington, DC’s bike sharing programs.
You’ll be able to pick up a bike from a bikeshare terminal and drop it off at any other bikeshare terminal in the city. DC’s Capital Bikeshare allows you to sign up for a 24-hour ($7), 3-day ($15), or 30-day ($25) membership, which you can purchase at any bikeshare kiosk. You then pay an hourly fee for use of the bike.
We tend to walk a lot in San Francisco, despite the enormity of our hills. With streets, buses, and transit systems running at capacity, you should expect to walk several miles on any given day during the races. Bring your walking shoes.
Where to Eat
San Francisco’s restaurants are internationally known, and I can almost guarantee you that you won’t have a bad meal here. Here are my recommendations in the key America’s Cup neighborhoods.
In the Marina
There is no doubt that the Marina, particularly Chestnut Street and Union Street, will be clogged with revelers. This is where you need to be if you want to be in the center of it all. Related: expect long waits.
Tacolicious — $, A hipster take on tacos, with unconventional toppings like butternut squash and swiss chard.
Dragon Well — $$, A Chinese restaurant with addictive Tea-smoked Duck buns with Hoisin Sauce.
The Tipsy Pig — $$, A brick-walled, tin-ceiling pub that does an elevate take on traditional pub food.
A16 — $$$, Upscale Italian cuisine. You’ll need reservations.
Atelier Crenn — $$$$, If you’re feeling splurgy and want a taste of San Francisco’s “ingredients first” cuisine.
Along the Embarcadero
Also a prime route for America’s Cup goers, but without a main restaurant drag to attract the hordes. Might be less intense than the Marina crowds.
Mijita, Ferry Building — $, Delicious Mexican food that you can eat at tables overlooking the Bay. It might be mobbed.
MarketBar, Ferry Building — $$, Good food in an over-sized, brass and marble bistro.
Kokkari – $$/$$$, Iron chandeliers and antique carpets loom over rustic tables at this unconventional Greek restaurant.
Globe — $$$, A rustic and late night staple, with fresh, San Francisco-style cuisine.
Boulevard — $$$, A beloved San Francisco restaurant that knows how to handle crowds.
COI — $$$$, Possibly the best restaurant in San Francisco, contemporary cuisine with a unique point of view.
South of Market Street and close to the proposed Yacht Station, this warehouse district’s mysterious brick facades and converted factories will probably attract the least crowds.
Chaat Café — $, One of our favorite spots for Indian street food, with all appetizers half off during happy hour.
Red’s Java House — $, A down-and-dirty burgers and hot dogs lunch spot located on a pier just south of the Bay Bridge. It might also be a madhouse, but the staff handles their perpetual long lines with New York-style efficiency.
HRD Coffee Shop — $, A no frills diner with southeast Asian takes on fast food staples, like their Kimchi burrito and Mongolian cheesesteak with Hoisin sauce.
South Park Café — $$, Located on the impossibly cute South Park, this bistro serves up French cuisine with patio seating.
Town Hall — $$$, With large windows and exposed brick walls, this spot has a fancy, old-timey feel. The cuisine is a San Francisco take on Southern favorites.
Benu — $$$$, A two-Michelin star restaurant with a seasonal, Asian-influenced tasting menu.
Where to Stay
The plans for the America’s Cup are spread out, encompassing over 4 miles of bay front neighborhoods from SOMA and Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf and the Marina. Any hotel or apartment in the northeast quadrant of the city will be in prime location.
Even if you can’t find a room in a close-in neighborhood, San Francisco is only 7 miles by 7 miles. No matter which neighborhood you stay in, you won’t be that far away at all. You could also decide to stay in the surrounding areas, in the Peninsula or East Bay, and take the very convenient BART or CalTrain into the city on race days.
The large hotels in San Francisco are already clustered near the racing sites at Fisherman’s Wharf and downtown/Union Square/Financial District. There are two issues with choosing to stay in a hotel for the America’s Cup: availability and inflated rates. Hotels expect to be completely booked for the races, so you should book early.
Best Western is the only hotel I came across that is already accepting reservations for September 2013. The Westin, Hilton, and JW Marriott will start taking reservations a year prior to the events (September 2012). Holiday Inn will start taking reservations at the end of July 2012. Travelodge will start taking reservations January 2013.
Additionally, expect hotel rates to be 2 to 3 times the normal rate – Best Western’s reservation desk quoted me $289/night for September 2013, more than twice the current nightly rate.
Check out SF Travel’s Where to Stay and hotel reviews for more ideas.
Do you live somewhere desirable? If you live in New York, Telluride, Los Angeles, or, say, Paris, you might consider doing a house swap with someone in San Francisco. Friends of mine have had great success with Home Exchange.
If that creeps you out, though, you could also look for vacation rentals through Home Away or start searching Craigslist for any sublet opportunities. Sure, it might violate someone’s lease to charge you exorbitant fees to sublet their (likelyy rent controlled) space. But, hopefully the landlord will only find out after your stay.
Reconnect with Long, Lost Bay Area Friends
Didn’t your college roommate move to the Bay Area a few years ago? If so, it might be time to start reconnecting with long lost, Bay Area friends. Trust me, we are used to having friends and acquaintances drop in for a couple nights. With a year or so to go before the America’s Cup finals, there’s even a chance you’ll come across as genuinely interested in rekindling the friendship.
by Maria/Far Out City. Maria publishes elaborate San Francisco Bay Area day trip itineraries over at Far Out City. All photos copyright by 2012 Far Out City.