Visiting San Francisco for’s Dreamforce

In just over four weeks I’m off to San Francisco for Dreamforce ’10, the annual user conference for cloud-based CRM provider On their tab. This will be both wonderful and scary.

Wonderful because I haven’t been to San Francisco before and everyone tells me it’s… well… wonderful. Plus there’s a keynote by Bill Clinton and a performance by Stevie Wonder for some reason I don’t know stop asking me questions I didn’t organise this goddam event.

Scary because it’s one of those huge combined convention and trade show deals at the Moscone Center. Last year they had 30,000 attendees. I have been reliably informed that I will truly hate being in a room full of thousands of (mostly) Americans whooping it up because someone announced that some software had a minor-number version upgrade.

This is only my second-ever visit to the US. In May, Microsoft flew me to their Redmond, Washington, headquarters for a 3-day briefing about their security initiatives. That generated an episode of the Patch Monday podcast called Microsoft versus the cybercriminals as well as material for later episodes, the article Letter from Redmond, Washington: inside Microsoft HQ for Crikey, and a look Inside Microsoft’s Security War Room and accompanying photo gallery for iNews.

This time I’ve arranged to spend three days in San Francisco after the event, so I’ll actually get a chance to see something more than the inside of software company’s headquarters and the hotel. I’m sure there’ll be the usual temptation to visit the standard tourist locations, but I’d like to see something a little different. Something that helps me understand the real America.

So, while I’m in San Francisco, where should I go and what should I see?

Since California is going broke, and the US economy is crap generally, I’d like to go somewhere to see how that’s affecting ordinary Californians. But what else?

Dreamforce ’10 runs from Monday 6 to Thursday 9 December 2010, and I’ll remain in San Francisco until Sunday 12 December 2010.

[Photo: Cable Car turn around at Powell Street, San Francisco, by Loren Javier. Used under a Creative Commons license.]

19 Replies to “Visiting San Francisco for’s Dreamforce”

  1. You need to get coffee from Fourbarrel (15th and Valencia), Ritual (22nd and Valencia), and/or Sightglass (7th and Folsom, 3 blocks from the Moscone Center).

    You need to eat mexican food in The Mission – El Faro at 24th St BART station, or Puerto Allegre on Valencia at 16th are my favourites.

    Also, if you’re interested, I can introduce you to a good friend and San Francisco local whos a Sales Engineer at Sales Force. He’s super keen on the company kool-aid, but if you want a local insider to meet or bounce question off before, during, or after, let me know…


  2. Take a walk around near the monument buildings in town – along Market between Polk and 7th. You won’t miss how the GFC affected San Francisco. Seriously.

    Baseball season is over, which is a pity as the Giants took the pennant this year. Even if you’re not a baseball fan, it’s worth going to a game as it’s the quintessential American cultural experience.

    Get up to Twin Peaks to see what the city really looks like and walk Golden Gate Park and Haight Street.

    Eat (fancy but amazing) Greek at Kokkari Estitaorio.

    And drop in to Citizen Space to get the vibe of a really great coworking venue.

  3. @Big: Well, coffee’s not high on my agenda. Coffee is a source of caffeine and I don’t get into the whole “aesthetic” of it. And as it happens I’m not a big fan of Mexican food. I’m willing to see if some quality product changes my mind, but I wouldn’t be hopeful. Still, coffee and Mexican food is California, right?

    I think’s PR department will make sure I have an enthusiastic minder to keep me well fed with propaganda — but I’ll let you know if they happen to fail in their duty.

    @Stephen Collins: Indeed, baseball would have been the go, but I already knew I’d missed that.

  4. Definitely try to fit in a visit to the Exploratorium – – it’s the grand-daddy of the various interactive science museums. Every time I’ve been there I’ve easily spent hours just fooling around with the various exhibits. It’s really huge.

  5. @anthonybaxter and @B Smith: Both the Exploratorium and Winchester Mystery House look to be exceedingly interesting possibilities, thank you. But I’m not sure that’s what I’m looking for on this trip. They’re “packaged experiences” that, while certainly being hours of entertainment, are just that. Entertainment. And I’m not looking to be entertained.

    Or maybe it’s about being entertained in a different way.

    The Snarky Platypus and I have been exploring Sydney by going for long walks. The 23km from East Hills to Petersham via Bankstown and Lakemba and Campsie and Ashbury, for instance. I’d show you a map if I could figure out how to copy just one path out of a private Google Maps thingy. It’s not a tourist thing. It’s not glamorous. But you get a real feel for the places along the way because you’re seeing them slowly, at street level, and in the open air where you can hear and touch and smell as well as see.

    You get a far better understanding of a place and its people by sitting in a random local bar or café and just listening and watching. It’s like Crikey’s Guy Rundle covering the 2008 US election from a bar in Atlantic City.

    Maybe asking occasional visitors to the US is the wrong approach? I shall ponder…

  6. Aha! Here’s how to copy data between two Google Maps. It’s truly dreadful. And this?

    There is a 3Mb limit on displaying KML via Google Maps. So if your map is particully [sic] big — i.e. lots points or description, then there is a chance your copy will silently fail. No error message is shown, it just fails.

    Well that’s particularly well-thought-through, no? No.

  7. Make sure you get out of SF and visit other parts of the Bay Area, like Berkeley and Oakland. The BART system makes it all very easy to get around the Bay Area. There are weekend tours of UC Berkeley, by the way. The campus is lovely, steeped in student revolutionary history, and well worth a visit.

    On the food side of things: Slanted Door on the Embarcadero serves great modern Vietnamese cuisine.

    And of course, Chinatown is worth a look!

    Enjoy the trip and conference!

  8. I agree with iphoon — get over to Berkeley and just keep walking as they say in Scotland.

    Lovely campus (huge Blue Gums!) and the surrounding ‘burbs are… err… interesting. Feels like Sydney just as much as Vancouver does.

    Last time I was there for a con we took a day trip out to the Farallon Island 27 m offshore – great seabirds & white sharks… and even if you don’t want to spend all day on a boat a 2-3 hour trip around the Bay is a great thing.

    Or just do what I like to do in any city, jump on the PT, buy a day ticket and see where you end up — you get to talk to locals and they know the best, and the worst bars. And they’ll certainly tell you how broke the place is. Enjoy. And American barkeeps are so much better than their Aus counterparts. And don’t forget to get the tipping thing right!

  9. If you want to see the “real” America, take the BART across to Oakland. I was there in March, and it’s certainly been hit by the GFC, in marked contrast to San Francisco itself. It’s a good place to wander about, as it only takes a few blocks to get out of the rather soul-less CBD into the run-down areas surrounding the city.

    Also, take the Caltrain to anywhere it runs – despite the names of some of the companies that inhabit them, the towns of Palo Alto and Mountain View are quite wonderfully ordinary.

    Also, take it from the voice of experience that there’s a big difference between 9th St and 9th Avenue in San Fransico itself.

  10. And while you are in Oakland you could catch up with the local chapter of the Hells Angels at the Clubhouse, 4010 Foothill Blvd, Oakland, CA…

  11. Since my last comment the Twitterverse has suggested Contra Costa County, “hang out in Mission district for an evening & watch the rioters go by”, “if sunny in sf walk along embarcadero. go to ferry building for farmer’s market, sushi @ ozuma, ton kian dim sum, gg park”, and “the old trams on Market are fun and drop you in The Castro”, amongst others. Sorry if I missed anyone, I should’ve recorded them as they came in.

    Several people have reinforced the Oakland and Berkeley suggestions, and I can see from exploring the maps that pretty much anywhere on the east side of the bay should reveal plenty of middle America. So, at least one of the three “spare” days will include a journey east, inland.

    I might also contact some local media people for guidance and contacts.

    I must admit that visiting the Castro holds little appeal. While I daresay there’ll still be some echoes of the place’s history, global gay culture is, well, global gay culture.

  12. If you fancy some Cold War nostalgia, there’s a lovingly restored Nike missile site in SF:

    IIRC, Lower Haight is slightly hipster-wanky but has some good pubs and interesting shops, and it’s possible to walk there via some nice parks.

    Or you could just go and stalk the Mythbusters over at the M5 workshop….

  13. I have been to San Francisco at least twice. The first time I drove a Volkswagen “Beetle” from Toronto Canada via a variety of places along Route 66 (as it was then).

    There are seagulls in San Franciso.

    Take a picture of seagull 🙂 I did and I still have it.

    The second time was on one of many trips via the United States and I’m not entirely sure why I stayed there although I recall I stayed at an “el cheapie” place on Market Street not far from “City Hall” which is where the drunks and derros hang out (24/7).

    I’d suggest you

    a) walk across the Golden Gate Bridge and marvel at the total lack of security against pedestrians throwing themselves off (unlike Sydney Harbour Bridge where it is very hard to do this).

    b) take a token cable car ride (as one is supposed to).

    c) check the price of apartments in downdown SF – they were very cheap when I visited last indicating that most people prefer to live in Oakland.

    d) Sing “I left my heart in San Francisco”

    e) Don’t call it ‘frisco….. (sigh)

    f) marvel at the subway system

    g) take another picture of a seagull.

    h) Consider that Hollywood isn’t anywhere near there and

    i) at costs attempt to remain cheerful 🙂 🙂

  14. @Richard: I see the SF-88 Nike Missile Site has its full tours on the first Saturday of the month — and I’ll be arriving on the immediately following Sunday or Monday. Still, it’s worth a visit. Added to the potential list.

    @Bob Bain: That’s a comprehensive list! The seagull photos are a definite “Yes” from me. As, I think, is a walk across the bridge. You’re right about the total lack of security against suicides. As this sad map shows, more than 1200 people have thrown themselves from the Golden Gate Bridge since it opened in 1937.

    I should have my travel itinerary confirmed today. It looks like I’ll be flying United Airlines, and Inc will be paying premium rates for a spot on heavily-booked flights.

  15. @stilgherrian – as a matter of record here is MY photograph of a “seagull” in San Francisco taken sometime between 1967 and 1970.

    In the background is the Golden Gate Bridge.

    On that occassion I drove non-stop from Arizona and drove across the Golden Gate Bridge. I believe the photograph was taken at Fisherman’s wharf although I can’t be absolutely sure of that as it was a long time ago.

    The “seagull” is probably dead by now !

    If it isn’t a seagull forgive me 🙂 I think it is !

  16. @stilgherrian – people are referring to BART. Please not this isn’t a reference to Bart Simpson but is an acronym for “Bay Area Rapid Transport Sytem”

    It may be worth noting that the ticketing system is (IMHO) quite bizarre and if you don’t have a ticket with sufficient funds to exit the turnstile it is necessary to scream HELP, find a ticket machine on the station that takes your money (if you have any), or find a BART rep who can help. As this is an automated system with a minimum of personel the chances of getting stuck on a BART station late at night are quite high.

    I note Wikipeida suggests there may have been some alterations to the ticketing system.

  17. @stilgherrian DON’T forget Alcatraz which is where they jailed Al Capone for Tax Fraud. It’s an interesting place to visit but don’t attempt to swim 🙂

    Departs From:

    Fisherman Wharf Pier 33

    Duration: 2 to 2-1/2hours

    Ferries return from Alcatraz Island every 1/2 hour. You may stay on the island as long as you wish. Most people spend 2 hours on the tour.

    Going to San Francisco without visiting Alcatraz Island is like visiting Sydney without visiting Fort Denison (Pinchgut Island).


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