Essential San Francisco software

Update December 12, 2013: In the most hilarious pretense at “community outreach” I’ve seen in years, the Outreach Coordinator at OpenTable emailed me to ask me to change my link to OpenTable below (hint: “community outreach” is pronounced “improve our SEO”). Here’s the email with the employee’s name redacted:

From: [redacted]
To: [redacted]
Subject: Request from OpenTable

Hi Valarie,

My name is [redacted] and I’m an Outreach Coordinator with OpenTable – the world’s leading provider of online restaurant reservations. I came across your site the other day and think it is great!

We’re working to improve our brand relevancy and are hoping you can help us by making a minor change to the link mentioned below – it would be greatly appreciated.

If you would, please change the link text on this page from “Opentable” to “OpenTable: San Francisco Restaurants” and the linking URL to

The finished link will look like this: OpenTable: San Francisco Restaurants

Again, thanks so much for the link! Let me know if you have any questions or if I can help you in any way.



[redacted] | Sr. Outreach Coordinator


1 Montgomery Street, Suite 700, San Francisco, CA 94104

So of course I did want any red-blooded Internetizen would do: I removed the link entirely.

I return you to your regular post below.

I sold my car in 2007 because Google Transit was in beta for the city I was living in at the time (Portland). Today, I don’t know what I’d do without the suite of software I use to get around and find stuff to do in San Francisco. (Actually, I do know what I’d do: I’d be even more angry, late, and a hermit than I am now.)

Some of it is standard stuff – transit directions for San Francisco are standard in Google Maps – but others are obscure SF specialties. San Francisco has so many programmers that our software itches get scratched pretty reliably, and if you don’t have an iPhone like me, probably there is a similar app for Android.

Without further ado:

San Francisco spec-i-al-i-ties:

SF Climates: An iPhone app that shows weather in SF BY NEIGHBORHOOD. I got tired of the weather on my phone having nothing to do with the weather outside my window. Having this app confirms that temperatures easily vary by 10 degrees F across less than 10 miles. The variation in rain, fog, and sun is a never-ending source of hilarity. I have no idea why the concept of “San Francisco temperature” continues to exist.

Routesy Pro: The best real-time transit app for San Francisco I’ve used. You can’t ask it for directions, but it will tell you when the next bus, train, cable car, etc. is coming. The bookmarks for your frequently used stops can be organized by proximity, which is incredibly useful. It takes a working knowledge of the city’s public transit system before you can use it quickly enough to not miss the next bus, but if you have a few frequently used routes it will be useful right away. When I’m going somewhere new, I use Google Transit to find out a few transit options and then check the arrival times on Routesy.

SocketSite: A blog that follows real-estate related news in San Francisco, with an emphasis on interesting remodels of single-family homes. I started reading it to keep tabs on when the construction on a new hospital across the street will start (answer: not until the mayor and the hospital owner stop fighting over the closure of another hospital) and kept reading for the twisty little machinations of city NIMBY politics and remodel cheesecake.

Fun (and sometimes useful) Twitter accounts: MUNI Diaries, Emergency in SF, SF siren, The Bay Bridge, Bay Area Earthquakes.

And here’s a request: I want an app that tells me when the San Francisco streets are going to be filled with drunk obnoxious people, honking cars, and riots. Any ideas?

In lots of cities but especially useful in SF:

Goldstar: To me, one of the marks of a San Francisco “local” is the refusal to pay full price for dinners, concerts, cruises, brunch, clothes, etc. When it comes to entertainment, Goldstar has tons of discounts and will also help you find stuff to do. Comedy shows in particular have lots of deeply discounted or “free” (not including fees) tickets since a full house is so important. They’ve added the ability to invite friends to sit with you after the first purchase, which really helps.

Historical Markers: San Francisco is sort of ridiculously full of history. This app lets you learn about historic buildings while you are walking around the city.

Yelp: San Francisco is a big Yelp town, unsurprisingly. Generally I ignore the reviews from people who complain that the staff didn’t grovel sufficiently before them.

Uber: I cannot count the times I’ve been stuck somewhere in the city with no public transit and no taxis. I’ve given up on calling taxis anywhere except at home because they usually assume you’re not going to be there when they arrive and don’t bother showing up. Uber provides a great last-ditch backup plan for when Routesy tells me that the bus is still 12 minutes away, 20 minutes later.

OpenTable (linked removed due to obnoxious “community outreach”): Except during the rainy winter-y bit of the year, most San Francisco restaurants are packed most of the time. Just always make a reservation. Opentable makes it easy.

Hollaback: Street harassment is epidemic in San Francisco. Hollaback is a non-profit fighting street harassment, and has tons of ways to both help end street harassment overall and to feel better on an individual basis. One of the wort parts about being harassed on the street when I first moved to San Francisco was that people wouldn’t believe I was being harassed! That was before Hollaback; I haven’t heard that kind of stupidity in a long time now.

What software do you find useful in San Francisco?

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