Life beyond the JavaOne sessions: Mastering life in San Francisco

You won't spend every moment at JavaOne in a session, so here is some advice from Barry Burd on how to navigate San Francisco and get the most out of the JavaOne experience.

There's plenty to think about in terms of figuring out your JavaOne sessions, but a week at JavaOne is just as much about the city of San Francisco as it is about your favorite object-oriented programming language. Here's some advice for some of those who aren't overly familiar with life in the Bay area.

Where to Stay?

If you haven't already made hotel arrangements, I have nothing hopeful to tell you. The annual JavaOne conference meets alongside Oracle's OpenWorld conference. Between the two conferences, the total attendance is approximately 60,000. For some conference events, the city closes off major streets near Union Square. A typical hotel room costs $400 a night. Last year I even heard about some $600-per-night rooms.

You can look for hotels that aren't close to the conference center, but rooms near the SFO and OAK airports can also be pricey. You might try renting a car and staying at hotel that's within driving distance from the conference center. The problem with this strategy is parking. Several lots near the conference center advertise inexpensive rates, but the rates don't apply during special events (and I'll bet that having 60,000 people descend on the Moscone Center in San Francisco counts as a special event). Two years ago, I actually found a $10 parking lot near Union Square during the conference. But, if memory serves, the $10 rate applied only for visitors arriving after 4pm.

In the past, I've had a bit of luck finding a hotel by juggling a few web browser tabs. I open tabs for San Francisco's two train systems - BART and Caltrain. Then I open several travel sites looking for hotels along these train routes. BART stops a quarter mile from the JavaOne conference center, and a Caltrain stop is a mile-and-a-half bus ride to the conference center.  So the trick is to find a hotel that has vacancies, doesn't cost a fortune, and is a reasonable distance to a BART or Caltrain stop. This takes a bit of research, for which I open yet another browser tab. I use Google Maps to find the travel distance between a candidate hotel and a nearby train station. Last year, I found a hotel with "normal" prices about a mile from a BART station. I confess -- that BART station was an hour from the conference center. But at least I didn't pay $2000 to be asleep in a hotel room for five nights in a row.

What else to do?

JavaOne is about more than just the conference, and lets face it, no attendee is going to spend the whole week attending sessions. If this is your first time at JavaOne, plan to attend Oracle's Wednesday night Appreciation Event. Each year, Oracle rents an entire island (well, part of an island) to throw a bash that includes food, drink, music and amusements. This year's performers include Elton John and Beck. My son attended the event a few years ago and said "When I die and go to heaven, I want it to be like this."

You can eat, drink and socialize for free nearly every night during JavaOne. Just check the web for lists of vendor-sponsored parties. For an un-sponsored drink near the conference, visit the Thirsty Bear on 3rd and Howard Streets. The Thirsty Bear is a regular hangout for JavaOne attendees, so you'll probably meet people you know at this bar.

I love San Francisco. It's one of the few places where I feel the fresh California spirit along some old-time Gold Rush ambiance. So take some time to hang out in San Francisco. The conference is within minutes of Union Square - a hub for SF entertainment. Check out some of the music clubs and theater groups in that neighborhood. (As a side note, I'll add that you can't walk these streets without being stopped and asked for spare change. If you stay where the tourists are, it's quite safe. This year, I plan to have a pocketful of change whenever I leave my hotel room. My all-time favorite encounter was from a fellow who promised not to spend the spare change that I gave him on anything wholesome. "Only on liquor and weed," he said jokingly.)

Visit San Francisco's North Beach. It's touristy without being garish. It's busy without being hectic. Start at Pier 39 and buy a few things for the folks back home. (Yes, there are some "I heart SF junk" stores on Pier 39, but there are also some interesting boutique shops.) Go from Pier 39 to the Buena Vista Café on Hyde and Beach Streets. Tourists from around the world stop at the Buena Vista for its famous Irish whiskey. And no matter where the tourists come from, they always chat with tourists from other places. I'm a gregarious traveler, and there's never any shortage of good conversation when I stop at the Buena Vista.

For the rest of your North Beach tour, start at Ghirardelli Square and work your way along Columbus Avenue. Even if you don't stop at any of Columbus Avenue's drinking emporia, be sure to visit the historic City Lights Bookstore on Columbus and Broadway.

If you lived in the United States in the late 1960s, you should take a city bus to the Haight-Ashbury district. Shop at the local stores, and try to become the millionth tourist to take a selfie at the corner of Haight and Ashbury Streets.

And finally, if you like detective work, try to find the birthplace of comedienne Gracie Allen. With her husband George Burns, Gracie charmed audiences for more than thirty-five years. As far as I know, her childhood home isn't listed on any websites, and I'd love to know where it is. With your help, I might one day honor Gracie's memory by visiting her old San Francisco stomping ground.

Your Advice?

Surely, you have some suggestions to add. Plant them in the comments or tweet me @allmycode.

Books penned by Barry Burd:

Java For Dummies 
Android Application Development All-in-One For Dummies 
Beginning Programming with Java For Dummies 
Java Programming for Android Developers For Dummies 

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