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A Visitor’s Guide to WWDC and San Francisco

Posted by: Ramin on June 4, 2010


It’s time, once again, for the annual love-fest that is WWDC and that starts next week. I’ve been to each one since the iPhone launch (I know, that makes me a relative newbie) but having spent a good chunk of the past two decades living in San Francisco, I figured I’d combine tech-tips for first-time attendees with social things to do for out-of-towners.

Tech Tips

  • You can register and get your badge on Sunday, the day before WWDC starts. That saves you a bit of time doing it on Monday when everyone stands in line to get into the keynote speech. If you do go in on Sunday then you may want to pop into sfMacIndie at Jillian’s in the Metreon at 6pm. It’s across the street from Moscone West. Grab a drink and chat up fellow developers. You may want to pace yourself. The next day is the big event and you want to be able to get there early — at least by 8am if not sooner. They don’t start letting you in until 9:30am so wear comfy shoes. Make sure to say hi to fellow line-standers as you hop from foot-to-foot trying to stay warm.
  • This is San Francisco. In June. This means chances of early morning sun are slim to none. Standing in line for the keynote means no moving for hours in the cold, blowing fog. Unless you’re seriously thick-skinned (like the poor, freezing iPorn girls of last year) bring layers and be prepared to discard them as the day wears on and temperatures rise.
  • The on-screen keyboard on the iPad is nice, but don’t forget your laptop. You will want to take notes. Lots of notes. And fast. As Marco Arment says WWDC is one giant info-dump and there is no way to absorb everything. You’ll need a real keyboard to keep up. I like to create separate folders for each session and save note files in TextMate. Under each folder you can also save sample code for the sessions. Then I throw the whole top-level folder into TextMate as a project so I can quickly search and find what I’m looking for. I suggest you try to capture as much as you can while there and take time later to go over things. They were pretty quick about posting up the videos of each session last year, but there’s no replacement for one’s own notes.
  • Head down to the lunch area on the ground floor around noon. The food’s nothing to write home about (yeah, I’m being polite) but it’s a good chance to meet people and find out common interests. Most of the other times you’ll be standing in line or in-session. This is your chance to have a decent conversation and who knows, learn a thing or two from fellow developers. I’ve always enjoyed these random encounters.
  • If you have questions or want to get feedback from Apple engineers and designers, sign up for the labs and do it early. Spaces fill up fast, especially for the UI Design reviews. Drift down to the cafeteria area on the ground floor and find out what the sign-up protocol is. On the rare occasion there isn’t an interesting session, hover around the lab areas. You’ll pick up great info just by listening to Apple folks explain how things work.
  • Try to bring a Verizon or Sprint MiFi. The Apple-supplied WiFi network is OK, but most of the time it gets overloaded. Forget AT&T’s 3G network. It’s a joke. With most people carrying a MacBook, an iPhone, and an iPad, your best bet is to bring your own network. The downside to this is you probably won’t be able to access the WWDC attendee-only content accessible to those on the network there. But once you’ve snagged all the goodies you can switch back to your own network and zip along. [Update: OK, maybe not such a good idea if everyone turns them on at once.]
  • If you bring your own network, make sure you set a secure password for access to the wireless hub. And for crying out loud, don’t make it the 40-bit WEP. Go for the WPA2. Way too many people running Wireshark or Kismet out there. Also, while you’re at home set up all your network devices to log in, then set the hub to not broadcast its SSID. That way all those other people around you won’t have to scroll through a gajillion wireless hotspot names.
  • Bring a comfortable backpack. The one they’ve been handing out to WWDC attendees the last few years is pretty minimalistic. If you need space for all your gear (and an extra sweater) then bring your own. Don’t worry about food, unless you need to snack often. They provide bagels and cookies and whatnot to keep you fueled up.
  • Sync up your dev iPhone or iPad at home and back everything up. There’s a good chance there will be a new SDK drop there with a bunch of new goodies. Recommend you not try to download over the WiFi. Walk over to one of the round tables outside the session rooms and plug into the Ethernet firehose. Much, much faster.
  • Please, oh please remember to turn down the volume on your phone/iPad/Mac during sessions. Yes, you know you’re on Twitter and now we do too. You can thank chirping bird man for that.
  • If your backside is sore from all the sitting down or you feel like taking a quick nap, there are bean-bags on the top floor. First come-first serve.
  • If you’re looking for a job or have a job to post there are white-boards in the bean-bag lounge area.
  • Stash a power-strip in your pack — it’s a good way to make friends.  Among tech conferences WWDC is one of the better ones for providing power to attendees. Even so, they sometimes run out of plugs. I’m partial to the Monster Outlets to Go units. They’re small and you can charge up most of your devices in one sitting. Some models even come with built-in USB charging ports. While you’re at it remember to bring separate power-to-USB adapters for your iPhone and iPad. The iPhone is happy with the small 5W units but the iPad needs the beefier 10W adapters. If space is a premium you may want to grab a couple of retractable USB cables too.
  • If you’re missing anything or forget to bring any hardware, your two nearby geek supply outlets are the Apple Store on Stockton Street and Central Computer on Folsom at 4th.

OK, so much for the conference itself. What about the social life?

Organized Events

Here’s a good reference for organized after-session gatherings: On Tuesday between 7:30 and 10:30 pm, however, a lot of people will likely head over to the Apple Design Awards ceremony. A large number will stick around for the Stump the Chumps Experts session. On Thursday night Apple throws a bash in Yerba Buena Gardens. You’ll need your WWDC badge to get in. If you’re of drinking age you’ll need to get a wrist-band at Moscone before heading over. Pace yourself on the booze if you plan on hitting any other places afterward. You get all the food and beer you can consume plus a (surprise) live musical act. And there’s still Friday’s sessions left.

Quick Eats

If you get tired of eating pre-packaged sandwiches and are hankering for something slightly different, here are a few places within easy walking distance of Moscone. However, no guarantee they’ll get you in and out in time for the afternoon sessions:

  • Food court at Metreon – Walk across the street, grab yourself something and go sit outside in Yerba Buena Gardens to decompress. Absolutely glorious if it’s sunny.
  • Taqueria Cancun – Bit of a hike up on 6th and Market, but decent enough Mexican fare.
  • Out the Door – (sorry, Flash site) is by the same people who run the outstanding Slanted Door in the Ferry Building. This one’s in Westfield (Nordstrom) shopping center on Market and 5th.
  • Specialty’s – Great sandwiches. Best part is they have an iPhone-friendly ordering service. Closest one is on New Montgomery between Mission and Market.
  • The Sentinel – I haven’t eaten there yet, but people keep recommending it and it’s top of my list for lunch places to try. Fancy-looking sandwiches.


The swill they serve at WWDC may be fine for getting you over your previous night’s hangover, but you owe it to yourself to get some decent coffee while in town. Good places within walking distance:

  • Blue Bottle – Just go. Get the Latte if you’re in a hurry or the drip coffee if you have time. Don’t worry, it’ll make sense once you get there.
  • Peet’s – Closest one is on Mission between 3rd and New Montgomery. Strong coffee. Puts hair on your chest, whether you want it or not.
  • Chatz – Bit of a hike on 2nd Street between Howard and Folsom, but good place to go if your feet need some stretching.

Local Watering Holes

For some reason after a day of technical brain-melding a lot of people are extra-primed to kick back and partake of adult beverages. Go figure. If that’s what you’re looking to do, here’s a number of local hangouts where you are sure to bump into fellow WWDC attendees:

  • Jillian’s – It’s across the street, doubles as a sports bar, has a large selection of beers on tap, and has pool tables in the back.
  • Thirsty Bear Brewing – Upscale brewpub. Decent beers and Tapas-style dishes, only a block away.
  • Chieftain’s – Grungy Irish pub. First stop for a lot of die-hard old-timers before they inexplicably head all the way out to…
  • Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant – A favorite of Apple folks, but it’s all the way out in outer Richmond. With places like Tres Agaves or dive bars like City Bar in the Mission you’d think someone would try to find something more accessible. It’s far away, in the fog zone, and the place is usually mobbed but if you do decide to head out to Tommy’s try to snag a ride with someone else–preferably a teetotaler. There’s a chance you’ll end up slamming tequila shots and trust me, you won’t want to be driving, flagging down a rare cab, or being at the mercy of Muni late at night.
  • Harlot – Decent, but small. Odds are there will be a line to get in.
  • XYZ bar at W Hotel – Upscale drink spot. Excellent place to hang out if you’re on a corporate expense account or your app just cracked the Top 10.

A little further out — but still worth it

Want to pretend you’re a local? Some are a bit of a walk, but if you get in with a group of fellow developers and want to get out of the Folsom/Howard zone, here are a few places to try (in no particular order):

  • Johnny Foley’s – Irish Pub within walking distance. It can get a bit touristy, but there’s nightly live music and (natch) Guinness on tap.
  • Zeitgeist – Sort of a cross-road of cultures and styles. No other way to describe it.
  • Orbit Room Cafe – Best damn Bloody Marys in town.
  • Hotel Utah – Grungy local spot, sometimes with good music.
  • Bottom of the Hill – Great place for local live indy bands. Out in Potrero Hill (accessible via the Muni T-line) but the music’s usually worth the trip.
  • AsiaSF – The waitresses double as transgender stage performers — and they’re awesome.
  • 21st Amendment Brewery – Big with the local tech types floating around 2nd street. Decent brews.

Obviously I’m leaving a lot out, but this should give you a decent starting point. Feel free to post any corrections or favorites in the comments. Hope to see you all at WWDC. If anyone wants to look me up and say hi, I’m @raminf on Twitter.


Update: Added a few more places — for those in a hurry to get back to hacking and getting their mind blown.