I have felt your pain about the absurd turnaround pace of the Bay Area rental market. The last time I was house hunting in South Bay was about 3 years ago, it felt absolutely hopeless and has only become more competitive since.
I suggest you split your search into two:
1) land a temporary (maybe even 1BR/studio?) place for your first 4-8 weeks, so that you are already present in the area for the actual search. Airbnb is the easiest, but potentially costlier way to go (VRBO, HomeSuite are alternative to consider too for short-term) -- so I looked for an article with more local tips & links.
This step is definitely doable remotely, reduces your risk (have a place to sleep at on day 1, and even if the place is imperfect - you'll be out again in no time) and opens up time for...
2) hunt for a proper long-term place while already landed. Even though the ugliest, Craigslist still tends to carry the freshest inventory. Lovely is probably the best experience, but their inventory is much lighter. Don't be surprised if you show up to a rental posted today and there are already people there ready to take it in 5 minutes.
If you see something you like at semi-tolerable price (unfortunately SF is not a place for bargain hunting these days), just get it. And yes, that probably involves a physical meeting with the landlord.