Wednesday, October 31, 2012

San Francisco for a First Timer

That's me, the first timer, here. Living my entire life on the West Coast of the United States, I have been lucky enough to have visited most of the big cities between Seattle and San Diego with the exception of San Francisco. I've had flight connections via SFO more times than I can count, but never experienced the foggy city for myself in my 25 years on this earth.

Thankfully, that all changed as my plans fell together this past year and included starting my journey off with just short of a week in San Francisco with two of my three best friends from college. Michelle and I flew from Portland to Oakland Saturday morning, where Cara picked us up. We dropped our stuff off at her house and took BART into the city from the east side of the bay. I could not get over how beautiful the weather was for end of October; bright blue skies with very little breeze made for a wonderful couple days.

Photo credit: Michelle Waters
Much all of my ideas of what San Francisco looks like are based on what I have seen in Mrs. Doubtfire or on Full House - from the Golden Gate Bridge to the trolley cars to Alcatraz, I was really excited to see it all for myself. I had heard of BART and my first impression upon boarding was how it seemed like the monorail in Disneyland, as it is older than the public transportation system I am used to in Portland. At that moment, Cara informed us we were going to actually go under the bay to get to the city. What? Okay, clearly a little more sophisticated than Disney's monorail. My ears even popped; they are a little sensitive.

One of our other friends from college, Jo, flew in from LA for the weekend and met us at the Civic Center/UN Plaza BART stop.

Photo credit: Michelle Waters
We headed to buy our tickets for transportation in the city. We opted for the 3 Day Visitor Passport for $21. It allowed us to ride any historic streetcar, cable car or bus around the peninsula. (I'm not entirely sure it paid for itself because we walked a lot, but it was very convenient to have nonetheless, especially because a 1 day pass was $14.) The 3 Day pass will increase to $22 in 2013. Click here for current visitor transportation info.

Then, we headed to the Fisherman's Wharf area of the waterfront for lunch. To get there, we exercised our recently purchased transportation pass and rode a streetcar (not cable car). These are one of the two vintage modes of transportation in San Francisco and are also correctly referred to as trolleys or trams. Most were built in the early 1900's when they quickly became the choice of transportation for America, creating the first suburbs. San Francisco has the most diverse collection of streetcars in use today. One of the trolleys we rode had been restored and bought from the City of Philadelphia.

Photo credits: Michelle Waters, left & bottom right
We arrived at Fisherman's Wharf and quickly decided to eat at the restaurant emitting the sweet scent of sourdough bread. The fat kid inside of me wants to say that this was my favorite part of my time in San Francisco and that I could have eaten the sourdough bread for the rest of my life. She also wants you to know that she isn't exaggerating. I have a weakness for good bread and sourdough happens to be my favorite. It was such a dilemma: sandwich or bread bowl?

Needless to say, I would highly recommend Boudin's any time you are in San Francisco if you are even a tiny bit fond of sourdough. They know what they're doing. Look at those sourdough bread animals! There are a few locations, even one at the airport, which up until this point, was the only location I had been to.

Photo credits: Michelle Waters
After nearly becoming bread bowls, we walked around Pier 39 located just east of Fisherman's Wharf on the waterfront. The photo below is from out on the pier, looking back at the hills of city. Can you spot the Transamerican Pyramid, the tallest skyscraper in San Fran?

I was shocked at how many people were watching the sea lions. Coming from Oregon and spending time on the coast in Newport, this was hilarious because, yes they bark, yes they are wild, yes they are fat and so ungraceful, but they're just sea lions. It made me laugh. I suppose if you have never seen them, it is a spectacle.

Moving on a lot faster than most from the sea lions, we gazed at Alcatraz Island and chatted for a while, enjoying the beautiful late fall weather.

Pier 39 has a bunch of restaurants (full service & quick bites) as well as trinket stores to buy souvenirs and goofy stores like the Lefty's Left Hand Store. The two story carousel was beautiful, too.

Before leaving the pier, we stopped to share a couple crepes for dessert from the Crepe Cafe - cause at this point, I definitely needed more carbs in my system.

The four of us shared a chocolate & strawberry crepe and a s'mores crepe. I will never turn down the combination of chocolate and strawberries, but the s'mores crepe was better than I would have guessed! Very delish.

Photo credit: Michelle Waters
Then, we headed toward Union Square to meet my dad who had actually been working a few hours north of San Francisco and decided to meet me in the city for the weekend so I could see him before leaving the country.

Dad and I stayed in Union Square that night and checked out a handful of bars in the area. I loved how old so many of them are because they have such character. It was also really interesting to check out the clientele in each one. The Giants played in the World Series that night and so the bars were packed. We enjoyed happy hour at Urban Tavern where they had pisco on their cocktail menu! I was less than a week away from landing in Peru and there was a little piece of Peru on the menu.

We ate dinner at The Daily Grill. I had the crab cakes which were pretty good and dad had the highly recommended meatloaf, which was very tasty. The service was great, as our waiter was very attentive and friendly. For dessert, we split a piece of carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, candied pecans, fresh whipped cream and cinnamon, which was of course my favorite part. I got my sweet tooth from my dad. (Oh, and the Giants won!)

We hiked around the city a little more after dinner and ran into lots of people dressed up since it was the weekend before Halloween. The next morning (Sunday), we became quite the tourists and took one of the double decker buses around the city for almost half of the route. I could explore this city just looking at the buildings for days.

Photo credits: Michelle Waters, 7 & 8
Look, one of the buildings even had our last name on it!

The double decker bus was a Hop On Hop Off one which was nice because we could get off to go look around and catch another one coming by when we were ready to continue. They pass by each stop about every 30 minutes. For anyone with a short amount of time who has never been to San Francisco, this is a great way to see the city. It makes a huge loop, stops at all the major sight seeing spots and depending on what driver you have, you will receive a very enjoyable commentary on the city, although is a little spendy if you pay on board. Buying tickets online gets you a better deal we found out after the fact.

Dad and I met up with Cara, Michelle, Jo and her friend Ashley for dinner in Little Italy at Pellegrini Ristorante, as recommended to us by the best driver we had, Willie from the Hop On Hop Off bus. This place was delicious. We shared calamari and grilled veggies for an appetizer. I had homemade crab raviolis with the red sauce. I think we all tried each other's at some point without disappointment.

Monday, I said goodbye to dad early in the morning and Cara, Michelle and I spent our last day exploring the northwestern part of the city. We shopped around Chinatown.

We rode the Powell/Hyde cable car, past Lombard Street. Invented in 1873 to climb the hills of San Francisco, these cable cars run at a continuous 9 miles per hour on steel rails and  are completely mechanical, having no motor. While cable cars once were in other major cities, now there are only 3 lines left in the world - all in San Francisco!

We visited Ghirardelli Square and sampled a new flavor, Pumpkin Spice Caramel. Scrumptious.

We took a bus toward the Golden Gate Bridge to take pictures. Before walking toward the bridge, we stopped at the Palace of Fine Arts, which was hands down my favorite place in San Francisco. I couldn't stop taking pictures and kept thinking how it looked like a set on Star Wars involving Queen Amidala.

Photo credit: Michelle Waters for 4 & 7-9
Then, we walked over to the water to see the Golden Gate Bridge, when alas, the fog had rolled in and we could not see one bit of the bridge. We had seen it from afar, but had no luck getting closer pictures. Next time, I suppose!

It is impossible to walk around San Francisco without finding beautiful little quirks of the eccentric city. I just loved the tree climbing up the brick building and the gorgeous mosaic steps.

Our final exploration of San Francisco was around Haight & Ashbury. We took a bus from the Golden Gate Bridge area to the trendy, vintage clothing shop lined, hippieville. I loved the shops and wished we had more time to spend in this part of town.

That is about all I accomplished during 3 days in San Francisco. Here is Michelle's recaps, one and two, if you are curious. There is so much more I would have loved to do - painted ladies, cross the Golden Gate Bridge, Mission District and more. Have you been to SF? What did I miss that I must do next time?

1 comment:

  1. Love it! That was such a fun trip. We've been fortunate to have a lot of those this year... But SF is one of the coolest places. Well... Maybe they're all cool.
    O, and even though we didn't see the house that Full House is based in, all those beautiful Victorians built into the hillside are considered the "Painted Ladies". Apparently it's a term that originated based on San Fanciscan architecture in Victorian style when the houses are painted more than three colors. So Painted Ladies, check!


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