San Fran-disco

Trip Start Aug 26, 2011
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Trip End Sep 13, 2011

Flag of United States  , California
Sunday, August 28, 2011

Arriving at a reasonable time of 10am, we caught the BART (train) from the airport to downtown San Francisco. Note to everyone purchasing tickets with cash, use small change, I received $10 change all in 20 cent coins - not so handy!

We were staying at The Green Tortoise Hostel (budget friendly, not so sleep friendly) in a private dorm, about a 10-15 minute walk from the city center, so we decided to walk. San Francisco is famous for its hilly streets, and as we discovered our hostel was at the top of one such hill. It took us about 30 minutes to get there, poor Simon almost did the *Turtle several times.

Once we arrived at our accommodation, we checked in, recovered from the hill climb, and then ventured out into the city. After a much shorter walk, down a hill, we arrived in Union Square, shopping central, home to Macy's, Tiffany and Co, The Cheesecake Factory and many other stores. Our aim was to sample a famous Boudin Sourdough. Boudin has a location, downstairs in Macy's in Union Square. Simon ordered a chilli-sourdough bowl, I had a soudough sandwich, I had massive food envy. If you head to Boudin, go for the bowl, you can have chilli/chowder/soup, whatever you fancy - don't be like me and wish you ordered it!

The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering around the city, checking out Union Square, Embarcadero, Chinatown and North Beach (Little Italy). The Green Tortoise is located quite central, in between Chinatown/North Beach, with Fisherman's Wharf just a 10/15 minute walk away.

The next day we slept in quite late, after a few too many wines the night before, scrambled downstairs to get our free bagel (standard breaky fare at hostels in the USA), and then hit the road. We wandered down to Embarcadero Square, where Ziptrek Ecotours, the Canadian tour company we worked for all summer in Whistler, had a temporary line set up. We hit up our old guest services supervisor for a free ride. I found it much more intimidating to scale the scaffolding tower steps up to the top, and then to step off the platform, with nothing below but a lot of concrete. I was helped along by the fact that there were parallel lines, and Simon was egging me on about how he was going to race me to the other end. I maintain that he cheated as I am at a disadvantage due to weighing less that him (its pure physics people!)

After urban zipline adrenalin we headed along the water edge, all the way around to Fisherman's Wharf, a kitsch but delightful section of waterfront shops and restaurants. It is great fun to wander around here, there are so many unusual shops to look in, sea lions basking and barking on the floating docks, not to mention Bubba Gumps Shrimp Co. After wandering around for the afternoon we headed back to our hostel to change and then headed out for dinner.

The next day we decided to work off some of those holiday calories, by hiring bikes and cycling the Golden Gate Bridge. The GT hostel has a deal with Dylan's Tours, which means for $21 you can hire a bike for the whole day - not too shabby. So we walked to Dylan's, just past North Beach, and picked up our bikes. San Francisco road rules dictate that as a cyclist you need to ride on the road, not the footpath, so keep that in mind, and make sure you get yourself a helmet! We head off, cycling down to Fisherman's Wharf, where there is a bike path that will lead you all the way to the GG Bridge. Our first stop was the Palace of Fine Arts, a beautiful area constructed way back when, where people come to sit, and pigeons abound. Simon has a slight phobia of pigeons, so I had a great time taking photos of him trying to shoo then away.

Next we headed for the main event, the Golden Gate Bridge. We took it easy, but riding in San Fran means that sooner or later you will come across a big-ass hill, so soon enough it was hit the lowest gear possible and peddle, peddle, peddle. We reached our destination, the start of the bridge, although covered in fog (as it often is in summer) the GG bridge was glorious! We headed out onto the pedestrian/bike path across the bridge, with about a billion other tourists, and started the journey across. It is an experience crossing the bridge on a bike, you have to stick to the right, letting people going faster than you past, whilst trying to overtake pedestrians when there is space. Cars rumble past you and the wind whips around you, threatening to blow you off the bridge. Despite that last sentence I highly recommend doing it, if you have the physical fitness. We rode the length of the bridge, heading to the lookout on the right straight after the bridge ends, and then sat on a small wall overlooking the bay and the city while we ate our lunch. Then we headed back across the bridge, which I found to be a little bit more intimidating, as you face the oncoming traffic. There were a few dalliances with some wobbly cyclists, and one incident where a girl on a bike coming the opposite way, caused me to crash into the side barrier of the bridge, but soon enough we made it to the city side again, in one piece (with some minor bruises on my part).

After that we headed back down through Crissy Fields, and after a short break, we decided to head back to Dylan's and drop off our bikes and visit 'Italy' for an afternoon coffee. Wandering through North Beach is probably one of my favourite activities in San Francisco, coffee, gelato, biscotti, pizza, pasta (mmmmmm I blame my mother and her Italian genes for my inclination towards all things carb-loaded.) After scouting a few possible options we settled on one of the many cafes on Columbus Ave, and got some delicious coffee, which we enjoyed whilst sitting watching the world go by. That night we discovered a great (and very cheap) place for dinner, The King of Thai, which is literally around the corner from the Green Tortoise. $5 meals and $2 beers, hard to beat when you are on a budget. The food wasn't gastronomically amazing, but it was tasty and of a reasonable portion size - after a enough $2 beers, who cares anyway, as long as it fills the void!

The next day, sore from riding, and after a change of pace, we booked a full day tour with Extranomical Tours. Our itinerary included a trip to Muir Woods to see the giant Sequoia Redwoods and to Sonoma town, via a winery or two. We were picked up from our hostel, a little later than advised, but were soon headed to Muir Woods in a full 25 seater bus. Our tour guide, Mark, was very knowledgeable and informative about San Fran, as well as the areas we were visiting.

The first stop Muir Woods was amazing, I highly recommend visiting. We were on limited time, with only 45 minutes to enjoy the trees, which was a little restrictive, we were unable to make the furthest bridge in the trail, despite some speedy power walking. I could have spent much longer wandering around, enjoying the quiet of the forest, and feeling immensely small. However time zoomed on, so we got back on the bus, and I was consoled a little by the fact that our next stop was a winery for some sampling!

Jacuzzi Winery, is a beautiful winery, rustic, with a feel of Tuscany about it. Their wines were quite light, and as a fan of full bodied Aussie Chardonnay myself not exactly my style, but the building itself had such charm that I didn't mind not sampling many wines. There is also a small tower which allows for a nice view over the vineyard, and some great happy snaps.

After a short break here we headed into the town of Sonoma itself, a gorgeous little town. There are plenty of wine bars, restaurants, little shops and cafes here, all bordering the center square of the town, which holds a playground, trees, large grass areas and the town hall building. Sonoma is definitely worth a visit, there are places you can sample wines, cheese and it is very quiet, and without the San Fran summer winds!

After our lunch break in Sonoma it was back on the bus, to Cline Cellars, literally across the road from Jacuzzi, and owned by the same people. This winery was less to my taste, a little bit too formal with their tasting, and the wines didn't hold enough flavour for me. There was a cute pair of donkeys that I enjoyed taking happy snaps of - which improved my rating of the place slightly. Then we were back on the bus and back to the city, it was a long day, but really enjoyable.

Our final days in San Francisco were spent conserving money, which meant we didn't do a lot of activities, but rather wandered around the city, checking out neighborhoods and taking photos of pretty places and unusual sights. We did hit up Lou's diner for breakfast one day, I received pancakes the size of my head (heaven). Slightly off Union Square, Lou's is one of those American 1950s style diners, where there are pictures of Elvis, and you get coke in a glass bottle. The portions are huge, the prices are reasonable, and you enjoy yourself just because it is so kitsch and so American.

The other interesting experience we did have during the last few days was when we decided to walk from Union Square to Haight-Ashbury, the neighborhood where the free love movement of the 60's is said to have originated. Armed only with a tourist map and a fairly bad sense of direction, we ventured through some less that savory neighborhoods on the way, and had a few hairy encounters with homeless people and wannabe gangsters. It was a tense walk, we were chased for a few blocks by a screaming man, and intimidated by a group of young men hanging out on a street corner, loudly discussing taking drugs and getting up to no good. Eventually we decided we had spent enough time walking the streets and hopped on a bus back to Union Square. Despite the tense moments, it was a great way to see, perhaps a different side to San Francisco, away from the tourist heavy areas, perhaps we got a sample of the underbelly of the cultural dame that is SF!

On the 4th September (very excited) we headed back to the airport via shuttle bus (not that much more than the BART, and much easier than dragging my suitcase through the city street). We arrived early, as per normal for us, and checked in for our flight......to Vegas!

*definition: to Turtle - to topple over backwards, while your backpack is on, you then rock from side to side, building up momentum, until you have enough to flip yourself onto your front, and recover - all while your friend/girlfriend/other pedestrians laugh uncontrollably at you.
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