San Francisco - Meet the emperor
Trip Start Sep 14, 2007
5Trip End Sep 23, 2007
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That was after we thought we were gonna die landing in San Francisco. Our plane descended lower and lower and all we saw was water. We're gonna die during a water landing. Well folks - we did not die, but landed safely on the runway, which just happens to be very very close to the water...
Our SFO stay lasted three days and we stayed in a vacation condo on top of Telegraph Hill in North Beach. I had no idea how lucky we were with this location. There are only so many places you can see in three days, so we selected the following places as "Must see's":
~ Golden Gate Bridge
~ Pier 39
~ Lombard Street
~ China Town
~ Coit tower
The historic Filbert steps were not on our to do list, but given that our home was directly on top of them we didn't have much of a choice. And WOW - would we have missed out had we not seen them! The steps lead up to Coit Tower and are quite exhausting, long and steep, but there are lovely flower gardens with tropical plants & fountains left and right. This distracted us from giving up and our panting. Every house has it's own little garden with parrots flying from tree to tree. Not to mention that you have a nice view of the bay bridge if you happen to turn around and look out over the bay.
However nothing compares to the view once you reach Coit Tower. It is gorgeous and almost a 365 degree view. From up here you can see famous Lombard street, Alcatraz, the Transamerica pyramid, the Golden Gate and Bay Bridge - not to mention it's totally free & great for gaining a bit of orientation. If you want to climb up to the top of the tower you'll have to fork over $4.50, but the view from the parking lot was so good that we decided not to go all the way to the top (well and us arriving before it opened had something to do with it too).
On our first night in San Francisco we decided to go for a walk, which was nice but given the fact that it was a Friday night we quickly found that every bar & restaurant was overrun. We found a German beer hall and decided that if we cannot get food, at least we know we'll get a decent beer at this place. Well let me tell you that law #1 in Bavaria is:
"No-one shall go dry"
We waited more than half an hour at the bar to order a drink (the place was packed - same as the other places, no exception here), while watching their horrible imitation of a German beer hall (Couples in ugly costumes pretending to dance Polka - who dances Polka in Germany?). Given the fact that we waited half an hour and still couldn't get a drink we left.
Eventually we found a place that would actually serve us food, but it was soooo loud that we couldn't enjoy it. So we left most of our food, a good tip and out we were. Our first impression of San Francisco was not the best, but the fact that we had gotten up that day at 04:00 am in order to catch our early flight + 3 hour time difference between D.C. & SFO probably didn't help either.
Our next day should be much better. We took the few steps (remember our place was on top of the hill :) ) to coit tower in order to point us into the right direction to see Lombard street. We found it and started to make our way towards it. It was really cool, we went up and down through little Italy, by Chinatown and saw a lot of elderly folks working out in the park. Overall we saw a lot of people work out, either by running, bicycling or stretching in the park. Get in shape before you go to SFO or you'll feel like stranded whales - well at least that's how we felt :) There are a lot of homeless people too, but different than in DC barely any of them asked for money.
San Francisco is a lot of up and downhill walking, so don't forget your sneakers. Once we finally made it to Lombard Street we decided to climb this curvey road to the top. The view is nice, but I feel like you get a nice view of the city whenever you climb the top of any street. Once on the top we decided to head next towards the water which landed us at Fisherman's warf. A neat little place with a lot of restaurants, manicured parks (views of the Golden Gate Bridge) & of course the harbor.
We had lunch at Cioppino's, prices were touristy but what were you expecting? The food was really good though and thus this became our place for food & drink for the remainder of our stay. The waterfront shops are really cool. You'll see seafood vendors, artists, you can visit big sailboats, watch bakers through storefront windows baking delicious cookies in all colors & shapes . This will certainly help to put a smile on your face, if not - then you better smile anyway or you'll get a ticket from the "Fun Police". Yep, my hubby got fined - he wasn't smiling and for a good cause he had to pay his ticket. The ticket funded food for the homeless. Cute idea.
You might notice all the "Cioppino" served in pretty much every restaurant and even sold on the street. Cioppino is a seafood soup served in a breadshell. The name came from Italian fisherman that had everyone chipping in food, because they had a varied catch throughout the day. The fisherman yelled in the harbor "Chip in - chip in!" And given their accent it would sound like: "Chip-ino". So they named their dish "Cippino" Lame story? Oh come on - I've got plenty more!
On our way to Pier 39 we found a couple of fisherman putting up signs for harbor cruises. At first we didn't feel like going - the boats looked rather small and not very "modern", but then we got over our stupid way of thinking and realized what a great deal we were offered: 1.5 hours on board of the Serendipity, driving underneath the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz. The ship would only take six passengers and the trip costs $11.00 per person. I found this a great deal - my husband and I added to two passengers, all we needed was another four passengers and off we would go. It didn't take long and we talked some other strangers into going too and the captain as promised started the tour right away.
It gets a little chilly out on the water, but the captain offered us his suspicious looking blankets. Cold as we were we took them. The tour went on and was really enjoyable, everyone aboard had a good sense of humor and the captain knew a few good stories and was sure to point out anything important and touristy. When we found out that our captain actually lived on board the "Serendipity" (his wife got the house - he got the boat) I quickly peeled out of the blankets and found me a sunny spot on board. No problem with only six passengers - free roam of the boat. I wish I could stop thinking about the blankets though, they had such a strange smell and were slightly oily to the touch... Other than that, the tour was awesome and well worth our money! We came back and looked at the boat next to ours where passengers were cramped onto the deck, not a single place to spare. We've made a great choice. Book the "Serendipity" for your bay cruise soon!
Back on the mainland we slowly made our way to Pier 39 and gaped at the seals that were lazing in the sun. Our captain had informed us that all the seals on Pier 39 were males and some people find this a funny fact given that we're talking about San Francisco... However the reason for them being all males is that seals are very territorial and the stronger ones force the younger ones to leave the herd in order to have all the females to themselves. Call Pier 39 the high school for seals.
Our last stop was Pier 33 to get tickets for Alcatraz. Even though we went in September, the tour is so popular that it sells out and you won't be able to go the same day. With our tickets in hand we made it up the famous Filbert steps again - barely alive, moaning & groaning once we reached the top. We watched the sunset from Coit Tower and that ended our second day in San Francisco. It definitely made up for our first day that hadn't gone so great. We decided we love San Francisco, it's a gorgeous city.
Our third and final day starting with our tour to Alcatraz. We were told to be there 30 minutes early and had to wait in a long line until they shoved us couple by couple to the photographer who would snap our picture for a later sale oppurtunity. Once in Alcatraz we decided to get a headstart and skipped the movie. We straight went for the audio tour, which was surprisingly free (not so surprising given that one ticket cost $24.50)... It was interesting, but for some reason tiring too. I think I could have skipped Alcatraz, there wasn't that much to see - prison cell, prison cell, prison cell, dining hall - prison cell, prison cell,... There is a lot of nature & wildlife to be seen on Alcatraz, but most of the island was roped off during our visit since the birds were still nesting. If any fellow traveler told me to skip Alcatraz I would have gone anyway. Alcatraz is too famous to be skipped.
We followed Alcatraz with a great lunch at Cioppinos and worked up our courage (I don't know why it needs courage) to rent a bicycle. A glass of great CA wine helped with this task and we rented two bicycles at the "Blazing Saddles". It was $8.- per hour - not a bad deal and given their close proximity to the Golden Gate Bridge all the more interesting. They thoroughly explain the way through the "no car" route to, up & over the bridge, the map is also yours. In addition they hand you a ferry ticket that takes you from Sausalito (on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge) back to the waterfront in SFO. If you use it, you'll have to pay for it, if not then you just return it with your bike. Sausalito is really pretty too, but we didn't have enough time to visit...
AND our butts were thoroughly hurting by the time we got back from the bike ride. But I've gotten ahead of myself. The bike ride is really pretty through parks and fairly easy (just push your bikes up the two steep hills). The park by the little harbor is beautiful and Fort Point gives amazing views of the bridge. There's another lookout point on top of the hill, right before you go over the bridge. Going over the bridge was awsome, looking out over the Pacific. There's a sep. bycicle "sidewalk" with a few overlook "alcoves" - no pedestrians allowed (they have their own sidewalk on the other side of the bridge). We enjoyed it, but I wish there weren't so many "hobby-lance-armstrongs" out there. The way they are shooting by is really scary.
Once back at the bike rental we returned our bikes - paid our $40.- = 2 people x 2.5 hours. It was well worth it.
By the way, did you know that there are no cemeteries in San Francisco? Well almost none. San Franciscos population exploded with the gold digger boom and land became scarce. So to make more space - graves were relocated to make more space for people who actually LIVE in the city. There's no rest in peace in San Francisco :)
We decided not to go out for dinner on our last night in the city. Instead we wanted to watch a movie that was filmed in the unit we stayed in and also played on Telegraph Hill. Our landlord had recommended the movie. We ordered wine and pizza, got cozy and... well and there was no movie. I was a little disappointed with our vacation rental. They promised a welcome basket with lots of goodies and a bottle of wine, but there was no basket when we arrived. The place was not too clean either, don't look under the bed or up on the ceiling. Don't go for dust & hair-patrol as you'll find some. There's a cozy fireplace - but no firewood. But oh well - did I mention the awesome location? For that reason I would go there again. All the places we have seen while in SFO were within walking distance of the vacation rental. Wanna know where we stayed? It was here:
307 Filbert Street, Apt. C, San Francisco, CA 94133
One last story. Be sure to honor the emperor: Have you heard of San Francisco's emperor? I have first heard of him in Christopher Moore's book "A Dirty Job" (he's a real funny writer) and thought he made the character up, but once in San Francisco I found out that once the emperor has been a real person. His name was Joshua A. Norton, who lost his money in an attempt to corner the rice market, and declared himself Norton I on September 17, 1859 the Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. People didn't take him seriously, but loved him nonetheless. He printed his own currency and it was accepted in places he frequented.
But now it's time to say good bye to San Francisco and rent a convertible for a face off with Big Sur!
***By the way, be sure to check the photo gallery for more pictures***