Leaving Napa late but in time to avoid any rush hour traffic going into San Fran, we chose the GPS path that would get us on the Golden Gate bridge. We were not sure what to do about the signs as we approached that advised there was “no cash” on the bridge. By the time we had read the small flashing signs and really started to worry, we had passed the “no return” point on the bridge. Driving through the automated gate, we figured that our license plate would trigger some bill to show show up to the rental car company and at some point in the future a wildly inflated charge would be sent to us by the rental company. As we approached the bridge we could see San Francisco in the fog and the drive across was a damp drive through the fog. Kinda weird to feel like you were in the clouds with no visibility. The GPS faithfully got us off the bridge, on the right one way streets and to our hotel in the wharf district.
When we planned our 4 week west coast trip (#WCoast14) for June, we were told about “June Gloom” and the fog that settled onto the west coast for good parts of the day in June. We saw a bit of this in Washington and Oregon but we got the full experience of San Francisco in the fog. While we were there, never did see the Golden Gate bridge with no fog clinging to some part of it. On our first day wandering about the wharf area, we were amazed at the number and variety of coats and fleece for sale at incredibly cheap prices. Figuring we were ok with the windbreakers we had brought with us, we passed by for the first few days but the cold and the damp finally convinced us that we indeed did need one more layer to be comfortable in San Francisco in the fog.
Using a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus (“HoHo”) two day pass let us get a good overview of the major attractions including a night tour. This was supplemented with a day pass for the trolleys, so we could try both lines, hanging out like a silly tourist as the trolleys went up and down the hills of San Fran. We wandered around most of the wharf area and tried seafood from different places. It was a quick 2 days. Surprised at how spread out the city and sites were, but with good public transportation, we figured that the next time we would stay outside of the touristy wharf district and explore in more detail another area.
As a certified chocoholic we are always on the lookout for good, dark chocolate when we shop, when we wander markets or in tourist destinations. No true chocoholic can miss a trip to Ghirardelli’s in San Fran, even if everyone did tell us to buy the chocolate in the CVS drugstore at much lower prices. It was still fun to look at the variety of chocolate for sale, even it is no longer made at the San Fran location.
Leaving San Francisco in the fog we stopped at Lands End for our last view of the Golden Gate bridge and while it was a different view of the bridge, it was still in fog. Our next stop was Carmel for a week of relaxation!
San Francisco Hotel
Best Western Tuscan (San Francisco)
We had picked this hotel to be close to the wharf district and it was less than 4 blocks to walk to Fisherman’s Wharf. It was easy to find (although we did have to work around one way streets). Once we unloaded the car, with the staff wondering if we were moving in for good with all our bags, we handed our car keys to the valet. I had forgotten about userous hotel parking rates but opted for hotel security over the public lot across the street. It was particularly expensive to have the car parked, not using the “in and out” privileges. But when we had initially priced out our rental car, multiple starts, stops and drop off charges ended up being way more expensive than paying for occasional parking costs, however expensive they ended up being.
We were not really checking in too early but as usual the clerk tried to pawn off the “room of last resort” – room 201, two doors from the elevator, overlooking the hotel front awning. While we may have stretched to see a brief bit of the waterfront, this would not be a quiet peaceful spot to return to. David made his demands clear and we got a quieter room on a higher floor. While it had no view, it was a much nicer spot for us. The room had a refrigerator for our picnic supplies and offered coffee in the main entrance in the morning to supplement the one pack a day of coffee in our room. There was a wine reception between 4 and 6pm but we never seemed to be there for this. Breakfast was not included in this hotel for us, but we had no trouble walking into the wharf area to find a breakfast spot when we needed a bigger protein boost than our morning shakes were giving us.
San Francisco Things To Do
Hop On Hop Off Bus (City Tour Line) (“HoHo”)
Wandering around the wharf district we got dragged in from the street to get a fast paced review of the various tour options. Figuring this would be our transportation for 2 days and that this would also get us a night tour, we bit and took the 2 day pass. After trying unsuccessfully 3 times with the portable Visa machine, we went into the office to finish the transaction in cash. David would watch his credit card for days, not sure that the hustler that pulled us in from the street had not been skimming in his 3 attempts to do the Visa authorization. Visa’s fraud system did quickly kick in however. They saw this unusual behaviour and put a block on his Visa card until he called to confirm that it had been him trying the transactions out of his home area. As annoying and embarrassing as it is to have your credit card refused when the fraud alerts flag your card, it is reassuring that really weird transactions are caught and be quickly cleared up with one Skype call.
Our first HoHo trip was in an older double decker – more picturesque to be sure, but as we bumped up and down, a new bus suspension system would have outweighed the interesting older bus design. Coming with this older bus was Willie the driver. He had been doing bus tours for a long time and entertained us with his sing song patter non-stop through the entire tour. We could strain to figure out what he was really saying but many foreign travellers missed most of his humour. He knew everyone along the route and had great suggestions on his favourite places we should see when we got off at each stop. It was a fun way to see San Fran for the first time in a very long time!
It was interesting to see the various neighbourhoods and to see the picturesque houses, often interspersed with new architecture.
We had been looking forward to a night tour. It is always nice to see a city at night and this tour would take us over the “other” bridge (the Bay Bridge) to give us a panoramic view of San Francisco in the fog from Treasure Island. While bundled up in our new fleece with many layers, we were shivering through most of the trip – so bad that at one point I gave up the view and went inside with all but the most hardiest of tourists who braved the wind to get their pics.
The main pier offered variety of fresh seafood that kept David’s eyes wide – from takeout stalls to fancy restaurants and everything in between. You could sit in a restaurant and get a good view of the boats in the harbour but we never found the spot where the “real” fisherman brought their daily catch. The pier provided a good view of Alcatraz in distance but Golden Gate Bridge was in fog (and stayed that way for 3 days).
Pier 39 (K Dock – Sea Lion “Sea Lebrities”)
This pier was about a 20 minute walk from Fisherman’s Wharf (and a stop on the HoHo bus). It provided another good variety of places to eat with the Bubba Gump Shrimp restaurant attracting a good number of tourists. The big attraction on the pier was K Dock, providing a great view of the floating docks just covered with lazing sea lions. They rolled over each other to get better spots, nudging others over or off the dock. They could often be seen “talking” to each other, nose to nose, looking like lovers until the cacophony started. It was good entertainment to watch. We were pretty excited to see the sea lions but this excitement would wane as we encountered sea lions and harbour seals all the way along the coast to San Diego.
San Francisco Cable Cars
The cable cars are an icon of San Francisco and everyone wants to ride the cars up and down the hills, the braver hanging on the outside step. While we initially thought it was just a ride up or down the hill, the cable car rides were much longer than you expected – providing a bit of a tour (for maybe longer than you wait in line). It was a musical ride – the clack clack of the cable and the bells playing various tunes, each with its own meaning between the driver and the back brake person. We took both lines (Powell-Mason and Powell- Hyde) that got you from the waterfront up to Union Square.
It was interesting to see the crew manually swing the cable cars around on the turntable to send them back up or down the hills (they can only go in one direction).
San Francisco Places To Eat
Allioto’s is located right on Fisherman’s Wharf. They compete well with good lunch specials and good views overlooking the harbour. The mussels in garlic were so good we ate all the bread to sop of the “zuppa”. Mussels would be a standard test case for many of the restaurants we visited on the west coast trip.
The menu had a broad selection and we again passed on the seafood bucket. I was far too hungry to work that hard to get my food out of the shells. My mussels were a bit too garlicky (didn’t know that was possible) and this time we left the sauce behind. David’s crab salad had so much cilantro that we left most of the salad behind.
The Cheesecake Factory at Macy’s
We thought that this was a unique place until we kept running into Cheesecake Factories all over California. The one was located on the top floor of Macy’s that was a draw to give us a view from the outdoor patio. While the view of Union Square was interesting, it was windy and cool so we really did not relax and enjoy. David spent some time trying to get just the perfect picture of the California flag. While this kept us amused for a bit of time, we finally realized it had been 45 minutes and we had got no food, despite every table around us turning over at least once. We finally got the attention of the floor manager who then put our order in, but by then it was too later and we left hungry and pissed. No customer service recovery at all, not even an offer to cover the cost of the take out slice of cheesecake we purchased as we were leaving. The cheesecake was yummy but at $8+, not really worth the experience.