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San Francisco, California
June 29th - July 2nd, 2001
In the summer of 2001 six friends hopped on a plane in Columbus, Ohio and ended up in the beautiful city of San Francisco—The City by the Bay.
San Francisco, California is one of the world’s top travel destinations—famous sights like the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz Island, Postcard Row, and Coit Tower draw millions of visitors annually. It is a city bursting with excitement—culturally diverse neighborhoods, world class dining, and a cosmopolitan population combine to make this metropolis by the sea one of the most unforgettable vacation destinations.
Thanks to a great airfare of, I kid you not, $88.00 roundtrip——we were all able to swing this spur of the moment vacation.
We booked two rooms at the Hotel Metropolis, a boutique hotel located just north of Market Street and one block west of the Powell Street Cable Car line—the Metropolis served perfectly as our home base while exploring and sight-seeing.
Drawing on the elemental themes of earth, water, fire, and wind, the décor of the Hotel Metropolis provides an inviting, modern place for visitors to rest their heads—check in was a breeze, allowing us to quickly settle into our rooms and spend the rest of the afternoon sight-seeing.
Needless to say, the list of places to see was long, but our time was short—we had just four days to visit the top attractions and fit in a bike ride across the Golden Gate Bridge and a hike on the Coastal Trail—but if anyone could do it, it was the six of us!
Setting off on foot, we made our way to the most-photographed cable car turntable, where Powell meets Market Street—after all, what would a trip to San Francisco be without a ride on one of the famous cable cars?
Trading shoe leather for a seat on the cable car, we made our way to North Beach—an Italian neighborhood adjacent to Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, and Russian Hill that is famous for its fine restaurants and shops.
Finding ourselves in San Francisco’s Little Italy, we followed our nose through the North Beach streets to the Stinking Rose—the self-proclaimed garlic lover’s nirvana.
The Stinking Rose offers an array of contemporary California-Italian dishes that prominently feature the pungent herb—garlic connoisseurs from the novice to the fool hearty can find something to please their palate. Our group of six ordered a variety of items and shared them family style—everything from the garlic bread to the lasagna was delicious!
Happily satiated and energized by carbs, we left the Stinking Rose and made our way to Fisherman’s Wharf—a nightmarishly touristy destination that hasn’t completely lost its appeal, thanks mostly to the raucous sea lions that call Pier 39 home.
Fisherman’s Wharf is an iconic San Francisco destination that simply oozes “tourist trap” , hemorrhaging kitsch from every souvenir shop adorned with a Golden Gate snow globe, the savvy traveler always vows to stay away—but somehow ends up there anyway, just like us. We descended on the shops like tourist flies, purchasing enough postcards and t-shirts to last a lifetime—gotta make the people back home happy right?
Adding to the appeal, or the repugnancy, depending on your outlook, you will find crowds of people, street vendors and street performers, restaurants, shops, and panhandlers at the wharf—but despite the chaos, Fisherman’s can still deliver a good experience, just limit your stay to a couple of hours to avoid “touron” overload.
As mentioned before, the sea lions at Pier 39 offer a bit of redemption to Fisherman’s Wharf—hundreds of California sea lions haul out on the floating docks of West Marina, allowing for close-up views of the boisterous pinnipeds. In addition, the open air produce stands, the carousel, and Boudin Sourdough Bakery are good places to spend some time—while I photographed the colorful fruits and vegetables, Dauster and Karabeener took a spin on the merry-go-round, and later we all dined on fresh-baked sourdough bread.
Day two of our San Francisco adventure found us ready to bike across the Golden Gate Bridge—we made our way to Blazing Saddles, located at 2715 Hyde Street, and rented six bicycles for our self-guided trip.
Geared up, helmets on, and ready to pedal, we set out to conquer the bridge—leaving from Hyde Street at an elevation of 37 feet, we cruised along the bay and then began climbing nearly 300 feet towards the Golden Gate Bridge.
With our hill climb surmounted, we pedaled across the Golden Gate via the sidewalk/bike lane—a walk or ride across the bridge is one of the best ways to experience the grandeur of this magnificent structure. From the lofty heights of this modern Wonder of the World, which spans the opening of the San Francisco Bay into the Pacific Ocean, you can see spectacular views of San Francisco, Angel Island, Alcatraz Island, the Marin Headlands, and the rugged cliffs of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Once across the bridge, you begin your descent along the North Bay coastline into Sausalito—a Mediterranean style village with beautiful hillside homes and trendy cafés and shops. Coasting downhill at high speeds with traffic whizzing by on Highway 101 is an exhilarating way to end the bike ride—everyone loved the thrill of the descent except BW, who has now sworn off bike riding for the rest her life.
Arriving in Sausalito tussled by the wind and hungry from our ride, we locked up our bikes and set out to find some lunch—we ended up at a nice little restaurant called Waterfront Grill. True to its name, they serve delicious grilled entrees with amazing views of the bay—the hamburgers were amazing!
After lunch we checked the ferry schedule, grabbed our bikes and boarded the next boat back to San Francisco—the beauty of the bike tour is that the ferry will transport you and your bikes back across the bay, eliminating the need to climb back up the hill to the bridge.
Biking the bridge is a fun and enjoyable way to see the city, the bay, and the bridge itself—the 8 mile trip takes about 1 to 1.5 hours and is suitable for beginners and expert riders alike. We count the ride as a highlight of our trip and highly recommend that you try it for yourself if you are so inclined—try it, you won’t regret your decision.
Later that day, back in San Francisco, we set out to see some more of the city, and I swear we must have walked almost 20 miles—but truthfully, there is no better way to explore a city. However, finding some of the city’s sights requires covering quite a bit of ground and it ends up being easier to do a guided tour—we chose Gray Line, and while it was a nice way to get familiar with San Francisco’s world famous sights, the tour left much to be desired.
A lackluster tour guide and limited time at the sights left us feeling unfulfilled with Gray Line’s city tour—the tour was especially disappointing for shutterbugs like me and Kat, in fact we almost missed the bus when we became infatuated with the Palace of Fine Arts. Kat and I were photographing away when we heard the driver ring the bell—it was pretty funny actually, the two of us running to catch the bus after we heard the call to return—the rest of our group was not terribly amused however.
If, like us, you prefer to spend ample time at each site, you are better off avoiding Gray Line and using a combination of walking, busses, cable cars, and street cars to visit your chosen destinations—three day MUNI passports, which are very reasonably priced and available at the Muni stations, allow unlimited access to the aforementioned transportation choices.
We used the MUNI passport to access places like Coit Tower, Fisherman’s Wharf, The Palace of Fine Arts, Chinatown, Golden Gate Bridge National Recreation Area (Japanese Garden), Haight-Ashbury District, Lombard Street, Presidio, Fort Mason, Fort Point, North Beach, and last but not least Postcard Row.
Our last day in San Francisco was set aside for adventurous exploits such as hiking the Coastal Trail and a trip to Alcatraz Island.
Our morning began with a trip to Alcatraz Island, the penitentiary turned National Recreation Area located in San Francisco Bay—all access to the island is through a private ferry company, Alcatraz Cruises LLC, which is under contract with the National Park Service. Alcatraz is a great place to visit for History Buffs, movie lovers, and the just plain curious—ranger guided and self-guided cellhouse audio (available in any language) tours are available to guide you on a fact-filled tour of the prison.
A visit to Alcatraz offers the traveler an intimate look at, not only the infamous prison, but the site of the first lighthouse and US built fort on the West Coast. The grounds and views are really quite lovely, revealing a surprising natural side—a striking contrast to the starkness of prison life. Gardens, tide pools, bird colonies, and views of the city skyline are an added bonus to the popular prison tour—you can enjoy all of these highlights for as long or as short as you like as ferries depart about every 30 minutes for San Francisco.
After spending two to three hours on Alcatraz Island, we returned to the city and made a beeline for the Coastal Trail—we hiked the portion of the Coastal Trail that leads south from the Golden Gate Bridge to Baker Beach and found that it was a great way to get away from the city and enjoy the ocean views.
San Francisco, that beautiful city by the bay, provided us with 4 days of unforgettable adventure—iconic landmarks, a foodie heaven, and amazing natural wonders combine to create a destination worthy of any traveler’s wish list. Indeed, cheap fare or not, San Francisco ranks as one of our all time favorite destinations—everyone should see it for themselves!
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