Wednesday, March 2, 2016

USA 2015: A Day or Two in San Francisco

"San Francisco is one of my favourite cities in the world…I would probably rank it at the top or near the top.  It’s small but photogenic and has layers…You never have problems finding great angles that people have never done."- Ang Lee

It's one of cities we love the most, too! So much so that this visit is already our third and we are still hoping we can go back for more. There's just so many things to see and do in this vibrant city that is San Francisco.

The first time we were in San Francisco in 2002 we only had a glimpse of the city and took a photo with the Golden Gate Bridge as the backdrop. We were just passing by then. A year after, we decided we'd stay for the day and see where our feet would take us. We took a ride on the cable car up to the turn-around point at Powell and Market, and took another cable car ride back where we stopped at the Cable Car Museum. We drove along Lombard Street to experience for ourselves San Francisco's crookedest street. We also went inside Grace Cathedral, admired its painted windows and walked on the labyrinth. Of course, the Painted Ladies at Alamo Square were not forgotten. But a day was still not enough. We weren't able to go on a tour of Alcatraz (we didn't know you had to book way ahead of time) or drive up the Coit Tower. There are numerous attractions to see and countless ways to experience this city that it is worth visiting over and over again.

While planning our itinerary, I intended to allot 3 or 4 days in San Francisco. We wanted our visit to be more relaxed and not rushed (like sitting on a bench in a park and admiring the view of the Golden Gate Bridge, or bringing the boys to a picnic by the beach and just spend a lazy afternoon with the family) but due to time constraints and a list of other States and Cities to go to, we had to compromise and give up some days in this lovely city. We ended up with one full day and two mornings, if we were to stick to our timetable. That meant I had to squeeze in as much as I could with the long list of sights we wanted to see, or shorten our list to the bare minimum to have a more meaningful and memorable experience. Decisions, decisions. So w
e spent the whole day of Day 3, the morning of Day 4, and the morning of Day 21 in the city by the bay. 

Here's what we have done and visited during our limited time (again) in San Francisco, most of which were places we missed out during our first two trips to the city.

San Francisco Day  3 - full day of sightseeing


Since we were staying at Buena Vista Motor Inn which was along Lombard Street, it was an easy drive straight to the crookedest street in San Francisco. It's definitely a must-do if you are visiting and driving when you are in the city.
here they were making their way down the road
We made our first drive through the street and decided to go a second round so I could alight, walk down the steps along Lombard Street and take photos of my boys while they drove down the hairpin turns of the street again. I had to hustle down the stairs to keep up with them and it was not an easy walk at all going down steep steps crowded with other tourists who also wanted to take a glimpse (and lots of photos) of the famous crooked street. Sometimes there could even be a traffic jam on the road and along the stairs (for pedestrians).

Tourists come in droves waiting at the lower end of Lombard Street so you have to take caution coming down from this steep crooked street. They line up along Leavenworth Street taking photos, oblivious to the traffic. It's quite an inconvenience to the motorists really, but I guess the local residents know that its part of living in this city of steep rolling hills. If you are one of the tourists at the bottom of that street, please be cautious. You can never be too careful specially when you're not familiar with the city.

 here I was waiting for them to make the third round!
eyeing Coit Tower, our next destination, from the crooked street of Lombard
close encounter with the cable car as we drove up (and then down) the hilly streets of San Francisco
COIT TOWER. 1 Telegraph Hill BoulevardSan FranciscoCA 94133.

From the steep and crooked section of Lombard Street we made our way down and up and down again like going on a roller coaster ride along the stretch of Lombard Street which turns into Telegraph Hill Blvd ascending into Telegraph Hill. It was a steep climb up to the top of the hill. There were limited parking spaces so I suggest driving there in the morning when there is lesser crowd. We arrived there around 10:30 am with ample parking space available.

The view of the city from the top of Telegraph Hill was fantastic. If you go to the observation deck at Coit Tower you can get an unblocked 360-degree view of the city. 

a view of the Bay Bridge from the parking area
a section of the hilly city
statue of Christopher Columbus looking over the San Francisco Bay from the center of the parking lot
a quick family photo with Columbus and the Coit Tower as our backdrop
this photo was kindly taken by the old woman who was one of the ushers in the tower.
Who better to take the best angle than the one who is most familiar with this tower?

The Coit Tower has been one of the symbols of San Francisco's skyline since its completion in 1933. It was named after Lillie Hitchcock Coit who died in 1929 and left a substantial estate to add to the beauty of the city she has always loved. She was a patron of the city's firefighters which probably led to the belief that the tower was somehow built to resemble a firehose nozzle.

Inside the tower base are murals depicting California during the Great Depression painted in 1934 by a group of artists. To ogle at the historic masterpieces is free. Access to the observation deck is via an elevator and entrance fees cost USD8 for adults, USD5 for youth (12-17) and USD2 for children (5-11). Children 4 and under are FREE.

Another way to get to the Coit Tower is via Muni's Coit Tower bus #29 (serves the route from Coit Tower to Fisherman's Wharf). If you have plenty of time and want to have a leisurely and scenic hike to the top, Telegraph Hill's easter slope can be accessed via the Filber Street stairs. 

PALACE OF THE FINE ARTS. 3301 Lyon St, San Francisco, CA 94123.

The Palace of the Fine Arts is a beautiful, artistic structure built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition to exhibit works of art. We've been given good reviews of this place by our relatives and we were more eager to see how enchanting it really is. 

It was almost noon when we were there and the sun was shining brightly. Perfect weather to take a photo of the Palace which was mirrored on the lagoon in front of it. Parking is available and FREE on the street (for a limited time), so that's a plus.
the clear blue skies made this majestic structure stand out 
our first glimpse of the Palace semi-blocked by the trees that serve as shade to visitors and birds
We walked along the lagoon all the way to the other end to get a view of the Palace from different angles. There were several benches where one could sit and admire the view on a bright sunny morning, or witness it being illuminated at night.
these geese seemed to follow us around as we walked to get closer to the structure
pillars as entry way to the path leading to the center of Palace

We were dwarfed by the colossal structure as we stood closer to it. It did not look that massive from where we were standing across the lagoon.

We were mesmerized by the artistic details as we gazed up while standing under the dome. We viewed it from different angles and were even tempted to lie on the floor in hopes of capturing a wider angle.

the weeping women on top of the colonnades by Ulric Ellerhusen 

When we were done ooh-ing and aah-ing at the beauty of the Palace Dome, we exited  on the left following the pathway which made us make a complete turn around the lagoon. It was already lunch time but we still had one more place to visit before driving back to Fisherman's Wharf for late lunch.
We were supposed to go to Fort Point for a view of the Golden Gate Bridge but fell on the wrong lane (it was pretty tricky that part of the road close to the bridge, so if you're heading to Fort Point KEEP RIGHT!) and headed on an unplanned crossing of the Golden Gate Bridge all the way to the Vista Point in Sausalito. The toll gates were no longer manned and we were informed by my Uncle that the car's plate number would be captured by a traffic camera with the bill to be settled upon return of the car. We didn't get any bill charged by the car rental company though. So I guess I'd say we got a free pass!

my attempt in capturing this world renowned suspension bridge
the view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Vista Point at Sausalito
driving back to San Francisco, we experienced why it was called the foggy city
GOLDEN GATE BRIDGET at FORT POINT. Marine Dr, San Francisco, CA 94129
From Vista Point in Sausalito, we drove back to San Francisco and followed signs leading to Fort Point (in addition to any prompts given by our GPS).

This place was recommended to us by a newly-met San Francisco resident (who is my cousin's boyfriend). He said not many people go to this area to take photos of the Golden Gate Bridge but he guaranteed us that this was THE place to be. And he was right. We were able to take good photos of the expanse of the bridge from this place and there was not a crowd of tourists in sight. Most of the tourists, as we did on our first time here, were probably in the Vista Point same level as the Bridge.

It was noon time and the weather was freezing. We had to put on our mittens and bonnets to keep us warm enough to make it out of the car and spend a few minutes to take photos. We had to make it quick as the wind was blowing and the fog was starting to cover the bridge.

And so by accident we were able to accomplish two things - driving through Golden Gate Bridge and taking photo with the Golden Gate Bridge. 

Cold and famished, we made our way back to Fisherman's Wharf to pick up In-n-Out burgers for lunch. There's one at Jefferson Street. Do take note that there is no parking along Jefferson Street nor Leavenworth Street. The parking option is at the end of the road (you wouldn't miss it because it's a dead end). So we grabbed our lunch, drove back to the hotel and had our juicy burgers at the comfort of our hotel room.  

ALCATRAZ CRUISES. Pier 33 The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94111 

By 230pm we were strolling along the streets of San Francisco on the way to Pier 33. We decided not to go via Lombard Street even it seemed to be the shorter way according to the map because it is steeper than the other streets. Instead we turned left on Van Ness and right on Bay Street all the way to the Embarcadero. This was somewhat of a scenic route too as we passed by Russian Hill and was less strenuous walk. 
took a snapshot while our spirits were still up and the youngest one still in a great mood.
Walking along the streets of San Francisco during fall was enjoyable. We almost didn't feel that we had already been walking for more than 1 mile. We entertained ourselves by taking note of the street signs (some of which reminded us of names of friends) and looking out for cute dogs being walked by their caretakers or owners. We walked non-stop for an hour until we reached Pier 33. A total of 1.5 miles.
At Pier 33, got our official tickets from the Alcatraz Cruises ticketing counter and joined the long queue of visitors to Alcatraz.

We booked the Night Tour which was the most complete tour offered by Alcatraz Cruises. I decided, with all the details and photos, that I will have a separate blog for our Alcatraz Tour. For now, here are some teasers of our experience at The Rock:
getting closer by the minute as we sailed away further from the city and around Alcatraz
stepping into the realm of what was once the most highly secure prison
taking in the history of Alcatraz as he listens to the audio tour
Alcatraz was well worth the visit - not only for the history and its mystery but also for the views of the city at night.

reached Pier 39
PIER 39. Beach Street & The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94133
From Pier 33, we decided to walk along the Embarcadero to Pier 39 since we thought it would be a good time to see the sights there at night. And going on a different route on the way back to the hotel we were sure to see the other sights in the city.

While on the hunt for a place to have dinner, we passed these two comedian jugglers/acrobats performing on stage. Since we were not in a rush to get home, we decide we'd sit for a while and enjoy the show. They entertained a small crowd of tourists who were amazed by their acts and stunts. They mixed their comedic act with their skills in balancing and juggling.
the comedic duo which made us laugh and forget about the cold
After watching the show (and tipping the performers), we carried on walking along Pier 39 to look for food. Chowder seemed enticing and since we were in San Francisco we must have clam chowder. We chanced upon Chowder's, checked the menu and decided we'd go for it. We ordered the chowder (of course), fish and chips, seafood platter, and snack-size chicken fillet. The boys liked the chowder and the seafood and the chicken so we all give Chowder's a thumb's up!
chowder is served

say chowder!
After dinner, we continued our stroll back to the hotel along Fisherman's Wharf. We wanted to get the sign which we took picture of 13 years ago.

 Still all smiles after a long day touring San Francisco
Then came Ira's tipping point. With all the walking during the day his legs finally gave in. He said he could no longer walk so we stopped by this bench and let him have his rest.

 How lucky were we when walking along the streets of San Francisco at night and found these cable cars parked along the street? Photo op and a chance to ride the cable car all on our own. Beats competing with the crowd during daylight.

We also passed by Ghirardhelli Square but stores were closed so no chocolates for us.
It was a very tiring but fulfilling day for us. Nothing beats going on a trip to Alcatraz.

Morning of Day 4, before driving to Livermore Outlet and Yosemite


With 1,017 acres made up of gardens, playgrounds, lakes, picnic groves, trails, monuments, museums and cultural venues, it takes more than a day to be able enjoy what Golden Gate Park offers. There's the Conservatory of Flowers, de Young Museum, California Academy of Sciences, Japanese Tea Garden, San Francisco Botanical Garden. The list is endless. We've decided to drive to the windmills and Stow Lake for a leisurely morning stroll. 

this was as close as we could get to the windmill
we met a little furry and friendly creature in our search for Stow Lake 
it was unfazed by our presence nor by my husband's proximity
We drove to where we told Stow Lake was and found this tranquil place where visitors can feed the birds,

Last day in San Francisco and the last day of our road trip.

PAINTED LADIES AT ALAMO SQUARE. Steiner St, San Francisco, CA 94117

We got lucky with parking. There was a free spot as we drove into Hayes Street so we did not need to go on a long walk to see the famous Painted Ladies of San Francisco.

These are Victorian and Edwardian houses painted in different colors which enhances their architectural details. Although these are not the only group of houses built in the time between 1849 to 1915, these Victorian houses near Alamo Square is the best known group. Also known as the "Postcard Row", pictures of these houses have appeared in TV shows, movies, advertisements, and with the help of technology, they are all over the world wide web.

this photo marked the last stop of our visit to San Francisco and the US
How we will be missing San Francisco yet again. The city known for its cool summers, fog, steep rolling hills, eclectic mix of architecture, and landmarks including the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, the former Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, Coit Tower, Palace of the Fine Arts and so much more. 

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