San Francisco in a day
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  Posted October 20th, 2012 by Zdenko  in Travel | One comment

Travel USA

By: Zdenko Kahlina

SF In One Day
Last summer I took the opportunity to visit San Francisco, since I found myself in Calaveras County, just east of the Bay area, where I was visiting our daughter and her boyfriend James in Murphys (read about this visit here). I was traveling with my wife and her cousins, guests from Croatia, so we wanted to give girls a quick tour of San Francisco.

Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

But we only had a day to do that (actually it was more like a half day). We arrived from Murphys which is about 3 hours drive, and by the time we crossed the Bay, driving over the Oakland Bay Bridge it was almost mid day.

If you’ve got only 1 day to explore the city, put on your walking shoes and walk fast. That’s exactly what I told my girls in the morning. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover just to get to the must-sees, but luckily, condensed geography and good weather was in our favor.

Croatians by the Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge and Sausalito
Our tour started with a scenic ride in a car through the downtown area and over the Golden Gate Bridge. The parking area on the north side of the bridge was really busy so we continued driving all the way to Sausalito. We turned from the highway into Sausalito and had lunch in a nice restaurant by the Yacht harbor (if I remember correctly the name of the restaurant was ‘Seahorse’). On our way back we drove through Sausalito on busy Bridgeway Road all the way to Alexander Avenue, which brought us back to Golden Gate Bridge area. Only this time we went under the highway to the west side of the bridge, where we found lots of available parking. We also went up the very scenic Conzelman Road to the top of the hill and discovered there were plenty of spots for picture taking of the bridge and San Francisco city area.

Golden Gate Bridge is impresive

Back in the city, we made one more stop before retiring our car at the hotel underground parking.

Golden Gate Park
With 1000 acres of gardens, meadows, lakes, golf, archery, and internationally recognized art and science museums, Golden Gate Park offers endless recreational possibilities for visitors and locals. The DeYoung Museum and the Japanese Tea Garden are some of the main attractions of the famous park, drawing millions of visitors each year. At the western edge of the park, Ocean Beach, although unappealing for swimming, attracts hard-core surfers with its rough, frigid and unpredictable waves.

Palace of Fine Arts/Exploratorium
We stopped at this interesting place as it was on our way from the Golden Gate Bridge to downtown. The place is right across from the Bay and Golden gate parking. Plenty of free parking is available. This place is incredible. Huge, old, beautiful artistic buildings. The only use is of people walking around, staring at the columns, taking pictures, admiring its beauty.

Palace of Fine Arts/Exploratorium

It’s not a museum, not a palace, but ruins of a building originally built for the Panama Pacific International Exhibition. Everything else was torn down, but the people thought this Palace of the Fine Arts was too beautiful to be destroyed, so they saved it. It was even restored by a wealthy guy 35 years later.

Hundreds of hands on exhibits. Really interesting and there is always something new. Bring your own food as the cafe is very expensive (but good) and have a picnic at the Presidio and watch the ducks in the pond.

Exploratorium: It’s not a museum, not a palace…

The Exploratorium is an experimental, hands-on museum designed to spark curiosity, regardless of age. Like a mad scientist’s penny arcade, a scientific funhouse, an art studio and an experimental laboratory all rolled into one, you can touch, play and tinker with hundreds and hundreds of exhibits exploring sound and hearing, light and optics, life sciences and much more. Now through September 5 come experience Color FEST, an extravaganza of light, color, perception and pigments featuring a spectrum of color-related exhibits, films, performances, demonstrations and activities.

Dramatic architecture - Hyatt Regency hotel

Now we were ready to explore the city of San Francisco on foot. We drove to our hotel, very impressive Hyatt Regency hotel (in lovely Embarcadero area) and after settling in our room, went to explore the city on foot.

Panoramic view of SF streets

Colorfull buildings along Columbus Avenue

The streets of San Francisco are steep, handsome and buzzing with life.
San Francisco is quite small, yet its hilly terrain and patchwork demographic profile gives it more distinctly defined neighbourhoods than a city five times its size. As a result, the sights, sounds and flavours of this community—and even its climate—can change within a single block. Just ask Lidija (Vera’s cousin), who didn’t have a jacket with her. The wind picked up in the afternoon and the fog showed through the streets and she started to fill uncomfortably cold.

Little Italy

Every city worth its salt can be said to offer something for everyone. The astonishing thing about San Francisco is that it does so within such a small area, just seven miles long by seven miles wide.

The city feels squeezed together at times, as well it might: the streets around Union Square are packed with both buildings and people, the latter a mix of workaday commuters and curious tourists. But you don’t have to travel far from the centre to encounter a variety of different worlds: buzzing ethnic ‘hoods, chi-chi shopping corridors, eye-catching new buildings, expansive old parks… The variety here is virtually endless.

Financial District & The Embarcadero
Starting from our hotel, we explored this area first. “The Wall Street of the West”: Bank of America, Charles Schwab, and the Transamerica Corporation (in its landmark, 48-floor Pyramid) are among the many banks and corporations headquartered here. The Embarcadero Center features dining, shopping, a fine art cinema, and a health club, while Justin Herman Plaza is the site of many New Year’s Eve bashes. The Embarcadero itself fronts the Bay for miles on either side of the imposing Ferry Building Marketplace, modelled on the cathedral tower in Seville, Spain. I will remember it mostly for very expensive parking… $30 for a night… Ouch!!

At the centre of the action is handsome Union Square, where visitors often go to procure a hotel or emerge from public transport. The rest of Downtown north of Market Street encompasses the high-rise Financial District, the lovely Embarcadero, the run-down Tenderloin with its gritty dive bars and the grand Civic Center.

Cow Hollow & Union Street
The grand, imposing homes of Cow Hollow (so named for its original bovine residents) are nestled against the Presidio where Pacific Heights dives to the Marina. Spectacular views are the norm. Straight, single yuppies pack the Balboa Cafe, Sushi Chardonnay, and other bars and restaurants on Fillmore and Union Streets. Clothes hounds can easily fritter the day away in Union Street’s many upscale and tasteful boutiques.

Downtown & Union Square
Union Square is the heart of San Francisco’s bustling and stylish downtown shopping district. Posh department stores such as Neiman Marcus and Macy’s ring the one-block square park. Hundreds of other exclusive stores, boutiques and shopping centers, such as the Westfield San Francisco Shopping Centre, lie within a three-block radius of the square. Macy’s, Saks, Tiffany’s, Barneys, and company are located here and are surrounded by blocks crammed with hundreds of other high-end boutiques. There are very few shopping bargains here, but it’s fun to play lookey-loo. If you’ve shopped till you’ve dropped, pick yourself up at an outdoor cafe in tiny Maiden Lane, and restore the soul at one of the many art galleries on Sutter and Geary Streets. This is also the home of San Francisco’s modest Theatre District.

Union Square was named for a series of pro-union mass demonstrations staged here on the eve of the Civil War — isn’t an attraction in itself, but it’s the epicenter of the city’s shopping district. Just 3 blocks down, at Powell and Market streets, is the cable car turnaround where you’ll embark on a ride on the nation’s only moving National Historic Landmark. We didn’t walk all the way down to turnaround point. Instead we jumped on the train when it stopped at the lights half way up the Nob Hill. At $7 a ticket, it was anything but cheep ride!

Union Square

In love with the city…

Cable Cars & Lombard Street
Don’t be intimidated by the line of people at the cable car turnaround at Market and Powell streets — the ride is worth the wait. The thrill ride starts with a steep climb up Nob Hill, and then passes through Chinatown and Russian Hill before plummeting down Hyde Street to Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s an experience you’ll never forget.

For maximum thrill, stand on the running boards

Riding in the Cable Car

(Note: If you want to check out the famous winding stretch of Lombard Street, hop off the cable car at the intersection of Hyde and Lombard streets and, when you’ve seen enough, either walk the rest of the way down to Fisherman’s Wharf or take the next cable car that comes along.) For maximum thrill, stand on the running boards during the ride and hold on Doris Day style. Don’t stand too close to the hand-brake, as the conductor will ask you to move away… he needs space, because it is all manual work to slow down the car.

Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli Square & Aquatic Park
Cable car stopped couple of blocks from Ficherman’s Warf. This area was once the thriving center of San Francisco’s fishing industry. Many fishing boats still dock at the Wharf, but Fisherman’s Wharf today is more of an extended tourist trap. Pier 39 is a great place to catch a view of the bay thanks to the delightful colony of sea lions. Aquatic Park features a beach, of sorts, and a long pier spiralling out into the Bay. Old sea-dogs will enjoy adjacent Hyde Street Pier, where several historic ships are docked, along with the Maritime Museum. Ghirardelli Square, a chocolate factory turned shopping and restaurant complex, features some of the city’s better dining and views. This area is nice for an evening stroll (for which we didn’t have time!).

The ‘Croakiest Street in the World’ is behind these two beauties…

Nob Hill & Russian Hill
On impossibly steep Nob Hill, California’s early industrialists built fabulous mansions that looked down upon the rest of San Francisco. While only the imposing Flood Mansion remains—now the Pacific Union Club—the area’s five-star hotels bear the names of other Nob Hill denizens: the Mark Hopkins, the Renaissance Stanford Court Hotel, and the Huntington. Facing Huntington Park is Grace Cathedral, a 3/4 replica of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. Adjoining Nob Hill is Russian Hill, where San Francisco’s old money has a great view of the Bay. The “Crookedest Street in the World” resides here and snakes down Russian Hill for the 1000 block of Lombard Street. The traffic is generally impossible—walk it!

View of the city from Telegraph Hill

North Beach & Telegraph Hill
Originally settled by Italians, North Beach became a magnet for Beat Generation writers and poets in the 1950s. City Lights Bookstore and the cafes and shops on upper Grant Avenue still exude Beatnik funk. A new wave of entrepreneurial Italians has brought a sense of Roman style to exciting new restaurants along Columbus Avenue. On Broadway, barkers still pull tourists and sailors into charmingly seedy strip joints. Clapboard sea captains’ cottages and mossy flower gardens seem to dangle in space from the cliffs of Telegraph Hill. Coit Tower, at 210 feet, commands a stunning panorama from the hilltop. The boardwalk Filbert Steps leads from the Tower down through the Grace Marchand Gardens to Levi’s Plaza Park at the base of the hill.

By the Coit Tower

The Mission District
The nexus of Hispanic culture, and a mecca for edgy bohemians, the Mission now houses increasing numbers of young professionals and their sport utility vehicles. Mexican and Central American businesses line teeming Mission Street. Visit popular La Taqueria, and be assured that the wait is worth it. Along the Valencia Corridor, one block to the west, bars, cafes, and restaurants of every description, notably Casanova Lounge, lead to the buzzing 16th and Valencia hub. Paxton Gate stands as one of the most unique among the array of shops in this stretch. The neighborhood draws its name from nearby Mission Dolores, founded in 1776. The dolled-up, postcard-perfect Victorians on Dolores Street are worth a look—in the daytime—from adjacent Dolores Park.

Fillmore Street & Japantown
Fillmore Street, Pacific Heights’ commercial spur, features noteworthy restaurants, epicurean food, and antique shops, all attended by a lively trade from young professionals. Fillmore and Geary has become a popular nightlife destination, thanks to John Lee Hooker’s Boom-Boom Room and the Fillmore Auditorium. Be advised that the neighbourhood gets a bit sketchy to the south and west of Geary and Fillmore. The Kabuki Cinema and neighbouring Kabuki Springs & Spa are part of the Japan Centre, the commercial heart of Japan town. A sort of miniature Ginza, the Japan Centre features a 100-foot pagoda, bonsai gardens, sushi bars and other businesses. Each spring it holds the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival.

Chinatown gate

One block from North Beach is a whole other world: Chinatown. San Francisco has one of the largest communities of Chinese people in the United States, with more than 80,000 people condensed into the blocks around Grant Avenue and Stockton Street. Although frequented by tourists, the area caters mostly to Chinese, who crowd the vegetable and herb markets, restaurants, and shops carrying those ubiquitous pink plastic bags.

As you walk around, you’ll be richly rewarded by the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of this vibrant community. Grant Avenue is the decorative showpiece of Chinatown, each year hosting the Autumn Moon Festival Street Fair and the ever popular Chinese New Year Festival & Parade. It’s worth a peek if only to see the Stockton Street markets hawking live frogs, armadillos, turtles, and odd sea creatures destined for tonight’s dinner table. The neighbourhood is also known for its excellent Chinese dishes from freshly-prepared poultry and seafood, to the staple, Dim Sum.

Tip: The dozens of knickknack shops are a great source of cheap souvenirs.

It was cold and breeze evening in SF

Night in the Chinatown

Dinner at ‘Stinking Rose’
The best thing about North Beach is its old-school restaurants — those dusty, frumpy, loud, and over-sauced bastions of red sauce and Chianti. Stinking Rose restaurant is one of my favorite places in the area. They have full menu of garlic-based dishes.

In front of ‘Stinking Rose’ restaurant

The place is fun and the food is actually pretty good. You just really have to enjoy all things garlic, because it is seriously applied to everything. This was my second trip there. Place is decorated with the world’s longest strand of garlic, which goes around the entire dining area. I loved everything about this place, the decor, the staff, and especially the food. I think our guests had enough garlic for the rest of their lives… Everything we ate was delicious.

You can read review of ‘Stinking Rose’ restaurant here.

Only in America: romantic dinner on the street in an old Italian Fiat

Croatians on the streets of San Francisco

The Marina District
Tanned, fit and energetic twenty-something’s run and rollerblade along the Marina Green, a vast expanse of grass fronting the Bay between two yacht harbours. Mountain bikers crowd cafes, restaurants, and brunch hangouts along busy Chestnut Street after Sunday morning rides to Mount Tamalpais. The graceful Palace of Fine Arts houses the Exploratorium, the one-of-a-kind, hands-on science museum—a must-see for those with kids. At the southern end of the Marina Green is Fort Mason Centre, a waterside arts and cultural centre.

End of the day
And that was it for the day. Our legs were hurting, and the weather changed for worse. It was extremely windy and cold. Next morning we left the city early in the morning for the San Francisco airport.

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One comment to “San Francisco in a day”

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