Thursday, April 10, 2014

I left my heart in San Francisco - Part 1

I'm so excited to share our San Francisco adventure with you guys! In order to keep the length of the posts and number of pictures to a somewhat reasonable amount, I'm going to split our trip up into 3 posts. This first post will cover the first 2 days of our trip. Some days I took a lot of pictures, other days I don't think I got any! Through out the post I'll be adding my personal "San Francisco Travel Tips".

Ok, let's get started! First off, before we ever left home for California, Joe and I did some research on things to do in San Francisco as well as buying City Passes. SF Travel Tip #1: If you're going to be in SF for 5 or more days, buy a City Pass! They're $86 per person but worth it if you plan on seeing many of the main attractions.  I'll point out throughout these posts what all we used our City Pass for. We also booked a VRBO (vacation rental by owner) apartment for our week long stay. It was a little cheaper than a hotel and we had a small kitchen so we could eat breakfast there every morning and store other snacks as well. The apartment was small but in a great location and felt very safe. Now onto the trip itself.

Wednesday (day 1)
We arrived in SF around 1:00pm and took a BART train from the airport to the city. Since we had not picked up our City Passes yet (which would allow us to use the bus and trolley system) we had to walk up a couple of serious hills to get to our apartment. It was easy to find though and I was grateful that we only had to walk up those hills once while dragging suitcases. After quickly settling in, we located a grocery store near by and picked up some food basics for breakfasts and snacks. SF Travel Tip #2: Bring your own reusable shopping bags, or you'll be charged 10 cents per bag like us :( We dropped those things off at home and walked down to the SF visitor center to pick up our City Passes. Even by this point we'd already seen some of the fun characteristic things in SF like China Town, the cables cars and the steep hills. Once we had our City Passes in hand we set out on foot in search of a late lunch/early dinner. The City Pass let us ride anything within the MUNI transportation system which includes the buses, cable cars and street cars. Those rides would usually range from $2-$6 each time, and we rode A TON. So I feel like we got our money's worth with MUNI rides alone.

Our plan for dinner was to find a restaurant we'd seen on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives but it ended up being closed. It was a happy accident though since just a few doors down we found a place called Garaje that turned out to be awesome! Our first meal in SF was definitely a winner.

Yes, they are just as greasy and delicious as they look. In that glass is their version of sangria which was awesome!

We took a bus home and decided to wander up to North Beach, the Italian neighborhood, in search of some gelato :) Another bus took us up to North Beach and we walked around checking out all the restaurants and the pretty Washington Square in front of the church. We finally found some gelato and decided to walk home through China Town instead of taking a bus. Even with all the China Town businesses closed up for the evening, it was cool to walk through. We turned in pretty early on Wednesday since we were still running on central time, and planned to head out early on Thursday to see as much as possible.

Thursday (day 2)
As soon as we were ready on Thursday morning, we walked to the end of our block where, very conveniently, there was a cable car stop. We hopped on one and took it all the way north to the piers at Fisherman's wharf. Riding the cable cars was just as exciting as I expected! It was a little nerve wracking to be flying down a hill on one towards an intersection and wondering if we'll really be able to stop on time.

At the end of the cable car run there is basically a huge lazy susan in the ground where they're able to turn the cable car around. Then it can just regrip the cable underground and head back up the line!

Since we made it down to the bay pretty early and a lot of places weren't open yet, we walked out on one of the public piers to get some pretty views of the city, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate bridge. We also walked around an old military area called Fort Mason that had some beautiful homes and buildings. It wasn't something that we'd planned on seeing but it was a nice surprise.

That is Alcatraz island on the right. 

One of the officer's homes in Fort Mason.

Looking back toward Fort Mason from a pier where an old ship was docked. 

Then we walked up to Ghirardelli Square. Yes, that Ghirardelli :) We bought some chocolate and walked around some of the shops.

In the Ghirardelli building you can see the original process in action for making their amazing chocolate. Plus, free samples!

Then we walked across the street to the Maritime Museum. It was free to get in, but they seemed to be under construction or in some kind of transition because there was very little in the exhibits. It was still a cool building though, and like I said, it was free! By this time we were getting hungry for lunch so we headed toward the most touristy pier, Pier 39, in search of some of that famous San Francisco sourdough and clam chowder. We found that at Boudin Bakery! We got our sourdough fix and even saw some of the bread being made. Then we found our way to those crazy sea lions that hang out by the warves. They were fun to watch :)

One of the street cars that ran along Fisherman's Wharf. The difference between a street car and a cable car is that the street car is powered by electric wires overhead and just runs on rails, and a cable car is literally pulled along by a constantly moving cable that is underground. 

They're so graceful in the water, and so funny when they're trying to jump up onto one of the platforms. 

After lunch we went to the Aquarium of the Bay which was one of the attractions included in the price of our City Pass. It was a fairly small, but nice aquarium that showed a lot of fish that are native to the bay as well as some cool tropical fish. There were a lot of little ones running around and they were completely crowding the "tide pool" area, so poor Joe didn't get to touch any of the starfish :(

There were some fun jellyfish though. And no, this picture is not upside down. They were all just swimming/floating like that. 

Looking down one of the public piers toward Treasure Island. 

After the aquarium we decided to get away from the very touristy Pier 39 area and take a bus up some seriously steep and curvy roads to Coit Tower which is at the top of Telegraph Hill. The tower itself was closed for renovations, but we were able to take in some awesome views of San Francisco.

At one point there was actually a signal for ships on this hill. 

Our little excursion to Coit Tower also led us to one of the coolest residential areas that we walked through in the city. The "streets" down the east side of Telegraph Hill were really just wooden walkways and stairs that you had to take to get to the homes. Huge trees were growing on the hill and completely shading the walkways and homes and there were gorgeous flowers everywhere. Then at the end of the walkway there was a very steep staircase going down to the next street. I just thought the area was so cool! It's definitely near the top of "places I'd love to live (but could never afford to) in San Francisco". haha So I guess my SF Travel Tip #3 is go to Coit Tower and walk down the hill through the neighborhood!

Joe really loved the little tower on this house. Also, that is the Bay Bridge in the background.  (Not to be confused with the Golden Gate, which I often did)

This is one of the walkway "streets" I was talking about. 

That little gate is someone's front entrance!

Stairs to the bottom of Telegraph Hill. 

(Don't worry, we're almost done with Day 2.) After we walked down the staircase from Telegraph Hill, we found ourselves in a little square by the Levi Strauss headquarters. We kept walking and made it back to the piers hoping to go to The Exploratorium which was another attraction included in the City Pass. The Exploratorium is basically a super fun, hands-on science museum. When we got there it ended up being only a couple hours before closing, but the person at the front desk told us we could come back that night from 6-10 for their adults only event. Basically it was for adults to run around the Exploratorium and play with all the exhibits with out the kids getting in the way :) Plus they'd be serving drinks. So we chose to come back later and headed out to do some quick shopping and get some dinner. I'll skip all the details (for once haha) and just tell you that we found dinner at a little hole in the wall place called Golden Boy Pizza which was in the Italian neighborhood and the pizza was awesome, and cheap! I had the clam, spinach and garlic pizza and was able to get one huge piece for only $3. SF Travel Tip #4 Use you smart phone to search for "affordable" or "cheap" restaurants in the area. Siri on my iphone helped us find Golden Boy Pizza :)

After dinner we dropped our shopping purchases off at the apartment and headed right back down to the Exploratorium. We had a ton of fun just walking around the place and playing with all the different exhibits. I think people who aren't nerdy engineers would even enjoy it :) Joe did get a little carried away with the circuit making station and I had to peel him away from there. We stayed right up until closing then took a bus and a cable car home.

Ok, so I know this picture doesn't look like anything special, but it was a huge concave mirror and when you stand in front of it and reach out, it was like your arm was coming right back out of the mirror and you could almost touch it. The best way I can describe it is trippy. 

This sculpture is made entirely of toothpicks! And it is still a work in progress. You can see the ping pong balls at the bottom. Those are there because there are actually several ping pong ball tracks built into the sculpture. It was pretty amazing. 

As you can see, Thursday was pretty packed for us so by the time we got home, we crashed. After all, we needed to rest up for our planned trip of biking across the Golden Gate Bridge in the morning! Two days is enough for this post though. If you even made it this far in the post, then thanks for sticking around.

P.s. We said goodbye to Mollie bear today. She was part of our family for over 15 years, and as far as I'm concerned she was pretty much the best dog ever. I love you Mollie! Here's a cute picture of her from a few years ago.

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