I have never been to California, or anywhere on the west coast before. My whole life I’ve been a resident of the east coast of the US. I’ve seen more of Europe than I’ve seen the parts of the US west of New Jersey, so this was a fun and unique travel experience for me. I’ve always wanted to go to San Francisco, more so than any other west coast city. Growing up with the TV show Full House, and movies like Ms. Doubtfire and Homeward Bound, San Francisco always looked cool on TV. The city itself seemed to have a certain urban style that I, a native New Yorker, could really appreciate. Let’s just say, I was not disappointed.
I sparked the idea of a weekend trip to San Francisco with two very good friends of mine. I had more than enough points for a free night at a Marriott hotel. With many direct flights liking the two major US cities, we went ahead and planned out two full days, a free hotel overnight, and low-season flight fares to San Francisco, California!A ridiculously early 6 hour flight Saturday morning, and we arrived at SFO airport, still late morning with the 3 hour time difference. The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train took us downtown walking distance from our hotel. Or so we thought. On a map, it was just 7 blocks. That usually never phases New Yorkers like us. But in New York we don’t have the incredibly steep hills that San Fran has. Walking just 3 blocks up the California St. incline to Nob Hill was like walking 2o blocks in Midtown Manhattan. When they say something is a hike to indicate great distance, in San Francisco it could quite literally be a hike even if it’s just a few blocks.
The first place we went to after checking in at our hotel was Chinatown since it was right around the corner. We were starving, and all fans of Chinese food, so putting 2 and 2 together, we found a nice Chinese restaurant and ate there. I thought about being a little more adventurous than I am when I have Chinese take out delivered at home, but ended up getting house special lo-mein like I usually do. The difference was that it was indeed better and of a higher quality than a regular take out place, and was surprisingly just as cheap anyway. We walked around a little more in Chinatown, checking out the shops and observing the atmosphere there. Looked very different from the Chinatowns back home in New York because of the different style of buildings, yet looked similar when you take a much closer look at the individual shops and decorations.
After Chinatown we walked up to Coit Tower. We were not disappointed here for sure. After waiting 20 minutes in line to get up to the top of the tower (something I was not expecting for some reason) we got to enjoy a panoramic view of the Bay Area. You could see everything from Oakland and the Bay Bridge to the skyscrapers of downtown San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and the rest of the bay and land across from the bay.
We then went down to Fisherman’s Wharf. We thought we’d spend more time than we did here, but it started getting dark already. The irony of the warm, sunny California weather but it still being November and getting dark early. We decided to have dinner at the Franciscan once we reached that part of Fisherman’s and had some fresh seafood. The restaurant was upscale, right on the dock with pleasant outdoor seating, and of course a little bit of tourist pricing added to the price of the fresh seafood itself. But we figured we’d make this dinner the one fancy meal of our trip and we were not disappointed in the seafood. We could have done without the computer glitch that caused a half hour of confusion over our bill and time-wasting at the end of dinner, but during dinner itself was amazing. I recommend the shrimp, mussels, and crab legs there for sure.
We then walked over to Hyde and Beach street to get the cable car back to the hotel. Or so we thought. After waiting in line for over a half hour, we decided to just take a cab. It ended up being cheaper split between the three of us anyway. The cab driver instantly knew why we’d come to him greeting us with a “so, the cable car fucked you over, huh”. Exhausted after being awake for almost 2 days straight, we all but gave up on the plans for bar hopping, and threw in the towel after just one drink at the hotel that night.
We began our 2nd day in San Francisco by heading right for the Golden Gate Bridge. We took the Muni bus there, and I must say it was quite fast and convenient. On our way we met a very nice local named Heather who gave us a few tips on places and ways to get around in San Francisco. Like anybody, she was able to pick up very easily where we were from and asked us about Superstorm Sandy, which had hit New York City less than a week before this trip. A man sitting next to us on the other side chimed in, citing his former residence in New York and what he’d been hearing, and many others on the bus all tuned in to our descriptions of what was going on back east. It’s amazing how people out and about in San Francisco really do send a friendlier and more laid back vibe than back east. I used to think that was all cliché from television, but to some extent it is true.
When we got to the Golden Gate Bridge, we were expecting it to be beautiful, but it was even more so than we thought. The perfect sunny and 75 degree weather helped as well. We walked halfway across, taking in the view of the city on one side, and the Pacific Ocean on the other. I was a bit shocked to see how low the railing was as well. For some reason I thought the history of suicides off the bridge might have made for more of a barrier, but then again, it would ruin the view. Needless to say, it’s very high up and you certainly will not survive the fall, so don’t try it.
Since time and finances were a bit tight to allow us to rent a car and drive to the woods, we decided to take the bus down to Golden Gate Park. We figured this is the closest we’d get to seeing a western forest on this trip. We walked through the Japanese Tea Garden, around Stow Lake, then up a hill where you could see San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge from that vantage point. Some trees obscured the view from there, but it was still worth the hike up the hill.
We then made our way up to Fulton St. and took the bus to Alamo Square our last destination in the city of San Fran. This is where the “painted ladies” Victorian houses are located. Famous from postcards and from the opening theme of “Full House”. On our way there, we also passed by the area where the “Ms. Doubtfire” house was. We did not look exclusively for it, so we don’t know if we saw it or not. When I first got there, I noticed one of the “painted ladies” had Obama/Biden posters on all the windows. Not accidental, I’m sure, being that it was San Francisco, 2 days before the election, and a house hundreds of people look at every day.
The sun was starting to set while we were in Alamo Square, which made it more picturesque and a pleasant end to our last day in the city.
We stopped at a pizza place for dinner to see what San Francisco pizza tastes like. We found it to be not nearly as nice as back home (something we kind of expected anyway), but tried it at least to see. We also may have just not gone to the right place either. At least San Francisco does Chinese food better than back home, so it evens out.
We took the BART back to the airport, and hopped on the red-eye back to New York. It was a quick, but amazing trip across the country to a city I’ve never been to. Well worth the 6 hour flight and lack of sleep to see many of the best San Francisco has to offer over the course of a weekend. I’m sure I will be back to this city someday. There’s certainly more to see. The vibe and the atmosphere there was one of the best out of any place I had been before, and I know sometime in the future I’ll find an excuse to go there again.