San Francisco, just like New York, is one of those places where you always discover something new, even though you’ve passed by the same spot a thousand times before. Lots of character and flair. I do have a write-up from previous outings (link here), so for this trip it’s mainly pics, a few “firsts” and some fresh observations.
Renting a house through AirBnB was a first. And a very positive experience, aside from the lack of parking space on the street. But nothing beats a view of the GG Bridge from your rooftop balcony while sipping your morning cup o’ Joe! Not to mention saving on the exorbitant hotels rates (did I mention there were 12 of us on this trip)? And the fact that you can pretend for a couple days to be a quasi-local (and discover places like Pizzeta 21 – right around the corner from where we stayed – some of the best pizza I ever had, which we would have definitely missed if we stayed closer to the touristy area).
Alcatraz was also a first. Finally got a chance to visit the old jail. Very interesting, and the audio tour extremely detailed (although I would have loved the option to skip through certain parts of the audio narrative). Too bad the weather was gloomy, misty and foggy… Typical SF.
On to some observations:
In my opinion, the best viewpoint for the Golden Gate Bridge is not on the right side (as you exit the city toward Marin City / Sausalito); that’s where all the tourists flock. Instead, check out the Golden Gate Recreation Area across the highway, go down to the Point Bonita Lighthouse, then on the way back take Bunker and Conzelman Roads and stop just above Battery Spencer / Fort Baker. The picture at the top of this post is what you’ll be exposed to … And if you’re lucky, the bridge will be half-engulfed in fog, making for some memorable Kodak moments. [for those who grew up in the digital photography era, young enough to be puzzled by this name, Kodak was THE name in paper photo and film for a very long time; they just didn’t keep up with evolution, and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2012]
As for walking across the bridge (which seems to be something a lot of people are drawn to) try this instead: rent a bike (a couple places near the Fisherman’s Wharf) ride it across the bridge into Sausalito, then take the ferry back. I’ll definitely try that next time…
China town is getting cheesier and cheesier with every visit. Same is true for the one in NY, by the way. I’m thinking it has more to do with personal tastes evolving… or increased standards relative to quality. Yet, an old favorite – R&G Lounge – came through for us with last-minute reservations in a private room. They do Chinese food absolutely right!
Lombard Street loses some of its charm with so many people always around. And frankly, I’m sure it’s “prime” real estate, but I don’t see why anyone would want to live there …
The number of cable cars seems to have gone down. Or at least their frequency (especially during the week). And if you have a larger group, good luck getting on TOGETHER unless you pick it up at the beginning of the line.
Before I wrap up, the foodie in me wants to leave a few culinary notes (tons of great restaurants in SF, so not easy to keep it to a small list): the food stalls at the Ferry Building are a must for lunch. Boulevard, Foreign Cinema are top recommendations from a good friend. Plouf serves amazing mussels (7-8 different options). Hard Water, if you’re a whiskey and bourbon fan! Anchor Oyster Bar and Seafood Market, Hog Island, or Waterbar for seafood. Ichido, for Japanese seafood omakase with an American twist. Or head over to North Beach for some authentic Italian: Sotto Mare claims the best Cioppino, Tony’s serves great Neapolitan pie, there are a handful of other great Italian places, or try Molinari (a classic Italian deli for something on the run; I still remember the ‘proscuit’ sandwich a few years back).
San Fran will always be a “different” California. Maybe it’s the draw for top intellectual talent in nearby Silicon Valley. Or the super-liberal socio-political setting. The extremely varied demographics (39% of the residents are born overseas). Or the “freedom” culture. Or the explorer’s attitude. Or all of the above. Regardless of what defines it, it’s definitely my second favorite city in the US. And on a good day, my first!