San Francisco

In the December of 2015 I visited San Francisco, California with two friends, one I’ve known since we were each five, the other was a good friend from high school. They’re roommates in Chicago and while visiting them for Halloween they asked I accompany them on their trip. How could I say no?

They already had tickets for flights out of Chicago, I was living in Springfield, Illinois at the time and decided to fly out of St. Louis, MO since it was only an hour and a half away compared to 3 hours to Chicago. I’m a little embarrassed to admit it was going to be my first time flying and I was nearly 25. (My family didn’t travel too much other than annual camping trips in Tennessee at the Land Between the Lakes area and a couple trips to Destin/Panama City Beach, FL.) I wasn’t nervous at all for the flight, I was just nervous getting through all of the hoops at the airport prior to the flight. I arrived early at the airport a couple hours early as everyone suggests and had ample time after getting through security as it was only around 6 am.

DAY 1

My flight to San Francisco was direct from St. Louis. Since it was my first time flying I decided to get a window seat. I had no nerves once I was on the place, I thought take off was exciting if anything. To pass the time while on the flight, which was about 6 hours if I remember correctly, I packed my old Gameboy Color and a book, Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham, which I had picked up the day before. My Gameboy was always my go-to for passing time on road trips as a kid, so as a flashback I started with that on the trip playing Pokemon Yellow (I have no shame). After an hour or two I decided to break out the book and read for a while. It was my first time reading for pleasure since I was in undergrad as having to read during grad school put a huge damper on reading outside of research. Time flew by when I was reading and before I knew it I was over Utah, which looks like another planet from above.

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View of Utah from the plane

Touching down at San Francisco International Airport was smooth and my flight landed at SFO only about 45 min before my friends’ plane was scheduled to. Oddly enough, my cousin was at the airport heading back to Portland, Oregon and we decided to grab a beer and chat for a bit while he waited on his flight and I waited for my friends. SFO is an incredibly long airport with several terminals and to access others you have to go outside. I landed in terminal 1 and had to get to terminal 3 to meet them at their baggage claim. It took a while to figure out to be honest and it probably didn’t help that I was a rookie when it came to flying and airports.

After meeting up and hoping in an Uber we rode into San Francisco. We stayed at the Holiday Inn – Golden Gate which is on Van Ness Ave, a major North South thoroughfare in the city, it made around easy. Ghirardelli Square was directly north and Market Street, a major shopping area, was directly south. There was also a cable car half a block away that ran right into the financial district and to the eastern bay side near the Bay Bridge.

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We had decided to do the “City Pass” during our time in San Francisco. I really recommend getting a City Pass when traveling to a new city when you’re going to be doing the major sites and “touristy” things. I’ve done the City Pass in Chicago as well and it was a great money saving investment. The City Pass in San Francisco provides for unlimited cable car and bus rides as well as admission to the California Academy of Sciences, a Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise Adventure, Aquarium of the Bay, and either the Exploratorium or de Young Museum. The cost of a City Pass is $89, which they advertise as a $64 savings when compared to paying admission to each individually.

We were only spending 3 and a half days in San Francisco and had to pack a lot into that short amount of time, so after arriving at the hotel we dropped off our stuff and explored the neighborhood for a place to eat before setting off to explore Market Street and the Financial District before getting a late dinner in Chinatown and heading back to the hotel. Before we went to bed we made a game plan for Day Two.

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Photo from Hyde Street near Lombard Street looking toward Alcatraz

DAY 2

Day Two had a lot more in store as we had the whole day to use to explore. It was a pretty gloomy morning, we grabbed breakfast and headed to the Ferry Building to go to Alcatraz Island. It was a pretty chilly ferry ride to the island, but once we were there and inside it wasn’t so bad. History of Alcatraz: (Skip this part if you’re just interested in the trip)

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I won’t bore you with a long history of Alcatraz Island, but it wasn’t always a federal prison. Alcatraz Island was actually a military garrison and prison from it’s inception in 1850 up until 1933. The U.S. acquired California from Mexico in 1848. The military prison portion of Alcatraz housed Civil War POWs and in 1867 a brick jailhouse was added so prisoners no longer had to be kept in the basement of the guardhouse.

The Island was acquired by the U.S. Department of Justice in 1933 and became a federal penitentiary the following year. Alcatraz was for the most extreme criminals that caused trouble at other prisons and the majority of them were infamous bank robbers and murderers, such as Al Capone, Robert Stroud, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and “Whitey” Bulger among others. It operated as a penitentiary for 29 years and the prison staff and all of their families lived on the island outside of prison. No one is ever believed to have survived an escape from the prison. 36 prisoners attempted a total of 14 escapes. 23 were caught alive, 6 were shot and killed, two drowned, and 5 are listed as missing and assumed drowned. It’s a 1.25 mile swim across dangerous waters to get to San Francisco from Alcatraz. The prison was shut down in 1963 due to the cost of running the penitentiary. It cost $10 per day per prisoner to run compared to $3 per day per prisoner at a similar max security prison in Atlanta.

Native American activists, mostly college students from San Francisco, occupied the island in November of 1969. They called themselves the United Indians of All Tribes and occupied the island to protest federal policies related to the American Indians. The protests and occupation lasted nearly two years, President Nixon rescinded some a previous Indian termination policy that had been enacted by previous administrations and established a new policy of self-determination as a result of the publicity caused by the occupation. The occupation ended shortly after.

Alcatraz was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and declared a Historic Landmark in 1986. People have been visiting it ever since it’s designation in 1976 and it kept up by the National Park Service.

Alcatraz was a great place to spend a few hours. There were short, interesting movies on it’s history, an unguided audio tour that let you see the prison at your own pace, and most of the island is open for one to explore. It also has a great view of San Francisco, as well as a great view from a lonely prison cell. I can’t imagine being locked away for life and seeing this view, knowing you’re what you’re missing out on.

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View of San Fran from a cell at Alcatraz

After Alcatraz we explored Pier 39 and grabbed lunch at Wipeout Bar & Grill. We then did a lot of walking. We wandered down to Fisherman’s Wharf and did some exploring and shopping (mostly for souvenirs). Afterwards we wandered up to the famous Lombard Street. I never realized just how many hills there were in San Francisco until making this walk up hill.

 

After hiking up to Lombard Street we felt we deserved a reward, so we walked back down the hill we had just climbed up and went to Ghirardelli Square where we ate our weight in ice cream and chocolate. After putting ourselves into yet another food coma we walked over a block and hopped on a cable car that dropped us off just a few blocks from our hotel.

DAY 3

The weather the next day was chilly and rainy, but time was limited so we were still going to make the best of it. We had scheduled tour at AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants that morning so we set off early to get there, but nearly missed it as we were trying to learn their bus system. Luckily or group had just taken off when we got there so we caught up quickly. The stadium tour was thorough and because it was the off season we got to see quite a bit, although we didn’t get to go into the home clubhouse because players keep equipment/belongings there year round. The rain broke long enough for us to get out on the field for a bit.

 

 

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Lombard Street

After hiking up to Lombard Street we felt we deserved a reward, so we walked back down the hill we had just climbed up and went to Ghirardelli Square where we ate our weight in ice cream and chocolate. After putting ourselves into yet another food coma we walked over a block and hopped on a cable car that dropped us off just a few blocks from our hotel.

DAY 3

The weather the next day was chilly and rainy, but time was limited so we were still going to make the best of it. We had scheduled tour at AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants that morning so we set off early to get there, but nearly missed it as we were trying to learn their bus system. Luckily or group had just taken off when we got there so we caught up quickly. The stadium tour was thorough and because it was the off season we got to see quite a bit, although we didn’t get to go into the home clubhouse because players keep equipment/belongings there year round. The rain broke long enough for us to get out on the field for a bit.

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We then headed up to the luxury boxes, scorer’s/reporter’s box and then to the upper decks to where you have a view of the bay as well as the field. It was neat to see the behind the scenes areas of the stadium, it also made me with I had done a similar tour at Busch Stadium in St. Louis before moving.

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After the rainy stadium visit we grabbed an Uber to Pier 39 and found a place to eat before heading to the Aquarium of the Bay. The weather was starting to clear up as we got to the aquarium. The aquarium was neat, although nothing spectacular, I think the consensus group favorite was the otters and penguins. We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the Pier 39/Fisherman’s Wharf area shopping and just exploring. In the evening we headed to the Exploratorium. The Exploratorium is a science center with a huge variety of various exhibits. It calls itself, “The Museum of Science, Art, and Human Perception”. After a certain time it’s adult only and they serve alcohol at a bar in a certain area of the science center. The majority of the exhibits were interactive and it was easy to spend hours there interacting with all of the exhibits.

After a few hours (and few drinks) at the Exploratorium, we decided to call it a long night. We started every morning at 8 am or earlier and didn’t stop until 11 or later so we were always exhausted by the end of the day.

DAY 4

It was our last full day in San Francisco and we were determined to do as much final sight seeing as possible. Elizabeth and Courtney are huge fans of Full House so we decided to go see the “Painted Ladies” houses that are featured in the opening scene of the show first. We decided to navigate the bus system yet again today, with better results this time. We got to the “Painted Ladies” pretty early and the adjacent park was pretty empty so we were provided the opportunity to take some nice photos.

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My favorite photo of the Painted Ladies with the SF skyline in the background

We weren’t sure what to do next, but I had done some research into the best places to see the San Francisco from a high vantage point and stumbled upon a place called “Twin Peaks”. The top of Twin Peaks sits nearly 1,000′ above San Franscisco. We took a combination of cable cars and buses to get to the base of Twin Peaks and spent an hour hiking to the summit. The hike was more than worth it as it provided for some of the best views of the trip.

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There was still a little bit of fog lingering through the late morning, but you could still make out the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance to the northwest.

We took a bunch of photos and made our way back down to Market Street and took the street car back around to the Pier 39 area where we decided to rent bikes and ride across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. The ride was 10 miles one way and I was in jeans (I planned this part poorly).  Now we knew that we didn’t want to make the round trip on the bikes (for multiple reasons), so we decided we would ride the bikes across the bay and take the ferry from Sausalito back to the Ferry Building Marketplace. This plan worked well in theory, but would almost come back to bite us. I’ll get to that shortly.

We rented the bikes and were on our way. To say Elizabeth was a little shaky to start the ride is an understatement, she almost ate pavement more than once in the first few miles, but ultimately survived the ride unscathed. It was a beautiful ride along the coast through parks and with the Golden Gate in the background.

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The paths were crowded so riding was pretty slow going, especially once you were actually on the bridge. Once we got across we spent some time taking photos of the bridge and city from overlook on the opposite side. I decided I wanted to ride up the hill and see Battery Spencer, an overlook that provides great views of the bridge with the city in the background, after leaving the busy outlook. The girls didn’t feel up for taking on the huge climb to get up to the top of the hill so they rode ahead to Sausalito and I made the trip up to Battery Spencer. I thought I was going to die as the hill was super steep and the bike I was on wasn’t the greatest, but it was so worth it once I got there.

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Photo from Battery Spencer looking toward Golden Gate and San Fran

I was lucky enough to find someone to take my photo as there were quite a few people at the battery (most of the had driven, there were only a handful of us that were crazy enough to bike it). Battery Spencer is interesting in its own right, let alone the views. It was constructed in the 1890’s and provided defense for the north bay. It had 3 guns that looked out toward the ocean to defend from any enemies.

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In the photo below you can see the platform one of the guns would have sat on, all 3 guns have since been removed from the battery.

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Interior of Battery Spencer

The sun was setting quickly and I needed to finish the last 4 miles or so to meet up with the girls in Sausalito.

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Sun setting over the Pacific Ocean, taken from Battery Spencer

Once I reached Sausalito I locked up the bike and met them at a restaurant in town, we settled on a place called Venice Pizzeria for a bite to eat. We were pressed for time as the last ferry heading back into San Francisco was leaving before too long. We managed to make the ferry and head back. Unfortunately by the time we got back to the ferry marketplace we only had about 10 minutes to return our bikes before they closed and we were forced to keep them another day. I rode off ahead and got there before they closed and asked they stay open long enough until my biking partners made it back. Thankfully they did.

We were exhausted, but finally made it back to the hotel to crash. Once we got back it didn’t take long before we were passed out.

DAY 5

My flight was the first to leave, so I was up and gone before they had wiped the sleep from their eyes. I grabbed an Uber and was off to the airport. This time, however, I had a connection in Denver. I finished my book before I landed in Denver so I was left with just my Gameboy for the last leg from Denver to St. Louis, but somehow I managed.

I went back to my parent’s house to pick up my pup who I missed as I had never been away from him for more than a day or two and he was excited to see me as well.

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Overall it was an amazing trip and I’m dying to go out there again! We got a lot done in just 3 full days out there. If I had another day or two I would have loved to have gotten to go to Muir Woods and Napa Valley. I’ll just have to go back to visit to cross those items off the list!

As always, thanks for reading!

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