….well, not really, but I was excited to finally get there! I’ve spent plenty of time in SoCal, but hadn’t made it to The City by the Bay until Labor Day weekend. I set out to hang with a buddy for the weekend to enjoy the sights and sounds of San Fran. When he had to cancel due to family commitments, I decided to keep the reservation and take my mom instead.
Looking forward to a fun weekend in a much cooler climate (sounds so refreshing, doesn’t it?), we were slapped in the face with a heat wave upon landing. A heat wave? Oh, MissHeatherLynnP, don’t be so dramatic! It’s not drama; it’s truth. People, I live in the desert and I’m aware of the definition of hot. When we made our way into San Francisco that Saturday, it was 105 degrees and sunny. Gag. The heat provided a few complications namely that my mother (who some how does not sweat) looked like she was going to pass out most of the day on Saturday. More on the heat in a minute.
Landing at San Franciso International (not Oakland, but you can do that, too), we found our bags and grabbed a cab to the hotel. It’s not a terribly long drive, but traffic. Lots of it. As we headed into downtown, I immediately thought that I was going to feel overwhelmed in this city. And I was right. Everything is so tightly packed. Even if you own your own single family home, you probably still share a wall (or two) with your neighbors. Real estate is precious in a city with geographic limits (water. hills.), so you really pack them in. The San Fran hillsides looked like a postcard from Cinque Terre – rolling hills, bright colors, houses practically stacked upon one another. (By the way, I read somewhere that natives of this city on the bay hate when tourists say “San Fran” or “Frisco.” I’ll probably type both by the end of this blog. Please don’t take offense.) San Francisco is the second most densely populated area in the country. That’s the statistic that makes it feel a bit overwhelming.
After dropping our bags into our room at the GIANT Hilton in Union Square (seriously, I think it’s the biggest hotel on the West Coast), we navigated through the crowds (American Society of Political Science conference. Did you know that was a thing? I didn’t.) and headed across the street to Bartlett Hall for a bite of brunch. Brunch was delicious, but many places in San Francisco don’t have air conditioning. Not normally a problem here, but it was a bit warm this weekend. I really felt for the restaurant staff. That’s a hard job anyway, but having to run around and pretend to be nice to hungry tourists when you’re so hot you want to rip your clothes off cannot be any fun. After getting some food and lots and lots of water into our bellies, we braved a short walk to the closest cable car stop. Now I know it’s touristy, but I don’t care. We were riding one of those trolleys! Us and all of the other tourists in town over Labor Day… (As an aside, the trolleys are only part of the municipal transportation in San Fran. They also have buses, a subway, and an adorable line of vintage trolley cars purchased from all over the world).
There was a line. A long line. We’re not averse to waiting in line and so we did. For a while, we were happy to look at the amazing architecture. (Frisco has lots of that. See? I told you!) And for a while we were amused to watch the guys turn the cable cars around at the end of the route. What a back breaking job when it’s 105. But, after a bit in the sun, Mom starts looking like maybe she’s getting overheated. (She really doesn’t sweat and I don’t know how you do heat that way. Thankfully for me, I inherited my father’s genes which means I can sweat like a pig. So feminine! Eye roll). We’re making our way around the queue, hoping we’ll get on the next car. “Maybe when we can get a little shade?” “Once we’re on the car and the air is flowing it’ll be ok.” “Here, please drink some more water.” We’d all but decided to head back to the hotel and return later for a
night time trolley ride, when our car arrived. Perked up with some last minute energy, spunk or heat induced dementia, Mom yells “Let’s just go!” and we hopped into the car. I’ll say this about the trolleys: 1. I think they’re a lot more fun when it’s not 105 and the cars are not crammed full of sweaty people. 2. We were right. The air flow made it bearable. 3. People do not listen to the trolley drivers. 4. Operating those cars is no joke. It’s a physical job and you have to watch for the idiots on the road and the idiots trying to jump onto your car.
Our first day in San Francisco sees us deposited at Fisherman’s Wharf from our cable car ride. Our first attraction in San Francisco was….Starbucks. Don’t judge. It was hot. Mom was red. Starbucks had air conditioning and iced tea. Lest you be worried that we did not get our tourist fix, we did. After cooling off and hydrating we headed down to the water. One of us (I’ll let you guess who) got into the bay
water and she wasn’t the only one. We also got to see a cute little harbor seal! (Different than the sea lions we’ll see later…) Here are my other lessons from day one (105 degrees): 1. Uber is a wonderful thing. 2. San Francisco has amazing food, but sometimes ordering room service while you lay in your underwear by the AC vent is ok.
A good night’s sleep had us revived and we were up early. We had booked a San Francisco City Tour. I’ll admit that I made fun of Mom when she wanted to book some tours. Ugh. Tours? It’s so…..never traveled before tourist! Turns out that she was right. (More and more I realize my mom is usually right…about a lot of things. It’s kind of annoying.) Since we were only in town for a short time and because it was so hot (still in the 90s on day two), a tour was a great way to go. The tour buses are air conditioned and we did get to see a lot more of the city than we would have otherwise. I know now what I’d go back to see my next time in town. We saw all the highlights. We got our hair blown off at the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge is beautiful and the breeze off the water, heavenly. It was too hazy for a great view but (haze cannot be helped with the number of forest fires currently burning in the West) we tried to decide how hard it would really be to escape from Alcatraz. We drove the hilly streets. We took in the city view from atop Twin Peaks. We learned about the history of each of the neighborhoods and marveled at the beautiful Victorian homes. We saw the remnants of the giant Sutro Baths (think Rome not your own tub). So yeah, the tour was worth it.
Our afternoon was free and was spent at the Piers. We stopped in at Alioto’s (delicious!) for the obligatory clam chowder and crab. There is great food and great views on the
pier and it’s always cooler on the water. Mind the crazy crowds and watch the even crazier sea gulls. After lunch and on our way to Pier 39 (you know I had to see the sea lions) we stopped in at Boudin’s Bakery…home of sourdough bread. You have to have a piece at least and Boudin’s does it right. The dough at Boudin’s, legend says, came from a starter
piece of sourdough from the Gold Rush. I don’t know if this is true as we didn’t have the stamina for the tour. Boudin’s also makes the most amazing little bread animals. I grabbed a sourdough teddy to bring home to my friend,
Chookie, for minding the furry beasts while I was gone, but when his ears, head, and an arm fell off, I felt obliged to eat him instead. (Sorry, Chookie).
Pier 39 is insane. It’s the tourist mecca in San Francisco. We braved the crowds, though, to watch the sea lions. Sea lions are slightly different than seals. Both pinnipeds, there are a few easy ways to tell them apart. Most easily, you can notice that sea lions have little external ears. There were a few sea lions lounging
about, but not the large amounts that mom had seen in earlier visits here. Maybe it’s not mating season or maybe these pinnipeds just got tired of the heat and beat it out of San Francisco, but we spent a while watching the few that were there. If you’ve never encountered sea lions in the wild, let me fill you in. They are cute, but they stink. They never stop barking and they constantly jockey for position on the floats out in the water. The best spots seem to be on top of ten of your sea lion pals and nevermind that if you’d just turn around, sea lion, you could have your very own flotilla. Turns out, Pier 39 has a Sea Lion Webcam, so check it out!
After sea lion watching we grabbed an Uber to see one of the sites I was really excited about: The Wave Organ. The wave organ is a cool piece of sculpture that looks like ancient ruins that is designed to play “music” with the incoming tides. You can’t always rely on internet directions to these places, but our Uber driver, Mohammed, knew where it was and was bound and determined to get us as close as he could. Mohammed was a man on a mission and we soon found ourselves driving through lots at the yacht club that I’m not sure we were supposed to be in.
Anyway, as you know, I love chatting with my Uber drivers. I’ve found they are most often interesting people with great insight into my country. Mohammed was no exception. I’m not sure where Mohammed is from originally; he had an accent I could not place and when I asked him where he was from he said, “Sacramento.” (Touché Mohammed). We got to talking about New Mexico, my state, and I could see Mohammed’s face in the rear view mirror, wracking his brain for what he knew about New Mexico. Now, that’s not unusual. Thanks to the Balloon Fiesta and Breaking Bad, more people are becoming acquainted with New Mexico, but those of us that live here are largely used to living in the forgotten state wedged between Arizona and Texas. When he finally answered, I was blown away. “I think New Mexico is like here (San Francisco). There are lots of different people and everyone can feel American.” From your lips to God’s ears, Mohammed.
True to his promise, Mohammed delivered us very close to the wave organ. We didn’t mind the short waterfront walk the rest of the way. We decided that in our grubby, sweaty, touristy state, we probably wouldn’t be allowed in the yacht club and so we made our way out to the end of the jetty. The wave organ kind of looks like something from ancient Roman times. I’ll leave you with this one, very important note: you should check the tides before heading out to the wave organ.
We made a short walk across the street to view, up close, The Palace of Fine Arts, the only building left standing from the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915 and you can see why. This place is impressive, massive, gorgeous. Take a look at the website and get there if you’re ever in San Francisco.
An Uber ride back to the hotel, a mile walk and we ended up at Delarosa for dinner. The concierge at the hotel did not disappoint with his restaurant recommendations. Delarosa has small bites and Roman style pizza. It also has communal seating. Always weird, right? You never know who you’ll sit next to. We sat next to a lovely couple back in San Francisco for a quick visit. Al and Grace moved to Kentucky from LA and never looked back. He’s an IU graduate (go Hoosiers!) and a former University of Kentucky philosophy professor who studied for a time in Poland. Sweet Grace held down the fort and, I think, keeps Al in check. They were delightful. We talked about travel and their honeymoon in San Francisco years ago when Al lost the brakes on the car because he had no idea about how to navigate the hills. They were off to an Alaskan cruise and I hope they are enjoying every second of it. Every once in a while, people, put down your phones and talk to someone. You never know who you’re going to meet.
Early day two. Maybe we weren’t quite ready to get up, but we did so that we could head over the Golden Gate Bridge and into Muir Woods. (Puh-lease, you didn’t think I
wouldn’t sneak a couple of National Monuments in on this trip, did you? Fisherman’s Wharf is one and so is Alcatraz, by the way). I was really excited about this little trip as I have been dying, dying to see the giant redwood trees. It turns out Muir Woods is really close to the city and we were not the only people that thought they’d get out into nature. Lots of hiking to be done here: most of it easy and flat but there are some longer and more challenging trails. I cannot wait to go back to Muir Woods and I will not do it during a holiday weekend in the summer. So. Many. People.
Ok, let’s talk about the trees. So, so tall. I mean crazy tall. Unable to get a whole tree into a picture tall. The forest here has been protected since 1908 and it really is a lovely place. I found myself longing for that quiet day where I could walk or
sit silently, listening to the trees and taking in the sheer beauty and magnitude of the forest. Labor Day wasn’t really that day. Still beautiful, of course, but silence was not gonna happen. So enjoy a few pictures from our hour long walk. I’ll be back Muir Woods.
Back into the city and it’s time for lunch. After Muir Woods, the thing I was most excited for was eating dim sum in Chinatown. I am not sure if my mom was into the idea of eating dim sum to start with. Kinda hard to tell, but she’s a good mom and humored me. San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest in North America and is
fun to walk through. It’s colorful and it’s busy. You can buy almost anything imaginable in the shops that line the streets and if you walk long enough…you start to smell food! The concierge at the hotel recommended The Great Eastern for its ambience and experience. I have no idea if it’s the best dim sum place in town and I don’t care because it was delicious! It’s busy at The Great Eastern. Waiters and diners all dashing to and fro, noisy conversation from the tables, kitchen staff bringing out baskets of delicious dim sum. We had taken a look at the menu and ordered a few things when I leaned over and gently informed my mother that even though neither one of us is great with chopsticks we were going to have to make due. I refused to be the only person in the restaurant that asked for a fork! It turns out that the lady next to us actually did ask for a fork, but I am pleased to say that mom and I made it successfully through the meal with only chopsticks. We even ate green beans with chopsticks! (Order at least the steamed pork buns and the green beans with XO sauce).
We wandered a bit more of Chinatown and San Francisco’s equivalent to Little Italy and eventually made it back to our hotel for a nice dinner at Urban Tavern. (Chocolate
budino at this place is phenomenal. I command you to order it). An early night in in order to catch an early flight out. I’ll be back to see you San Francisco with your traffic and crowded neighborhoods. It might just happen a weekend at a time.