After we left Oregon, we were headed to the US Southwest. However, there were a few things we wanted to see in Northern California. So we found a mountain cabin for a week that allowed us to go exploring in San Francisco, since that was our main destination in the region.
I will be the first to admit that San Francisco was not as expected. We have been to a lot of big cities across the United States and many of them were trash ridden, as could be expected due to the population. However, I will say that most of the areas we explored in San Francisco were clean, well maintained and, above it all, the streets were wide enough to maneuver (a problem that exists in many big cities).
We explored much of San Francisco, over a 2 day period. We were efficient in our planning but did not feel hurried in our explorations.
Golden Gate Bridge
One of the most well-known bridges in the world, the Golden Gate Bridge is an architectural marvel. It set the world record in 1937 as the longest suspension bridge in the world at 4200 feet. The Golden Gate Bridge has since been overtaken by the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge in Japan, at 6352 feet, as the longest suspension bridge. Even though it does not hold the crown for longest suspension bridge, it is still held in worldwide acclaim and is a stalwart representative and top tourist destination for San Francisco.
In order to explore The Golden Gate Bridge and surrounding area, you need to find parking. If you are coming from the north, you have to cross the bridge, pay the toll and then cross the bridge again if you want free parking on the Northern End. If you are wanting free parking and coming from the Southern End, you simply need to traverse to across the bridge to find parking on the North Side.
We were coming from the Northern Side and opted to pay for parking. So, we crossed the bridge, went through the toll, turned around and pulled off at the last exit before crossing the bridge. It will direct you to the Presidio / Fort Point Area. you will exit to the right. Then I would suggest staying in the right lane, following to the right. At the stop sign, make a left and follow the road to the first turn off for parking. I suggest not going down to Fort Point to park. It is VERY crowded. The first parking spot gives you proximity to the bridge and the parking is relatively inexpensive.
From here we followed a dual foot and biking path up towards the bridge. We took a path less traveled and it brought us by different Batteries (areas of gun powder and weapon storage) that were used to defend the harbor area. We eventually went through a tunnel and came out near the information center. It did afford us a few picture moments to snag great images of the Golden Gate Bridge.
We eventually made it out and up to the actual bridge. We entered the bridge and made our way almost half way across. There were many bikers on the other side as well as walkers and joggers on our side. Standing and walking on the bridge was an absolutely exhilarating experience. It is worth the walk.
Golden Gate Park
After the Golden Gate Bridge, we visited Golden Gate Park. This park is not adjacent to the bridge. We left the bridge area and drove all the way to one end of the park by going on Geary Blvd west and then going south on 47th Ave. We took 47th to JFK Dr and made a left (east). This allowed us to drive through the whole park.
The main attraction for us was the buffalo. Sure, nothing compares to seeing a stampede of buffalo in the wild. But, seeing buffalo in the center of a major California City was a new one on us. So, we had to drive through and check it out. This park is massive. You will see a multitude of areas where you can pull off to enjoy the outdoors. It was an interesting park, to say the least.
How many of you have watched Full House? Most Americans who watched TV in the late 80s to early 90s have likely seen or heard of it. In the intro there is a park featured where you can see a section of row houses that are all painted uniquely. The park is Alamo Square and the houses are called the Painted Ladies.
We took a moment to swing by there. Mama Nomad is a big Full House fan. There was some renovations going on at Alamo Square. But, we were still able to find a parking spot and view as well as capture images of these fine row houses.
From the Painted Ladies, we headed over to Japantown. Our eldest Nomad Son, Noah, has an affinity for Japanese Manga and Anime and his brothers have a shared interest. There is a book store in Japantown that is a 2 story, Barnes and Noble type book store that specializes in Manga and Anime. So, we had to check it out.
Noah did some research prior to us visiting. He found Kinokuniya (the aforementioned 2 story one) and at least one other one. However, as we searched while we were there, we found that none other existed in the area by the time we visited. But Kinokuniya was and it was very busy. If you have an affinity for Manga or Anime, you need to visit this place.
After Japantown, we headed for Ghiradelli Square. Ghiradelli Chocolate is a famous chocolate company known the world over. There is a square in San Francisco known as Ghiradelli Square that hosts the chocolate company’s retail outlet as well as some other business retail fronts. I cannot honestly tell you what else was there. We pulled up, paid for parking, got some ice cream based creations from Ghiradelli Chocolate, ate them and left. I can say that what we ordered was, indeed, scrumptious.
From Japantown we made our way to Lombard Street. To be more specific, we made our way to Lombard Street between Hyde Street and Leavenworth Street. This is an area considered to be on the the crookedest streets in the world. It is at a severe downward angle and encompasses 9, almost U-Turn level turns within one block. We journeyed down it in Ebony II, a Ford Expedition Extended Edition vehicle. Let me just say it was tight maneuvering but very exhilarating.
The Chinatown in San Francisco is actually the first, oldest and largest Chinatown in the world (outside of mainland China, of course). We were going to eat noodles at the House of Nan King. When we got to the area, almost the entire area was closed to vehicles. They were celebrating a Chinese New Years Parade and most streets were blocked.
We drove down and around many blocks, which led us to the financial district, but never back into Chinatown. It was getting dark and parking was near impossible, so we ventured outside of San Francisco to a little restaurant across the Golden Gate Bridge, in Sausalito. Parking was easy, prices were reasonable and the food was great! We simply told ourselves a story that Chinese Entrepreneurs moved to Sausalito from San Francisco for better parking and that we found one of those gems.
After Chinatown, we went back to homebase because it was getting dark. The next day we headed into San Francisco and in the direction of the ferrys for Alcatraz. We looked into parking the day before. Most of the reviews for parking reported that people with out-of-state plates, like us, had their vehicles broken into. So, we launched SpotHero, found parking at the Holiday Inn Express and booked. We figured that nothing would happen to Ebony II at the Holiday Inn Express Valet Parking. And, fast forward to the end, we were right. We recommend this parking.
After parking and walking to Pier 33 (about 3/4 mile from the parking area), we got in line for the ferry. There is only one company that runs the ferry. We suggest that you buy your tickets at least 48 hours in advance. Also, please note that there is no food on the island. You can bring food. They simply do not serve it. You can get some at the pier or on the ferry, if you are hungry.
We arrived on the island and immediately walked up to the area to watch the short documentary of the island. It is something we highly recommend that you do. It gives you a lot of background and context about the island. For example, did you know it was a military installation first, in order to protect the harbor during the gold rush? Then it houses military prisoners and then Federal prisoners; until it was finally closed in 1963.
In 1969 it was occupied for more than 19 months by Native Americans making a stand against the US Government in relation to the land taken from them. It was this action that was cited as the event that turned things around for Native Americans and their rightful lands, here in the US. Finally in 1986 it was turned into a National Historic Landmark.
We explored and walked all over that island. We saw the cell blocks, where the prisoners who escaped and were never found, slept. We also saw cells for Al Capone, Bumpy Johnson and more. We explored the outside garden area, the solitary confinement, the recreation area and much, much more. Did you know that the kids of guards lived on the island in apartments? Yep! They traveled, by ferry, to San Francisco for school everyday and returned to Alcatraz every night.
We were even treated to seeing and meeting William Baker. He was an Alcatraz Prisoner who stayed there from 1957 to 1960. He has been in prison for most of his life. After spending more than 50 years in prison, he wrote a book called Alcatraz #1259 and has been on the straight and narrow ever since.
Again, San Francisco was not as expected. It is not somewhere I would want to live. But, it was a great city to visit. We experienced a lot of different cultures, famous spots and history; both known to us and unknown. It is a place worth visiting, at least for a few days. Safe Travels.