Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my last trip (okay – my only trip) to San Francisco in August 2008. I’m thinking about heading back before the end of the year so I thought it might be the perfect opportunity to revisit a place that steals so many hearts around the world.
I definitely wouldn’t call myself an expert when it comes to the city by the bay – but I do know how to jam pack a lot of activity into a weekend getaway. And, that’s exactly what I did when I decided to take my mom on a mother/daughter birthday trip. Don’t go handing out daughter of the year awards just yet (unless you feel compelled of course)… I really just wanted an excuse to go away and to see the Full House in person ;)
I found us some insanely cheap flights (If I remember correctly, we both flew round trip for less than $100) on Allegiant Air departing from Bellingham, WA direct to San Fran. I am going to take a gamble and say that 75% of the flyers out of that airport are actually Canadian because it saves us SO much money. We arrived in the late afternoon and took the easy and convenient BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) from the airport straight downtown to our swanky hotel in the financial district. At the time I was working at a travel agency and scored us a really good rate. So why not stay at the 4 star Hyatt Regency?
After checking in, we set off to find the oldest restaurant in San Francisco, the Tadich Grill! First started during the Gold Rush in 1849, this restaurant mainly known for its seafood (mmm…) is one of the city’s top restaurants. We agree!
We wrapped up our first night with an evening walk along the Embarcadero to get some lovely views of the Bay Bridge. I wasn’t quite prepared for August in San Francisco… the weather is crazy! Among major U.S. cities, San Francisco has the coldest daily mean, maximum, and minimum temperatures for June, July, and August… not exactly the California heat I was expecting. During the summer, rising hot air in California’s interior valleys creates a low pressure area that draws winds from the North Pacific High through the Golden Gate, which creates the city’s famous fog. A popular quote (incorrectly attributed to Mark Twain) explains it well. “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” I couldn’t agree more… whoever you are.
We woke up bright and early Saturday morning after a restful night on our Grand Hyatt beds and set off to explore the city with a bus tour of the very unique neighbourhoods. I think we saw nine in total but some of our favourites (or the ones I can remember) were China Town, Nob Hill, Union square, and North Beach. We made three stops during the tour… all places that you should definitely take the time to visit.
Stop #1 – Golden Gate Bridge
Obviously I don’t need to say much about this one but I will because blog. The Golden Gate Bridge is arguably the most famous bridge in the world and heralded as one of the top ten construction achievements of the 20th Century. Other adjectives used to describe it… most beautiful, most photographed… basically you should see it and walk across it too if you have the time.
Stop #2 – Twin Peaks
The Twin Peaks are two hills near the center of the city that provide great views of San Fran and the bay area. Frankly, I was just happy to get above the fog and feel the sun on my skin. Did I mention that San Francisco is chilly in summer?
Stop #3 – The Painted Ladies
You will recognize these well-known Victorian houses from the opening credits of the widely popular 90s television series Full House and numerous other media programs. Built in the late 1800s, these colorful homes across from Alamo Park are also often referred to as “Postcard Row.” I waited around for a while, but it was next to impossible to get a photo without any people in it… so I ended up buying a postcard as well.
We left our bus at Pier 33 where we quickly jumped on a ferry to Alcatraz Island. I normally love ferry rides and the views were certainly beautiful, but I was not (I repeat NOT) dressed warm enough for the open air seating. I’m starting to sound like a broken record here but seriously wear lots of layers.
We spent about two hours in total touring “The Rock” and the abandoned prison site, which also includes the oldest operating lighthouse on the West Coast, a military fort, and lots of wildlife. The isolated island was the perfect spot to house war prisoners and was eventually used as a federal penitentiary for 29 years. Most of the prisoners were notorious bank robbers and murderers, even housing some of the most famous criminals in history such as Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and James “Whitey” Bulger, to name a few.
It was a very interesting trip and admittedly a bit creepy stepping inside those cells. I shutter to think about being incarcerated way out there, but I have to say, those prisoners had some prime real estate with vistas like this…
We ended our very busy day at Pier 39, a famous shopping centre and tourist attraction located at the edge of Fisherman’s Wharf. It was a really fun spot to people watch, enjoy street entertainers, stock up on souvenirs, and grab a bite to eat. We stuck with our seafood theme and dined at the Crab House. When in San Fran…
On our last day we decided to relax a bit and basically spent the whole day shopping in Union Square and enjoying the sights and sounds of downtown.
We didn’t have time to accomplish everything on my list, like riding a cable car or taking a stroll in Golden Gate park, but I was sure I’d be back again someday. And hopefully that day is soon! The chilly temperatures won’t keep me away… I’ll just bring a warmer jacket next time.