Script and Show Notes:
We’ve been driving all along the Pacific Coast Highway. Now we reach a city that in my book ranks up there with all the great cities in the world. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to San Francisco.
We begin our tour of the city on the high ground. We drive up to Twin Peaks, the second highest point in the city to get a commanding view of San Francisco. From up here you can see the whole Market Street, all the way from the Embarcadero to the Castro. The bay bridge on the east, downtown, the Russia Hill, a little further Alcatraz island… at the west end one of the most famous bridges in the world, the Golden Gate. Wow. Its like being at the Eiffel Tour in Paris, you can almost see everything, at least most of the city.
Down we go through the steep hills of San Francisco. We make a quick stop to check in at our hotel, and taking advantage of the good weather we go out again. It is our intention to cross the Golden Gate Bridge to get a view of the city for the other side of the bay. It was lucky we went to Twin Peaks earlier as it is now covered in fog. We are on the summit of Hawk Hill, probably, hands down the best view of the city and the bridge.
We are treated to the most beautiful sunset as the shadow of the mountain makes it way through the city below. The moon shines on, the lighthouse turns on, and the sun disappears behind the mountain leaving the city bathed in the alpenglow. We end the day in Sausalito, with this beautiful view of the city at dusk.
Good morning San Francisco. Today we are taking the tour of Alcatraz Island and its famous prison. We decide to walk to the pier, which takes about half an hour. The morning stroll gives us a chance to admire San Francisco’s unique architecture. We’re ready to board the boat. The Alcatraz cruise leaves from pier 33, near the Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill, which you can see in the back. The cruise offers outstanding views of the San Francisco bay. We are approaching “The Rock”, as the island is also referred to.
After a quick orientation we take a very informative guided tour of the former prison. This is the first known photo of Alcatraz, from 1853. We begin appropriately with the morgue. It is all under renovation, so there is noise and many areas are not accessible supposedly for our safety. We learn how the typical cell used to be, and also about famous inmates. The tour includes testimonials from guards and former prisoners. We step out to the recreation yard. Part of the punishment was having this great view od San Francisco, they could see the life outside, some nights the could even hear the sounds of the city if the wind was right, so close, yet so impossibly far, inaccessible, forbidden. I’m telling these guys had it rough. Back inside we are in the “D” block, solitary confinement. This is where the most dangerous inmates spent their days, and nights. We learn about the battle of Alcatraz in which a group of inmates took a bunch of guards hostage. Let’s just say it didn’t end up well. There are still grenade marks on the floor. More cells, more history, some prisoners read, some learned music, some took up kneading. We get to see administration building. Once again a great San Francisco view. We also learn about the many escape attempts and the ingenious methods and tools used to that end. We finish the tour at the dining block, the last menu. Alcatraz closed on March 21, 1963. The tour is of course much more extensive than what we can show you here, so we encourage you to come to San Francisco and explore “The Rock”. We are doing some outdoors exploring ourselves. The island is breeding home to many species of birds, some of which are protected. The flora is quite diverse as well.
We head back to the mainland. Our next challenge is climbing the Filbert Steps of Telegraph Hill to reach the top of Coit tower for another commanding view of the City. The climb is quite challenging. We take the elevator to the top. The 360 degree view of the city is spectacular. I take advantage and create this panorama. There is a statue of Columbus at the foot of the tower.
We zoom in on Lombard Street, which we will visit later, but right now we are going towards Columbus Avenue, for lunch at Chinatown. We pig out at the House of Nanking, fully recommend it, and then walk around a little more all the way to the Transamerica Pyramid. There is this restaurant called the Stinking Rose where everything is cooked with garlic, even the dessert. Talk about bad breath. And that’s it; we take the bus to the hotel and literally collapsed. Sometimes you need a break from your vacation and we did just that.
On the next day we drive to Silicon Valley. We visit the usual, the Google campus, the Computer History Museum, the garage where Apple was founded, and another famous garage, that of Hewlett and Packard, considered the birthplace of Silicon Valley, and finally the mother ship itself. But I’m going to save all this for another episode. Let’s go back to San Francisco.
We arrive at Golden Gate Park hoping to be able to see the Japanese Garden, but it turns it is already closed. So, we walk around this area a little bit, and continue exploring. Golden Gate Park, is over 1000 acres, 20% larger than Central Park in New York. It was conceived and built in the late 1800. In 1903 two Dutch style windmills were built to pump fresh water to the park. One of them has been restored. After visiting the Dutch windmill, we reach Ocean Beach, which runs all along the west coast of the city. There’s the Cliff House, the Camera Obscura, and the Seal Rocks.
Driving along the streets we arrive at Alamo Square, famous for its postcard view of San Francisco. Kodak moment, if I may perpetuate the cliché. We continue roaming the city, through Japan Town. We drive down Lombard Street, famous for being the crookedest or most winding street in the world. We’ll be back here. As night falls, we continue driving around. We pass once again by Chinatown. Then we stumble upon AT&T park under the moon, just at the end of a Giants game. Yes, the t-shirt guy is eating fried chicken. We also pass briefly by the Castro, the United States largest gay neighborhood. A virtual roller coaster ride takes us back to our hotel. Our hotel is the Travelodge Golden Gate, cheap, but very well located right on Lombard Street.
In the morning we do Lombard Street one more time, this time however we are lucky enough land a parking spot, with the California Cruiser on the steep incline so we can admire the view of the street from the bottom. Next we go downtown to ride on what must be the last unsafe, hence fun, mode of transportation in the civilized world: the cable car. We are standing at the Powell Street terminus. To this day they still turn the car by hand, like in the olden days. Enjoy the ride! This can not be safe.
San Francisco is one of those cities which have character, which can not be confused with any other city. Unique architecture, steep hills, cable cars… After our joyride along the hills of San Francisco we arrive at the Fishersman’s Wharf and Ghirardelli Square. The area is full of shops and street entertainment. And of course there are the famous seafood stands and restaurants. There is also the famous Boudin Bakery, self proclaimed the original San Francisco sourdough French bread. Established in 1849 by French immigrant Isidore Boudin, it combined French techniques with the prevalent sourdough. Although it has changed hands along the years it is still and iconic place in Fisherman’s Wharf, and I must say they have a great publicity scheme.
After all this fun it is time to take the cable car back. We end our ride by Union Square. One of the city’s oldest establishments, John’s Grill, famous for the classic movie the Maltese Falcon. Time to leave, we cruise down Market Street.
Our next destinations, Napa valley, Clearlake, the Twit Brick house and Silicon Valley. Stay tuned and as always, see you on the road.