San Francisco in an Afternoon

San Francisco is known for being a very romantic city. Despite the fact that the two times I’ve visited have been alone and one of the two was during absolutely horrid, bitter cold March weather, the reasons for this reputation are clear. First of all, San Francisco, despite its hills is a very walking friendly city. Its neighborhoods are perfect for spending hours wandering around, looking at the architecture, wandering through the shops, and enjoying the views, in other words perfect for a walk together. While the city has a lot of shopping, particularly in the Union Square area which is eminently accessible to tourists, being on both the cable car, bus line and metro line, it seems almost a crime to be indoors when there is so much wandering to do, a fact that would be sure to keep my husband happy as I would never drag him around asking for his opinion in San Francisco.

Even on your own, San Francisco still has a lot to offer. In just 4 hours of wandering I was able to hit a lot of the touristy highlights. My hotel was the Hilton at Fisherman’s Wharf. I wouldn’t recommend it for a good nights rest as the windows weren’t glazed to keep out the noise of the nightlife and the rooms weren’t particularly luxurious, but the location can’t be beat, a mere block from the wharf and right next to one of the cable car lines. This meant that after my meeting and business lunch I was able to switch into my jeans and t-shirt and stroll right over to the waterfront. It will never be like San Diego where strolling along with your bare feet enjoying the feel of the sand is more de rigour, but it is beautiful all the same.

The wharf is home to the sea lions at the pier, the Aquarium of the Bay (with its clear underwater tunnels), great views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, a famous carousel and tons of shopping and great seafood restaurants. If I’d had kids with me I could have easily spent a day at the wharf, it felt like the state fair, people wandering around getting too much sun on their noses and eating food on sticks as they strolled. I skipped an actual visit inside the Aquarium (there’s always next time) and hopped on the cable car near the Hilton. The prices have gone up since the last time I was here with a one way ride costing $5.00 and a day pass $11.00. Being the sucker that I am I bought a day pass and only had 2 rides. There really aren’t enough routes to justify the day pass.

The cable car takes you through downtown, including Chinatown, and drops you off right at Union Square, shopping central for San Francisco. The square is bordered by Powell, Post, Geary, and Stockton streets. It is home to typical department stores and luxury stores and haute couture shops. With the value of the dollar what it is and the winter weight not yet gone, I was in no mood to splurge, so I pressed on passing the Moscone conference center which was hosting the American Diabetes Association meeting and the setting up for the Apple WWDC which happened today. I wish I could have been there. That block was nerd central.
After a quick stop off for a soda and a sit to watch the Carousel at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts I turned to reach the Science Museum. I was disappointed to learn that it is closed until fall 2008 for renovations. With not enough time to do the Museum of Modern Art justice before it closed, it was back to Union Square, back on the trolley and on to Ghirardelli Square which is at the other end of Fisherman’s Wharf from where I started, between Beach and Larkin streets. You can stop in their store and get free samples (chocolate square with peanut butter inside, heaven) and take a tour to see how the chocolate used to be made when their factory was in operation. It also the home of McCormick & Cavoletto’s, my restaurant for the night. (Ghirardelli Square open Mon-Sat 10a-9pm, Sun. 10a-6p)

This restaurant boasts some of the best views of the bay and wharf around, but apparently if you don’t get a reservation and are a walk-in party of 7, you get put in the back room and can’t enjoy them. Oh well, the food was good and the cocktail menu was inventive and fun. Once I saw Pisco Sour on the menu, I flashed back to memories of my trip to Chile and knew what I was going to order, but I kept reading. There were the typical Cosmopolitans of course, but there were also other more original cocktails on their “modern cocktails” list like white grape and basil which sounded intriguing. One of my colleagues got this later drink and it was delightfully refreshing, summery and tasty. (yeah, I snitched)

There was a lot more of San Francisco that I didn’t see in my half day tour. There is a Cable Car museum, Wax Museum, the famous Museum of Modern Art, and tons of boutiques ripe for some retail therapy. But, on a perfect sunny day, with no fog, no wind and not too hot temperatures, it seemed a shame not to simply walk the city, take in the sights and get sun on my nose. Even the locals were impressed and out in droves.

My previous adventure to San Francisco showed me the second most visited tourist site, next to Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown. I have vivid memories of a rat over a foot long (including tail) running up the wall of my Chinese restaurant and half of my dinner party screaming and running out, leaving our poor hosts with 30 people worth of food prepared and only 15 to eat it. The shopping was fun, even if I had no use for dishes, Buddhas, or other Chinese chotchkees. Chinatown is definitely worth a visit if you have a longer stay.

Everything I saw on this trip was free. No need to pay $15.00 to go over to Alcatraz, I have a great photo from the pier and I’ve seen the History Channel special so I don’t need to visit. The cable car took me past the famous street with its curly cue turns which my transportation engineer husband would loathe (sit on the right hand side going down the hill or the left hand side going up to get a good view). You can have a perfectly great day in SF without spending a dime, just walking around. Just bring your sunscreen. I still need to visit the SF MOMA (Museum of Modern Art), go up to the top of the Coit Tower for the view, and actually ride one of the carousels with my sweetie before taking him out for some great seafood, so I’ll be back.