28.07.2013 - 01.08.2013
A day after my return from my European extravaganza (lsto90.travellerspoint.com), I was bored in my booming hometown. Luckily, five days later, I boarded another plane for yet another trip. This trip was much shorter (only 6 days as opposed to 40 days) and in the opposite direction of Europe. The family, minus my sister and her husband (apparently when you get married in this family, you no longer get to ride the gravy train and travel with Golden Goose (my dad)), departed for our family vacation.
Golden Goose said since I graduated from graduate school I had the privilege of selecting the family vacation destination. I made a list of all the places in North America I wanted to visit, including Jackson Hole & Yellowstone, Big Sky, Quebec, Tennessee, Charleston, Banff, and San Francisco. I decided I wanted to be like Otis Redding and spend a week “sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll away” in San Francisco, so we “headed to the ‘Frisco bay” for some sightseeing and fun.
We arrived at our hotel, the Marriott at Fisherman’s Wharf, on Saturday afternoon with enough time to check in and walk a few blocks in the North Beach area to Saints Peter and Paul Church for 5 pm mass. North Beach is the “Little Italy” of San Francisco, and Saints Peter and Paul is considered the “Italian Church of the West.” If you know Italian (not just the names of popular Italian foods), the 11:45 am Italian mass may be right up your alley. This church is ironically located at 666 Filbert Street. See what they did there? It has also been a fixture in popular culture, mainly because North Beach was Joe DiMaggio’s hood. Joe DiMaggio married at this church. Once that marriage went downhill, Joe and Marilyn Monroe took their wedding pictures at this church. Joe’s funeral was held at this church as well. To answer the question, “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio,” posed in Simon and Garfunkel’s song “Mrs. Robinson,” Joe has gone to a cemetery in Colma, California where he is buried. He was two weddings away from having his own version of Four Weddings and a Funeral at Saints Peter and Paul. This church was also in Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry and Dead Pool movies. More importantly, parts of Sister Act 2 were filmed here. Who doesn't love jamming along with Whoopi Goldberg?
The family and I walked to Fisherman’s Wharf where we saw the famous Fisherman’s Wharf sign, Alcatraz, all the touristy restaurants and attractions at Pier 39. We gazed at Alcatraz from the wharf which brings me to my next story entitled “That Time I Wanted to Buy Alcatraz Tickets.” Back when we planned this vacation, I asked father what time we wanted to tour Alcatraz. He is a bit noncommittal, and he said to wait to buy tickets. A few weeks later, I asked him again, and he replied in the same manner. Then, I went to Europe and did not think about Alcatraz. I came home and attempted to buy tickets to tour Alcatraz just to discover tickets were sold out until August 18. TRAVEL TIP: Buy your Alcatraz tickets months in advance! At the beginning of June, tickets were still available, but 6 weeks later, they were all sold out. Thus, I bitterly stared at Alcatraz from the wharf.
When at Fisherman’s Wharf, one must sample the sourdough bread at Boudin Bakery. Boudin Bakery was established in 1849, and its sourdough French bread became an instant favorite in the city. The bread is still made with the traditional recipe and is delicious. Plus, they shape the bread into cute alligators, turtles, crabs, and other animals.
My sister’s friend lives in the Bay Area and met us at Alioto’s for dinner. Alioto’s is located at Fisherman’s Wharf and has decent but not excellent food; however, it does offer a great view of the wharf. After dinner, we walked a few blocks to Ghirardelli Square. Ghirardelli was incorporated in California in 1852 by an Italian man named Domenico Ghirardelli. Thanks to the gold rush, Domenico set sail to California where he opened up shop. If you know me, you know desserts are my primary food group, so I frolicked my way to Ghirardelli Square where I saw a long queue outside the entrance. Luckily, the line moved swiftly, and within a few minutes, I had a gooey delicious brownie in my hands. Success.
A must do in San Francisco is see the Golden Gate Bridge, and many will tell you the best way to see the Golden Gate Bridge is via bicycle. Sunday morning, my dad, brother, and I headed to Blazing Saddles bike shop. There are many bike companies located near and on Fisherman’s Wharf. The main two companies are Blazing Saddles and Bike and Roll. My friend who recently biked the Golden Gate Bridge said to rent bikes closest to Aquatic Park as possible since the bike trail starts there and you can avoid riding through the most congested parts of Fisherman’s Wharf. She also said go early before all the tourists come out and attempt to cycle for the first time in 30 years. My other friend said do not rent bikes in Golden Gate Park unless you are prepared to bike up a lot of hills.
I am neither a Tour de France King of the Mountains winner, nor Lance Armstrong on ‘roids. Thus, I made sure to find a rental location closest to the bike trail and not in Golden Gate Park. Luckily, a Blazing Saddles shop was a few blocks from our hotel at the Hyde/Powell Cable Car Turn Around which is two blocks uphill from the beginning of the bike trail. The shop opened up at 8 am, and we were the first customers. The shop was a well-oiled machine. They briefed us on the route, fitted us with helmets, and made sure our bikes were in working condition. A few minutes later, we were off for our biking adventure.
The suggested bike route is through Aquatic Park along a bike path to Golden Gate Bridge, across the bridge on a sidewalk, and downhill to the quaint town of Sausalito. From Sausalito, you can continue on a 40 minute ride to Mill Park to see redwood trees and the town of Tiburon or take a ferry from back from Sausalito to San Francisco. Along the path, you have good photo opportunities of the bridge, but beware the ride from the wharf to the bridge is a lot longer than expected, especially if you do not ride regularly (e.g. me). The path covers about four hills, and while it is only 8 miles to Sausalito from the beginning of the trail, it took us about 1.5 hours. We, of course, stopped for pictures along the way, but if you are an average cyclist who rides 1-4 times every decade, budget about 1.5 hours for riding to Sausalito. Luckily, going at 8 am had its benefits. Only local cyclists were out, so there was no tourist traffic. A few days later, my dad biked the bridge again, but he went around 10 am and said it was packed with tourists who did not know how to ride bikes.
Sausalito is a cute town filled with art galleries, souvenir shops, cafes, and restaurants. Blazing Saddles told us upon our arrival in the town, go to the ferry landing and get a free priority token for boarding the ferry. With this token, you and your bike are guaranteed a spot on the ferry. The line gets pretty long in the middle of the day, so if you want to ensure you get a ferry ride back, get this token ASAP. Since it was Sunday, the ferries were much more infrequent. We had places to go, so we took a quick taxi ride back to the city. It cost $50 for three of us and our bikes whereas the ferry costs $11 per person.
After dropping off our bikes, my mom, brother, and I walked about 20 minutes from our hotel to the top of Lombard Street which is “the crookedest street” in the world. It has 8 switchbacks and 12 flowerbeds with over 2,000 blue and purple hydrangeas. We climbed the 249 steps on the right side of the street to get a great view of the city. The walk to Lombard Street made me commiserate with Mia Thermopolis' best friend Lily on The Princess Diaries. Lily says, "These hills are killing me" while walking around San Francisco. I feel ya, Lily.
After a delicious lunch at Boudin Bakery, we went to Alamo Square in the Western Addition neighborhood of San Francisco. This area is next to Haight-Ashbury district which was the center of the 1960s hippie movement. Alamo Square park offers good views of the city, but most famously, it offers a view of the Painted Ladies. The Painted Ladies are Victorian houses bordering the park. They are often shown as a famous shot of San Francisco. If you have ever seen Full House, you have seen the Painted Ladies. While there, I pondered the questions posed in the Full House theme song: “Whatever happened to predictability, the milk man, the paperboy, the evening TV?” It was only appropriate to ponder this question while at Alamo Square.
We then embarked on the ugliest four hour drive to Yosemite. Seriously, dead dry grass for four hours is so boring. We stayed at the Tenaya Lodge in Fish Camp, California. The Tenaya Lodge was a great hotel. It had a pool, spacious rooms, a helpful concierge, and three good restaurants. The lodge is located about a mile from the south gate of Yosemite Park.
Entrance to Yosemite is $20 per car. The south gate is located near Mariposa Grove where there are giant sequoias. We did the easy .8 mile hike to the Giant Grizzly tree. It was massive. The south gate is also close to Wawona which is where one of the few hotels in the park is located. This hotel is creatively named the Wawona Hotel. From the south entrance, it is about a 1.5 hour drive the valley floor. Along the way, there are turn offs to various parts of the park. The park is HUGE, so we drove around it and stopped to walk around at a few points. Glacier Point is a viewpoint at the south wall of Yosemite Valley with an elevation of 7,214 feet. It offers a view of Yosemite Falls and Half Dome (Yosemite’s most familiar granite rock formation). Tunnel View is another scenic overlook that offers guests the typical postcard view of Yosemite. From this overlook, you can see Bridalveil Fall, Half Dome, and El Capitan (one of the most challenging formations for rock climbers). Yosemite has a free shuttle service that you can take to various points in the park if you do not want to drive yourself.
The valley floor is home to the Ahwahnee Hotel which was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987. The hotel was completed in 1927 and constructed for $1.25 million. The hotel was built to attract celebrities, dignitaries, presidents, basically people with money. The National Park Service knew it had to lure rich people to the park to gain financial support for the park system. Smart thinking, park people. During World War 2, the hotel served as a convalescent hospital. Later on, the interior of this hotel served as the inspiration for the set design for The Shining. The exterior of The Shining hotel was the Timberline Lodge in Mount Hood, Oregon where I have also visited.
The Ahwahnee Hotel has a bar with a more casual menu and a main dining room with a more expansive menu. We ate lunch in the main dining room, and it was delicious. At night, the main dining room requires reservations and enforces a dress code; however, for lunch, neither a reservation nor nice clothing is required. The hotel also has a sweets shop with delicious tiramisu truffles. Of course, after our discovery of this hotel being The Shining hotel, I kept hearing, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” so I was ready to escape the hotel out of fear I would be trapped there.
You can choose to be as active or as lazy as you want to be in Yosemite. We were pretty lazy. After driving all around, we were too lethargic to go on any long hikes, so we just walked around for a few minutes here and there. We went on a two hour horseback ride. Our hotel set it up for us, and we were expecting a trail ride with pretty scenery. False. Our hotel used Yosemite Trails company which leads rides through the Sierra National Forest, not Yosemite National Park. The trail was not pretty. It was just trees and trees for two hours. It was dry and dusty, and there were no pretty scenic overlooks. The last trail ride my family and I went on was up and down a mountain in Idaho that had a gorgeous view of a valley. This trail ride was nowhere near as pretty or fun as that one. My advice to any of you who want to ride while in Yosemite, find another company that actually rides through the park.
Unfortunately, since it was the end of the season, the Merced River was too low for a short white water rafting trip. Most of the companies were only offering overnight rafting trips which was not up our alleys. So instead, my brother talked us into fly fishing. At summer camp, I took fishing once. An entire month of fishing, and I never caught one. As a counselor for two summers, I had to teach fishing. I had to put one too many minnows on hooks and was hooked myself a few too many times; thus, I hate fishing. However, I am willing to try everything once, and I thought maybe fly fishing would be different.
Our guide was very nice and helpful. He provided us with some wading boots, taught us how to cast, and explained the difference between fly fishing and regular fishing. We climbed over giant rocks in the river gorge to get farther upstream where the currents of the river collided making it a better place to catch fish. Climbing over all the rocks and hiking through the river was much more of a workout than expected; thus, I can no longer say fly fishing is a lazy sport. My dad was bored in two seconds and left my brother and me with the guide. We fished for about four hours and each caught a few rainbow trouts. The park requires you release the fish after catching them which brings me to my next point why fishing is stupid: why bother catching a fish if you just put it right back in the water? I don’t get it. While I did not enjoy catching fish, I did enjoy climbing over the rocks and hanging out in the cool water all afternoon. Our guide was like India Jones and skillfully jumped from rock to rock. My brother was not as lucky and fell in a few times. Thus, don’t fly fish unless you are agile, have good balance, and able to scale rocks.
After two full days in Yosemite, we ventured back to the Bay Area. After 4 hours of ugly scenery, we ended up in the cute town of Sausalito again to explore the town for an hour. That night we ate at Slanted Door. At least three friends told us we had to eat at Slanted Door. The Slanted Door is a modern Vietnamese restaurant. Dishes are meant to be shared since they come out as they are ready. It was absolutely delicious, but a bit pricey if you are on a budget. FYI: Multiple friends also recommended Kokkari which is a Greek restaurant.
Slanted Door is in the Ferry Building by the Bay Bridge. The Ferry Building has a market in it with stalls selling various products. A few days each week, there is an outdoor farmers market at the Ferry Building too. When I heard it was a market near the water, I immediately thought it would be like Pikes Place Market in Seattle. We arrived after the market closed, but from the looks of it, it was a much cleaner and organized market than Pikes Place Market.
We had a few hours before our flight on Thursday, so while my dad went on a bike ride, my brother, mom and I walked to the southern entrance of Chinatown where the Dragon’s Gate is located. The Chinatown in San Francisco is the oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest Chinese community outside of Asia. The Dragon’s Gate is the only authentic Chinatown Gate in North America, meaning it is constructed in the traditional Chinese fashion. It is the iconic picture of Chinatown that you have probably seen on a movie or in a guidebook. We also shopped at Union Square which is located a few blocks from the Dragon’s Gate before heading to the airport.
What surprised me the most was the number of foreign visitors in San Francisco. I kept hearing snippets of conversations in other languages which made me feel like I was back in Europe again. Another surprising part of the trip was the weather. San Francisco was around 50-70 degrees. I wore jeans and even had to bust out a jacket at night. Some people were wearing full out winter clothing (boots and scarves) which was a little unnecessary. Outside of San Francisco, the weather was considerably warmer.
San Francisco was an awesome vacation destination. There is a ton to do in the area. Besides what we did, there is Muir Woods (redwood trees) and Napa (obviously for wine tasting). A few hours south is Big Sur along the Pacific Coast. Plus, there are various other attractions in the Bay Area to visit. Be sure to put “sit on the dock of the bay” like Otis Redding on your travel bucket list.