Thursday, November 7, 2013

Travels to San Francisco, California

San Francisco is the leading financial and cultural center of Northern California and the San Francisco Bay Area.  Spanish for "Saint Francis," the city was founded on June 29, 1776, when colonists from Spain established a fort at the Golden Gate and a mission named for St. Francis of Assisi a few miles away.  The California Gold Rush of 1849 brought rapid growth, making it the largest city on the West Coast at the time. Today, San Francisco is renowned for its cool summers, fog, steep rolling hills, eclectic mix of architecture, and landmarks including the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars, the former prison on Alcatraz Island, and its Chinatown district. It is also a primary banking and finance center.
 
Downtown view at night as seen from Twin Peaks
In late August 2012, Keith was in San Francisco for a work conference and I decided to join him for a long weekend so we could explore the city together.  Here are a few things we saw during our stay:

We walked to the Embarcadero area and wandered into the Historic Ferry Building.  It is a terminal for ferries that travel across the San Francisco Bay, a marketplace, and also has offices.  On top of the building is a 245-foot tall clock tower, with four clock dials, each 22 feet in diameter, which can be seen from Market Street, a main thoroughfare of the city.  I was surprised to see many high end "fancy food" stalls set up inside.  Olive oils, cheeses, breads, pastries, coffees, and meats.  We walked around a bit before seeing the San Francisco Fish Company.  We ordered some food and took it outside to sit out on the marina/pier with a view of the Bay Bridge. 

San Francisco is famous for its hills. There are more than 50 hills within city limits.  Lombard Street is an east–west street in San Francisco.  It is famous for having a steep, one-block section that consists of eight tight hairpin turns. The street was named after Lombard Street in Philadelphia by San Francisco surveyor Jasper O'Farrell.  I can't imagine how people who live on this street manage to drive in and out each day.


Instead of walking up all these hills, cable cars carry riders up steep inclines to the summit of Nob Hill, once the home of the city's business tycoons, and down to the waterfront tourist attractions of Fisherman's Wharf, and Pier 39, where many restaurants feature Dungeness crab from a still-active fishing industry.  But with all the the tourists, the line to get on a cable car can be up to 2 hours long.  We skipped the wait and walked instead.

San Francisco's Chinatown is the oldest and one of the largest in North America with the largest Chinese community outside Asia. Visitors can easily become immersed in a microcosmic Asian world, filled with herbal shops, temples, pagoda roofs and dragon parades.  It was not the right time to eat when we visited, so we only walked around and explored.  I liked all the street art.


I had originally wanted to go to Slanted Door after reading rave reviews about it, but there were no reservations available within two weeks.  So I made the executive decision to try the newer Out the Door instead.  This was not near the Chinatown area, but was our only taste of Asian food while in San Francisco.  Next time, I will be sure we make time to dine in Chinatown.

The next morning we went to the Pier 39 arcade and ate breakfast at the Eagle Cafe overlooking the San Francisco Bay.  We had a planned boat tour at 12 noon, which took us along the bay under the Golden Gate Bridge to Alcatraz and back.
The Rock

Close up view of the prison.
View of Alcatraz with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.
Hungry fellow!
After our boat tour, I was really craving chowder or soup.  We walked around Fisherman's Wharf for a bit, admiring the crab stands and fisherman selling their leftover catch to anyone with a cooler.  We even spotted a harbor seal lurking around for any scraps. I was shocked by how big this guy was and his large brown eyes!  Watch out; these guys can be sneaky and brash.  They will jump right up into the boats without shame.


Yummy Dungeness crab!
We continued to walk past several seafood restaurants and all seem to have something good on their menu.  My stomach was rumbling, but Keith wanted to turn down an alley after quickly looking up places on his smartphone. Had he found a hidden gem?  I noticed a small line of people walking in the same direction, so I knew we must be headed in the right path.  Past a few other small boat docks, along Pier 47 we found Scoma's.  There was a bit of a crowd waiting to be seated (another good sign), so we put our name on the list, grabbed a menu, and sat in their bar/waiting area until we were called.

The Ghirardelli Chocolate Company was incorporated in 1852, and is the second-oldest chocolate company in the United States, after Baker's Chocolate.  After lunch, we walked around and came across the Ghirardelli Square.  This landmark once featured over 40 specialty shops and restaurants.  Some of the original shops and restaurants still occupy the square, while others are undergoing an extensive renovation.  That night we went to the Noe Valley area and had dinner at Top Chef Master Chris Cosentino's restaurant, Incanto.


On our last day in San Francisco we planned to check out the SFMOMA and see my favorite artist, Cindy Sherman, whose exhibition was currently on display.  It was much sunnier this morning, and Keith quickly looked up a place for breakfast.  He found one walking distance from our hotel, so off we went.  We found Brenda's French Soul Food with a large crowd of hipsters waiting outside and I immediately thought I was in an episode of Portlandia.  After another full day of sight-seeing, we had our last dinner at Foreign Cinema.


I really enjoyed this trip to San Francisco.  There are still so many other things to do and places to eat, so I am sure we will return.  I'd love to rent a car and drive up the coast towards California's famous wine country.  Have you visited San Francisco before? What are some of your favorites things to do and places to eat? Please share in the comments below!

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