An October 2004 trip
to San Francisco by Foxboro Marmot
Quote: We were trying to decide where to go with frequent-flier miles that had built up when one of us said, "You know, we haven't been to San Francisco for a long time. We always enjoyed San Francisco." And so....
The York is a small hotel on Nob Hill, built in 1922 and extensively renovated in 1995. Three rather hilly blocks from a cable-car line, six blocks uphill from Union Square, it seemed convenient, yet away from the tourist mainstream. It was a pleasure to walk up Sutter Street unmolested after passing the panhandler gauntlet around Union Square.
To top it all off, the hotel appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller Vertigo (as the ‘Empire Hotel’), and we were staying in room 501, the Kim Novak room. In Vertigo, Jimmy Stewart, standing on the other side of Sutter Street, sees Kim Novak look out the window of room 501! It was our brush with Hollywood glamour, circa 1956! And yet….
Our bow-front room was clean and spacious, with its own character, instead of the efficient cookie-cutter design of a modern hotel. It was tastefully decked out with pale terracotta-colored walls and pale green carpet, decorated with posters and stills from Vertigo—but a bit stuffy. Ah, no air-conditioning? No problem! There were three windows; we opened all three.
It was only later, when we tried to sleep, that we realized how noisy Sutter Street was, with buses, cars with screechy brakes, and in the morning, garbage trucks. Closing the windows made it marginally quieter, but much hotter!
A continental breakfast served in the sparking marble foyer was included. The breakfast buffet was close to being good but fell short. Juice, coffee, tea, muffins, croissants, and fruit should have been fine, and yet… the baked goods must have been bought in bulk from Sam’s Club instead of from a nearby bakery. Once emptied, the fruit bowl stayed empty longer than necessary before being restocked.
The price for a double averaged out to $128 per night, including taxes. It was so very close to being a fine place to stay, but the little things seemed a bit off. When booking a reservation at the York, insist on a room at the back, away from the street. It might be enough to move this hotel’s rating up a notch.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on January 14, 2005
940 SUTTER STREET
San Francisco, California 94109
We chose it based on price: total cost for our room, including all taxes, was $98--not a bad deal for a room at a quality hotel in San Francisco! Of course, no one would ever want an extended stay here--it’s in the middle of highways, exit ramps, and the general effluvia adjacent to any major metropolitan airport-–but it’s a great place to crash if your flights arrive late at night or if, like us, you’re heading out at dawn.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on January 14, 2005
Four Points Sheraton
264 South Airport Boulevard
San Francisco, California
Attraction | "Coit Tower - and the Parrots!"
Take a walk to the top of Telegraph Hill for the view and check out Coit Tower… but make sure you walk down the Filbert Street steps to see the wild parrots too.
There’s a statue of Christopher Columbus and nice views from the top of Telegraph Hill. The view’s even better from Coit Tower, but the fee keeps going up, and I don’t feel it’s worth the $5 to go to the top. If you’re around while the tower is open, wander in and inspect the interesting Depression-era murals on the ground-floor walls. There’s no charge to look around.
After getting your fill of scenery and art, head down the Filbert Street steps. It’s nice enough—a steep walkway down the hill with plantings on either side, and with any luck, you’ll run into the parrots. The parrots are famous and have been subjects of both a book, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, by Mark Bittner, and a documentary film of the same name. Yet many people in the city don’t know they exist! These cherry-headed conures, often called Christmas parrots, are about a foot long, with iridescent green bodies and red heads. The flock may have begun with a small number of escaped birds or birds released by their owners, but it’s now up to well over 100 birds. They survive year-round in San Francisco, ranging from the Presidio and Fort Mason to Washington Square and Telegraph Hill.
They squawk loudly, so you’re likely to hear them before you see them. Listen for them, then stop and wait. They’re hard to spot among the leaves, but with any luck, something will spook them, and the whole flock will fly off at once. When the sun’s right, it’s spectacular: a noisy explosion of shiny green confetti, blasted out of the trees into the blue sky.
The parrots do make their rounds about the city, so you may miss them. Keep listening, and you may find them in one of San Francisco’s other parks.
1 Telegraph Hill Blvd
San Francisco, California 94133
Attraction | "Bike the Bridge"
There are a batch of bike-rental shops near Fisherman’s Wharf—Blazing Saddles and Bike and Roll have seven outlets between them. Looking at price and equipment, they’re pretty much interchangeable. Maps and written directions are provided for a variety of routes. Helmets and bike locks are included. A basic rental is $26 to $28 per day, but invest a couple of minutes in skimming through one of the free tourist guides; you should find a coupon good for $2 to $4 off.
Generally, the ride is flat and protected from traffic. After some chaos around Fisherman’s Wharf, it’s mostly a protected route through Aquatic Park, Crissy Field, and Fort Point. There’s an uphill to get onto the Golden Gate Bridge and begin the spectacular one-mile ride across on the bike/pedestrian sidewalk.
It’s interesting. Riding on the bike, the bridge seemed solid and steady, but when we got off the bikes halfway across to gawk at the view, everything rattled and shook as cars and trucks hurtled across. We actually felt more secure on the bikes than while walking or standing.
After crossing, it's a short downhill ride to Sausalito and lunch. Total distance to this point is 8 miles. Now, there are options: if you’ve had enough riding, it’s easy enough to catch a ferry back to San Francisco. Otherwise, you could retrace your steps to go back over the bridge or pedal on to Tiburon and grab the ferry to Fisherman’s Wharf there. Either way adds about 8 more miles.
We chose to continue on to Tiburon. It was less comfortable, with more riding on the side of the road while traffic whizzed by, but still, at least half the route was on well-protected bike paths along the bay.
The ferry back to San Francisco was amazingly fast—this wasn’t any tourist sightseeing trip but a functional part of the Bay Area transportation system. It’s got an unusual quirk, however. You buy a ticket upon boarding the ferry, then give it to the ticket-taker while getting off. Unfortunately for one cyclist, there’s a serious breeze on the ferry; his ticket blew out of his pocket and into the bay. As we left, he was still arguing/pleading with the ticket-taker that he shouldn’t have to pay a second time. You’ve been warned: hold onto your ticket!
The best thing about biking is freedom to explore odd bits of the city you encounter in passing: check out the Palace of Arts and Culture, ride out to the end of a marina wharf, spin down side-streets in Sausalito, or go wherever something looks interesting.
Blazing Saddles Bike Rentals and Tours
2715 Hyde Street
San Francisco, California 94109
Muir Woods National Monument is tucked into a valley along the aptly-named Redwood Creek. After checking the very limited displays in the visitors center, walk along the creek at least to Cathedral Grove to get a sense of the size and majesty of these big boys. The 0.8-mile-long main path is an easy, level walk. There are four bridges across Redwood Creek along the trail; people walk as far as they want, cross a bridge, and head back along the other side of the creek. The beauty of it is that, at each bridge, a high percentage of people cross over and head back, so once past bridge 3, it gets especially peaceful, allowing you to kick back and appreciate your surroundings.
Redwoods grow even taller than giant sequoias, but they’re thinner, with less bulk. Cathedral Grove has one tree that’s over 250 feet tall and another that’s 14 feet wide. Scientists report that most of the mature trees in Muir Woods are 500 to 800 years old, but some are more than 1,000 years old. That’s a lot of candles for any birthday cake!
Muir Woods is a short drive from downtown San Francisco and makes an attractive outdoor alternative to spending another day in the city. Take Route 101 north over the Golden Gate Bridge, exit onto Route 1 for Mill Valley, and follow the signs.
Muir Woods National Monument
Mill Valley, CA 94941-2696
There’s a mostly level, 0.7-mile-long paved path around the top that opens up to spectacular views of the north side of the bay, toward Richmond and Tiburon. Mount Tamalpais is only 2,570 feet tall, but it rises so quickly from sea level that views from the summit path rival those from an airplane. Walking along, we looked down on hawks, ravens, and turkey vultures soaring back and forth in the ravines below. During our stroll, a long, low cloud hung over the bay near San Francisco, hiding all but the tops of the distant hills. Marin County was warm, with bright sunshine, while the city was in a cool, dank fog.
Mill Valley and Mount Tamalpais State Park are a short drive from downtown San Francisco and make an attractive outdoor alternative to spending another day in the city. Take Route 101 north over the Golden Gate Bridge, exit onto Route 1 for Mill Valley, and follow the signs.
Mount Tamalpais Drive and Walk
Mount Tamalpais State Park
San Francisco, California 94941