Fun in the sun in San Francisco

I left my heart in...well you know the rest. Here is a look at the week-long trip I took to San Francisco.


Fun in the sun in San Francisco

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by gatorgirl1977 on August 14, 2006

San Francisco, what a neat city! This city has everything from cable cars (don't call them trolleys) to prisons. I visited to San Francisco July 14-21 with my sister and some friends. We took in all the major sights and locations! Needless to say it was a whirlwind trip with as much crammed in as we could manage. We went from Coit Tower to Ghirradelli Square to Alcatrez to Muir Woods...well you get the idea.

Here are some of my destinations not to miss. If you can get the tickets, take the Alcatrez After Dark tour. They cost about $24, but you get the chance to take part in some special activities not offered during the day. It was awesome, we took the earliest evening tour and didn't leave the island until the final boat. Also, even though it is a long ride, make sure you do Yosemite National Park. We took a tour from Grayline and it cost $125 per person, but was well worth every penny.

If you are looking for a great place to grab a bite on the Wharf check out Bistro Boudins. The crab cakes and clam chowder in the sour dough bread bowl are not to be missed.

${QuickSuggestions} My first quick suggestion is that you carry a jacket with you at all times. When I was in San Francisco the temperatures ranged between 50-70. The weather would be absolutely perfect one minute and then freezing the next. I actually brought my jacket and ended up buying a second one in Sausolito before going on my night tour of Alcatrez. I wore both jackets fully zipped that night.

Another piece of clothing I would recommend would be a hat. With the weather as nice as it is in San Francisco, you will want to be outside more. My scalp wanted to burn when I was there and a hat became a necessity.

Also always carry a taxi service phone number with you when in San Francisco. My sister went to the Painted Ladies and ended up walking through some of the not so beautiful neighborhoods of San Francisco before we could catch a taxi.

Another hint I would give is check to see when the city is having it's Save the Air days before you buy a Muni pass. They had two days while we were there that the bus, ferry, and cable car fees were waved. We were better off paying for public transit fees individually versus buying the pass.

Also when in San Francisco with friends, make sure that you bring cash to restaurants. We went to several places that would not split the checks.

One last tip... make sure you buy one of the $5 public transit maps in San Francisco. You can find them at any of the tour locations and shops. This map was better than any we had in our tour books or from AAA. It had all of the bus and cable car lines and routes. We forgot the map one day and we were totally lost without it.
${BestWay} There is no way that I would attempt to park in San Francisco. Some of the places looked like they were at 45 degree angles. That being said, I think the public transit system and taxis are the best ways to get around coupled with walking. What we typically did was take transportation to areas such as Chinatown and then walked the areas to exhaustion. The public transit system was great to get around within an area, but when going a great distance the taxis were well worth the money. It was much easier than figuring out all of the transfers. However, when visiting San Francisco, please remember that they are not as plentiful as in places like New York City. That being said, take a taxi service number with you while on your jaunts around town in case you have to call one.

Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites Fisherman's Wharf

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by gatorgirl1977 on August 15, 2006

When I started the process of selecting where to stay in San Francisco, I read all the descriptions of the area. I was told how touristy the Wharf was and decided that I wanted to stay in the Union Square area; however, when I went to book a room, none were available. I had to "settle" for the Wharf area, and I am so thankful that I did.
The Holiday Inn Express is located from the Wharf by about a 5-minute walk and from Ghiradelli by a 10-minute walk, and is only 1 block from a cable car turn around. The area also was frequented by taxis, which made it easy to go to other sections of the city.
In addition to the ease of the location, the Holiday Inn Express offers a phenomenal staff. They were friendly and saw to all requests, like extra pillows and towels, quickly. They were prompt at handling a noise complaint one night for us. In fact, they had the situation resolved within 5 minutes of our phone call. They arranged for a van taxi for us when we had to return to the airport and made sure it arrived in plenty of time.
In addition to their helpfulness, the staff was also willing to offer suggestions about places to eat or things to do in the area. We had some of our best meals in San Francisco based on their recommendations.
The hotel itself is what you would expect of a basic hotel. It was nicely furnished and maintained, but by no means was it a luxury hotel. The room we reserved was a basic with two double beds. The room was comfortable enough with the traditional amenities of cable TV, hair dryers, coffeemakers, etc.
A nice perk of the hotel was having free continental breakfast. Every morning from around 6:30-9:30, the hotel opened their breakfast area. The breakfast was mainly composed of cold items like cereal and danish, but they did have hot cinnamon buns, too. By eating their breakfast, we were able to save money that we could then spend on tours, gifts, etc.
Overall, I thought this hotel was well equipped and the staff was great. I loved the location, even if it was very close to the Wharf, and would definitely stay here again.
Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites Fisherman's Wharf
550 North Point Street
San Francisco, California, 94133
(415) 409-4600

Absinthe

Member Rating 1 out of 5 by gatorgirl1977 on August 24, 2006

On our last evening in San Francisco, we decided we would love to have a great dinner. We selected Absinthe from one of my travel journals and called for reservations. The staff worked us into the book and we headed out.
When we arrived we were quickly seated at our table. The furnishings here are done in deep colors and are very plush. We were presented with menus and left to ponder our choices.

It felt like the waitstaff was hovering over our every breathe. I have been to numerous nice restaurants before and never felt so over observed. When we had questions, our waiter was unable to answer them. He just kind of guessed at them. Everytime someone moved a piece of the table setting the staff came over and reset it into it's proper place. I felt like they were watching to see if we were going to try to steal the silverware.

The guidebook had said this place was comfortable and homey but it felt really out of place. The food was also not up to par with the ambiance and pretensions. My caesar salad was limp and had way too much dressing, my cheese course was extremely jarring paired with my other food choices. The other members of my party agreed. The salmon appetizer was one of the best parts of our meal.

With every move being observed, I couldn't wait to head out. Instead of being the nice closing meal we all had planned, it turned out to be one of our quickest and most uncomfortable.

If you're looking for a place with pretty furnishings this may be your place, but if you're looking for a great place to eat a great meal and enjoy time with your friends this is not the place. I spent my evening feeling increasingly uncomfortable and anxious. I wish we had gone to a different place for that evening and if I were to go back to San Francisco, I would not return to Absinthe.
Absinthe
398 Hayes St
San Francisco, California, 94102
(415) 551-1590

Cha Cha Cha

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by gatorgirl1977 on August 24, 2006

After finishing our Haight-Ashbury tour we were famished. We asked our guide for a recommendation in the area and she sent us to Cha Cha Cha.

When we arrived outside the bright purple building, we didn't quite know what to expect. We saw that the area was pretty crowded and seemed to be alive with lunch even on a Tuesday around 11.

We stepped inside and were quickly seated at a table. The menus were handed out and consisted of different types of Spanish appetizers or tapas.

My group quickly picked about 4 different tapas and decided we would share. I ordered the Dijon Chicken. This turned out to be a chicken breast sauteed in a dijon mustard and cream sauce with mushrooms. It was fantastic and only cost about $8. The other members of my group had wonderful food too. There is a wide range of choices and their rice and black beans were awesome. Everything we sampled was delicious.

The service though hectic, because the place was packed, was excellent. Our water glasses never were empty and the waitress constantly had an eye out for us.

The atmosphere was fun and inviting. All around the ceiling of the restaurant there were exhibits dedicated to different cultural and regional areas, such as Mardi Gras. The restaurant had a fun vibe to it that is perfect for the Haight Ashbury area. This is one spot I would definitely eat at again!
Cha Cha Cha
1801 Haight St
San Francisco, California, 94117
(415) 386-5758

Fior d'Italia

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by gatorgirl1977 on August 25, 2006

We saw an ad for Fior d'Italia. This is one of the oldest restaurants in San Francisco. We decided we had to check it out.

We wandered in right after the restaurant opened for lunch. It was completely deserted. The waitstaff was very friendly and took us straight to a table. This restaurant is done elegantly but isn't stuffy in the least.
We each asked the waiter for suggestions. He recommended the meatballs, the lasagna, and the risotto (which is prepared when ordered so it takes 20-30 minutes). I ordered the risotto, while my friends ordered the other suggestions.

We also ordered calamari for our appetizer. I'm usually not a big fan of calamari, but this was excellent. It was crispy and not at all the chewy texture that I hate. We then sampled the Caesar salad. It was delicious, fresh, and crisp. Also, it had real Caesar dressing(with eggs). The dressing was creamy and delicious and the salad had just the right amount of it.

When our entrees arrived they were perfect. My risotto (around $16) was creamy and had a delicate flavor. The meatballs were divine and the lasagna was better than my mother's. The meal was excellent. When the waiter came back with the dessert menu we had to sample it too.

We ordered a type of cooked cream with strawberries and one of the best pieces of chocolate cake I have ever eaten. It was moist and delicious. Then the chief sent us some real tiramisu to thank us for our patronage. I use to think I didn't like tiramisu, but this was dreamy. It was fixed the way it is served in Italy. The texture was creamy and it melted in our mouths.

The waitstaff was friendly and energetic. Our waiter was so nice and friendly. He definitely added to our experience. He was also willing to offer suggestions of other restaurants in San Francisco that we should check out.
Fior d'Italia
601 Union St
San Francisco, California, 94133
(415) 986-1886

Golden Gate Park

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by gatorgirl1977 on August 14, 2006

Golden Gate Park is full of beautiful sites and things to do. There is the Japanese Tea Gardens, the Rose Garden, the Windmill, and the Botanical Gardens. The Park is free to visit. The Japanese Tea Garden has an additional charge, but it is under $10 per person. Everywhere you look there is something new to look at. In the botanical gardens you will discover different areas dedicated to different regions and countries around the world. One of our tour guides mentioned that there is not a single plant in the entire park that is a native Northern Californian variety, not just in the botanical gardens. This makes every tree something to be viewed.

Another nice feature of the park is that the bus line runs right beside it. It makes it easy to ride the length of the park and take in all the sights in the park in one day. I was told to visit the Shakespeare Garden; however, my map of the park didn't show it. It is suppose to be filled with plants mentioned in his works.
The Windmill is a must! It was absolutely breathtaking. It is located in the middle of a tullip garden; when I visited it wasn't tullip season, but it was still unbelievable.

The park also meets up against the Pacific Ocean on the west side next to the Windmill. It was very convient after looking around the park to go and walk on the beach.

While the park appears much smaller than Central Park, it is definanly worth the stop. It's a nice place to get away from all the hassle and traffic of the city.
Golden Gate Park
501 Stanyan Street
San Francisco, California, 94118
(415) 831-2700

Grayline Tours - Combo Muir Woods and Deluxe City Tour - City Tour Portion

Member Rating 1 out of 5 by gatorgirl1977 on August 14, 2006

I chose to write up the combo tour as two separate tours because they can be purchased that way and because the experience on each leg of the tour was completely different. For the combo tour that includes both the city of San Francisco and Muir Woods/Sausolito, it costs $81 per person. For the city tour alone it cost $44. These tours can be purchased at www.graylinesanfrancisco.com.
When I read the description of the Deluxe City part of tour, I got really excited. It sounded like it would be a great way to see the city and take in all of the major sights. My reality was something completely different. We climbed aboard a small bus around 9:45 in the morning. Unlike the larger buses used by Grayline for its tours to Yosemite and Muir Woods, this bus basically had normal sized windows. Why is this important? Because you could only see out one side of the bus. While the tour leads you to believe that you would see "The Victorians" and you did see Victorians, you didn't see the famed Painted Ladies. While the tour lead you to believe that you would see Lombard Street, you did but only from several miles away.
Also, while at stops where you could disembark the bus, the driver consistently tried to depart several minutes earlier than he said that he would. At one stop, four people in my group were almost left, and I had to run like a mad woman after the bus to make them stop. When we checked the time we still had 5 minutes by his quoted figure and he had decided to head out early without any notice to us.
Another complaint about when we got off the bus is that we really didn't have sufficient time to take in the areas and ended up having to go back other days to accomplish sight seeing we thought this tour would allow us to complete. For example, we were dropped for 30 minutes in front of the Botanical Gardens and the Japanese Tea Garden. We were also told that there really wasn't anyway to see those places within that time limit, so I had to schedule an additional day to return to those locals.
The tour wasn't all bad; we saw places that I might not have otherwise visited. We saw the Mission Dolores and Twin Peaks (even though it was really foggy).
I don't mean to be harsh, but I was really irritated with this tour. I started worrying about the other tours that I had booked with this company. Luckily for me the other tours were much more positive experiences. If I had it to do over again, I would definitely would not take this tour. After we returned from this tour, I saw a hop-on, hop-off tour bus that may have been a better option. However, I believe that even hiring a taxi to drive me to each location would have been better.
Gray Line San Francisco Bus Tours
Pier 43 1/2 Embarcadero
San Francisco, California, 94133
(415) 434-8687

Flower Power Haight-Ashbury Walking Tour

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by gatorgirl1977 on August 15, 2006

I reserved the Flower Power Haight-Ashbury Walking Tour through Zerve.com. It cost $18 per person; however, if you call the organization directly, it will save you a couple of dollars. I preferred to book through Zerve, though, so that you had immediate confirmation and didn't have to deal with leaving messages on answering machines.
For people who don't know much about the Haight-Ashbury area, it was the center for the Flower Children during the Summer of Love. Today this area is filled with cool, funky shops and neat little restaurants.
I booked the tour with mild expectations and was not at all disappointed. Our tour guide, Izu, was friendly and knowledgeable. She told about her personal experiences and stories from times past. She was really interesting, and the 2-hour tour was not at all boring.
On the tour we were shown the house Charles Manson lived in, the House the Grateful Dead lived in, and Magnolia's, a historical restaurant for which the song Sugar Magnolia was named. We saw various areas and discussed numerous parts of the hippie movement.
The one caution that I give this tour is that it is not for small children. Much discussion was had about the drug culture during the day and things like 4-20.
That being said, the tour was really neat and my group had a blast. It was a great way to really see a different side of the Haight versus just doing some shopping. Izu was a great guide, laid-back and friendly. I am really happy we signed up to stroll through the ages and learn more about hippies and the Summer of Love.
Flower Power Haight-Ashbury Walking Tour
Contact is by phone only
San Francisco, California, 94117
(415) 863-1621

Beach Blanket Babylon

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by gatorgirl1977 on August 15, 2006

Before coming to San Francisco, a friend of mine suggested we go to see Beach Blanket Babylon. I was a little unsure, but looked at it on the Web. Once I saw the pictures, I knew my group would absolutely love it. You can check it out for yourself at www.beachblanketbabylon.com.
We reserved our tickets online and chose the Front Cabaret section for about $45 per person. This was a great section to sit in and we had awesome views. I don't think the Back Cabaret would have been as good. The rules were that the doors opened 1 hour before showtime, and there were no reserved seats, just guaranteed seats in the section you purchased. I would suggest that you get there early like we did. The place was packed with people, and the line had started to form even before the 1-hour time mark.
The show itself is performed cabaret style and focuses on current events in both entertainment and politics. Each performance is marked by ever-increasing over-the-top performances and increasing head wear. It was really funny, and my group very much enjoyed it. The show was so much fun for all of us. I don't think there was a single one of us who made it through without tears running down our faces from laughing so hard.
Beach Blanket Babylon has been playing in San Francisco for 30 years, and is constantly being updates. It was a ton of fun for all the adults present. The show was current and made fun of everyone, from King Louis of France to Elvis to George W. Bush to Tom Cruise. It was great!
As a side note, except for matinees, no one under the age of 21 is admitted because alcohol is available for purchase during the evening performances.
I would definitely go back and see this show again! It was loads of fun and didn't take itself too seriously. The performers did a great job and the costumes were truly amazing!
Beach Blanket Babylon
678 Beach Blanket Babylon Boulevard
San Francisco, California
415-421-4222

Grayline Tours- Combo Muir Woods and Deluxe City T

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by gatorgirl1977 on August 15, 2006

This portion of my Grayline tour could not have been more different than my City portion. This tour can be purchased both as the combo as a stand alone tour. When purchasing as a combo tour, it costs $81. When purchasing as a separate tour it cost $47. These tours can be purchased at www.graylinesanfrancisco.com.

My tour departed around 2:15 in the afternoon, and we traveled over the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County. The scenery was beautiful and visible on both sides of the bus. We made a stop at Vista Point for photos and then continued on to Muir Woods.

Muir Woods is a patch of Giant Sequoias located on Mt. Tam. These sequoias are not the largest, but they are the tallest. There are several trails and paths that you can venture on inside Muir Woods. I was struck by the quiet and peace in this grove. It was really a nice refreshing change of pace from other sites we had visited. There was even some wildlife as we entered into the grove. Check out my pictures to see the baby deer. It was really a nice place to visit. We had sufficient time to look around and explore before having to head back to the bus.

After finishing at Muir Woods we then continued on to Sausalito. Sausalito is reported to be an artist community; however, I found it to be more kitchy shops. It was still a fun place to look around and shop, plus it afforded really neat views back towards San Francisco. This tour is definitely worth doing; however, I would book it directly and not waste my money on the city portion. I enjoyed seeing the Sequoias and would love to visit there again.
Gray Line San Francisco Bus Tours
Pier 43 1/2 Embarcadero
San Francisco, California, 94133
(415) 434-8687

Alcatraz

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by gatorgirl1977 on August 15, 2006

If you go to San Francisco, you have got to go to Alcatraz. If you are there in the summer, get your tickets early and go to Alcatraz After Dark. For about $25 per person, you can get a truly unique experience.

During the summer months, the Blue and Gold Fleet offer evening tours of Alcatraz. You can buy both day tour and evening tour tickets at www.blueandgoldfleet.com.

My group went out on the first evening tour and returned on the last boat of the evening. If you choose to do this activity I would suggest that you do the same. By going on the early evening tour you can listen to your audio tour and then have time to participate in some of the specially scheduled evening activities. These activities are really neat because they are not offered during the day visits and involve small groups. My group and I got to go on the hospital tour. This part of the prison is usually closed during the day hours and only 20 people per evening get to take this tour.

The hospital tour was really interesting. You get to see the Birdman of Alcatraz's cell, the operating room, and the hydrotherapy room. You even get to see where some of the movie, The Rock, was filmed. It was also really cool to get to participate in going on such a small, intimate tour.

All the guides at Alcatraz were phenomenal. They each were interesting and told us about the history of the island. The audio tour was exceptional as well. It is composed of voices of former prisoners and prison guards. They discuss the escape that occurred along with highlighting locations like "Broadway" and "Time Square" within the prison. On the tour you get to see Al Capone's cell as well as Machinegun Kelly's cell. As you listen to the audio you can't help but imagine what it was like on the island. The other thought you are struck with is how hard it must have been to be behind bars and look out on such beautiful sights. The views from Alcatraz are truly unbelievable, especially around sundown and after dark.

If you get the chance to do the Alcatraz After Dark tour, don’t turn it down. It was something that I booked almost a month ahead and I am really glad that I did. The extra cost is nothing compared to what you gain by the experience.
Alcatraz Island/The Rock
San Francisco Bay
Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco, 94133
(415) 705-5555

Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by gatorgirl1977 on August 16, 2006

After hanging around in Haight-Ashbury, I decided that I needed a nature break. I caught a cab and headed for The Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park.

The Japanese Tea Garden is a really interesting place. It is filled with small zen-like gardens and huge, red pagodas. It was a definite change of pace from the shops I had just left.

Entrance to the garden costs about $5-$6. It is open during the summer until around 6:00 pm. It took us about 1 1/2 hours to tour the gardens, but we could have spent longer. The garden is set up around a large winding loop. By following the loop it leads you around to each of the small garden areas. By following the path you will discover a beautiful wooden bridge, a very large pagoda, a tea house, and numerous other visual delights.

In addition to being gorgeous, the tea garden is extremely peaceful. You can feel the tranquility, which is a marked contrast to the streets just beyond it's walls. People tended to keep their voices low and move in groups throughout the garden.

The garden is extremely well marked and each exhibit has a plaque explaining the meanings and history of it. These plaques are written in both English and Japanese. The plaques definitely added to the ambiance of the gardens.
In addition to the gardens, there is an authentic tea house located in the gardens. The waitresses wear beautiful kimonos. Since I'm not much of a fan of tea I didn't go in, but it seemed really neat from a distance.

This is definitely an attraction worth checking out and it's reasonably priced.
Japanese Tea Garden
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, California, 94102
(415) 668-0909

Yosemite National Park

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by gatorgirl1977 on August 14, 2006

Never in my life have I visited a more beautiful spot than Yosemite National Park. My group and I took the Grayline tour to Yosemite. The tour cost $125 per person, but it was worth that and more. I booked the tour over the Internet at www.graylinesanfrancisco.com. Grayline was great because they picked us up and dropped us off at our hotel.

The tour began at 7am and we were picked up around 6:45am. We stopped at several places along our way to Yosemite. The tour drives you over the Bay Bridge and through the Central Valley, where you can view the wind generators and the California Aqueduct. The total time on the tour was between 12 and 14 hours. Do not let this deter you from taking this tour.
We arrived at Yosemite around lunchtime. There were several dining options there. Our group settled on the cafeteria because it would be quick and cheap, and allow us more time in the park. Lunch cost around $7 for a cheeseburger and fries.
Following lunch, we set about to discover all of the hidden mysteries we could find. We hiked to the lower Yosemite Fall, waded in the freezing snow melted streams, and explored the forested areas. The views of El Capitan and Half Dome are not to be missed. These glacial rock formations were absolutely stunning. The Sentinel and the 3 Brothers were not to shabby, either.
I must admit the my venture to Yosemite was my favorite activity of my San Francisco trip. I would have loved to have had longer at the actual park in order to hike more of the trails. My only complaint was our tour guide was somewhat annoying, but not annoying enough to ruin my trip. This trip is definitely not to be missed. If you have money for only one tour on your trip to San Francisco, this should be it!


Chinatown

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by gatorgirl1977 on August 16, 2006

One of the not to miss experiences in San Francisco is Chinatown. San Francisco has one of the largest Chinatown areas in the United States of America. The main street in Chinatown is Grant Street.

We took the cable line to the Chinatown stop and walked into the area. It was like stepping into another world. There were Asian groceries on several corners. I personally would have no need to purchase some of their wares like dried seahorses, but they were really neat to see. We strolled through numerous stores and shops.

Some stores were basically just touristy spots, but if you look closely you can find some really neat places. One store that we stopped in sold vases with bamboo hand woven over them. Upon talking to the merchant we learned that one of the women in the shop made those vases and they were unique to the shop. She and her family refuse to teach the technique to anyone outside of their family.

In addition to the stores, we discovered the site of one of America's oldest Chinese Temples. It was on the third floor of one of the buildings. This was an amazing find. When we walked in there were red and gold ornaments everywhere. The incense was burning and some of the local people were bringing their fruit offerings. I truly felt like I had stepped into another world.

Another hidden find is the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company. This shop is located down a tiny alley in the middle of Chinatown. At this site you can watch as people make the fortune cookies. It was neat seeing them place each fortune by hand into the cookie. They also offered us samples that were still hot from the machines that make the cookies. It was really a neat find and cost me only the donation required for the pictures.

Basically, if you are wanting an experience a little different than a typical fun in the sun day in San Francisco check out their Chinatown. If we had to do this over again, the only change we would do is allot more time for it. We spent about 4 hours there, but could have easily spent more.
Chinatown
Grant Avenue
San Francisco, California

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