We departed Atlanta on an 8:40 am flight on Northwest Airlines to SFO via MSP on the morning of May 10, 2005. After a reasonably short layover in Minneapolis, we were on our way to SFO. We’d never been there and were excited about getting to see such a beautiful city and the $98.00 r/t tickets didn’t hurt either! We had previously made arrangements with Super Shuttle (www.supershuttle.com) to pick up us from the airport (r/t cost was 60.00 for two people). The shuttles were lined up right outside the International/United Airlines check-in desk. We could have taken the B.A.R.T. train, but decided against it. We wanted to quickly get out of the airport and check into our hotel with the least amount of fuss as possible and given the price of our tickets, we felt it was ok to splurge.
We chose the Nob Hill Motor Inn at 1630 Pacific Avenue in the Russian Hill/Pacific Heights area due to its wonderful reviews on www.tripadvisor.com. We were very pleased with our room….it had two queen beds, a table with two chairs, free wi-fi, in-room coffee maker w/ coffee, several lamps, working a/c & heat, refrigerator, microwave, tv with cable/hbo, free parking and the place was kept immaculately. We paid 94.00 a night for the first three nights and 114.00 on the last (Friday) night.
As always, after check-in we take a moment to acclimate ourselves to the neighborhood. There are several restaurants, a Walgreen’s and even a hardware store (Cole’s) within two blocks of the hotel. After checking out a few of the local establishments, we decided to stop by Walgreen’s to buy a couple of things to stock the fridge up with. Later we decided to have a meal at the Tai Chi Restaurant, a half block away from the hotel on Polk Street. The food was tasty and reasonable about $9.00 per person for Entrée, rice and drink. We headed back to the hotel to turn in at about 8 pm since we had an early pickup for our 3.5 hour San Francisco City Tour ($38.50) the next morning.
We got up and headed down to the office at 8 am for an 8:30 pickup….there isn’t a lobby per se…it’s just a small reception area where breakfast pastries and (freeze dried) coffee are set up in the corner of the area. I’d remembered that morning that I had neglected to call Alcatraz Tours, LLC to confirm that we would still be going on the tour (in spite of the fact that the tour was prepaid). No one answered when I called at 6:30 am, so I left a message. I mentioned my predicament to the innkeeper, Judy and she absolutely went out of her way to help me.
Apparently, Alcatraz contracts out the SFO city tour to various local tour companies and I had NO idea who was contracted out to pick us up. So….word to the wise: Make sure that you receive a confirmation email….not the one that they automatically send you when you pay. They were supposed to send me another one…which I never received….. that would indicate which tour company would come get me. At around 8:20, we finally reached a live human. She was nice enough to fax the confirmation to me on the office fax machine. She said that the driver (from Tower Tours) absolutely wouldn’t pick me up unless I showed that to him. She was right….by the time the driver walked in to call for us…the last sheet of the confirmation had just printed out! So KUDOS to Judy! She’s my new heroine! lol
We had a wonderful time touring the city. We visited so many places: The wharf, the golden gate bridge, the painted ladies, etc. All of the highlights are captured here:
We had the option of being dropped off at our hotel or the wharf. We chose to take a closer look at the wharf. We spent the rest of the afternoon buying souvenirs and we decided to stop into the Wax Museum at the Fisherman’s Wharf. The admission was $12.50 per person and we had a coupon from the SFO Entertainment coupon book for B.O.G.O. Interesting, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it unless you really, really like that type of thing. The renderings weren’t that lifelike or realistic in my opinion.
As we walked along the pier, we noticed some swimmers in the bay and were told by some locals that they were swimming in wetsuits because the bay was definitely too filthy to do otherwise, however, I think his tongue was firmly planted in cheek. Somehow, we made our way to Ghirardelli square where we sat across the street in the park looking at the incredibly long climb that we’d have to make in order to satisfy our now raging hunger. We decided to try a little retro 50’s restaurant complete with neon signs and kitschy collectibles called Lori’s Diner, the other restaurant that was within close proximity was McCormick’s Seafood Restaurant and we knew that we would be having lunch at a seafood restaurant the next day, so that was out. The food there was very reasonably priced and we enjoyed our chefs’ salads ($8.99) and sodas.
Of course, there was NO way that we would not pay a visit to the famous Ghirardelli Chocolatier since it was practically next door! We resisted buying the sinfully delectable chocolate and hurried to indulge in luscious sundaes in the separate café area. We were not disappointed….a B.O.G.O. coupon came in handy here too. We made our way to the #19 bus stop after stopping to watch the tourists waiting to board the cable cars. We’d noticed that #19 stopped on Polk street which was a quick jaunt to our hotel on our first day there.
We were pretty tired so we heated up some food and settled in for a night of watching ‘Lost’ and ‘Alias’. We’re not night clubbers, I would much rather get a good night’s rest for the next day’s activities than party all night. lol
The next morning, we were scheduled for a 10:15 am ferry trip to Alcatraz ($16.50 for audio tour; $11.50 without). We bought our tickets in advance online at www.blueandgoldfleet.com . We were warned that the tickets sold out very quickly if you stood in line to try to buy them right before boarding….so not wanting that headache, I bought it online. Be aware that as they are lining you up to board the ferry, they will attempt to take pics of you to sell to you later….you can always decline.
The tour was self-guided for the most part…..we got to view an introductory video then proceeded to climb the equivalent of 13 flights to the cell block area. At that point, they will hand you headphones if you chose the audio tour. It was an interesting step back into history, but I don’t plan to visit there again….creepy! lol
Once we got back to shore, we decided to visit Pier 39, right next to Pier 41 where we boarded the ferry to Alcatraz. There were an array of colorful shops and restaurants there and we decided that eating lunch at Bubba Gump’s (Inspired by the Forrest Gump movie) was an absolute must! We ordered the “Bucket of Boat Trash” ($18.99) entree that consisted of fried baby lobster, shrimp, fries and mahi mahi….delish! We bought a few more souvenirs and headed back toward Pier 41 where we simply had to stop by the Ben & Jerry’s booth to sample butter pecan waffle cones ($5.00)!
We decided to take a trolley to the downtown area….specifically, Market Street to do a little shopping…mostly at Ross’s. We were able to use the transfer that we received when we first boarded the F-Market trolley to come back to the transfer station where we caught the #47 bus (one block down from Pier 41) that took us to Van Ness Avenue and Pacific….so it was a very short walk back to the hotel to try to sleep off our shameful gorging. So keep your transfers…….you only need to show it to the driver….especially if you will be using it within two hours or whenever the transfer is marked to expire. We got back and forth (round-trip) on the same $1.25 fare.
Sausalito, here we come! Well, our plan was to get up relatively early to find our way to the Ferry Building (that’s located at the foot/end of Market Street) to catch the ferry to the picturesque town of Sausalito. Since we had been on that street the day before, we knew that finding the building would be a breeze. Judy, the innkeeper, informed us that there was a quicker way to get there than we had originally thought. From the hotel, we walked up to Van Ness, made a left and walked about three more blocks up to Clay Street where we caught the #1 California bus that took us right across the street to the Ferry Building.
We spent a little time looking at the various shops located inside the building since we’d arrived there a bit early. Being an avid gardener, I had to giggle when I saw one of the shopkeepers with a sign that said “Shoplifters will be composted”. It was a very clean, well-kept building considering the number of people who flowed in and out on a daily basis. We proceeded to go buy our tickets which were $6.15 per person each way, but we still had an hour to wait so we took a bench on the pier to wait for the ferry.
The ferry ride took a little less than 30 minutes, we got some really great pics as we rode across the bay….Angel Island, the golden gate and bay bridges, people water surfing….glorious! We disembarked on Sausalito bay….the town was quaint…lots of souvenir shops, candy shops, quaint park, restaurants and a visitor’s center that were located on the main street. All of the homes were located directly behind that hub of activity.
There was not much to do except enjoy the scenery as we walked around. We decided to have lunch at Winships….a nautically themed seafood restaurant. My daughter ordered fish tacos and I had the Angus chuck burger with salad. The service wasn’t that great…but that didn’t spoil our experience. My daughter and I enjoyed our time there and we were glad that we made the trek. It reminded us so much of Capri and Sorrento, Italy.
We went back to the hotel to drop off our packages and rest. We ventured out later to roam the area for one last time since this was our last night there and we had an 8:40 a.m. flight out the next day. We had dinner again at Tai Chi’s and I made sure that I visited Cole’s Hardware because they had some great (small) plants that I had been drooling over before that I definitely wanted to take home. I was thrilled to see that they safely fit in my carry-on luggage when we got back. We turned in early so that we would be able to drag ourselves out of bed to catch our flight the next morning. San Francisco was a truly beautiful city and I wish that I could afford to live there!