Day 18 (June 23, 2008) San Francisco


   There is not a fixed plan for San Francisco visits, but a list of highlights we want to explore during the two days and a half we’re going to be there.

  San Francisco map

   The spots marked at map are:

0- Hotel Castle Inn
1- Pier 39 in Fisherman's Wharf
2- Alcatraz Island
3- Japanese garden in Golden Gate Park
4- Golden Gate Bridge
5- Marina (with potentially good views of Golden Gate Bridge)
6- Powell Station (starting and ending point of the touristic tram)
7- Twin Peaks (a hill with great views of the city and the bay)


       We can take our breakfast in a room just beside reception desk at 9 AM. We go to an UPS office in the next street for an issue I need to solve: sending the golf driver to our own address in Spain. The cheapest way to do it has been by ordinary mail, they have taken care of it by 34$, which added to the 20$ we paid for the driver it is still a bargain. In the meantime, while chattering with the people in the office we ask when the summer comes to San Francisco and they answer summer is already here. So, with this cold, we cannot imagine how the winter is like in here.Art museum's park

   At 10 AM we’re in the car going to the Japanese garden dressing long sleeve and jacket. No losing this time, we do an “L” in the map taking Van Ness St. down and turning in Fell St. until the entrance to the park. Maybe is more a “J”…

   We find place to leave the car along the park with the art museum. This map of the area, which we haven’t got yesterday, helps a lot here. We’ve driven from the right along John F Kennedy Dr. until the Museum. Stow Lake is just here too and we will see it later. Yesterday’s odyssey for finding the bison made us exploring the left side of the park .

Golden Gate Park map

   In the park in front of the Museum we’re alone, except for some Chinese doing tai chi. We go to the Japanese entrance, which now is opened, and when looking to a cat we can see a small flag waving with the message “Pay here”. It is coming from a little girl inside the ticket box where a woman delivers four tickets to us in exchange of 12$ (4$ per person). We get then into this beautiful place with a lot of tourists, but with a special quietness. Every corner here is displaying what can be done in a garden. Plants are carefully cut in different shapes without breaking the nature of them. There is a small lake with some canals as an excuse for the most peculiar kind of bridges. Some pagodas give the most exotic touch to the environment. The best way of showing this will be with some pictures:
Japanese pagoda in San Francisco

Japanese pagoda in San Francisco

Japanese bridge in San Francisco

Japanese bridge in San Francisco

    We go across all the bridges here and try to be in every corner. We want to try everything here including, obviously, the tea. The name of this place is “Japanese Tea Garden” for a reason. A wooden hut in the middle of everything is the place for that or any other drinks or Japanese snacks one may like to purchase.

   Once out of the charming garden we explore around it and find a hidden water fall. We can see too the part of the Stow Lake where they’re hiring those pedal boats we have on beaches for couples. I cannot see the image of the lake with a water fall and a pagoda from here so we take the car and drive around until I find it, it’s the one in the picture:

Stow Lake
   We drive to Twin Peaks now, which has nothing to do with David Lynch TV series, where we expect to find the best views of the bay, the city and the bridges. We can take advantage of this extra day for the car for this kind of visits.

   The map helps us to reach the area soon, but we cannot find the road to the top. A gas station with the name of “Twin Peaks” is marking we’re in the right place but we still need some more time to definitively be on our way to the lookout. As we’re getting higher buildings are left behind and the view goes further and further or, better said, it would go further if someone would lift the fog curtain. We take over a bus full of tourist we’re guessing are going to be as disappointed as ourselves.

Typical buildings in San FranciscoAround Twin Peaks

   And that’s how it is, a white foam is preventing to be seen everything but the houses below this hill. I found myself making Chinese eyes like if human body guide specifies that are the fog lights. What a fool!

   In our way down we still don’t have a good answer about why we’ve done a lot of pictures completely white. Are we expecting the camera can see beyond the fog or we just do what we’ve came to do regardless the impediments? Anyway, we’re now in our way to the next thing to do: getting the tickets for visiting Alcatraz. We must go to pier 33 and the map is clear about the route: All along Market St. from Castro until the sea, there we’ll pay attention to the pier numbers.

   We take Market St., which is a street with traffic and two rails for trams in the middle. The first part of the street is full of rainbow flags, if this is a gay neighborhood it must be the biggest in the world! Then we pass by what must be the city center: full of people, commercial malls and a great view of the City Hall which makes us stop for a picture.Market Street

San Francisco's City Hall

   What can go wrong if we are in a street going directly to our destination? Is there any way of getting lost from this situation? Yes, it is and I can explain: Eva complains about the emergency of using a toilet. As it seems serious I leave Market the left looking for a place where stopping. When I’m going around for some minutes I wonder “What am I looking for?”. It’s obvious we’re not going to read some lights with an arrow saying “Eva can pee here” so I look for a stop somewhere and looking for a toilet by walking. I park under the Japanese tower I saw in some pictures when organizing this travel. My wife and me go into the shopping mall the tower belongs to and reach a toilet inside. While waiting I look around the place where we are: aisles are looking as streets from a Japanese town, with flowered cherry trees and some lanterns hanging from the ceiling. It is very beautiful and EvaGrace Cathedral in San Francisco agrees once the emergency is over. Now we must return to Market Street but every time we try we end somewhere else. Market Street is a special Avenue going through the city in diagonal truncating the vertical and horizontal street and this is the cause we’re finding with obligatory ways in the streets which address us to the steeped areas. While being on this we pass by a cathedral identical to Notre Dame in Paris, as happened in Washington. We pass by Chinatown as well and meet the classic cable car before finally taking Market Street again.

Tram in San Francisco

   But, again, it is not easy. A small park at the end of the street makes us turn to South and get lost around that part of the city looking as a suburb for a while and then we cannot find how the piers are numbered until realizing the even numbers are at South and odd ones at North, so pier 33 is near pier 39, where we’ve planned to lunch today. When we  figure this out we're far in the South, based on the Bay Bridge just here.

Puente de la Bahía

   We leave the car in a parking building in front of Pier 39 which seems to be in some kind of commemoration based on the festival and the live, but it seems this place is like this every day. Before going to there we walk to pier 33 and join the long row of people in front of the Alcatraz tours ticket boxes.

View of Pier 39 from parking   We spend a half of an hour waiting for our turn and when I ask for tickets for today they only can laugh: there is nothing until Thursday. I must think a little bit as in vacation everyday seems Sunday and today is Monday… Thursday we won’t even be here!! I beg for something for tomorrow but she repeats there is nothing until Thursday and only vacancy for four for that day so I must say if I want them or not. I want them, but I can’t as we should come from Barcelona to use those tickets.

   What is happening today? Everything has gone wrong except for the Japanese Garden visit. I’ve got the feeling we’ve spent the day driving lost and with some fog. It’s time to lunch.

   Pier 39 is a kind of shopping mall in wood and over the sea. There is a small amusement park and a lot of shops and restaurants, but I already know where we’re going to eat. We have a pending visit to franchise from Forrest Gump,Around Pier 39 so we get into the Bubba Gump which is a big wooden restaurant with large windows to Pacific Ocean. We choose a table and take a look at the menu: everything you can imagine can be done to a shrimp is in there (speaking about cooking, of course).

   We get, between all those things, 3 chowders, one dish with chicken, fries and two kinds of shrimps, one bucket with ¾ pounds of garlic shrimps, one plate of cajun shrimps plus drinks: 65$. More than 20$ per person before tipping is over the standard we’ve been following in California, but it has been a great lunch.

   When leaving the place we can see Forrest Gump’s bench. How do I know that? Well, because of the wood color, the size of the bench, because there are a bag and a box of chocolates stuck on it, and Forrest Gump’s sport shoes on the floor with a hole for your feet in case you want to pose for a picture. And yes, we do.

Pier 39 in San FranciscoSea lions on Pier 39

   We walk slowly to the parking watching the shops in our way. We can see the Lefty’s shop from the Simpsons episode. We get from one store a poster with San Francisco skyline and four postcards by 17$ and, from another one, a R2D2 10 cm figure with movement by 19.95$.

   Before leaving the pier we look at the side of the pier, a much less crowded part where there are some floating platforms where sea lions rest. We can see Alcatraz island as well and this is the closest we will see it.

   We take the car out of the parking for what is going to be its last trip with us, driving directly to the building we were yesterday. But, as Coit Tower is getting closer and I see the turn to go to there we agree we still have time for a last visit. It is not an impressive tower, it’s not that big, but it is an icon from San Francisco skyline and, although a roundabout with a figure in the middle is everything in the top of this hill, everything but the wonderful views. The fog is still there but as we’re close to everything is not bothering so much. We do the 360º taking pictures of all around.

San Francisco from Coit TowerBay Bridge from Coit Tower

Coit tower in San Francisco     We take the way to delivering the car again to O’Farrell Street and this second time we arrive with no troubles. A couple of Chinese men in the underground parking point me about where I must bring the car. I apologize about this extra day but they don’t seem to care about. I get the invoice which I pay immediately as it is lower than I thought.

   Once in the street and missing the car which has been with us in so many places I take a look to the receipt: 299.13$. It’s even less than the cost of the car in the East Coast!! That was a regular car for three days and this is a 4WD Jeep for 12 days. I can see in the invoice they’ve charged me for 11 days, though, from 12th to 23th (today). They haven’t taken in count I took the car by the morning and I’ve just delivered at evening as it is 7 PM now. I’m so happy I promise having “Dollar” branch in mind for future rentals.

   We’re walking now to the start of the classic cable car in Powell St. to get the hotel on it. In our way we get into a big Chinese bazar where, due to the good prices, we purchase a couple of fleece jackets, a shoulder bag, a pillow for the neck, a cable car miniature, three magnets and a clothing bag to carry with all of it: 80$ in total.

   The tram stop is crowded. We go to the wooden box and purchase three tickets for the cable car by 5$ each and three passports for unlimited use of city trams for tomorrow by 11$ each.

   While waiting for our ride we can see how they turn around the car in this point as it is source and destination at a time. We must wait for 30 minutes before getting into the next one. We get seats inside but, as there are a lot of standing people with no seat, I leave mine because I want to enjoy this ride in the opened part.

Powell St. cable car stationSan Francisco from the cable car

   When we leave the cable car and walk a short while to the hotel by these steeped streets we’re realizing how much we’re going to miss our Jeep the next and last 24 hours in this city.

   We rest in our rooms before going out for dinner. We choose a Thai restaurant in the same block of the hotel where we enjoy a spicy and good meal. The name is “The little Thai” – although it is not that little – and we pay around 40$ for all three. We come back to the hotel as we need to get energy for tomorrow, a day with no room as we’ve planned to sleep in the night flight back to East Coast.