San Francisco, CA
This was our first stop on a two week California adventure, click here to view this trip's overview page. San Francisco was the starting point for our northern and central California loop tour. We chose to stay in the financial district due to its proximity to Chinatown and Coit tower and walkability to the waterfront areas of town. We had both been to San Francisco in the past so we skipped some things that we’d both done before. This page covers the places we explored and is not meant to be a guide for the entire city.
Our Visit Highpoints
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- Chinatown This is one of the oldest and most established Chinatowns in the U.S. Beyond iconic Dragon’s Gate, a bustling maze of streets and alleys brims with dim sum joints and other traditional eateries.
- Coit Tower Coit Tower is a 210-foot tower in the Telegraph Hill neighborhood of San Francisco, California, offering panoramic views over the city and the bay.
- Tadich Grill Located in the heart of San Francisco’s Financial District, Tadich Grill is the oldest, continuously run restaurant in California, and third oldest in the United States. We prefer to keep it simple. For your convenience we now take reservations for half of our seating and the remaining half will be available on a first come, first serve basis.
- Cable Cars The San Francisco cable car system is the world's last manually operated cable car system and an icon of the city of San Francisco.
- Fisherman’s Wharf Souvenir shops and stalls selling crab and clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls appear at every turn, as do postcard views of the bay, Golden Gate and Alcatraz.
- Fort Mason / Ghiradelli Square Shops and restaurants fill this 3-level landmark former chocolate factory near Fisherman's Wharf.
- The Ferry Building Vendors sell produce, cheese, coffee, candy & prepared food in this soaring, restored 1898 space.
One of the first things that we noticed was how empty the city was compared to previous trips. COVID has definitely had an effect on traffic and crowds which helped create a more low key environment with less stress while still being entertaining. Bear in mind that our use of the word "empty" does not mean that the streets were devoid of people - there were people moving about, going to work, shopping, etc. But if you have ever been to San Francisco in the past, you are aware of how crowded everything was. Popular locations would have lengthy lines, the cable cars would be jam packed. So oddly enough, we enjoyed the diminished crowds because we had good access to every place we visited.
Getting around San Francisco is pretty easy; Walking is a great choice if you are up for it. It is a walkable city although the hills will give you a workout. As just an example, Fisherman's Wharf is 1.3 miles walking distance from our hotel. We took an indirect walking route via Coit Tower (on Kearny Street) and then down Stockton to the wharf area.
The Muni system which includes buses, light rail trains, street cars, and the famous cable cars is a great option for touring the city. Of course, Uber and Lyft are always there if your legs give out.
The muni system offers many different passes. We suggest looking them up prior to your visit. You can download the App and purchase them from there. There is a one day visitor passport that includes all forms of muni transportation. It’s a good deal if you plan to use it a lot during your day and allows you to ride the cable cars as well which due to their touristy nature are more expensive than the other Muni options.
Click here to go to the San Francisco MTA site, where you will find information regarding all types of public transportation, fares & maps.
Fun and/or Interesting facts about San Francisco
- The Golden Gate Park is larger than NYC's Central Park.
- Locals call San Francisco fog "Karl".
- The Chinese fortune cookie was invented by a Japanese resident of San Francisco.
- Golden Gate Bridge was originally to be a black & gold color, the existing color is actually the primer. The Military wanted to insure that the bridge was visible when the fog was obscuring the bridge.
- The oldest Chinatown in North America is in San Francisco.
- There are no human burials allowed in San Francisco but there are pet cemeteries & only two human cemeteries still exist.
- The city's original name was “Yerba Buena” which means "good herb" in Spanish.
- San Francisco’s cable cars are the only National Historical Monument that can move - at a constant 9.5 MPH.
- Levi Strauss invented denim jeans in San Francisco for the Gold Rush miners.
- There are more than 4,415 restaurants and and 61 have Michelin stars.
- After New York, Moscow, and London, San Francisco is the fourth city in the world with the highest population of billionaires per square meter.
- San Francisco was originally covered by sand dunes that spanned an area of seven miles. As the city grew, the sand dunes were covered or eradicated.
- San Francisco has more dogs than children. According to Census and Animal Care and Control department data, San Francisco has around 10,000 more dogs than children.
- San Francisco is only seven miles long by seven miles wide for a total of 46.87 square miles.
For any of you who are "non-Californians", it might not be something that you are aware of, but most street names in San Francisco are named after individuals who played significant roles in California history, or individuals who played a role in American History. For example;
|Street Name||Person Named After|
|Powell Street||Dr. William J. Powell - the surgeon of the U. S. sloop of war Warren, which was active during the conquest of California.|
|Fremont Street||John Charles Fremont - an explorer of the Western United States, military officer, and politician. He was a U.S. Senator from California, and in 1856 was the first Republican nominee for President of the United States. Instrumental in the Mexican-American war and was responsible for the seizure of Santa Barbara from the Mexican Army.|
|Kearny Street||Stephen W. Kearny - instrumental in the liberation of New Mexico and California, and was the ranking U.S. Military Officer in California during the Mexican-American War.|
|Fillmore Street||Millard Fillmore - 13th President of the United States, and the last member of the Whig Political Party while in the White House.|
|Hyde Street||George Hyde - the mayor of San Francisco in 1847–1848.|
The above is just a small sample extract from a definitive list that can be read here. This is a Wikipedia Article that will give you the street names, the person the street was named for and a link to that person's background & history.
Where we Stayed
During this trip we also planned to gather as many Hilton Honors points as we could with our Hilton Elite American Express Card. This is an experiment that we started this year and we will publish our results when we have them. We’ve planned to use Hilton when viable for all of our travel in 2021 to see what the effect is of having the Hilton Elite card. Stay tuned for more on that front. Note that we don’t get anything from Hilton currently for stating this... if you click on the Hilton link (below) and book through the link we could receive affiliate money. If you like our Just Traveling Thru content and plan to book with them we would appreciate the click through to help fund our costs for maintaining the website.
Although we do not recommend driving in San Francisco, the Hotel Parking lot is located underneath the Hotel and appeared to be secure with security cameras, etc.
We stopped in Chinatown for some dim sum on our way to Coit Tower. You don’t get Chinese food like this in Sarasota. It made our mouths water. Candidly, we didn’t have a big meal but what we sampled was amazingly fresh and authentic. We’ve since looked them up and they get good reviews. Sometimes the best things are the things you stumble upon. It’s in our top five list of restaurants that we tried during our trip. Click here to go to their website.
You can see that we also got some images of Chinatown early in the morning and the streets were empty. We expect that COVID has had quite an impact on the crowd level. We were up early but not before what would have been rush hour prior to COVID.
Although New York City's Chinatown is larger, San Francisco's Chinatown is easily the second largest in the United States. It covers 24 city blocks and it's population is estimated to be 35,000. There are a number of historic buildings in Chinatown including Portsmouth Square where the United States flag was first raised in California. There are various "walking tours" you could try, but this is a very easy area to explore as a pedestrian with numerous restaurants, shops and other types of stores that you will perhaps find interesting.
The walk up to Coit Tower is steep! Once you get there you will be rewarded with fantastic panoramic views of San Francisco Bay and the City. This particular day was bright sunshine & no fog, so our views were unobstructed in any direction. The top of Coit Tower is a circular observation platform with large windows. We heard from the people that work there that the view is different every day and it never gets old.
Much of San Francisco was rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake which allowed for large portions of the hilly terrain to be rebuilt. Victorian homes and fire-resistant brick buildings can be seen throughout San Francisco. A developer named Olvier Rousseau built homes that followed the European styles including Bavarian castles and Spanish Villas.
Today these fairy tale houses are dubbed "Rousseau" houses. We've added a few examples of some of the architecture that you will see in the city.
Fisherman's Wharf is usually one of the busiest areas in town. Due to COVID the crowds were very light and we walked around freely. We stopped for some sour dough bread and a coffee. As you would expect you can pick up all of your tourist gear here, grab some lunch and enjoy the views of the harbor and Sea Lions.
The Marine Mammal Center's biologists believe that the sea lions have chosen to haul out at Pier 39's K-Dock because there's plenty of food nearby in the bay and ocean, their natural predators (white sharks and orcas) do not typically feed in the bay and there is plenty of space.
The California sea lions are among the most vocal of all mammals, and the noise generated by this group is nearly constant and has been described as; barks, growls and grunts.
Tadich Grill Dinner
On a business trip in the early 2000s the Tadich Grill was recommended to me by a co-worker who lived in the area. I inherited a love for seafood stews from my mother who’s parents were from Portugal so I slipped away from the rest of the group one evening and walked over by myself for some Cioppino and a glass of wine. I sat at the counter (they have both counter/bar seats and white clothed tables for two or four and even have enclosed booths for a more private experience with friends). It was the best Cioppino I had ever had. When Terry and I planned this trip I wanted to stay in the Financial district so that we could easily walk to the Tadich Grill so that I could share the experience with my husband.
Being the oldest, continuously run restaurant in California that dates back to 1849, the decor is traditional with a long wood bar on the right side and tables and booths areas on the opposite side with wood wainscoting along the walls. The counter/bar is perfect for a quick lunch or dinner as they intend to turn those seats over more quickly. We made reservations and planned for a relaxing leisurely meal so we were seated at a table.
We both chose the Cioppino and ordered a bottle of chardonnay. The waiter had a dry wit and it was clear that he knew what he was doing. We had the feeling that he’d been working there for years and was showing us how to be customers. It was so apparent that they knew what they were doing that I went back and looked at the website later and saw that the servers average thirty three years in the industry. We’ve experienced issues during the pandemic at different restaurants. The lack of workers has hurt a number of restaurants that we visited and have had less than stellar experiences. I had steamer clams in Maine that were not cooked correctly if you can believe that. In any case, there were no issues with that at the Tadich Grill. The serving staff and kitchen are exceptional with the intent on a good time and not being overly formal.
The Cioppino, which had a tomato base, was full of fresh fish and shellfish and had a deep multi-layered flavor. It was served with plenty of bread that tasted homemade. The portion was perfect for us. We were full with no room for dessert. I was thrilled that the restaurant and food was as good as I had remembered so many years ago. It was the most pleasant dining experience that we had on our two week trip to California.
We always say that we don’t mind paying money for good food. What we hate is paying good money for lousy or average food. The Cioppino at the Tadich grill falls into the “excellent” food category. I would consider another trip to San Francisco just to visit the Tadich Grill. The Tadich Grill is located at 1600 Holloway Ave, San Francisco, CA 94132.
Just for the record - if you are a member of "Trip Advisor" (and we are) you will find several very nasty reviews of this restaurant. We have read those reviews and we have absolutely no idea what their issue was, or what took place for them - but we would eat at the Tadich Grill again without any question. Those nasty reviews are not in sync with the vast majority of all the other reviews.
The famous Cable Cars are back in service, after having been closed to protect their employees from COVID. We discovered that the Pandemic not only reduced tourism in San Francisco, but it allowed us to actually get a seat on a cable car. In normal times during tourism season, getting a seat can be a very difficult thing due to the crowds who all want to ride the cable car.
This is the last manually operated cable car system in the United States - the first system started operation in 1878. This is also the only National Historical Monument that moves - at a constant 9.5 MPG.
NOTE: Tickets can be obtained at the MUNI Website, where you will be able to find ticket prices and other information. Our cost was $8.00 for a one way cable car ride
Click this image to watch a great video of our Cable Car ride. We had been in the Grace Cathedral area exploring, so we caught a Powell/Hyde cable car back to Market Street (downtown), got off and back on and rode it to Fisherman's Wharf. Fun way to see a lot of the city !
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The cable car ride dropped us off at the Powell-Hyde turn around area, and we decided to explore Fisherman's Wharf all the way up to the Fort Mason & Municipal Pier area to see if we could get some good images of the Golden Gate Bridge. Because the fog was not completely gone, we decided that we were not going to get good pictures of the bridge (from that direction) and that we would stop at the Fort Baker area on the north side of the bridge the next morning - and try for good pics there.
Ghirardelli square is only a short walk from Fisherman's Wharf. Originally a chocolate factory that moved to the current Ghirardelli Square in 1893 the square was the first successful reuse project and converted to a shopping center and restaurant center in the early 1960s after the chocolate factory was purchased by Golden Grain Macaroni Company and moved off-site. Buy yourself some chocolate here for the rest of your trip or grab some lunch and enjoy the views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
If you do have a car there is a parking garage for convenience.
We had not originally intended to stop at Ghirardelli Square, but the walk out onto the Municipal Pier had left us thirsty and ready for a break. Our thought was to get an iced coffee and relax for a while.
Alcatraz is just over a mile from the shore of San Francisco. The island was originally built for a lighthouse with a military fortification and federal prison. Some of the most famous inmates were Al Capone (AKA Scarface), George "Machine Gun" Kelly, and Robert Stroud (AKA the birdman of Alcatraz). There have been many movies made about Alcatraz: including the Escape from Alcatraz, Birdman of Alcatraz and the Rock to name a few. Alcatraz and the idea of escaping it is part of pop culture in America and the tour of the island and prison is worth the visit. There is an excellent audio tour that makes you feel like you are there with the prisoners. You can tour by day or by night, but you must have advance reservations. Click here to book ahead.
Alcatraz has had many "lives" since it was first discovered and named by Spanish Explorers in 1775; A "private island" in a Mexican land grant, during the civil war it was an Army Fort, in 1867 it became a Military Prison, in 1933 it became a Federal Prison reserved for dangerous prisoners and was closed in 1963. It was occupied by Native American Activists in 1964 and again in 1969. The 1969 occupation was over two years in length and some damage took place during that time. In 1976 it became a National Historic Landmark and it is now one of San Francisco's major tourist destinations.
NOTE: Click here to read the Alcatraz Wikipedia Article, where you will find a more complete discussion of Alcatraz's history.
An old friend of ours now lives in San Francisco, and we made arrangements to meet her at the Ferry Building where we planned to enjoy some wine and some charcuteries. The area around the Ferry Building provided some really nice views of the Bay and Treasure Island, as well as the Oakland Bay Bridge.
Some of the wine shops inside the Ferry Building (called "The Marketplace") were closed due to COVID, so we moved to a sidewalk wine shop that allowed customers as long as they wore masks. As you can see in these images, inside the Marketplace were a number of neat little shops - everything from wine, bread, chocolate shops, a Farmer's Market, donuts, exotic mushrooms & fungi and a range of eateries.
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