San Francisco, here we come!

Now that school is back in session, we decided to celebrate by taking a road trip!  There is something decadent about traveling rather than going back to school; until I retired I had been in school continuously (as a student and then as a teacher) for 50 years!  And, I am having a birthday so we are also celebrating that.  San Francisco isn’t too far from Seattle, so we opted to drive there.

We will be leaving for our BIG cruise in October, so this was also a chance to practice packing light, and explore a city using public transit.  Clayton found a nice hotel for us in Fremont which is near San Francisco and also close to a BART station.  We had no intention of trying to drive in to San Francisco; been there, done that!  We had read that the BART gets very crowded on weekdays so decided to arrange our trip around a weekend.  Clayton booked us into Hyatt Place in Fremont for Friday through Monday.  We knew that we could drive to San Francisco in a day if we had to but we have nothing but time, so figured we would split it up into a two-day drive.  As we got closer to leaving we decided to make it a leisurely three-day drive instead.

We weren’t sure how many days we would be gone so packed enough clothes for 5 days.  We packed our “travel clothes” which are lightweight and quick drying so that if we were gone for longer than 5 days we could practice washing and hanging our clothes to dry (which is what we plan to do on the cruise).  We also brought my camera backpack so that I could practice taking pictures with my DSLR camera; it also has a sleeve for my laptop (so that I could blog and keep up on my cruise planning) and space for both of our iPads.  Since this was a road trip we could have packed much more “stuff”, but we really wanted to see if we could make do with teeny-tiny suitcases. My little gray suitcase is in the picture below:

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Our first day we drove south down I-5 to Salem, Oregon and then cut over to the coast to Lincoln City.  When I was a little girl, my mom took my brother and me on a camping trip down the Oregon coast.  I remember Lincoln City because there was a great little theme park called Pixieland.  It had a log flume ride; I thought that was the very best ride I had ever been on!   I took my own children camping on the Oregon coast when they were younger and was very disappointed to find that Pixieland no longer existed; it was only open for four years.  Lincoln City is no longer recognizable as the place I visited so many years ago; it is now very built up.  The beach is still beautiful but instead of a nice family theme park, there is an outlet mall and a casino.  We had to visit the outlet mall; there is a Columbia Outlet store there. If you have read my previous blog posts, you know that I am a big fan of Columbia travel clothes.  I found a pair of capri pants and a new top – score!

Clayton also had memories of Lincoln City from when his daughters were small.  He remembered the Sambo’s restaurant, which is still there.  Of course, back before everything in our country was politically correct, the restaurant was known as “Little Black Sambo’s”; now it is just “Sambo’s”.  The restaurant is still in business; we decided to have dinner there.

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The next day we drove down highway 101; our goal was Eureka, California.  There is really nothing too special about Eureka it was a good place to stop for the night (slightly more than half the remaining distance to SF).  The drive was supposed to be around 7 hours which would leave a 4.5 to 5-hour drive the following day.  If you have driven down this stretch of highway, you know that it is an extremely scenic drive but is very, very windy!  For the first couple of hours, I had to restrain myself from asking Clayton to pull over so that I could take another picture of the beautiful scenery.  There was quite a bit of fog on the coast which made the scenery ethereal.  At one scenic overlook, while I was busy taking pictures of the fog over the bay, Clayton spotted whales!  There were at least 3 whales frolicking fairly close to shore.  Further down the road, about an hour out of Eureka, a herd of elk was nibbling on both sides of the road.  We were busy trying to pass some very slow drivers we had been stuck behind so didn’t stop to take pictures but it was pretty cool to see the elk so close.  They did not seem at all concerned with the cars driving past them!

That day’s drive seemed to last forever. In addition to the winding roads, there were numerous small towns we drove through that had 20 mph speed limits, there was also road work all up and down the highway.  Oregon and northern California both seem to be spending quite a bit repairing bridges; there were many, many places that were down to one (alternating) lane of traffic.  By the time we reached Eureka we were pretty tired.

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We continued down highway 101 the following day, relieved to find that the roads were not nearly as windy south of Eureka.  We drove down a brief stretch of the Avenue of the Giants so that Clayton could see the redwoods and were happy to return to the main highway to get away from the curvy road.  Those trees are really something to behold.  There were a couple of stretches of highway that went through groves of redwoods, so the road became a two-lane road at those points, and it wound around the trees.  Finally, we reached the Bay area; we checked into our hotel at 3 pm.  The room was really lovely!  I had no idea that Clayton had booked a suite.  The décor was quite modern; I had to take a few pictures.

We were up bright and early (as usual), ready to start our San Francisco adventure!  I am normally quite a planner, and map out our trips ahead of time.  This time, we opted to be a bit more relaxed – we didn’t plan out what we wanted to see or do.  Clayton had investigated transportation options, so we had both downloaded the San Francisco Muni app to our smartphones, and had pre-purchased 3 day transit passes that would allow us to use any of the transportation options in the city – bus, streetcar or cable car.  We weren’t going to be in the city for 3 days, but a one-day pass cost $20; a 3-day pass was only $31.  Do the math; a three-day pass was the way to go!  We had also looked at the BART map to figure out which train to take into town.  You can’t get a BART pass ahead of time because the fares are based on the distance you travel, so you have to map out your route and pay based on that.

We had a nice breakfast (included in our room rate); better than most of the hotels and motels we have stayed at.  We don’t usually stay in Hyatts so were very pleasantly surprised by the quality and variety of food.  After breakfast, we drove to the Fremont BART station.  We could park for free since it was the weekend (yeah!). We purchased our round-trip tickets and walked up the stairs to the platform to wait for the train.  Turns out that the train that goes directly into SF wasn’t running so we had to take a train part way and then transfer to a different line.  That turned out to be no big deal; I think we only had to wait one or two minutes for the next train to come along.  It was early enough that the train wasn’t very crowded; we had a pleasant ride into the city.  We exited the train at the Embarcadero stop.  We decided to hop on a streetcar that was labeled Fisherman’s Wharf, so we opened up our Muni app and showed the driver our passes, and found seats.  The streetcar drove us along the waterfront.  I was on the lookout for the cruise terminal; we are going on an Alaska cruise next May that embarks from San Francisco, so wanted to know where we would board.  There was a cruise ship in port (Island Princess) at pier 30; I believe our cruise ship will use the same terminal.

We hopped off the streetcar at Pier 39 which has been built up into a tourist mecca.  It is filled with souvenir shops and restaurants.  We took the opportunity to use the public restaurants (no line!) and wandered around the shops.  Just past the shops is a great view of Alcatraz Island.  It was still pretty foggy but the island was clearly visible.  The Golden Gate bridge was still quite fogged in.

At the end of the pier, around a corner, there is a small marina.  Sea lions hang out here.  There were a couple of sea lions that were putting on quite a show for the tourists.  They were juking and jiving with each other.  Soon, a third sea lion joined the party.  And then, a fourth.  I guess that was one sea lion too many because the other sea lions knocked that one back into the water.

We continued our walk along the waterfront stopping at the Musee’ Mecanique.  We had been there before but enjoyed it enough that we wanted to return.  It is filled with old mechanical amusements, from old “peep shows” that you could watch for a quarter (pretty lame – the one we watched was a woman hitting her husband over and over again) to pinball machines to old arcade games.  We played a few pinball machines and then moved on down the waterfront to Fisherman’s Wharf.  There really isn’t much there other than restaurants selling seafood.  Clayton is not a seafood lover; heck, he isn’t even a seafood “liker”.  So, we definitely didn’t spend any extra time there!

Since we were in the area, we walked up a few blocks to the catch a cable car.  We weren’t sure exactly where the cable car would take us but figured we could play it by ear and see where we ended up.  There was no line for the cable car which is practically unheard of.  Again, we just flashed the Muni app at the conductor and hopped on the cable car.  It turns out that the line we were on ended up in Union Square.  We wandered around that area looking for the tourist information center so that we could pick up a map.  The address we were looking for was 900 Powell Street.  Turns out that it is located on 5th Street.  Who knew?  Crazy!  We were walking all over the place trying to find that silly TI center.  Not only was it on 5th, not 9th, but it was below ground level.  We finally found it and collected our free map.  By then it was lunch time and so we headed back to the waterfront to find a place to eat.  The line for the cable car to get back to the waterfront was ridiculously long so we opted to ride a streetcar back instead.  I had read somewhere that if you want to take a cable car ride that you should never, ever try to get on in Union Square; turns out that was excellent advice.

Lunch was at Pier 39; I can’t remember the name of the restaurant, but I know I had some yummy fish tacos.  Clayton had a hamburger (Clayton always has a hamburger!).  The prices were pretty reasonable for tourist food.  I decided to treat myself and have a soda (I almost always have water); Clayton joined me.  The joke was on us when the waitress brought the bill.  Though the food wasn’t horribly expensive, the drinks cost $3.75 each!  I freely admit to being a total cheapskate; I about choked when I saw how much those cokes cost!

Next on the agenda was the Golden Gate bridge.  We googled to find which buses to take to get there.  Turns out that Google steered us wrong.  You would think in the tech mecca of the modern world that they would give better bus directions!  Fortunately, the bus driver for the first bus we boarded gave us better directions, so we ended up where we wanted to go without any extraneous side trips.  Of course, by then, those cokes had “run through the system”, so to speak, so I needed to use the ladies room.  30 minutes later (Clayton only had to wait 5 minutes; so unfair), we were finally able to walk on the bridge.

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We didn’t walk the whole length of the bridge; it was pretty crowded.  We just walked out far enough to take a few pictures.  I was amused by the signs along the bridge; they could’ve just said, “Don’t jump!”.  The phone they alluded to?  There wasn’t one!  There was, however, a big red button you could push if you were in crisis.  I wonder what happens if you push it?  Do they immediately send a police officer?  Enquiring minds want to know.

By now, we were getting a little tired so decided to head back to the hotel.  We took the bus back towards the waterfront and figured we could either take a cable car back to Union Square and hop the BART from there, or take a streetcar to Embarcadero and catch the BART there.  Since it was now mid-afternoon, the cable car that we were able to hop onto earlier now had a line (nowhere near as long as the line in Union Square) so we took the streetcar to Embarcadero and walked a couple of blocks to the BART.  We hardly had to wait at all for the train (yeah!).  But, there were no seats (boo!) so we had to stand.

Just as the train was about to leave, a couple of young men came into the car.  Just before they walked in, two others preceded them.  One went to the back of the car; one towards the front.  One of the young men stopped in the front of the car to address the people on board.  He started by saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, let me have your attention.  This won’t take long.”  I swear it was just like I have seen in the movies, and it never ends well for those on the train.  I really thought he was either going to rob all of us, or possibly, that he was a terrorist.  Either way, I must admit, I was pretty worried!  Thank goodness it was neither.  Apparently, he and his friend were street performers and were going to dance for us (and of course, to pass the hat when they were finished so that we could show our appreciation for their great talent).  They cranked up the music and started to pop and lock (or maybe it was animation?).  I will say, these two were very flexible!  They reminded me of some of the street dancers on the tv show, “So You Think You Can Dance” (before they made the show stupid by switching to kid dancers).  Only a very select few enjoyed the show enough to put money in the hat at the end of the performance.  Probably, we were not the only people that were a little frightened before we were told that they were going to perform for us (not rob us!).  I was curious as to whether or not this type of thing is allowed on the BART.  I would be surprised if it were, but that obviously didn’t stop them.

It seemed like the trip back to Fremont took much longer than the trip into the city did in the morning.  I am sure that was a function of how tired and hot we were (it was 86 degrees today).  We had to switch trains again and instead of only waiting a minute or two, this time, we had to wait nearly 20 minutes.  We headed back to the hotel for the evening to relax and rest up for the next day of sightseeing.

Up bright and early again.  We ate breakfast at the hotel again and drove to the BART station.  We felt like experts today after yesterday’s experience using the transit system.  Apparently, there was a Raider’s game today since virtually everyone waiting for the train was dressed up in Raider gear.  This guy won the prize for the most dramatic outfit!

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Most of the train emptied at the Colosseum station.  We were quite surprised how many people were headed to the stadium already since the game didn’t start until 1 pm and it was only a little after 8.  Just like yesterday, we exited the BART at the Embarcadero station and boarded a streetcar for Pier 39.  We wanted to ride the other cable car line today and wanted to get in line early before the crowds started lining up.  We walked along the waterfront to Hyde Street just as one of the cable cars was loading.  We decided to wait for the next car so that we could sit in the “outside” section.  That way, if I wanted to take pictures, I wouldn’t have to worry about the glare of the glass interfering with my photo.  I am not sure why, but after the first car was loaded, they waited about 10-15 minutes before leaving.  There must have been some good reason why, but I have no idea what it was!  The same thing happened when they loaded we got on to the next car; we waited and waited for it to leave.

The route for the Hyde-Powell line seemed to a bit hillier than the Powell-Mason line that we had ridden the previous day.  I had wanted to get a picture of Lombard Street (the very, very windy road), but the route took us to the top of Lombard and it was impossible to get a photograph from that angle.  Apparently, we went past the base of Lombard the previous day but the conductor didn’t mention it as we went by, and I obviously wasn’t looking in that direction.  The cable car in front of us broke down just after we passed the cable car museum (near Chinatown).  Bummer!  The rest of the people on board were pretty stressed assuming that they would have to walk a long way to get back to either the waterfront or to Union Square.  Fortunately, whatever the problem was cleared up quickly and the ride continued.

We hopped off at the next stop because we were headed to Chinatown.  What a fascinating place!  The streets were packed with people even though it was fairly early in the day.  There were some really interesting shops mixed in with the ones selling touristy items (Chinese slippers, fake swords, tea sets, lucky cats, and all kinds of other souvenir items).  We saw several shops that sold dried roots of varying types; I assume they were medicinal.  There was a store with all types of live fish.  And, my favorite was a shop that sold chicken.  That would be LIVE chickens.  They butcher them for you on the spot.  Very fresh.  Unfortunately, no photography was allowed, so I couldn’t memorialize the experience.

We decided to walk back from Chinatown since it was all downhill. It was about a 20-minute walk.  It was an absolutely picture-perfect day; no fog and very warm (for San Francisco).  I am not sure how hot it got in the city, but when we got back to our hotel, the temperature was 96 degrees.  I am glad it was not that hot in SF; we really enjoyed the walk.  We walked through the North Beach neighborhood; I was able to get a picture of Lombard Street after all, albeit from a distance.  I was awfully glad to have a good zoom lens!

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We decided to eat lunch back at Pier 39, this time at the Boudin Sourdough restaurant.  I got a grilled crab cake sandwich on sourdough bread.  Mmm-mmm good!  We wandered around the area some more and decided to head back to our hotel early.  Back to the streetcar which turned out to be PACKED full of people.  Apparently, there was a SF Giants baseball game that day so people were riding the streetcar to the stadium.  Just like riding the BART into town where there was nothing but Raiders fans, the streetcar was filled with Giants fans.  One fine (but unwashed) gentleman in the front of the car was plastered with F*** the Dodgers signs.  Classy.

We were happy to get off the streetcar and head to the BART.  Today’s ride back was much more pleasant than the previous day’s ride; not as crowded, and we only had to wait about a minute for the next train when we had to transfer.  We spent a relaxing afternoon and evening at the hotel.  We are heading back home tomorrow.

We decided to drive the entire way back to north Seattle in one day, as opposed to the three days it took us to get to San Francisco.  Let’s just say it was a very long day.  We alternated driving and made only very brief stops to eat and fill up the gas tank.  We left San Francisco at slightly after 7 am and arrived in Seattle at 8:50 pm.  On the positive side, we only hit traffic in Portland (it was rush hour), and it wasn’t too horrible (at least compared to Seattle rush hour traffic).  Our cats were happy we were home and we were happy to be home as well!

Since we are compulsive early birds, after washing our travel clothes, we packed for our upcoming cruise.  Yup, it is still five weeks away.  We wanted to make sure our suitcase stays under the 50-pound limit that the airlines impose for weight.  Nope, didn’t quite make it.  So, we removed everything except clothing and weighed again.  This time, the suitcase only weighed 32 pounds.  The toiletries we were bringing added 20 pounds!  We removed a few items and tried one more time. The suitcase weighed in at 45 pounds.  I will post a link to my packing list another day.

So, what’s next?  It is another 5 weeks until we leave home for our cruise.  I am quite busy with Cruise Critic “business”.  Since the fares have dropped for each of the three segments of our cruise, many new people have signed up.  And, many want to join the tours that I have set up.  So, I am spending considerable time emailing back and forth to help people get into the tours.  I am also in communication with several lovely people that I have met through my tour sharing and am getting very excited to meet them in person!

Heather Griffin Phillips

One thought on “San Francisco, here we come!

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