Wednesday, April 20, 2016

San Francisco: The City by the Bay

After an unforgivably long absence from the travel blogging realm, I’m back from a fun and MUCH needed long weekend away in San Francisco!

If you haven’t been keeping up with my life (I don’t blame you, its been extremely boring), my past eight months have consisted of 80+ job applications, 3 interviews, and 0 big girl job. Safe to say, a weekend away was JUST what I needed.

Thursday April 7

I flew in that morning and got to the Airbnb around 9:30am, yay for time change and an entire day to explore a dazzling new city!

After walking 15 miles we saw so much of the city!

What started as a hunt for brunch (and eventually lunch because we couldn’t decide on a place), we walked 3 miles to a pizza place, Hole in the Wall Pizza. If you’re in a pinch for time and in that area, its pretty good pizza, however, if you’re looking for an amazing pizza place in San Fran, this isn’t the one for you.

It worked out for us because it was in the direction of Presidio Park, where one of my favorite artists, Andy Goldsworthy (don’t worry, I don’t expect you to know of him), has multiple art installations!

Andy Goldsworthy, "Wood Line," 2011.
"I am not a performer but occasionally I deliberately work in a public context. Some sculptures need the movement of people around them to work." -Andy Goldsworthy
Eventually stumbling onto “Wood Line,” we walked throughout the logs. Between getting that perfect shot (gotta do it for the gram!) and me talking all sorts of artsy gobbly goop, the space was enjoyable to traverse.

Goldsworthy works ephemerally, some of his work doesn’t even last for more than a few minutes. This particular installation was created with large tree trunks laid end to end along a path between the trees in Presidio. The back and forth path of the logs and the shadows cast from the tall trees easily played on the imagination. Moving through the piece, each time we looked back from where we had come the installation gave us a new image, like it itself had moved. As we walked, “Tree Line” slithered along with us. I absolutely loved this piece and didn't mind the 4 mile walk to get there!

As we walked through Presidio to another Goldsworthy installation we realized there were trails running throughout the park, and one that led to the Golden Gate Bridge!! Since I had yet to see the bridge, we took off down the most direct path to the bridge after stopping by Goldsworthy’s “Spire”.

Interacting with art may be one of my most favorite things!

Andy Goldsworthy, "Spire," 2008
Presidio is not just a beautiful park, but the trails offer many different areas of interest. Lookouts are scattered throughout and, among other things, we stumbled onto the National Cemetery (One of my favorite spots from Presidio) and a WWII memorial for all who died at sea (it overlooked the bay along the cliffs at the west end of Presidio).

National Cemetery overlooking the bay!
Walking toward the Golden Gate Bridge along the cliffs was breathtaking. The fog rolled in as we took in all the sights and sounds of the bay. Eventually we walked a bit across the bridge before deciding to head back toward the Airbnb for dinner.

View from the cliffs!
Side Note: San Francisco’s public transportation is expensive! ($4 for a bus ticket! Yikes!) And the subway only runs on the east side of the city, so we opted for an Uber, which was our main form of transportation from that point onward). Taking the Uber back to Civic Center to catch the subway back to our Airbnb we hunted for dinner. I say hunted because I was hangry and irrationally indecisive (completely different from my normal indecisiveness). We settled for a sushi place we found in a cool, hipster grocery store called The Market. Inside it sold groceries, had a café, and the quaint sushi bar we ate at; it was perfect!

Friday April 8

First thing on the agenda: Brunch (obviously!) We ate at Plow and it DID NOT disappoint! We ended up walking there from the Civic Center subway station, which we immediately regretted. We walked up LOTS of STEEP streets, got lost, but eventually ran into a local taking a break from her morning workload. She was walking around the block and was so kind to help us with directions.

Plow was on the corner of Texas Street!!
We finally found Plow and got coffee at a nearby coffee shop while we waited! Seriously, Plow was SOOOO good and I’m so sad I forgot to take a picture of our yummy food before we devoured it!


Coffee Shop across the corner from plow (the baristas were super pretentious, just a heads up)
The only thing we had concretely planned for San Francisco before we arrived was a tour of Alcatraz (but more on that later!)

Because we knew we had to be at the dock for the tour that evening we started the day in the Marina District.

Columns at the Palace of Fine Arts
We started at the Palace of Fine Arts. Originally built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition to exhibit works of art, the entire place took me back to Rome.

I loved this! Not that you can tell or anything ;)
Apparently, during the Exposition the entire district was erect with buildings built in this style (be still my beating heart) and the Palace of Fine Arts is the only structure that still survives today.

Dainty details at Palace of Fine Arts!
From there we walked toward Fisherman’s Wharf, where we stumbled upon the Ghirardelli Factory and spent ample time perusing the shops and sneaking every free sample of chocolate we could!

View of Alcatraz from our walk to Fisherman's Wharf!
We ate lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf, which is the touristiest place we visited in all of San Fran (touristiest? Word suggested this and is now saying it is not a thing, I digress).

Lunch was what you expect from a place hustling and bustling with tourists, over priced and over rated, but it sustained us for the time being.

After lunch, with time to spare, we rented bikes and biked back toward the Golden Gate Bridge.  

You should be able to see the Golden Gate bridge in the background, but fog
The fog was SO thick that day you couldn’t see the bridge at all and when we got to the bridge, bikes weren’t allowed due to fog and foot traffic.

Thick thick fog at the GGB
Alcatraz. I really am at a loss for words. Honestly I knew NOTHING about Alcatraz before the tour, I didn’t even know Al Capone was there, that’s how little I knew.

View of Alcatraz from the Ferry
We took the night tour. It costs a little extra, but offers more for visitors. Aside from the audio tour that every ticket includes, visitors on the night tour enjoy a narrated ferry tour that goes around the entire island (other tours don’t have narration and they go straight from dock to dock, no scenic views), areas of Alcatraz not usually open to the other tour groups (that night the hospital was open, and oh my was it spooky!), and programs after the audio tour giving visitors the opportunity to learn more about certain aspects of the prisons (we sat through a presentation on a specific inmate and heard his crazy story of pre, during, and post Alcatraz life).

Alcatraz from the ferry with San Fran in the background
The audio tour was very well done; they have different voice over actors for different inmates and prison guards.

Touring the prison while the sun was setting added another component to the tour, making it even creepier.

As the sun went down the lighting in the main cell block changed with the natural light.
The audio tour covered attempted escapes, successful escapes, an inmate uprising, and other aspects of the prison. We were taken down the main cellblocks, including solitary confinement cells, the library, cafeteria, and warden offices.

Alcatraz lighthouse. Did you know it was the first lighthouse on the west coast?!
The hospital was by far the creepiest part of the tour. I got the heebie jeebies walking through the rooms and reading informational posters about psychotic inmates who stayed up there.

Operating room in the Alcatraz hospital (the lack of overhead lighting didn't help the creepy setting)
Walking back down to the dock in the dark black fog was eerie. We couldn’t even see the lights of the city at times when the thicker fog would roll through. Overall, I would recommend the night tour! It was definitely worth the extra bucks to experience so much more!

For dinner we got pizza from Pizzeria Delfina, this is where you want to go if you want some yummy Neapolitan pizza in the city.

Tip: A lot of restaurants there have a weird hostess system, instead of giving your name to someone who works there, you just write it down yourself on a list with the number in your party. It took us a while to figure this out.

Saturday April 9

As the brunch athletes that we are, we decided to hit up brunch a second morning in a row! This time at a super crunchy farm to table place called Outerlands.

It blew our collective minds! Would highly recommend!

Then we were off to the Muir Woods!

Getting to the Muir Woods was something we had planned. We talked about renting a car for the day, or figuring out a bus that went there. In the end we settled for an Uber. With three of us, it wasn’t too expensive once it was split. A 40-minute drive from brunch, which was in South San Francisco, took us to the Muir Woods. Entry fee is $10 for adults and parking is limited (another reason we chose an Uber).

The Muir woods were fantastical. A main boardwalk path runs through the National Park with other unpaved trails leading from it. After talking with someone in the gift shop we chose a 3.7 mile hike that boasted gorgeous views of the ocean. Again, it was a foggy, rainy day and no view of the ocean was to be seen.

The fog made the forest come alive. I felt as if we were on a quest in Middle Earth, or some other enchanted land. With the mist and the fog and the tall trees it took everything I had to not let my imagination run away completely. We trekked through mud and rain, over cliffs and rivers, and loved every second of it!

Leaving the Muir Woods was something we hadn’t planned on: No cellphone service! No cell phone service = no Uber. Thankfully, a shuttle runs from Muir Woods to Sausalito, the town across the bay from San Fran. $5 and 45 minutes later (actually I fell asleep so no guarantee on the time frame) we were in Sausalito. Visiting the tourist info building we asked the sweetest lady where to grab lunch. She recommended a Taco place and off we went. Kason had been pushing for Mexican food all weekend and the quaint Sausalito provided in full. I had probably the best tortilla soup EVER!

Next on the agenda (much to my begging) we walked across the Golden Gate Bridge.

This was one of those activities that is awesome to say you’ve done, but that day with high blustering winds and down pouring rain. We walked across anyway and lived to tell the tale!

On the other side of the bridge, thoroughly drenched and shivering from the cold (or was that just me?) we found ourselves at the Painted Ladies.

Alamo Square is a small park where the Painted Ladies partly line one edge. Actually, all of the houses immediately lining the park are gorgeous, I’d recommend taking them all in if you have the time and desire. You will know where the Painted Ladies are because all the tourists will be pointing their phones in that direction (again for the gram). If you’re lucky enough, you may even catch a whisper of the Full House theme song playing over someone’s phone speakers (thankfully we weren’t “those” people.) The Painted Ladies were fun to see and it was interesting to converse over which was our favorite (mine was the blue one!)

That evening we spent in the Airbnb. After weathering the elements all day/weekend and walking our tired feet off, we couldn’t be bothered to get out and find a fun, new place to eat, so we ordered pizza! Third time in one weekend, no complaints!

Sunday 10 April

We decided to hit up brunch one last time (we have a problem, and we aren’t going to apologize for it). But we stayed close to our Airbnb so there was less rush getting to the airport. We decided on a place called Big Joe’s! The owner’s daughter (maybe 7 or 8 years old) helped seat guests and the whole place had a local diner feel (probably because it is the local diner). Many people came in and were called by name and sat at what seemed like their usual place at the bar. It made us feel like locals on our last day in town!

We spent the rest of the morning finishing laundry and packing. If you have never stayed in an Airbnb, DO IT!!! Meeting locals, living like a local while you’re there, having access to a kitchen and washer/dryer (depending on the listing) are all pros to the Airbnb experience. We lucked out with an AMAZING Airbnb location (right off the subway) and had great hosts who left us a list of local restaurants to try, among other things.

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