Sunday, July 8, 2012

San Francisco:The (long) weekend I left my heart in San Francisco

Clear blue skies, bright sunshine, non-freezing temperature and a burger and fries combo from In-N-Out greeted me in San Francisco - It was love at first sight!

Just like any tourist, there is no time to spare once the suitcase hits the floor. It was a rush to make sure to catch the last ferry out of Pier 39 to Alcatraz. The Alcatraz Night tour is dubbed as the complete/comprehensive tour being offered for Alcatraz but priced slightly higher than the morning tours. The fee is inclusive of the ferry ride, guided tour, audio guide and special programs.As the ferry cruised along the waters of the bay we were treated with the wonderful view of the sunset over the Golden Gate Bridge. 

Alcatraz Cruises ferry

After 10-15 minutes, the ferry docked at Alcatraz - one of America's maximum security prison.There are no state of the art technologies to detect any escape but being in the middle of the freezing water and strong current of the bay are maximum security enough.The Night tour is not scary or freaky at all (which we initially thought it will be), there are no pseudo ghost prisoners that will scare you inside the cell. It actually consist of a tour of the prison centre from the place where the prisoners will take their first shower in Alcatraz, the mess hall and to the cell house itself.The cellhouse tour is comprised of an audio guide narrated by prisoners who served time in Alcatraz and the police officers who were on duty in Alcatraz. The guide will take you around the cell house and what is life for them was like. The Night tour also have some special programs that you might find interesting.
Alcatraz Island
San Francisco has the biggest Chinatown outside of Asia and interestingly enough when we were researching the best eating haunts in the City the no.1 spot is held by a Chinese restaurant. When you go down the Chinatown area it was like being transported back into something familiar from the small park where the elderly are gathered to do tai chi, talk or play checkers, to the familiar scent of dumplings, noodles and chinese herbs and the ubiquitous pagoda roof.
San Francisco Chinatown
A trip in San Francisco will not be complete without going to Fisherman's Wharf which is stated in 2 out of 2 guidebooks as one of the touristy area in the Bay. Since we are tourist anyway why not do what a normal tourist do - have our picture taken underneath the big signboard of a crab and get the clam chowder that we were craving for from the time we boarded the plane in NY. It was almost noon at that time which meant hordes of hungry tourists just like ourselves abound in the area. We walked around and flipped through menus until we decided to give Sabella and Latorre a try and also I think at that time there were the first ones to have a free seat. The salty smell of the sea and cooking seafood wafted through the air as we sit and waited for San Francisco's claim to fame -  Clam Chowder. Clam Chowder is some sort of a seafood stew which is basically like a thick soup but what is interesting about the Clam Chowder here is the sourdough bread that is used to hold the soup instead of a bowl. Tear a small chunk of the bread bowl and dip it into the soup and eat it together with a spoonful of soup.The "sour-ness" of the bread is balanced out with the flavor of the clam chowder and what you get is a gastronomic treat.
Fisherman's Wharf
 Most big cities have what they call as observatories or tall buildings or towers where you can see the panoramic view of the city. New York has two famous bldgs - Empire State and Rockefeller, Seoul has the quirky N Seoul Tower, in San Francisco you can visit Coit Tower which is actually a memorial for a famous socialite Lillian Hitchcock Coit. The tower is located in Telegraph Hill but with the hilly streets in the Bay, walking might be tiresome so you can opt to just ride MUNI 39 (Bus 39) which stops right in front of the tower. Once you reached the tower, you will be treated with the view of the Bay with the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge and that little island in the middle is Alcatraz. On the other side, you will see how steep the streets are in San Francisco as you get a view of downtown San Francisco. One of the recognizable building is the Transamerica tower which is considered as the tallest building in San Francisco.
View of the streets from Coit Tower

Another thing that comes to mind when you say San Francisco is "chocolate".One of the well known and more commercialized chocolate shop based in San Francisco is Ghirardelli and located farther down Fisherman's Wharf is the chocolate paradise called Ghirardelli Square.You might be thinking that these particular chocolates are actually available in grocery stores anyway, still consider to pay a visit to Ghirardelli Square because here they have what they call as Factory Specials which are discounts that are not available in other stores and the really really best thing in here is that they hand out free chocolate square when you enter the shop and you can even request for additional chocolates from the smiling lady right beside the entrance or you can just enter again and get another piece. They also have an ice cream and cafe shop inside to satisfy your sweet tooth after perusing over bags and boxes of chocolates. 

Can you remember the opening credits in the late 90's popular TV series "Charmed" where a cable car zips past through the streets of San Francisco. You may or you might not be a fan of the series but you cannot miss the experience of riding the cable car when you are in the Bay area.The cable cars are as iconic as the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco and according to wikipedia this is the last remaining manually operated cable car system which means it is like riding a part of history. There are currently 3 lines that are in operation: Powell-Hyde, Powell-Mason and California Street. You may take a Powell-Hyde cable car to Lombard St, which claim to fame is  the crookedest street in San Francisco. You got to see it to believe just how steep and crooked this one block street is. 

A total San Francisco experience is not complete without a visit to its famous landmark - The Golden Gate Bridge. If you are taking the hop on hop off bus of course they do have a stop here which is actually the park just beside the bridge. The name is actually a misnomer when you get to see Golden Gate bridge since there is nothing golden at all in this bridge. It is actually brick red in color but calling it the Brick Red bridge sounds quite plain and doesn't leave any impression at all (ha!). The bridge itself is quite a view to behold as it spans across the bay and with the blue sea and bright sky adding a  dash of charm to its beauty.
Golden Gate Bridge
With time running out  and spending a lot of it on gorging glorious food (clam chowder, pesto pasta, crabs and sourdough bread), it's a quick tour over at Haight st, the Victorian houses (the famous 3 Sisters) and downtown San Francisco

Three days is too short to experience the City by the bay but it is good enough to make you leave your heart in San Francisco


  1. Did you take your heart back now? ;) nice post :)

  2. Hi Mafey, Yep I got it back! I'm scared I might lose it again maybe in Romantic Paris or Diamond in the Rough Madrid *kilig*

  3. I miss San Francisco! I never got to do the Alcatraz prison tour and hear about Al Capone (pout). I did go to the Fisherman´s Wharf and the Goden Gate Bridge but not Chinatown (as I had lived in China and wanted to get away). However, yung pinsan ko and I went to Castro and as we asked around how to get there, we get knowing winks and later realized they thought we were lesbians!

  4. Alcatraz is really interesting, try to go the next time your back. Sabi ko nga "Ang pretty ng San Francisco" hihihi...Yun naman ang di namin nagawa yung mamasyal sa mga less touristy spot since it's our first time in SF and with a limited time ayun nagpakaturista mode talaga. Enjoy your new adventures in the South, Kate!