After we flew in, the first thing we did after checking into our hotel (Park Central Hotel) is head to Chinatown for lunch, as we were starved after a six hour flight from New York. We ate at the Z & Y restaurant. It’s known for it’s Szechuan delicacies but we opted for more traditional non-spicy food which was also on the menu. President Obama has eaten here and the restaurant has good reviews- the highlight of our meal was ordering the Jasmine tea, you’ll be amazed at how it’s served:
That day a street fair was going on so it was interesting to see all the wares and food, but also crowded. We learned that 100,000 Chinese live in this 12 block area, that’s out of 800,000 total population in San Francisco.
Chinatown leads right into the North Beach neighborhood which is the Italian section. Numerous Italian restaurants, bars and cafes selling gelato dot the neighborhood. As we had just eaten, we walked through it until we got to Washington Square, also the location of Saint Peter and Paul’s Church where Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio got married.
We turned right towards Telegraph Hill to climb to the Coit Tower.
This was the beginning of our climbing adventures that day. San Francisco is known for its rolling hills, and while there are several modes of transportation on our first day it was an experience to trek the hills on foot and feel the swell of the ground underneath our feet.
It was a steep climb to the Coit Tower, then numerous steps to get to its base, but it’s worth it for the stunning 360 degree views of San Francisco. Admission for adults is $9, the wait about 10-20 minutes, then an elevator takes you to the top.
View of Oakland Bay Bridge
View of Alcatraz
Climbing down was easy, so we decided to keep going past Washington Square straight over to the other side of town and climb up Lombard street.
The top of Lombard street is a series of steep curves made famous in the movies. The neighborhood is also one of the most exclusive in San Francisco.
View of the winding curves of Lombard street
You are rewarded at the top with amazing views of the San Francisco streets with Coit Tower in the distance.
The sensible thing to do next is to take an Uber back to your hotel. We, however, were soaking up every minute of the gorgeous views and wanted to keep going ….so we headed towards Grace Cathedral . Our trek turned into a near hour walk up and down some of the steepest hills in San Francisco, located in the affluent neighborhoods of Russian Hill and Nob Hill.
Grace Cathedral is beautiful, built in the image of the Notre Dame in France.
Finally it was time to head back to our hotel and get some much needed rest!
The next day we purchased a 2-day ticket for one of the several hop on and off bus tours that are a great way to get around the city and see the highlights.
Golden Gate Park and the Japanese Tea Gardens
There are several things to do in Golden Gate Park which is bigger even than Central Park in NYC. We chose to see the Japanese Tea Garden, a delightful refuge from a hectic day of touring. Adult admission is $9, and buys you as much time as you would like strolling through the intricate gardens designed to promote a sense of tranquility and zen.
Zen moment: stopping in front of the lush gardens and being still for a moment – absorbing the organic forms of the leaves, grass and bush while hearing the stillness, feeling the damp foggy mist on the face, breathing in deeply the crisp, clean air full of life force.
Zen moment: standing on the curved wooden bridges overlooking the ponds full of Koi fish, watching their smooth, swirling movements ripple the water and at the same time reflect the very movement of the water.
A highlight are the Japanese pergolas nestled among the garden.
After refreshing ourselves with tea and coffee at a nearby snack shop, we walked through the eastern half of the Golden Gate Park towards Haight street, where we caught a guided walking tour that was part of our bus package.
Taking this guided walking tour down Haight street helped me to understand more of what the 1967 Summer of Love was all about, and gave me insight into the culture and historical context of San Francisco itself. During a brief period of less than a year in 1967, thousands came to this area to celebrate love and experiment with drugs that were meant to broaden the mind and increase compassion. When it became more of a drug party, the leaders of the movement called it to a close.
Some of the biggest names in sixties music lived here during that time period, and part of the tour shows you where they lived. Only the house of Jimmy Hendrix has been left in the original condition of what these Victorian style houses would of looked like back then – very run down. Many have since been purchased and restored.
Jimmy Hendrix lived here
Address for Janice Joplin
Evolution Rainbow, the oldest mural in Haight Ashbury
Mural depicting Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead
Where the Grateful Dead lived
Once done with the tour, I recommend heading over to 601 Divisadero Street to the Bean Bag Cafe for lunch. They have crisp and fresh sandwiches, salads, savory and sweet crepes as well as burgers. We seated ourselves by the window and enjoyed people watching as we ate.
The Painted Ladies and Alamo Square
A must see is the row of seven beautifully restored Victorian row houses nicknamed “The Painted Ladies” that can be best viewed from Alamo Square. On a clear, sunny day you can take pictures of the houses with the San Francisco skyline in the background.
One of the best ways to travel up to Fisherman’s Wharf is by Cable Car. We started at the 5th and Powell stop and watched the fascinating way they turn the cable cars around by hand.
The trip up and down the hills is a lot of fun for a $7 one way ticket, and takes about 20 minutes . The best views can be had standing on the sideboard but you have to hold on tight to the rail and no pictures are allowed while in transit.
Fisherman’s Wharf is a little touristy but it is also a good place to get seafood with the number of seafood restaurants and shacks here.
First, you may want to head up Pier 39 to check out the seals basking in the setting sun.
When you’re ready for dinner, a popular stand-by is Alioto’s Restaurant on 8 Fisherman’s Wharf. We purchased gifts at the Safe Harbor gift shop and got a 10% discount for a meal at the nearby Cioppino’s restaurant, so decided to have dinner there.
Alioto’s claims to have invented Cioppino back in the day when fishermen would haul in their catch and whatever would come in that day got thrown into a brothy tomato soup. However, Cioppino’s is a family owned restaurant who has made the dish their namesake, so we ordered that dish, of course. I found it to be a decadent, buttery version of the tomato broth with ample amounts of calamari, clams, shrimp, white fish and luscious chunks of Dungeoness Crab in it. My only complaint is that it was too rich to finish all the delicious broth in the bowl.
Another place to check out while in Fisherman’s Wharf is the Boudin Sourdough Bakery and Cafe near Pier 39. We had a great lunch here eating clam chowder in a hollowed out freshly baked sourdough bowl. They also have a lovely gourmet food gift shop, tours of their bakery, and higher end dining upstairs, where the oyster bar comes highly recommended.
A visit here is not complete without visiting the original Ghirardelli chocolate factory. It has been converted to a cafe where you can enjoy everything from hot chocolate to decadent sundaes and a gift shop alongside.
Golden Gate Bridge
We couldn’t wait to see the Golden Gate Bridge. Part of our bus package included a ride across the Golden Gate Bridge into the town of Sausalito. The weather that day was foggy, cloudy and on the chilly side. The wind gusts as we crossed the bridge sitting on top of the bus were very strong and made us wish we were doing it on a milder day, but we still enjoyed the trip.
We were surprised by the town of Sausalito, a wealthy community of charming houses nestled into the mountain bedrock with amazing views of San Francisco in the distance.
We found the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge when we returned back across the bridge, and got off the bus to take a break at the cafe. They have a outdoor lookout location right there.
A pleasant morning can be spent at the Ferry Terminal with its shops and markets. A farmer’s market is there on Thursdays. Benches line the Harbor and offer pleasant views while eating take out. We got a couple of well made tortas from Mijita along with scratch made chips and salsa.
On our last night we enjoyed a great steak dinner in a comfortable atmosphere at the historic John’s Grill, located near our hotel in the financial district. Established in 1908, it gives you a sense of historical San Francisco with jazz music playing every night.
Zen moment: The next morning we spent a relaxing few hours wandering through the Yerba Buena Gardens. The esplanade offers lovely shaded areas to sit at and ponder your trip. Standing in front of the Martin Luther King memorial and fountain there, I reflected on the inspiring words of one of the driving forces of cultural revolution and change that are so much a part of what San Francisco is.
San Francisco has a lot to explore and we saw a lot in the few days we were here. Yes, we left a little tired and those hills can take a lot out of you, but the memory, beauty and contrasts of the historic city of San Francisco will linger with us for a long time.