Where to park the RV when visiting San Francisco? No where near the city, that’s for sure. We planned to really immerse ourselves rather than driving to and fro so we knew we’d be Priceline- ing a hotel room. But there is the matter of the rig. We parked her at an RV park several hours outside of Dodge – er- San Francisco, locked her up, and headed to the Bay for a couple of days in our little VW Rabbit tow car.
Our first afternoon in town, we discovered the perils of having a car in San Francisco. Parking is tough to find and very expensive. We paid $3.50/hour at a parking garage downtown (which was actually pretty reasonable comparably) and walked to Chinatown for lunch. It is wild to walk the steep hills covered in city. Sitting in the Capitol Restaurant was neat- we were flat and the world outside was at a very steep slant! And, as you can imagine, the food was delicious. Then we walked to the California line of the Trolley. And we found a fantastic playground in Chinatown on the way! For $6/person, we hung off the side of the trolley all the way through the city just like the Rice-A-Roni commercials of my childhood. What a thrill! And the driver actually encourages you to hang off the side poles if you want.
Some friends we met in Tucson are originally from S.F. and gave us a recommendation for great ice cream – Mitchell’s ice cream served up at St. Francis Fountain. It sure was – rich and creamy in a little diner that I’m sure hasn’t changed since the woman who recommended it was there as a child. Old school charm. And right down the street from Vermont Street – SO twisty! – and the up-and-down, steep neighborhoods that you think of when you think of San Francisco. What the movies can’t show? When you go up one side of these streets lined with tall, skinny, prettily painted, side-by-side homes, you may get to the stop sign at the top and not be able to see the road in front of you, the stop signs of the cross streets… Really, you won’t be able to see anything but the sky. Yeah, they’re that steep. The up feels like a roller coaster. Had Chris let off the break, the down would’ve, too. Whoa! There was lots of disbelief and giggling in our car. We also stopped at McKinley Park for a walk on the trails- all on the side of a hill! We settled in for the evening at a Red Roof Inn (they allow dogs and even had a discount for pet month in April because we brought Skooter) by the S.F. airport. Cheap, cozy, and on the bay. Skooter and I had a beautiful sunset stroll and even happened upon a dog park on the way back.
The next morning we were up and out early to make our reservation for the 9:30 AM Alcatraz Cruises ferry to Alcatraz Island. Although the island is a national park, the ferry that gets you there is an independent company so you have to pay. No way around it. It cost us $28 per adult and $17 per child (age 5-11). There is no extra national park entry fee. The cost of the ferry covers it and includes the headset audio tour. The audio tour came highly recommended on the review sites and it was fascinating, riveting, and a little frightening. We’re glad we went early because as people linger throughout the day (you take a scheduled ferry to the island but any ferry thereafter to return), it’s easy to see how the island gets congested with people and the audio tour could get dangerous. We were already doing a little bumping as everyone was attentively following the directions in their ears. The movie was also really interesting and told, not only of the time period when Alcatraz was a prison and of the families that lived there during that time (wow!) but also about its history before and after as the first U.S. built fort on the west coast and the occupancy of Native Americans in the late 1960s for 18 months to call attention to Native American rights initiatives.
We got off the boat back on the mainland around 12:30 and hungry. I had done some online research looking for little known, great places to eat on a budget. Voila! I turned up Tanguito from this Food Dude video– an Argentine food truck on Fisherman’s’ Wharf. We walked the 2+ blocks and ate utter deliciousness- empanadas, short ribs, and garlic fries- handmade and delivered to our sidewalk table by the owners. Feeling utterly satisfied, we wandered back the way the tourists do- down a boardwalk lined with gaudy beach shops, chocolatiers, stores with guys out front telling me I need a new lens for my camera, wax museums, etc. The few street performers that were out were nothing too exciting so we kept walking to the historic carousel of Pier 39.
Pier 39 is a hopping place. On this Friday, it was crawling with people. The Pier 39 carousel was also brought to my attention by our S.F. native friend. It was crafted and hand painted in Italy and is the only carousel in the country that sports murals of its home city. It is gorgeous! The kids liked the out of the ordinary animals to ride. Sadie rode a dolphin and Elijah rode a sea lion.
Speaking of sea lions…. There were a whole big bunch of sea lions down at the end of Pier 39. Noisy and funny- we had a great time watching them. Skooter was a little freaked out by them, though.
We weren’t feeling like doing the tourist shopping thing but Elijah was very excited that there was a store for left-handers – Lefty’s– there. Turns out, they were also having a giveaway to left-handed shoppers. He came away with a much-prized left handed pen. It has improved his penmanship tremendously. He loves it so!
After packing up the car on Saturday morning and checking out of the hotel, we headed for the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market at the Ferry Building. It was as big as I expected but much more expensive. I guess in an area where everything is high priced, the farmers’ prices are up there, too. We loaded up on produce, eggs, and a bit of meat – not knowing when our next good opportunity would be in our travels – and headed back to the car. We stopped to eat some strawberries on a bench and then stopped again at a very cool fountain across the street that you could walk up on! We also loved this cool sculpture:
We all had a great time in San Francisco. It ranks as one of those must-visits. It is beautiful with lots of museums and interesting things to do and great eats.From what I experienced, I wouldn’t want to live there. We didn’t find the vibe very friendly. Skooter was one of few dogs we saw out on the three beautiful days we were there and was not very well regarded by passersby. It was very expensive and parking was obscene. I guess, being such a small city, bikes or mass transit would be a much better scenario for residents.