A Travellerspoint blog

San Francisco: Tall Towers and Winding Roads.

Arrival and Day One.

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Golden Gate Bridge.

We visited San Francisco at the beginning of February 2016. It was our first ever trip to the USA. I would say that three things had put us off from visiting the USA before. One of the things was, that we had heard it was so difficult to get through immigration. We did not really find it that difficult, just time­ consuming as the lines were very long. We queued for about an hour and a half and had to answer quite a lot of questions about the purpose of our visit. Another thing that had put us off visiting was crime and indeed I had read lots of disturbing stories about crime in San Francisco before we went there. In reality I found it much the same as any European city; some areas are fine; others are more dodgy, don't wave valuables around, avoid lonely dark areas at night, use common sense. On the whole, we found people very friendly, welcoming and helpful. This visit has definitely left me with a desire to return and see more of the country. The third off­-putting thing we had heard was that there was no public transport. This may be true for some parts of the USA, but it definitely was not true of San Francisco. Public transport was excellent. We easily got everywhere we wanted to go.

I suppose our trip was a fairly typical tourist trip with us taking in the main sights. We had a half day on arrival and five full days. We visited Fisherman's Wharf; took a boat trip to Alcatraz; explored the sights of downtown such as Chinatown, North Beach, Nob Hill, Coit Tower, Lombard Street and Washington Square. We also explored our inner hippy in Haight Ashbury; visited the Castro; the Mission; the ferry building; the Civic Centre; Golden Gate Park; Ocean Beach; Cliff House and the Sutro Baths. On our last full day we visited the Golden Gate Bridge both by day and by night; the Palace of Fine Arts and the Presidio.

We had heard February was the wettest month of the year, but it was sunny every day of our stay. We only saw a little of the famous San Francisco fog on one day of our stay. We were delighted with the weather, but locals were not as they are experiencing a bit of a drought and desperately wanted some rain.

The original inhabitants of the San Francisco area were the Ohlone people. The first Europeans to settle there were the Spanish who built a series of Missions and a fort or presidio. The Spanish were replaced by the Mexicans and then San Francisco, together with the rest of California, became a state of the USA. Shortly after that gold was discovered near there and the population exploded overnight. San Francisco has experienced several dreadful earthquakes and fires, but has always managed to recover. We thought it was a beautiful place with wonderful natural scenery and would love to go there again. Maybe next time we would explore the surrounding areas, too.

We arrived in San Francisco at San Francisco International Airport which is located 13 miles south of San Francisco. It has flights throughout North America, Europe and Asia. SFO is the second busiest airport in California, after Los Angeles International Airport. SFO is a clean, efficient, well-organized airport. It took us a long time to get into San Francisco as queues at immigration were long and moved slowly. It was a lot easier getting back out, though security was thorough.

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San Francisco International Airport

We got into the city of San Francisco from the airport by BART train. BART is short for Bay Area Rapid Transit. I bought a ticket to Powell Street for $8.95 from the ticket machine. My husband is over 65 and bought a senior ticket from Airport Information. It is not possible to buy it from the machine or the BART Station. He paid $9 for $24 worth of travel on the BART. This is known as a BART green ticket. We only used the BART to get to and from the airport though we could have used it to get to several places we visited such as the Mission, the ferry building and the civic centre.

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The BART.

To get around we bought a MUNI 7 day visitor passport for $40. We got it from the airport information desk. This pass is valid on all MUNI buses, cable­cars, street­cars (I'd call them trams) and MUNI Metro lines. A day passport is $20, a 3 day pass is $31. We soon recouped the cost of this pass by using the cable cars which cost $7 a journey or $20 a day ticket. Buses are a much more reasonable $2.25 a journey; $1 for OAPs. We were very pleased with the pass as we were on and off transport all the time without needing to buy any further tickets or look for change or anything. The only transport it did not cover was the BART.

We stayed in the Andrews Hotel quite close to Union Square. Check in was friendly and efficient. We arrived an hour or so before official check-­in time, but were allowed in straight away. The receptionist gave us a free city map. The hotel is a historical one. At one time it used to be a bath house. It has been nicely restored. It has an old fashioned lift with a sliding gate type door. Our room was on the seventh floor. It was clean and comfortable. There was a large closet, a dressing table with drawers, a comfortable bed, TV. chairs. We did not have a fridge or a safe, though safety deposit boxes were available at reception. The bathroom had a bath with attached shower. For me it was not small like other reviewers said, just a strange shape. Breakfast was served to each floor of the hotel in the morning. It consisted of coffee, tea, orange juice, bread, cakes, butter, jam. You can either take it to the hotel lobby or to your room. We always ate in our room. The hotel provided free teas and coffees in the lobby all day. I really liked that. The hotel has an Italian Restaurant called Finos. Hotel guests can get a free glass of wine from there each evening. We were never back in time to get this, but it is a nice idea. We would have liked to try the restaurant, but it was always busy and we chose not to book it as we never knew when we would be back. There were lots of restaurants near the hotel. It was also in an excellent location for transport such as buses and cable cars. There were lots of shops nearby, too.

The only downside of the hotel was it was a bit noisy at night. I assume this would be true of any centrally located hotel. The noise was traffic and people going up and down the street. After a couple of nights I began to just sleep through it. Free wifi was provided at this hotel and the signal was consistently strong throughout our stay. Check out was quick, efficient and friendly. I would very happily stay here again.

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The Andrews Hotel.

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The Andrews Hotel.

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The Andrews Hotel.

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Fisherman's Wharf Marina.

On our arrival day we took a cable car to Fisherman's Wharf. This area gets a lot of criticism for being too touristy, but there are actually many, many things to do around this area and I would imagine there would easily be something suitable to everyone's tastes. I am only going to write about the parts of Fisherman's Wharf that I liked.

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Cable Cars.

We liked Hyde Park Street Pier. At one time, before the Golden Gate Bridge was built, Hyde Street Pier was the main ferry pier connecting San Francisco with Marin County. Nowadays, it is part of the San Francisco Maritime Historical Park. The pier is home to several historical vessels. One of these is a square ­rigger sailing ship called the Balclutha which dates from 1886. Another is the schooner C. A. Thayer which dates from 1895. There's also a steam ferryboat called the Eureka from 1890. A schooner called Alma from 1891, a steam tug, Hercules, from 1907 and a paddlewheel tug called Eppleton Hall from 1914. It is possible to pay to go around these vessels on a tour, but we didn't. We just viewed them from the pier. As well as looking at the boats, Hyde Street Pier is worth visiting for its views towards the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory, the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island.

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Hyde Street Pier.

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Hyde Street Pier.

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Hyde Street Pier.

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Hyde Street Pier.

Fisherman's Wharf has great views of steep streets, San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge. It was lovely to watch the sun go down over the water and I took a few sunset pictures.

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Sunset.

My favourite flowers are spring flowers. I was not expecting there to be too many around in February so was pleasantly surprised to find tulips, daffodils and spring blossom on several fruit trees. Beautiful!

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Spring blossom.

Near the waterfront there is a great bakery called Boudin's. It specializes in sour dough bread. It has a restaurant specializing in sour dough loaves used as soup bowls and filled with clam chowder and a sour dough bread shop. I enjoyed watching the bakers make sour dough loaves in the shape of various animals in the front window of the bakery. Address: Shoreline near Jefferson between Powell and Hyde

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Boudin's Bakery.

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Boudin's Bakery.

Pier 39 gets the most criticism of all of Fisherman's Wharf for being tacky and touristy, but it is also a highlight due to the colony of sealions that take up residence at the end of the pier. They are incredibly noisy and quarrelsome and great fun to watch. I am not sure if they are there all year round; there were certainly plenty of them around in February when we visited.

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Sunset over sealions.

Dotted around the waterfront at Fisherman's Wharf there are a few statues or symbols of the place such as the large Fisherman's Wharf statue, the sea­lion statue or the giant crab statue. There are also several murals. These are also good to photograph or pose with.

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Murals.

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Murals.

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Icons.

Musee Mechanique is located on Pier 45 at Fisherman's Wharf. The museum houses a collection of privately owned arcade machines from the past. These were collected by Edward Galland Zelinsky who started his collection when he was just eleven years old. I remember arcade machines like these from my youth. I used to like machines such as love machines or fortune telling machines. Entry to the Musee Mecanique is free and you use coins to operate the machines. Machines included an organ, Laughing Sal, the French execution, an arm wrestling machine and many, many more.

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Musee Mechanique.

Behind the Musee Mecanique at Pier 45 there are two warships which saw service in World War II. One of these is The SS Jeremiah O'Brien and the other is the submarine USS Pampanito. It is possible to board them for a fee but we just had a look from the outside. The SS Jeremiah O'Brien was named after the American Revolutionary War ship captain Jeremiah O'Brien who lived between 1744 and 1818. She was part of the 6,939­ ship armada that stormed Normandy on D­-Day, 1944. The submarine USS Pampanito completed six war patrols between 1944 and 1945. She also served as a Naval Reserve Training ship from 1960 to 1971.

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War ships.

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Views from Fisherman's Wharf.

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Views from Fisherman's Wharf.

Our first full day was very busy. We started it by exploring Chinatown. This is the oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest Chinatown outside of Asia. The first Chinese immigrants to San Francisco, two men and one woman, arrived in 1848. Many more arrived in 1849 hoping to strike it lucky when gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill. Many other Chinese worked for the Central Pacific Company building the Transcontinental Railroad. I love Chinatowns. I suppose its because I live in Hong Kong and am interested in where the Chinese migrated to and what they did there.

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Chinatown.

One of the most attractive things about San Francisco's Chinatown was all the murals drawn on the walls of the buildings. These depicted dragons, lion dancing, goddesses, the animals of the Chinese zodiac, Chinese people and flowers among other things.

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Murals.

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Murals.

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Murals.

As well as lots of murals, Chinatown also has some colourful mosaics. These are entitled "Blooming on Fragrance Alley." They are located on Hang Ah Alley, a name which means sweet smelling. These garden­ themed mosaics were created as part of the Chinatown CDC’s Adopt An Alleyway Project. Around twelve local young people lead by artist Margarita Soyfertis explored the history of the alley and created mosaics to beautify it.

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Mosaics.

As with all Chinatowns, San Franciso's Chinatown was filled with lots of colourful shops and many restaurants. I took some photos of the interiors of several shops that caught my eye with their bright decorations.

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Shopping.

We also enjoyed visiting Old Saint Mary's Cathedral which was very peaceful inside. This church dates from 1853. On the outside of the cathedral there is a large clock with the inscription "Son, observe the time and fly from evil." Its from Ecclesiastes. Opposite the church, St Mary's Square is a pleasant place to sit. It has a statue of Sun Yat Sen, founder of the Republic of China.

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Old Saint Mary's Cathedral .

When we finished exploring Chinatown, we hopped on the California Street Cable Car and headed to Nob Hill. Nob Hill got its name when the nobs, also known as "The Big Four", built their mansions in this area."The Big Four" was the name given to the famous and influential businessmen who built the Central Pacific Railroad. "The Big Four" were Leland Stanford ­ founder of Stanford University (1824–1893), Collis Potter Huntington, (1821–1900), Mark Hopkins, (1813–1878), and Charles Crocker, (1822–1888). The neighborhood of Nob Hill was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire, the mansion owners re­located elsewhere. Their mansions were replaced by posh hotels such as the Mark Hopkins Hotel, Huntington Hotel and Stanford Court Hotel.

Also gutted by the fires was the newly completed Fairmont Hotel which was rebuilt and the mansion of tycoon James Flood which was rebuilt as the headquarters of the exclusive Pacific ­Union Club. Grace Cathedral is an Episcopal cathedral located on Nob Hill. The cathedral's entrance has a beautiful set of doors. These are often called the "Ghiberti doors" as they are reproductions of the doors of the Florence Baptistry by Lorenzo Ghiberti. Grace Cathedral has several beautiful mosaics by Jan Henryk De Rosen, stained glass windows and the Keith Haring AIDS Chapel. We visited on Ash Wednesday when there was a service taking place inside, so we could not photograph the interior. Instead we joined in in listening to the moving service. Address: 1100 California St., San Francisco, CA 94108. Directions: Between Taylor St. & Jones St. in Nob Hill.

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Grace Cathedral.

Just in front of Grace Cathedral in Nob Hill stands Huntington Park. This was once the site of the mansion of Collis P. Huntington, who helped build the Central Pacific Railroad. The mansion was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire. However, Mr. Huntington's widow donated the property to the city of San Francisco to set up a park in 1915. The park has a replica of the fountain, Fontana Delle Tartarughe or Fountain of the Turtles. This was bought by William and Ethel Crocker for their estate at Hillsborough, California. Later this fountain was given to the city of San Francisco by the Crockers' four children. It was installed in Huntington Park in 1954. The original fountain is in the Piazza Mattei, Rome. Also in Huntington Park there is a statue called Dancing Sprites by French sculptor, Henri Leon Greber. This statue was donated to the city by Mrs. James Flood in 1942. The Flood family amassed a fortune in the gold and silver fields.

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Huntington Park.

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Huntington Park.

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Huntington Park.

We walked down an extremely steep street from Nob Hill to the cable car museum. One of the must do things in San Francisco is to ride in its wonderful old cable cars. We rode on all three of the existing lines and we also paid a visit to the cable car museum. This museum is located at 1201 Mason Street. Entry is free. Its opening hours are 10 am ­to 6 pm April 1st to September 30th; and 10 am to­ 5 pm October 1st to March 31st. The Cable Car Museum was set up in 1974. It is located in the old Washington/Mason cable car barn and powerhouse. The main floor of the museum overlooks the huge engines and winding wheels that pull the cables. The museum is home to three antique cable cars from the 1870s. The Sutter Street Railway No. 46 grip car & No. 54 trailer and the only surviving car from the first cable car company, the Clay Street Hill Railroad No. 8 grip car. My favourite part of the museum was its historic black and white photographs showing early cable cars and San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. We also enjoyed watching a film about the history of the cable cars. The museum has a gift shop and clean toilets. Address: 1201 Mason Street.

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The Cable Car Museum.

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The Cable Car Museum.

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The Cable Car Museum.

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The Cable Car Museum.

Then we went to Washington Square. Washington Square is a pleasant park in the North Beach area. It was established in 1847. The park contains a memorial to San Francisco's firemen. It was designed by Haig Patigian and erected with funds left by Lillie Hitchcock Coit. Its inscription reads: To commemorate the Volunteer Fire Department of San Francisco 1819 -­1866 Erected 1933 By Bequest of Lillie Hitchcock Coit. The park is also home to a statue of Benjamin Franklin. On the edge of the park stands the lovely Saints Peter and Paul Church. Joe Di Maggio was married here. After his divorce, when he re-­married to Marilyn Monroe, they had their wedding photos taken outside the church. They could not be married in the church as being Catholic it did not recognise their divorce. The church is somewhat unfortunately located at number 666 Filbert Street.

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Saints Peter and Paul Church.

After that we walked to Coit Tower. This tower is 210 feet high and is located at the top of Telegraph Hill, so it has wonderful views over San Francisco. It was built in 1933 using money left to the city of San Francisco by Lillie Hitchcock Coit. The tower was designed by architects Arthur Brown Jr and Henry Howard. On the ground floor of the tower there are murals by twenty-seven different artists. It is possible to enter the tower for free and view the murals, visit the gift shop and the toilets. If you want to go up to the top of the tower by elevator, it costs $8 or $5 for seniors. We went up in the elevator. It was a clear day and the views were lovely.

There are reasonable views from the bottom of Coit Tower though some pesky trees get in the way. From the top of the tower there are fantastic views towards Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and the ferry building. The viewing platform has several small windows; some open, some closed.

The ground floor of Coit Tower is decorated with a wonderful assortment of murals. They are certainly worth a visit.

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Coit Tower.

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Coit Tower.

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Coit Tower.

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Coit Tower.

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Coit Tower.

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Coit Tower.

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Coit Tower.

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Coit Tower.

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Coit Tower.

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Coit Tower.

From Coit Tower we explored some of the North Beach area. We started at the National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi which is a beautiful church located in the North Beach area. There has been a church at this site since 1849, though the original church has had to be re­built a couple of times, most recently after the 1906 earthquake when its interior was gutted by fire. The church was needed to serve the Catholic community following the discovery of gold in California and the subsequent explosion in population. The nearest Catholic church prior to building this one was Mission Dolores over three miles away. This church is open from 10am to 5pm daily. The priest welcomed us into the church when we arrived.

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National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi.

We also had a look at the Transamerica Pyramid Building. This is the tallest skyscraper in San Francisco's skyline, so can be spotted from all over the city. It used to house the headquarters of the Transamerica Corporation before they moved to Baltimore, Maryland. This building was designed by architect William Pereira and built by Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction Company in 1972. Standing at 853 ft it was once the eighth tallest building in the world. It is an extremely easy building to spot due to its unusual shape. Address: 600 Montgomery St.

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Transamerica Pyramid Building.

We also took a look at City Lights Books - San Francisco's most famous book store. City Lights is a well ­known bookstore located at 261 Columbus Avenue in the North Beach area. It is an independent bookstore/publisher. It was founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin. The store became famous following the obscenity trial of Ferlinghetti after he published Allen Ginsberg's influential collection 'Howl and Other Poems' in 1956. In 2001, City Lights was made an official historic landmark. City Lights specializes in world literature, the arts, and progressive politics. We enjoyed browsing in this shop. As well as the books, there were lots of photographs and posters to look at. Address: 261 Columbus Ave.

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City Lights Books .

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City Lights Books .

We also took a look at Cafe Vesuvio. We did not actually go in as we were trying to use up all our daylight hours on sightseeing. This is a place I would be happy to come back to and explore properly. Cafe Vesuvio is in North Beach next to the infamous City Lights Bookstore. It started out in1948 and is a historical monument to jazz, poetry, art and the Beat Generation. This cafe was frequented by Neal Cassady, the real life role model for the character Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac's novel 'On the Road'. It was also a regular hangout for Jack Kerouac himself and other famous Beat poets. Address: 255 Columbus Avenue

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Cafe Vesuvio .

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Cafe Vesuvio .

Finally now with aching legs we went to Lombard Street. San Francisco is built on several steep hills making both walking and driving a challenge. Lombard street counteracted its steepness by making its road twist and turn. The famous section of the street in the Russian Hill area has eight hairpin bends. It would be interesting to drive down. It is also interesting to watch others drive down. This section of the street has several lovely buildings and the road winds through gardens. These are filled with flowers in summer. On our visit they were not, but there was some lovely blossom.

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Lombard street.

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Lombard street.

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Lombard street .

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Lombard street.

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Lombard street .

One of the best things about Lombard Street is the fantastic view you get when you are standing at the top of it. You can see all the way to the Bay Bridge and the Coit Tower. The view is stunning by day and spectacular by night when it is all lit up. My camera is not great on night time shots, so I don't think they do it full justice.

That evening we ate in Sears Fine Food on Powell Street. We ate here twice during our stay. Both times the meals were absolutely excellent. I had the grilled chicken sandwich on both visits. My husband had the fish sandwich on his first visit and the fish and chips on his second. These were also excellent. Sandwiches come with a choice of fries, caesar salad or mixed greens. We had fries and caesar salad and shared them between us. Service was very attentive and efficient. This restaurant also did very good draught beer. I had the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and my husband had the Anchor Steam Beer. After our meal, we were given a token to try in the slot machine to see if we won any special offers on our return visit. We didn't, but it was a nice idea, I thought.

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Sears Fine Foods.

After dinner we were exhausted and walked home to bed.

Posted by irenevt 05:33 Archived in USA

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Comments

I have not been to SF since 1966. It was lovely to revisit through your photos.

I must say that almost any place you visit there will be stories of crime, and most of the time it isn't as bad as people say.

Also people are correct about public transportation particularly in California - SF is the exception that proves the rule. Outside the city it is not as good. For instance, it is difficult to visit Yosemite without a car.

by greatgrandmaR

Hi Rosalie,

Thank you for visiting. The sixties would have been a great time to visit San Francisco. We really loved this city.

We are a bit limited in terms of where we can go due to using public transport, but fortunately here there was lots in the centre.

by irenevt

Hi Irene. I wrote a long comment yesterday and it never appeared. Lost in cyberspace. You are close to our home in SF. We have BART senior passes and usually use SFO as our home airport although we live nearer the Sacramento airport. There are more direct flights from SFO and our daughter lives over there so we can leave our car and use BART. The public transport is wonderful in SF with cable cars, buses, trams, the Muni and BART.

We haven't seen nearly as much of SF as you seem to have. It's not that far, but somehow we just don't get over often. We do love the DeYoung Art Museum and I hope you got to visit it. We also have driven down Lombard Street and I'm glad I wasn't driving! Did you see the parrots at Coit Tower? They are fun and very unexpected. I know Fisherman's Wharf is touristy but we think it's great fun.

I'm off to read the next entry. Thanks for posting this.

by Beausoleil

Hi Sally, Thank you for visiting my blog. We both loved San Francisco. I would say it is our favourite of the places we visited there.

I don't know if you remember Goodfish from V.T. She had an excellent page on San Francisco and we picked up a lot of tips from her.

We did not go in the DeYoung Museum, we really wanted to see all the outdoor sights of the park.

I had heard about the parrots near Coit Tower, but don't think we saw any. All the best,

Irene

by irenevt

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