Sunday, August 8, 2010 : San Francisco


Of course, with a 9-hour jet lag, my son and I are up quite early. While waiting for Marie and Alicia to get up, we decide to take a stroll in downtown San Francisco : Market Street, Yerba Buena Gardens, the Moscone Center (a major exhibition center where I had come for an HP conference a few years earlier), the SoMa (South of Market) neighborhood, and the end of the cable car line. We find the restaurant where, a while later, we will have a plentiful breakfast all together, which will allow us to skip lunch. We often did, during that trip.


Then we leave Hotel Milano (now closed and replaced by another hotel, the Zetta) in a cab and drop our luggage at the Nob Hill Hotel. It is the end of our hotel adventures which, fortunately, ended happily.

San Francisco, Hotel Milano

Hotel Milano, 55 5th Street, San Francisco


We take a walk along Hyde Street, toward the north, the shore and the Bay. But San Francisco goes up and down all the way, which in no way prevents streets from being straight. Good knees are required !


San Francisco, victorian houses

Victorian houses, Hyde Street, San Francisco


Along the way, we can see the famous victorian houses. They are really easy to find, there are many of them in this part of town.


San Francisco, steep street

It's really steep, we told you !


This picture shows ... how could we say ... a moderately steep street (call this the understatement of the day). On steeper roads, cars are required to be parked not along the sidewalk, but back to it, to prevent retrieving them piled on top of each other at the bottom of the street, in case of parking brake breakdown.


San Francisco, Hyde Street, Alcatraz

Hyde Street, cable car, the rock of Alcatraz almost in the fog


Still walking along Hyde Street, we can see several cable cars. We will ride one later, when returning to San Francisco at the end of our trip. In the background is the rock of Alcatraz.


San Francisco, Lombard Street

Lombard Street


We walk down Lombard Street, the famous narrow winding street that has been featured in a whole bunch of films. Its steep curves actually span no more than one block, with flowers on each side. We will drive down Lombard Street when returning to San Francisco three weeks later. At this moment, we are still on foot.


San Francisco, Lombard Street

Lombard Street, seen from the bottom


Fortunately, this street, as most streets in San Francisco, is one-way. Can you imagine driving these tight bends all the way up ?


We walk a little further and, at the corner of Lombard Street and Columbus Avenue, we find an organic food market, right in the heart of the city. Unfortunately, we did not take a picture of this unexpected discovery.


Then we walk up Telegraph Hill (yes, yes, yet another hill !). From up there, we can see the bay to the north and east, the financial district to the south, and the city to the west.


San Francisco, Transamerica Pyramid

Transamerica Pyramid, seen from Telegraph Hill


Transamerica Pyramid, shown on the picture, is the tower of the most important local bank, and the tallest building in San Francisco, at 850 ft. It's an office tower, no visits are allowed.


On top of Telegraph Hill is the Coit Tower.


San Francisco, Coit Tower

Coit Tower, seen from Columbus and Lombard


At this point, I have to clarify that the name of Coit Tower does not come from its more or less explicit shape, but from the name of the generous donator, the widow of a banker, who financed its construction in the 1930s.


At the end, we give up on the idea of visiting the tower, turned back by a one hour or more waiting time. We have to skip the murals painted by 27 artists. We rather choose to go on discovering the city and its charms.


San Francisco, the Bay

The Bay and the old docks, from the top of Telegraph Hill


When the weather is nice, the sight from the top of the hill is beautiful. As you can see on the pictures, the weather is quite clear on the eastern side of the city and the Bay but, as we get closer to the Pacific, it turns really grey. This fog, whick blankets the city 8 months out of 12, is caused by a large temperature difference between the waters of the ocean, 43°F on average, and the bay, relatively milder at 55-60°F. This temperature shock creates a lot of condensation where waters meet.


San Francisco is a city of major metorological contrast : you have to be ready to choose between a sweater and a t-shirt at the very last moment, depending on the part of town you intend to visit.


San Francisco, Bay Bridge

The old docks and Bay Bridge, seen from Telegraph Hill


Walking around Telegraph Hill, we have a very nice sight of Bay Bridge. Its combination of several bridges and tunnels span more than 4 miles. They do not only link both sides of the Bay, they are also the western end of Interstate 80, the uninterrupted highway that goes from the suburbs of New York City to San Francisco, 2,900 miles of tarmac.


San Francisco, Telegraph Hill, Christopher Colombus' statue

Christopher Columbus statue, Telegraph Hill


Still walking around the top of Telegraph Hill, we end up in front of this statue of Christopher Columbus.


We now take a bus to go down to the old docks, converted in shopping malls, restaurants, cruise ship docking points and various tourist attractions, anything but a merchant port. So, yes, you can teach an old dock some new tricks, after all. San Francisco port activity still exists but, with the exception of cruise ships, it has largely migrated to the eastern side of the bay, to Oakland and Alameda.


San Francisco, the Rock of Alcatraz

The rock of Alcatraz, against a foggy background


From the shore, we can see the rock of Alcatraz, not even a mile away. Battered by strong winds, in the middle of icy water currents, it was considered safe enough to lock in the worst offenders. Today, we will just pass around it. We will visit it later, when we return.


San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge

Towards the Golden Gate, fog is getting thicker


We had the choice between renting bikes, crossing the  Golden Gate Bridge, go all the way to Sausalito (the local Saint-Tropez, if you like) and go back by ferry, or a boat excursion around Alcatraz, Angel Island (the West Coast Ellis Island, former entry gate for Asian migrants) the Golden Gate and back. Confronted with a highly unpredictable weather forecast, we safely go for the second choice.


The picture is absolutely unmodified, I swear it ! We really are August 8, the boat's deck is battered by the wind, temperature must be something like 61°F, and a few drops threaten us. Now you've been warned, San Francisco is not exactly a warm city !


San Francisco, Bay Bridge, the old docks

The old docks, Bay Bridge, better weather not too far away


On our way back, we can see that this disappointing weather is quite local. As you can see on the picture, in the background, hardly a few miles away, it's very sunny. We will confirm it the next day.


We make a short visit to the San Francisco Maritime Museum, mostly to purchase our National Parks Annual Pass, then we walk to Ghirardelli Square. At this moment, while waiting for the bus, we realize that the four of us are really exhausted by jet lag and a lengthy walk around the city.


San Francisco, Nob Hill Hotel

Nob Hill Hotel, 835 Hyde Street, San Francisco, CA


After this well-spent day, we have some rest, before having dinner with Laura and Joel, our friends from Palo Alto, at the 2223, an excellent restaurant on Market, that has unfortunately closed since our visit. Then it's back to the Nob Hill Hotel for a good night's sleep.

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