Florida Man on the Run

San Francisco: One Day by the Golden Gate

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Form a picture in your mind of San Francisco. The Golden Gate Bridge. Fisherman’s Wharf and Alcatraz in the bay. Lombard Street’s steep and winding road. Trolly cars climbing up hills. Houses perched along a sloping street, defying the hill and gravity. Are you sure you’ve pictured enough hills? Whatever you have in your mental image, double or triple it. Then you might have an idea of just what your in for while walking.

No matter where you go, it will be up or down hill most likely. Wear your good walking shoes. At the end of the day, enjoy the views that the terrain affords you. There are vistas of the city everywhere, you’ve just got to be willing to get out and find them. While I didn’t have a full 24 hours in the city, I tried to make the most of the time we had. And I certainly forgot about the hills when doing so.

Adventures in Public Transportation

We arrived from Monterey around 1pm. After quickly checking into our Airbnb (Thanks Javier & Ili!) we set out to catch the BART into downtown. Growing up in Florida, subways are an entirely foreign concept. You’ll never look or feel more like a tourist than trying to figure out a ticket machine for something you’ve never ridden before. Looking obviously confused in front of the BART ticket machine, we were saved by a local who graciously explained how it worked. Having obtained our tickets, we were off to ride San Francisco’s subway.

The BART took us from Balboa Park to Powell Street. We intended on riding the cable car right then, but a loud roar from my stomach told me it was time for lunch first. Strolling down Market Street we popped into a Vietnamese sandwich shop called Bun Mee. Both my sandwich and garlic fries were perfect and my stomach was happy. Having the monster of hunger sated for a time, we took a stroll down Geary Street and through Union Square.

Up from below Lombard Street

Catching the cable car at Post Street was a bit confusing at first. I expected it to have a stop directly on the sidewalk, like a bus. After looking around confusedly for a sign, my wonderful wife noticed a thin strip of concrete in between two lanes of road. That narrow island was where we were to board the car.

The day had become a bit chilly, especially on our island in the street. After a few minutes of wantingly watching cars go by in the opposite direction, a car finally approached to give us shelter. We hopped on the Powell/Hyde car, took our seat out of the wind, and enjoyed the unique ride. There really isn’t anything like riding a cable car. It chugs along up the hills and creaks back down them. The car takes two operators to “drive” them, making it safely along its track. Taking the cable cars probably isn’t the most efficient (or cheapest) way across the city, but it certainly is a must for your first visit.

A Walk to the Shore

The Powell-Hyde line makes a stop at the top of Lombard Street. We took our leave of the cable car here and spent some time being tourists. Lombard is well known around the world and is the perfect stop on a “free” tour of the city. We grabbed some pictures and walked to the bottom to steal a few more. My head was filled with the constant idea that living on this portion of Lombard has to be either the most aggravating experience or hilarious. I couldn’t really decide on which, but living along a tourist destination would certainly be interesting.

From Lombard, we got our first real taste of the hills. Viewing a map of San Francisco doesn’t allow the right idea of what your walk will entail. The walk down Leavenworth Street wasn’t the steepest of our trip, but it let us know what to expect. As the early afternoon came upon us, our walk brought us to the shore. Thirsty as we were, our timing was perfect to catch the cash bar outside of Jack’s Cannery Bar open up. Two delicious ciders later and we continued our stroll to the shore well refreshed.

A look at the cash bar outside Jack’s Cannery Bar

After having grabbed a bit of ice cream at the local Ben & Jerry’s, we watched some swimmers brave the cold waters. Contemplating why someone would swim the ice cold waters of San Francisco Bay, we lounged in the grassy park by the shore eating ice cream. Though the wind continued to blow, the clear blue skies let the sun pour down on us. Tempted to take a nap as I was, eventually we got back on the move. Ghirardelli Square was our next quick destination. The shops here are nice, but nothing unique. If you love chocolate, however, there is plenty of that on offer.

Adventures in Hills

With our dinner reservations approaching, a Lyft to our next destination was necessary. Haight and Ashbury may not be the most spectacular place in San Francisco, but it remained an important spot on our list. The intersection was largely unremarkable, but there are a number of unique shops along Haight. It served as a launching point for the remainder of our adventures by foot.

At the end of the district lies Buena Vista Park. The trails quickly leave the streets behind and gave us some great views of the surrounding city. Be warned that many of them are quite steep. This is where your good walking shoes will come in and save the day (and take it from someone who didn’t have their walking shoes on). The trek through Buena Vista Park is a more scenic route to reaching Castro Street.

Castro Theater Sign

Walking down Castro Street (literally for most of it) was the second part of this walking tour of San Francisco. It was too late in the day to visit the GLBT History Museum or much else the district had to offer beyond atmosphere. It was around here that I once again realized the effort to see as much as possible left so much out. I am sure there are countless gems through the city I missed, requiring simply more time than I had. Add it to the list off places I must see again.

Coming out of Castro, we began the final leg of our trek through the Mission. There was even more here that I wish we could have explored. From the Mission buildings that give the district its name, to Dolores Park, Balmy Alley and more. We did get the opportunity to try some delicious food in the Mission. Gracias Madre, a vegan and organic Mexican restaurant, was the final stop of our tour. The long journey on sore feet was made entirely worth it by the warm communal atmosphere. The food was absolutely amazing as well, a perfect cap to the day.

Beyond San Francisco

While our day in San Francisco proper ended with dinner, there was still more to do on the way out of town. We took a quick drive through Golden Gate Park and caught a glimpse of the buffalo herd. The Golden Gate Bridge remained uncrossed, but it continued to beckon us. We stopped at China Beach to grab our first sights of her red towers. Following the roads through the Presidio, we continued to catch small peeks. I made sure to take a short detour for the Palace of the Fine Arts, a building I have looked at hundreds of times in photos. It was as spectacular in person as I had hoped, and I wish there had been time to explore the grounds further.

The Golden Gate Bridge from the top of the Marin Headlands

On the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge lie the Marin Headlands. We spent a good deal of time admiring the majesty of the Golden Gate Bride and skyline of San Francisco. The drive through the headlands offers some amazing views and it shouldn’t be missed. I could have stayed up there for hours staring down at the bridge and city beyond.

The crossing of the Golden Gate Bridge was not only the fulfillment of an item on my bucket list, but symbolic of this trip in general. Though not quite halfway to our final destination, it was a gateway to new adventures beyond. Crossing the bridge felt like taking the next step in my own life. There was adventure behind me, but in front of my lay an entire land ripe for exploration and discovery. I can’t wait to see what is across that bridge.

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