This was a trip we had been looking forward to making for awhile. We had planned on going to a conference in San Francisco in the summer, but we had a change of plans and decided since we weren't going over summer, we'd go ahead this spring. We went with some friends this time, which was alot of fun. This was definitely a sightseeing trip and we packed as much in as we could. As always, we try to do as much as possible, as cost-effective as we can. If you're looking for luxury, our journals may not help you.
We arrived in San Francisco about 2pm. We went for a quick bite to eat once we got to the hotel and then headed down to the Fisherman's Wharf area, arriving at around 3:30pm. One recommendation for anyone is to avoid the taxis!! We were staying in South San Francisco, not too far out of town. For a 15 minute drive it cost us $55. I think we expected it to be like New York where you can get just about anywhere on the island for a reasonable amount. Needless to say, we learned the local subway and trolley system pretty quick. Although it took an extra hour to get in and out of town, it was $25 cheaper. Here is the website. It's a little confusing and definitly not as easy to find information as New York and Boston's transit system website, but financially worth it.
The first day was just to look around and get our bearings. Do a little sightseeing. Plus, we wanted to go buy some Go Card passes. These are cards that are somewhat of an all-inclusive to a number of sightseeing events. We found them to be a pretty good deal. We spent $65 each for a two day pass and figured it would have cost about $100 to do everything we did. Keep in mind, we also did a number of attractions, simply because they we're included in the package. For the most part, we were pleased. But we did have one problem with it. We'll get to that later.
Here is our number one suggestion. If you decide to get a Go Card, order it before you go. This is the website . There is one simple reason. If you plan to go to Alcatraz, you MUST book ahead. If you wait till the day you get there to book a spot to go to Alcatraz, whether you get the Go Card or not, you will almost definitly not get one. We are a luck example of this. We called at 2pm on Friday. They had no spots for Friday or Saturday, but 50 for Sunday. We had no Go Card, so within an hour and a half, we got down town and bought one for each of us. By this time, they were completely sold out through Tuesday!! Alcatraz is unquestionably difficult to get to. We lucked out in that we called over to Go Card and got a really helpful person, who found us the last 4 tickets to Alcatraz on Sunday, which were set aside for people who buy Go Cards. This alone made it worth it.
Once we had tickets, we used the rest of the day to look around the Fisherman's Wharf and see some of the free sights.
Fisherman's Wharf - Everything is located around here. This is the first place to go in San Francisco, as almost everything you'll want to see is near here. We looked on the website before we went and thought this would be a waster of time, as we'd never heard of any of the stores. However, it was really interesting to look around. Although expensive, especially if you're looking to eat.
San Francisco Car Show - We didn't end up going in. It was going to be $5 a piece for 4 of us and figured we'd have better ways of spending our money. But they had a lot of really nice cars out front too. Musee Mechanique - Okay, this was a free museum. We were told it was "carnival" type museum, but it was free, so what did we have to lose. It was right there beside the Wharf. Incredibly, this may have been one of the most fun things to do. They had tons of old coin operated machines, they had all the old arcade games (i.e. San Francisco Rush, NFL Blitz, etc) and some really cool coin operated bowling. To top that, they had the Hockey game you play with the flippers. Think foosball, but with hockey and you can move the players around. Made this Canadian boy very happy. Turned out to be one of the most fun stops of the whole trip! The Cannery - We read alot on this. This is touted as a "must-see." Unless we missed something, there wasn't a whole lot to see. We didn't even really go in. Ghirardelli Square - Similar to the Cannery. It was cool where to see where they used to make Ghirardelli chocolate and they give out free samples at the store there. But unless you're going into their restaurant, there isn't a whole lot else there. Day 1 overall was alot of fun, especially for not really spending any money. However, it was alot colder than we expected, especially according to the forecast. I suspect being right on the water had something to do with that. The first day was a great chance to see the heart and soul of San Francisco.
Musee Mechanique - Okay, this was a free museum. We were told it was "carnival" type museum, but it was free, so what did we have to lose. It was right there beside the Wharf. Incredibly, this may have been one of the most fun things to do. They had tons of old coin operated machines, they had all the old arcade games (i.e. San Francisco Rush, NFL Blitz, etc) and some really cool coin operated bowling. To top that, they had the Hockey game you play with the flippers. Think foosball, but with hockey and you can move the players around. Made this Canadian boy very happy. Turned out to be one of the most fun stops of the whole trip!
The Cannery - We read alot on this. This is touted as a "must-see." Unless we missed something, there wasn't a whole lot to see. We didn't even really go in.
Ghirardelli Square - Similar to the Cannery. It was cool where to see where they used to make Ghirardelli chocolate and they give out free samples at the store there. But unless you're going into their restaurant, there isn't a whole lot else there.
Day 1 overall was alot of fun, especially for not really spending any money. However, it was alot colder than we expected, especially according to the forecast. I suspect being right on the water had something to do with that. The first day was a great chance to see the heart and soul of San Francisco.
We kinda had to flip our days, since we couldn't get to Alcatraz till Sunday. So we went and saw some of the other sites we were interested in. As we've said in the past, when we go sightseeing, we go hard. So we try to get through alot every day. In terms of sightseeing, we found the difficulty with San Francisco is how spread out everything is and the difficulty to walk to some places. There are definitely areas in San Francisco where you feel like you are walking to the heavens!!
We left the hotel at 7:30 am to get to the Fisherman's Wharf area for about 9am. There are a number of tours that leave from there. We took the Grey Line Cable Car Tour, since it was part of the Go Card package. A note for anyone doing these. This is the second Trolley Car tour we've taken with Grey Line. While we really enjoy the Grey Line tours, both the New York and now the San Francisco trolley tours have been pretty poor. The tour itself was pretty good, but if you get off, they only have trolleys coming every hour and only until 2:30pm. If you have the choice, the full, double-decker tours are a little more expensive, but worth it.
We rode the trolley around and saw some of the city. We got off at Union Square and walked about 20 minutes down to AT&T Park.
AT&T Park- We have now seen Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park. We were kind of indifferent on seeing AT&T Park, but it was included in our package. It was actually alot of fun and a great facility. Cool to see McCovey Cove, after seeing it so many times on TV.
Historic Trolley Ride - We walked back to the Union Square area and had a free pass for the trolleys. Since the Grey Line Tours had already shut down, we decided to use this to get back to the Fisherman's Wharf Area. We would have really liked to spend more time at Union Square, but we wanted to get to Coit Tower before it closed.
Coit Tower - This was also one of the best stops. Beautiful view and no wait. It was definitely worth the trip and only cost $4.50. From the bottom, it has a great view of the Bay. From the top, you can see the entire city.
Aquarium of the Bay - We headed back to the Fisherman's Wharf area and decided to go to the Aquarium of the Bay. We likely wouldn't have done it, but it was part of the Go Card package. It was fun, but not mind blowing. The walk way through the shark tank was cool and the "touch tank" was pretty interesting.
Our biggest struggle of the day was interestingly finding somewhere to eat for dinner. The Fisherman's Warf was far too expensive. There was a fish and chip place we wanted to have, but it was after 6pm and just missed the closing. So we headed back toward the subway station, where there was a Taco Bell and Subway. We got there and everything was closed!! We decided to walk back over to the Union Square area. After about and hour and a half of searching, we found a '50 diner that worked out to be a pretty good meal. It was then back to the hotel for an early night, to get ready for a busy Sunday.
We left the hotel again at 7:30 am to get to Wharf 39 for about 9am. This gave us a little time for our 9:30am Alcatraz departure.
Alcatraz Island - Simply put, it was amazing. We did the tour with one of the Park Ranger's. He gave us alot of neat information from both it's time at a prison and as a base before that. I would recommend it, if you've got an extra 45 minutes. We then did the audio tour, which was also incredible. It was completely free and was astonishing to see the jail almost in an untouched state. I had said to our group that I wanted to spend at least a couple hours and not be rushed. I wanted to make sure I saw everything. Three and a half hours later, we still hadn't got through the whole island and had to head back to get the rest of our sightseeing.
We went to a really good outdoor fish and chip shop for lunch, just outside the Musee Mechanique. It was a little pricey, but very good.
Golden Gate Bay Cruise - This was alot of fun. It was an hour round trip. Not overly exciting, but worth it just to go literally under the Golden Gate Bridge. You do a circle around the bay and get to go around the back side of Alcatraz Island. Again, part of the GoCard that we bought.
Wax Museum @ Fisherman's Wharf - This was part of the Go Card, otherwise we wouldn't have done it. We had done the Madame Tussaud Wax Museum in Las Vegas and didn't really need to do it again. However, since it was included, we figured why not. It was alright. The figures definitely were not as good as Madame Tussaud's, plus there were none that were interactive. For me, unless it's included in a package you get, this is not a must-see.
Lombard Street (The curvy street) - Alright here is where we felt the GoCard may not be worth it. Some companies were kind of difficult regarding us using the GoCard and this was definitely one of them. After Alcatraz Island, the number one thing we wanted to do was drive Lombard Street. On Friday, we went to a company called GoCar (not to be confused with GoCard) which is supposed to give you a 30 minute free car rental. We told them we were looking to use it to drive Lombard Street on either Saturday or Sunday. At this point, they told us the cars are not strong enough to get to the top, so this wouldn't work. We were frustrated, but told them we understood and would likely just drive to the bottom then and take pictures. We asked if there was anything we need to do to reserve a car. The man helping us, who we think was either the manager or owner, said just to present two cards for one car. So we showed up on Sunday and were curtly told that there were no cars and that we should have had reservations, by the same person!! When we said we asked this, someone else was called over and he said "You should have had reservations!" and walked off. We were appalled!! For all the reviews I have done and all the places I have traveled, I have never stated on any activity to unequivocally stay away from any activity, as everyone has different tastes. It is very hard to really get us upset. These people were horrendous and I would advise people to stay clear. I hope the people get GoCard get word of this from enough people, as I have major doubts as to whether I would use Go Card on our next trips with some of the service we received from the companies they work with. I was expecting some companies to be a little difficult, as that comes with the savings. But this was totally inappropriate. Regardless, we walked to Lombard Street and walked down it. Not the same, but pretty fun nonetheless. A couple houses down was the house from the 3rd Real World.
San Francisco was a great trip and an amazing city to see. Disappointed that it was a little soured at the end, but we wouldn't let something like this ruin it for us.