From my travel journal: San Francisco, 2014

Just a quick one today, because I’ve been sick with the flu, and re-reading On The Road while I’ve been couch bound… Also just finished Wish You Were Here, and have a book review, interview with Sheridan and book giveaway coming next week!

From there, I quickly spotted the Beat Museum, then Jack Kerouac Alley in the other direction; Vesuvio Cafe, one of Kerouac’s favourite haunts, lives on the corner. Down the alley and welcome to Chinatown! Like all Chinatowns, it’s manic, full of smells, illegible signs, all that jazz.

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Top 10 Things To Do in San Francisco

When I worked as a travel consultant, I heard over and over and over again how much Melbournians loved San Francisco because they were such similar cities. I heard so many people singing San Francisco’s praises, and because of that, I was a little apprehensive to visit – high expectations generally lead to big let downs. But if you can put all of the comparisons and people telling you “you HAVE to love it!” aside, you might find that you actually will love it. I did – it’s a great literary city with fantastic food and a rich history. And while there is a heap to do, here are my top 10 picks!
1. See Alcatraz Island
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https://www.alcatrazcruises.com/
Where? Departs from Pier 33
Why go? It brings history to life. It’s mind blowing, because walking through it (with the best audio commentary I’ve ever heard), it’s actually pretty easy to imagine how things would have been for the men held there. It’s stepping back in time in the most fascinating way, and it should be top of your list when you visit.
How long will you need? Allow a good 3 hours
Cost? Adult tickets currently start at USD35.50 per person
Read more:
 – Alcatraz part 1
– Alcatraz part 2
– Through my eyes: Canteen menu at Alcatraz
– Inside the hospital of Alcatraz

 

2. Hang out in Golden Gate Park
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https://goldengatepark.com/
Where? The massive chunk of green between Fulton St and Lincoln Way
Why go? It’s a really beautiful park and offers quite a lot of activities – there’s the museum, the Conservatory of Flowers, Botanical Gardens, California Academy of Sciences, Japanese Tea Garden, playgrounds, archery field, and a HEAP more.
How long will you need? Depends how much you want to do!
Cost? Wandering around the park is free, but specific attractions all attract their own fees – more details on the website.
Read more:
 – San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park

 

3. Take a coffee and croissant break at Tartine Bakery
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http://www.tartinebakery.com/
Where? 600 Guerrero St, San Francisco
Why go? Because this was one of the best almond croissants I’ve ever stuffed my face with, and husband’s coffee was the size of a small fish bowl. And it was actually good!
How long will you need? Give yourself a bit of time because there’s often a wait for tables. If you snag one, though, stay as long as you want to keep eating and drinking!
Cost? USD$10.00 will get you a coffee, a croissant and change. Worth it.
Read more:
 – Eat here: Tartine Bakery, San Francisco

 

4. Pick up some reading material at City Lights Bookstore
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http://citylights.com/
Where? 261 Columbus Ave, San Francisco
Why go? City Lights is an interesting combination of independent bookstore and publishing house with a strong connection to the Beat Generation; not only does it live next door to Jack Kerouac Alley, but founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti was arrested in the 1950’s after publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl & Other Poems on obscenity charges.
How long will you need? Book nerds – give yourself an hour. Normal people – 10 minutes should suffice.
Cost? Depends how many books you’re taking home!
Read more:
 – Shop here: City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco

 

5. Eat all of the chocolate at Ghirardelli Square
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http://www.ghirardellisq.com/
Where?  900 North Point Street at the corner of Beach and Larkin Streets
Why go? Because chocolate. The original Ghirardelli chocolate factory. They make chocolate, They sell chocolate. They serve it up in hot drinks and cute desserts. That should be all the reason you need. Chocolate. Also, there’s other stuff, like a pub, shops, the occasional live music set.
How long will you need? Chocoholics – an hour or two to shop and eat. Normal people – maybe half an hour. And get your heads checked.
Cost? Depends how much chocolate you’ll be wanting to take home…
Read more:
 – Ghirardelli Square, San Francisco

 

6. Get lost in Chinatown, and stop for dim sum when you get hungry
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http://www.sanfranciscochinatown.com/
Where? Yummy Yummy will feed you well at 758 Pacific Ave
Why go? San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the best in the world, and for good reason – it’s enormous! Which means you’ll be hungry after doing laps of it – Yummy Yummy was where we stopped, and it was a great move. Amazing food, great prices, homely atmosphere!
How long will you need? A good half a day to explore and eat
Cost? Everything you see above that we ate cost us around USD$30.00 (including tip)
Read more:
– Eat here: Yummy Yummy Dim Sum, San Francisco, USA

 

7. Eat seafood and people watch at Fisherman’s Wharf
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http://www.fishermanswharf.org/
Where? Fisherman’s Wharf
Why go? There is SO much to do around there – shopping, eating, activities like Madame Tussauds, the aquarium, Pier 39, the Maritime National Historical Park, sightseeing tours and sea lion watching.
How long will you need? A few hours
Cost? Depends what you’re doing – we grabbed a cup of fresh seafood and sat by the water and watched the world go buy, and that only cost a few dollars!

 

8. Cheer on the 49ers!
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http://www.prontoshuttles.com/
Where? Levi’s Stadium is located in Santa Clara, about an hour from San Francisco by car
Why go? While husband and I both very much wanted to see an NFL game, the distance of the 49ers stadium from the city was very off-putting, until we found out about GameDay Shuttle (now Pronto Shuttles) – through them we were able to organise a single game pass for us both which included a shuttle service from the city to the game and back, and for an extra fee we added on the Fiesta Pre-Game pass – lunch and drinks at a Mexican restaurant near the stadium with the rest of the people on the shuttle! It was the best experience, and I’d absolutely do it again!
How long will you need? All day
Cost? We paid around USD$85.00 for the shuttle and buffet lunch (not including game tickets), but I believe Pronto’s services start from as little as USD$29.00 for a single pass.

 

9. Check out the street art
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Where? Everywhere!
Why go? There’s no one place to go, it’s more a case of keeping an eye out and wandering around the smaller streets as well as the main ones. The street art in this city is incredible, so when you see a giant mural on a wall, take the time to actually stop and look at it!
How long will you need? All day, every day!
Cost? Free!!!

 

10. The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps
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http://www.tiledsteps.org/
Where? Moraga St, between 15th and 16th Aves
Why go? Because it’s gorgeous. It’s a true neighbourhood effort, and a shining example of what can be achieved when people work together. It’s also a great way to work off all of those delicious calories you’ve been eating.
How long will you need? Leave an hour – you may want to kick back and relax after climbing those stairs!
Cost? Free

 

Stay here: Beresford Arms Hotel, San Francisco, USA

The Beresford Arms Hotel
701 Post St, San Francisco
http://www.beresford.com/arms/

Doing a day early TBT post tonight, because it seems that everyone I know is heading overseas for Christmas except us this year! And as you saw on Tuesday’s Chicago post, I really loved our winter Christmas on the other side of the world last year and am already planning another upcoming winter Christmas 😉 in the mean time though, let me take you guys back to the gorgeous hotel we were lucky enough to spend our pre-Christmas days in during our time in San Francisco…

So, we’re out at family dinner one night last year. Sibling’s boyfriend just got back from his USA trip with his family, and husband and I were a few months away from our visit. We were comparing hotels (they visited a few of the same cities that we were going to), and when we got to San Francisco, we thought he was just making fun of us when he said they stayed at the Beresford Arms. Nope, turns out they really did! And they loved it, which made us all the more excited to stay there.

Perfectly located just out of the main CBD area (AKA quieter at night), it’s a very short walk away from Union Square and Macy’s, as well as Chinatown (which is amazing in San Francisco, particularly on the food front!), with cabs constantly passing past the front of the hotel, making it VERY easy to get around.

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Why else should you stay here?
– Most importantly, the staff and service they provide are fantastic – they make for a very easy, fuss-free holiday, which is probably the most important thing!
– Large rooms and bathrooms
– Free WiFi (duh)
– The best features of all: complimentary breakfast in the morning (beautiful pastries, fruit, tea, coffee) AND an afternoon cheese and wine hour, that goes for a lot longer than an hour, and is FREE OF CHARGE for guests! Seriously, you can relax in this stunning lobby that you can see below, drink your fill of wine, nibble on cheese and crackers, and mingle with the other guests, and you’re not charged a cent! There is a tip jar, which was generously filled (which says a lot about the wonderful, attentive and friendly service provided by the staff wondering around, re-filling wine glasses, chattering to us all, topping up food), and surprisingly, people were in fact talking to each other and making new friends!

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I’ve heard of hotels that have offered this before, even stayed at a few, but they’re all seemed so forced and lame, to be honest. The Beresford was different. Combine the gorgeous, quaint old hotel, in a perfect location, with really lovely staff providing professional but friendly service, and you’ve got an amazing place to spend your time in San Francisco! Now, take me back…

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park

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I’ve been talking to a friend about her upcoming trip to America, including San Francisco… got me remembering what a cool city it was, so thought I’d do a bit of a flashback post thing today! The original plan was to grab a few bikes, ride over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, and come back to the Golden Gate Park to relax with some lunch. That didn’t go quite to plan; apparently among other similarities to Melbourne, San Francisco’s weather can be a little crazy. It was sunshine and rainbows the day we came up with this plan, less than 24 hours later it was just rain. And lots of it! So we scrapped the bike idea, had a cup of tea in the foyer of our hotel and waited for the rain to ease up a little; as soon as it did, we ran outside, hailed a cab and asked him to take us to the park.

Our cab driver was super helpful actually, offering to drop us off right near the de Young Museum, which is apparently the easiest point to navigate from if you’re not too familiar with the enormous park (seriously, it covers a little over 1000 acres!)

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I guess we got pretty lucky, because the rain actually stopped for an hour or so, which made for a much more pleasant visit! One of the things that really got to me was the Music Concourse – it was a beautiful, huge area, where I imagine would be a great place to spend a summer day listening to some music. In the winter, however, it seemed to have been converted to a makeshift shelter for the homeless souls of the city. It was confronting, and quite heart breaking to see… it really went to show that homelessness really is a universal problem that we need to tackle.

It was a beautiful park, very green and well kept, even in the winter holiday season. It was nice to see a few groups of people practicing Tai Chi, and families getting their kids away from the video games and out into the fresh air. I’d have liked to have stopped at the Japanese Tea Gardens, but we were wary of the rain starting up again before we’d had the chance to see more of the park, so we pushed on. There’s actually a heap to do there, if you have the time and appropriate weather – there’s the museum, the Conservatory of Flowers, Botanical Gardens, California Academy of Sciences, playgrounds, archery field, it just keeps on going! Just pack yourself a picnic basket and cross your fingers for sunshine!

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Through my eyes: Chinatown, San Francisco

Ohh happy days – not only have we made it to Saturday morning, but we’ve also (if you’re from the same part of the world as me) made it to the start of a long weekend! God bless the Queen and happy birthday to her! This is gonna seem a random post, but for some reason, I often associate public holidays with Chinatown. Weird, right? Actually, not so much – I’ve found that generally, where ever I am in the world and what ever else is going on/which ever other establishments are closed for whatever reason, Chinatown is pretty much always open. Even on public holidays. You can still get a good plate of dumplings and a side of fortune cookies even when everyone else is taking the day off. So here’s to you, Chinatown, all over the globe!

I really do love a good Chinatown, and have heard so many times that the one in San Francisco is one of the best in the world. I also grew up watching Charmed, and remember watching so many scenes of the sisters in Chinatown buying various herbs and what not… I was excited to finally be going to visit!

One of the must-do things for your San Francisco Chinatown visit should be the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory on Ross Alley, where this photo was taken. They don’t allow any photographs in store (not without a small “donation,” anyway), but they are more than generous with free samples, and a bag of cookies to take with you won’t cost much – and you definitely want to take a bag home, because they’re delicious!

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Eat here: Tropisueño, San Francisco, USA (Mexican)

Tropisueño
75 Yerba Bueno Lane, San Francisco
http://www.tropisueno.com/

I’m gonna stay with the Mexican theme for anther day, because writing and posting about Punta Sur yesterday got me craving Mexican food, and remembering how damn good it was in San Francisco, of all places!

This was quite the pleasant surprise! I’d heard the Mexican food in San Francisco was pretty good, but wasn’t expecting an actual restaurant to come through with the goods – I thought it’d be more the street food-style stalls in the Mission District.

Having had a craving for Mexican, we found Tropisueño, a fantastic little place tucked down a side strip in the city. We walked in to find the place packed to the rafters and were told it’d be about a 15 minute wait; I don’t think we actually waited more than 10. We were seated quickly, and it was immediately apparent we were in for a good night – this was some of the best customer service I’ve ever experienced in a restaurant. The lady who looked after us for the night was amazing; she was clearly flat out, but made time for a quick chat with everyone seated in her area, leaving each table smiling and laughing. That’s what turns a good dinner into a great one 🙂

Then there’s the food. After being seated, we were straight away presented with a complimentary bowl of freshly fried corn chips and dips (top left), which were much appreciated! We also ordered:

– beef tacos (bottom right) – tender, braised beef cheeks, taco truck style with onion and cilantro. salsa tomatillo and radish.

– pork tostaditas (bottom left) – roasted pork on crisp tostadas, guacamole salsa güero and pico de gallo, shredded lettuce.

– chicken salbutes (top right) – soft-crispy thick masa tortillas, shredded chicken tinga cabbage slaw, pickled onion, pico de gallo, avocado.

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This was some of the best Mexican food I’ve had, including the stuff I ate in Mexico; fresh, insanely tasty, great flavour combinations, everything just right and just so. No need to dissect each dish bite by bite. This is the dining experience we’re all looking for; amazing food, impeccable service, decent prices, lovely restaurant, free lollypops on your way out! Make sure you make time to get here when you’re in San Francisco  : )

Tropisueño on Urbanspoon

Inside the hospital of Alcatraz

I can’t tell you why, but I’ve always had a strange fascination for old, abandoned hospitals. Much like old cemeteries (like the St. Louis #3 in New Orleans), I find something so perfectly, beautifully, macabre about them. I realise this is going to make me sound like even more of a lunatic than I already am, and I honestly can’t explain why; there’s just something about the decaying abandoned furniture and equipment, the cliched but naturally haunting lighting, imagining the stories of the patients who went through there. For these reasons, I loved the movie Sucker Punch, and am an enormous fan of the work of Seph Lawless, who captures a lot of these degenerate settings so beautifully.

I’d love nothing more than to spend days exploring some of these abandoned buildings with my camera, but they’re not easy to get into. So, one of the greatest opportunities I’ve ever been afforded was to see inside the hospital of Alcatraz (which was closed back in 1934) when I visited a few months ago. It was opened to the public for a few months after Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was invited to turn the rooms of the hospital into an art gallery, displaying his art examining human rights and free expression. You can read a little more about that exhibition here, but here are some of the photos I was able to take when I visited…

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