Land of the Golden Gate Bridge, hippies, hipsters, a multiplicity of cultures and cultural centers, Victorian architecture, adobe buildings, sleek skyscrapers, sourdough bread, seafood, tech start-ups, tourists, redwood trees, and fog.
And though I’ve lived in Southern California my whole life, I have only traveled the six hours up the coast to visit once.
With my brother Michael as my road trip buddy, I traveled up for a job interview in a nearby city. Between my cold, miscommunication with the main office, and awkward interview questions, the interview didn’t go so well. However, we already had plans to make the best of that weekend and spend the next day and a half exploring San Francisco. Our glamorous accommodations were provided by my brother’s high school friend Danielle, an art student at the time [link to her project?]. Her apartment with 4 roommates was just a section of an old Victorian boarding school. It was quirky, interesting, and a bit cold in January, especially on a hard-wood floor.
After a prolonged ‘exploration’ (getting lost) in Oakland on Friday afternoon, we found a free parking spot on the street. Yes: free parking in a large city. Miracles do happen. Then, we entered the BART station, joined the lighter mid-day crowd, and traveled to the Embarcadero station at the heart of San Francisco’s high-rise business district.
Research is always an important factor in a trip to an unfamiliar, large, highly-populated city.
We probably should have done some.
The one thing my brother wanted to do was go to the Golden Gate Bridge. We attempted to read the bus map, but being public transportation novices, we mis-read and didn’t check the bus line. I followed my brother, who had been to San Francisco before, and got on the bus line we thought would take us to the Golden State Bridge. Traveling without a sense of direction, we went deeper into the city, passing through lower income areas. This included a homeless man trying to get a ride on the bus without any fare, and the bus driver staying tough and telling him no. Then, we journeyed into a warehouse and business district on the opposite end of San Francisco.
The bus pulled up to the stop.
My brother and I were the only ones left.
This tough and jaded bus driver announced, “End of the line.”
We stepped onto the street, not knowing how to travel back to the nearest BART station.
While we may be public transportation novices, we are experts at RPG’s (Role-Playing Games). So, being lost, we followed a basic RPG principle: Ask a local.
“Okay, I’ve collected the five crystals, have the magic sword, defeated a dungeon, but now where do I go?”
Local Villager: “The other side of the mountain is always covered in shadow. I wonder if there’s an opening there.”
We were across the street from the community college, so I decided to go over there and ask. Despite the campus being closed, a friendly passer-by directed us down the street to one of the rail lines. There, we deciphered the myriad of colored lines and, with the help of another friendly local, figured out our way back. From there, we returned to our original BART station in the finance district.
At this point, Michael realized he had forgotten to bring a toothbrush, so we went to a Rite-Aid pharmacy at the bottom of a skyscraper. So, yes, we did get a fine souvenir from our trip.
With toothbrush in hand, we entered the BART station, and returned to Oakland, our car, and our friend.
While San Francisco is known for its fantastic dining, I was on a “trying to find a job” budget, and my brother was on a “trying to find a job and go to school” budget. Hence, we ate at a Carls Jr. in Oakland. While not the most glamorous of restaurant choices, it had a choice atmosphere. During our meal, we were offered bootleg DVD’s by a local, and entertained by the over-friendly cashier. After a long day of traveling, and not stopping to eat the supply of peanut butter and jam sandwiches we’d carried all day, that $6 burger was the best Carls Jr. food I’ve ever had.
Soon, we reunited with Michael’s friend Danielle. At her Victorian-style pad, we met her fellow art-student roommates, though only one fit into art-student cliches. The evening was spent checking out her very cool senior project about a fictional scientist who finds obscure and magical objects and creatures in every day life,. it inculdes pieces she has made. The evening finished by watching the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice, and then we settled in sleeping bags on the hardwood floor for the night.
Great accommodations at a good price.
Morning came with a breakfast of bagels and fruit. In our pre-smartphone life, we used our hard-earned lesson from the day before to do research through a shaky wi-fi connection. Then, we walked the ten or so blocks (suburb blocks, not Big City blocks) to the closest BART station.
With a vague plan in hand, and knowing better how to read the street maps, we returned to the city. First stop was a bank where we exchanged a 20 for dollar bills for the bus system. Transfer ticket in hand, we took the old-style street cars around the wharf section of town. We stopped in at the street car museum, a cool, free little store front. It contains the history of public transportation in San Francisco, and the impressive projects that have gone on.
Then, we headed down to Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. I highly recommend the historical plaques at Pier 39. You can read the original mandate that the stores and restaurants on the pier be locally owned, and then look over at Bubba Gump Shrimp and a Dreyer’s ice cream shop. Another plaque explains the original builder couldn’t get enough financing from the bank, because thy said the costs would grow as the project went on, so he financed the pier through selling his restaurant business. So, he showed those loan officers who was right, even though the pier overran projected costs as they predicted. Also, the pier designed to withstand earthquakes, and so is a great place to be. The plaque says something along the lines of, “If the shoreline is washed away, don’t worry! Just stay on the pier and enjoy the fine dining, fun games, and grand experience.”
Somehow, I don’t see a natural disaster being so pleasant on the pier.
We also visited the arcade museum at Fisherman’s wharf, walked along and looked at the historical slice that shows where gold miners would throw junk into the bay. A good portion of the shoreline is built over the junk of the last two hundred years.
After these explorations, we got on the correct bus and traveled to the Golden Gate Bridge.
I’ve seen it thousands of times in photos.
It’s a lot cooler in person.
Standing on the bridge is a magnificent experience. You walk along the side, past the Presidio down below, and people surfing in freezing water. In January. Across the bridge are forested hills, thick with evergreens. Turn around and you take in a grand view of San Francisco’s gorgeous modge-podge of a skyline.
San Francisco is an interesting mix of old Spanish architecture, modern skyscrapers, and versions of the house from Full House. With the man, famous hills, much of it is displayed and visible. It’s an eclectic mix that fits the multicultural nature of the city itself.
With our most important task completed, and a dinner-date planned with two of Michael’s other friends, we traversed by bus back across the city. This was rush hour, and we were packed in tightly with the daily commuters. We stuck to our corner and held on while giving up all sense of personal space. Once returned to the BART station, we entered the train and were soon engaged in conversation by a friendly gentleman. He worked as a lawyer, training interns, and spending his evenings starting with conversations while riding home.
Once returned to Oakland, we joined Michael’s friend and walked to her apartment for a home-cooked, olive-oil rich dinner. Besides the excellent conversation, this meal was better than Carls Jr. Danielle joined us, and then was kind enough to drive us back to her apartment for another night of sleep.
We had planned on doing a bit more exploring on Saturday before heading home, but I’d spent the past two days trying to stave off a cold quickly overcoming me. Sacrificing a little more time in a great city for my health, we travelled back down the 101 and home.
While I didn’t leave my heart in San Francisco, I did leave some dirty Kleenex… and good memories.
1. San Francisco has a fantastic public transportation system. Locals in San Francisco might disagree, but if Michael and I could find our way, anyone can.
2.People in San Francisco tend to be friendly and upbeat, and always willing to help a tourist in trouble.
3. Do research and plan before entering an unfamiliar city.
4. A job interview can be a good excuse for a short, cheap vacation.
5. Having friends in or near a big city is a great help.
Have you ever been to San Francisco? Did you leave your heart behind, or something else?
What big city do you want to visit? How’s the public transportation in your town? Do you believe in applying principles from RPG’s into your daily life?
So, I began writing this post several months ago, but more immediate concerns (i.e. Disney buying Star Wars) took precedence. Then, ironically, in the past few days I read these posts:
1.Who’s Your City on Truth And Cake – This is a fantastic blog that’s been Freshly Pressed at least 3 times.
2. 25 Things I Wish I Knew Before Moving To San Francisco on The Art of Living – This one was Freshly Pressed, and is a great local view of the city. Obviously, he knows more about San Fransisco than I do.
SIDE NOTE: This post was finished while riding the bus home, hence the lack of pictures. I hope to correct this sometime tomorrow.
COMING SOON: More Adventures in Public Transportation, this time involving Los Angeles, Zombies, bike thieves, and more.