Monday, May 28, 2012

Walking Tour of San Francisco

One of my favorite things about San Francisco is that you don't need a car to get around.  In fact, in the near dozen times I have been there, I have only had a car twice, and this was one of them.

There are three reasons I don't like to have a car here:
  1. Traffic and not just the car type.  I am not from a pedestrian-centric area and they are everywhere here.  They assume you are going to stop and when the walk sign comes up, they walk.  When I first came here this stressed me out because you would NEVER do that in the Dallas area unless you want to get hit by a car.
  2. Parking is expensive and not always convenient.  On this trip the parking garage to my hotel is a block away.  Me and my suitcase don't always get along - I want it to roll normally and it has other ideas.  Lugging your stuff a block and crossing two streets is not easy and in some areas, might be less than safe.
  3. You don't need one.  You can walk or get transit to go anywhere in the city.
When I get ready to walk to my customer's office on the first day, I have been there before and don't really need a map but I ask the hotel for one anyway.  I am starting to feel confident without a map in my usual neighborhoods - Union Square and the Financial District.  Here is the map the hotel gave me:

The black X represents the hotel so I am near the middle.  The area to the north includes Nob Hill, Chinatown, North Beach, Russian Hill and Fisherman's Wharf.  The area to the east includes Financial District.  My hotel is in Union Square.  The area immediately to the west is the Tenderloin.  I once wandered into this area and realized pretty quickly that I needed to wander back out.

There are a number of other neighborhoods I haven't been to and even after this trip, still haven't.  When I return with David in June, we plan to try and see some of these, in particular Haight-Ashbury, Castro, Mission and the area around Alamo Square which has the houses you know from the TV show Full House

The amazing thing is that the city is only about 7 miles across by 7 miles wide.  You would think it would be easy to see it all.  It isn't.  There is so much to see, so much to do.  I walked more in 4 days in the city than I would walk in a month at home.  Here is a walking tour of some sights from this trip:

Teuscher Chocolates of Switzerland near Union Square.  If you buy one of the little figures, they put a truffle of your choice inside.  Sorry Felicia, I ate your truffle.

The Transamerica Building, near/in the Financial District.  Also known to David as "The Big Tall Pointy Building."  It is no longer home to Transamerica.  It is the tallest building in San Francisco and according to Wikipedia was once in the top 5 in the world.  The public is not allowed access so no views from in here.  This is one of my landmarks.  If I get turned around, I look for this building and a couple of others to help me get my bearings. 

Hanging out the laundry in Chinatown.  This view isn't special to Chinatown, you can see laundry hanging outside in several neighborhoods.

Lanterns in Chinatown.  There are several rows of these running across Grant Street in the heart of the Chinatown shopping district.  I was surprised the first time I went to Chinatown.  I expected more unique and interesting shops but most are the same and they mainly sell cheap souvenirs. 

Union Square Park.  This area is surrounded by shopping, Macy's, Nordstrom's and many, many, many, many others.  My hotel is about two blocks from here and I walk past this probably 30 times during my 4 days in the city.  Sometimes there are concerts and other events here and on weekends there are artists set up to sell their work. 

Fire Escape.  This is an alley near my hotel.  Most alleys are pretty clean, but not always.  The buildings are close together, if not touching and most are multi-story making fire escapes a common sight.

It is amazing how you will walk through a really rundown area to turn the corner to find a really nice area just one street over.  Some areas have little to no landscaping while others do a nice job trying to add some greenery.

The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Monument near the Ferry Building and Embarcadero Center. You can walk on stones or steps to get inside - if you don't mind getting a little wet from the spray.

You are never alone in this city.  There is always someone on the street, in the stores, in the restaurants, in the parks and watching from their windows.

And there are little unexpected surprises if you pay attention.  I found this in a window box on Hyde Street in/near the Russian Hill neighborhood.

This building at the corner of California & Kearney has 12 statues, 3 on each side of the 23rd floor looking out over the Financial District and the city.  I think they look like wraiths (or grim reapers) but  these figures by Muriel Castanis are usually referred to as Goddesses or Corporate Goddesses.  This is another one of my landmarks because the first several times I came here I stayed in a hotel that required me to walk past these multiple times every day.

There are some spectacular views in this city.  This is the view looking East from Hyde & Lombard Streets (Lombard is the really crooked street you always hear about or see in pictures) in Russian Hill.  The tall building on the left is Coit Tower.  You can walk up there and go in the Tower and get a 360 degree view (it is a steep walk no matter how you get there - street or stairs).  Another one of my landmarks, David calls this the "Big Ass Flashlight" or BAF for short.  The bridge in the distance is the Bay Bridge which takes you to Oakland.

A streetcar approaches.  I never use the public transit here, mainly because I am too nervous.  I don't know how much it costs, whether I need exact change, where to get on, where it will take me.  So I walk.  That is Alcatraz in the distance.  I have done this tour twice (highly recommend, very interesting self-guided tour) and will be doing it again on our upcoming trip.  This time we are going at night.

Breadmaker at Boudin's in Fisherman's Wharf.  The high availability of sourdough bread in this city negates any health benefit I get from all of this walking.

And I thought I did a LOT of walking.  I took the map the hotel gave me and marked off all of the streets I walked each day.  At the end of the week, it looked like this:

So much less than I expected.  I felt like I walked the entire city. 

In my defense, this map doesn't show how many times I walked up and down a particular street and, in many cases, it was several times.  My longest walk was on the last day when I tried to find the Cable Car Museum but when I got to where it showed on the map, I couldn't find it.  I walked several blocks zig-zagging around trying to find it but never did.  The walk from the hotel to here is pretty steep in places.  And if you think going down the hills here is easier than going would be mistaken.

So, I decided to keep going and walk down Lombard and on to the water.  Then back to my hotel down The Embarcadero through Fisherman's Wharf, past Pier 39 and all the way to the Ferry Building.  Not a short trip or an easy one fighting all of the tourist foot traffic (this is the arched line at the top right of the map).  When I got to the Ferry Building, I sat down at the park across the street and immediately realized that was a huge mistake. 

The Ferry Building at The Embarcadero & Market Street.  There was a farmer's market going on outside and some art vendors across the street.  Inside, there are a variety of restaurants and food-oriented stores.

When you aren't used to walking that much it is best to keep going.  The next morning when the alarm went off at 5 am, I almost decided to stay in bed my body was so sore.  But I didn't, I got up because before I go to the airport...

...I am going to walk the Golden Gate Bridge.

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