Leaving your heart in San Francisco – part 1 – 2011

San Francisco, California – established as a Spanish fort in 1776, experienced a gold rush in 1849, a devastating earthquake in 1906 – has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in North America and, arguably, the world.

Picture at left – Street Cars – they are historic and you should learn the basics of the San Francisco transit system if you are going to maximize your experience – click on photo for bigger view.

We had the great pleasure of visiting San Francisco for 7 days in August 2011. And as it turns out, many people that we know are either heading to San Francisco or planning on going there in the near future. Fact is, it is a readily accessible city – and it’s close… a mere 740 miles or 1200km – we flew via West Jet but there are other options like United and Air Canada.

What was important, leading up to the trip, was a bit of planning – based on our personal preferences.

Whether you are going for 1 day, 3 days, a week or a month… it is very important to get some books in your pocket, some online resources bookmarked and a few key things purchased (apart from air fare of course!)

The Ferry Building (photo left) – great food, water access, farmers market and Blue Bottle Coffee!

Here is the thing: Unless someone is driving you and yours around in a limo all day long you might want to get acquainted with the transportation infrastructure – and it’s a great and efficient one.

As cities go, San Francisco is eminently walkable – but mind bogglingly hilly. Nob Hill, where we stayed, is 402 feet above sea level – and only 1.3 km away from the water! If that sounds like “straight up”, it seems like it. Thank heavens for cable cars! More on those later.

Photo left – The Golden Gate. If you are going to San Francisco, get over it or go under it. Andrea and I did both! All photos on my Panasonic Lumix.

Hot Tip! Before we went we bought a couple of things online. And I will classify these as very important – must have items if you are staying more than 3 days.

Number 1 item! San Francisco City Pass – Do not leave home without it!

For starters, you are going to want to ride the cable cars. And you are going to want to ride the historic electric street cars along the “F” line that start at Fisherman’s Wharf and zip through the Embarcadero to the Ferry Building and onto the terminus in the Castro district.

Photo left – Ritual Coffee! We went to this place, Sight Glass, Blue Bottle, 4-Barrel and the Tartine Bakery… All amazing!

And if, like us, you are staying at any hotel on Nob or Russian Hill, you are going to need a cable car pass – because individual rides are $5 (according to the website – I think they may be $6 a ride now – which is amazing even to the cable-car grips.) With the city pass, you have “all access” – so you do not need to carry change or dollar bills. You can buy the MUNI-Cable Car pass separately, but this represents great value (more on that subject later too!)

The City Pass, in addition to giving you hop on / hop off access to the cable cars, and the MUNI and the classic electric rail in the city, you get a 1 hour water tour into San Francisco Bay (under the Bay bridge and around Alcatraz Island) – called the Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise It is a fun filled and informative guided tour of some of San Francisco’s colorful history. The boats are big, safe, fast and equipped with a bar and food items… Yes, a booze cruise. It’s San Francisco after all!

With the City Pass, we also took in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) – yea, not everyone is an art fan – but while we were there, there was a comprehensive Picasso exhibit and some great photo galleries + plus a lot of contemporary American art. Check the gallery schedule of course.

Consider the city pass – for $69 for adults and $39 for children (San Francisco is a very child friendly and pet friendly place)

Hot Tip #2 – Buy a couple of travel books on this city a minimum of 30 days in advance to absorb some of the things you might want to do.

Farmers Bakers Market at the Ferry Building three days a week!

We got Frommers San Francisco A very good read with good sections and apparently some fairly honest and bias free reporting. The Frommers San Francisco Day by day was also a very useful resource – especially for carrying around.

Jump to chapter two – The planning phase!