California Road Trip 2017 Part 5 – San Francisco

California Road Trip 2017 Part 1 – San Diego
California Road Trip 2017 Part 2 – San Diego to LA
California Road Trip 2017 Part 3 – Solvang
California Road Trip 2017 Part 4 – Monterey and Big Sur

Day 13 – Alcatraz

We left Monterey pretty early in the morning in an attempt to return our rental car in San Francisco on time but were delayed by the little guy who just didn’t want to make the drive. We managed to make it into the city by 11 am so we dropped our stuff at our hotel in the luggage storage, returned the car and then waited a little bit for a room to be ready. Lucky for us our room was ready just minutes before we had to head out from the hotel to make our 3:20 pm departure for Alcatraz!

We walked from our hotel in Japan Town to the pier and arrived hot and tired after all those hills. It was nice to settle onto the boat even if the sailing over to the island was short.

Looking towards San Francisco as we cruised towards Alcatraz

We chose to do the (optional) audio tour of the cell block – which seems to be one of the major parts of the park (it takes about 45 minutes). I found the tour a little slow but informative. The cell blocks are kinda creepy and it is hard to imagine being locked up here.

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After the tour finished we took a little time to wander around and look at some of the buildings (including climbing up to see the recreation yard). Random Alcatraz observation – the ceiling tile in the dining hall of the prison block is identical to the ceiling tiles in our basement.

Sure is a nice view from the island
The facility has beautiful gardens that were apparently maintained by the prisoners

Then it was back down to the boat (we caught the 5:15 pm sailing) and back to the mainland. We were pretty tired after our early start so we just grabbed some street vender hotdogs and caught the trolley and bus back to our hotel.

Day 14 – Hop on Hop Off in San Francisco

We’d decided we wanted to do a hop on, hop off tour of San Francisco to cross off some of the major sites since we’d enjoyed it so much in Edinburgh. None of the tour operators came near our hotel, but there was a stop about 30 minutes away so we decided to start our day with a walk. One of my bucket list items was to eat a cruffin (a cross between a croissant and a muffin) so we walked first to Mr. Holmes Bake House where we sampled a cruffin (meh, sort of boring) and a lime donut (again, not much flavour) and then down to catch the tour.

Tours are not cheap and we both found ourselves very disappointed (and annoyed) with the tour guide on our first bus who seemed to only talk about herself, not any of the things we drove past. Hoping for a better experience, we got off the bus at Fisherman’s Wharf and grabbed lunch (another hot dog – mine got snatched right out of my hand by a seagull!). Then we tried our luck with a different bus – slightly better but not great. We were rather relieved to hop off pretty quickly at the Golden Gate Bridge to check out the key landmark.

The Golden Gate Bridge

It was pretty busy at the bridge but we did a little walk and took a snack break. Last time I was in San Francisco I walked across the bridge but this time we were content to just to take a look.

From the bridge we got back on the bus and rode it to Golden Gate Park. The park is huge and we didn’t really do it justice since we just hung out in one area soaking up a little sun and taking break.

Then we rode the bus through the last part of the tour and back to Fisherman’s Wharf. We did a short walk around – checked out the sea lions at Pier 39, had a look at some of the touristy things, etc. – before catching the trolley/bus back to our hotel. We had dinner at a nearby restaurant and headed back to our hotel to plan the next day.

Day 15 – Cable Cars and China Town

After our tour all around the city the day before, we knew that there were just a few key sites that we actually wanted to visit – the first being Bob’s Donuts for some fresh baked doughy goodness. They look a little run down but the donuts were delicious (and reasonably priced!).

Walking the streets of San Fran – we thought it would be super helpful if Google had a route option that minimized elevation change

Armed with donuts we worked our way to the Cable Car Museum to learn about this one of a kind transport system. The museum is free (and you can take a cable car there, or catch one on your way out) and allows you to see the actual working machinery that runs the cable cars. They also have these cool little viewing machines that show series of old time photographs for $0.25.

Nothing like a free museum
These wheels turn the cables that run the cars along the different lines
One of the famous cable cars in action

After feeding Scotch in a random little park (there was a lot of nursing the baby in random parks on this trip), we walked to City Lights Bookstore to browse the collection and pick out some souvenir books for Scotch. We ended up buying him Stuck by Oliver Jeffers (which has quickly become one of his favourites) as well as This is San Francisco, a classic children’s guidebook that has been slightly updated but contains the original text and illustrations from 1962. City Lights has a stamp that they will stamp into any book you buy so we had Scotch’s San Francisco book stamped.

We were both hungry by this point so we headed into China Town to find some easy eats. I ended up with some delicious steamed dumplings from a little restaurant (3 for $2) and some bubble tea. The bubble tea really hit the spot so we picked up two more large bubble teas as we wandered through China Town. Grant Street has the famous Dragon’s Gate, but the parallel Stockholm Street is more exciting with all the fruit and vegetable vendors.

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We didn’t really have much of a plan after that so we sat in Union Square for bit, trying to decide if we wanted to go see something else (or ride a cable car, which we never ended up doing). Feeling tired again after a busy day we ended up calling it a day and heading back to our hotel. We had an early dinner in the neighbourhood and then spent some time reading with the little guy.

Day 16 – Baseball in Oakland

We’re not huge sports fans but figured while we were in the States we should check out a baseball game (since you can’t here in Calgary). Of all the cities we visited on the trip, the only place that had a home baseball game was Oakland. So, off to Oakland it was – an afternoon game at the Coliseum to see the Athletics play the Jay’s was the final activity of our trip (kind of fun to see our Canadian team!). We picked the afternoon game because we thought it would be best with the little guy and you hear all sorts of terrible things about safety in Oakland so we thought daylight was always a good choice (definitely not a scary place in the afternoon – there were lots of other families attending the event).

We took the BART from Union Square and arrived about a half an hour before the game which was enough time as there didn’t seem to be many people attending so no lines and there isn’t anything to do at the stadium.

I missed the opening as I was off nursing the little guy (the stadium might be a boring cement box but they did have a Mamava nursing pod!) but then he made it through the rest of the game with only one other break. It was a rather slow game – not much excitement from the players and a small crowd but did go to an extra inning where the Jay’s won. We sat near a gentleman who must be a serious A’s regular and he provided a fairly steady stream of information for us.

Mostly empty stands – but a fair number of Jay’s fans
Not super excited to be at the game

After the game we hopped back on the BART into San Francisco. We ate dinner as we travelled back to our hotel and then called it an early night since our flight left early the next morning.

Some Final Thoughts on San Francisco

  • If you want to go to Alcatraz, book your tickets in advance because they seem to sell out suddenly. I knew I had to buy in advance so I kept checking availability and there was lots, until there wasn’t. We ended up getting some of the last tickets available for the whole time we were in San Francisco.
  • San Fran is known for hills so having the carrier was a must – there was no way I would have been happy pushing the stroller around.
  • Not a cheap city to visit! We saved some money by staying a little further out but that definitely increased the time it took us to get to things and meant we relied on public transportation to get around a lot of the time

Up next – all the trip details…

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