Gate Bridge, the Transamerica Pyramid, cable cars running up and down steep
streets, Chinatown, earthquakes, the prison on Alcatraz island, Union Square,
the crooked Lombard
street, Dirty Harry, the gold rush of 1849, Irish coffee, jeans, Yerba
Buena, California, the bay area, wine districts like Napa and Sonoma, Fisherman's wharf,
fortune cookies, Ghirardelli Chocolate, Coit tower, Twin Peaks, Muir
woods - this is a trip report from a visit to San Francisco, Napa
Valley, Monterey and the bay area in California in the USA
This trip report will focus on the trip that my wife, Nikki, and I took
to San Francisco and the surrounding area in the period from March 28th
to April 10th 2015. In San Francisco we checked out attractions like
Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, Twin Peaks, Coit Tower, the cable
cars, Ghirardelli Square – the usual suspects in other words. After a few days in the city
we also checked out Napa valley and then Monterey/Carmel/Big Sur. The trip report is split into sections: this first
section that you are reading now covers our stay in San Francisco and
the following road trip. On the next pages you will find the following
get in touch if you have any questions or comments. All pictures are
taken by Nikki and Gard with our cameras Canon EOS 450D and Panasonic
Over the years we have been fortunate to visit some of the great cities
etc. When travelling it is always great to visit a new city and
especially in a new country to experience a new culture. But this time
we decided that it was time to revisit the US – we have been there
before (e.g. to New
York City and Washington DC) but this time we decided to check out
the west coast. San Francisco has been on our wish list for quite some
time and when
British Airways had a sale we decided to spend the Easter break
there. If you want to get an idea of what kind of travelers we are, it
might be a good idea to check out some of the other trip reports that we
have made – you can find all of them here on the main page of
Planning the trip
We booked the British Airways tickets on a sale that they had online and
then we just had to figure out where to spend our time in the San
Francisco area. We did know that we wanted to see Napa Valley as we do
like a bit of wine but we also looked into skiing in the Lake Tahoe
area, driving to Los Angeles etc. In the end we decided to spend 4 days
in San Francisco to start with, 3 days in Napa Valley and then decided
what to do once we were there. To start with we booked
Palace Hotel in
San Francisco as it seemed like a hotel with a great location and we
valley Lodge in Napa as it was fairly cheap and had a decent
location. We also booked a rental car from
Avis. As usual we
also bought the
Eyewitness travel guide book. I love my gadgets and you can find
endless amount of information online but it is still great to have a
guidebook to read on the plane and while you are on location.
|Note: if you rent a car from Avis there are
several places to get a car from in downtown San Francisco but the Avis
airport location seems to have a better selection of cars.
The trip begins
We have a tendency to take flights that are very early in the morning
for some reason – but for once we had an evening flight. That gave us
the opportunity to work out, go to the hairdresser etc before heading
out to the airport to catch our 7.30 PM flight on Saturday 28th of March
Sola Airport to
London Heathrow. Stavanger is not the center of the universe and you
can tell on a Saturday night as there were hardly any people at the
airport that evening. The flight to London was only 1 ½ hours and for
various reasons we had decided to stay overnight to catch the flight to
San Francisco the following day. But that is not a problem – we went
through immigration fast, picked up our suitcases and took a Hoppa bus
to Sheraton Heathrow hotel within minutes. That night UK went over to
summertime (daylight saving time) and there were posters everywhere
regarding this – I’m sure that it causes a few people to miss their
flights each year.
The following morning (Sunday 29th of March) we got
up and took the Hoppa bus back to the airport (BA flights are usually
from Terminal 5) and checked
in. I have a British Airways Gold card and due to this I can check in at
the First class counter. But I can’t say that I was impressed by the
service of the people that were working behind the counters. The guy that checked us in was not very
friendly and he didn’t even point us to where to go next to proceed to
the gates. I have been in transit in London a few times but it is not
very often I check in here. I was also expecting some sort of fast track for business and
first class passengers but that did not seem to be the case at all.
At about 3 PM we had lift off from London Heathrow
airport and the flight to San Francisco took about 11 hours. This was
actual the inaugural flight for the BA A380 to San Francisco and I do
enjoy flying on this aircraft. On the flight I even got to watch a bit
of The Rock – I guess that was a good way to start the journey as the
action takes place on Alcatraz island. When we were getting closer to
San Francisco the weather was absolutely perfect with clear blue sky.
The flight path for landing took us right across the city area and we
got great views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the downtown area. What a
great way to start the exploration of a new city!
you start your trip to the USA!
Hello San Francisco
We landed at SFO – San
Francisco international airport at about 4.30 PM in beautiful spring
weather. The airport does not seem to be that big but I guess looks are
deceiving as it has 4 runways and close to 50 million passengers a year.
Immigration was pretty fast, the suitcases did arrive so everything was
going according to schedule! There were ATMs in the arrival hall and we used
this to get some US Dollars. There are several ways of getting into town
but we had done our homework and decided to go for the train. It was
easy to find the BART
train station at the airport and we bought tickets on a machine and
we were on our way into San Francisco within minutes.
|Note: The BART train cost about 9 USD from the
airport to the city and takes about 30 minutes.
about 30 minutes we reached downtown San Francisco and we got off the train at Montgomery station.
As we walked out of the station we were right outside the hotel that we
had booked in advance:
hotel. The transportation to the hotel could not have been any easier!
Palace Hotel seems to be a hotel with a long history and it was a great hotel
in my opinion as the room was modern and the location is good. There are
lots of coffee shops and shops in the area. If you want to read about the Palace hotel feel free to check out my
How to get around!
On the first day in San Francisco we decided to buy a
MUNI 3 day pass for 26 USD. This turned out to be a good deal as it
gives you unlimited access to the buses, streetcars, cable cars and
metro and it makes it easy to get around. Keep in mind that a single
ticket on the historic cable car costs 7 USD (from July 2015). Not only
does it give you unlimited travel – you also get discount on various
museums (e.g. to de Young museum). So be sure to get this as soon as you
arrive in San Francisco to make the most out of it. It does not cover
the BART train as far as I can remember. And my very best advice for getting around: have a
smart phone, get a local simcard and download the app
Here you can choose where you are going from and where you are going to
and it will suggest a route combining bus, cable car, walking etc.
|Note: you can buy the MUNI pass at some
Walgreens stores but also at the cable car end station (e.g.
Powell-Market cable car turntable).
Having a local sim card makes it a lot easier to
get around as you get access to e.g. Google maps, schedules, opening
times and information. You can buy local simcards from various
providers. I bought a simcard from
AT&T that gave me 1.5
GB of data traffic while I was there.
We also took a bit of taxi while we were in San
Francisco and it seemed to be easy to get a hold of. To give an idea
about the price – we took a taxi from Palace hotel to restaurant A16 in
the Palace of fine arts area and that was about 13 USD. Most of the cabs
that we took had an option for paying with a credit card which is
is also an option but we never got around to trying that.
Time to start exploring the city
When we arrived at the hotel at night we actually did go out to explore
the neighborhood but we got a better feel for it when we got up the next
day and got to see the city in broad daylight. The city streets where
bustling with life – we were staying in the downtown area so people were
rushing to work – listening to music in headsets, talking on the phone
and carry with them a takeaway cup of coffee – according to what I have
read SF seems to have the highest number of coffee stores per capita. SF
this morning reminded me of Sydney in Australia – the urban scene where
people are rushing to work. But I guess it also reminded me of Sydney as
the weather was a bit similar. The first morning the weather was great –
blue skies with comfortable temperature in the sun but a cold draft when
moving into the shade. As breakfast was not included we decided to have
steel cut oats at
Corner Bakery right next to the hotel while using maps and guidebook
to plan the day.
|Note: to give you an idea about price. Oats at
Corner Bakery was about 4-5 USD and a cup of American about 2 USD.
It is always a great pleasure to walk around a new
city – only a few steps away from the hotel I caught a glimpse of the
California Republic flag with the Transamerica pyramid in the
background. How epic is that? This building has been the icon of San
Francisco since it was built in 1972 and became the tallest building in
the city. It will not keep that title long as the 60 floor Salesforce
Tower will be completed in 2018. I do like skyscrapers and maybe that is
why I get a kick out of scenes like this! But back to the city exploring – there
is always lots of things to look at in a city. The guy on a motorized
skateboard rolling in city traffic, the guy on a bike with a small
trailer in the back for his dog, a number of homeless people speaking to
themselves, classical San Francisco fire trucks passing by etc. Downtown
San Francisco had a vibrant city scene indeed.
Our first aim this day was
Coit Tower. As we walked through the streets I was fascinated with
all the scenes that looks so familiar from various movies. The steep
streets, the cable cars but also the fascinating old school street cars,
the fire trucks – needless to say I was trigger happy with the camera.
The walk to Coit Tower is only about 2 km (1.3 miles) but towards the
end we took the Filbert steps to get to the tower. Coit Tower is located
on the 84 meter Telegraph Hill so we got to use those leg muscles to get
to the top. But do take the stairs – it is a beautiful route as the
steps take you through a quaint neighborhood and it feels like walking
through someone’s backyard.
Coit Tower (aka Lillian Coit Memorial Tower) is a
64 meter concrete tower built in 1933. Lillie Hitchcock Coit left a
third of her estate when she died in 1929 for beautification of the
city. As she had a special relationship to the firefighters in SF, some
say that the tower looks like a nozzle on a fire hose but apparently
that is just by coincidence. I think the entrance was about 8 USD per
person - actually entrance is free but you have to pay money to take the
lift to the top. At the top we got a fantastic view to the San Francisco
city area. It was a bit hazy but we still got great views to
bridge, Alcatraz, the downtown area etc. In the base of the tower there
are some beautiful murals and you can also pay extra to get a tour of
the murals there are in the staircase and the 1st floor. The murals are
beautiful frescos made by artist that were employed during the
depression in the 1930s. The frescos varies in style, color etc
depending on the artist and it is easy to see that some were more
comfortable and/or trained for this job. All in all this was a great
start to our SF exploration and we got some great views on the city.
Little Italy / Chinatown
A visit to San Francisco is not complete without a visit to Chinatown.
The North beach area is also knows as Little Italy and around Washington
Square park you will find lots of Italian restaurants. But I guess it is
Chinatown that is more known in the world as this Chinatown is the
oldest in the USA and also the largest Chinatown outside Asia. Based on
what we learned it seemed like Chinatown was a place filled with
gambling, opium and
prostitution back in the days. It is fascinating to
see that this Chinatown has remained for such a long time and when you
walk through it today it is still a neighborhood filled with stores that
sell Chinese food, restaurants and grocery stores focusing on special
ingredients. We stopped at Good Mong Kok Bakery on Stockton street to
get a barbeque pork bun mentioned on
various food blogs. We had both a steamed and baked and they were
served fresh for about 2 USD each.
A walk with Kevin – "FOOT! Fun walking tours"
Before we went to the US we booked a walking tour for the first day to
get started with the exploration and learn about the history of San
Francisco. We took the cable car to Nob Hill as the meeting point was at
Huntington Park. I think the tour was scheduled to start at 1 PM but
there were no other tourists there that seemed to be waiting for a tour
– and no guide! We were getting a bit worried that there had been some
sort of misunderstanding so we called the company and they said that
Kevin was going to be there. About 15 minutes late Kevin came rushing
into the park and apologized for the delay. Luckily that did not
influence the tour. Kevin was open, had a very contagious laughter and
was pretty funny - well, he had some pretty bad jokes where we had to
think for a few seconds before we got the punchline ;-)
But it was very interesting to hear the history of
the city – from the goldrush in 1849 when the town expanded from just a
few thousand to several hundred thousand in just a few years. We got to
learn about the rich people at Nob Hill, how fortunes were made, how the
harbor turned into a graveyard of ships as people just left them there
when they came to San Francisco to chase their dreams but also practical
information such as recommendations for where to eat and drink and we
got to ask questions along the way. There were no other tourists on the
tour this day so we got all the attention from Kevin.
The walk took us
to Union Square, to Chinatown and we ended up in Little Italy again (or
North Beach). Along the way we learned a lot and I would highly
recommend taking this tour on your first day in San Francisco to get an
introduction to both the city streets and history! We also got to see
the last shop for handmade fortune cookies in the US – there is a small
place is Chinatown where they still fold them by hand and you can buy a
bag of them. Note that you also have to pay like 50 Cents to take a
photo. It turns out that the fortune cookie is not a Chinese thing – it
was apparently invented by a Japanese guy in San Francisco!
We took the Whole Shebang tour from "FOOT.
Fun Walking tours"and that was 45 USD per person. The tour lasted
for about 3 hours and there are place to take a break along the way. We
stopped at the Westin at Union Square for a coffee and for the restroom.
|Note: notice the cars that are parked in the
steep hills on San Francisco. It seems like by law they have to point
the wheels towards the curb to avoid freak accidents of cars rolling
away. Some of the streets are really steep so it makes sense.
Pizza, Pizza – A16 Italian restaurant
As I like my Italian food we decided to check out the Italian restaurant
A16 – apparently
named after the highway that passes by Napoli (Naples) in Italy – so we
are talking southern Italy. The place was also recommended by friends.
As this was the first day we were still a bit jetlagged – Nikki had a
short nap before I had to wake her up as we had a reservation at A16 and
she thought it was time to go to bed and just said “Good night” But I
managed to drag her out of bed and we grabbed a taxi to the restaurant
and it was about 13 USD – paying the taxi is very easy as you can swipe
the credit card on a machine hanging on the back of the seats.
restaurant was packed even if this was a Monday night and we got a tiny
table – the restaurant was really loud due to all the people talking
away and enjoying themselves. As always the lighting was pretty bad but
that is why you have a cellphone right? ;-) I was a bit disappointed by
the menu – it was not as extensive as I had imagined I guess. I went for
the burrata (a creamy buffalo mozzarella) with olive oil, salt and
It is a pretty simple starter but usually it is a dish that I
find delicious. In this case it was a bit too simple so I was imagining
how it would have been with some good, fresh tomatoes and basil. I
ordered a classical Pizza Margherita and I love the simplicity of this
tomato, mozzarella and basil pizza. The pizza was good and it was funny
to see that it was served with a solid pair of scissors to cut the
slices. The restaurant has a pretty good wine list with lots of Italian
wines on the list. The meal was about 70 USD with starters and pizzas
for the two of us – excluding drinks and tipping. The restaurant is
located on 2355 Chestnut St. and you can see the location in this
Blazing saddles – time to see San Francisco from
Before we went to SF we knew that we had to check out the Golden Gate
Bridge one way or another. When searching online we came across the
Saddles and decided to go for a guided tour. We took the bus over to
Ghirardelli square one morning (keep in mind that CityMapper is an
excellent tool to catch the right bus at the right time) and we found
Blazing Saddles without any problem. The Blazing Saddles place was
hectic with a lot of tourists and a lot of staff running around.
to see a short introduction video, got a helmet and a bike and had to
show that we were able to handle the bike. As Nikki had a fractured toe
it turned out to not be that easy to handle a bike and hence we decided
to go for a tandem bike which is pretty fun – we also tried this in
Seoul in Korea.
We were quite a large group that started biking at about 10 am and there
were several guides with us. In retrospect it was not really necessary
with guides as it was easy to find the way.
We didn’t hear much of the
information that the guides were sharing either – partially because we
were biking a bit slow and partially because we were stopping all the
time to take photos. There were lots of stops on the way and we got
great views of the bay, Alcatraz island, the Golden Gate Bridge etc. The
weather was beautiful but there was a cold draft so I was pretty happy
that I had layers of clothing (I had a thin fleece under a gore-tex
windbreaker. Along the waterfront people were taking a walk, jogging,
walking their dogs etc. It was awesome to bike up to and start biking on
the actual bridge. It is a massive bridge stretching about 2.7 km across
(1.7 miles) and keep in mind that this was built in the 1930’s! Today
there are six lanes for the cars and paths for walking/biking on each
side. It was extremely windy on the bridge so I was very happy that I
had my good windbreaker on – we stopped along the way to take photos and
the view is just spectacular.
|Note: the bridge is also being used by people
on bikes that are out for a workout. They did not seem that happy when
we were blocking the path to take photos. Keep this in mind and stay out
of the way when you stop to enjoy the view.
Once we got to the other side of the bridge we
turned left and took a road leading under the bridge towards Sausalito.
Already at this point we could feel that it was getting warmer and it
was very pleasant in the sun. It seems like SF has a weird micro climate
– in the summer it gets very warm inlands in the drier areas and hot air
rises. This brings in new, very cold air from the Pacific Ocean and this
leads to the cold draft in SF. Mark Twain supposedly said one time that
“my coldest winter was the summer I spent in San Francisco”. We did not
get to experience that but we noticed a huge difference in temperature
on the actual bridge vs. Sausalito. When we got to
Sausalito it was time to say goodbye
to our guide. We locked up the bike and headed over to the
a lunch – we were slow on the bike most of the time but when we were
getting closer to Sausalito we were really picking up speed as there was
a good lunch and a glass of wine in sight :-) Lunch as Spinnaker was
excellent – some lovely crab cakes to start with, a mixed seafood grill
and a paella! And I admit it - a bread pudding for dessert. I figured
that we could justify having those calories after a few hours of biking
that day! Lunch was about 70 USD for the two of us – excluding drinks
and tipping. I have to say that it was a bit weird having a lunch at a
Spinnaker – when we looked around I guess we had walked into a sort of
yacht club and most of the people there were elderly and Caucasians.
Maybe Sausalito is the home of the white upper class – I don’t normally
notice this or comment on it in the trip reports but in this case it was
just very noticeable.
|Note: electrical bikes do not seem to be an
option at Blazing Saddles. First of all you have to pay a large deposit
(1500 USD!) and if your battery runs out you are left with just a heavy
After lunch we caught a ferry back to SF for about
12 USD – again we got great views to Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and
the city skyline. It is a good thing that the memory cards in cameras
are getting larger so that there is room for lots of photos. You might
want to get in line early if it is a beautiful sunny day – when we took
the ferry it was pretty packed with tourists that had taken a bike trip
from SF to Sausalito. All in all it was an amazing day for biking. We
biked for about 3 hours, got to see the amazing view of the bridge and
the view from the bridge – and it was lovely with a lunch in Sausalito.
It was not really necessary with the guided tour – it is possible to
find the way on your own. We paid 55 USD per person for the tour and it
was a memorable experience.
|Note: some ferries goes back to the Ferry
building in SF and some to Fisherman’s wharf. If you don’t want to bike
that much take the one that goes back to Fisherman’s wharf as that is
closer to the Blazing Saddles shop.
Going to the "country side" – dinner at Outerlands
Based on a recommendation from a friend, we decided to have dinner at
Outerlands. You have to love the power of the tools that you have these
days with the internet. We booked the table using
OpenTable , I
pinned the location using Google Maps so that we could find the place
and we use the Citymapper app to find the best way to get there. It
turned out that our Muni pass was also valid for the metro and we took
the N line to “suburbia”. It is a metro in the downtown area but soon we
were rolling through the streets on San Francisco. We jumped of just a
couple of stops before ending up in the beach on the west coast of San
Francisco and it was just a few minutes to walk to the restaurant. When
we walked into the place it seemed like it was inspired by a ski lodge
in the Alps with a wooden interior. The menu was limited but it seemed
like they had some nice twists of flavors. We decided to share a potato
soup to start with – for once it was made with no cream
(Nikki is not
too happy about consuming lactose) but they had still managed to make a
good, rich soup.
The pappardelle pasta with rabbit as a main dish was
excellent – served with bits of anchovy, orange and nuts. The food was
served really fast so we were basically done before we had gotten
started on the bottle of wine – but as the portion were also quite small
we decided to share blackened cod with fennel and apple. It is always
lovely with cod when it is prepared right. All in all a good meal – the
food was served a bit too fast and the portions are a bit small. The
food was about 75 USD excluding drinks and tipping.
Time to check out the big park – Golden Gate Park
If you sit by the window when landing in San Francisco you can’t avoid
noticing the HUGE Golden Gate Park. It is basically the same size as
Central Park in New York City. The park contains lots of
attractions such as de Young Museum, California Academy of Sciences,
Japanese Tea Garden etc. The park was laid out in the 1870’s and at the
time it was a dry and wind swept area – today it is a pretty lush and
green park so it must have taken quite a bit of work to establish it.
When I imagine a park I just think of green areas with trees – but the
Golden Gate Park is so large that it has roads within the park.
there early (yes, we were still jetlagged ;-) and we were lucky to catch a
free guided tour of the
Japanese Tea Garden. The garden was established
in connection with a fair in 1894 and is a well-manicured garden. I
thought that the guided tour would be highly boring to be honest but it
turned out to be very interesting as our guide did not only talk about
the garden and its history – as a native San Franciscan she was also talking
about how the park had evolved since she was young, weather in SF, the
history of the city in general etc. If you can catch a guided tour of
the Japanese Tea Garden you will get more out of your visit.
We ran back to the
de Young museum after the visit to the Japanese Tea
Garden where we decided to take a free docent tour “Around the world in
50 minutes”. Again we were alone with our guide and the elderly lady was
knowledgeable and led us through the museum with a steady pace. The tour
was great and we were taken to some of the highlights of the museum. The
50 minutes just flew past as we saw figures from Africa, masks from the
Pacific islands and tablets from ancient Americas. The museum has a fix
exhibition but it also has guest appearances – when we were there it was
“Botticelli to Braque: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of
Scotland”. If you want a bit of a view you can check out the view tower
|Note: you can get some discount on admission to de Young museum if you
have a Muni pass. General admission is about 21 USD on weekdays
All this sightseeing and guided tours brings up the appetite. We had
lunch at a place called
Pork Store Café in Haight-Ashbury area – this
area seems to be an old hippie part of town with lots of alternative
shops. The Pork Store café was an old school diner place that served
breakfast and lunch – I decided to have breakfast quesadillas with hash
browns. There is no doubt that a portion like this will keep you running
for most of the day as there is a lot of energy in just the hash browns. The
meal was delicious but it was way too much – and keep in mind to go easy
on some of the hot sauces that they have here. Some of them were really
We took the bus back to Golden Gate Park after lunch as there was more
to see and do there. Next up for us was
California Academy of Sciences.
I was a bit surprised by the price of entrance – general admission is
about 35 USD which is quite a bit of money (even for a Norwegian). Again
we got a few dollars discount due to the Muni pass. This is a natural
history museum with an aquarium, a planetarium etc. As we have been
lucky to visit some great natural history museums around the world (e.g.
London and New York) and great aquariums (e.g.
Lisbon) , I guess we
were not that impressed. I was also looking forward to the planetarium
but instead of using it to explain astronomy the place was turned into a
half dome where a movie was shown about life on earth and how it is
connected. But it was interesting to learn a bit more about earthquakes
and see photos from the city after the earthquake and fire of 1906. The
earthquake simulator is also interesting but I don’t think it comes
close to giving a real impression of what it must have been like.
The most crooked street in the US – Lombard street
On our way back from Golden Gate Park we decided to check out Lombard
street. The street is so steep that in the end it was turned into a
street with 8 hairpin turns and it has become a tourist attraction.
Rumor has it that there is another street that is actually even steeper
and has similar hairpin turns but it is a bit out of the city center so
it is lesser known. When we took the bus there we came on Van Ness Avenue
and it turned out to be on the opposite side of the big hill – the walk
to the top of Lombard street was hard as it is a steep hill! But at the
top (corner of Hyde and Lombard) you get a great view – looking down
Hyde Street you look straight to Alcatraz island and looking down
Lombard street you look towards Coit tower. The most fascinating was
maybe watching all the crazy tourists risking their lives by getting out
in the middle of traffic to get the perfect shot of a cable car with
Alcatraz in the background. The sun was setting as we walked down the
walkway – the place was packed with German school kids on a tour and on
the street car by car drove down and it looked like most of them were
tourist driving this legendary street.
|Note: Lombard street is a one way street so don’t try to drive up the
Ghirardelli Square – chocolate lover’s paradise
After we had visited Lombard Street we walked over to
Ghirardelli Square to check out this well-known chocolate
brand. This used to house the factory for Ghirardelli chocolate but now it
contains various shops and places where you can buy the Ghirardelli
chocolate of course. Not to be cocky but we do have some excellent milk
chocolate in Norway (if you visit you should try out e.g.
Freia Melkesjokolade or Stratos) and
I’m usually not very impressed by American chocolate.
But I have to say
that the Ghirardelli chocolate is very, very good. The outlets here also
lets you indulge is large ice creams featuring the chocolates and fudge
etc. As everything else in the US the portions are quite HUGE. We were also
quite happy to find that
Wattle Creek Winery has a store at Ghirardelli Square and it
was possible to sample a few of their wines. From here it is just a
couple of minutes to walk down to the waterfront by Pier 45. The sun was
setting and even if it had been a pleasant day with sunshine, I still
felt pretty cold when I saw that people were actually swimming in the
bay (in wetsuits mind you). But we got to see a beautiful sunset with
spectacular orange colors as the sun started to set behind Golden Gate
bridge – and as it got darker we could also see the original Ghirardelli
sign light up over the square.
Tender meat at Range
Before coming to SF we found an article about food that you had to try
in the city. One of the things that were mentioned was the coffee rubbed
pork shoulder at Range. It sounded and looked good and we made sure to make a
reservation one night (thanks again to OpenTable). When we got to the
place in the Mission district the place was packed – as many of the
other places we went to. On Google maps the place is described as
“Hipster haunt for creative American eats” –
I found that a bit funny.
It turned out that we had booked the table on the wrong day but after
having a glass of wine in the bar they were able to squeeze us in. And
it was well worth the wait – I had a delicious goat cheese ravioli to
start with and I had to try the above mentioned coffee rubbed pork
shoulder. The pork was so tender and juicy and I can understand why it
made it to the list of things you should try in SF. Highly recommended
in other words! The meal was about 90 USD for starters and mains for the
both of us – excluding tipping and drinks.
Time for a road trip – and some sweet stuff
On Thursday April 2nd we got up early as we were checking out of the
hotel and we were going hunting for cruffins! I don’t blame you if you
haven’t heard about this but apparently this is one of the latest
invention in the pastry section. It is a mix between a croissant and a
I guess and one of the places that is known for this is
Bakehouse located on Larkin Street.
It turned out that it was a 30 minutes’ walk from the hotel but that is
one way to work up the appetite. When we got there it was still kinda
early but there was a looong line outside – I guess we were not the only
ones that had heard about the quality of their pastry. When we finally
got into the small shop they were all out of cruffins. I think it was at
this point we realized that we had to return to San Francisco.
|Note: if you want to get a cruffin it looks like you get there 20-30
minutes before they start selling the cruffin. I think they open at
about 7 am but the cruffins are ready at about 9 am.
Before we left for the USA we booked a car with
Avis – they have several
locations in San Francisco and we choose to pick up a car on Post street
as this was the closest location to our hotel. We didn’t go for anything
fancy and we got a small Ford Focus. Renting a car always seems to be a
mission as there are so many various insurances and additional options.
We e.g. wanted a GPS and when we booked the car we were informed that
this would be about 65 USD. When we rented the car it turned out that
this was 100 USD. We were certainly not very happy with the Avis service
this time and we will look for other options the next time we rent a
Driving in San Francisco was not bad at all. We did get help from the
GPS but do keep an eye on the signs as there are some intersections were
you can’t turn left in rush hour etc.
Lands End – view to the bridge from a different angle
We started our road trip by heading over to
Legion of Honor. This museum was a gift to SF from
Alma de Bretteville Spreckels – I guess the money came from her husband
Adolph B. Spreckels. He made his fortune on sugar and rumor has it that
this is where the term “sugar daddy” originates from. Today it seems
like the museum has a huge collection of ancient and European art – and
already in the courtyard you will probably recognize the famous “The
Thinker” by August Rodin.
We decided to skip the museum and parked the
car to take a walk in Lands End instead. The area is beautiful with
large grass lawns, people playing golf and dirt roads where people were
walking and biking. We walked to Eagle Point Labyrinth where you get a
great view of the Golden Gate Bridge but also of the rugged shore in the
other direction. It
was windy and chilly here compared to the city so I was glad that I was
wearing a good windbreaker. The waves came crashing in on the beaches
and the rocks so I would not want to take a swim here that’s for sure.
After some Kodak moments we returned to the car and drove across the
Golden Gate Bridge. After you get to the other side of the bridge it is
a short drive to Battery Spencer were you get one of the best views of
the Golden Gate bridge – so once again we took photos of the bridge.
Muir woods – trees reaching for the sky!
In California you can basically find some of the largest trees on the
planet – just north of San Francisco you can find Muir Woods that
contains large coast Redwood trees. The
Muir Woods visitor center is
just 15 miles out of downtown SF and it is great to go from a concrete
jungle to a dense woods in only 40 minutes. We came there in the
afternoon and I guess a lot of people were taking the afternoon off to
take a walk in the woods.
It was quite hard to find a parking and
several of the parking lots were full so people were also parking along
the road. But once we found a parking we were ready to hit the
wilderness. After paying 7 USD for the entrance we discovered that we
had not really found wilderness but rather a wooden pathway that was
built in the woods. In Norway I’m used to hikes in nature where things
have not been that much modified – but I understand that there is a need to do
this as there are probably so many people visiting the Muir Woods. But
it was fascinating to walk between these giant trees and along the way
you can also read some more info about the trees, the woods and the
area. If you have the time it is great to check out this place – but
don’t expect to be alone and don’t expect it to be a hike in wilderness.
To Napa Valley – to wine territory
We do like
a bit of wine and when we planned the trip to San Francisco we knew that we
had to visit Napa Valley. I guess I was inspired to visit
the wine districts of California after watching the movie Sideways few years
back (even if the movie is not filmed in Napa Valley). It is a pretty small valley and it does not
produce that much of California’s wine – but it is an area that has a
reputation for making very good wine. Napa Valley is about 90 km (55 miles)
out of SF but it took us a while to get there as traffic was pretty bad.
Even if the freeways have 3-4-5 lanes in each direction, the traffic was
still moving painfully slow at times.
|Note: there is a special lane on the freeway if you have several passengers in
the car. It is called a high occupancy vechicle lane. Read the signs to see how many
people that needs to be in the car to give you access to this lane. Note
that you might also pass toll station along the way – we had to pay
about 5 USD at one toll station so keep some cash available.
We pulled into our accommodation in Napa in the early evening. We had
decided to stay at
Wine Valley Lodge and it looked like a motel like you
see in some classical American movies. You can read all about Wine
Valley Lodge in my
hotel review here. When we walked to our room we
passed by a large pickup with the sign Ramirez Rattlesnake Removal. com –
we found this a bit funny and interesting. It was a reminder for us that
we were out in the wild west now ;-) There was even a pool at the hotel
but judging by the screems of the teenagers that jumped in, the water
was still pretty cold this early in the season.
Napa valley layout
When I first heard about Napa valley I got the impression that it was
just one small town and nothing more. Well it turns out that even if the
valley is not that big there are several small towns in the valley. We
stayed just outside the town of Napa but further up the road you will
get to places like Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga. There are two
roads the runs parallel through the valley – the main highway 121/29 and
the Silverado trail. Due to the layout and distances it is best to have
a car to explore the valley – it is about 30 miles from Napa to
Calistoga so it is a drive that can take you 30 minutes or so if there
is no traffic. Along both roads you will find wine estates. Napa valley
was really put on the map back in 1976 when a
Stag’s Leap wine one a
wine competition in France!
Dinner at 1313
As always – we just dumped our bags when we got to the hotel and decided
to head out to have dinner. The girl in the reception called a taxi for
us as we wanted to get to dinner fast. It is only about 2 km (or about 1.3 miles) from the hotel into Napa
but it was dark and we didn't feel like getting lost. Napa is known for both good
wine and good food and we decided to check out the restaurant
– located on 1313 Main street.
When we walked in the place was
more or less empty so it was not a problem getting a table. The menu had
lots of items that I wanted to try - who can say no to dishes like braised
pork belly, green garlic risotto, oxtail ravioli etc. And the wine list
was beyond extensive with an amazing selection of Napa valley wines in
various vintages. In the end we decided to go for wine flights in order
to taste several wines and we ordered the green garlic risotto, herbed
gnocchi, Sonoma rabbit and oxtail ravioli. When the food was served
waiter told me that I made a good choice on getting the escargot
risotto! I love my risotto so I did read the entire description of what
was in it! But the risotto was great and I don’t mind eating some
snails. The gnocchi was also good, the rabbit was a piece of art and the
oxtail ravioli was very tasty. I was very impressed by the food, service
and wine selection at 1313 Main. In fact the meal was so good that we
were seriously thinking about returning there one of the following days.
Highly recommended in other words. We paid about 120 USD for the meal
including one dessert for me (excluding wine and tipping).
Exploring Napa Valley!
The next morning we woke up to beautiful spring weather and after a
quick breakfast we drove up the valley using the Silverado trail. It
didn’t take long before we started passing farms and vineyards. The area
is not as beautiful as
Tuscany in my honest opinion and I was a bit
frustrated that the speed limit was 55 mph (90 kph) as it didn’t give us
a chance to enjoy the scenery. Drivers behinds us got pretty frustrated
pretty fast when we were driving slower. We were happy to see that the
strawberries were in season already and we stopped to enjoy some. I
don’t want to seem like a guy that brags about stuff being better in
Norway – but when it comes to strawberries I have to say that the
Norwegian ones are very, very good. The ones in Napa lacked flavor, had
a hard texture and were dry.
After we had been driving for a few minutes we got to
Stag’s Leap and we
decided to just get started with the wine sightseeing. The tasting room
at Stag’s Leap is beautiful with large windows facing the vineyards and
various tasting schemes. For 40 USD you e.g. get estate tasting flight
including FAY Cabernet Sauvignon, S.L.V Cabernet Sauvignon and CASK 23
Cabernet Sauvignon. No doubt that Stag’s Leap makes a great Cabernet
Sauvignon – even when we went to other vineyards they said that Stag’s
Leap as one on the best Cabernet Sauvignon in the valley. It is a bit
weird to see that e.g. buying an Artemis straight from the Stag’s Leap
vineyard is only about 6 USD cheaper than buying it at the local wine
store in Norway – the Artemis 2012 was 55 USD at Stag’s Leap.
There are so many vineyards to see along the route and time flies when
you are having fun. We came just a bit a bit late for a tour at Castello
di Amorosa so we decided to go for lunch instead. Before we went to the
US we had found information that the best place to buy picnic supplies
was at Oakville grocery store. Again we found out that Napa Valley is
not that small so it took some time to drive to the grocery store and
when we tried to find the picnic place it turned out that this place had
actually shut down.
I guess this shows that you can trust everything
that you read online. After a lot of driving around in circles we ended
back at Oakville grocery – they had some tables in the sun where we
could enjoy the lunch that we had bought. The grocery store offers ham,
cheese, bread, wine, coffee, cakes etc so there is lots to choose from.
I guess this is widely known – there was even a huge limousine parked
and the two guys who seemed to have rented it (or owned it) also had a
couple of girls that seemed totally out of place in the grocery store as
they were walking around in tight evening dresses and high heels.
Tour of Robert Mondavi vineyard
We got to Robert Mondavi vineyard just in time for a tour and taste in
the afternoon – it was pure luck as we had no idea when the next tour
would be. The tour with Bonnie was 35 USD per person and it was quite a
mixed group that she was leading – some were students on a spring break
from Washington, some were on vacation from Canada and a married couple
had just driven up from San Jose on a motorcycle for the day.
was interesting and we learned quite a bit – everything from the history
of the Mondavi family, about growing the grapes the process of making
the wine, the seasons but also how the prohibition period that lasted
from 1920 to 1933 influenced the wine industry in the US. But the
highlight of the tour was of course the wine tasting after the tour. We
even got a snack along with different wines from the vineyards and we
also bought a couple of wines from the gift shop on the way out. The
tour was fun and interesting and I would recommend it.
Tour at Castello di Amorosa
We missed the tour when we stopped by
Amorosa the first day but we did get a bit fascinated by the Tuscan
inspired castle in Napa valley so we decided to stop by to check it out.
The tour was about 45 USD per person if I’m not mistaken and our guide
was pretty funny even if he seemed a bit on auto pilot when he was
talking about the castle, the structure the wine etc. The castle seems
to be built to look old but with top wine making facilities and we ended
up in the “dungeons” deep in the cellar to taste wine. A Canadian couple
had brought along their son and they let him smell the wine glass and
the caused our guide to basically freak out. He was like “Mam, what are
you doing!! Don’t let him even touch the glass!!” and so on. It created
an awkward atmosphere, that’s for sure. If you are into wine I think it
is better to visit some of the other small vineyards as Castello di
Amorosa seems a bit like a theme park.
We also stopped by
and Zero Defects. We ended our stay in Napa valley
with a dinner at Azzuro Pizzeria and Enoteca. The meal was not very
memorable in my opinion and the pizza had way too much topping to be an
Italian pizza. I guess we should have gone for a second visit to 1313
|Note: at some of the vineyards you have to call in advance to organize a
I’m not sure I can come up with a proper conclusion after such a short
visit to Napa Valley. There are so many vineyards to visit in Napa so if
you are into wine you should at least have 3-4 days there. We enjoyed
the combination of tours and just stopping by vineyards to look around.
Even if Napa valley is not a huge geographical area it is a lot easier
to get around if you have a car – just note that there can be quite a
bit of traffic on the main highway so taking the Silverado trail might
be a good way to get around faster. Remember that there are laws with
regards to drinking and driving – drive responsibly!
We didn’t mind the location of Wine Valley Lodge – it was easy to get
around by car from this place and it was only a short taxi drive from
downtown Napa where there are restaurants and bars.
|Note: our hotel had some very good free magazines with both maps and
information about events, opening times etc. So make sure you pick up
some copies to plan your stay when you arrive.
Short visit to Sonoma
When we planned our trip, some recommended that we should do Sonoma
instead of Napa Valley. We did stop by Sonoma as well and it was just a
20 minute drive from Napa. We did stop by
Ravenswood Winery but as it was Easter Sunday it was
The city square in Sonoma appears far more tranquil compared to
Napa Valley – or maybe it was only because of Easter. Sonoma is quite an
historic city with a mission dating back to 1823 but this is also where
the bear flag revolt took place and the California Republic was
announced in 1846. Today the city square is lined with shops,
restaurants but also what remains of the Mission San Francisco Solano
and the barracks. We enjoyed walking around in the area and enjoyed a
great lunch at Burgers and Vines – Nikki is still drooling when I
mention the baby back ribs she got there.
Road trippin’ to the coast
We finally decided that we had to leave Sonoma to get to our next
destination. We had booked a room at Pacific Grove in Monterey. The
traffic was not bad when we drove out of Sonoma and got to the highway
and after a couple of hours we were looking at the San Francisco skyline
again – this time for Berkley.
We had a brief stop in Berkley to get some fresh air and to walk on the
campus. We walked up to the Sather tower – better known as the Campanile
as it was built to resemble the campanile (clock tower) in Venice. We
paid the 3 USD per person to take the lift to the top and the view from
the top is great as you can see over to SF. As a fun fact : did you know
that crown prince Haakon of Norway studied at Berkely? We continued our
drive towards Monterey and you can cover quite a distance when you can
drive 65 mph. We did make a short stop along the way as Nikki wanted to
try Starbuck drive thru.
|Note: how much it will cost to fill up your car depends on the car and
tank of course. We paid about 30 USD to fill up our rental car.
Pacific Grove and Monterey
In Pacific Grove we stayed at Pacific Grove inn and you can read
review of the place here (it seems like this place has shut down
after we stayed there). I have to say that it is amazing
to have tools like booking.com on the cell phone and to be able to book
accommodation when you need it. Pacific Grove is a small town right next
to Monterey and the next morning we check out of the Inn and drove for
like 5 minutes and got to the historic part of Monterey.
parking lots and hence it was easy to find a place for the rental car
while we were talking a walk around the historic city center. In the
historic city center you can follow tokens that have been placed in the
pavement and it leads to points of interest. There were also posters
that would give more info about the various places and to top it all:
you could call a toll-free number and get an audio guide –
actually brilliant. Read more about the
Path of History here. The path that we took was about 6 km (or about 4 miles) long so
bring good shoes. It was great to have lunch at the Fisherman’s wharf
afterwards – it seems like most of the restaurants were eager to promote
their clam chowder. Even if there was a cold draft from the sea the sun
was warming and the sea lions and seals
were enjoying the warmth of the
sun. They seemed to have taken over part of the docks and boats!
We also decided to do the 17 mile drive that goes along some of the
coast of Monterey, Pacific Grove and Carmel. Along the route you will
see beautiful beaches, waves crashing in, trees that are clinging on to
rock surfaces (like the Lone cypress) but also wildlife. Some of the
beaches were totally closed off when we were there as it was in the
middle of the breeding season for the sea lions. You will have to pay a
10 USD entrance fee to drive the 17 mile drive. You can read
more about the 17 mile drive here.
Highway 1 – Big Sur
Highway 1 or Pacific coast highway is the road that runs along the coast
from LA to San Francisco. It is quite iconic and it has been in
countless movies. After we were done with our 17 mile drive we ended up
on highway 1 and started heading south. The roads runs along the coast
and it is a rugged coast line with cliffs, loose rocks and gorges that
you cross by stylish bridges. It must have been quite a challenge when
they started building some of these sections back in the 1930s. We had
to pull over several times to take photos and one of the most iconic
bridges might be Bixby Bridge – it was pretty crowded with people that
had the same idea. We also met a couple that were biking – their bikes
were topped up with equipment for camping out and the guy even had his
surfboard with him! Cudos to them as there are quite a number of hills
to climb along this highway. We came to the Big Sur area and stopped for
some drinks and we had to decide if we wanted to continue towards LA or
start heading back. We decided to start heading back and we used the
wifi at the café to book our accommodation in Carmel.
|Note: with my AT&T sim card I did not have much coverage when we were
driving along highway 1.
One night in Carmel
We didn’t really get to see or do much in Carmel as we got there about
6-7 pm – at least we got to do the 17 mile drive earlier that day to see
a bit of the area. We spent the night at
The Cobblestone Inn where we
got a BIG room with a gas fireplace in the room – is that the trend in
this area? The Inn that we stayed at in Pacific Grove also had a gas
fireplace. You can read
my review of the Cobblestone Inn here.
The Cobblestone Inn was located right in the middle of town and we just
walked over to
Andre’s Bouchee where
we had a very good dinner. I enjoyed my escargot even if they were not
served the way I thought they would be served. They were served in a
parsley and garlic sauce together with some puff pastry. The main dish
for me was duck confit which was good but maybe a bit on the dry side.
The dessert was totally over the top in terms of being sweet! It was
apple cake served with cinnamon ice cream and salty caramel sauce! The
meal was about 90 USD excluding tip and drinks. If you want a good meal
in Carmel you should absolutely consider Andre's Bouchee.
Back to San Francisco!
On Tuesday April 7th we had breakfast at the Cobblestone in while
planning the remaining days of our stay in the San Francisco area. We
booked a hotel in downtown SF using booking.com (as usual). We drove north along
the coast to Santa Cruz and had a stop there to look at the
Beach Boardwalk amusement park. The wooden rollercoaster in the park was
really old-school – well, it was built in 1924 so it has a long history
of amusing and scaring visitors. It was still early in the season I
guess so there were not that many visitors in the park. We also had a
short stroll in the city center but it didn’t feel like there was that
much to see.
We continued back towards SF using the mountain route (route 17) and we
were aiming for Twin Peaks! Twin Peaks are two peaks right outside the
city center of San Francisco and hence you get a pretty good view of the
city. The peaks are about 280 meters high (925 ft) but don’t worry,
don’t have to go hiking to the top like we do in Norway. The road led us
all the way to the top and there was even free parking and a toilet. You
do have to walk a couple of hundred meters to get to the very summit and
it was windy up there. The view was awesome and from one peak you look
straight down Market street – it was weird to see how straight it is for
miles! Twin Peaks is worth a visit if you get a kick out of a great
Getting into trouble with the law!
As we still had a bit of time before checking into the hotel in downtown
San Francisco we decided to drive around a bit more. We checked out
Golden Gate Park again and I still find it weird that you can drive
around in the park itself. On the west side the park meets the ocean and
there is a wide beach there. I doubt that it is great for swimming as it
looks like there were huge waves, currents and wind. We drove towards
the Cliff house which is a restaurant and lookout point.
To find a
parking I had to do a maneuver that took us across a solid yellow line –
the problem is that I did it right in front of a police car! It only
took a couple of seconds before the blue lights came on and we were
pulled over. I don’t have much experience with this so I got out of the
car to get my drivers license that was in the backseat but the female
officer instructed me to get back into the car. To make a long story
short – we didn’t get a fine. She saw that we were tourists and she just
told us to drive carefully and to not leave valuables visible in the car
when parking it as there were lots of cars being robbed every day.
|Note: if you are plane spotter you will see that a lot of planes take a
route over Cliff house when they take off.
After a long day of driving and sightseeing, we came to
Union Square in the late afternoon and checked in there for the last few
nights. You can read
my review of the
Marriott here. The hotel has a good location
and it is easy to get around from here by walking, bus and by cable car.
As we had a rental car we got informed that the hotel has parking facilities
but the doorman also mentioned that it would be far cheaper to park at a parking garage in the neighborhood. I think we
ended up using the Sutter Stockton garage and that worked out fine as we
only needed parking for 1 night.
Sunset drinks and Chinese food
When we returned to San Francisco we had beautiful weather once again.
When we had the walk with Kevin he told us that if we wanted a sunset
drink with a view we should head to
Top of the Mark at the
Intercontinental. On our map we noticed that this was basically
around the corner from us and hence we decided to walk over. The problem
with San Francisco is of course that there are some steep hills – so the
short walk to Top of the Mark gave us a workout as it was all uphill.
But it was worth it as the view while we were walking were stunning –
the sun was setting and the Transamerica building was lit in shades of
orange and the low sun was reflecting in some of the skyscrapers. We
took the lift up to the 19th floor where the Top of the Mark is located
and we did get a table after a few minutes and we got to enjoy drinks,
the view and beatnik poetry.
While Top of the Mark was posh, our dinner place was more down to earth.
We decided to have some Chinese as there is a large Chinatown in the
city and we decided to go to
House of Nanking. When we came there the
place was totally packed but we were told “5 minutes” like all the
others that were waiting – it seemed like there was a high turnover rate
at the place. We did actually get a table pretty fast and we were
squeezed in on a longer table and got the well-used menu right away. The
onion cake that seems to be a must try in SF was good – not that I have
anything to compare it with, the sesame chicken was very good and the
garlic fish was decent. The food was served fast and with no fuzz. The
food was about 35 USD excluding drinks and tipping.
Another shot at a cruffin
If you have read this trip report carefully you will notice that our
first mission to
Mr. Holmes Bakehouse was not a success. But after
returning to SF we made plans and we were not going to let this cruffin
slip between our fingers once again!! We still had the car from Avis so
I dropped of Nikki so that she could line up for the sweet stuff while I
retuned the car to Avis on Post street. As I felt that Avis tricked us a
bit when we hired the car I was determined to hand the car back with
basically no fuel. I know it is childish ;-) But for a second there I
was getting a bit worried that I would actually run out of gas in the
middle of San Francisco and then my childish games would have cost me a
pretty penny. Luckily I was able to roll into Avis on fumes and returned
The line at Mr. Holmes Bakehouse was building up
again. The place opens early but they start by selling croissants and
other pastry and the cruffins starts selling at 9 am. Due to this there
seemed like there were two lines and a bit of confusion. There were all
nationalities lined up – the group behind us was from Malaysia. Nikki
and I were babbling away as you do when you think that you communicate
in a language that no one understands. All of a sudden the guy in front
of us that had been speaking in fluent American dialect turned to us and
said hello to us in Swedish. Luckily we are well behaved people and
don’t badmouth anyone in our surroundings. We enjoyed our dreamsicle
cruffin with a Starbucks coffee nearby. A family that set next to us at
the Starbucks had the same idea – they had tried three times to get
their hands on the cruffin. Keep an eye on Mr Holmes Bakehouse on
Instagram to see the various flavors of cruffin that they produce.
City Hall – dome extravenganza
We stopped by City Hall on our first visit to SF but we just walked
outside. As we were in the neighborhood we decided to return and you can
also go inside. It seems like they had just finished the City Hall
building when the 1906 earthquake struck and the structure was
destroyed. The city hall that you see today replaced the one that was
destroyed in the earthquake and it seems like they like to point out
that the dome of this building is actually taller than the US Capitol
building. After a short security check you get access to the inside of
the building and the dome is also beautiful inside. We were there on a
Wednesday but people were still lining up in numbers to get married and
there were brides and grooms getting their photos taken at various
Off the Grid – food trucks
One thing that Nikki wanted to try out was lunch from a food truck. If
you download the app Off the grid you can check out which food
trucks will be where daily. At this day the food trucks were located on
Minna Street by San Francisco Chronicle. At home in Stavanger I’m used
to one food truck being out in the evening on the city square – and it
has been around forever and
I think it only served hot dogs. The food
trucks in San Francisco were in a different league! There were 4-5 food
trucks in this street and each truck had specialties – one was serving
Korean fusion, one had Indian soul food, one Filipino etc. There were
long lines for some of the trucks – including the Korean Bob cha that we
chose. But it didn’t take that long – soon we were enjoying the taste of
kimchi and secret sauces in the sun next to the food trucks. They also provide chairs
and there were quite a lot of them next to the
San Francisco cable cars and the cable car museum
One thing you will see when you walk the streets in San Francisco are
cable cars. There used to be 23 lines but today only three lines
remains – mostly for nostalgic reason it seems like. Today they are such
that you often have to line up for a while to get on one
so it is not the most effective way of getting around if you are in a
hurry. Basically there are two versions now: the Powell-Hyde and
Powell-Mason and the California street line. The first two seems to only
operate in one direction and that is why they have turntables on each
start/end point. It is fascinating to see that these turntables are
still manually operated. The California line has controls in both front
and back and hence they don’t need to be turned around.
|Note: if you just want the experience it seems like the California line
is the less crowded line. It is best to have a Muni pass as a ticket is
The ride is an experience – it is not smooth and
there is a bit of noise involved. As it is more or less open I’m not
surprised if there are a few accidents every year. And the cable car
stops in the middle of the street so watch out for traffic as you get in
and out of the cable car. We also stopped by the
museum on 1201 Mason Street.
From an engineer point of view the
museum was fascinating as it turns out that this place actually contains
the powerhouse that moves the cables and that drags all the cable cars
around town. The operator on the cable car uses a grip system to hook
onto the moving cable and this drags the cars uphill. It is pretty
impressive to see this rather ancient machinery is still operating to
this day. Make sure to visit this museum to learn more about the history
of the cable cars!
Dinner at Bar Agricole
There are so many options for dining in SF so it was hard to choose –
one night we decided to check out
Bar Agricole and I booked a table
online. When we came there the table was not ready and I think we had to
wait like 15 minutes and in the end we were placed on a table outside –
luckily they had heaters in the ceiling of the tent that was sort of
covering the area.
We decided to have flat bread with beetroot and pig’s
head and trotter fritters to start with. The flatbread was quite good
but we were not totally convinced about the fritters. Our main meal was
penne with lamb ragu and pork loin and sausage. Both dishes were decent
but we were not blown away by taste nor presentation. I think we were
more blown away by the conversation between two old friends next to us –
there seemed like there was quite a lot of drama and it was almost like
hearing the script for an old soapy. The best part of the meal was the
dessert – the rosemary pannacotta had a great taste of the rosemary and
I should definitely try to make that at home one time. The dinner was
100 USD excluding drinks – I think this was the only place where service
(or tipping) was included in the prices and clearly stated on the
In the footsteps of a movie star
We had stayed quite a few days in SF by this point so we had seen most
of the stuff that was on our priority list. But there is always
something to do in a city – so during breakfast we booked a movie tour!
You can read more about
Francisco movie tours here and it was 49 USD per person. We met up at 10 am at Fisherman’s
wharf and were soon picked up by a small bus. We like our movies and we
did know some movies that were filmed in SF. But we learned a lot during
Our guide Mary was excellent and talked passionately about the
movies and she was talking more or less constantly to the group of 14
that was on the small bus while a driver took care of the navigation
through the streets. A screen in the front allowed Mary to play scenes
movies as we were driving past the location and she could
what had changed or if there were any errors in the movies. We had stops
at various locations such as at Alamo Square to check out the painted
ladies, at City Hall, Inspiration point where you get a great view of
Presidio, Fort Point etc. We ended the tour at Fisherman’s wharf after
about 3 hours and we had seen clips from movies like Bullitt, Dirty
Harry, Vertigo, Mrs. Doubtfire, Full House, the Rock etc. We enjoyed
this tour so if you are into movies I think you will find this tour
Welcome to the Rock – Alcatraz visit
We could not visit San Francisco without visiting the iconic
Island. This small island is located just 2,5 km (1.5 miles) from SF and
has been used for various functions until it became a federal prison in
1933. It stayed a prison until 1963 and kept famous prisoners like Al
Capone, Machine Gun Kelly etc. We had booked tickets in advance for the
evening tour at 6.30 pm (tickets were 37 USD) and we had to show up a
advance for security check.
The boat to Alcatraz took about 15-20
minutes but on the way there was information about the island and the
history which was interesting. As we docked at Alcatraz one of the crew
on the boat got his kick out of doing his “Welcome to the Rock” routine but he
did admitted that he also had to work on his Scottish accent (referring
to Sean Connery in the movie The Rock). He also got his thrills out of
saying “see you later” in various languages – I didn’t want to interrupt
in his schedule to inform him that his Norwegian phrase was inaccurate.
|Note: book tickets in advance for Alcatraz. It is a popular attraction
We were first welcomed by a ranger and the large group was split into
smaller groups and we walked the short, uphill road to the actual
Alcatraz prison. On the way our ranger would stop and talk a bit about
the history of the prison and it was a good introduction to how it must
have been like to come here back in the day. We came into the prison in
the shower room
and we got audio guides in our preferred language –
needless to say they did not have an audio tour in Norwegian so we chose
the English version.
The audio guide was very good! There were both
inmates and guards that were talking about life in prison and a narrator
that guides us from section to section and pointed out the points of
interest. We got to see regular cells, hear about everyday life, see
photos along the route, see cells of infamous inmates, and hear about
escape attempts and so on. The route also took us outside to see the
great sunset behind Golden Gate bridge and see the city lights of San
Francisco get lit.
The audio guide lasted for about an hour and that
didn’t give us much time to also check out the @Large exhibition by Ai
Weiwei as we wanted to catch the ferry back to SF at 8.40 PM (the next
was at 9.25 PM). So plan your visit well before you go there.
I walked down to the ferry together but she got a bit
distracted. I went ahead and when I came to the boat people started
boarding. I was starting to think that we might have to catch the next
ferry after all. But Nikki did a final sprint and we were last ones
onboard and returned to SF. A visit to Alcatraz is highly recommended.
It was very interesting to see and hear stories about this “icon”. I
learned a lot and I only wished that we had more time to spare there.
Dinner at Cotogna
to return to San Francisco from Alcatraz a bit early as we had a dinner reservation at
Cotogna on Pacific Avenue. This is an Italian restaurant that was modern
rustic yet cosy if that is possible combination. There is a wood fired pizza oven in
the restaurant and candles on the table.
I had a great cheese soufflé
with parmesan cheese and porcini to start with that was excellent - I
don't think I have had Sformato before. My
main dish was quail that was also very tasty and the portion was just
right for me. And as I’m a sucker for cream based dessert I went for the
tiramisu and that was also a success. All in all we had an excellent
meal at Cotogna and I can recommend a meal here if you are into Italian
food. The final bill was about 120 USD excluding drinks,
taxes and tipping.
Time to wrap it up!
On Friday 10th of April it was time for us to wrap up our stay in San
Francisco and the area. We checked out of the hotel and had breakfast at
Starbucks across the road – they have pretty good oats. A homeless guy
was asking for money outside the coffee shop but he eventually came in
and walked from table to table. When he came over to us I told him that
I was out of change and he said that he would happily accept banknotes. Starbucks can be an alternative if you need access to wifi.
Nikki decided to spend her last day with some last minute shopping and a
trip to Japan town while I decided to walk around a bit again. My
initial plan was…well, vague at best. I ended up walking over to Lombard
street again to see the spectacular street landscape of SF again. In one
intersection I could hear some rumbling from a car but I could not see
it yet as it was still coming up a steep hill. All of a sudden a Ford
Mustang late 1960’s model appeared and it was just like seeing a scene
from Bullitt with Steve McQueen. I’m not sure the car I saw was a
fastback. After a lot of walking I was looking forward to taking the
cable car or tram back to the hotel area – only to find that I had lost
my MUNI pass! A bit of extra walking has not hurt anyone I guess.
At about 3 PM we took our suitcases and rolled them through the crowds
around Union square and we took the BART train to the airport from
Montgomery station (8.65 USD per person) and 30 minutes later we were at
the airport. Check in was fast and we also handled the not so friendly
security control and immigration. We had to wait a bit in the plane
before take off – it turns out that SF airport is quite busy after all
and with parallel runways it was fun to see planes coming in for
landing. I was seated on the “right” side of the plane once again and I
got a great view of Twin Peaks, the Sutro Tower, the downtown area with
the Bay Bridge/Yerba Buena Island and more or less the entire Golden
San Francisco treated us with great weather, spectacular views, good
food and a chance to see iconic landmarks. A highlight for me was biking
across the Golden Gate Bridge. Not only is it a beautiful bridge but it
is also an engineering achievement of the 20th century. It was also
great to see Alcatraz island as it is one of the names and places that
everyone associate with the city of San Francisco.
Last but not least if
was spectacular to see (and feel) the steep streets of the city and the
spectacular views that it can offer. We enjoyed having a rental car for
a few days as it was great to check out the wine districts of Napa
Valley and Sonoma – but I have to say that the
wine areas of Italy is
better. The drive along of some of highway 1 was also epic but I
guess we should have done it using a Mustang Convertible or a Harley. I
hope that this trip report can be of some help if you are planning a
visit to San Francisco and the area.
Get in touch if you have any
questions. If you want to see more photos from the trip check out the
San Francisco photo page. And
check out my San Francisco Google
map to see where the attractions and restaurants are located.