Trip to San Francisco and Napa Valley - March 2015
The travel blog from a visit to San Francisco, Napa Valley and the Bay area

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Golden 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

Short summary
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 information:

Please 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 Lumpix.

Over the years we have been fortunate to visit some of the great cities of Europe: Berlin, Paris, London, Rome, Florence 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 booked Wine 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.


Map of California

Map of California. Map provided by

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 from 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!

Note: remember ESTA before you start your trip to the USA!

Hello San Francisco
View to Golden Gate Bridge before landingWe 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.

After 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: Palace 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 hotel review here.

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 Citymapper. 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 excellent! Uber 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.

Coit Tower
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 Golden Gate 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. The 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 crostini. 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 San Francisco Google map.

Blazing saddles – time to see San Francisco from a bike!
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 company Blazing 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. We got 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 Spinnaker for 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 bike.

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. We came 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 observation floor.

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 spicy!

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 hill ;-)

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 muffins I guess and one of the places that is known for this is Mr. Holmes 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 car. 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 1313 Main – 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 the 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. The tour 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 Castello di 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 Beringer Vineyards 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 Main instead.

Note: at some of the vineyards you have to call in advance to organize a tour!

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 closed. 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 my 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 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. There are 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 – that is 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 (as usual). We drove north along the coast to Santa Cruz and had a stop there to look at the Santa Cruz 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, you 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 view.

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 Marriott by 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 it.

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 places.

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 trucks.

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 an attraction 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 7 USD!

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 cable car 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 receipt.

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 San 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 the tour. 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 from movies as we were driving past the location and she could point out 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 enjoyable.

Welcome to the Rock – Alcatraz visit
We could not visit San Francisco without visiting the iconic Alcatraz 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 bit in 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 in SF!

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. Nikki and 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
We had 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.

View of downtown San Francisco before landing at SFOAt 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 Gate Park.

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.



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