21 April 2013

San Francisco

Pretty houses on a slope, a beautiful orange bridge and a climate which seems incompatible with California, San Francisco is a unique city. And while it may sound cliched, it's true nonetheless.

San Francisco is famous for several things: be it the famous ex-prison Alcatraz, the Victoria-style houses (Victorians), its steep slopes, and several more. Whatever your main highlight, you'll leave satisfied.

San Francisco's centre is pretty compact. The centre is surrounded by the bay on the north and east. Much of the northern part of the centre consists of upscale residential districts- such as the Marina, Nob Hill and Cow Hollow. Slightly south is North Beach as well as the true downtown with the famous Union Sq, and around are Chinatown, the Financial District and the Western Addition. Slightly west is the Golden Gate Park. South of Downtown is the SoMa (South of Market St) and South Beach.

San Francisco's airport (SFO) lies around 14 miles to the south of the centre.

UNION SQ and around
Union Sq, bordered by Powell St (west), Geary St (south), Stockton St (east) and Post St (north), is a popular public place in this part of town. It is frequented by office folk during lunch time, as well as shoppers taking a break and tourists. Indeed, this area is now a popular shopping area, with department stores right next door. Saks Fifth Avenue is on the northern side, Macy's is on the southern, Neiman Marcus is closeby, and only slightly away are many individual stores and other shopping centres.

Union Sq

To view a history of the square, check out the granite on the south-western side.

There are often exhibitions in the square. There are 2 cafes, and some good seating. Sit and watch the world go by!
Union Sq at night

Powell St is one road where the famous cable cars drive by. Sitting on the square, watching the cable cars go by, while listening to the cables running steadily below, is a typical San Francisco experience. The cable car is generally very crowded when going north- as it gets full from its southerly end at Powell and Market, so waiting at the cable car stop opposite Union Sq is probably going to be fruitless in the mornings and evenings- better to line up and wait at Powell and Market.

Cable car on Powell St
Powell St, well till its southern end at Market St, remains an important shopping street, with plenty of stores.

The junction of Powell St with Market St is perpetually busy, as here the iconic turning around of the cable car for the return journey takes place.

(However the same process takes place at the other ends, for example at Taylor and Bay streets, the other end of the Powell-Mason line, where crowds are much lower.)

Market Street is one long road, and a major thoroughfare, which runs from the southern part of the city all the way to the Ferry Building on the seaside (the seaside road from Fisherman's Wharf in the north to South Beach is called the Embarcadero; the Ferry Building is roughly somewhere in between). This section will concentrate on the stretch of Market Street mainly in the Downtown district. Along the road run the vintage streetcars (line F) and buses. There are also stations for the streetcars from underground for lines J, K, L, M, N and T.

The Ferry Building is a landmark, from where some ferries depart (for example, to the town of Sausalito). It also is home to several restaurants. From this area, you can enjoy a nice view of the Bay Bridge and nearby skyscrapers.

Ferry Building with its clock tower,
note the streetcar  along the
Bay Bridge

Going south-west on Market St, you will enter the Financial District with its myriad skyscrapers. Some nice buildings here include the Hobart Building (582 Market St). On the junction of Market, Geary and Kearney is the Lotta's Fountain. Nearby is the Phelan Building, the largest flat-iron structure in the city.

Phelan Building

Continuing south-west, the road becomes increasingly lined with shops- fashion as well as stores such as CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens, which are convenient for supermarket supplies. The road, however, becomes less interesting, as you enter the Tenderloin area.

If you like modern architecture and skyscrapers, you'll enjoy walking through this area. One of San Francisco's landmarks, the Transamerica Pyramid is located here. To see it closely, get to it at the southern end of Columbus Avenue. However, as this post continues on, you'll see various places from where you can get good views of it from afar.

Transamerica Pyramid
Other interesting buildings include the Pacific Coast Stock Exchange.

On Sundays, however, the area is pretty quiet and even the restaurants are closed (except for, say, Subway). It is recommended to visit it on a weekday afternoon. Then, it could be nice to just see the bustling activity and the traffic flowing past, especially while sitting somewhere in the Financial District on Market Street.

Immediately west of the Financial District is Chinatown. Come here, say, after 10-11 am when the area really starts to become bustling. Just start walking and checking out the various merchandise in the shops- it is an interesting area.

The Chinatown gate is located at the junction of Grant and Bush. 

Chinatown Gate

At the edge of Chinatown, bounded by California, Grant and Pine is the Old St Mary's Cathedral.

Old St Mary's Cathedral

West of Chinatown, Nob Hill is a peaceful, posh residential district. With a greater than fair share of San Francisco's steep slopes (duh, where did the word "hill" come from?), walking will be slow, but the cable car (the Powell-Hyde line) runs through the district. 

Residences of Nob Hill

On California St, is the Grace Cathedral. The California cable car line runs right past it.

Walk north 5 blocks on Taylor St, till you reach Broadway. On Broadway, between Taylor and Jones, there is a perch from which you can enjoy amazing views of the area. Beware of the slope (there are steps on the last stretch if you have difficulty on the slope). A small cartoon celebrates your arrival to the perch.

Do not forget the views!

North of Nob Hill is another residential area called Russian Hill. These areas share similar attributes; vantage points and slopes. The Powell-Hyde cable car line runs through the area.

This area is famous for its crooked section of Lombard Street, and that area also offers good views.

NORTH BEACH and around
North Beach is San Francisco's very own Little Italy. Filled with Italian restaurants with outdoor seating, this area is also home to Washington Square. It is located east of Russian Hill.

Washington Sq has a nice park and a church. 

Washington Sq with the Peter and Paul Parish church
Another of San Francisco's landmarks is the Coit Tower, on top of Telegraph Hill. Bus 39 passes by Washington Sq and will drop you right at the top of the hill, at the base of Coit Tower. You can also walk up Telegraph Hill, a walk which is supposedly very steep. The entry fees to the tower is $7 per adult and the observation deck affords 360 degree views of the city.

Coit Tower

As said, the views are legendary.

View of the Financial District from Coit
Tower. The Transamerica Pyramid
looms large.
And for great views of the bay from up there...

Per the above picture, Alcatraz is at the left. Boats are moored at around Fisherman's Wharf, in the foreground.

Fisherman's Wharf is located north of Russian Hill. To get here, take the Powell-Hyde cable car which will end at Beach and Hyde. Alternatively, streetcar F from Market will end around, at the Embarcadero. 

It is home to Ghiradelli Square- where you can savour its famous ice-creams and take back home a multitude of chocolates. 

Around the cable car stop at Beach St, there is a very good viewpoint with the Golden Gate bridge in the distance.

The Embarcadero is the seaside road which links Fisherman's Wharf with South Beach. It is used to access the many piers along the way from which ferries to various destinations are taken. 

The F streetcar passes along the road from Market St to Fisherman's Wharf.

A theme-park like atmosphere surrounds Pier 39 with its surfeit of shops and restaurants. If you're in the area and don't know where to eat, have a look here.

When a tourist thinks of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge is probably among what comes to mind first. This magnificent bridge links the city to Marin County and is about 2 miles in length. Pedestrians are allowed to walk across on the East side.

And on the bridge...

The views are stunning too (unfortunately I don't have a good photo).

Nearby, the district of Marina is another posh residential area. It is home to the Palace of Fine Arts.

Palace of Fine Arts

This area is south of Pacific Heights (which is south of Marina).

San Francisco is home to many Victorians, but many tourists prefer to see the Painted Ladies here, east of the viewpoint of Alamo Square.

Alamo Square itself is a nice garden, offering good views not only of these 'Painted Ladies' but also of other parts of the city. To get here from around Union Sq, take Bus 5 from the junction of Market and Powell. Get down at McAllister and Pierce and walk one block south.

The Victorians with the Financial District

Painted Ladies

CITY HALL and around
Very close to Union Sq, just west of the Tenderloin, lies the impressive structure of the City Hall.

City Hall

Also around are the Symphony Hall and the Opera House.

While it is close to Union Sq, if you're starting from there, you may not like to walk here as you will have to cross the Tenderloin- so take the streetcar J, K, L, M, N or T to Civic Center and walk 2 blocks on Grove St/McAllister St (till you reach Van Ness Av) to reach City Hall.

Walk only 1 or 2 blocks from Market St into, say, Golden Gate Av or Turk St, and the atmosphere changes completely. You are now in the Tenderloin. This area is an unfortunate part of town, blocks away from the wealthy areas, where streets are full of the homeless and the mentally ill. While it isn't very unsafe during daytime, it is not a nice area to walk through and you should exercise caution. But don't worry- displaying a camera and similar really isn't a problem.

Located on Golden Gate Av, 2 blocks from Market St, is the St Boniface Catholic Church

As the name says, this is the area south of Market St, until South Beach. If you like seeing fast flowing traffic, come here for its broad roads.

Located on 3rd street is the famous SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art). Very close by, accessible from both 3rd St and Howard St is the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Its garden has a beautiful setting, with a church right in front, with a good view of the surrounding skyscrapers.

This famous ex-prison can only be visited on a tour, that too, only by one company. Look here for details. 
The tour is very good, and the audio-guide has interviews with actual prisoners and officers. Cost is $30 for an adult and remember to book around a week in advance- although you can book even sooner.

The ferry is also excellent and offers great views. The ride will last about 20 min one way. 

Perfect views from the ferry
Built as a military facility, it was turned into a high-security prison in 1930s (known as "The Rock" by inmates). It was then closed in the 60s and now is a tourist attraction. On a visit, you will discover the cellhouse, the administration quarters and viewpoints from the island.

Picture Gallery of Alcatraz

Before entering the main cellhouse, you'll come across a small building with old photos of Alcatraz when it was a prison.

Photo of prisoners at work

We stayed at the Westin St Francis bang opposite Union Sq. It has maintained some historic charm and rooms are very spacious, considering its city location.

Rooms: 8/10 Very spacious given the downtown location and they come with the usual amenities.
Staff: 8/10 Most of the staff are pretty helpful and friendly.
Location: 10/10 Bang opposite Union Sq and close to many restaurants and transportation, you really can't ask for more.
Breakfast: 8/10 It is pricey and the spread is rather limited but quality is excellent.
Total: 34/40 Recommended.                      

San Francisco is famous for its dining scene- you have loads of choices.

Being a prime tourist area, there are infinite possibilities here.
- The basement food court in the Westfield Shopping Centre has many choices. It is located on Market St, right opposite the junction with Powell St. There are also other restaurants located on the upper stories of the mall. The food court gets crowded on weekday afternoons due to the office crowd. 
- Cafe Bellini on Powell St (between Geary and O'Farell) is a nice restaurant, and also has breakfast options. Open from 7am. Great macaroons, too.
- Little Delhi serves Indian food on Eddy St (between Mason and Cyril Magnin).
Besides, this area has the usual chains- such as Chipotle (amazing Mexcian food; we went to the outlet on O'Farell St, between Cyril Magnin and Powell), Starbucks, Subway etc.
- Peets Coffee has several branches on Market St. Good for a drink and watching the world go by.

This area also offers good eating possibilities.
- Check out the cafes on Mint Plaza, off Jessie St. 
- Sunrise Deli, located on 2nd St between Stevenson and Jessie, also has other branches across town. Serves good Lebanese cuisine.

- Mangoes serves very good Mexican food. Sit out, if the weather permits. Views are good.

San Francisco is served by San Francisco International Airport, lying around 14 miles south of the centre. A taxi will cost around $40 + tip to around Union Sq. 

The city's main transport network is run by MUNI, which runs buses, streetcars and the cable cars. If you're staying for more than 4-5 days, get a MUNI 7-day passport ($28) which can be used on any MUNI transport without any extra surcharge. MUNI also issues 1-day and 3-day Passports.
An individual cable car ride is $6.
Taxi flagfall is $3.10.

BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) connects San Francisco with the airport, East Bay, Daly City and Colma. MUNI passes aren't valid on BART, even for inter-city rides.

Another commuter train, called CalTrain, connects San Francisco with Gilroy, stopping at places such as Palo Alto.

Cable Car
MUNI runs three cable car lines. One runs on California St, from Van Ness to Market. Then there are two lines, with one end at the Powell-Market junction. The Powell-Mason line ends at Bay and Taylor, while the Powell-Hyde line ends at Beach and Hyde. The latter is better to appreciate the city's steep inclines but both are good experiences.

San Francisco is by large a safe city, but be careful of pickpockets in crowded public transport. The city has a large number of homeless people but they are unlikely to create much hassle, as long as you leave them alone. But you should be careful in the Tenderloin area. Well further south, around Bayview/Hunter's Point, you must exercise caution but as a tourist, you are very unlikely to end up there. Take advice from your accommodation.

One day
Walk down Market St all the way to the Ferry Building. From there take the streetcar to the Embarcadero and take in the views of the Golden Gate bridge at Beach St, at the end of the Powell-Hyde cable car. Then take the cable car till Union Sq, appreciating San Francisco's steep inclines and end at Union Sq, and sit and relax, and watch the world (and the cable cars) go by. In the evening, go to the Golden Gate bridge.

Two Days
Do Day 1 as above, getting a brief overview of the city. On the second day, visit Chinatown in the morning, followed by Washington Sq and roam around North Beach. Visit the Coit Tower and then in the afternoon, get to the Financial District- check out the Transamerica Pyramid from close. In the evening, take a stroll through Nob Hill and visit Grace Cathedral.

Three Days
Do the Day 2 Itinerary as above. On the third day, visit Alcatraz (book in advance!). Depending on the time of the tour, adjust in a stroll through Fisherman's Wharf and Ghiradelli Sq.

For more about the city, check out this report (also by me).
Last visit- Apr 2013
No of visits- 1


Gladys Christabel said...

Really you post your blog in different manner.Like you have explained each and every places with pictures and description about that.Very easy to understand your content and also its tempting to read more.

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Daisy said...

I enjoyed this entry! I live in San Francisco, it's fun to read about my city from a different perspective. Thanks for sharing!

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