Biking the Bay in San Francisco

 

     by Ian McGregor – Guest Bloger: Cela’s Trek

     updated 11:10 PST, Wed September 24, 2014

 

 

When you know autumn is coming and you’ve been stuck inside working for a few hours, it’s really difficult to not  want to get out and explore. Today the city was calling, and after doing some quick research, I set off on my adventure  to San Francisco.

Generally when you hear about San Francisco, you have people telling you all about Fisherman’s Wharf, the cable cars, Lombard Street, all the hills, and of course, the Golden Gate. They are all as much an essence of the city as the people who live and work there, but that’s not the whole story. To really get to know a city, you have to embrace it in all its triumphs and shortcomings, be willing to get lost, and basically just be open to different experiences. Sure as a visitor you can hit all the “tourist” spots and get all those pictures that have been taken millions if not billions of times before you, but is that really the point? What is it are you going to remember more: you getting the pictures, or the experiences and memories you build with the people around you while exploring a foreign city? Science suggests the opposite, and though pictures are sometimes amazing and necessary, I urge you to forego trying to get every single thing on camera and just letting yourself immerse in the culture you’ve stepped into.

But I digress. Since San Francisco (or SF or “the city”, as it’s known in the Bay Area) is so hilly and this was my first time bringing my bike along, I decided to keep it simple and ride along the wharf over to the bridge; I wanted to go to Golden Gate National Recreation Area and actually see the bridge for myself from its western side instead of just a straight eastern view from Berkeley. Online the distance looked to be only a few miles at best one way, so with a snack, some water, and homework (no I didn’t really do any of that…) I headed off to the city.

Getting off at Embarcadero Station and emerging from the underground is like stepping into a teleporter and suddenly ending up in New York (when you’re not gasping for breath – the BART really needs to put bike ramps on the staircases like they have in Copenhagen). The buildings rise up seemingly out of nowhere and engulf you…coming from cities with the tallest buildings measuring only a few stories, it’s not difficult to understand why some people can feel claustrophobic. Putting that aside, though, what SF has in its heart is a vibrant hum of energy. When you step out of the underground and on to the street, you instinctively know important things are happening all around you, and in a city with so much history both for the region and for the country, the confluence of past and present is inherently alive wherever you go. Though this wasn’t my first time in the city, I once again embraced its vibrancy and excitedly headed east toward the piers to begin my journey.

One of the first piers after coming from Embarcadero Station

View of the bay looking north, Mt. Tam is middle left shrouded in clouds

View of the bay looking north, Mt. Tam is middle left shrouded in clouds

After biking a little along the waterfront and weaving in and out of traffic, I decided to pause and walk as a tourist along the boardwalk of Pier 39, arguably SF’s most prominent waterfront area next to Fisherman’s Wharf. I’ve been to the pier before; last year I performed there as part of a rally. But being there as a tourist is different. This time I paid attention to the throngs of people walking the shoreline (even now, in late September!) as one of them and not an outsider, and I was surprised by the amount of diversity I saw. I paused in front of the pier to write this in my book: “It’s easy to understand why people call the place a cultural melting pot. Just a short walk from Pier 27 to Fisherman’s Wharf allowed me to meet at least 20 different languages and people from all around the world.” All around me I saw scenes that could have been from anywhere in in coastal tourist America: tourists with cameras, couples kissing in front of the pier signs, sounds of gulls, people calling for taxis, etc. What’s interesting about this is that in being such a melting pot, the area could be as much a dock in New York as it could be SF itself. It’s representative and characteristic of both itself and elsewhere, and I think that’s what makes the city such a unique place.

Yet being the cultural melting pot of America can get to be a little crowded, so I ditched the end of Embarcadero Street for an uphill ride courtesy of my turning on to North Point St from Powell, which turned out to be totally worth it when I ran into Ghiradelli Square. Granted, I had been planning to go eventually to check it off my bucket list, but it was so spontaneous how I ended up at the right street corner that I just had to check it out. For some background, Ghiradelli Square is the collection of red-brick buildings that used to house the Ghiradelli chocolate factory. Now half shopping mall, half historical landmark, the square has plaques situated to give visitors a glimpse into the life of Ghiradelli himself.  It turns out that before the chocolatier came to set up shop in San Francisco (among other adventures), he was apprenticed to a confectioner in Genoa, Italy, where he learned how to make desserts of all kinds. The Ghiradelli factory was established in 1852, and the original building used for selling the finished chocolate products is still in business adjacent to a sweets restaurant, which even today had long lines. Walking inside, I loved how I felt I was experiencing my own bit of history with the old “Mustard Building 1899” and “Cocoa Building” signs above my head. I am definitely coming back to that chocolate shop. After all, how many times can you say you’ve bought a chocolate from the place where it was historically made?

I had asked a local how best to get to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, but I had already forgotten which way he said after getting on North Point. That was fine, though, because I figured I would just follow the water around until I reached the bridge. I thus proceeded to go downhill to the SF Maritime National Historic Park. Just kidding! It dead-ended and I was forced to bike back up the hill on Van Ness. Live and learn! Anyways. I hooked a right on Bay and was excited to see I had made it to Fort Mason. The fort used to be an American Army base used, among other ways, as an outpost for watching over the passage between SF and Alcatraz. Now, though, it’s part of the National Recreation Area  with historical buildings (and apparently a hostel!), and everyone is welcome to come in and wander around. I had come here a year and a half ago to perform for a wedding, and with the views of the bridge in the background, I knew I wanted to come explore the area in further detail later. Today I got my chance, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a grass park behind the buildings with walking/bike trails that allowed me to avoid the normal street. The trail then turned into the Golden Gate Promenade, which is a pathway that starts from Fort Mason and goes all the way until Fort Point, underneath the Golden Gate. Even though there were clouds, there were still many people enjoying the shoreline, and with the contrasting views of the bridge with a shrouded Mt. Tam, Tiburon, Angel Island, Alcatraz, and the East Bay it was no wonder locals and tourists alike were out and about. The promenade is mainly sandy gravel, and its wide avenue is perfect for strolling. Along the way you can see dune restoration in progress with small lakes and many California native plants, including the Monterrey Cypress. Somewhere along the way, the promenade turned into the SF Bay Trail, and I eventually found myself at Fort Point, which I quickly realized was another dead-end I had managed to find.

All views from the Golden Gate Promenade/SF Bay Trail

All views from the Golden Gate Promenade/SF Bay Trail

After watching some surfers (yes, surfers, even this cold water) catching some larger sets, I turned around and went up Long Ave before turning on the Battery East Trail. Because I was on a bike I had to stick to the roads, but there are hiking-only trails that take you to the old armament stations around the bridge, hence the name “Battery East Trail.” I quickly stumbled upon the overlook that’s provided a backdrop for millions of people around the world, so I added myself to the count. I decided to head up to the bridge before going to Baker Beach, but upon arriving and finding out I still had over a mile left to go, I figured to just go on the bridge for a little. Wait. Scratch that – in order to get on the bridge, I had to go under it, so I guess you could say I reached my goal of going to the western side of the Bridge! I speedily went up on the bridge so I could get some pictures before starting the long ride back; man was it windy up there! Such a big temperature difference from being inside the city. The way back was uneventful, unless you count me getting lost. I had seen the streets of Telegraph Hill in the distance while biking up to Fort Mason, and I thought I could scale them going back to the train station. So, I turned onto Hyde Street from Bay St….and stopped. Think of a giant wall where in 100 m of street you climb something like 15 m. There was absolutely no way I was going to climb that on my bike. Thus, I turned around and proceeded to get lost going through the heart of the city, but I wasn’t complaining. Needless to say, I found my way again and even got to see an art show in a mid-city park!

The Golden Gate bridge from its eastern side overlooking Fort Point (the white water there is where the surfers were). In the distance is Marin County.

The Golden Gate bridge from its eastern side overlooking Fort Point (the white water there is where the surfers were). In the distance is Marin County.

I made it to the other side! ...sort of. This view is from the western side of the bridge looking south. I love how this view in a way sums up the city: machinery meets nature meets city.

I made it to the other side! …sort of. This view is from the western side of the bridge looking south.
I love how this view in a way sums up the city: machinery meets nature meets city.

San Francisco is a great place to explore and discover, and with so much history and culture all around you, it’s so easy to find your own little slice of it to take home with you. This journey I did today (which in reality was only about 10 miles both ways [16 km]) was just but one small part of this vibrant city, and I hope I’ve inspired you to take a trip there in the near future. I know I and my housemates will be making a visit there soon to see Tiburon, Angel Island, and Alcatraz, and be assured I’ll review all those places as well. But note! If you’re biking: San Francisco is NOT the place you want to discover your brakes don’t work. Thankfully mine were fine, but I can only imagine what it would be like otherwise…

And on that happy note! In other news from what I’ve discussed previously, Scotland is still a part of the UK, for which the vote itself was monumental and I’m still not quite sure we appreciate how important that was. This has set the stage for a shake-up of UK devolution of powers and for whether Catalonia will still hold its own referendum in November. Things to stay tuned to…

And with that, I’m off and back to my homework. If you want to keep in touch with me outside of the blog, you can follow me on FacebookTwitter, and email. Plus! I recently found this photo website Snapwire courtesy of Suitable Travel Today where I can post my pictures from my trips in an easy format. Check them out if you want!

Enjoy your first days of autumn, and until next time, vi ses!

Ian McGregor is a guest blogger from Cela’s Trek where he is the Owner and Creator. Visit his blog here!

Creating a Basic Itinerary

Itinerary According to Bing Dictionary an itinerary is a:

  1.  list of places to be visited: a plan for a journey listing different places in the order in which they  are to be visited
  2.  record of journey: a written record of a journey to visit different places
  3.  guidebook: a guidebook for travelers

An itinerary is a great way to not only outline where you’re planning to go each day but it will    force you to look at maps of where you’re staying and will familiarize you with the area and the  prices for each attraction. It also helps me to budget my money so I know about how much I’ll  be spending which is a plus for a college student.

Creating an itinerary may seem daunting which is why most people have no idea how to create one. I wanted to share the outline of my itinerary that I created for my upcoming trip to San Francisco. Of course, all activities listed are tentative because of time judgement–it may take longer at one attraction than at another. You can of course use a different template through Word or create one in any outline that is easiest for you. From experience I can say an itinerary is much easier than handwritten notes and loose papers/brochures.

Throughout the itinerary are some notes and suggestions that I have made.

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter/Instagram @SuitableTravel or like my Facebook page to get more tips along the way!

Happy Travels!

 

San Francisco Itinerary (TENTATIVE)

      Things to prepare before trip:

  • Purchase Alcatraz tickets (tickets sell out weeks in advance!) www.alcatrazcruises.com *This is the only boat company that books tours to Alcatraz and is the cheapeast way to purchase tickets as other 3rd party company will charge delivery and service fees.*
  • Purchase 72 Hour Hop on Hop off tickets for online deal (http://www.city-sightseeing.us/index.html)

Day 1 – List flight information here…

–  Planned transportation method to property

  • Hotel Address
  • Hotel Phone #
  • Hotel Confirmation #
  • Pre-check in and store luggage with bellman if room is not ready
  • Talk to Concierge
    • Do you sell: Hop on Hop off Bus Tix? Cable Car Passes (do they start the day of purchase or when cashed in)?
    • Can you make reservations: for Mama’s? Tea Ceremony?
    • WHERE San Francisco Magazine
    • Cable Car Route Map?
    • Is Hayes Street worth the stop?

–  Breakfast at Sears Fine Food Restaurant

–  Go to Walgreens and buy Cable Car pass (3 Day-$23…use when necessary) and any souvenirs *Tip: souvenirs are much cheaper at a local convenience store such as Walgreens or CVS.*

–  Walk and shop in Chinatown + Fortune Cookie Factory

–  Shopping in Union Square!

–  Lunch: Hunan Homes Restaurant (Chinatown)

–  Dinner: Cheesecake Factory – view overlooks the city (Union Square)

–  Go back to hotel, unpack and get ready for the next day

Day 2 –

–  Good Morning Sunshine! 7AM wake up call, 7:30AM follow up

–  Start walking outside at 8:30AM

–  Breakfast/Coffee Shop

–  C-Golden Gate Park Tour Loop (departs @ 10a, 12p, 2p, 4p)

  • Hayes Street (Is it worth it to visit?)
  • Golden Gate Park (Japanese Tea Garden – $7/person entry, $25/tea ceremony)
  • Haight District
  • Near Alamo Street (Painted Ladies) [do not get off – take photos]
  • Japantown

–  Lunch: (tentative – based on location)

–  Dinner: (tentative – based on location)

  Day 3 –

–  Wake up it’s a Saturday…Morning! 7AM wake up call, 7:30AM follow up

–  Start walking outside at 8:30AM

–  Breakfast/Coffee Shop

–  Take cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf

–  B-Golden Gate + Sausalito + Muir Woods Tour Loop (departs every 30-60 minutes, 10a-5p)

  • Fisherman’s Wharf
  • Lombard Street
  • Palace of Fine Arts (Presidio, Marina, Shopping)
  • Golden Gate Bridge (Hop on Hop off to walk on/across Bridge, Fort Point)
  • Golden Gate Bridge (Incredible view of San Francisco/Bridges)
  • Sausalito (Art Galleries, Views, Restaurants, Shopping, Connect to Muir Woods Tour) [Muir Woods – $7/person]
  • Presidio – Central (Walt Disney Museum)
  • Presidio – East (Opposite Lucas Art Studios)
  • Lombard Street (corner of Fillmore St.)
  • Ghirardelli Square [Sundae!] + The Cannery, Boudin Factory, Pier 39

–  Lunch: (tentative – based on location)

–  Dinner: (tentative – based on location)

    Day 4 –

–  Wake up Wake up Wake up its Day 4!! 5:30AM wake up call, 6AM follow up

–  Start walking outside at 7AM

–  Breakfast @ Mama’s

–  Take Taxi to Ferry Building

–  A-Downtown Tour Loop (departs every 15-30 minutes, 9a-5p)

  • Ferry Building (Farmers Market & Shopping)
  • North Beach (Italian District Restaurants, Coit Tower, Washington Square)
  • Lombard Street (Crookedest Street, Russian Hill, Hyde Street Cable Car)
  • Pier 39 (Alcatraz Tour – $30-$37; Aquarium of the Bay – $19.95 online price)

–  Night Tour Loop – Take from Fisherman’s Wharf (departs at 6pm and 7pm)

  • North Beach
  • Chinatown
  • Union Square
  • Alamo Square
  • Civic Center
  • Nob Hill
  • California St
  • Embarcadero

–  Lunch: (tentative – based on location)

–  Dinner: (tentative – based on location)

–  DON’T FORGET TO CHECK-IN FOR FLIGHTS! 24 hours prior to flight

Day 5 –

–  Good morning! Buenas Dias! Muchas frias! 6AM wake up call, 6:30AM follow up

–  Start walking outside at 7:30AM

–  Breakfast/Coffee Shop

–  Walk around Union Square or somewhere nearby until checkout or store luggage with guest services

–  Board flights!

–  Home Sweet Home!

san-francisco