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Trip Report Tony Bennett Was Right: A Monterey and San Francisco Trip Report

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Hey everyone – I finally finished the trip report for my trip to San Francisco last October. Enjoy! Photos from the trip are here:
http://sunny16.zenfolio.com/p249448256

My husband and I went to the Bay Area for our sixth wedding anniversary. We usually go to Europe for our anniversary, but last fall, the dollar was pretty weak against other currencies and we figured we'd better stay home. We'd been meaning to go to San Francisco for ages. I'm afraid to admit I'm a bit of a travel snob; I kind of felt like we were “settling” by not going abroad. But our trip out West surpassed my expectations, and I am now completely in love with San Francisco. Coincidentally, I live in Astoria, Queens, the neighborhood where Tony Bennett grew up, so it seems appropriate that I also left my heart in San Francisco. :)

We spent the first weekend in Monterey, and then headed up to San Francisco for five nights. DH and I are avid hobbyist photographers from NYC in our late 30's, and we love to hike and explore on foot. Some people on this board thought I was nuts for saying that our San Francisco trip was going to be a walking trip, but I think we have proven that it can be done. :)

We arrived in San Francisco on a Friday afternoon and drove straight to Monterey. Big mistake – we got stuck in rush hour traffic all the way to Gilroy. However, we were fine once we passed that point. We stayed in the Gosby House Inn B&B in Pacific Grove. I had had a terrible time finding a room in Monterey. It seemed that $200/night could only get us a room at the Super 8. We ended up with a pretty cramped room at Gosby House for $160/night. We were on the first floor, right behind the front desk.

The outside of the building and the common areas inside are beautiful and well-kept, but overall, I'd say that Gosby House was just adequate. However, there were two great things about it. The first was the afternoon hors d'oevres, which were very welcome when we arrived after a day of flying with no food on the flight. The second is the fact that because the Gosby House is part of the Four Sisters chain of B&Bs, it is run like a business rather than a mom & pop operation, and as a result, there is always someone at the front desk from something like 7am to 10pm, which was convenient.

Pacific Grove was a nice area, with some cute restaurants in the immediate vicinity of the B&B. On our first night, we went to this laid-back restaurant called International Cuisine across the street from the B&B that seemed to have a little of everything. It has gotten really bad reviews on Tripadvisor, but we liked it. The food was surprisingly good and hit the spot.

DH and I both suffered from jet lag, and our first morning there, we started waking up at 5am. At 6am, we gave up trying to sleep and took a walk down Lighthouse Avenue to the lighthouse a mile away. This section of Pacific Grove was beautiful and tranquil, and we enjoyed seeing the architecture of the cottages. After looking at the back of the lighthouse through the fence, we took a right and shot some pictures by the ocean.

For our first day in Monterey, we met my cousin and her DH for a yummy organic lunch at The Wild Plum Cafe & Bakery, off the tourist path. Afterwards, we drove about 10 minutes north to the Elkhorn Slough (slew), a protected wildlife area where we had booked a kayak tour.

Our kayak outfitter, Monterey Bay Kayaks, is a very professionally-run outfit and provides clients with any kind of clothing they'd need. They prefer to put most people in two-person kayaks, but they let me and DH each have our own boat since we'd been taking lessons at home.

We had a wonderful time paddling the slough. We saw sea lions, sea otters, pelicans and other birds. Our tour lasted two or three hours and included a lot of education about the ecology of the slough. There was a third couple who had never kayaked before. About an hour into our paddle, the woman in that couple complained of seasickness. Our guide radioed for someone to come get the couple, and we left them in a safe place in the slough to be picked up. I couldn't figure out how anyone could get seasick when her head was no more than three feet from the surface of the water, but she looked pretty green and I felt bad for her. It was kind of nice just paddling with my family members after that and having sort of a private tour of the slough.

After we got back to the room and showered, we ate at Favaloro's Big Night Bistro, which was an Italian bistro with very nice ambience. Most of the patrons were a bit older than us, so the place wasn't exactly lively, but the food and wine were delicious.

We woke up early again the next morning. On our walk to the gas station to buy maps, we stopped to chat with a woman who had three dogs, and we ended up talking to her husband for about twenty minutes about politics and other things. He was an interesting guy. I love it when I end up chatting with people because I pet their dogs; it's a great icebreaker, especially when traveling. :)

We decided to grab the car and drive south on Route 1, stopping frequently to enjoy the scenery. I was fascinated by all the bikers we saw. We spent the whole day driving, and we made it down to the Ragged Point Inn before we turned around. We wanted to check out the Salmon Creek waterfall and completely missed the little sign as we were heading south, but we spotted it on the way back. It was a very short hike, maybe ¼ mile, but the last little bit was more of a rock scramble. If you wanted to visit this beautiful spot, I'd recommend bringing good hiking shoes and a bathing suit so you could fully enjoy it.

We also stopped at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and looked at the waterfall that empties onto a beach, which was very pretty We then stopped at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and hiked to the top of one of the trails. We saw some of the damage from a recent forest fire; some parts of the trails weren’t open yet.

The next morning, we hit the road early. On the way up, we stopped at Año Nuevo State Park. We hiked for a couple of miles over some dunes to lookout points where we could see seals. Seeing the seals was actually kind of anticlimactic after the long hike in, but it was still a nice area, and we had a nice chat with one of the docents.

Finally, we got to San Francisco! We drove to our hotel first to drop off our luggage, then DH dropped off the car a couple of blocks away. It was pretty crazy driving up Nob Hill our very first day there! We got a great little apartment in the Grosvenor Suites in Nob Hill. After our tiny B&B room, it was great to have a big, airy apartment. The furniture and curtains and such were a little shabby, but it didn’t matter. The suite must have been about 600 square feet, with a small kitchenette, dining table, and living room in an open area with floor to ceiling windows facing south and east, so that we overlooked the Financial District. It was really an incredible view. The bedroom was small with a king-sized bed.

I never did quite get over my jet lag, so every morning I would wake up in time to see the sun rising over the city, and I’d grab my camera and take pictures from the balcony. At night, we’d turn off the lights and open all the curtains to enjoy being in the middle of the nighttime skyline. The place was well worth it at $165/night, and I’d stay there again in a heartbeat. The Grosvenor Suites offers a small Continental breakfast, which we only did once, and laundry facilities in the basement, which came in handy.

The day we arrived was our anniversary, so we got changed and went out looking for someplace appropriate. Thanks for all the great suggestions, folks! We were tired after a day of driving and hiking, so we didn’t go very far. We ended up at a sort of touristy pan-Asian place nearby, but the food was fine.

The next day, I couldn't wait to get out and explore the city! We bought our seven-day Muni passes so that we’d be able to get around. Our first ride was on one of the historic streetcars down to the Castro, where we stopped for coffee and hot chocolate at this great little café on Castro Street. I wish I’d been in the Castro at a time when there were more people out so I could get a better feel for the place, but we still enjoyed wandering around there. The Castro was where I saw my first San Francisco mural, which seemed appropriately offbeat. :) I have a picture of it here:
http://sunny16.zenfolio.com/p249448256/h255f0e0e#h2a028153

After that, wandered over to the Haight, where we had bland food at a colorful Mexican restaurant. The walk to the Haight was strenuous, but we got our first glimpse of the Golden Gate from one of the hills, and we saw some beautiful homes. I was trying to get a feel for what it was like there during the 60’s, but I didn’t have a guidebook to tell me where all the famous rockers had lived. I did know about 2400 Fulton Street, where Jefferson Airplane once lived, but I didn’t know the history of the mansion, so when we got there, we thought we had the wrong house. :)

Anyway, we cut through a corner of Golden Gate Park to get to Fulton Street, and headed back east on Fulton, where we grabbed a bus to SoMa. We were meeting a college friend of mine later on. We now had a couple of hours to kill, and we didn’t know where to go. I looked in my Time Out San Francsico book, which told of the Third Street Bridge, supposedly the last remaining drawbridge in San Francisco, so we started walking that way. We didn’t realize how far we would end up walking. We found the Fourth Street bridge first (which apparently is also a working drawbridge) and ended up taking pictures by China Basin for a few minutes. It was really nice down there and I was glad we found it, even if it was a bit of a hike. We walked past AT&T Park and headed back to the center of SoMa.

We still had some time to kill, so we hung out in Yerba Buena Gardens for a bit, which was beautiful and relaxing. Finally, it was time to meet my friend at Temple Bar on Howard Street. They were showing the second presidential debates on big screen TVs in there. My friend got us a great table on a little raised area from which we could see all the tvs. We were able to order tapas-style appetizers from the connected restaurant, Prana. We ordered a bunch of plates and they were all delicious. Watching the debate in a public space like that made us feel less like tourists, and was one of the highlights of our trip – there was a wonderful energy in the room that night.

The next day was another big walking day for us. I had most of the day planned out. We were out the door by 8am. My two biggest priorities that morning were the Belgian waffle guy and the Wave Organ. First, we walked a mile to the Civic Center farmer’s market to find the Belgian waffle truck guy. I had read about him on Yelp!; he supposedly had the most amazing Belgian waffles. We found him easily on Market Street. I told him we’d gotten up early just to go to his truck, and he apologized to my husband. :) Charming guy, awesome waffles. We sat on a curb by some stairs while we ate and people-watched. Then we strolled through the market and sat under the statue of Simon Bolivar so DH could drink some coffee while I took pictures. It was a great way to start the morning.

We then took two buses to the Wave Organ. We got there in time for high tide, which was good because I’d heard that that was the best time to go. The Wave Organ was a bit of a disappointment; it sounded rather like a toilet gurgling. But I was still happy to go someplace that tourists rarely visit, and that was relatively quiet and peaceful.

After that, because I am a big Star Wars fan, we went looking for the statue of Yoda at Lucasfilm’s Letterman Center for the Digital Arts in the Presidio. The Letterman Center looked like a college campus, and had pretty grounds with water features and a Starbucks. My guidebook said that Yoda was by the entrance to building B. It didn’t say which entrance. We had to walk all the way around to the entrance facing the outside of the complex, but we found it, and I had DH take my picture in front of it.  I had heard that there was movie memorabilia inside, but I wasn’t in the mood to try to sweet-talk the security guards, so we took a breather in the Starbucks in building C and went on our way.

Our next stop was Nick’s Crispy Tacos in Russian Hill. This was another Yelp! find. Nick’s Crispy Tacos was everything I’d ever dreamed of and more. They are known for their fish tacos, and you’re supposed to get them “Nick’s style.” I’d never had a decent fish taco, and this thing was amazing! I only ordered two, but I ended up wishing I’d ordered three. However, our order took about ten minutes to arrive, so I decided to skip it. Nick’s didn’t look like an ordinary taqueria. The walls were painted red, and there were crystal chandeliers. The bar half of the space was closed off for the day. We sat on a red velvet sofa. It was a lot of fun, and full of locals who were probably wondering how the tourists had found their place. :) It was one of the more unique places we ate at, and I really want to go back someday.

After Nick’s, we walked up Russian Hill to Ina Coolbrith park, which I’d heard had awesome views from the top. First, we walked down to Lombard Street, which was touristy but fun. Then we headed back up the hill to Ina Coolbrith, which gave us the chance to see some fun nooks and crannies of the city. The park itself was tiny, but the views were great and we had a stunning view of Coit Tower.

We walked down the hill from the park and found ourselves in North Beach. We stopped at this little café for an ice cream, and we sat and people-watched outside the restaurant. After we'd recharged, we took the bus up Telegraph Hill and went to the top of Coit Tower. The tower was cool, but the part I was really looking forward to was walking down the hill and looking for parrots. I’d seen the movie The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, and the neighborhood was one of the things that meant “San Francisco” to me. The neighborhood itself was beautiful, and we did indeed see parrots. I’m really glad we got to go, but I would like to go back sometime when the flowers are in bloom.

By now we were really tired. We wandered down the Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf. We couldn’t figure out where to eat, and ended up taking a cab back to North Beach, because a couple of restaurants there sounded good. It turned out that both the places we had in mind were closed, so we wandered through the neighborhood, unable to agree on where to eat. We finally found ourselves at the Stinking Rose. Yes, it was a tourist chain, but we were pooped and we could agree on it. Dinner there was ok; I don’t even remember what I had. I think we took a cable car home from there.

I promised DH we wouldn’t have to walk around much the next day. In the morning, we took one of those boat tours out to just beyond the Golden Gate and around Alcatraz. It was fun riding in the bow with the wind in my hair and the city going past. The boat was full of mostly foreign tourists, which I thought was interesting: are Americans not traveling as much these days?

We had lunch at the Blue Mermaid, which was very nice. We ate in the courtyard outside. The Blue Angels were practicing that day for their Friday performance at the opening of Fleet Week, and they were practicing that day. We quickly finished eating and went down to the beach to watch the show.

We then headed to the Financial Center to meet my college friend again. He was taking us on a tour of the murals in the Mission. First, we stopped for a margarita at Eddie Rickenbacker's in SoMa. I barely drank my drink because I was too busy petting Mr. Higgins, the friendly, giant orange cat, who followed me to the bathroom when I went there. Turns out he loves hanging out in there, and he will rip the vent cover off the bathroom door to get in there. He parked himself by the toilet and started purring and asking me to pet him some more. I finally got rid of him so I could do my business. The bar itself was cool, and I recommend stopping there the next time you’re in SoMa even if you don’t like cats. 

We shot a couple of murals and the art installation Defenestration before taking the bus into the Mission. We had a great time looking at the murals in a couple of the famous alleyways there, and in other random places. It was also fun walking around an area that didn’t feel quite as polished as the rest of the city. It felt like walking around certain parts of Queens, which is where I’m from, so I felt pretty comfortable.

We ended the day with a cheap dinner at a so-so taqueria and headed home.

Friday
We decided to take it really easy on our last day in town. We were staying just a couple of blocks away from Grace Cathedral. I was interested in Grace Cathedral because I’d read head pastor Dr. Lauren Artress’ book about labyrinths, “Walking a Sacred Path,” and I knew she’d had labyrinths installed in the cathedral, one inside and one outside. Walking a labyrinth is a form of walking meditation. I knew I’d be too keyed up to calm down and meditate, but I tried to anyway when we got there. The cathedral itself was beautiful, and I was really glad we went. The highlight of the visit was watching and listening to the organist practice. It was intense. DH and I both have musical backgrounds, and we both came out of there saying we wanted to start playing the pipe organ. :)

Our next stop was the Cable Car Museum. That was pretty cool. We then took a cable car to Embarcadero and had a delicious lunch at Butterfly, a pan-Asian place. Then we headed west to try to position ourselves well for the Blue Angels show. We thought we’d go back to the beach by Ghirardelli Square, but instead we followed the crowd around the top of Fort Mason park and we just kept going. We ended up next to the for-pay grandstands by the Marina. DH kept going a little further, but I stayed put. The show was a lot of fun, and as I’d thought, the Golden Gate and surroundings provided a great backdrop. It was my first air show, and I’d definitely go to another.

We walked through Fort Mason park to get back near Fisherman’s Wharf. The weather was glorious, and I kept looking back at the view of the bridge and people enjoying themselves in the park. We went to Ghirardelli Square to get some gifts for the people back home. We took a cable car back to the hotel and just rested up in the hotel room for a bit before dinner. We had dinner at Salt House in SoMa with DH’s friend from high school. Salt House was a trendy place with fabulous food, and we had a wonderful time. Everything was amazing, from the salad to the dessert. Actually, that was one thing I noticed about the Bay Area – every salad I had was really yummy, made with crisp, fresh produce and imaginative dressings.

So that was the trip. The next day we took a cab to the airport. I think the hotel ran its own service, because our driver was a guy I had seen at the front desk.

In San Francisco, I found the only other American city besides NY I could see myself living in. I loved how, just about everywhere we went, the buildings were beautiful and well-cared-for, at least on the outside. The city had great public transportation and was very walkable. It was pretty easy to find whatever we wanted whenever we wanted it, which reminded me a lot of home, and because of that, I kept expecting people to have a New York attitude, but they just didn't – the vibe was all California sunshine. :) I would kill to have the ability to go for a daily jog in the Presidio, have coffee in the Castro, and watch the sun set from the top of one of those hills. Every neighborhood we visited had its own charm, and I can't wait to go back and explore more of it.

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