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annetti Apr 30th, 2010 06:52 PM

Home Exchange -- San Francisco
This was our 16th exchange, our first in the United States. We have exchanged in Europe, Australia, and recently in Canada. When I reported on my Vancouver and Victoria exchanges, I wrote daily updates. This time, I am relying on memory. Those exchanges were much longer, averaging 5 weeks, whereas this exchange lasted two weeks. Particularly nice about this exchange was its relative closeness. We live in Southern California, so it is a day’s drive away if you want to push it, or 4 hours each day with an overnight midway as we preferred to do it. It’s hard to believe how seldom we visit SF, this world class city, but typically we neglect what is in our own backyard, so to speak.

We arranged to meet our home exchangers in Paso Robles for dinner, exchange keys, and discuss our respective homes’ quirks and appliances. Thanks to our GPS, we arrived mid afternoon in SF without any difficulty. Amazingly for California , we had no traffic bottlenecks coming or going. Our home exchangers live in an attractive townhouse in Twin Peaks which proved to be very convenient for seeing the tourist sights around town. After unloading our suitcases, taking a quick look at the premises, we made our way to the local Safeway. We only used our car for food shopping, otherwise we relied on public transit. We bought a monthly pass, even though we would only use it for two weeks, it easily paid for itself in convenience and frequent rides around town.

Our home exchangers’ neighbor showed us the local bus stop and on recommendation from b and c we had our first meal at Chow’s. (It’s listed as one 100 best restaurants in the SF Chronicle.) It’s very moderately priced and since it was so close for us, we ate there frequently. All the food served is organic.

more to come. . .

annetti Apr 30th, 2010 07:10 PM

Because, we have visited SF before, though not very recently, we did not include some of the first time, must- see sights in our itinerary. We have been to Alcatraz, Muir Woods, and Sausalito, to name a few.

Fodor’s ( I believe it was Fodor’s!) recommends the San Francisco Library Walking Tours. Just Google it. We took two of the tours. They last about 1 ½ - 2 hours, are free and absolutely wonderful. There must be at least 40 or 50 from which to choose. Each guide writes his or her own tour, so no two tours even of the same area will be identical. The 1st tour we took was of the Castro, making sense since we were about a fifteen minute walk away. There were 10-12 people in the group, mostly locals. One man I spoke to had done 17 tours; he lives outside the city and comes in monthly to do a tour. We met in the Harvey Milk Plaza; the tour guide discussed briefly what the Castro was like 100 years ago, filled us on local history, and pointed out some very interesting Victorian buildings. A $5 donation is recommended.

Afterwards, we had a late lunch on someone’s recommendation at The Catch, a local restaurant in the Castro. I cannot second the recommendation. The food was served tepid and not very good.

DebitNM Apr 30th, 2010 07:19 PM

Love SF and love City Guides walking tour. We have done lots of them, in fact our last trip was specifically set up to do as many as we could fit in! City Hall tour is very good too, we used their docent as a guide and we were the only ones on the tour.

annetti Apr 30th, 2010 07:26 PM

Although, we have been to Coit Tower many years ago, I wanted to visit again since there had been a recent article about the murals that had piqued my interest. We bussed, metroed and then bussed again to get there. The view was wonderful; we had beautiful weather and we could see huge distances. The murals are free, however the elevator ride is a couple of dollars or so. Interesting, how political the murals are, even controversial now for many, I imagine. There were several female artists represented, too.

We walked back through North Beach and then through Chinatown. We remembered reading about a Chinese vegetarian restaurant, so we stopped in a local bank and someone who knew it directed us to it. It was interesting, but not memorable, so it’s just as well, I can’t remember the name!

Another day, we went to Fisherman’s Wharf. I know, I know, a very touristy thing to do. It is every bit as hokey as I remembered it, but crowded with people, probably no self respecting local goes near it. Ghirardelli Square looked very forlorn; a lot of empty shops.

annetti Apr 30th, 2010 07:32 PM

Hi DebitNM: We took the City Hall tour, too. There were only 4 of us last Monday at 2:00Pm. I agree it was great. It's a beautiful building. As you probably remember from the tour, several movies have been shot there and it is a popular venue for weddings. In fact, there was a wedding couple taking photos the afternoon we were there. The City Hall tour was a last minute thing for us, since we were slow that day and we had missed the Chinatown tour which started an hour earlier.

annetti Apr 30th, 2010 07:59 PM

A bit of nostalgia for me, an ex-Philadelphian, were the old trolley cars in the Castro. I couldn’t believe it when I saw an old green and beige SEPTA trolley rolling in. I remarked to N and whoever was standing nearby, that it looked like the trolley I had taken to high school as a kid. The kind lady next to me said how happy she was that I was going to be able to board it. A sign inside confirmed, it was indeed a Philly trolley, much cleaner than I remember it being in the 60s, with the same dark green vinyl seats. This particular one had been built in 1947. I Googled its history later and found out that Willie Brown, former SF Mayor had bought up a lot of old trolleys from other cities as well. A lot more vision than Philadelphia has. I understand that Philly’s trolleys were to be replaced with high speed buses which never happened, and that the trolleys are gone.

We visited the beautiful Asia Museum one day, definitely a high mark as far as museums go. The museum is housed in the formed San Francisco Main Library which was renovated by the same architect who helped design the D’Orsay in Paris. The SFPL was built in 1917, I believe, and very reminiscent of Philadelphia’s Main Branch. We took a docent tour of the Shanghai exhibit and another docent tour of the Japanese Collection. These docent tours are fantastic. San Francisco has so many people that just love their city and want to share it. We intended to return another day, but it did not happen. Next trip.

Another day, we went to Greens Restaurant (also, listed on San Francisco Chronicle’s 100 best list) for lunch. It is a vegetarian restaurant, but definitely not a health food restaurant! The food was good, very rich, and the view of the Golden Gate Bridge was wonderful. Not that pricey for lunch. Neither of us had anything very exotic – I had an asparagus feta pizza and N had a portabella sandwich, but both very good.

5alive Apr 30th, 2010 08:01 PM

Hi, annetti,

I remember your Vancouver trip report, it was great!
We did one of the same walking tours to the Coit. I also found about them on Fodor's, from one of Stu Dudley's posts. As to the Coit, there are actually murals going up the staircase that were very interesting.

DebitNM Apr 30th, 2010 08:03 PM

You must have missed the Trolley Museum at the very beginning of market, near the Ferry Building:

Take a gander at some of the really unusal cars!

annetti Apr 30th, 2010 08:20 PM

The DeYoung Museum was high on my list. We had not been there since the new building went up. Unknowingly, we picked a very popular day. The museum was packed, but having waited until almost the end of our two weeks and more importantly having taken two buses to get there, we were not about to return another day. The musuem’s outrageous crowding was due to the Bouquet Exhibits. Various locals design floral arrangements that interpret paintings around the museum. This is an annual event and has been going on for over 20 years at least. There was no avoiding the crowds since the floral arrangements were throughout the museum. At first, I admit, I wasn’t very interested, but as we progressed through the museum, we definitely got into it and enjoyed it – even my husband who normally has no interest in this kind of thing. It really was special.

I wanted to visit the Japanese Tea Garden that day, but we were tired, so we returned on a Sunday. (Sunday, as it turns out is a paid admission day. I think there are three days where admission is free). It was a lovely, warm Sunday, a coatless day and the azaleas were bright and colorful. Even lots of purple irises to be seen. My favorite part are the beautiful red Japanese Maple trees. It’s very pretty and a nice adjunct to the Deyoung. We had tea in the Pavilion. We had not been there in twenty odd years, but it felt the same. Even the little cookies tasted the way I remembered.

annetti Apr 30th, 2010 08:26 PM

Hi 5alive. Thank you. I don't remember the murals going up the steps at the Coit Tower; we must have missed them. You have helped someone else out. Debit: Darn, we missed the Trolley Museum, too. I found the Phila trolley on the website you posted. Thanks, I am going to print that out for a friend. So many things to see. . . SF is a wonderful city!!

DebitNM Apr 30th, 2010 08:38 PM

I am interested in the house exchange part of this - how did you do it?

I love reading SF trip reports, lets me relive our trips, seeing SF through the eyes of others. If you are interested, here is my latest TR:

annetti Apr 30th, 2010 08:45 PM

One afternoon without much success, we tried to take our own version of a walking tour of the Financial District. The problem for us, not for most people surely, is that the Library walking tours often began at 11:00 and by our standards that was early and often we were too late. Believe it or not, we even missed tours that began at 1:00pm. We did however see the room at the Palace Hotel that is a stand in for a NY restaurant in Mad Men. That was fun, since I love that show. BTW, for those interested, there’s a library walking tour of the Palace Hotel. We did get to see a lot of beautiful buildings and every time, we got off-track, there was always someone to help us. There is a Library walking tour of the Financial district, too.

We spent an afternoon in Haight Ashbury, too. Maybe, I’m too old, but we were the oldest people there, everyone appeared to be about 16. Well, maybe I exaggerate, they were 20! The shops felt out of date, relics of the 60s and 70s and not very interesting to this tourist. We had intended to eat there, but it felt grungy to me, so we hunted around for a bus to take us back to the Castro. There are a tremendous number of street people and a sense of a drug scene. On the plus side, I understand that HA has the most intact Queen Anne Victorian architecture in the city and indeed the side streets are very picturesque.While we tried to find our bearings, we asked people for directions, and this happened several times, people would pull out their cells, and call transit and tell us what bus we needed to take. We returned to Chow’s where my husband broke down and had a real hamburger. He debated it for a while, since he has not had any red meat since we were in Argentina 3 years ago. However, I am happy to report for him, that he absolutely loved it and he was only sorry that he had waited towards the end of our trip to try one.

annetti Apr 30th, 2010 08:58 PM

Hi Debit again. Thank you. I have read your report a while back and enjoyed it very much.

There are several websites where you can explore home exchange. You can visit them without charge, but of course you will not be able to see the actual addresses and e-mails, but it will give you a sense of what kinds of homes are available, since 99% of people who do exchanges post photos on their listing. Some popular websites are; and I can't remember the exact prices, but they average under $100 to enroll. It takes a bit of work to set up an exchange. You have to be willing to write e-mails to inquire if someone is interested in visiting your part of the world, unless you live in a very popular spot like SF, NY or Paris . Our SF home exchangers told us they are constantly getting offers for exchanges for Paris. I should be so lucky! People exchange small one bedroom apartments to large mansions. People exchange pet care, plant care, etc. There are singles, couples, and families exchanging. It has been wonderful for us. We have traded in places that we never thought we would get to visit. Someone a while back expressed it well, when she said that by doing home exchange, she has managed to take a trip of a lifetime many times over. I concur.

annetti Apr 30th, 2010 09:17 PM

Another day, we took the BART to Berkley. We wanted to see or at least I did, the changes around the UC campus. My husband was afraid it would be all corporate now and all the independents would be gone. Cody, the famous left wing bookstore was closed, but the sign was still on the door. Other than Top Dog and Blondie’s, we did not remember a single storefront. However, Telegraph looked the same and unlike Westwood Village near UCLA is still filled with lots of independents. Everyone looked very young; and the street seemed to be dominated by students. Again, hardly anyone over 30 seemed to be represented.

Almost forgot the Ferry Building, we took a Library Tour of it as well. Later, we had a very nice meal at a Japanese restaurant there. I can’t remember the name, but I am sure, someone can supply it.

We did a lot of walking in those two weeks.There is always something new to be seen. The architecture and the paint jobs never bore and keep you entertained. It is a beautiful city. Totally impressed with how friendly San Franciscans are. Never a rude or unfriendly face. San Franciscans definitely could win an award for the friendliest city and the politest. This was an exchange that had been arranged for over a year; it had been postponed twice due to work commitments on both sides, and too quickly over. We loved it. As always, when we do a home exchange, we consider ourselves lucky to spend a concentrated period of time in a wonderful place at a fraction of the cost. Already looking forward to the next exchange. BTW, our home was clean and tidy when we returned with a couple bottles of wine on our dining room table as a thank you.

annetti May 1st, 2010 10:28 AM

BTW, I want to give credit where credit is due, we picked up a lot of information from Stu Dudley's excellent thread, other Fodorites, our Fodor's guide and the Michelin Green Guide. All the information was excellent. Had we moved a bit faster, we probably could have packed a bit more into our two weeks. Alas, we are very slow travelers, but we hope we used our time wisely. Nonetheless, we had a wonderful time and enjoyed the city. My husband, a native Southern California, has the usual rivalry between North and South and was a bit apprehensive and should I say defensive, when we first arrived, when I raved about what a wonderful experience, it would be, but after two weeks, he came over to my side, and agreed that SF is a wonderful place and enjoyed himself very much. I wonder if our SF exchangers would want to do it again. Sadly, they appear to be a couple always seeking new experiences and want something new each time.

tchoiniere May 1st, 2010 01:23 PM

Sounds like a great trip. Glad you enjoyed it. SF is such a great city and I need to get back out there.

annetti May 1st, 2010 01:39 PM

Thank you, tchoiniere. I'm glad we sought out a home exchange there. You are sure to enjoy yourself. And another plus - no jet lag, that is, if you're coming from So Cal!

mztery May 1st, 2010 04:28 PM

I don't know hwo recommended Catch...sorry oyu wasted your time and $$ there....

StuDudley May 1st, 2010 05:34 PM

>>I want to give credit where credit is due, we picked up a lot of information from Stu Dudley's excellent thread,<<

Thanks. We were on a tour of the Old Mint at Mission & 5th when you posted the above.

Stu Dudley

annetti May 3rd, 2010 05:47 PM

mztery: someone well-meaning person on our Castro tour recommended Catch. N said, "Did you tell the Fodor people they served me the wrong meal, too?" However, in their defense they did not charge us for it. I agree, it is exceedingly mediocre.

Correction: I spent some more time on the trolley website that DebitNM posted above, and this time, I noticed that all Phila trolleys are not gone, that because of protest/interest some were brought back. Glad to read it.

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