San Francisco - City by the Bay

If you were following along on Twitter, then you may already know that I was in San Francisco earlier this month. The official purpose of the trip was to see the new Western Digital My Net routers, but I also took the opportunity to do the tourist thing in the “City by the Bay.”

The last time that I was in Frisco was over 20 years ago, so I didn’t remember all that much. I do recognize that Vancouver’s Chinese history is very similar to that of San Francisco, but we didn’t have much of a chance to explore Chinatown on this regrettably short trip. That said, we were able to hit up some of the major tourist spots.

This San Francisco travel guide is admittedly limited, seeing how I was in the city for less than 48 hours, but it should give you an overview of some of the highlights.

San Francisco Cable Cars

San Francisco - World Famous Cable Car

No trip to San Francisco is complete without a ride on the cable cars. There are three routes in total and while the website says that a single ticket is $5, it has since gone up to $6. You can also purchase day passes and multi-day passports at a discounted rate. Realistically, though, this is far from the best form of transportation. Lineups can be very long and taking streetcars, buses and other public transportation is a lot cheaper at $2 a ride.

We rode the Powell-Mason line, which took us from near our hotel at Union Square to just a couple blocks away from Fisherman’s Wharf. Stops were frequent and the pace was slow.

Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39

San Francisco - Pier 39 Shopping

Even though Fisherman’s Wharf technically includes quite a bit of the waterfront at the north end of town, one of the main draws is Pier 39. This boardwalk pedestrian area is filled with shops and restaurants. It’s also home to the aquarium. In some ways, you could say that it is similar to Universal Citywalk in Los Angeles. While there, I recommend you get some clam chowder.

San Francisco - Segway City Tours

As you stroll along the Fisherman’s Wharf area, you’ll see several buskers and more shopping. Several tours also pass through here, including one where you can ride a Segway. I didn’t partake, given my reputation as the Segway Whisperer, but it does look like fun. Bicycle rentals are quite common too.

San Francisco Sea Lion at Pier 39

Located toward the back end of Pier 39 are a number of “resident” sea lions. They’re technically wild, but they have come to call the pier home. There’s even a live webcam if you want to visit them virtually over the web.

Alcatraz Island

San Francisco - Alcatraz Island

Easily one of the biggest highlights of the trip for me was our visit to Alcatraz Island. It hasn’t been used as a federal prison for decades, but there are so many stories to tell and so much to see there.

You’ll want to book your tour ahead of time through the official website. Regular adult fare is $28 each for the day tour with departures from Pier 33 about every half hour. You will still need to line up to get on the ferry, so do arrive well in advance of your scheduled departure time.

San Francisco - Prison Block at Alcatraz

Once you arrive on the island, there is a brief orientation and then you walk up the hill toward the main prison building. There, you pick up the audio tour (included in the price). The audio tour is utterly fantastic, narrated by former inmates, prison guards, and even family members of staff who once lived on the island.

Yes, much of the tour is staged in that certain cells are laid out a certain way and include certain features, but you are walking through the same halls as Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly. The narration is utterly fantastic. I was surprised by how small the prison really is–they housed about 200-300 prisoners at full capacity–but there really is a lot to see. You should factor in almost three hours for your Alcatraz experience, more if you want to linger. I’ve heard the night tour is even better, but it’s only offered on certain days.

Click on the the thumbnails below to see higher-res versions of the photos.

San Francisco - Alcatraz Jail Cell San Francisco - Dining at Alcatraz San Francisco - Alcatraz Yard San Francisco - Alcatraz Escape San Francisco - Alcatraz Prison Landing with Tower

Full House Street and Alamo Square Park

San Francisco - Full House Street

“Whatever happened to predictability?
The milkman, the paper boy, evening TV?”

Anyone who grew up in the late 80s and early 90s likely watched more than a few episodes of Full House on TV. As cheesy as it may have been, it really helped to shape a generation, so it goes without saying that seeing the so-called “Full House” street was quite the San Francisco treat for me!

These famous houses are called the Painted Ladies and they’re located on Steiner Street between Grove and Hayes, across from Alamo Square Park. It’s the street shown toward the end of the Full House intro, but the house used as the Tanner residence is actually located somewhere else (1709 Broderick Street). As an aside, all interior shots were actually filmed on a sound stage.

San Francisco - Everywhere You Look

The park itself is quite nice too with a couple of off-leash areas for the dogs. You should be warned though that, like most of San Francisco, the park is very hilly. If you walk across to the other side and stroll down Divisadero Street, you’ll find some unique eateries to enjoy too.

What About San Francisco Restaurants?

I’ll be following up with another post on some of the places where I ate while in San Francisco, so stay tuned!

“Everywhere you look….”