Traveler: Mike Ramsden
When: September 2014
Overall Experience: San Francisco truly lives up to its reputation as being one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I loved it so much, immediately upon making my return to DC I started to look for jobs so I could move to the city! Unfortunately, I was blinded by its beauty & forgot how expensive it is. Nonetheless it is one of my favorite destinations that I have visited to this point. Considering it’s within an hour’s drive from the coast, San Jose, Sonoma, Napa & Oakland it’s no wonder the city by the Bay is such a hot spot. We packed a lot in a long weekend trip, the highlights included; a tour through Sonoma for wine tasting, visiting Muir Woods National Monument to see the Redwoods and attending an Oakland A’s vs. Philadelphia Phillies baseball game at the Oakland Coliseum. Some of the other attractions we visited throughout the city were the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, Fisherman’s Wharf, Lombard St., Cable Car ride & the Haight Ashbury District.
Logistics: We took a direct flight from DCA Reagan National Airport to San Francisco International Airport. The flight time was about 6 hours to make the cross country trek. Upon arrival we took an Uber to our hotel in the Chinatown/Financial District. We stayed at the Hilton San Francisco Financial District on Kearny St. A night at the Hilton is roughly $315/night, which we supplemented with Hilton Honors points. It was in a convenient spot as the Montgomery St. BART stop just a couple blocks away.
Muir Woods National Monument: This is a MUST if you’re in the Bay Area. Just a 40 min ride from the city it makes for a great activity especially if you have kids. The drive is beautiful as you cross over the famed Golden Gate Bridge and pass through the shoreline town of Sausalito. Muir Woods is home to the great Redwoods of Northern California. Roughly 5% of the population remains of nature’s tallest trees. The sight of the Redwoods was nothing short of impressive. These trees are MASSIVE. I was shocked really at how big they were in person. The largest tree in the Muir wood forest is a coastal redwood at 258 feet tall!! These trees average 600-800 years old with the oldest tree being over 1200 years old. There are paved paths through the forest making it accessible to everyone. If you’re hungry there is a small gift shop/café that serves treats & sandwiches. Muir Woods is open 365 days a year. The visitors center closes 30 minutes before the park does. The gift shop and café close an hour before. Unless you’re on a tour that includes the fee the cost is just $10 per adult over the age of 15. Anyone that is 15 or younger gets in for free. We spent time here as the first stop of an all day tour that would later take us to Sonoma for some wineries & lunch in town. Our final stop on the tour would be at the Golden Gate Bridge for picture opportunities of the iconic bridge before we made it back to the city.
Oakland Coliseum: I know what you’re thinking, you went to the Coliseum over AT&T Park? For those that are unaware AT&T, home of the Giants, is widely considered a top 3 ballpark in all of baseball. But the main reason we took the trip in the first place was to see a friend pitch for the A’s against the Philadelphia Phillies. From downtown we got to the game via the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART). You can take the blue or green lines to get to Oakland. We boarded at the Montgomery St. stop leaving the Coliseum just 5 stops away. The coliseum was certainly an interesting sports venue. For starters around a portion of the entrance are large fences with barbwire on top, yes barbwire. Once you make your way in, you soon realize that it’s a pretty old facility (circa 1965). The hallways are very narrow with vendors raised and on an incline upward from the ground level. This gives it a carnival like atmosphere that made the experience quite unique compared to what I’ve grown accustom to on the east coast. A majority of the upper deck is tarped over leaving just the first two decks open to fans for viewing which doesn’t leave for much of an atmosphere when half the stadium is empty. That being said we had a great time as they still serve food & booze, had the opportunity to cheer on a friend, and hang out with the incredibly hospitable A’s fans! Since the A’s have struggled the past few years, if you’re looking for a reasonably priced activity in the Bay Area hop on the BART and check out the Coliseum.
Sonoma Wine Country: A major draw to San Francisco is its close proximity to the Napa & Sonoma counties for their world renowned wines. We were told that a nice and safe way to see wine country was by one of the many available tour options. So we took a full day tour through Viator that included three wineries, the Golden Gate Bridge & Muir Wood National Monument. This was exactly what we were looking for and I strongly suggest anyone that only has one day to do a similar tour. For the wine portion of the trip we got the opportunity to visit a few wineries including my favorites the Jacuzzi Family Vineyards and Cline Cellars:
- Jacuzzi Family Vineyards– Their story is an interesting one that dates all the way back to 1907 when their family first made the trek to America. By 1936 during the great Depression Valeriano Jacuzzi purchased a plot of land (161 acres) and used a portion of it to plant grapes. He would soon apply for a license to make wine. A few years later he would return to his brothers manufacturing company that built water well pumps. The same company that would later make the bath and spa that bears their name. Their vineyard is absolutely gorgeous, the centerpiece being a huge stone building that includes a taste room, wine cellar, gift shop & restaurant. The landscape around the building includes fantastic flowers, outdoor patio seating & a sculpted water fountain. Currently there are 23 wines on sale in their shop to choose from. For groups of less than six people tasting is complimentary. For tours over 5 people tasting starts at $15/person.
- Cline Cellars – Cline was the final Vineyard we went to on our Sonoma tour. It is actually located right across the street from Jacuzzi. So regardless if you book through a tour or not you can visit both wineries in one trip. Cline Cellars is a huge plot of land (over 350 acres). Like Jacuzzi it too is a family owned business. However, it hasn’t been around nearly as long as it opened in 1982. They’re best known for their Zinfandel’s with 9 in total to choose from. In all they have over 30 wines in their shop for purchase. From a wine tasting standpoint this was my favorite stop. The gentlemen that did the wine tasting were very engaging & fun to hang out with. It was setup in a tent out back on the beautiful grounds of the vineyard. There are over 500 rose bushes with five ponds surrounding the property. They have picnic & tasting options for all group sizes. Taste options start at just $10/person. I highly recommend a visit if you’re ever in the area.
Lombard Street: This is a quick check on the to do list when visiting San Francisco. It is located in the Russian Hill neighborhood on the north part of town. It is a very popular tourist spot so be prepared for crowds of people snapping pictures. Lombard is famous for the steep one block section that includes 8 hairpin turns surrounded by a beautiful landscape of flowers. It is known as the most crooked street in the world.
Cable Car Ride: Once I took a ride on the cable car that is when I truly began to understand how beautiful the scenery is in San Francisco. With the steep hilly streets and an old rickety car, it felt like I was on an old wooden coaster. You get some of your best views of the bay & bridge while weaving through the skyscrapers on the cable car. There are three different lines that you can ride; the California Street, Powell-Hyde & Powell- Mason. The PH & PM both start at Market street & stop at Union Square. The PH line ends near Ghiradelli Sq. close to the chocolate factory. The PM line ends on Bay Street near Fisherman’s Wharf. The California Street line runs East to West starting at Van Ness Avenue while stopping at the Financial District. You can either purchase tickets online or pay with cash when boarding. A single fare card is $7 or you can purchase daily passes; 1 day for $21, 3 day for $32 & a 7 day for $42.
Six Painted Ladies: The Painted Ladies also known as “Postcard Row” are a famous row of Victorian & Edwardian houses located on 710-720 Steiner Street near Alamo Park. When standing in Alamo Park you get an incredible view of the houses with the San Francisco Skyline in the background. These houses were constructed way back in 1892-1896, so they survived the 1906 earthquake. This is also the site famously seen in the beginning credits of the 90’s sitcom, Full House where the Tanners are enjoying a picnic. So don’t forget to take a picture rolling around in the grass in front of the houses. Fun fact; there is only one living person who has actually been in all six houses and she;s the real estate agent.
Haight-Ashbury: Or Hashbury, is a district in San Francisco that became famous for being the origin of hippie counterculture. It is located just east of the Golden Gate Park. If you make your way over to Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park you’ll notice drum circles & weed brownies are just as common as pigeons are in most parks. Along Haight street there are a handful of fun bars and restaurants. Be sure to check out Alembic if you get a chance. They make fantastic cocktails with a really cool ambience.
Golden Gate Bridge- It goes without saying that when in San Francisco one of the major sites to see is the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge was constructed back in 1933 and is 746’ tall. It crosses over the Golden Gate Strait. We were able to get great pictures from Crissy field which is at the foot of the bridge offering views from athletic fields and a beach. Crissy field leads you right into the Presido. Which is a large former army post turned National Park back in 1995. There are over 10 walking trails and multiple overlooks allowing you to take in various viewpoints of the bridge. Another great spot to get unbelievable pictures of both the bridge & city skyline is on the other end of the bridge at the Vista Point pull off. You can’t miss it as it’s the first pull off after crossing the bridge.
Fisherman’s Wharf: The wharf encompasses the northern waterfront of San Francisco. You will find Ghiradelli Square here along with tons of shops, restaurants, & bars. It’s a great spot to grab food with plenty of attractions in a close proximity. You can also pick up 2 of the 3 cable car lines from Fisherman’s wharf. This is a popular location to start tours including bay cruises, sight-seeing tours or fishing trips.