California Part 6: San Francisco! Cable Cars, Alcatraz & Biking the Golden Gate Bridge

Our next day in San Francisco began with a brief walk to the cable car turnaround. We had tried to ride a cable car the morning before but the line gets long fast if you don’t arrive as soon as the cars begin running.

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We arrived early and waited 10 or 15 minutes before jumping on a car. It’s worth hopping on at one of the turnarounds as you can see the attendants manually turn the cars around using a revolving platform and a big stick. I assume this is the original “technology” from the Cable Cars earliest days.

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We rode the cable car to the end of the line, back to Fisherman’s Wharf and decided to grab some clam chowder for an early lunch before our tour of Alcatraz.

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I had read good reviews about the Boudin Bakery and their fresh sourdough bread bowls. Besides clam chowder, they serve a variety of sandwiches and baked goods, including bread baked into a variety of adorable animals.

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After lunch we walked down to the dock and caught the ferry to Alcatraz. The tours are popular and sell out quickly so if you want to go, make sure you book in advance! Robert was most looking forward to this part of our trip and his excitement was palpable as we approached the island.

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As we disembarked, a tour guide greeted the new arrivals and explained how they operated. Once you arrive on Alcatraz, tours are self guided and you could see as much or as little as you liked, staying as long as you wanted as long as you caught the final ferry home.

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California Part 5–San Francisco! China Town, Coit Tower and Grace Cathedral

TGIF! Between new recipes and my trip to Charleston it’s been a while since my last California recap. In case you need a refresher, check out the first leg of San Francisco HERE.

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I last left you at Fisherman’s Wharf on our way to China Town for lunch. I couldn’t wait to check it out and see how similar it was to actually being in China after my trip there a few years back. Dear Robert didn’t quite know what to expect but was open to some new dining experiences. Have I mentioned he scores quite low on the adventurous eating scale? Burgers and fries every day if he had his way.

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As we entered China Town I immediately felt like I was back in Shanghai! Almost everyone was speaking mandarin and the open air shops were haphazardly, jam packed with traditional foods and goods, just like I remembered.

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Also worth noting, check out the laundry hanging out to dry. I remember from my trip to China that the people there did not like to use clothes dryers as they believe they are bad for your health…looks like this tradition has carried over here as well!

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We enjoyed browsing as we walked the busy streets in search of the Great Eastern Restaurant. I had read several reviews about how great their dim sum was and thought it sounded like the perfect lunch spot. We were seated rather quickly despite the fact that they were busy, and I was happy to see the menu came with pictures. The restaurant looked a little dated but the servers in their cute green jackets were prompt, if not the most helpful. Dim Sum is small plates that are either ordered from a menu or chosen from a rolling cart pushed around the restaurant. I choose a variety of dishes that I thought Robert would enjoy and the food came out fast! We had stuffed mushrooms, steamed dumplings and fried crab balls with the claw still sticking out.

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We also ordered some soft shrimp dumplings that had a unique (re totally weird) presentation. They came out in a big pile on the plate and our waitress proceeded to cut them up with a pair of kitchen shears before she handed them over. Robert and I both shot each other the “Let’s hope those are clean” look before tucking in….when in Rome!

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The food was tasty and we both agreed the steamed pork buns were our favorite. I was proud of my somewhat picky husband for trying everything with an open mind.

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After lunch we headed up the street to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. It was tucked away down an alley and surprisingly tiny for being such a well known spot.

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California Part 4–San Francisco! From Lombard Street to Fisherman’s Wharf

We arrived in San Francisco around 8:00 after a full day at Pebble Beach. Once again we were reminded how vast California is and how unique her major cities truly are. San Francisco felt more like New York than it did beachy Los Angeles, earthy Big Sur or ritzy Carmel. So many different types of people and places, all in the same HUGE state!

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Of all the cities we had visited so far, San Francisco was the one I was most looking forward to with all of its historic sights and plethora of famous tourist destinations. We checked into the Hilton on Union Square which proved to be a great central location for touring the city by foot as we planned to do. The room was fantastic and Robert was thrilled to be done with boutique hotels. Perhaps someday he will try another one when he doesn’t have food poisoning and develop a better outlook…. poor guy. The view from our balcony was beautiful and definitely made me feel like a country mouse in the big city!

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Since it was already late, we hit the streets in search of dinner, armed only with the yelp app on our dying cell phones. In hindsight, it probably would have been smart to ask someone at the hotel for a recommendation, but I think most of the food options around Union Square are fast, tourist driven and not the best San Francisco has to offer. After a fruitless search for Clam Chowder and walking in circles for a while we finally ended up at Lefty O’Doul’s.

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Part kooky pub, part Hofbrau, Lefty’s was a true experience! I always thought a Hofbrau was a German restaurant/bar, but as I was soon informed by the Lefty’s staff, it is actually a specific type of restaurant that was developed in Northern California… not even Germany! A Hofbrau offers cafeteria style food service and although the name comes from traditional German breweries that served food in their beer gardens, the ones in the US don’t even usually serve German food, focusing instead on carved meats and sides. Robert and I both got corned beef sandwiches and a cup of their famous chili. Not the best of either that I’ve ever had, but it was decent and plenty to fill our bellies before bed.

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The next morning we woke bright and early, ready to hit the streets for a full day of exploring by foot. The view from our room was equally as stunning by day as it had been by night.

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Our first stop was the Westin St. Francis on Union Square. We had heard that their glass elevators offered a fantastic view of the city for free! The lobby was still decorated for Christmas so we stopped for a few photos.

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Unfortunately, they have recently installed a security feature on the elevators and you must have a room key to ride. We hopped on anyway with a group of people staying at the hotel but only managed to catch a quick glimpse from the top floor and no pictures Sad smile We had too much to see to be sad for too long so off we went again in search of Lombard street.

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I should note that this was when we first discovered just how hilly the streets of San Francisco truly are….holy slopes! I loved this as it made every day feel like a workout, word to the wise…wear comfortable shoes as you trek up and down through this city!

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We finally made it to Lombard Street, the crookedest street in the world! I was excited about seeing Lombard Street since my California dwelling Uncle Derek had gifted me with an aerial picture of it as a child. I used to love to trace the hairpin curves with my finger and always displayed the picture proudly on my bookshelf. My uncle passed away in September, before our trip, so it was nice to finally see the street I had always associated with him.

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Lombard street is a must see (or must drive on) if you are in San Francisco, but it is quite difficult to get a decent picture of it….I did my best!

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