Exploring San Francisco

Last month together with Mario I attended FluentConf (more on that perhaps in another post) and we were able to pad the conference trip with a couple of vacation days to explore San Francisco. Neither of us had previously visited the city so there was much to see, eat, drink, and in general spend money on.

Given that I normally tend to just ramble on and switch from one topic to another in my longer posts I thought I’d try to give this one a slightly more strict structure. Also, considering the amount of things we saw during our 9 days there, I will just list all of them in no particular order, give a rating of 1-5 (kind of like Untappd) and add short remarks … otherwise this post would just explode :-) So here we go:

Sights & Activities

  • Union Square was probably the sight closest to our hotel. It is basically just a nice square with tons of shops all around it. Nothing special but nice to sit down for a couple of minutes to relax and take a look around. [25]
  • Right after that we stumbled onto the Yerba Buena Gardens which Foursquare guided us to next. We enjoyed that park that much that we made it our hub where we went every single day to plan our activities of that day. We even made quite some detours if necessary. Embedded between skyscrapers and some nice waterplays it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in the city. [55]
  • Rincon Park is another small but nice park on the bay bank at the east side of the city. Nothing special but the huge bow & arrow monument makes for quite a sight. That and the view at the … [35]
  • Bay Bridge slightly south to it. Be sure to also take a look at it at night for a quite spectacular light show. [45]
  • Further north is the San Franciso Ferry Building with its all-year market, offering local food. On your way to the Bay Bridge at night make sure to come by. [35]
  • Pier 39 is at the northern end of the east side of the city and is probably the biggest tourist magnet in the area. It also houses a colony of sea lions sunbathing. [35]
  • Next to it is the Aquarium of the Bay for which you can buy a ticket in combination with a bay tour (decent offer). Thankfully it is not targeted exclusively at kids but sadly the otters (which were supposed to be the main attraction here during our visit) were at their afternoon slumber … bad luck, I guess. [35]
  • West of that comes (after tons of boat tour offerings) Ghirardelli Square situated south the Maritime National Park. A good source to relax and grab some chocolate. [2.55]
  • Coit Tower was sadly closed for renovation but the small plateau on which it is located still offered a nice view over the town. [35]
  • When leaving the tower make sure to get onto a Bay Tour (in our case with the Blue & Gold Fleet). It took us right below the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz. Be sure to take your hat off. It might get windy ;-) [45]
  • In order to actually get onto the Golden Gate Bridge make sure to take a bike tour (Blazing Saddles in our case who also welcomed every rider back in the evening with an applause :-)). They are not all that expensive and you see so much more of the city compared to being on foot or taking the public transport. In fact I’m kind of sad that we didn’t do another tour through the southern part of the city, too :-( I also really appreciated that you had to opt-out if you didn’t want a helmet instead of having to opt-in for one. [55]
  • On our way west to the bridge there was a nice beach and the Crissy Field park and beach. Make sure to take a rest there and just lie there for a couple of minutes after getting something to drink at the Warming Hut. Also check the waters for stray sea lions :-) [55]
  • Golden Gate Bridge … is a bridge and a very beautiful one so just take your bike and ride across it, stopping at every single possibility to enjoy the view! [55]
  • Once you’re on the other side head for Battery Spencer left to the road which (1) offers a stunning vista back to the bridge and the city but (2) is also just a nice WWII-era bunker. Just avoid the public toilets there. I heard they are pretty bad. [55]
  • On our trip through San Francisco we stumbled by accident twice through the Presidio which was an old military base (now located at the southern end of the Golden Gate bridge and a national park). Nice but mostly empty and reminds me too much of some kind of weird steril world. [25]
  • If you want to get yet another view onto the bridge, head for Land’s End (and look back ;-)) which marks the west end of the city and offers just a wonderful coast-view. Try to be there around sunset ;-) [45]
  • When leaving Land’s End to the south you end up (after a quick detour onto the beach, obviously) at the Golden Gate Park. I guess we probably missed the amazing parts there because it was just a normal but huge park. [?/5]
  • Last but definitely not least: Take the cable car. I know it is absolutely iconic of the city and looks like a typical tourist-thing, but just do it. We took the one from Powell St station in the morning and got onto the last one at night for the return trip and both were a blast! It’s just pure fun to ride on something open like that up and down the steap hills of the city. And the operators always have a nice story to tell :-) [45]

Restaurants, Pubs, Cafés, …

Visiting all these places and esp. the bike tour which took us through the whole north west corner of the city made us quite hungry every evening, so here are the places we tried out:

  • Chevys Fresh Mex near Yerba Buena Gardens is probably the one on this list with the lowest score on Yelp, TripAdvisor and all the other rating site, but Mario and I quite enjoyed it here. Not bad Mexican food and … deep fried ice-cream. [45]
  • Californa Pizza Kitchen had a really nice California California Club pizza and good beer. [3.55]
  • Sorabol Korean BBQ was bad … food court bad… To be fair, it is part of a food court, so just ignore it. [15]
  • Blue Mermaid Seafood Restaurant and Chowder House had a great chowder and fish & chips with the biggest fish-to-chips ratio I’ve ever seen. [3.55]
  • Hard Rock Café is basically on Pier 39 but is still just yet another Hard Rock Café. The one in Warsaw looked more awesome, though ;-) [3.55]
  • Fog Harbor Fish House feels a little up-class’ish and the servings are probably a bit smaller than you would get elsewhere but the quality was great which definitely surprised us given its location right in the heart of the tourist magnet that Pier 39 is. [45]
  • Capurro’s on the other hand looked far more aimed at tourists. We only got something to drink and some fries, but it kind of had a strange feeling to it. Perhaps the dinner there is better. [2.55]
  • Espetus Churrascaria Brazilian Steak House was my very first Brazilian steak house and I enjoyed every second there. Simply great and that at a fair price considering what we ate there. [55]
  • The Grove is an order-at-counter-get-stuff-served-to-the-table kind of place with only a small menu but what we had was great. Good Mac’n Cheese, good sandwich, and a cookie that nearly killed one of us ;-) [45]
  • Ben & Jerry’s near Maritime National Park is probably the right place to grab some ice for the climb up Van Ness Ave. [35]
  • In-N-Out Burger near Maritime National Park offers probably the best fastfood burgers I’ve ever had in the US. They actually taste good and the fries taste like potatoes. [45]
  • Urban Tavern: Didn’t eat anything there but enjoyed the beer. Otherwise it looked kind of weird in a steril way and the bar had seats that made you basically feel like a child because they were that low compared to the bar ;-) [35]
  • Tropisueño was the first restaurant of our trip and the Mexican food was great! Sadly due to us nearly falling asleep at the table we probably had some communication issues with the waitress so we didn’t get another round :-/ [45]

Beers

OK, this is probably a bit of a weird category, but I try to enjoy as many different beers as possible whenever I visit a place I haven’t been before. Naturally, this also includes beers by large chains that I haven’t had before, so I apologize for that :-) It kind of started in Dublin last year and now I try to keep a list with ratings thanks to Untapp’d:

  • Negra Modelo [45]
  • Modelo Especial [35]
  • Pyramid Hefeweizen [45]
  • Sam Adam’s Light [35]
  • Coor’s Light [35]
  • Blue Moon [45]
  • Estella Galicia [35]
  • Anchor California Lager [45]
  • Anchor Steam [3.55]
  • Sam Adam’s Lager [3.55]
  • Miller Light [25]

Hotel

We stayed at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square which is … not really at the square but two blocks removed and actually probably closer to Market St. Anyway, its location was perfect since FluentConf took place at a nearby hotel and this allowed for a stop every time we went there at a Walgreen’s to grab some breakfast :-D. The actual hotel is fine except for that Hilton-thing where they charge you $13 per day for “High-Speed Wifi” in the room, which (combined with no complementary breakfast) really hurts at that price point. Also, is it just me or do Hilton hotel in general look old in North America?

Anyway, that’s it for what we saw in San Francisco :-) Hope this helps you if you haven’t been there yet! You can also find most of the photos I took during the trip here.

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