San Francisco Has Its Ups And Downs

San Francisco is an amazing place to visit with beautiful scenery, fantastic restaurants and a wide variety of activities to take in.  That’s the upside.  The downside… it is also VERY expensive.  When we were searching for a hotel, we thought we would try Trivago. Their ads promised comparison of hundreds of sites … and it is true.  But what they don’t tell you is that although they compare list prices on all of those sites the “hidden rates” on Hotwire can still be cheaper.  What’s the catch?  When you book a hidden hotel on Hotwire, it gives you a star rating (which then names the types of hotel chains that fall into that category) and the area the hotel is in, but it doesn’t reveal the name of the hotel until after you purchase.  You have to pay the full amount at the time you make the booking, and then the name of the hotel is revealed.

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After looking for several days and trying to find a cheaper room close to the area we wanted to visit, we decided to blow the budget and simply spend more to stay at a nicer place.  We chose not to explore Air BNB (for reasons I won’t get into on this blog).   Hotwire had cheaper rates than Trivago if we used the hidden rates.  If you are not travelling with a car, use the filter with distance from downtown … some areas on the map that look close to all of the action are actually many miles (and possibly over 45 minutes) away from where you want to be.  This costs time and money in transportation. We decided to stay near Fisherman’s Wharf.  We paid for our booking and then it was revealed that we were staying at a place called The Zephyr which was a former Radisson Hotel.  The room rate was steep (over $250 US per night), but reviews on all the travel sites (tripadvisor, Trivago) all said it was a great place to stay.  The hotel has several things going for it.  It has a funky modern feel, attention to detail in design and the location can’t be beat.  You are right at Pier 39 where a lot of the shops and tourist attractions are.

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THE LOBBY OF THE ZEPHYR HOTEL IS MODERN AND FUN

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THE ROOMS HAVE A NAUTICAL THEME INCLUDING PORTAL WINDOWS AND AN S.O.S. BLANKET

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THE WASHROOM IS STYLISH AND THE MIRROR HAS A LIGHT IN IT THAT MAKES SHAVING EASY.

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FUN TOUCHES IN EACH ROOM INCLUDE BACKGAMMON BOARDS AND DART BOARDS ON CORK WITH MAGNETIC DARTS. ALL OF THE ROOMS ALSO HAVE A SAFE LOCATED IN THE FRIDGE … WELL IT LOOKS THAT WAY, BUT IN FACT IT IS JUST ABOVE THE FRIDGE, BUT BEHIND THE DOOR THAT COVERS THE FRIDGE. 

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A few days after we had booked and paid for our hotel, Hotwire emailed us to let us know that the hotel pool no longer existed.  By way of compensation, they credited us (in U.S. dollars) the amount of one night’s stay for future use on a Hotwire booking.  While it was a shame they made a mistake, the truth is, we didn’t even know the place had a pool, and had no plans of lying about while in a city with so much to do!  We were able to use that credit on another hotel booking later in the month for a business trip … so it all worked out.  The courtyard where the pool used to be was filled with fun gathering areas and outdoor fireplaces (as the nights can be quite cool).

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OUTDOOR FIREPLACES ARE DOTTED AROUND THE COURTYARD OF THE ZEPHYR

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We showered, shaved and headed out the door to find a nice place for dinner.  The night was warm, and we went towards the tourist dock known as Pier 39 which houses shops, restaurants and every tacky tourist opportunity you can imagine.  It is like a carnival.  We arrived on a Saturday night, and the place was hopping.  Cars along the streets were revving their engines, live music was blaring out of every door and people were rushing around.

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FISHERMAN’S WHARF IS ALIVE WITH PEOPLE, RESTAURANTS, TOURIST ATTRACTIONS, SHOPS AND LOTS OF NOISE

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We had decided we wanted something with seafood in it,and walked away from Pier 39 and headed further up the tourist district past the wax museum, the Ripley’s museum, the Dungeon attraction, the various pubs, and after taking it all in for about an hour, wound up at a quieter restaurant called Pompei’s Grotto.

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THIS RESTAURANT HAD NICE OUTDOOR TABLES, WASN’T TOO LOUD AND HAD GREAT FOOD.

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WE RELAXED OUTSIDE IN THE GLORIOUS WEATHER AS WE SIPPED ON A BOTTLE OF WINE.

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THIS LINGUINI WAS OVERFLOWING WITH FRESH MUSSELS, SCALLOPS AND SHRIMP.  IT WAS A FANTASTIC MEAL, AND REASONABLY PRICED.

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By the time we finished our dinner and made our way back to the hotel, it was closing on 11 PM.  This was a big change from being on the train where we often turned in at 9:00.  It felt good to stroll around and we were ready for a good night’s sleep. The next day we had a lot of walking planned to make up for three days of riding the rails.

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For ever after, if someone says to me … what is the first word you think of when travelling to San Francisco … I will say …. FOOD.  The meals we ate in San Francisco were some of the best anywhere on our trip.  A combination of generous portions, unique types of food, and an abundance of fresh seafood and produce made most of our meals very memorable.  We slept until around 8 in the morning, and then made our way to the Hollywood Cafe a few blocks from our hotel.  We had heard that the quality was outstanding here.  The restaurant is only open for breakfast and lunch and when we arrived there was a line-up of over 20 minutes.  It was totally worth the wait.

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THE HOLLYWOOD CAFE IS POPULAR WITH TOURISTS AND LOCALS ALIKE

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PETE PREPARES TO TRY SOME SAN FRANCISCO SOURDOUGH TOAST.

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They say that San Francisco has the best sourdough bread in the world, and I would say that this is true.  Sourdough bread is made by reserving a piece of the dough from the previous day and using it in the next batch of bread you make the following day.  You always carry a piece forward from recipe to recipe.  The yeast in the bread gives it a tangy flavour, and there are a number of factors that included the air the yeast is exposed to, the water that is used, and the intensity of the dough used from the previous day.  Whatever it is … oh my … it really tastes good.  Later in our blog, we will share a story about the bakery that specializes in this treat. The sourdough toast came just ahead of our meal with a huge jar of strawberry compote.  Pete had ordered a Western Omelette and I had ordered a scrambled egg concoction with bacon and cheese.  What neither of us expected were the size of the portions, and the copious amount of gorgeous fresh fruit (including the fresh avacado on my scrambled egg).  I also had orange juice, and it was freshly squeezed.  Breakfast was DELICIOUS.  The coffee was freshly ground too.

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FRESH FRUIT ABOUNDS ON THIS BREAKFAST PLATE

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After fueling up for the day, we were going to begin our journey.  Pete and I have both been to San Francisco, so we decided to skip things we had seen before.  This included Lombard Street (the steep twisty street seen in many movies), Coit Tower and even the Redwoods at Muir Woods.  Instead we were going to ride a cable car to the Cable Car Museum, take a look around, then ride further on the street car system to the edge of Golden Gate Park.  Our day would allow us to walk the length of the park to the beaches at the far end, check out the Sutro Baths and have a drink at the Cliff House near Land’s End. So to start with, it was time to find our cable car.

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Trip Pix 695THIS CABLE CAR IS RESTING AT THE END OF THE POWELL AND MASON LINE

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There are 3 main cable car routes, and although they are primarily ridden by tourists, they make up a segment of the overall  transportation system.  In the summer, trying to get on a cable car can be a challenge as most people ride them from end to end, and line-ups to get on can be over an hour.  We were early enough we didn’t have to line up.

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   Cable cars are unique because they are pulled up and down the hills of San Francisco by a continuous cable that runs underground at a steady 9 miles an hour.  The operator of the car uses a series of gears and levers to attach the car to the cable.  They also use these gears to release the car from the cable, and  there is a braking mechanism that grips a second cable that doesn’t move when they need to slow the car down or make it stop.

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Other forms of rail transit include the street cars (similar to the street cars in Toronto with overhead electrical wires).  There are also light rail transit cars similar to subways, but above ground, and then there is the Bay Area Rail Transit system (BART for short) that is the deep underground subway.  On top of this, various bus routes criss-cross the city.

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If you ride a cable car, it costs $7 one way, as most people just take it as a novelty ride.  They will kick you off at the end of the line and ask for another $7 to return to where you started.    If you choose to use the transit system to get further, there are multiple options, but we knew we were planning on travelling on three of the four types of cars through the day, so paid the $17 day pass fee.  This included unlimited rides on the cable cars, the street cars and the municipal tranist, but DOES NOT include riding on the BART.  For the distances we travelled, we felt we got our money’s worth.  You can pay the driver in cash, or after 10 AM, buy your day pass from the transit booth at Mason and Powell with a credit card.  Hold onto that pass … it is only a cardboard chit, that you will show each time you get on any municipal transit.

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IN SPITE OF WHAT YOU SEE IN MOVIES, YOU HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL THE CABLE CAR COMES TO A COMPLETE STOP BEFORE YOU GET ON OR OFF.

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AT THE END OF THE LINE, CABLE CARS ARE TURNED MANUALLY ON A TURNTABLE BY THE OPERATORS

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RIDING ON THE RUNNING BOARD WHILE HANGING ON IS EXCITING AS YOU GO UP AND DOWN THE STEEP HILLS.

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LEVERS AND GEARS HELP ATTACH THE CAR TO THE CABLE WHERE IT IS PULLED UP AND DOWN THE HILLS AT 9 MILES PER HOUR.

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OUR CABLE CAR DRIVER HAD A GREAT SENSE OF HUMOUR AND A HUGE SMILE

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THE HILLS ARE TRULY VERY STEEP IN THE CENTRE OF TOWN.  RIDING THE CABLE CARS CAN SAVE YOUR KNEES AND LEGS A LOT OF WEAR AND TEAR

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CROSS STREETS  AT THE TOPS OF HILLS ARE LEVEL, VERY PRETTY AND THE RENTS ARE APPARENTLY EXTREMELY HIGH IN PRICE

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THE VIEWS FROM THE HEIGHTS OF SAN FRANCISCO ARE BEAUTIFUL

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I will pick up our adventures on Monday with pictures of the workings of the Cable Car hub at the museum, scenery from Golden Gate Park and a tale of some of the finest sandwiches in town (yup, more food shots).  Until tomorrow …   farewell from a well fed

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Fenton & White

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