San Francisco

May 2001

In May of 2001, I flew down to San Francisco, California to attend the wedding of my college classmate Francesca.  I had never been to San Francisco before, so I scheduled a three-day weekend trip.  Also in town for the wedding were classmates Karen and Aaron, flying in from Atlanta; and classmate Mike and his girlfriend Brigette, who had just moved to the Bay Area from Chicago.

Everything in San Francisco is expensive, including the Travelodge I stayed in on Lombard Street.  I rented a car, but only used it to get to and from the airport, and to and from the wedding, so I’m not sure it was a good value, especially since they somehow managed to squeeze an extra “day” in there somewhere.  I had a really bad attitude about how costly everything was, but Francesca just tactfully ignored my complaints, and I had a good time anyway.

Lombard Street

After checking into the motel, I set out on foot down Lombard to the east.  Eventually I reached the most famous block of Lombard, in the Russian Hill neighborhood.  While the rest of Lombard runs straight as an arrow, this one block is often called San Francisco’s crookedest street.

In 1922, city engineers carved eight cobblestone switchbacks into this particularly steep block of Lombard to make it less treacherous to navigate.  They couldn’t have imagined the enormous tourist draw decades later.  My first clue that I was getting close was the line of cars backed up along the incline, before cresting the hill and seeing the narrow, winding street below.  Driving this stretch is not as romantic as one might think, I had a much better experience as a pedestrian.

In the distance I could see the Coit Tower, but that would have to wait.  I turned north towards Fisherman’s Wharf, just a few blocks away.

Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf is San Francisco’s most visited place.  It’s tacky and commercialized, but there’s lots to see and do.  You just can’t believe everything you see.  The Wax Museum Building looks like a renovated old structure, but it was actually constructed around 1999.

Pier 39

The main tourist attraction in Fisherman’s Wharf is Pier 39, with over 100 shops and restaurants, an aquarium, an arcade, a carousel, and… sea lions.  It seems a few years ago the sea lions decided to take over Pier 39’s K-dock.  They smell awful, they make quite a racket, but everyone crowds around to get a look anyway.  In the winter, the population can reach 900.

From the end of Pier 39 you get a pretty good view of Alcatraz, about a mile out into the bay, and the Golden Gate Bridge further in the distance.

I continued west through Fisherman’s Wharf along The Embarcadero and Jefferson Street.  Along the way I stopped at a souvenir shop and bought a San Francisco t-shirt with Calvin Klein-style “SF” logo, and a rubber duckie.  Hey, that was all I could afford.

Hyde Street Pier

Eventually I reached Hyde Street Pier and the National Maritime Museum.  It was approaching closing time for the museum, so I decided to just go out to the three ships along the pier and skip the museum building itself.  The collection included the C.A. Thayer, a schooner used in the lumber trade, and the Balclutha a square-rigger built in 1886 in Cardiff, Wales.  Before her last voyage in the 1930’s, the Balclutha made seventeen trips around Cape Horn sailing between San Francisco and Europe, carried lumber from Puget Sound to Australia, was the last vessel to fly the flag of the Hawaiian Kingdom, ran aground while in service to the Alaska Packers Association, and appeared in the 1935 film Mutiny on the Bounty.

After walking back to my motel, I drove to a restaurant where I joined Francesca, her mom, and one of her cousins and his family for dinner.  Afterwards, I followed Francesca to the Haight-Ashbury district, and got a quick tour of the tiny overpriced flat near Golden Gate Park where she and Rob somehow managed to live.

I still had some daylight left, so I visited the Japanese Tea Garden in the park before heading to my motel for the night.