2023, Personal, Travel

Riley Drives from Portland to San Francisco Day 8 Saturday May 20, 2023

We headed in the direction of Telegraph Hill and found our way to Moe’s, a burger joint that had breakfasts. They have a bizarre rotating grill in the front window, which is probably more common than I think but I also couldn’t take my eyes off it. We had extremely heavy – typically American – breakfasts that were very tasty.

After breakfast we headed to Salesforce Park, park that sits multiple stories in the air above a new bus terminal. (In typical big city fashion, the bus terminal was not built at a BART station and they are supposedly building a pedestrian tunnel between the two, though the bus terminal has been open for five years.) There’s a very small gondola from the street up to the park but I read ahead of time that it is never operational and, sure enough, it wasn’t operational. So we took the escalator.

The park is a really neat example of what can be accomplished in an old, big city utilizing space up from the street. It’s extremely pleasant and the kind of place you can imagine eating lunch in in the nice weather if you work in the area.

One thing we noticed in both Portland and San Francisco is the effort they’ve put into “greening” rooves and balconies. Now, obviously, it’s easier to do so in these climates than in Toronto, but it’s still extremely noticeable how much more greenery is in the air in these cities than in a place like Toronto. It’s better for the environment and it makes the city nicer to look at. The Salesforce Park reminded me of some of the ideas I’ve seen for Union Station and, having seen this park, I am all the more for them. I’ve seen one rather ambitious plan to make a huge section of the tracks downtown covered in order to put in a park and, having experienced a mini version of that now, I’m all for it. (To the best of my knowledge, the one thing that had been approved has been cancelled and the more ambitious plans were just ideas. Because it’s Toronto.)

After the park we walked to the water and walked up the northeast side of the city, past all the piers. We walked out on one that was just fisherman to start and then went looking for Fisherman’s Wharf. Walking along the water here really gave me a feel for the appeal of this city. Obviously I’m not the most well-travelled person in the world, but I’ve been to the odd city and I could really start to see why people like this place. I have never been to a city like this, where there’s all this waterfront that is just accessible.

We walked up past the piers and stopped in the Exploratorium to use their toilets. Had we had more time, maybe we would have gone in. But there was some neat public art outside, including metal seats where you could hear sounds far away if they were in front of you but nothing if it was behind.

We went to the infamous Pier 39 and walked out to the end. Partway through, we realized we could walk up on the second floor and that was way less busy. We were here off-season and it was a zoo so I can only imagine how bad it is in the summer. It’s a tourist trap and it reminds me a bit of a side street in Vegas, off the strip, which is just chockablock full of restaurants and stores. The food prices were actually totally reasonable (for San Francisco) which was surprising.

On the west side there were all these sealions just basking on some floats. The first time we saw them we felt really lucky but, by this point, it felt like you just run into sealions on the west coast of the US, it’s just going to happen.

I then got the bright idea of checking out the infamous part of Lombard Street, not fully registering that it would be way uphill. But it sure is.

It is a neat thing to see but, even in the off-season, it just a zoo. I feel for the people who live here, because there are cars going down it constantly and pedestrians everywhere. (It seems like most of them had taken the famous cable car up and didn’t walk up like us suckers.)

At the top, we walked a block over and found these tennis courts that felt like they were at the top of the world. Russian Hill is not actually the highest hill in the city, in fact it’s 34th by my rough calculation. But, due to the apartment buildings on the top, it does feel like it’s basically the top of the world while you’re on it. (The adjacent Nob Hill is actually higher, and you just need to walk south to see that. But, at the tennis courts, looking west, it feels like the top of the city.) I have never been to another city like this, with these neighbourhoods on top of these exposed hills, where you look at a low-rise or mid-rise apartment building and all you see behind it is sky.

We had walked in a big fishhook around Coit Tower and I got it in my head that we should head to it so that’s what we did. So we walked down Russian Hill. I was trying to see if there was some way of only walking down part of it so we didn’t have to walk up all of Telegraph Hill, but we also went looking for a coffee so we ended up walking down a significant part of the hill.

The views just walking around this part of San Francisco are rather incredible. Almost any time you have a view of the water you have a view of Alcatraz or one of the famous bridges or something like that. I’m just the people who live here are used to it and don’t notice but it really is kind of incredible.

We spent a hilarious amount of time looking for a coffee in what appeared to be Little Italy. (Technically it was North Beach.) The first place didn’t have seating and many of the others we looked at weren’t just coffee and were quite busy. Eventually we found a place further down the hill.

After our coffee break we headed up Telegraph Hill to the tower. Telegraph Hill is slightly lower than Russian Hill but, of course, has a tower on top of it that you can walk up. And you have to walk up it, as the elevator is broken (and seems to have been broken for some time). There are something like 234 steps.

The tower has 360-degree views of the city. The park below basically does, too, but you have to walk around and there are trees in the way. The tower avoids those things.

Jenn is at bottom centre-left, Alcatraz is at the top

We walked down Telegraph Hill and hilariously found ourselves walking on the same street we ate breakfast on. Spending very little time in the city, we somehow found ourselves retracing our steps.

We stopped for overpriced pastries at a coffee shop we had passed that morning. They were very tasty at least.

We briefly headed back to the hotel to drop something off or pick something up – I can’t remember any more – and then we headed to the local Walgreens partly because I had started to worry about transporting dark beer back in our suitcases. You always hear these stories about people transporting red wine back in checked luggage and their clothes getting died red and suddenly this was something I cared a lot about. So we bought some bags and then headed back to the hotel, again, to drop them off.

After that brief errand, we headed into Chinatown to find an early dinner. We wandered around and soon discovered something we believed didn’t exist the night before – a Chinese sports bar. For some reason, both of us figured Mexican restaurants would be more likely to have TVs than Chinese restaurants, based on our experiences, I guess. And it turned out that, not only were there Chinese restaurants in San Francisco’s Chinatown with TVs showing sports, but there was a place advertising itself as a sports bar. Oops.

Anyway, we wandered around looking for places to eat and eventually decided we wanted dim sum. We soon discovered that in San Francisco “dim sum” is associated with takeout and lunch/snacks. Every dim sum place we found on one of the main thoroughfares closed at 6 or so and many of them had few to no tables. They were also extremely busy at 5.

Eventually we found a couple sit-down dim sum places. The one we chose didn’t have the carts, and it was pricey, but the food was good and it had a TV showing the basketball game. So it all worked out.

After dinner, we went to a local craft beer bar hoping to find TVs. However, the bar we sought out – on that same street as the breakfast place, again – didn’t have any. So we went looking for a sports bar and found the nearest one absolutely packed. So we found our way to an irish pub with TVs and a few people who were awfully drunk for that early in the day.

The beer selection was not as good as the previous night, so we decided to try another bar. Most of the sports bars in the area were too full. We found our way into one with seats but the beer selection wasn’t particularly good either. It sure seems like (this part of) San Francisco isn’t the beer city Portland is. But we began to enjoy ourselves as Denver pulled away and all the Lakers fans in the bar got upset. This was also the second bar we were in where some Lakers fan was loudly telling some other Lakers fan about how great Rui Hachimura is. (He said he should be the Lakers’ MVP for the series. He of the 15P, 4R and 1A stat line.) It was fun.

We walked back to the hotel.

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