New Discoveries and Experiences in San Francisco
O. Henry said, “East is east and west is San Francisco.” Even though Southern California is my home, there is really nothing like San Francisco. In just a one-hour flight I can find myself in an artsy, stylish, eclectic food haven. The history is rich, the streets are steep and narrow, and the moment I cross the Bay Bridge I find myself in a city full of so much character. Every visit is an opportunity to find a new favorite restaurant or street—or, as was the case during this trip, a new hotel.
San Francisco is a big city, the fourth most populous in California. As a traveler, the number one thing that can make or break a trip is the hotel you choose. The second is the hotel’s location. This is why I chose to stay at Clift, which is right in Union Square. The location allowed me to walk to all of the most attractive sites I wanted to visit, but the hotel’s décor and service made it more than just a nice stay.
The moment I entered the lobby I was fascinated by a giant chair that naturally fills the open space and high ceilings. According to Michael Pace, Clift’s general manager, the lobby holds some of the most unique furniture collections in California, including chairs from Ray and Charles Eames, a coffee table by Salvador Dali, and even a custom sculpture by William Sawaya. “The furniture is extremely welcoming to our guests and very magical,” Pace explained. The 35-foot fireplace is the perfect place to cozy up to and enjoy a welcome drink. The Redwood Room is not only a great bar for guests staying at the hotel but also for locals here in the city. Its menu of signature drinks and its atmosphere has always drawn a great crowd. “I was coming to the Redwood Room even before I worked here,” Pace said.
One of the main goals during my trip was to get to Alcatraz, but the tickets were sold out for three weeks. Not liking this news, I was determined to find a way. I knew the main ticket office at Pier 33 would sell some tickets early in the morning for day-of departures. However, waking up at 4 a.m. during December did not sound like a good idea. Instead, I tried a different route: The day before I planned to visit Alcatraz, I saw an older man sitting in a small hut near Pier 39 with a sign that said “Alcatraz Tours.” I went to him and he offered a ticket along with a small book and DVD for $50 (it’s normally $30)! While I thought it was nearly impossible, I now want to share with you a picture of this hut so you can be stress free and visit him for your tickets. Alcatraz was worth a half-day visit, and a great audio tour is included in the tour.
Chinatown is always a must for me when visiting San Francisco because, while it will forever be a tourist destination, it is one place where you might actually forget you are in the city. Mornings are sometimes the best so you can see how locals deal with the chaos of the morning markets; they always seem to have a plan so don’t get in their way. For something different, visit the fortune cookie factory and make your own wish. And you definitely can’t leave without trying local dim sum.
Though some might call Pier 39 a tourist trap, on this trip I found some great deals and new sites to see. I’ve walked by Madame Tussauds wax museum numerous times, but this time I actually decided to go inside. (I recommend trying to negotiate the price a bit, as the price board seemed a bit steep.) I arrived right when the museum opened, which meant I had all the figures to myself and could take lots of pictures. The lookalikes are great—and your friends might actually believe you spotted a few celebrities.
I also headed south of Pier 39 toward Ghirardelli Square and saw several old ships. For $5, I got access to wander these boats, and the best part was the ticket lasted for seven days. Exploring the war ships and wooden boats was a fun new way to learn the history of this amazing city.