I'm a Native Californian and have been living in Northern California since I was 16. Fifteen of those years were spent in the Bay Area so I was able to explore a bit and since my Mother in Law lived in "The City" we did visit it quite a bit and learned where some of our favorite spots were. BUT, like most "locals" we stayed away from the more touristy areas except for Pier 39...when we had out of towners visiting.
On this particular morning we drove into The City in the drizzling rain. Coming from the Santa Rosa area our travel led us across the Golden Gate Bridge or "the Orange Bridge" as my grandson calls it. This never fails to just make me speechless. It is awesome in the truest sense of the word!
We were with our youngest daughter, her son and our 13 year old son so we headed to one of our favorite "hidden treasures" first so I could take the 13 year old's "Year 13 Portraits".
The 16th Avenue Steps were a recent find for us. One of my friends, who knew I love mosaics, found a photo of them online and sent it to me...neither of us having any idea how close to home they were and that we could actually go see them for ourselves! The 163 tiled steps are simply breathtaking. Our grandson couldn't wait to get to the top and talked his Poppa into climbing up the whole long way!
As soon as they made it to the bottom again he turned right around and started right back up again! I will neither confirm nor deny that major bribes had to be handed out in order to finally get him to leave these so we could head to lunch!
If you look closely (click on the small photo above to see the larger version) you will be able to see that each of the steps were donated and dedicated to the families and businesses who all came together to create this amazing work of architectural art. Now there is a cool secret you can only see from the top looking back down...hit me up over at Instagram (shutterbugtraveler) and I'll tell you what it is!
After lunch we were separating, the kids going home where we would meet them later and my husband and I staying to play in The City for the afternoon, so we wanted to try out a new place...discover something new. Now I often hit up YELP in order to get some ideas of great places to eat so I had a couple of restaurants in mind in the Sunset District (where the steps are located) that may work out. The only problem was that the first restaurant was closed and the second one had moved! Time to think out of the box. Now parking costs a bit in the Sunset so we didn't want to keep popping from place to place so the second restaurant we stopped at, the one that had moved, ended up being our landing place. And that is when we saw Patxis Pizza across the street. My husband considers pizza it's own food group so we decided to give it a try. I still don't know how to pronounce it but I can tell you that it all adds up to GOOD EATS!
We went in and sat down in a basic looking place. Clean modern lines, open, airy, comfortable. Ok, we thought, this place might work. (notice the honey on the tables...more about that one a bit later) We were about to have that gamble pay off! BIG!The manager came over to greet and seat us while our server grabbed some menus. Drinks were first and it was fun to find some Big Daddy IPA "SpeakEasy" there!
We ordered the focaccia bread and had no idea how heavenly it would be! Tender, fluffy, luscious...yes, it tasted even better than it looked...and it looks amazing! We were suddenly looking forward to the pizza we ordered!
And we were certainly NOT disappointed! We ordered the 12 inch Matt Cain. (For those of you who don't know, Matt Cain is a baseball player for our San Francisco Giants...he pitched a perfect game recently so he's a big deal here) THIS Matt Cain came with Zoe's Pepperoni and garlic-fennel sausage. Chicago style. You can get thin crust pizzas here too....peruse the menu a few photos back up the page. They look yummy too. But this pizza, our pizza, was Ah-Mazing. Four of us eating it and we couldn't finish it. It's a lot of food.
Now, two wonderful tips. That honey? Yeah, that's for the leftover crust. When you get all of the actual pizza eaten and you have the pile of "bones" on your plate they recommend you drizzle those with honey for a bit of a dessert after your pizza. SOOOoooo good! The other tip...this place is a chain! UNbelievable! 1 location in Washington, 10 in California (9 of those in the Bay Area) and 3 in Denver, Colorado. I can't vouch that each and every location is as good as this one but I'm going to go try out another Bay Area location on Friday to see how close they run but I can say that the one on Irving in the Sunset is incredible!
Ok, back to the touring...
Just driving through San Francisco is fun. New buildings are built in the old Victorian style and old ones are rehabilitated to their former glory. So use your map or GPS and just wander the streets a bit to enjoy the "flavor" of this gorgeous city.
I'm going to take a very brief moment to talk about the churches here. You will find at least one really stunning church in every single neighborhood. You could do a whole day on just the churches in this city and call the day a success. Hey...I may just have to do that now! LOL! Anyway, don't miss them if you have the chance!
As a "local" you just don't do the tourist things unless you have guests that want to do them. Then you go, reluctantly. They tend to be pricey, overcrowded places to be avoided. BUT...you do need to go do them at least once in your life! I had never been to Coit Tower. I had always seen it up on top of the hill, of course, from many different places around The City but had never been. My husband had not been there since he was a kid. In a travel magazine I saw that they had refurbished and reopened the tower for tours so I figured, on our "tourist day" we would go give that a chance. Now we were there on a Monday so the crowds were not as bad as they would be on a weekend and it was still slammed. Totally worth it but crowded all the same.
A statue of Christopher Columbus stands in the circle at the top of Telegraph Hill in front of the tower giving you a hint of the views to come.Inside the restored murals are so beautiful! And you will have plenty of time to look at them. When you enter the building you are directed around the inner tower, where the elevator is located, and the walls are covered by these murals. The one above is from City Life by Victor Arnautoff.
This one, Maxine Albro's Agriculture in California, was my favorite.
Even the windows of the tower were incorporated into the murals!
There are larger windows as well that have some amazing views of the bay and of the piers.But it's the views from the very top that are simply amazing! You take the elevator up to almost the very top then there is one last steep flight of stairs before you come out to the open air top of the tower. That's the Ferry Building and the Bay Bridge down there!
There are real windows, all but one locked, so you can get the amazing views from this tower. Breathtaking views!
Breathtaking views both out over the bay AND down to the city below. I had to lean a bit out of the open window to get this shot of the parking lot and Columbus statue below and more than one person thought I was nuts! LOL!I was caught up in a familiar pattern that photographers find themselves in...the "I'm so in love with this I want to stay up here and shoot a thousand frames but others are waiting to see it too and my family member is getting impatient so I really should leave but I'm so in love with this view...." circle. Basically the $7 we paid to get up here was truly worth it and I now need to go back!
But, seriously, the views are amazing. 360 views of the city that include the piers and all three bridges are available just by walking around the top of the tower.
I was able to get this "aerial" shot of Lombard Street too!Amazing views of downtown San Francisco are available from another vantage. It is truly a very cool place to visit. As crowded as it was on a Monday I can't recommend seeing it on a weekend but if you find yourself in The City on a weekday you really should take the time to see this for yourself!
From Coit Tower we decided to go see Lombard Street for ourselves....big mistake. This place is NUTS! We were just going to drive by it and it was almost impossible! Crazy people walked right in the path of the moving cars, not seeming to care if they got hit or not! You can see that there are stairs that do go up and down the hill, and you can drive the hill on weekdays (the locals have pretty much blocked off the street on weekends because it's just to crazy.) but, seriously, it's nuts. Enjoy the view from the tower and skip this one!
Or trade that view for one of the Bay and Fisherman's Wharf. Still crowded but at least not as crazy as Lombard! And it's easy to get swept away with the romantic views of the cable cars. I have, on an earlier trip, ridden on a cable car and it is tons of fun! If you are afraid of heights it may not be so much fun but we really had a blast on ours!
We made our way to Fort Mason and the Marina District. If you are looking for a nice way to spend the afternoon for almost free in The City, this is a wonderful place to go. There is a Safeway grocery store right across the street so you can pick up whatever you may need for a picnic.
The marina is very picturesque with incredible views of the Golden Gate.You can also get great views of Alcatraz prison from here that is a lot less crowded than the ones you can get from Pier 39!
Turn around at some point make sure get to see the view of the cityscape behind you. It is gorgeous!
Then it's time to just do what the locals do...hang out and fly kites at Crissy Field! On a weekend this grassy area is covered with picnic blankets and kids flying kites. Joggers and bikers circle this area as well making this for a very social place to be.
It's a very beautiful place too. I found dozens of these passion fruit flowers on the shack at Crissy Field...such a great discovery!
The last touristy thing to do while you are there is to admire the amazing homes that inhabit the Marina District. The views you have been enjoying all afternoon are the views they get to see every single day. It's fun to imagine yourself living such a wonderful life in one of these million dollar homes!
At this point in our day it was beginning to get a little late and we knew that we had to get moving if we were going to be able to tour Fort Point and get to see the Bridge close up.
Now, I'm a bit claustrophobic. For this reason I'd never been inside Fort Point before. All the photos I'd ever seen of it were of the hidden corners which looked totally cave-like. And while I didn't like the staircase back down, a bit like a lighthouse tower, I was able to enjoy the open air areas of the Fort and I was totally delighted!
The Fort was completed right before the Civil War in order to protect the City from warships. So the architecture is of that era. There are a few rooms set up as if the soldiers were still living there so you can enjoy the "museum" portion of this site as well.
It's easy to imagine platoons marching in the enormous inner courtyard.And here was my real motivation to force myself inside Fort Point. I love lighthouses and it had always griped me that my fear was keeping me from seeing the one at Fort Point. It's so cool I'm very happy I went!
The views of the Golden Gate here are views you can't get any other place. Breathtaking. Simply amazing.
Remember you can also walk across the bridge. There are parking lots on each side of the bridge where you can begin your walk across or you can have someone in your party drive across and pick you up on the other side. Walking or biking across is free but if you drive across, it will cost about $7 to cross the bridge.
But Fort Point is the only place you will get this amazing view of UNDER the Golden Gate Bridge. It was the best surprise of our visit to the Fort.
If you have time in your day to explore on the other side of the bridge then I highly recommend it. Baker Beach is a wonderful place to play in the sand and there are many other destinations on that side including Sutro Heights and the Cliff House. Since we still had over 2 hours to drive, during rush hour traffic, we decided to call it a day after Fort Point. We got to The City around 10am and left at 5pm and still only saw a very tiny slice of it. This may give you an idea of how much time is really needed to tour this amazing city. You could fill up every single day of a week with things to do and still not see all there is to see in San Francisco.
This gives you one last lovely view of the grand city life that is still enjoyed to this day. Sometimes it's fun to play "tourist" in your own area!
Next week I'm going to take you to a few other places on the Central Coast including a hidden treasure in Monterey that you can ONLY see this time of year so come on back next Tuesday!