Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Amtrak Adventure - Day 18 - San Francisco

Okay, who turned the heating off? Fifty-one degrees with a high expected of sixty-one is somewhat chilly after getting used to the ninety degrees of our previous southern stops. Still, this is San Francisco and isn't part of the magic of the Golden Gate Bridge that it is shrouded in mist? The photos just wouldn't look right without it.

But perhaps that is a little too much mist. 

Still, better than on one of my previous visits when it rained for all forty-eight hours. 

Our hotel, The Golden Gate Hotel, was only a couple of blocks from Grant Street and the beginning of a walk recommended in the Lonely Planet Guide so we decided to start with that as an introduction to San Francisco. 

First up was Chinatown with its lantern decorated streets and pagoda influenced buildings. Gift shops and restaurants lined both sides of the road. 

A detour down a side road revealed an alley where Jack Kerouac used to frequent -often enough for it be named after him and to be worthy of this plaque in the road:

Murals decorate the walls. 

And round the corner is the delightful City Lights Bookshop, a book-lover's dream with a range of titles to satisfy any taste. 


Back on the street more murals such as this one decorate nearby buildings:

A block further on and Caffe Trieste serves up not only pots of wonderful loose-leaf tea but also delicious raspberrry and almond slices. Who can resist? Maybe Francis Ford Coppola couldn't either - he wrote the Godfather script under the Sicilian mural. 

Coit Tower
A couple of steep hills and many steps later we arrive at the Coit Tower. Built in 1933 the 210 foot tower offers 360 degree views of the city and, judging from my photos, conclusive proof of how gray the sky was.   At the base of the tower a fascinating series of wall murals depict life in 1930's California.

From the tower it is a short but strenous walk along Lombard Street to the 'crookedest street in the world'. The street has a forty degree slope and eight sharp turns to allow traffic to descend the steep incline. Flowers and shrubs line the route which has a fabulous view of the bay, making it a must-see attraction for tourists and, hence, very crowded. 
Next stop was Grace Cathedral which we happened on accidentally while wandering around Nob Hill. The impressive exterior made us curious to see what the interior was like, but when we entered we found the midday Eucharist in progress  so could only get a glimpse of the stunning interior with its huge gothic arches and fabulous stained glass windows. 

Somehow our wanderings managed to bring us back to Coit Tower so we headed for the Embarcadero which runs along the eastern waterfront and strolled from Pier 31 down to the Ferry Building. While also being the point of departure for ferries to neighborhoods across the bay, the building is also home to a daily artisan market selling everything from organic food to wood products and handmade soap. The food stalls were particularly tempting, especially the ones selling chocolate and offering samples!

Verdict: Despite the hills, San Francisco is an extremely walkable city, with many of the major sights in a compact area and fabulous views from the top of those hills. Thankfully, we have two more days to further explore the city.

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