Our flight out of MSP was at 11 am Friday morning, with an estimated flight time of about 4 hours. Since we were fortunate to fly faster than anticipated, the local time in San Francisco was just after 1 pm when we landed.
Wanting to save money, and very likely time too given traffic in California, we opted to take the BART from the airport. Our hotel was the Hampton Inn on Mission Street, which meant our stop in downtown was Powell, and our ride cost $9 per person. If we had planned our travel sooner rather than later, we could have purchased a Clipper card and saved some additional money on the cost of the train ride, but we didn't figure that out until it was already too late for our trip. Oh well, my loss is your gain, right?
After exiting the BART at Powell, it was a short (yet somewhat dicey) walk to the Hampton Inn. I say dicey because there are a lot of vagrants and other shady looking characters roaming around downtown San Francisco. Unfortunately, we did see the worst of this too, as someone had tried to mug a young man a few days into our stay ... right outside of our hotel ... and we saw him laying on the ground, bleeding from the head and surrounded by police, just after it happened. I was only thankful to have seen that towards the end of my trip, so as not to have it place fear into my visit prior.
The above mugging and bums aside, overall my sister and I were just fine navigating the area. So it's not that it was TERRIBLY dangerous. But at the same time ... it's not exactly a glamorous area ... so you may want to research other hotels up by the pier or in nicer areas of the city instead of downtown.
Upon settling into the Hampton Inn, my sister and I activated our 3 day Muni pass (the public transit service for downtown San Francisco), and rode a tram out to pier 35 to do packet pickup.
You have to admit the public transit options in San Francisco are pretty cool, especially when you factor in the cable cars and the like. Plus, when you consider a single ride on a cable car is $7, a 3 day Muni pass for $32 is pretty much a steal.
After a long day of travel and the adjustment of arriving in San Francisco, we were all pretty pooped. To keep things simple, we decided to have dinner at 54 Mint, which was right out the back door of our hotel. The menu had a lot of appetizer type options and only a few main dishes, so we went for kind of a tapas style meal with dessert at the end. It was very good.
With full bellies and tired eyes, our first day in San Francisco came to a close.
Since the time change made our bodies feel like it was 7 am at 5, my little boy served as a natural alarm clock at about 5:15 am on day two of our trip. Thankfully, we had gone to bed fairly early the night before.
Overall, the early wake up wasn't a big deal, as the hotel started serving a free breakfast at 6 am, and we had an Alcatraz tour booked for 9:30. After everyone in our group had a chance to shower, we ate a leisurely breakfast and then hopped on a street car to pier 39 ... because nothing says (smells?) good morning like a heard of seals.
At least there were other nice views there as well to make up for the stink, LOL!
I actually highly recommend going to pier 39 so early in the morning, as there are zero crowds to fight, and you get fabulous views of the ocean (without a bunch of dumb tourists blocking your way). The only down side is that the shops are all still closed, so you can't do any gift shopping ... but you could always come back for that later.
The walk from pier 39 to where we needed to board our Alcatraz ferry was only a short distance, so after getting our fill of the seals we hoofed it down to pier 33. I had booked our Alcatraz tickets months in advance, anticipating things would be busy due to Bay to Breakers weekend, so all we had to do was basically show up with our printed tickets in hand and get in line. That was nice.
What wasn't so nice was the $6.50 bottles of water at the gift shop outside. Pro tip: buy yourself water once you get to Alcatraz. When we were there, they were selling standard size bottles for $1.50 each.
One other pro tip - if you think you'll use the Muni and go to Alcatraz, look into the CityPass. In addition to giving you a 3 day Muni pass and an Alcatraz tour, it also includes a ticket to the California Academy of Sciences, entry into the Aquarium of the Bay, and your choice of visit to either the Exploratorium or the de Young Museum. To put costs into perspective: during our visit, an adult CityPass was $89, whereas a 3 day Muni pass was $32 and an Alcatraz ticket was $37. So for a $20 add on, you can do three other attractions (assuming they are up your alley).
Anyway, back to Alcatraz. Let's get on that ferry and get to the island, shall we?
Speaking of kids, Alcatraz was extremely easy to navigate with a running stroller. There is one tricky part, as getting in for the cell block tour takes a little bit of trial and error to find elevators and such, but the staff was incredibly helpful and it ended up being a minor set back in the grand scheme of things.
Aside from the expected cell block tour, I was amazed by the beautiful views on Alcatraz - both of the island itself, and of the San Francisco harbor.
Without rushing, but also without dawdling, we ended up spending an entire morning touring Alcatraz. Just after noon some time, we lined up for the ferry to leave the island ... but not before getting a stamp in my son's national parks passport first (read more about that here).
After taking the ferry back to "mainland", we decided to walk down to the Fisherman's Warf area. Had I realized how far that actually was, I probably would have hopped a street car instead. Regardless ... we survived.
Overall, Fisherman's Warf was equally touristy and packed like pier 39 was, so it wasn't really my bag. The only reason I wanted to go there was this:
Yep. Double cheese, animal style, with fresh cut fries. It was worth it.
After gorging ourselves on lunch, we took the baby back the hotel for a nap. Once he was settled in (and my husband as well - LOL) my sister and I returned to Pier 39 for some tourist trinket shopping.
Since the afternoon got away from all of us, and having had a heavy lunch, we opted to eat a light dinner at a nearby pub called Urban Tavern. It's name looked more appealing than it's actual offering, so ... not one of my recommends. The service was fantastic, but there weren't many menu choices, especially considering the name was Urban Tavern and there were maybe 5 beers on tap. But it filled the need for the night, and the ramen I ordered wasn't half bad once I mixed in the miso (which I didn't realize was served on the side until I was halfway through my bowl).
With another day of high activity and lots of eating, we threw in the towel around 9 pm.
Since you likely already read my race report about Bay to Breakers, I won't repeat that except for to add ... if you're in San Francisco, seriously consider going to the Golden Gate Park. It's SO BEAUTIFUL! Much like Alcatraz, I think anyone could easily spend a morning there enjoying the sites.
Here's a few gratuitous photos of the park before I move on.
Since my sister and I had eaten a light breakfast pre race, and we had certainly worked up a 7+ mile appetite, we opted to eat a slightly late but large lunch at Scoma's after Bay to Breakers. Well ... after showering ... after Bay to Breakers, that is.
Scoma's is located on Fisherman's Warf, so back out that way we went. It's a little off the beaten path, hidden back behind the touristy shops, so you have to hunt for it a bit. But with it's fresh boat to table fish, the extra trek is worth it. Literally - there are boats pulling in and unloading their catch into the "Scoma fish processing house" as you are entering the restaurant on the other side of the dock. That's how you know it's fresh!
Admittedly, I'm not a huge seafood fan, so I shared some crab cake with everyone as an appetizer and kept my main meal simple with an order of fish & chips. My sister, however, went for the gold along with my husband (although he had a mixed grilled fish platter, which didn't look quite as good as what my sister ordered below).
While the meal was a little expensive, given the fact that it was all fresh caught fish, I think it was worth it. And obviously we all HATED it, given we practically had to roll ourselves out of there. Heh.
With full bellies, and a son who had taken a nap during our Bay to Breakers run, we decided it was now worth an adventure out to the beach to check out the ocean. From Fisherman's Warf, we hopped the Muni towards Crissy Beach East. The bus ride was maybe 20 minutes, and required a bit of walking from exiting the bus until arriving at the beach, but it wasn't anything too terrible.
Once at Crissy Beach, my sister stripped of her shoes and touched into the ocean for her first time, with the Golden Gate Bridge bearing witness to the event.
Since the water was expectedly frigid, and I have been to the ocean before, I opted not to get wet. Call me a party pooper if you want, but you deal with hand carrying a baby, a diaper bag, wet feet inside shoes - all after having run a 7+ mile race. Then pass judgment.
Once we wrapped up at the park, quite by accident (since we were looking for Muni transit back), we stumbled upon the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre. This is another awesome gem, in my opinion, of San Francisco. If you're heading to Crissy Beach anyway, may as well swing by there and check it out before heading to your next stop.
After roaming the Palace, things got a little ragged, as we struggled to figure out Muni transit home. It's a long story that basically boils down to the fact that San Francisco apparently has other bus lines in the city that aren't Muni operated, and Google maps kept trying to direct us to those instead of back to a Muni line. Tired from a long day and lots of time on my feet, and three failed bus stops later (plus maybe a mile or more of walking between these three stops), we finally threw in the towel and booked an Uber ... only to turn around and go back out shopping with my sister upon arrival to our hotel - LOL! She had decided to purchase a few trinkets that we first saw at pier 39, so we went back out there to end our day with shopping ... and a snack of "cake by the ocean". Heh.
With a big seafood lunch late in the day, and it already after 6pm by the time we finished up shopping, we opted to keep it simple and order pizza delivery for dinner. Somehow I still screwed this up because apparently Zpizza doesn't deliver to hotels. But whatever I did to screw up the order made them deliver to us. Whoops. Totally unintentional, but ... ok, I'll take it!
Two pizzas later, delivered via skateboard might I add, around 8 pm we were about to eat this:
Being that my son was already out for the night, the three of us piled into our hotel bathroom, closed the door, and picnicked on the floor. Keepin' it classy in San Francisco. Oh well! Regardless of location, the pizza was delicious all the same.
With a third night of tired legs and full bellies, we were off to sleep for our last night's stay in San Francisco.
With no agenda for Monday, and a flight leaving at 3 pm, I was kind of hoping we might get to sleep in for a bit. But, as anyone with kids knows ... you may as well forget about that. Heh.
Around 5:45 at the latest, my son was "Ah da-da"-ing away in the hotel provided pack and play crib. Since we weren't in any rush to eat, we all took our time showering and packing up our bags before heading down for breakfast.
I think when we were done eating, it was about 8:30 am, which meant we still had plenty of time to kill. So, with a few last possible "would like to dos" on our to do list, we decided to try to check them off.
First, the "Full House" houses, also known as the painted ladies.
This was a pretty short bus ride to and from the hotel, so after we had our photo op and got back to the hotel, my husband split with the baby for a bit to see if he could get in one last nap. While he did that, my sister and I tried to queue up for a cable car ride.
What a joke that was. After 45 minutes of waiting in line and still having roughly 50 people ahead of us, we decided to nix it and bail out of line. It was already 10:40 at that point, and hotel check out was 11, so we figured there was no way we'd be able to even get on a car before check out time anyway. What a waste. Grr.
Even though our attempt was unsuccessful, it was still fun to see the conductor and gripmen (and gripwoman) operate the cars, though. So, not all was lost.
With nothing else on the agenda after hotel check out, and hoping that our little boy who still hadn't napped for the day might get in a snooze pre-flight, we decided to call it. With all our packs loaded back up, we strapped everything onto our backs and headed back to the BART, airport bound. Fortunately, my little boy managed a 20-30 min nap on the train. Plus, our flight check in and security clearance went smoothly. With three wins in our belt, we enjoyed a leisurely lunch at the airport and boarded our plane. Which of course, was delayed, because you can't have 4 wins in a row. Figures.
Despite a 30-45 minute takeoff delay, eventually we left San Francisco behind. And by 11 pm that night, we were finally home, tucked into bed, and sleeping it off ... only to return to work the next morning. Blech! Reality, huh?! Ha!
While I have to say it was fun to see the city, in the above I omitted a lot of commentary in regards to vagrants/bums, public urination/feces/drug use, and other situations that I witnessed while in San Francisco that were all extremely unpleasant. As a result of these situations, I have to admit I'm hesitant to say I would ever go back to San Francisco.
Admittedly, we booked a hotel in the heart of downtown, which is likely why we saw so much of this activity. So if I make any recommendation to someone going to San Francisco, it would be to research your hotel and try to pick something at least not in the financial district.
In the end, regardless of what I saw, I'm still glad that I got to have the experience. And if the opportunity presented itself for me to run Bay to Breakers again in the future, I'd love to. I'd just find a way to avoid downtown.