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Trip Report: My wonderful SF escape! - Oct 21 to Oct 29

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Hamburg, Germany
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Trip Report: My wonderful SF escape! – Oct 21 to Oct 29

Hi guys!

I just returned from a most wonderful trip to San Francisco and wanted to share my trip report here with everybody. Tripadvisor and especially this forum with all the knowledge from locals was a tremendous help for me when planning my trip, so I thought it would be nice to give something back. Maybe others find it useful for their own planning.

With the report I also wanted to encourage other single travelers to not be afraid and explore SF on your own if you don't have anyone to travel with. I do a lot of travelling on my own (I'm a woman in my mid-twenties) and always had very positive experiences. San Francisco will definitely be fun even if you're on your own. Don't be afraid, be curious and simply do it! There's no way you will regret this.

Of course I wanted to do many of the usual tourist things, but also immerse a little in the local culture if possible. As this was my first trip to the West Coast (been to the East Coast before) I also wanted to explore areas outside of SF. Generally, I wasn't on a budget for this trip and had some money saved up to indulge from time to time, but tried to choose some money-friendly options when possible.

So let's get started! (It's rather long, I hope you don't mind.)

Day 1: Oh no, the sickness bag!

I got up at 2:30 a.m. after only about 3.5 hours of sleep, because I couldn't fall asleep with all the excitement that was buzzing inside me. Packed my last things and went to the airport in Hamburg. My flight wasn't until 6:10, but I wanted to be early. In the end I was so early that the bag drop counters had not yet opened.

Everything else at the airport went quite smoothly and my first flight to Amsterdam started on time. Before I got on the plane I could already sense that my stomach didn't feel too well. I hadn't had breakfast yet and didn't feel like I could eat something at that time of the day. So the inevitable happened and I got sick during the flight to Amsterdam, breaking out in a sweat and almost fainting included. I never got sick on a plane before, so it was a premiere having to use the sickness bag. Well, at least everybody around me was asleep so nobody had to witness it.

In Amsterdam I had about two hours for my transfer, found the new gate quickly and sat down to cool down a bit. Unfortunately, it didn't really get better while I sat there. There were some minutes where I really thought I wouldn't make it to SF, that I would pass out before I even got on the plane and the whole vacation would be over. I had spent so much money on this trip, was looking forward to it for so long and now that.

Fortunately, after I had successfully boarded the aircraft it all got better and my stomach calmed down. Once in the air I felt that I had taken the first obstacle and hoped that the rest of my vacation would be considerably better than the foul start.

Some movies, two meals (in my stomach, not the sickness bag) and about 11 hours later I landed at SFO. First place I realize I'm back in the US: the restrooms. I wonder why public restrooms always have such big gaps at the doors of the booths. Maybe it's so everybody can see from the outside if I fainted inside. But luckily I felt great by now and ready to start my adventure.

The line at immigration wasn't too long and moved fairly quickly. It took a little less than an hour to get to one of the officers. The lady asked me a few standard questions and I got a little nervous when she was hesitating with my passport and kept checking it again. Turns out that her date stamp was adjusted to the wrong date (Jan 2012 instead of 2013) and she had to stamp my passport again.

I gave my customs declaration to another officer who asked me some more questions and made a sad face when I said I was travelling on my own. I told him that it's not sad at all and that it can be lots of fun. Well, guess I have to live with people not believing that and getting a lot of strange looks for it.

Got my suitcase and found the BART station relatively quickly as it is in the International Terminal where I arrived. I had read about the ticket machines here on the forum before, so it was easy to load the right amount of money for a return ticket to downtown onto a card. Otherwise, I would have been lost as to what to do. I saw a lot of confused people.

The BART took me directly to Powell Street. I hadn't printed a map at home as I hoped I would be able to find my hotel relatively easy, and after only taking one wrong corner I indeed found the Chancellor very quickly.

My room wasn't ready yet, so I left my suitcase at the hotel and went exploring around Union Square a bit. I took in all the new sensations, took some first pictures (oh look, it's a cable car!) and checked some of the stores in order to estimate the amount of shopping I would have to do during my stay. (Conclusion: lots.) Union Square was quite busy at this nice Sunday afternoon and I sat down a bit to enjoy the sun and watch people.

At about 4 I returned to the hotel and received the key to my room. I chose the Chancellor after reading a lot of positive feedback about it here on Tripadvisor and because it offered quite good rates. I usually rather like modern, sleek hotels, but was aware that the Chancellor is a very traditional, boutique hotel. My room on the 8th floor felt like a perfect mix of traditional and modern, gave me a nice view of Union Square and had me hear the cable cars. I don't mind street noise and like hearing the sounds of the big city, so no complains there. The room immediately felt like a nice, cozy place for resting after spending my days exploring.

I unpacked my stuff and decided to lie down for a bit and watch some TV. By now it was more than 24 hours since I had started my trip and I felt knackered. Well, of course I fell asleep and even though I had wanted to go out for dinner later again, I decided to just stay in the room and go to bed early. The soft bed sheets kind of aided my decision. So the lights in my room went out fairly early and I fell asleep looking forward to everything I had planned.

Ennis, Ireland
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1. Re: Trip Report: My wonderful SF escape! – Oct 21 to Oct 29

Look forward to the next instalment of your trip report.

My heart goes out to you being sick as I suffered from air sickness for years, before I finally got it under control.

San Francisco
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2. Re: Trip Report: My wonderful SF escape! – Oct 21 to Oct 29

We've had several really good TRs lately, very descriptive and with lots of details that will help future travelers.

Thanks for sharing your experience. We're sorry you got sick but glad that you recovered in time to enjoy your stay in San Francisco!

Portland, Oregon
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3. Re: Trip Report: My wonderful SF escape! – Oct 21 to Oct 29

Day two please! No pressure!! ;-)

San Francisco, Ca
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4. Re: Trip Report: My wonderful SF escape! – Oct 21 to Oct 29

I think hearing the cable cars is one of the iconic experiences of San Francisco! I live on one of the lines and my 93-year-old aunt still talks about her visit years ago, and sitting in our living room listening to the dinging of the bells.

Very good trip report, and look forward to day 2.

Hamburg, Germany
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5. Re: Trip Report: My wonderful SF escape! – Oct 21 to Oct 29

Thank you for the encouragement and your comments!

Oh my, bannergirl, I can't even imagine going through sickness every time I would fly. Glad you've got it under control now.

I read a couple of wonderful trip reports here recently and I think it's great to know what different people did with their time in SF.


Day 2: An introduction to the city (and baseball)

My second day began with a hearty breakfast at Luques, the restaurant that belongs to the Chancellor. Having not had dinner the night before I was pretty hungry when I got up.

It had rained during the night and at my first look out of the window everything still looked bleak and grey. It made me a bit disappointed as I had hoped for at least a little bit of sunshine. So maybe the weather gods heard my fretting about it and decided to show me some blue skies the second I stepped out of the hotel. The sun came out and it was the beginning of a great, clear day.

I got my 7 day Muni Passport at the Welcome Center just a few steps away from my hotel. I was planning on taking some trips with buses and cable cars and even though I wouldn't be using the passport on all seven days of my stay it was a good deal for $27.

Shortly before 10 o'clock I positioned myself on Post St, again just around the corner from the Chancellor. I had booked Dylan's Famous Driving Tour after reading so many good comments about it here. Dylan's brother Brendan picked me and a couple of more people up from the location and off we went. Overall, our group consisted of 11 people that day. It was important for me to get a first introduction and overview of the city and Brendan's tour was just perfect for this.

We started with driving to City Hall, then went through the Castro and Mission district. We stopped in an alleyway with lots of great, artistic murals and Brendan told us about the history of those. We were all impressed that people show a lot of respect for them and the artists. In many other cities those things would get destroyed pretty fast I guess.

After that we stopped at Mission Dolores Park for a first wonderful view of the city. The rain the night before was very good in a way, as it had cleared the air and allowed for great visibility that day. We made our way up to Twin Peaks for more stunning views. It's also where I saw the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time. We went on and stopped in Haight Ashbury and had the chance to explore a little and get something to eat or drink.

By now I really liked the liberal feel of the city and the neighborhoods we visited. Also, most streets seemed pretty neat and charming and I immediately felt like this is a great place to live. It's not a feeling I had in New York City for example.

We made another stop at Alamo Square to see the Painted Ladies there, went through "Billionaires Row" (which was pretty impressive) and the Presidio, and made another stop at the Palace of Fine Arts before going to Crissy Fields for another, closer view of the bridge.

Then over the bridge and as the visibility was so great Brendan took us up to Marin Headlands for a stunning view of the bay. By now I was totally in love with this city!

After that we went to Muir Woods and had the chance to do some hiking through the trees there. Brendan told us that it can be very crowded during the high tourist season, but it was wonderfully quiet that day and the recent rain brought out all those wonderful smells of the trees. I read before that Muir Woods might be a little overrated and with crowds I can imagine that it's not as nice, but that day it was just perfect.

We then made our way back through Sausalito and over the bridge and hurried a little through traffic to Fisherman's Wharf as I and another couple were scheduled for the Alcatraz Night Tour. Brendan made a little quiz with us the last few minutes and it turned out that we had really learned a lot about the city in just about 5.5 hours.

Brendan's narration of the tour was wonderful. He answered all questions and was flexible to make sure we get the best possible out of this day. He also gave good advice on what things would be worth exploring more during our stay in the city. Brendan furthermore told us about the important Giants game going on this evening (he's a fan himself of course). Knowing nothing about baseball (at least at that point of time) it didn't seem too exciting to me, but that was about to change.

I got off the tour bus somewhere on Bay St and had enough time to find Pier 33. I had bought my Alcatraz ticket about 2.5 months before my vacation and was very grateful that people here emphasize again and again how important that is. Many people were already in line waiting, but it all moved quickly and the boat left on time at 4:20.

When booking I was a little disappointed that the Night Tour would already start so early that time of the year, but I can only conclude that it was perfect timing and gave everybody the change to see the island in daylight, watch the beautiful sunset and see how the city illuminates.

The narration on board unfortunately was very hard to hear, so I couldn't take away a lot of information from that. On the island people coming off the boat were separated into groups and I went with the first group. We had a woman telling us first stories about Alcatraz and some famous inmates while we made our way up to the main building.

There I received the audio tour equipment and even though I had only read good things about that tour, I had to experience it to really believe how great it is. The narration with the different speakers and all the sounds was perfect and very informative. I guess Alcatraz with its history can be a place to get a little scared, but with the sun shining through the windows, it was actually quite beautiful.

The audio tour took me through all the important things and allowed me some time to take pictures. It ended in the gift shop where I had a short look around and where information about the available programs and presentations that night was displayed. I figured that I still had time left to go up to the hospital wing that was opened and take pictures of the sunset before joining the presentation on "The Road to Solitary" in D-Block. It was pretty interesting, however unfortunately it ran a bit longer than planned, so I couldn't join another demonstration or program.

But anyway, the whole Alcatraz experience was great and I went back to the pier where the boat took us back at about 7:10. The announcer on board bid us farewell with "And: Go Giants!" and there was another first glimpse of baseball enthusiasm.

Back on land I took the F line trolley to Market/Powell and had a burrito at Chipotle (I love Mexican fast food and we don't have a lot of it in Germany unfortunately). Then I went back to the hotel after a great day in which I learned so much. After finding out that the Giants won their game and that they would progress to the World Series (which seemed like something important) I went to bed in a really good mood.

San Francisco...
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6. Re: Trip Report: My wonderful SF escape! – Oct 21 to Oct 29

Keep em coming please. These are great and will help other single folks who visit the city. By the way the SF Giants went on to WIN the Baseball world series (our world cup equivalent) and they had a huge parade on the 31st to celebrate

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7. Re: Trip Report: My wonderful SF escape! – Oct 21 to Oct 29

Sounds like lots of fun! We love Chipotle also, their chips and guacamole are really good there! :)

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8. Re: Trip Report: My wonderful SF escape! – Oct 21 to Oct 29

I am completely engrossed in your reports and anxiously await the next installment :-)

Hamburg, Germany
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9. Re: Trip Report: My wonderful SF escape! – Oct 21 to Oct 29

I am so glad you all like the reports! It's actually a lot of fun to write them and a good way to remember.

belomiser, there's some more Giants stuff to come in later day reports. I had a lot of fun with the Giants winning the World Series. I might even call it my highlight. ;-)


Day 3: I get to know the hills and wish for an elevator

For this day I had planned to explore the city on foot and walk to some places of interest that I had selected beforehand. Well, that was the theory. Unfortunately, maps can tell you air line distances, but sneakily hide the fact that there are actually hills to be climbed between distances that seem easily walkable.

Anyway, the day began with a walk down Powell to the cable car turnaround. I wasn't early enough (it was around 9), so there was already a line that had formed with many other tourists, but after I saw that it moved really quickly once a new cable car arrived, I decided to stay here and wait a little.

I got on one of the cars and found a nice seat at the front. I know it's a very touristy thing to do, but it was definitely fun going with the cable car, having the wind blow around my nose, hearing the bell and the conductor ranting about traffic and tourists that lean too wide out of the vehicle just to get a damn picture.

My first ride was a short one, as it was just to California Street up on the hill. (Yes, I realize I could have walked there, but where's the fun in that?) There I waited for a California Line cable car to take me down to the Embarcadero. This way I could experience going uphill as well as downhill.

I had a look around in the financial district and then walked to the Ferry Building. I had read about the great farmers market there and didn't initially expect to find any booths this day (a Tuesday and I had in mind that it was just Thursdays and Saturdays), but was pleasantly surprised when there were a lot of people offering their goods.

It all looked so delicious! I had a look at some of the more unfamiliar fruits and vegetables, got a little envious of how cheap avocados are in California (I love them and everything you can make with them, but they are so expensive in Germany), and decided to go with a great looking Arkansas Black apple for breakfast. It was huge and very tasty. I also went through the Ferry Building itself and had a look at the cute little shops and food offerings.

Then I went on along the piers right up to Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf. What I read about it beforehand didn't sound like my cup of tea and it turned out to indeed not be my cup of tea. Yes, very touristy, many shops that don't appeal to me, and everything giving a rather cheap vibe. I can understand that families with kids might like it here, but it wasn't my taste and I just had a short look around. Also: Too many pigeons and seagulls. They scare me anywhere in the world and I try to avoid them.

I feel a little sorry for tourists who just get to see the area around Fisherman's Wharf and the GGB maybe, as San Francisco has so much more to offer and so many nice, neat areas and neighborhoods. Would be a shame to just think of Fisherman's Wharf when remembering the city.

What I did buy at Fisherman's Wharf though was a small bag of mini donuts that somebody had recommended to me before. I can say that at least they were great.

I walked further down Jefferson St to have a great, cheap burger at In-N-Out Burger. Brendan recommended it the day before and said it is the only place he would ever eat fast food in SF. I also have a lot of friends here in Germany who love the chain and go there whenever they are on the West Coast.

After lunch I walked up Leavenworth St to the twisty bit of Lombard St to take some pictures. The sun was out and it was nice with all the plants and flowers there and it helped me forget that I had gotten to know the hills of the city by now. Despite already aching legs I decided to walk up the stairs along Lombard St and have a look from the top. I am really not a sporty person, so this is the equivalent of a marathon to me. I must have run about five marathons during my stay.

My next planned stop was Coit Tower and as I was standing on top of Lombard Street, seeing it in the distance on yet another hill, it seemed like the best idea to start looking for a bus. The buses and stops confused me a little during my stay, but luckily my map indicated bus routes and I was able to figure out that there's basically a bus stop at every or every second street corner.

I took the 45 bus to Washington Square and waited for the 39 line there to take me up to Coit, but somehow all the buses passed me by and I just couldn't figure out what the right bus stop would be (there was some construction going on). I decided to simply start walking towards Coit Tower and catch a bus on the way. Maybe you guessed it already: Of course I ended up walking all the way to Coit Tower.

I arrived there and had to sit down for 20 minutes in order to feel human again. The view from the foot of the tower over the city, however, already made up for all the sweat and aching muscles.

When I entered the tower I just had one thought: "If this says 'stairs only, no elevator' now, I'm going to turn around and not go up." Luckily, it said the exact opposite! I bought my $7 ticket and went up with the elevator. The view from the top was great and as the day before there was outstanding visibility. I took a lot of pictures and also learned about the amazing story of Lillie Hitchcock Coit. Make sure to read about it when you're there!

My plan then was to take the Filbert Steps down the hill again, as I had seen amazing pictures of them. That was easier said than done, because none of my maps showed where they are, there was no sign around at Coit Tower and somebody I asked was rather clueless.

I found some stairs leading down from the tower, but it didn't seem like the pictures I had seen. Anyway, I continued my way down and started to feel a bit disappointed when it just lead to a street and no sign of the Filbert Steps was to be found. Also, the streets seemed deserted and there was no local to ask. After some walking I more or less accidentally saw a little hidden sign saying 'Filbert Steps'. Happy I started my way down there.

Let me tell you it was amazing! I loved the quietness, the variety of flowers, plants and trees, the many birds I saw. It didn't even feel like I was still in a big city. It felt like time had stopped and now there was just nature and the sun coming through the trees. I was so glad that I found it after some struggles. It was not to be missed on this beautiful day. Must be great to live there in one of those cute houses.

During the last steps down I had a sudden rush of acrophobia coming over me, as it was a little high, but I ended up safely back on the street and found the Levi's Strauss headquarters on Levi's Plaza. Being a huge Levi's fan I walked into the building and got one of the info brochures in the lobby. It told a little about the company, but there was also a coupon on the back with a 15% discount at all Levi's stores in SF. So if you are in the area and plan to shop at one of the stores, make sure to have a look if the coupons are still available. They also had a store there, but I decided that shopping would happen another day.

Pretty exhausted from all the walking and climbing I caught an F line trolley from the Embarcadero back to Market/Powell. There I decided to spend the remains of the day relaxing in a big cinema chair enjoying a movie. I went into the Westfield Mall to see if they have a cinema and they indeed had one.

After cinema I went down to the food court at Westfield and had dinner there. I really love such food courts with diverse offerings from all around the world and found the one there to be a great way to have good meals for only about $10. Many things to choose from and being on my own it can sometimes feel a little awkward in regular restaurants, so this is a good alternative.

After that: Back to the hotel, lights out early.

Santa Cruz...
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10. Re: Trip Report: My wonderful SF escape! – Oct 21 to Oct 29

Your report is wonderful. It makes me want to retrace your steps, even though I have lived in the SF area almost all of my life and visited often. Seeing all of it through your eyes is wonderful. Thank you. Keep going.