San Francisco Nov 2011

By Eugene Sulyma

My friends and I decided to go on a road trip from sunny Orange County, CA to San Francisco, CA (the distance is 422mi according to Google maps if take I-5 freeway, duration 7hours). But we wanted to make our trip more memorable, so we decided to take one of the most beautiful roads in the World, highway #1 (also known as Pacific Coast Highway, or PCH) which lies along the coast. It is a little longer drive (483mi and 9hr) but the views of Pacific Ocean are totally worth it. And also we wanted to stop at the historic place called Hearst Castle.

As we spent the whole day driving from Orange County and visiting Hearst Castle, we arrived to San Francisco at 9:00pm, checked-in at Hilton Union Square and parked the car at the nearest parking lot. We were ready to have some beer as a reward for a long and exciting day. Speaking about parking, parking fee was $40/day at our hotel. I found one for $25/day just behind the hotel, across the street. The hotel was nice. I got a big room on 34th floor with Golden Gate and city view. The room was part of Presidential Suite: huge bathroom, spacious living room with queen bed, dining table, sofas and big LCD TV.

After looking around the hotel, unpacking our stuff and having couple beers we went to Cheesecake Factory restaurant at the mall across the street. We didn’t want to go anywhere far. We just wanted to eat some good food and come back to relax as the next exciting day was waiting for us.

I took this picture on the Cheesecake Factory's balcony with my iPhone.

When I woke up in the morning next day I found this beautiful view from our window. A little earlier I could see Golden Gate but when i decided to take a picture it got foggy.

Breakfast was included in our room’s price. When we checked-in the receptionist gave us coupons which we could exchange at Starbucks located in the lobby for a choice of any pastry, drink and fruit, one of each per person. Or we could go to the Urban Tavern (also at the lobby) and get breakfast buffet for $10 extra. If someday some of you will be staying at this hotel I highly recommend Urban Tavern, just for $10 upgrade you receive full hot buffet. Food is really good and service is great.

After breakfast we started our walking tour on San Francisco’s streets towards Fisherman's Wharf. Firstly we had to climb up the hill. That was a great morning exercise. We got at the intersection of California & Mason streets, where we saw a very nice building, which was Fairmont San Francisco Hotel.

Then we walked through Huntington Park to Grace Cathedral. When I saw it I could not resist coming closer and making few photos.

Grace Cathedral is an Episcopal Cathedral. It was founded in 1849 during the Californian Gold Rush.

The cathedral entrance has impressive doors, they are called the Ghiberti doors. These doors are a copy of the doors of the Florence Baptistery by Lorenzo Ghiberti.

Look at this piece of art…..

After walking around the cathedral we continued our walking tour on Mason St. This part of the street was a piece of cake as it goes down all the way to Fisherman's Wharf.

I like to take pictures of everything that looks interesting to me, for example this old gate.

Being in San Francisco you can’t miss seeing historical tramway whose cars are pulled along by cables embedded in the street. This cable car system is the world’s last permanently operational manually operated cable car system and it has become a signature of San Francisco.

On the corner of Mason and Washington Streets we found the Car barn, power house and museum, where you can see how the cable system operates. Cables run at a constant speed of 9.5 mph.

At a museum I spotted an interesting “binocular” for a few quarters you can see a slideshow of black and white pictures with the railway building history. First successful railway was opened in 1873. Also, I noticed a gift shop and bought a souvenir from it, a small cable car.

Our mission that day was visiting one of the most visited places in US - prison Alcatraz.
If you want to go there you need to buy tickets at least 2 weeks in advance, which we did, otherwise you will be just looking at it from the pier or a boat that goes around the island without stopping.

After 20 minutes staying in line to get on board of the shuttle boat and 15 minute ride we got to the Alcatraz Island.

There we took a self-walking audio tour. I didn’t even expect that the tour would be that interesting.

The island was discovered in 1775, was used by U.S. Army from 1850 until 1933 and has been a Federal Prison in 1934-1963. The prison held such notable criminals as Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, James “Whitey” Burger. But now it’s a National Historic Landmark.

This is the building where soldiers lived who guarded prisoners.

The room where prisoners had to get their uniforms.

The kitchen was the most dangerous place in the prison. Can you imagine hundreds of prisoners with knives and forks in one room...

During its 29 years of operation, the penitentiary claimed no prisoner had successfully escaped. A total of 36 prisoners made 14 escape attempts, two men trying twice; 23 were caught, six were shot and killed during their escape, and three escaped and were never found. The most violent occurred in 1946 when a failed escape attempt by six prisoners led to the battle with soldiers.

This room was a library.

The view from the island is great. When the wind blew from the coast toward the Alcatraz, prisoners could hear music and people's laughter coming from the pier and restaurants.

After we came back from Alcatraz we walked a little around pier 39 and Fisherman Wharf.

I think it’s very cool.

After having dinner at a very nice restaurant on the pier (of course we ordered famous clam chowder J ), we decided not to walk all the way uphill to our hotel and take cable car. I can tell you this: very hard ride, very limited space inside (that’s why I saw many people hanging outside of the car). Ticket was $6 per person one way. I saw some local people had what looked like monthly pass, but still I think it’s a little bit overpriced.

Next day, after a breakfast buffet at our Hilton, we went to Golden Gate Park. I’ll tell you this: it’s huge. You can spend at least couple days exploring it.

As our time was limited, because we wanted to see Golden Gate that day, visit Sausalito with a stop for lunch and drive back to Orange County which is about 7 hour drive. So we decided to see a Japanese Tea Garden only.

I don’t have much to tell about this garden, just look at the pictures how beautiful it is there.

At the exit of this park there is a tea house, where you can order a cup of tea and plunge in Japanese culture.

I took this picture from the pier on the other side of the San Francisco Bay. Locals are catching crabs.

Our last stop was at a nice small town Sausalito. It’s located across the bay from San Francisco.
In this town you can find a lot of galleries, boutiques and restaurants. And also from here it offers a very spectacular view of San Francisco.