Last minute weekend trip, thanks Chile!

San Francisco Travel Blog

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Classic Victorian and Edwardian architecture that one finds in SF

Yes indeed, you read the title right. And yes, I'm being sarcastic.

We're off to Chile in a few weeks to hike across Patagonia and sunbathe alongside the magnificent statues at Easter Island. And unfortunately, being Indian passport holders, we needed to appear in-person for the visa at the consulate in our jurisdiction (which for us Pacific NW'ers is San Francisco). Anyway, we're not the types to miss out an opportunity of visiting SF so off we went, for the entire weekend itself. We carefully chose our appointment for a Monday to give us a full weekend. Also, most of the times we visit SF, we end up staying with friends who are mostly based in the South Bay. This not only means we have to rent a car (and car rentals are expensive in the Bay Area), but we end up 'wasting' precious morning hours and reach The City only past noon for what we'd planned as an entire day of sightseeing! So this time, it was all laid out - we reach the airport, take the train (BART) to downtown and stay in our very first YHA hostel in the US.

View of Coit Tower from near the Lombard Street area

Our Alaska Airlines flight was dead early. Departure being 6am, we woke up at 330a, drove to the airport and parked our car in the remote carparks. We fortunately had checked in and had no checkin baggage so we breezed through security and were surprisingly at our gate well in time. We chose not to buy anything to eat as we weren't that hungry, instead decided to eat something hearty when we've settled in. The flight was scarily empty, but turns out that most Alaska Airline flights from Seattle and Portland that fly to SF continue on to Mexico picking up more passengers on the way. That also explains why Alaska Air planes park at the International Terminal. The flight took off on time - the airport was more or less empty other than the Delta's, Alaska Air's and the sole early Emirates arrival from Dubai (the first of 2 daily flights to SeaTac).

The Cable Car Museum (review to follow shortly)
I tried sleeping on the plane but wasn't very successful. I ran into an independent consultant from the Bay Area (now living in Seattle, consults for Microsoft) who saw me reading my DK Eyewitness SF Sightseeing book so got on to chatting with me, gave me some tips, etc. I have to say I'm always amused by enthusiastic fellow passengers and hostelmates who give me great tips on eating out (particularly when I'm headed to a coastal city) only to find out after their 5 minute soapbox that I'm vegetarian and the farthest I dare is an egg! Same thing happened here where the man raved about the SF soup-like cioppino only to find out I'm......  veg!

Also, I have to say I'm always impressed with Alaska Air. They fly state of the air 737-900 series with mood lighting.

Lunch was at the highly acclaimed Trattoria Pinocchio
The seats are sturdy, the flight attendents are extremely friendly and the service, very prompt. Flight landed on time at the international terminal. It was fairly quiet (and those of you who know me as the plane spotting enthusiast know how heartbroken that made me!), except for the big Jet Airways 777-300ER (operated by Etihad) in our neighbouring gate headed home to Abu Dhabi.

I had pre-booked a ticket on the BART so we walked up to the BART terminal signage, stopped by the Information desk and picked up our BART cards, walked a bit further to the BART terminal and caught the train to downtown (takes around 30 minutes). SF always prides itself in diversity of people and that was very obvious on the train ride itself - in terms of ethnicity, race, language and even the way they dress! We reached our stop (Powell and Market), easily located our hostel and stored our bags as we couldn't check in till 3p.

This sign found in the tunnel through Stockton between Chinatown and the Financial District
The hostel was amazing - please read review below.

Right by Powell and Market was our choice for breakfast: Sandhya helped herself to a spicy crepe whilst I treated myself to a banana "nut" waffle (turns out the "nuts" were just slivered almonds). We felt extremely energised and so, off we went, with the help of the various maps provided to us at the airport and the hostel to do some sightseeing. To be more specfic - I've visited SF loads of times (literally once, if not twice every year I've lived in the States) but I've always wanted to go walking around, a luxury I never had given the time constraints all these past visits. There also were a few places I hadn't seen.

First stop was the very educative Cable Car Museum (review coming soon).

Another shot of the Cable Car Museum
I was extremely impressed, and have to say, SF has the oldest and probably only cable car system in the world.

From here, we walked around to Crooked Street (again, seen it several times but always nice seeing it again), and then all the way down to Fisherman's Wharf where we paused for a while and watched the world go by. I love SF, and this place really brings the SF charm together so well. Anyway, from here, our plan was to walk up to the magnificent Coit Hill. I don't believe this trip was just about visiting spots (hell, I've done it befoer driving around) but it was to walk around town to these spots, to get the town feel. We eventually reached Coit Hill. I say "eventually" because we were rather tired and hadn't carried anything to munch on (which is surprising, there's always a granola or protein bar).

Greenwich Street with views of Coit Tower
We found Coit Hill and I have to say, I loved the walkway up to the hill. We didn't actually go into the tower - I'd visited years ago and wasn't that impressed. But was just lovely being in the breeze all day.

Little Italy, another area I'd just driven by all these years but never truly walked the neighbourhood much less eaten here (well, if we're not counting a rainy 2012 March day when we just wanted some grub and went into some restaurant!). Thankfully, between the travel books and brochures, we settled in on Trattoria Pinocchio which has won rave reviews through the years. It was easily past 2pm so the crowds had disappeared. S settled for Spaghetti Primavera Sophia (fresh sautéed seasonal vegetables in garlic savoury tomato sauce) and I washed down a  Rigatoni Giovanni (kalamata olives, eggplant & melted fresh mozzarella in tomato garlic sauce) with some local Napa Valley Merlot.

S at Lombard St
All in all, amazing. We dined alfresco. It was simply amazing - plus, this rsnt borders Little Italy and the start of Chinatown, not to mention Columbus Ave. is this diagonal road that criss-crosses every other major SF road. So all in all, busy yet wonderfully full of life without the noise. Our dessert was equally impressive - poached pears served with a semi-bitter dark chocolate sauce.

After a fairly long lunch, and much needed rest to the legs, we set off on Stockton towards Chinatown and the Financial District. It's always a pleasure browsing shops in Chinatown, no matter how many times we've done it all before. I'm always amused at the rather large size of certain veggies like cauliflower, etc. that they sell here. After reaching Market St., we set off for a bit of retail therapy at the comfortably located Westfield Centre.

Crimbo time in Pier 39
We didn't buy anything though! And we finally reached our hostel around 530p - checked in, freshened up and stayed in our respective rooms. Nice thing about staying in separate rooms in US hostels is that fortunately we can use our mobiles to stay in touch, unlike EU where we don't have data plans and the WiFi in hostels, particularly bedroom sections is always spotty.

I was to meet a friend (after a decade) so got ready for a night on the town. He's a local and knows some rather good wine bars in the area. Our starter wines were at The Hidden Vine, a top notch wine bar in the Financial District followed by pasta dinner at 'barbacco eno trattoria'. I noticed that they're not by default serving water in restaurants these days in the Bay Area due to the water shortage.

Close up of the Crimbo time
Food was average and slightly pricey for what was on offer. I had a squash macaroni, which the waitress termed as the adult mac'n'cheese. It was yum! We decided to skip dessert. And finished dinner around 10pm, enough time for the 2 of us to walk back to our hostel. We were so tired. The day began at 330a!

My roommate was an Aussie who works for Virgin Australia  (manager of ground crew) so we got on to talking about Qantas vs VA, his trip plan in the US, etc. Was fun as always. I never got to meet my other roommate, and the 4th bed in our room was empty. I went to bed around 11pm that night. Honestly one of the better SF trips I'd had - I felt I'd seen so much in 1 day!

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Classic Victorian and Edwardian ar…
Classic Victorian and Edwardian a…
View of Coit Tower from near the L…
View of Coit Tower from near the …
The Cable Car Museum (review to fo…
The Cable Car Museum (review to f…
Lunch was at the highly acclaimed …
Lunch was at the highly acclaimed…
This sign found in the tunnel  thr…
This sign found in the tunnel th…
Another shot of the Cable Car Muse…
Another shot of the Cable Car Mus…
Greenwich Street with views of Coi…
Greenwich Street with views of Co…
S at Lombard St
S at Lombard St
Crimbo time in Pier 39
Crimbo time in Pier 39
Close up of the Crimbo time
Close up of the Crimbo time
Me in Chinatown
Me in Chinatown
Not sure what this is...some polit…
Not sure what this is...some poli…
Grocery store
Grocery store
never seen cauliflowers of this si…
never seen cauliflowers of this s…
Breakfast - banana nut waffle
Breakfast - banana nut waffle
San Francisco Hotels & Accommodations review
My very first stay in an American hostel! I'd say it's the best ever hostel worldwide!
It feels weird writing the words "first time" and "hostel" in the same sentence because despite staying for years in hostels ALL over the world, this … read entire review